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Expect more
superhero
films in 2004


February 5, 2004
By Franklin Harris

This year we may learn if the boom in superhero movies has staying power or has run its course. There are as many comic-book heroes headed to the silver screen in 2004 as in the past two years combined.

The most anticipated superhero movie is "Spider-Man 2," from the folks who brought you 2002's "Spider-Man." Tobey Maguire again dons the red-and-blue tights of Marvel Comics' wall-crawling hero, and Kirsten Dunst is still his would-be girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson. But this time Spidey has a new villain with whom to contend — Doctor Octopus, played by Alfred Molina ("Frida").

Director Sam Raimi proved with the first film that he gets both Spider-Man and Spidey's alter ego, Peter Parker. So, there is no reason to think he'll drop the ball this time, especially not when he is working from a script written in part by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon ("The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay").

Halle Berry stars in ''Catwoman,'' opening July 30.
Photo © Copyright Warner Bros.
Halle Berry stars in ''Catwoman,'' opening July 30.
Count on "Spider-Man 2" to be a critical hit and a box-office blockbuster when it opens on July 2.

At the other end of the spectrum is "Catwoman."

Halle Berry stars as a character with only a passing resemblance to Batman's favorite femme fatale, either as she appears in the comics or in the 1992 film "Batman Returns," which features Michelle Pfeiffer in the role. And if you've seen the publicity photos of Berry in her ridiculous Catwoman costume, you already know that this film has "disaster" written all over it.

Berry squares off against a villainess played by Sharon Stone while dodging police detective/love interest Benjamin Bratt.

I predict that after this stinks up theaters, you'll no longer hear anything about spinning off Berry's character from "Die Another Day" into her own film series.

"Catwoman" opens July 30.

Somewhere between these extremes is "The Punisher," starring Thomas Jane as Frank Castle, a vigilante who wages a one-man war on crime so as to avenge his murdered family. The best thing "The Punisher" has going for it is low expectations. Fans reacted to the casting of Jane ("The Thin Red Line") much as they did to the casting of Michael Keaton in 1989's "Batman." That is, badly. But Keaton worked out fine, and Jane just might, too.

Also on the plus side, the script reportedly stays true to the recent "Punisher" comics written by Garth Ennis. On the minus side, John Travolta is playing the bad guy, and he really hams it up whenever he plays the villain.

The jury is out on this one. But it can't be worse than the 1989 direct-to-video "Punisher" with Dolph Lundgren.

"The Punisher" opens April 16.

"Hellboy," opening on April 2, features a different kind of superhero. The title character, played by Ron Perlman under heavy makeup, is a demon raised by humans to fight against the forces of evil.

The film is based on Mike Mignola's series for Dark Horse Comics, and director Guillermo Del Toro ("Blade 2") seems to have captured the look of Mignola's dark, gothic artwork.

My gut feeling is that "Hellboy" will be entertaining, but it won't rake in the dollars. "Hellboy" isn't widely known outside comic-book circles, and Perlman isn't a proven draw.

Lastly, we come to "Man-Thing," based on the Marvel Comics character and not to be confused with DC Comics' superficially similar "Swamp Thing."

The title character isn't really a superhero. He is more of a monster, actually. And the movie, filmed in Australia with a cast of unknowns, was originally headed straight to your local Blockbuster. But someone at Artisan Entertainment saw potential in this little flick. So, now it is scheduled to open in theaters on August 27.

However bad "Man-Thing" might be — and that is anyone's guess; it might actually be decent — it ought to make back its modest budget.

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