Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cult List: The Ten Greatest Superhero Films of All Time

Alright guys and gals, we're taking a break from reviewing Daredevil today. In its place? Let's take a look at the ten best superhero/comic book films of all time. This is all my opinion now, so don't think this is the definite list by any means. So sit back, open up that can of Pizza Pringles, and try to ignore the horrifying fact that Hollywood is trying to destroy comic book films by releasing too many every year. Man, it just got dark huh? ON WITH THE SHOW!

The Ten Greatest Superhero Films of All Time

Honorable Mentions

The Avengers: As much as I love Joss Whedon, The Avengers isn't quite as good as you remember it being when you first saw it in 2012. Still, it's entertaining as hell, features Whedon's masterful dialog and has some great action scenes. It just needed to be a little deeper to make the list.

X2: X-Men United: Of all the entries in the overrated X-Men film series, only X-Men: First Class, Days of Future past and this film actually stand out as beyond average. Despite being the oldest of the three, X2 remains the best (barely eeking out First Class), thanks in large part to Brian Cox's excellent performance as the villain William Stryker.

Spider-Man 2: It seems like yesterday everyone was hailing Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films as the first great superhero series. Looking back, none of the films are remotely close to being great, and Spider-Man 3 was so bad, a still unproven James Franco was the only good thing about it. Raimi's second film however still remains a fun watch, and like X2 greatly benefits from a strong villain performance by Alfred Molina, who crafts a brutal, yet sympathetic Dr. Octopus. 

It's never good when this guy is the best thing about your film

The Dark Knight Rises: The weakest of Nolan's Batman trilogy, Dark Knight Rises is a little too long, doesn't feature as tight a story as its predecessors, and is likely a little too big for its own good. Still, it's fine close by Nolan, and in any other franchise would likely be the best of the bunch.

Man of Steel: The only difference between this film and The Avengers is that Zack Snyder directed it, which was evidently more than enough for critics to lash out against this Superman reboot. Beyond that, Man of Steel features all the same pluses Avengers featured, only with a deeper story, better acting, and a better atmosphere. It's the second best Superman film ever made, and it's held out of the top ten only because of how deep the field is.

The Top Ten

10. Captain America: Winter Soldier: The best superhero films are the ones that aren't superhero films; rather, they take the form of another genre while also including a superhero in it. Winter Soldier, the sequel to the very good Captain America: First Avenger, is one of those films, abandoning comic book conventions for that of a political conspiracy thriller. It's not quite as hard boiled as the 70's thrillers it looks up to, and as usual with Marvel films, isn't exactly deep. But in the end, Winter Soldier features the right amount of action, a really good against type performance by Robert Redford and the best story in the MCU before Daredevil was released. Easily the best of the MCU's standalone Avenger films thus far.

9. Unbreakable: Remember when M. Night Shyamalan looked like the second coming of Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock? Pepperidge Farm remembers. So will you after you've checked out Unbreakable, which unbelievably has become the best film Shyamalan has ever made (don't give me Signs or the overrated Sixth Sense). Starring Bruce Willis as a security guard who realizes slowly realizes he's indestructible after a train wreck, Unbreakable is represents the most original film in this list (the only film not to be based on a comic book), built around bleak visuals, great performances and an outstanding score by James Newton Howard. I'll never understand why the sequel was never made. The world needed more of Mr. Glass!

They called him...Mr Glass

8. Batman Begins: The first film of Nolan's all time great trilogy is better than you remember it; Gotham City actually feels like Gotham City (something missing from far slicker sequels), Cillian Murphy is dynamite as Scarecrow and most importantly Christian Bale is allowed center stage as Batman. If not for Katie Holmes' misfiring as Rachel Dawes (she was so bad, Maggie Gyllenhaal replaced here in The Dark Knight), I bet this film's reputation is better. Alas, it's still a top ten film in the list, and the most underrated of Nolan's films. Who doesn't love watching Scarecrow atop a fire breathing horse?

