Films are an interesting medium for telling a story. Whereas a book can be more descriptive, allowing the reader to interpret and imagine as they see fit, film must do all of that for the viewer and hopefully capture the feeling that the story is trying to portray.
It would be foolish to say that certain films, or indeed TV shows, are "easy" to film - nothing is "easy", but certain types of film are going to be easier overall.
For instance - a film about relationships, set in the now is going to be far easier to film than, say, something set in the far future, or a period piece. This isn't just because we have to invent technology that doesn't yet exist, or try to source clothes and vehicles from times past, but because these things have to be convincing.
The last word there - convincing - is probably the most key. Go back and watch a good (in your eyes) Sci-Fi film from your past. Lets say, if you're a little older, 2001. That still stands up in most respects because it shuns most technology to tell a very much human story. Now lets look at something a little more recent, like the Matrix. That was filmed in 1997/98 and is still a fantastic movie (some would say, the perfect Sci-Fi movie) but how convincing are the effects; the technology? Pretty good?
Okay, lets move on. Both of the movies I've mentioned fit a certain aesthetic. 2001 goes clean and white to show us, perhaps, not a real future, but an ideal. The Matrix, a complete opposite. In this case, there is technology we don't have (the hovering ships, and the Matrix itself) but the rest is more in line with what we have, or have lost.
If we think of something purely fantasy, then perhaps Star Wars - or Star Trek (both compete for fans affections). Now, Star Wars is based on technology invented thousands of years prior to the story line we're told through film - and for reasons not explained, it plateaued. The big bad has new tech and it's very shiny and dark and very "futuristic".
Star Trek on the other hand is set in our future and there is almost nothing in it that we have today (let's be honest here, we're talking the movies, not the series and we don't have phasers (posh lasers), transporters or warp capable vessels).
Do either of those age well when it comes to being "convincing"? No. Not really.
Case in point is the up coming Star Wars Blu-ray trilogy release. I don't need to go in to details here but Star Wars has had more lifts and tucks than any aging Hollywood star (and, honestly, it doesn't need it - it looks it's age and is better for it).
Star Trek on the other hand is far harder to forgive.
The first films were made in the 1970s and early 1980s and it shows. The model making for the ship sequences was hugely involving (not to say Star Wars was not, by the way) and expensive and meant that some shots were reused - perhaps "mirrored" or coloured to change the focus - but reused none the less.
The hair styling, costumes and sets screamed their age and the technology was a look forward 300 years that, in some cases, we've already surpassed. Bad Star Trek!
Now, some would say I've missed the point - Star Trek was about us - as people. The Enterprise was a metaphor for the planet Earth and it's crew, the United States. So, okay, I'll concede - but it still had people fighting on lava planets and ships throwing plasma at each other (okay, not plasma... photon torpedoes).
Leaving Trek behind - this has been a problem for a long time. Computers now replace models, and actors now have to stand in empty, green rooms or, worse, become avatars instead. Our obsession with making these other worlds look real has meant that whilst they do on the day of release, they age very quickly and the gap between reality and the uncanny valley is narrowing all the time (google the uncanny - it's interesting - if you want an example; Neo fighting the masses of Smiths in the Matrix Reloaded. One second it's actor Keanu Reeves, the next it's a PlayStation animation).
So, to my point. (Yes, I was getting to it).
We probably relate comics to comic books and comic books to super heroes. Originally, and most prominently, they are indeed about super heroes, but more recently, films and TV have gone the other way (think Buffy or Firefly). Comics very rarely make a good transfer to film... mind you, neither do Computer games (perhaps a topic for another day).
The last 10 years has seen a very real resurgence of comic book movies. They didn't exactly go away - the likes of Superman and Batman have always been there (and with almost no exception, they've been terrible) but with the 2002 version of Spider man we finally got a good (for the time, great) interpretation of a comic book. Were the sequels as good? Well, the second was actually really good - probably better than the first, but the third was panned for good reason.
You may be thinking "Oi, Willis, what about X-Men? That came out in 2000!". Yeah well that sucked too. So did it's sequels. And Wolverine. Sorry - I love them too - but come on, they sucked.
So, Spidey probably had the limelight in most cases (opinion being what it is, you may disagree.. hell, you might have like Ghost Rider or Daredevil)... until 2008.
In my humble opinion, John Favreau's Iron Man was a turning point in comic book movies. Not only did it establish a character that wasn't quite so mainstream, but it also made it believable. Big difference.
Favreau had said on numerous occasions that he wanted the technology of Iron Man to be ahead of ours by "a couple of generations". He was talking about the computers, and general day to day stuff. The suit itself is doable, but the Arc Reactor is complete fiction. That's another story though.
I'd very much enjoyed Spider man and even X-Men to a degree - but Iron Man, well, I loved Iron Man. There are few films I'll buy more than once (DVD, Blu Ray etc) but other than Back to the Future - it's only Iron Man (and perhaps Serenity).
Iron Man was such a big hit that our subtly anti-hero Tony Stark appeared in "The Hulk" and his universe was expanded with "Thor" and "Captain America". Next year we'll get "The Avengers" that heavily features our favourite Avenger and, most likely, the Mk VII suit. 2013 will even follow with "Iron Man 3" if the rumours are to be believed, albeit without John Favreau - most likely because 'America, Thor and The Avengers leave the tech behind and go almost totally in to the realms of fantasy (it works mostly but makes things seem less believable).
Will we see more Iron Man beyond 2013? Most likely given the audience reaction - perhaps with more Avengers if Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, FireFly, to name but a few) can pull it off. It is less likely we'll see Robert Downey Jr continue the roll as he's likely to want to move on after four appearances (and with Iron Man having relaunched his career he now enjoys rolls such as Sherlock Holmes).
So I'm happy that these films are making the fantasy, believable once more. Long may it continue.