That mail-order company with the little red envelopes sent me the Comic Book Villains DVD recently, and I watched it tonight; the experience was surprising, if not totally satisfying.
I must have ordered the film, which was written and directed by the same fellow who went on to write the execrable League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, during my comics-related-stuff search when I first established my queue. I didn't read any reviews of it until after I saw it, and the ones I have checked out have been almost unanimously negative.
The film starts out looking like it will be an examination of fandom: the plot revolves around the efforts of rival comic shop owners, a fanboy and husband-and-wife team of speculators, to secure the dream of all obsessed collectors: a previously unknown, totally complete, Golden Age-to-present collection held by someone who doesn't know its true worth. As the rivalry heats up, we are led to believe the movie will become a caper flick, with increasing complicated methods being employed to curry favor and obtain the collection. The film then takes a dark turn; the caper is not lighthearted, but mean-spirited, and Bad Things Happen.
This is the aspect that seemed to turn most reviewers off: that the film was unnecessarily dark and violent for a movie about comic book geeks. This is also where I think that most reviewers got it wrong.
You see, this is not a comic book movie. It is rather a wannabe thriller or noir moderne in the mold of the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple; the comic book stuff is just extra. The director wrote comics in the nineties and clearly called upon a world that he knew, but the fought-over collection could have just as easily been stamps or coins or baseball cards; comics qua comics don't have as much significance in this story as vinyl albums did in High Fidelity, for example. Notwithstanding some lessons learned about living a real life rather than obsessing over imaginary characters, this isn't really a movie about collectors and collecting: it is about greed, desperation, and morality.
Considered in this light, the film still falls short -- the director just doesn't have a deft enough touch to carry off the descent into madness without stumbling -- but it is less of a complete misfire. The cast of well-known (if not A-list) actors acquit themselves well, although Cary Elwes seems to be channeling Bruce Campbell for some reason, and the soundtrack is pretty cool, if not always appropriately scored. Maybe I was just feeling generous, but I would recommend checking this movie out, with graded expectations, and not just for comics fans.
Comic Book Villains (2002) Written and Directed by James Robinson; Capital Arts Entertainment.