Classic superhero movies -- ''Batman,'' ''Blade,'' ''Superman II,'' and more are rated by comics experts

By Jeff Jensen
Updated June 16, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Classic superhero movies

When it comes to high superhero movie criticism, nobody can be more brutal than those in the superhero business itself. People like postmodern comics scribe Warren Ellis, whose laceration of Judge Dredd begins, ”God, where to start?” Then there’s no less than Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee, whose dissection of Batman Forever concludes with ”I hate it.” In fact, many of these experts will tell you the best superhero adaptation to date didn’t spring from the funny pages. ”The Matrix was not based on a comic book,” says Michael Uslan, executive producer of the recent Batman flicks, ”[but] it’s still the best comic-book-style movie ever.”

For more insights, EW asked a few specialists to assess some cinematic conversions. In addition to Ellis, Lee, and Uslan, they include Craig Mazin and James Gunn, director and writer, respectively, of the forthcoming superhero comedy The Specials; Todd McFarlane, Spawn creator; Mike Richardson, publisher of Dark Horse Comics and exec producer of The Mask; Phil Jimenez, hotshot comic artist (The Invincibles); and crime comics auteur Brian Michael Bendis (Jinx).

They began with the biggest of them all…

Batman (1989)
Directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton. GROSS: $251 million.
Uslan: I admit, I’m prejudiced, but this really was Bob Kane’s and Bill Finger’s creature of the night, stalking criminals from the shadows of the city.
Bendis: Shave 10 minutes and it’s one of the best. They weren’t trying to sell action figures yet, just really trying to capture a tone.
Richardson: They had to make fake biceps and fake muscles so [Keaton] could look good in the costumes.
Lee: A great modd piece; fantastic sets and special effects, which covered up a hollow, far-fetched story. It’s a pity the Joker was so much more colorful, charismatic, and interesting than the hero.
SCORE: 3 POW!s (out of 5)

Blade (1998)
Starring Wesley Snipes as the half-human, half-vampire Marvel Comics badass.
GROSS: $70 million.
Jimenez: Blade is fairly easy to translate to movies — he’s just a big, black Buffy. This movie got it right with costumes, casting, and tone.
Lee: For what it was, Blade was great. The acting was perfect and believable, [although] I could have done with a little less blood.
Gunn: I like Snipes’ commitment. He took the role seriously instead of making fun of it.
Ellis: The glorious lunacy of the character was preserved, and everything else became harder and faster and smarter. Strange that the character never got the same treatment in comics.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
This adaptation of the cult comic-turned-kids phenomenon hatched two sequels. GROSS: $135 million.
McFarlane: This one comes closest to the expectations of the audience.
Uslan: Clever, smart humor that knows its audience, is consistent throughout, and never makes fun of the heroes themselves.
Jimenez: I think this movie did a lot right, particularly because of one thing: It has a pretty solid story that seems genuinely faithful to the comics, a rarity in comic book-to-movie translations.
Gunn: I always wanted to see four H.R. Pufnstufs kicking ass — and I finally got that wish granted.

Spawn (1997)
Batman + Ghost Rider = Spawn, McFarlane’s hellishly vengeful hero.
GROSS: $55 million.
Gunn: The Spawn outfit was all right. Everything good ends there.
Ellis: Lots and lots of big, splashy, trashy visuals. Almost completely pure translations from comics to film shouldn’t work — but this really is the comic on film.
Lee: The visual style and makeup were excellent. The story was the weakest point — but that doesn’t seem to bother audiences.
McFarlane: We were a little too loyal to the character of the book. Though some of the special effects were nice, we could have made some of the characters a little meatier instead of relying on big explosions.

Superman II (1981)
The sequel to the 1978 blockbuster finds Superman torn between romance with Lois Lane and saving the world from Kryptonian criminals.
GROSS: $108 million. Richardson: Superman is an icon. We know who he is, so we accept him walking around in that costume.
Mazin: The movie sticks to classic-era Supes, and corn is good food.
Jimenez: Superman came up with some crazy powers at the end, but how great is that fight through Metropolis!? It’s still the ultimate superhero versus supervillain movie.
Bendis: This is my introduction to what is widely referred to as ”the much inferior sequel.” But it was Marc McClure’s [Jimmy Olsen] finest screen performance, so…