Comic Books Unbound (review)

It’s an entry in the ongoing series “Starz Inside” that the cable network Starz likes to label “documentary,” but this one, at least, feels exactly like the kind of promotional filler you find filling up odd scheduling holes on premium movie channels (it’s suspiciously 59 minutes in length). A cheery, upbeat, uncritical history of comic books at the movies, it details how early serials and the big-screen spinoff of the 60s Batman TV series morphed into modern Hollywood’s rediscovery of caped heroes with Christopher Reeve’s 1978 Superman and Michael Keaton’s 1989 Batman and has come to an apparent apotheosis with the “serious” comic-book films of Bryan Singer (X-Men), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight), Jon Favreau (Iron Man), and Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy). But there’s little analysis of why such movies are popular, no discussion of how they could be better (the near absence of women in these films is all but ignored), and no hint that the current cycle of these movies may, in fact, be nearing its end (as any true historical examination might uncover). All of that might get in the way of the rah-rah, comics are cool! attitude. Not that I disagree with that attitude, but there’s so much more to talk about. Even the array of hot interviewees — Marvel Comics guru Stan Lee, Del Toro, Superman director Richard Donner, and cast from current hot comic book flicks (Robert Downey Jr., Edward Norton, Selma Blair, Ron Perlman, etc) — have little to say that’s worth hearing. There’s nothing here to surprise anyone who’s already a fan of the genre, and nothing to entice those who are not. (Interview outtakes constitute the only bonus material.)

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