With the Man of Steel tearing up the box office, the Comic Con announcement that Superman AND Batman will appear in the next DC film together as well as being deep inside Phase 2 of the Marvel Universe, I’m going to take a brief look at my favourite superhero films. A few films like Scott Pilgrim and Wanted (both of which I love) I’ve decided against including as although both from graphic novels and both having protagonists with “powers” they didn’t seem to fit in with the masked crusaders from the rest. They’d both be pretty high up however. Also, honourable mentions to Mystery Men, Captain America, Hellboy 2 & The Rocketeer. That said, commence au festival!
15. Thor (Kenneth Brannagh)
Marvel proved it was willing to take a few chances with its directorial choices as Sir Ken came in and gave a big dose of Shakespearean family feuding to the usual CGI fight-fests and to his credit comes out with one of the more distinct movies from Marvel’s Phase One. Hammer time!
14. Superman (Richard Donner)
We believed a man could fly in the ultimate showcase of actors (Brando, Reeve and Hackman) taking a serious look at the indestructible red pants man, taking us from Krypton to Earth with amazing results. Super dooper!
13. Blade (Stephen Norrington)
With the black jacket, sunglasses, bullet dodging and building leaps, it’s easy to see how The Matrix overshadowed this movie despite their similar style in this dark and gritty 90s vampire-killing classic. It’s got a big bite of action and effects with some unique fighting that sadly fizzled out in the humour-filled sequels. Tasty!
12. Unbreakable (M Night Shyamalan)
His second (and last good) film and the one that many of us are awaiting a sequel for, the director told a slow-burner of a story as a man who doesn’t even believe he has any powers but has to protect his family and the public from a classic villain taken (literally) from comic books. Uniquely told with comic-panel visuals and presented in a down-to-earth realistic way makes the film all the more impressive. Shatter proof.
11. Batman Begins (Chris Nolan)
Nolan sets the bar high with his re-imagining of Batman after the dreadful Joel Schumacher failures with an authentic tale of rich boy going AWOL and then being trained by assassins before returning to his beloved city to do good. With a strong set of actors and some exciting action scenes, Bale’s Batman placed him solely in the real world with very real problems. Bat-tastic!
10. Kick A** (Matthew Vaughn)
Over the top action sequences combined with some hilariously named heroes, all tied together with a self-referential knowing of superhero traits blended to give this film a violent look at a brand new set of characters outside of the usual huge franchises we already know. Cage hasn’t been this good in years and the young protagonists try to balance their growing pains with the torture of street pummels! A cult classic with a sequel due anytime now in July 2013.
9. X-Men (Bryan Singer)
Again, the origin story seems to be the strongest of the bunch as Singer takes the mutant group and brings it into a faithful world setting (or gay allegory as some have suggested) by aligning them with modern day persecution. Amazingly, Singer takes the premise of a child’s cartoon (my first experience) and turns it into an action packed narrative with serious adult themes and where moral discussions lead to genuine and sincere consequences. The film also introduces us to an unforgettable actor/character pairing with Hugh “Wolverine” Jackman. X-cellent.
8. Iron Man (Jon Favreau)
Marvel’s first foray into movie-making may never be topped for some as Robert Downey Jnr plays arrogant billionaire Tony Stark who after a kidnapping uses his company’s technology to create the ultimate military suit. From the playboy with the boy’s toy to the perfect pacing, Iron Man has humour, hurt and tenderness but is mostly a lot of fun with an amazingly recreated CGI suit, great action scenes and set the stage for the future team-up with his avenging pals. A metal marvel. (Just don’t mention Iron Man 2).
7. The Incredibles (Brad Bird)
Pixar moved away from cuddly toys and talking animals in this almost art-deco style story of one family’s superhero problems - from secret identities to the inconveniences of capes, the movie twists the genre conventions, the animation is flawless and the characters well shaped. Throwing in plenty of funnies and nods to other famous superhero powers (ice, stretching, invisibility etc), director Brad Bird even gets in on the action as the voice of costume designer Edna Mole. Nobody does it quite like Pixar.
