Home > Lists > The Ultimate Evolving Superhero Movie List – Part 2

The Ultimate Evolving Superhero Movie List – Part 2

It can be hard to discern which films are worth your time. Now, I’m no expert on comic books, having primarily grown up getting to know most of these characters from films, TV shows, and video games, but I do have a love for superheroes just the same, and I do consider these mediums to be a part of the ever expanding reach of these characters beyond their comic book origins. As I write this, I also admit I’m running on a superhero high these days, as I just came off a string of reviews for The Dark Knight Trilogy. Also of note is that The Viewer’s Commentary not only reached its 100th post with the first portion of this list, but it is also coming upon its first anniversary, and I figured that I would do something grand to celebrate!

Initially, I was thinking, “Why not do an updated Top 10 Superhero Films list?” but that just came off as being not grand enough, and doubling that number still didn’t feel ambitious enough. So I set myself on a much grander mission: To make an ever-evolving list of not just the best or worst superhero films, but of ALL the superhero films I had ever seen, leading to the creation of this list you see before you.

Currently, I am limiting this list to just theatrically-released films, as that still provides me with a lot of ground to cover, though it will definitely begin to include exceptions for non-theatrical features such as Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Furthermore, I am abstaining from listing films that I have yet to see or have not seen in quite some time and, thus, do not feel comfortable passing judgment on. As such, there will be omissions, some of them obvious, some of them not so much, but that’s the beauty of the idea behind this project: It’s an evolving list.

So, as I see newer movies, re-watch forgotten ones, and also discover the ones that have somehow gone unseen by me, I will continue to add them to this list, which is also being given its own all-encompassing page here on The Viewers Commentary. Films will be neatly separated into the five easy categories – The Awful, The Bad, The Average, The Good, and The Excellent – and each film within each category ranked from least to greatest in quality (all my opinion of course). Do not consider this list or the commentary to be definitive reviews, but if I do have a review for the movie, rest assured that it will be linked to.

In part two of the initial form of this list, I present to you the current films in the Average section and the first half of the Good section. (Look out for the rest of the Good films to be included with the Excellent films in the last third of this list!)

THE AVERAGE

Megamind

Despite some amusing performances from Will Ferrell and Tina Fey, Megamind just never quite gelled for me as that entertaining of a movie. It has its moments, such as Ferrell’s emphatic mispronunciation of words as villain Megamind and the at first shocking demise of hero Metro Man, but the whole meta schtick in this film is really rather dull and, as a result, so is the movie. Many loved it. I did not so much. And that’s pretty much it.

Hancock

This is half of a good film, but the latter half falls apart as it tries to throw in an unsatisfying twist and explain to the audience the hero’s backstory, which never really carries with it the weight that the filmmakers likely intended. The problem is that the concept of an unlikable drunk with special powers who doesn’t exactly enjoy being a hero was far more interesting before everything was explained and had Will Smith, for once, playing someone who was intended to be an abrasive ass. Smith has a reputation for working well with his costars, and the same can be said for his relationship with Jason Bateman. Bateman plays a regular man who is saved by Hancock and ultimately becomes his PR rep, inviting Hancock into his home, where Hancock instantly clashes with Charlize Theron’s chilly wife character. It’s that relationship that ultimately makes the film fall apart, and everything interesting about the film and its two male leads starts to be overtaken by the filmmaker’s apparent attempt to make it something that it shouldn’t have been: more comic book-like. Good while it lasts.

Batman (1966)

While many laud the more serious approach to the Batman character, there’s some value in recognizing just how ridiculous the whole concept is, especially the villains and Gotham’s over-reliance on the Caped Crusader. The 1960s Batman TV series has become notorious for its portrayal of the former Dark Knight as a campy, pontificating, self-important blowhard with a moronic kid sidekick, but, to be quite honest, that concept is a lot funnier than some modern Batman fans will likely admit, and the film adaptation of the series is a fun, ridiculous ride, with hilarious jabs at Batman’s gadgetry (a collection of “Oceanic Repellent Bat Sprays”) and the often bizarre crimes committed by his rogues (dehydrating the world leaders into powder and holding them ransom). Perhaps my most favorite scene involves Batman’s overlong attempt to dispose of a bomb safely only to constantly run into unassuming obstacles like nuns, a marching band playing “Bringing in the Sheaves,” and a family of ducks. “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!” The film slows down significantly in the climax, possibly due to the fact that it starts to focus way too much on low-budget action and not enough on continuing the ridiculous humor.

