Allow us to enact a scene played out in offices across the country this week: "So didja see Iron Man? Wasn't it great? Who would've guessed that all they needed to do was fill the cast with Oscar-nominated actors and give them a fun script and good special effects? And how about that one scene? Wow!"
You know, there was a time when Marvel movies were terrible, back when DC movies ruled the cineplexes. Those were the days of the Christopher Reeve Superman and the Tim Burton Batman, and I don't care if those two movies were technically 21 years apart, because I'm making a point here. There was a Captain America movie made in 1944, and then the next Marvel-based movie wasn't until 1990, and that one was another Captain America which was so bad it couldn't even get an America theatrical release. Even though Marvel had successful comic books, they just couldn't get the movie deals together.
But those days are past, and you can hardly walk past a theater without bumping into someone delirious from Stan Lee-derived Comic Booky Fun. And as time has gone by, that has resulted in said Comic Booky Fun being inscribed onto DVD and being made available to you, the home consumer. Don't believe me? Well, clap your peepers on this list!
5. Ghost Rider
OK, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that a movie in which Nicolas Cage turns into a guy with a flaming skull and a crazy motorcycle might not make a great deal of sense. And of course, you're correct. In fact, it makes even less sense than you think, since Cage sits around eating jelly beans out of champagne glasses and watching TV shows that consist of monkeys fighting. It's so strange, it must have been done on purpose. And it's not like Cage doesn't know the material; he already had a tattoo of the Ghost Rider character, which he had to cover up for the movie.
DVD EXTRAS: Pretty standard fare, really. There are two commentary tracks (which seems like it might be at least one too many) and a couple of "featurettes" about the making of the movie. There are no interviews with anyone saying something like "This movie makes no sense and I'm not even sure why it got green-lit. Nicolas Cage has lost his damn mind," although the producer's commentary track is surprisingly critical.
4. Fantastic Four
"Fantastic Four" was the comic book that put Marvel on the map and changed the world of comics forever. The movie, on the other hand, is a mostly forgettable mish-mash of special effects and laughable dialogue. The best part is that Johnny Storm is gleeful about becoming the Human Torch. Too many superhero movies feature characters who mope around, depressed that they can suddenly perform superhuman feats, so it's nice to see someone whose reaction is "Whoo-hoo! I can fly! And check out these flames, baby!" This is balanced off by The Mopey Thing, as interpreted by Michael Chiklis. The worst part is Jessica Alba's "performance" as the alleged head of a genetics research division.
DVD EXTRAS: DVDs have two choices with unused footage: they can either label them "deleted scenes" or they can cut them back into the movie and call it an "extended cut". Fantastic Four goes with the latter, and it's not really clear why. This isn't like Lord of the Rings, where hours of subplots are being restored; it's more like several small scenes that were cut because they were distracting. And they still are! There's a commentary by three of the actors, which I always enjoy. Even if they don't know much about the movie ("In this scene, I was alone in a small green room for three days"), they're at least trained to be entertaining. The other commentary, with the director, producers, and writers, is very informative. Some might consider it more informative than this movie actually deserves.
The second disc of features (tired yet?) is composed of several featurettes that appear to have had a lot of work put into them. If you're looking to spend hours learning about how the bridge scene was shot, this is where to go (and more power to you). There's also a terrific documentary about Jack Kirby, the artist who practically reinvented the world of comic books in the 1960s in the process of co-creating almost every Marvel comic book there is.
3. Men in Black
Did you know this movie was based on a Marvel comic book? Well, it is. So there. Now you can impress your friends, assuming of course that you have easily-impressed friends. If you don't, I recommend you find some, since it can be fun to rattle off your vast knowledge of pop culture minutiae to people who gasp in awe rather than rolling their eyes and muttering "Who didn't know that?" Oh, and the movie is good fun, playing Will Smith at his sassiest off against Tommy Lee Jones at his crustiest.
DVD EXTRAS: This was a fairly early entry in the "Two-Disc Fancy Edition" arena, which means that some of the extras feel kind of weird. For example, during Barry Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones's commentary, you can actually see them, and they do kind of a Telestrator deal on the screen. You don't see that too often, possibly because it requires the director to do more than blather into a microphone for two hours. The second disc is where the fancy part is, because you get to actually edit together a (short) scene. I should mention that I'm describing the old "Limited Edition" release, but it looks like all this stuff (and probably more) is going to be on the Blu-Ray version coming out in June.
As the movies get better, there's less need for me to describe them. You remember Spider-Man, right? Tobey Maguire, a spider, some neat action sequences, an upside-down kiss with Kirsten Dunst, and so on. Right. This was before they decided to make Spider-Man all emo in Spider-Man 3.
DVD EXTRAS: There are many, many different versions of Spider-Man out, including one for the PSP. If you're after special features, you probably want the Deluxe Edition, which piles on the commentaries (Sam Raimi is a very entertaining individual, although there are those who prefer learning how the shots were digitally altered to make room for product placement), trivia subtitles (it's like watching the movie with a fanboy right next to you), and a million mostly-forgettable featurettes. Oh, and outtakes from the featurettes, which seems like a slippery slope. How long until someone includes "Making of the Outtakes of the Featurettes"?
The X-Men movie gets top billing because it's my favorite Marvel comic book. Well, it used to be. Back in the 1980s. You know, when Marvel couldn't get any movies made. I covered this in the introduction. You are paying attention, aren't you? My point is that I awarded it first place and if you don't like it, you can feel free to make your own list. This was an interesting adaptation of the comic book because they mostly stuck to the 1980s roster (good choice, at least as far as I'm concerned) but rearranged character traits, so that Rogue now has Kitty Pryde's personality. I could go on about this, and how it means that the film and comic book continuities don't need to sync up, but I'll spare you. This time.
DVD EXTRAS: This got completely out of hand, if you ask me. There's so much extra stuff here that they just went ahead and named the DVD X-Men 1.5, like it's a whole new movie. You've got your audio commentary, your deleted scenes, your behind-the-scenes clips, your alternate angles, your trailers, your animatics, the usual featurettes (which, incidentally, always include too much footage from the movie for my taste; I just watched the movie! You don't need to show me three minutes of movie before showing me five minutes of people talking about it! It makes it too obvious that what I'm actually watching is some "sneak peek" thing they threw together for HBO), TV commercials, and on and on and on. There's also a lot of promotion for X-Men 2, of course.