6. X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn)
After the incredibly disappointing and flawed X-Men Origins: Wolverine, we go back to the beginning for a Cold War narrative as the backdrop to finding out how Xavier and Magneto met, developed their skills and started the school for the gifted in this brilliant prequel/origin story. From the nods to real world events (Cuban missile crisis) to the training montages, the film balances the serious Nazi themes of the opening with a later light-hearted touch as the swinging 60s takes hold. Fassbender is a joy as we watch his downfall during his clashes against Kevin Bacon’s excellent villain. Pure class.
5. The Avengers (Joss Whedon)
The pinnacle of Marvel’s Phase One as we finally got to see Nick Fury’s plans come to fruition during his ploy to assemble the greatest set of heroes on earth to defend against the nefarious Loki (a brilliant Tom Hiddleston) and his alien army of minions. Whedon gives everyone their fare share of screen time and injects a dose of humour and knowing about the proceedings before unleashing Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and finally a decent Hulk onto the city of New York with support from Black Widow and Hawkeye. Action aplenty, lots of laughs and solid storytelling all lead to a brilliant finale that satisfied geeky fans and the passing crowd on its way to a $1billion plus box office. Avenge that!
4. Watchmen (Zack Snyder)
Snyder’s literal interpretation of the infamous graphic novel was a turn off for some but with adult themes in an alternative history and his visual pyrotechnics assaulting the eyes, the film is a faithful re-telling of Moore’s opus. A story of getting older, doing things for the greater good and double-crossing, the film tackled huge themes and has one of the best opening credit sequences of ANY film. From the violent Rorschach who refuses to compromise to the out of shape Night Owl via the omniscient Dr. Manhattan, the brilliantly realised characters show the darker side of the American dream. The joke’s on us as we are forced to confront our own moral standpoint. Very watchable.
3. The Dark Knight (Chris Nolan)
Nolan’s best entry in his trilogy contains Heath Ledger’s astounding take on Batman’s nemesis as he creates havoc in Gotham as the sadistic Joker whilst Bruce comes to terms with losing a loved one alongside the transformation of Harvey Dent to Two-Face. Filled to the brim with classic scenes from the opening heist to the Bat-cycle speeding through city streets, Nolan makes not just a superhero film but an inspired crime saga with immense depth previously unseen in the genre. Virtuoso acting, remarkable stunts and a convincing script resonated with audiences who wanted to follow Bruce’s continuing journey as the watchful protector. Wayne-derful.
2. Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi)
The first film established a solid but uninspiring take on the webbed-wonder but after its success Raimi was allowed to unleash his full directorial flourishes onto the franchise in the form of zooms, whip pans and more Bruce Campbell in this superior sequel. Maguire loses his mojo as Parker tries hard to be both Spidey and boyfriend to MJ whilst Alfred Molina is top drawer as Dr. Octopus, a much improved and far more fun villain than the Green Goblin. With less-cartoony CGI, brilliant action sequences on the elevated train, during the bank robbery and high-up on buildings, Raimi showed he could handle the affectionate closeness between characters whilst wasting no time in slinging in some comedy, mild horror and plenty of fisticuffs as Spiderman comes to terms with what’s important in his life. Go web go!
1. Batman (Tim Burton)
The best of Batman in my eyes with the right balance between fantasy comic book and dark reality with a brooding Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne and devilish Jack Nicholson as The Joker in a role he was born to play. Rejuvenating the comic-book movie (after the Superman franchise ended in a damp squib) the film was stylish, sassy (“where does he get those wonderful toys?”) and equal parts insane and serious. Nolan took more from this than anyone cares to admit (see my Bat-blog here on their similarities – click for blog) and Burton focused on the Caped Crusader’s crime and detective background and gave us the origins in well-thought out flashbacks. With a BatMobile for the ages, a solid support cast (Michael Gough as Alfred lasting ALL four of this franchise’s movies) and a gothic design by the late Anton Furst, the simply titled Batman was not only the sum of its parts but much more than that and made the anti-hero not just a campy actor in tights, but a major cultural phenomenon. Good knight my sweet Prince.