Mystery Men

My average section seems to be bogged down by comedies, but the fact of the matter is that very few of the great superhero films have also been comedies. That isn’t to say that there aren’t any good comedic superhero films, but, there are few that are great. Take, for instance, the oft forgotten Mystery Men. The performances are all pretty much awesome here, with Ben Stiller’s pathetic portrayal of the 90s-era angry hero being particularly amusing, but while jokes like the Sphinx’s cryptic mentoring style are pretty amusing, some of the others, such as Invisible Boy’s not knowing he’s naked, fall flat. The concept of a sort of C-list Justice League taking on the world’s most sinister supervillain (Geoffrey Rush as the fancy mad scientist Casanova Frankenstein) in the place of the world’s greatest hero (Greg Kinnear as the sponsor-endorsed, publicity-seeking Captain Amazing) is fun, however, and, unlike most of the comedies on this list, the flat jokes are scattered about more evenly amongst the better ones, leading to a more satisfying experience.

Despicable Me

Unlike Megamind, DreamWorks Animation’s other supervillain feature, Despicable Me, is a more charming and amusing effort, with more attractive and imaginative character designs, including the little yellow jellybean guys called Minions (who are used far more sparingly than the trailers suggested), and more colorful, expressive animation than its counterpart. As wannabe ubervillain Gru, Steve Carell brings his usual charms to the role, even as he’s trying to be nasty to three ubercute little girls he’s fostering as part of his bizarre master plan to steal the moon and beat his rival villain, Vector, at being the most despicable villain. I didn’t fall in love with the film as pretty much everyone else seemingly did, but Despicable Me is a perfectly fun family film that will unfortunately very likely be driven into the ground by tue forthcoming sequel and the recently announced Minion-starring spin-off.

Blade

Blade wasn’t particularly too well known when he got his first film adaptation, but the daywalking half-vampire hero is widely credited for bringing back superhero films from the depths of a Batman & Robin-shaped pit to become a surprise hit with audiences and, as a result, Marvel’s first true film success. It wasn’t particularly well liked by critics, but for once, the audiences were largely right in defying them. Making up for its rather straightforward plot is a lot of sleek action, entertaining performances, and just an all around cool atmosphere. Wesley Snipes is particularly awesome in the title role of the sword-wielding vampire hunter, and the supporting cast of Kris Kristofferson and Stephen Dorff keep things alive. N’Bushe Wright is kind of a boring leading lady, but she’s at least given a few more things to do here than the usual needy love interest and actually takes on an active role in the plot. Blade’s mother? Not so much.

Blade II

Pretty much on par with its predecessor, Blade II finds Guillermo del Toro doing some preliminary superhero work for his far superior adaptations of the Hellboy comic. He takes the first film’s sleek action-over-exposition mentality and manages to formulate a somewhat more compelling plot while still remaining true to the formula. With humans and vampires alike threatened by a new race of monster that craves the bodies of both species, Blade finds himself compromising and joining forces with the vampires and, through the process, confronts his prejudices as he starts to fall in love with their leader’s daughter. The Romeo & Juliet-styles romance isn’t particularly compelling, but it isn’t distracting nor particularly detrimental to the overall film either. It must be said that the new CGI effects are dated, at best, but all of what made the first film so entertaining remains in the sequel. If only Donnie Yen wasn’t relegated to such a cameo-level role.

