Matthew Yglesias says it’s “Iron Man,” which I think is reflective of the back-loaded bias of so many decade retrospectives. “Spider-Man,” which came out seven years ago, is clearly the adaptation of the decade. Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin/Norman Osborn is a fantastic villain (remember the mirror monologues? of course you do) with motivations that make sense and a great denouement. Kirsten Dunst, as bland as she can be, makes a great dream girl, and the resolution of the romance is so good that J.K. Rowling ripped it straight off for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Like “Iron Man,” it nails the ecstasy of the origin scene, but “rich man gets powers” is a less satisfying transition than “nerd gets everything he wants.”
I hesitate to rank the superhero films I saw — I saw lots of them — but we can divide them into “successes” and “failures” pretty easily. Will you leave it on if it comes on during your channel-flip? Will you buy the chromium-embossed 12-disc blu-ray collector set? Then it’s a success. The first two X-Men films are successes, the third saved narrowly from disaster status because of all the cool stuff that happens, and the fourth (“Wolverine”) is an abomination. Both “Fantastic Four” films are failures, and Jessica Alba as Sue Storm is up there in the pantheon of terrible casting choices. Both Zak Snyder adaptations — “300” and “Watchmen” — are successes, even if they’re just ripped straight from the comic pages and splashed onto the screen. “Superman Returns” is a failure, doubly so because it saddled us with Brett Ratner as the director of “X-3.” Both Punisher reboots were failures — “War Zone” is a worse film, but the setting of the Tom Jane film in Tampa, and the shoddy use of Garth Ennis’s unadaptably strange villains (“Send in the Russian!”), made it a total disaster. Both Batman films were fantastic successes.
For all that CGI did for these films,I don’t think “successful superhero adaptations” were big breakthroughs this decade — the 1970s Superman and 1980s Batman reboots were wonderful. The big comic-book discovery of the Oughts was, I think, the successful translation of “arty” comics into fine films. “Persepolis,” “A History of Violence,” “Sin City,” “From Hell,” “Road to Perdition,” and on and on.
That said, if you told my 15-year old self that one decade would bring a masterpiece of a “Lord of the Rings” adaptation, fantastic adaptations of “X-Men” and “Spider-Man,” and serviceable versions of “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Watchmen,” I’d have gone into a joy coma. We nerds, we picked the right side. More evidence? The best comic book adaptations were churned out by the directors of “Evil Dead 2” and “Swingers.