So I’m talking to someone the other day (no names — you know who you are) and I got asked what my favorite superhero films were. I hadn’t really thought to put any time into it, I just like the movies, and that was my basic answer.
“But you write superhero stuff!”
“So you’re the kind of person that needs to review them!”
Yeah… I don’t review movies very well. I’m more of a, “Holy shit, that was fun! When old dude jumped out of the coffin I nearly peed!” kind of guy. You’ll never see me on TV sitting in a balcony fawning over a piece of celluloid and comparing a fight scene to the cinematography of a Bergman film, or discussing the similarities and contrasts between The Fantastic Four and Chariots of Fire. That ain’t me.
But I thought on what had been said, and I figured, “Why not make a little list? I can tell people some of what made it fun, and why I like it.”
Some disclaimers up front:
1: Your favorite(s) may or may not be on the list. Sorry. This isn’t to denigrate your choice or say you have no taste (unless you don’t, in which case WHOO! I got it right!). I’m putting ten of my favorites up.
2: Spoilers. This list will probably have a few. That being said, I’m not going to just come right out and say, “Wow, that chick in the movie is really a dude and that’s the surprise ending!” That’s a total dick move (which apparently she can also make). But if you don’t know that Steve Rogers gets a scientific Super-makeover and becomes Studly Guy, well, then, sorry. I just ruined that for you.
3: I’ll say it again for the folks in the upper rows: I am not a professional reviewer! No film classes, no director’s training, no comparative cinema internet course, nothing. Just a mook who watches movies for fun. When you read it and think, “This guy is a lame-ass. How can you not see the Kurosawa influence in scene 7 when Crusader-Man is silhouetted in the shattered doorframe with the burning city behind him,” remember that I told you this here.
4: I think Thundercats should be a live-action film. If that tells you something about what you’re stepping into with this article, then cool. You understand this is no highbrow, in-depth analysis of the films in question. Also, if you think Jason Statham would make a good Tygra, then yay! We can be friends!
Ok, on to the list, in no particular order (click the image to be taken to the IMDB page for that particular film):
The incomparable Joss Whedon put together a superhero ensemble that blew audiences out of their seat. Featuring Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, the Hulk, Hawkeye, and S.H.I.E.L.D. squaring off against Loki and a bunch of creepy-ass aliens, The Avengers was a tour-de-force of action and one-liners.
Asgardian gods, legendary soldiers, the sand worms from Dune with some upgraded rims, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. What’s not to like?
Related: Sections on Captain America and Iron Man.
Ah, Deadpool. Always on the periphery of film, but never quite picked up. It seemed no one would do justice to the character, and fans across the world rejoiced and feared in equal measure when it was announced that Ryan Reynolds would be slipping into the red-and-black to be the wisecracking assassin.
The trailers — at first “leaked” and later crafted to showcase some of the funnier moments of the film — served to unite fans behind Reynolds’ performance, and soon the waiting became almost unbearable.
Protests erupted that the film was given an “R” rating by the MPAA, and that this would preclude children from attending a film featuring a popular superhero. Although certainly not the first superhero film to feature the red-and-black “R” image (a coincidence of color, Deadpool? Or another subtle breaking of that fourth wall?), Deadpool star Reynolds and fans worldwide ran with the controversy, creating advertisements, social media postings, and graphics that explained why the “Merc with the Mouth” should remain out of reach of those tiny little kiddies. Here’s a hint, folks: the language alone met the MPAA requirements. Add in the violence, nudity, and suggestive nature of many a comment or action, and yeah…leave little Timmy at home for this one.
Alan Moore’s seminal work on the topic, Watchmen was always “in the works” somewhere. This person or that one fought to acquire the rights and make it come to life, but it always seemed to fall through for one reason or another.
Finally, in 2009, director Zack Snyder dropped his monumental film onto the world, and the results were incredible. At times a nearly frame-by-frame adaptation of the graphic novel, Watchmen was a shining example of what can be done with the right patience, crew, cast, and budget. Its extended release, complete with the Tales of the Black Freighter sequences intact, stands in my mind as quite probably the most “true to the source material” adaptation of a comic or graphic novel ever made.
I laughed at the folks in the theater on this one that brought their kids and sat there watching Nite Owl and Silk Spectre obliterate a street gang. They watched the opening fight where the Comedian is thrown out a window. They watched every act of violence with absolute glee and rapt expressions, but as soon as Malin Akerman shed that Silk Spectre suit and her nude body showed on screen, “Oh no! Gotta pack up the young uns, Marge!” They grabbed those kids and dragged them out of the theater as if there was a fire. Shattered arms and dead heroes are cool, but boobs? Can’t have that!
Blade – the Daywalker. Dusting vamps with the ferocity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the precision-tuned weaponry of Abraham Whistler.
Wesley Snipes strode on screen as the half-vampire out to destroy pointy-toothed ancients and their more modern descendants (Stephen Dorff tore it up as Deacon Frost). With his razor-edged sword and silver spikes, shotgun, and converted MAC-11, Blade ripped his way through the ranks of the undead and left the audience grinning.
As you’ll note through a lot of these review things, the cast made this movie what it is. Snipes, Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, Donal Logue, and a host of others combined to make this a gritty and dark anti-vampire romp.
