We all love a comic book movie, right? But, how often do we consider the variety of stories the comic and graphic novel has given us? Whether you love superheroes, rich kids with gadgets or real-life stories, the comic book world is a goldmine of diversity and difference. So why not join us as we explore three unique and different comic book movies, each one providing us with an unforgettable or fascinating cinematic journey. This spotlight classic article features Kick-Ass, My Friend Dahmer and Richie Rich.
Is the opening ten minutes of Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass one of the finest movie openings in history? And is Kick-Ass one of the best comic book adaptations ever made? In my opinion, the answer to both of these questions is yes. Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millers darkly brilliant comic book adventure shines from the outset. Its high octane story a blaze of colour, violence and creativity that would ultimately spawn dozens of copycat film and tv outings. But, asides from the colourful violence and dark humour, what makes Kick-Ass such a groundbreaking film?
Let’s start with its author, Scottish writer Mark Millar. Millar began his career with DC Comics in 1994, working on titles including Swamp Thing and The Flash, his DC career culminating in Superman: Red Son. He then moved on to Marvel in 2001, working on Ultimate X-Men, Civil War and The Ultimates. However, in 2004 Millar took the brave step of creating his own universe of characters within an independent comic book studio. Millar’s new world would take his passion for the superhero and merge it into a far more urban, edgy, diverse and occasionally humorous world. This new, exciting, dark world would give birth to Kingsman, Nemesis, Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl, to name but a few.
In creating Kiss-Ass (aka Dave Lizewski), Millar seized on an unchanging truth of male adolescence. One embedded in the strange, baron wilderness between boyhood and manhood. While at the same time, reflecting the fact that men never genuinely escape this wilderness, the boy they once were, constantly chatting away in the darkest corners of their mind. But what makes up this wilderness, I hear you ask? This wilderness is a place of imagination, play and belief. And for Dave Lizewski, it’s a belief that he can be the superhero he longs to be. His actions a mixture of pure fantasy, teenage hormones and utter stupidity.
Bringing Millar’s unique vision to the screen would not be easy; after all, how many studios would allow Dave Lizewski’s hormonal, painful and violent journey against organised crime to fly free of censorship? The answer appeared to be none; enter Matthew Vaughn, Marv Films, and one of the biggest self-funded gambles in modern movie history. And while Brad Pitts Plan B also came aboard, the project would remain a knives edge away from disaster for Vaughn throughout filming. But, this risk also ensured the success of Kick-Ass, with Vaughn and Millar free to ensure the film honoured the source material.
Meanwhile, casting choices would prove to be another winning element in the creation of Kick-Ass on screen. Here, Aaron Taylor-Johnson had just the right mix of outsider charm, innocence and misplaced bravery to make Dave Lizewski jump from the screen. While at the same time, Chloë Grace Moretz brought a youthful spit and sawdust energy to Hit Girl, one embedded in her love of comic books. And when both leads were joined by a cast including Mark Strong, Nicholas Cage and Superbad’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kick-Ass would excel far beyond any of its contemporaries.
The resulting film echoed the mayhem and dark humour of Millar’s comic book creations while tearing up the superhero rule book. After all, with no power, there is no responsibility, right? That is not entirely true in the Kick-Ass journey, as Millar and Vaughn weave their anti-hero tale with surprising moments of emotional depth. And therefore, maybe we should think of Kick-Ass as a colourful commentary on the power of one person to make a difference, even if they have no special abilities. Whatever your take on this powerhouse of comic book carnage, one thing is undeniable Kick-Ass is an outstanding exploration of the human desire to inhabit a different role; the hazy gap between fantasy and reality taking centre stage. And beyond that, Kick-Ass continues to inspire a whole host of new TV shows and movies, sealing its place in movie history.
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My Friend Dahmer (2018)
What makes someone a serial killer? Are they born evil, or are their actions rooted in their upbringing and socialisation? These questions surround our obsession with serial killers, the answers alluding us as we watch countless crime dramas, documentaries and films. The fear the serial killer holds over us based on our inability to fully understand or comprehend their motivations and actions. After all, as humans, we like to place behaviour in easily defined boxes. For example, we understand the roots of murder if viewed through a lens of self-defence, war or even jealousy. But, the concept of random homicide based on a personal desire remains clouded in secrecy and fear.