7. Hellboy II: The Golden Army: Guillermo del Toro is no stranger to comic book films; he's directed three, including this film, Blade II (best of that mediocre series) and the first Hellboy. Hellboy II works better than both of those, likely because del Toro found himself liberated creatively following his Spanish fantasy epic Pans Labyrinth. The world he creates is as imaginative as they come, has eye popping visuals, and once again has the right guy in Ron Perlman handling the title role. You won't be able to get Barry Manilow's "Can't Smile Without You" out of your head when the film ends, nor will you be able to shake your confusion over how the third film has yet to be made.

6. Batman: Seriously, you expected this to not make the list? It's Batman; regardless of how many great films Chris Nolan made on the caped crusader, there's just something about Tim Burton's original film that can never be duplicated. Yes, it certainly started the trend of superhero films as big blockbusters, but Batman is more than that. Burton's Gotham City is still the gold standard of Gotham City in film (a close second being his claustrophobic Gotham in the out of its mind sequel Batman Returns). Michael Keaton, doubted by many a fan boy prior to release, is perhaps still the best man to ever put on Batman's costume. And of course, Jack and the Joker. Is there a better dark comedy performance than that one?

5. Watchmen: Like Man of Steel, Watchmen was a polarizing as hell film that happened to be directed by Zack Snyder. Also like Man of Steel, I have no idea why so many people don't like this film. Perhaps the most faithful adaptation of a comic book, Snyder's Watchmen is fittingly retro, bleak and features the greatest opening credits sequence in the history of film. Seriously, you haven't lived till you've seen the history of costumed vigilantes play out in montage while Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a Changing" plays. It's bone chilling, and more than enough to make you forget about the frequent shots of Dr. Manhattan's glowing blue penis. Yes, that was one of the complaints. Is there an anti-Snyder bias I don't know about? Was Sucker Punch that bad? Don't answer that.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy: The funniest superhero film ever made. I could pretty much just leave it at that, and no other justification would be needed. And hey, how can you hate a film that featured a talking space racoon, launched Andy Dwyer into superstardom, made Dave Batista look like an above average actor (which hey, he might actually be), featured a too cool for school soundtrack and the cinematic return of Howard the Duck? I'll always love how Guardians made the always underrated Howard look better in 30 seconds than George Lucas and co did in nearly two hours (which felt more like four).

3. The Crow: Remembered mostly for the fact that star Brandon Lee died on set, The Crow is perhaps the most underrated superhero film of all time. Alex Proyas' Detroit is one of the greatest realized cities in cinema, there's more meat to the story than you think, and despite being darker than the planet Pitch Black was set on, doesn't take itself too seriously. Of course, The Crow would be nothing without its fallen star, and Lee, in his last role, proves that he would've become a mega star if his life hadn't tragically come to an end. Arguably (and unfortunately), Lee's death helps enhance the film, adding to The Crow's already brooding feel and highlighting the tragic nature of his character's soul.

2. Superman: The original superhero blockbuster and still one of the two best (and other than Batman, still the most influential). Yes, there's a little more camp than one would like and there are certain aspects of the film (Marlon Brando,the dated effects, the weird ending where Superman spins the earth backwards and Marlon Brando a second time) that detract from the film. But it doesn't change the fact that there's magic in Richard Donner's film, whether it's in the form of John Williams' iconic score, the simple, but effective story or the pitch perfect casting of Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. As much as I love Man of Steel and as much as I admire Bryan Singer's attempted homage of Donner with Superman Returns (a film that with a few more tweaks would've been on this list), this remains the definitive Superman film with the definitive Superman. I don't think we'll ever see the day where someone is a better choice for that role than Reeve was.

The greatest Superman. Case closed

1. The Dark Knight: What else could it be? In terms of quality, no other superhero film comes close to matching the prestige of The Dark Knight. The film contains an all time great performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker (good luck trying to duplicate that Jared Leto). The script, written by director Chris Nolan and his brother Jonathan, is absolutely brilliant, creating a story with surprising depth and memorable scenes. I could go on and on, and I'd probably forget to mention how good guys like Aaron Eckhart and Christian Bale are due to how large Ledger's shadow looms over the film. The Dark Knight is, in short, the perfect superhero film and the perfect crime film. It may not be my favorite of this list, but I cannot deny that it's the peak of its genre. 

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