Guardians of the Galaxy
One of the most anticipated films of 2014, Guardians featured the story of a ragtag group of criminals thrown together and facing off against an evil alien overlord.
A talking tree, a raccoon with a penchant for weapons, a powerhouse with no understanding of the subtleties of language, and an assassin seeking redemption join forces with a Terran expatriate thief. What follows is a rollicking romp through space, with lots of action and humor, and even the occasional tear. Well, you know, from some people. Not me, of course. Never.
Production is underway on the sequel, and I, for one, can’t wait.
Captain America: the First Avenger
The First Avenger. Captain America, created as part of the United States Super Soldier program and unleashed upon the forces of the Third Reich. The living embodiment of the American ideal, striding fearlessly into a hail of bullets, with his Vibranium shield bouncing slugs left and right. These are timeless images.
I will admit that when I first saw the ads for this one, I commented that Chris Evans had already portrayed Johnny Storm in The Fantastic Four and they should go with a different actor.
I was wrong.
Read it again, folks. I admitted it. I was wrong!
Chris Evans makes the role come alive. He is Captain America.
Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark was the best casting decision the studios for Marvel made in years. Between that one and putting J.K. Simmons in as J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man franchise, they hit an absolute home run. This is one of those roles where I see the actor for the first few minutes and then after that he is the character, through and through.
Returning home after spending some vacation time in a cavern in the friendly embrace of some desert-dwelling terrorist-types, Tony is now the proud possessor of a new energy source and a desire to build bigger and better suits of armor in order to redeem himself for the sins of his past.
As always, the cast blows away even the tech in this tale. RDJ, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Jon Favreau (who also directed), all are great in their roles and bring their incredible skills to bear, making an origin story a lot of fun. It is also here that we meet S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson for the first time, and his popularity only grew after his beautifully casual performance.
The year was 1978 and I was just a little critter, but I went to the theater and took in the spectacle that was Superman. This was a turning point film for me. Christopher Reeve made Superman feel more real than George or Steve Reeves ever had. His delivery — so soft-spoken and friendly as Clark Kent and so decisive as Superman — was a wonderful thing. The second film was a beautiful thing, with Terence Stamp and the positively stunning Sarah Douglas, but this one holds a special place in my heart, as it is the first superhero film I can remember seeing.
And that score! Thank you, John Williams, for creating a score that will always resonate with us. Face it, when you hear those chords, you know all too well what they mean. Your spirit soars in the same way that Superman did.
The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is a wonderful trio of films, and The Dark Knight is a masterpiece.
Heath Ledger’s inspired depiction of Joker draws the lion’s share of praise from most critics reviewing this film, but if you look at the overall package it is a beast. Aaron Eckhart turns in one hell of a performance as Harvey Dent / TwoFace. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne / Batman and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox just knock their roles out of the park. Don’t even get me started on Gary Oldman as Commissioner Jim Gordon. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Oldman muff a role. If that wasn’t enough, toss Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth onto the pile of names.
The film is a wonder from start to finish, and sets the stage nicely for the coming of Bane in the third film of the trilogy. Batman finds himself in over his head with the expansion of operations by the Joker, and soon ends up as a wanted man on his own.
Filled with the glorious gadgets one expects from a Batman film, but also with the well-thought script from Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight is one of those you definitely don’t just turn off.
X2 — X-Men United
Wait! X2? What about X-Men? Dude, you skipped one!
I did indeed.
X2, I find, is that little bit better than its predecessor. With viewers having already been introduced to most of the major players, X2 was able to simply advance the plotlines. Allusions are made to upcoming movies here, some subtle and some really not.
The use of Nightcrawler as a tool of assassination seems to make sense from a “why didn’t anyone think to do this sooner” point of view. So now the mutants from Xavier’s school have something to look for, right? Plus, the government is ramping up the anti-mutant measures. Add in a military-style raid of the school by agents working for William Stryker and now you’ve got muties running loose all over the place!
By the way, for a fun superhero connection: The mansion used for Xavier’s school is also the Luthor home in Smallville, the WB network’s highly successful coming-of-age Superman series.
So there you have my top ten list (at least for this week). Narrowing the list to just ten was tougher than I expected. I could have included another ten without breaking stride. Here are a few that came damned close:
Captain America: the Winter Soldier
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Iron Man II
Hellboy 2: the Golden Army
Folks, I won’t run away from a showing of any of the above, and in general, you’re safe throwing a series of superhero films up onto screen any time I’m around.
Also, since I mentioned it at the first of this article, here are my suggestions:
Lion-O: Travis Fimmel
Tygra: Jason Statham
Cheetara: Katee Sackhoff
Jaga: Edward James Olmos
WileyKit and WileyKat: No clue. Those are kid actors and I have zero knowledge of those. Last kid actor I knew was Chloe Grace Moretz back when she played HitGirl on Kick-Ass, and she’s not a kid any more.
Snarf, of course, would be a CGI construct of some kind. I’m thinking Zooey Deschanel for the voice.
Mumm-Ra: Willem Dafoe
Monkian: Bruce Campbell
VultureMan: Steve Buscemi
JackalMan and Slithe are up for grabs. Any suggestions?
Images obtained through IMDB search for movie posters of the film in question.