Julien Neaves – Editor
It’s not exactly a great time for comic book movies. Marvel fans are in the uncertain post-Endgame phase, Black Widow’s release date keeps getting pushed back, and The New Mutants flopped harder than one of Cannonball’s farts. DC fans have to wait at least a year for The Batman and The Suicide Squad, and they are hoping Wonder Woman 1984’s latest release date of December does not disappear like Diana’s invisible jet.
But this dry spell is the perfect time to catch up on some comic book fan films. And you may even find some of these efforts showcase better and more comic-accurate versions of beloved heroes/anti-heroes compared to their Hollywood counterparts. For today’s article we will be checking out five of these fan films. Let’s suit up!
#1 Spawn – Spawn: The Recall
Full disclosure: I have never read a Spawn comic book. I like my heroes dark but he’s just a bit much. I did, however, enjoy the HBO animated series version of the character. The 1997 film version, though, less so. You really can’t do Spawn justice with a PG-13 rating, and Michael Jai White’s version was more generic dark hero than terrifying antihero bogeyman. And the less said about the PlayStation 1-esque special effects the better.
The 2014 fan film directed by Michael Paris, however, delivers the antihero bogeyman in just under eight minutes. With an extremely dark tone, surprisingly effective special effects, and great voice acting courtesy Gregory Paris, this fantasy/horror short is very well done. We have a new Spawn film in the works and one can only hope they would take a look at The Recall for some inspiration. Because this is how you do Spawn. You can check it out for yourself here:
#2 Poison Ivy – Pamela & Ivy: The Poison Ivy Origin Story
Last year’s Joker film was a critical and commercial smash. And though I had my issues with how little this version resembled his comic book counterpart (you can read more about that here) I enjoyed Joaquin Phoenix’s Academy Award-winning performance. And if you were to ask me which other Batman villain should get the origin movie treatment (go ahead, ask me) I would probably say The Riddler or Catwoman (let’s pretend the Halle Berry version never happened, okay?). But Poison Ivy? I don’t think she could work as an origin film. I was glad to be proven wrong.
2020 fan film Pamela and Ivy: A Poison Ivy Origin Story, is written, directed and co-stars Leah McKendrick. It shows how childhood trauma, dissociative identity disorder and science created one of Batman’s most powerful supervillains. The film also has some acting superpower in the form of veteran actor Eric Roberts. The story is a bit disjointed but the production is well made and delivers a good twist and some decent effects. And yes, the Poison Ivy on the Gotham TV series was very well done as well. But we are talking films here, and McKendrick’s version is ten times better than the campy manure we got with Uma Thurman in Batman and Robin. You can judge for yourself here:
#3 Frank Castle/The Punisher – The Punisher: Dirty Laundry
Now Jon Bernthal killed it as lethal vigilante Frank Castle/Punisher in the Netflix MCU. But again, we are talking movie versions, and despite three films Hollywood is yet to get the Marvel murder machine just right. Dolph Lungren’s slurring 1989 version just didn’t get the character, Thomas Jane was okay as the 2004 version but the movie was not that great, and Ray Stevenson’s 2008 version was decent but he didn’t look the part and the movie was all style and no substance.
For the 2012 short film Dirty Laundry, directed by Phil Joanou, Jane reprises the role and character actor Ron Perlman also makes an appearance. The premise is simple – Castle goes out to do his laundry and ends up clashing with some gangsters. In just ten minutes you have some great acting, extreme violence, and an interesting little story. This proves Jane can do the character justice given a good script and strong direction. But don’t just take my word for it. Watch it for yourself:
#4 Dick Grayson – Nightwing: The Series
As a film reviewer and editor of this site I promise to be honest with you dear readers. So in the spirit of that promise I must confess that this next entry is a cheat. I know, I am ashamed of myself. We have never had a film version of Nightwing, and Brenton Thwaites version on the TV series Titans is quite good. And Nightwing: The Series is not a fan film but a web series, five parts to be exact. But in my defence we did have Chris O’Donnell play Dick Grayson in two films (Batman Forever and Batman and Robin) and neither time was that great. And the Nightwing series is cool and I just really want to talk about it. Don’t @ me.
The 2014 series, directed by Adam Zielinksi and co-written/starring Danny Shepherd, finds Dick abandoning the Robin persona and becoming Nightwing after his girlfriend Barbara Gordon is shot by the Joker The Killing Joke-style. As Nightwing he comes into conflict with super assassin Slade Wilson/Deathstroke.
This is just a very well done series. The comic-styled credits look cool, the acting is solid if not spectacular, the action is bloody, brutal and decently choreographed, and the writing is tight and to the point. Some of the costuming does look a little cosplay-ish but it still works. So just as Pamela & Ivy made me want a Poison Ivy origin film, this series has me hankering for a Nightwing solo movie. Check out what I’m talking about here with the first episode:
#5 Gambit and Rogue – Gambit: Play for Keeps
The 90s X-Men animated series was my introduction to mutants Gambit aka Remy LeBeau and Rogue, and both instantly became personal favourites. So imagine my utter disappointment with the watered-down version of Rogue we got in the X-Men films and the bleh version of Gambit we got in the craptastic X-Men: Origins: Wolverine. People often talk about how they crapped on Deadpool in Origins (and yes that was awful) but Taylor Kitsch’s shoe-horned-in Gambit was annoying as well. Now that the Merry Mutants are under Disney one can hope that Gambit and Rogue will finally receive comic-accurate film depictions. But while you are waiting for that to happen sometime in the future, why not check out the awesome 2020 fan film Gambit: Play for Keeps.
The 20-minute film is directed by Jensen Noen and stars Nick Bateman as Gambit, Ellen Hollman as Rogue, Anna Butkevich as the mutant Magik (yes, she’s here too), and vengeful crime boss Nicky Lonero is played by Eric Roberts (dude likes his fan films. Good for him). The plot finds lovable thief/gambler Gambit entering a high stakes card game, only to find out it is a trap set by an old enemy who is also holding his beloved Rogue hostage.
Bateman’s Cajun accent may be a little shaky but he nails the coolness, charm and bravado of Gambit. Hollman, unlike the Anna Paquin version, delivers the powerful, sassy Southern belle fans know and love. Butkevich’s Magik is uncharacteristically a baddie but I can excuse it. And Roberts is always entertaining as a smirking bad guy.
The powers look good and are comic accurate, the action is very well done, and the whole production has quite the cinematic feel. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and you can pre-sign me up for a full feature version. Sorry Channing Tatum. You can check out Play for Keeps for yourself here:
Know of any other great comic book fan films? Hit me up in the comments. For my Top 15 Most Anticipated Comic Book Movies you can click here. And for more comic 2 screen film reviews you can like and follow Redmangoreviews by clicking here.
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”.
I can also be found posting on Instagram as redmanwriter and talking about TV and movie stuff on Facebook at Movieville.