The Mask

While not nearly as dark as the comic that inspired it (not that I would know firsthand, to be quite honest, but it must be noted, all the same), The Mask is pretty much an excuse to have Jim Carrey act like a cartoon with sleek, cartoon-like special effects used to enhance his already elastic face and body to Tex Avery-like proportions, and is one of three films from 1994 (the others being Dumb & Dumber and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) that kick-started Jim Carrey’s rise to fame, while also being Cameron Diaz’s debut film, too. The Mask is light on story and heavy on spectacle, but being a movie that was made at a time when Jim Carrey’s ability to make audiences laugh actually matched that of his level of fame, The Mask holds up as pure entertainment. It’s also worth mentioning that the CGI effects hold up very well for a movie released in a year that saw both action films (Jurassic Park) and dramas (Forrest Gump) making expert use of the increasingly prevalent technique.

Superman

I’m sure I’ll be crucified for placing this movie here, but for all the great performances that this film contains, there are several other factors that hold it back from greatness in my mind. Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder shine as Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane, but Gene Hackman’s campy Lex Luthor, accompanied by annoying, bumbling sidekicks played by Valerie Perrine and Ned Beatty, just does not make for a credible threat against Superman. It almost feels like he’s a mandatory villain in a film that, to be quite honest, probably didn’t even need one in the first place. Imagine a film where Superman came to terms with his false humanity, helping people with common but big disasters, while allowing the relationship with Lois to blossom, and what you would have is half of what’s here, only expanded and better. Save the supervillains for a sequel where Superman seems to know what he’s up against but then faces a new threat (which eventually did came to fruition). For all the great Krypton scenes, the John Williams score, and moments of brilliant performances by the two lead actors, you have things like the terribly miscast Jeff East as a young Clark Kent, those two idiotic sidekicks and Lex’s neutered threat level, and, possibly worst of all, the suspension of disbelief-shattering concept of Superman flying around the earth backwards to reverse time and bring resolution to the film’s climax (not to mention the fact that the freaking planet is spinning in the wrong direction when this happens). I know that some would call this nitpicking, but this nonsensical, deus ex machina ending quite honestly drives me nuts to the point of wanting to hate this film, if not for all the good that it does bring to the table. I can overlook plot holes for most movies when I can fill in the blanks myself reasonably enough, but quite frankly, I cannot reconcile that logic to even this fantastical film, and so the first Superman is irreparably flawed in my eyes.

THE GOOD

Chronicle

Perhaps I set my expectations so low that I enjoyed this film far more than it likely deserves, but it’s my list so, whatever – I liked it quite a bit. The performances are reasonably solid, especially from lead actor Dane DeHaan as the picked-on outcast Andrew, and the cash-in concept of the found footage film is given new life, as the developed powers of the three lead characters allow the camera to be more dynamic and show more interaction between all the characters than other films of this ilk. Aside from showing what actual teenagers would do if they developed superpowers, the film is basically an expansion of the superhero origin story and ends at the birth of the hero and the villain, allowing the development and understanding of these young characters to be the focus. Chronicle is a more straightforward and smaller minded film than most other superhero films, but that’s what sets it apart from its many peers.

Super

The superhero film scene has become so mainstream in the past decade that it was really only a matter of time until the indie film scene brought its own twist to the proceedings, complete with indie film quirky sensibilities and humor. Super is notable in that its heroes are possibly more psychotic and violent than the film’s villain. And yet, despite his brutality, you can’t help but root for him – or at least see the logic in his thinking. Frank (Rainn Wilson) is a man who has suffered a lot throughout his life, a fact that has left him psychologically scarred. When his wife leaves him for another man who reintroduces her in her former bad habits, Frank has an emotional and mental breakdown that has him perceiving a vision from God, inspiring him to exact the kind of justice that sees all crimes as being equal. (“You don’t butt in line! You don’t sell drugs! You don’t molest little children! You don’t profit off the misery of others! The rules were set a long time ago! They don’t change!”) You’re either going to like the film or you’re not. Super is brutally violent, but realistically so, and it has an uncomfortable sort of absurdist humor throughout, which kind of works, as it’s narrated from Frank’s damaged perspective. Ellen Page nearly steals the show as the sidekick who isn’t so much motivated by morality or pain so much as she is the thrill of having a justifiable excuse to exert power over others (including Frank in an uncomfortably amusing scene in her apartment).