The men and women sitting behind these actions are quickly labelled as monsters, pure evil from the inside out. But, this, in turn, takes away the fact that they are also humans; partners, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. Our society obsessed with rerunning their horrifying murders while rarely looking back to the years leading up to their crimes. And it is here where Marc Meyer’s 2018 film version of John Backderf’s 2012 graphic novel is both chilling and fascinating.
For those unaware of Backderf’s graphic novel, let me take this opportunity to provide some context. Backderf had an on-off friendship with Jeffrey Dahmer from twelve through to their high school graduation. His relationship with Dahmer often obscure, complex and rooted in Dahmer’s outsider profile. A profile that included teenage alcoholism, constant bullying from other kids and a loving yet dysfunctional family. Here, Dahmer’s relationship with his fellow students was stilted, unsure and rooted in self-doubt and suppressed anger.
Backderf never seeks to excuse the horrifying murders Dahmer committed that started just weeks after his graduation. But, he does attempt to unpick the years leading up to these actions. His work asking us whether society failed to spot Dahmer’s inner darkness and whether a complicated school life played a role in his eventual actions. There is, of course, always a challenge in bringing these complex themes to the screen. After all, cinema generally likes its serial killers painted as monsters. It is, therefore, all the more remarkable that Meyer’s film manages to reflect the pain, emotion and darkness of Backderf’s graphic novel.
Here, Dahmer’s festering obsession with animal cruelty interfaces with his dysfunctional home life and a desperate need for belonging. With Ross Lynch providing us with a stunning performance embedded in self-loathing, confusion and inner turmoil. For example, his portrayal of Dahmer’s obsession with a local jogger is rooted in a mix of sexual interest, internal hate and suppressed desire. Meanwhile, Alex Wolff brings Barkderf’s memories to life as he explores themes of peer group, bullying and growing uncertainty of the boy invited into his tight friendship circle.
Meyer’s complex social discussions are laced with the random nature of teenage behaviour. His delicate yet striking screenplay creating an atmosphere that is, at times, humorous and, at times, deeply unsettling. Here, Meyer’s places the viewer into uncomfortable corners of sympathy and unease. For some, this may prove too confusing. But, for those willing to look deeply into the realm of adolescent psychology, identity and belonging. My Friend Dahmer offers a unique film experience that challenges our very notions of inherent evil. While uncomfortably shining a light on the lasting impact of our teenage experiences.
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Richie Rich (1994)
Created by Alfred Harvey and Warren Kremer in 1953, Richie Rich followed the adventures of the richest boy alive, becoming ‘Harvey Comics’ most popular comic creation by the early 1960s. However, it’s not the comic book character that makes the 1994 film fascinating. Instead, it is the link between Richie and the teenage star at the film’s heart.
By 1994, Macaulay Culkin had cemented his place as the most successful child star of the modern era. His journey from 1990s Home Alone encompassing eight motion pictures in just four years; a tiring, all-consuming feet for even the most well-established adult stars. But, for a 13-year-old boy whose life was directed by an overbearing father, this persistent on-screen presence was taking its toll. In fact, by the time Richie Rich went into production, Culkin showed all the signs of exhaustion. Symptoms that are evident on screen while tieing him to the loneliness of the character he portrays.
Richie has everything a boy could ever desire but lacks the most important thing money can’t buy, friends. In reality, Culkin’s life was in a similar position. His Hollywood dream warped into a nightmare of social isolation and pressure. The longing for escape visible in every scene as he methodically turns on the charm. Richie Rich is an unknowing portrait of a child star attempting to keep up a pretence of enjoyment. The resulting picture, a strange mix of fantasy, meets reality. Both Richie and Culkin searching for meaning in an ocean of loneliness. This ultimately gives Richie Rich a strange overarching vibe, which didn’t play well with audiences in 1994; the movie a financial and critical flop.
But does that mean Richie Rich is a lousy movie? Of course not; in fact, it’s earned more positive reviews in recent years than it did on release. After all, there are many gadgets, slapstick comedy set pieces and even a cheeky cameo from Claudia Schiffer. But in the end, Richie Rich lacks the spark to elevate it above the mundane. Having said that, it does carry a unique and quirky charm while also marking Macaulay Culkin’s teenage retirement until a far more adult return in Party Monster.
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