Comic book films in this era are known for their bombastic interpretations of iconic superheroes, but rarely does anyone talk about the effort it takes to make these characters stand out visually. To contribute to the conversation, here are my Top 5 most beautifully shot comic book films:
5. Man of Steel
Zack Snyder and cinematographer Amir Mokri had a monumental job ahead of them when trying to reinvent the most iconic comic book character for modern audiences. Man of Steel was shot on beautiful anamorphic 35mm film. The use of a single camera was chosen in order to create a sense of intimacy between the viewer and the story. The final product perfectly achieves the look Superman demands; the shots are rich in detail and feel very personal. By using documentary-style filmmaking techniques, Zack and Amir completely strip the film of blockbuster conventions and successfully create a story about adoption and self-acceptance both visually and emotionally. Man of Steel truly does a wonderful job of making its audience believe that a man can fly.
4. The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister had to cross a massive hurdle when they returned for the final installment of The Dark Knight trilogy. The Dark Knight Rises not only needed to be bigger story-wise, but also visually to it’s predecessors. Shot in 35mm, 65mm and IMAX, Nolan and Pfister filmed beautiful and wide shots, creating a sense of isolation and emptiness. The use of lighting left me in awe. One particular scene which highlights this, is then lightning was used to reveal and hide Bane’s face depending on the intensity of the scene. The camera constantly moves during fights, most notably in scenes like the Bane vs Batman. While normally this would create a jarring effect, here it’s well-framed and made each punch feel personal and rhythmic. The Dark Knight Rises is a worthy visual addition to Nolan legendary work.
3. Batman V Superman : Dawn Of Justice
Zack Snyder was tasked with the huge responsibility of bringing together the two most iconic comic book heroes on screen for the first time. For this project, he decided to work with Larry Fong, his cinematographer for Watchmen, 300, and Sucker Punch. Larry and Zack used a variety of cameras and formats to shoot Dawn of Justice, including anamorphic 35mm film, 65mm film, IMAX, and even GoPro. The use of rich and dark colors is breath-taking and creates the stylized drama Zack is looking for. Larry Fong worked with the production designer, Patrick Tatopoulos, very closely to build sets which would let lighting pass through corners and tight spaces smoothly. There are also scenes where Snyder and Fong pushed the limits of the IMAX camera, using it for long, continuous takes such as the “Knightmare” sequence, when paired with amazing fight choreography, truly showed what these cameras are capable of under a talented team. Dawn of Justice is simply one of the most beautifully shot comic book films ever made.
2. The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan was reunited with frequent collaborator Wally Pfister once again for The Dark Knight. Shooting in 35mm and IMAX, The Dark Knight was not only a well-shot comic book film but also a stunningly well-shot crime thriller. The shots in this film are wide, rich in detail, and perfectly lit. The film uses light to highlight characters, as well as use camera movements to convey emotion. During scenes like the dinner conversation with Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne, the camera changes position every time the conversation changes, altering the tone and emotion of the scene. This is just one example of how Nolan and Pfister use the camera to convey a message to the audience. 360 shots are used in beautifully to create chaotic moments. One example of this is when The Joker crashes the party and threateningly talks to Rachel, creating more tension. Overall, The Dark Knight is a perfect example of how you can position the camera to portray character and mood beautifully.
Zack Snyder and Larry Fong’s amazing work on their 2009 adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name can’t go unnoticed and is why it earned the top spot on my list. Shot on 35mm film, each of the film’s frames drip character, mood, and emotion. Instead of following the exact look of the legendary graphic novel, Snyder and Fong created a neo-noir look for the film, using a single-camera style to make the shots feel long and slow. Watchmen frequently uses silhouettes and deep shadows around the characters to create a sense of hopelessness and doom. Larry Fong does a stunning job of framing Dr Manhattan as a dominating figure, which works perfectly to make the audience feel like they are truly watching man turn into a divine fugure. Not only does Watchmen recreate beautiful frames from the graphic novel, it also succeeds at being at creating something visually new for the medium without sacrificing the original characters and story. Watchmen is simply the most beautifully shot comic book film.