X-Men

Though it probably has one of the lamest one-liners in mainstream film history (hint: it’s the one involving toads and lightning), X-Men followed up Blade as one of the most significant film adaptations at that time and became an even bigger hit with audiences and critics and starting a film franchise that has continued on to this day. It lacks the ambition and scale of later superhero films, but Bryan Singer’s take on the Marvel’s mutants returned superhero films to a level of respect by remaining reasonably faithful to the source material, right down to its topical allegories about acceptance and prejudice. It helps that Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, and Hugh Jackman are pretty much perfect for their roles, and, for the most part, the rest of the cast is also acceptable – save for Halle Berry, who is both too young and too boring as Storm.

Watchmen

Face it: Adaptations will always have to make changes to fit a  new medium. This adaptation of the once thought to be un-filmable graphic novel by Alan Moore is finally brought to the film medium by Zack Snyder, who sought to assuage Moore’s typical (and mostly understandable) repugnance towards any adaptation of his works by being as faithful as he could to the original story.  At times feeling like a miniseries without the breaks, Watchmen isn’t without its pacing issues, especially in the extended cut of the film, but the fascinating depiction of an alternate history where costumed heroes and villains played crucial roles in real life events alongside real world public figures translates very well to film. Billy Crudup’s detached Dr. Manhattan is skillfully rendered, visually, and he is used in adequate moderation. Crudup is appropriately stoic as the god-like superhero among a crowd ofmasks, but Jackie Earle Haley’s dedicated performance as the mysterious detective Rorschach honestly steals every scene he’s in from everyone else. A complex and challenging film, for better or for worse, Watchmen is nonetheless a remarkable achievement – and it has one of the best title sequences in recent times, too.

RoboCop

Violent and wonderfully satirical, RoboCop is not only all about the action, but is also actually about the action and society’s fascination with violence, right down to reveling in its own depiction of people being torn to pieces by bullets and exploding in bursts of copious amounts of gore. It also calls into question our trust and over dependency on a system to take care of us without considering the costs. When RoboCop is asked what advice he has to the kids by a local new reporter, his response, “Stay out of trouble,” is at once amusing, advisable, and threatening. RoboCop is the highest form of a trashy movie, one that is superficial as a means to an end, which makes it both thought-provoking and yet also highly entertaining.

Unbreakable

I’ll avoid the unpleasantness of pointing out just how far Shyamalan has fallen and just say that this is a fairly underrated film, one that takes place in a world somewhere between comic book fantasy and ours, an intriguing concept that allows Shyamalan to explore the symbolism of comic books and how they parallel the truths of our own reality. The struggle of Bruce Willis’ security guard character as he comes to terms with his apparent invulnerability and the impact this has on his personal life is engrossing, and the intimate, shadowy atmosphere of the film is unlike anything you’ll see in most other superhero films. The pacing is slow, but deliberate, and while the ending comes so suddenly and likewise ends so abruptly that some may understandably experience mental whiplash, it does raise several intriguing questions about the relationship of superheroes, supervillains, and the relationship between good and evil.

The Incredible Hulk

An improvement in several ways over its out-of-continuity predecessor, this second film in Marvel’s Phase 1 build up to The Avengers is a simple but exciting film that showcases some serious pacing and special effects improvements – ones that don’t necessarily have to do with just the passage of time between the two films.  The script allows for far more action sequences while still allowing the audience to feel an emotional connection to the lead character, with Edward Norton being a far more sympathetic and interesting Bruce Banner. As the film’s villain, Emil Blonsky, Tim Roth is also more exciting, interesting, and threatening than the crazed daddy played by Nick Nolte previously. Fans of the comics will find lots of references and hints at a bigger universe, while fans of the TV show also get Lou Ferrigno voicing the Hulk and a little bit of familiar piano music, too. It may not be the best film it could have been, but it is undoubtedly a fun action flick and a necessary step towards The Avengers.

Superman Returns

There are really only one or two things that Superman Returns does wrong, and they are admittedly fairly major. The first is the fact that Kate Bosworth is, to put it simply, wrong for the role of Lois Lane and single handedly causes the film to lose a lot of its emotional impact as a result of being the most dislikable character in the film. The second is the fact that it attempts to tie into the Christopher Reeve films, tossing aside the last two films and serving as a second sequel to Superman II. This holds the film back from being a bit more creative than it could have been and largely saddles the film with the burden of carrying on the beloved continuity in a respectful manner without establishing its own. But as much as those things bother me, Superman Returns is honestly the first time that I felt any significant feeling towards the character as a hero. Bryan Singer’s take on the character finally gave the character the cinematic gravitas to enable me to actually see Superman the way that a citizen of Metropolis would, and that accounts for a great deal of my affection towards this movie. Brandon Routh admirably mimics Christopher Reeve’s performances as both Clark and Superman without making a mockery of it, and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor adds back the menace that was lacking in Gene Hackman’s performance. Parker Posey carries on the humorous villain sidekick with wit and intelligence, making her actually an asset to the film rather than a detractor, too. It’s a fairly flawed movie, but what it does right is so strong, even powerful, that I can forgive it.

Spider-Man

Like the first X-Men, Spider-Man is a mostly faithful adaptation of its source material that gets a great deal right while still showing that it’s a franchise trying to find its footing. Unlike with X-Men, the first Spider-Man has aged much better and is a great deal more fun, too. From Willem Dafoe’s campy Green Goblin to Tobey Maguire’s “golly gee” nerdy performance, Sam Raimi’s film affectionately captures the lighthearted tone of the early comics that he very likely read in his younger years and translates it to the screen for modern audiences, even giving cinema scenes and lines that will forever be remembered: the upside down alley kiss between Mary Jane and Spider-Man, and Uncle Ben’s resonant line, “With great power comes great responsibility.” While some may not like that Mary Jane is far less a firecracker than she was in the comics (Raimi was possibly trying to merge her character with Gwen Stacy), the supporting cast is nonetheless very strong, with Rosemary Harris being a particularly wonderful Aunt May.

Iron Man 2

There seems to be a strong backlash against this film for not living up to the first film, with some going as far as to say that it’s actually “terrible.” Though it’s certainly not nearly as strong as Iron Man, the second film is still an action-packed thrill ride with yet another great performance by Robert Downey, Jr. Tony Stark may not go through the same level of character development as he does, but Iron Man 2 continues to develop Stark’s personality, showing his tenuous relationship with the government while grappling with his newfound responsibilities as a hero, boyfriend, and CEO, as these responsibilities begin to clash in his life and even with his health, as the very thing keep him alive is also the thing that is poisoning him. Overall it’s more of the same, but that’s not such a bad thing, really.

The Amazing Spider-Man

Sony’s quick shuffle to maintain the film rights to the Spider-Man character and away from Disney and Marvel results in a surprisingly strong reboot to a series that many felt was unnecessary. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker tosses out the notion of his intelligence making him a social outcast and makes him just an everyday awkward kid who doesn’t know where his place is in life, a dilemma fueled largely by the fact that he was abandoned suddenly by his parents at such a young age. The romance is handled far better here than the sometimes soapy dramatics and broad emotional swings of Raimi’s films, with Garfield and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy having much more charm together as a couple, but this does seemingly come at the cost of the Lizard being not nearly as interesting as Raimi’s better villians (though he’s nowhere near as bad as … well, anyone in the third). The reboot is darker, but only in that it’s a different universe, and it’s not at the expense of being fun. The same spirit that made Raimi’s first two such successes is transplanted to this new start with effective results.

SEE THE FULL AND EVOLVING LIST HERE!

Advertisements
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

COMMENT

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: