Super Hero Movies: One Mortal Man's Opinion
"Holy Excitement, Batman!"
"Guardians of the Galaxy" wasn't very good. Ben Affleck's "Daredevil" wasn't that bad.
Now that I've angered many - if not all - of you, let me give you some perspective.
I've been waiting for this my whole life! And I'm old enough to remember Adam West as Batman (OK, I saw that one in syndication), Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk, as well as those "Spiderman" shorts that aired as part of "The Electric Company" on PBS. (Apparently I had a Spiderman t-shirt that I wore for 2 weeks straight in the summer of '74, a fact my older brothers love to remind me about.) I suffered through years of "The Super Friends" cartoon. Ugh! I then saw potential in 1978's "Superman: The Movie" and again in Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman" only to see Hollywood make a mockery of the characters with increasingly stupid sequels.
When was Hollywood going to give me what I wanted in a Super Hero movie?!?!
** SPOILER ALERT **
IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN ANY OR ALL OF THESE MOVIES, DON'T GET MAD IF THIS ARTICE REVEALS ANY SECRETS YOU DO NOT WISH TO KNOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!
X-Men to the rescue!
The year 2000. A new millennium was about to begin, literally and figuratively. Marvel Comics answered my request with the release of Bryan Singer's "X-Men." And it is here that I will start my examination Hollywood's love affair with Super Heroes.
"X-Men" released August 2000, $75 million budget. An excellent cast directed by the guy who did "The Usual Suspects." This movie established a welcomed modern tone for Super Hero films with excellent special effects. More importantly, the movie stands the test of time.
"X-Men 2" released May 2003, $110 million budget. A rare exception in Hollywood, this sequel is as good as, if not better, than the original thanks to the returning cast and director. It expanded the world of mutants for movies to come while still standing on its own.
"X-Men: The Last Stand" released May 2006, $210 million budget. Uh oh. In an effort to be bigger than the previous film, TLS went a little mutant crazy. The question was, how to handle The Phoenix, who is such a major character in the comics? Disappointing, but not a franchise destroyer. Plus, it was hard to hear Frazier Crane's voice (not to mention Sideshow Bob's) coming out of the Beast's mouth!
"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" released May 2009, $150 million budget. Was Marvel cashing in on the most popular character from the previous movies? Perhaps. But I liked this movie better than most other people did. The origin story was solid, with the addition of a good actor, Live Schreiber, as Logan's brother. Many people argue that the X-Men movies lack continuity, and this film expounded that. That is frustrating, but this was before (and, notably, from a different studio) the Marvel Comics Universe was established. (More on that bit of Hollywood history later…)
"X-Men: First Class" released June 2011, $160 million budget. James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence are three of the best actors working right now, so I was very happy to see them cast in this…um…prequel? Reboot? Maybe that was the problem for some people, but I really liked what they did with this movie. Having the plot revolve around the Cuban missile crisis was intelligent and intriguing. More continuity issues arose with this movie, but again, it didn't bother me.
"The Wolverine" released July 2013, $120 million budget. OK, here we go again. Is this movie a sequel to a prequel? I suppose it doesn't matter, but for me Wolverine is beginning to wear out his welcome with this movie. Plus I'm not a fan of the "what-if-i-lose-my-powers" plot line in Super Hero movies.
"X-Men: Days of Futures Past" released May 2014, $200 million budget. Yay, Bryan Singer's back! Not so fast. In an attempt to reconcile all the continuity issues, the director of the first two movies was brought back to do some magic. Sure, it was exciting to see the young and old Professor X and Magneto interact, played by 4 outstanding actors, but it wasn't enough to keep me interested in this rather slow moving, convoluted story. The next entry into this franchise, "X-Men: Apocalypse", as well as another Wolverine movie are both conspicuously absent from my watch list. Aw, who am I kidding? I'll go see them, but not on opening weekend!!
Thanks, X-Men, for showing that a big budget, along with good directors, writers and cast, can produce top notch films. And to think, this Super Hero revolution started not with a commonly recognizable name like Superman or Wonder Woman, but rather with a wildly successful comic book featuring characters who were virtually unknown to "normal" people. Thanks. Now please bow out graciously.
Read more about Kevin Feige here
- NY Times Expose
Kevin Feige was credited as the associate producer of the first X-Men film, and I say this guy deserves a lifetime achievement Academy Award already! Without hyperbole, I would consider what Marvel has done under his guidance Hollywood history!
Post Credits Scene, "Iron Man" 2008
New Hollywood Lexicon: Cinematic Universe
The creation of a "cinematic universe" is pure genius, and the bar has now been set super high for all Super Hero movies to follow.
"Iron Man" released May 2008, $140 million budget. Robert Downey Jr. has now defined his career with this role, and the movie defined the character of Tony Stark very well. The effects were spectacular, the story was strong, and the supporting cast completed an all around good movie. Important to the portrayal of the character are those extreme close-ups of RDJ while he's in the suit chattin' with Jarvis. (I would love to see some behind the scenes footage of those shots being filmed. Are they on any of the DVD/BluRay releases?) You ALWAYS know that Tony Stark is in the Iron Man suit, so the hero doesn't become a CGI creation with no heart and soul.
To top it off, however, Marvel lit a fire under the comic book world and movie fans alike with the now standard Post Credits Scene. Brilliant! Although I hate sitting through 10 minutes of credits listing anybody who had anything to do with the making of a movie (and I usually have to pee like a racehorse), I absolutely love the teases in the Marvel post credits scenes. I was almost giddy when Tony Stark showed up in the post credits scene in "The Incredible Hulk." Thus began what Marvel referred to as Phase One of the MCU.
"The Incredible Hulk" released June 2008, $150 million budget. When Golum was brought to life in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, it was apparent that CGI characters had finally reached true realism. Ang Lee's "Hulk" did it a few years earlier (I'll discuss that later), but this reboot looked even better in my opinion. The character's strength and rage were portrayed superbly, notably when the Hulk kicks Blonsky into the tree! Good stuff! But Bruce Banner's inner turmoil was exposed equally well. I liked this movie!
"Iron Man 2" released May 2010, $200 million budget. Only 2 years into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the first test - the first SEQUEL - proved that Marvel was on track for something special. They passed that test with more effects, more character depth, and more anticipation for the future of the MCU. Tony dealing with his toxic blood levels gave the movie a firm backstory, and it helped bring SHIELD into the mix when Nick Fury gave him the tools to create a non-toxic power source.
"Thor" released May 2011, $150 million budget. Super Hero movies always have to show the characters' origin, but for the God of Thunder, it seemed like it was the sole purpose for the movie. Like it was just a stepping stone towards the eventual "Avengers." It also established one of the greatest villains with Tom Hiddleston's portrayal of Loki. Many movies, not just Super Hero movies, live or die by the villain. "Avatar" is an example of poorly written, one-dimensional bad guys which ruined the movie. Loki is a complex character, very well acted, and I was as eager to see more of him as I was to see more of Thor.
"Captain America: The First Avenger" released July 2011, $140 million budget. This movie was right up my alley because I'm a World War II buff. Steve Rogers is one of the best written and defined characters of the entire MCU because this movie took the time to delve into why he was chosen to be Captain America. Good stuff, right up to the end when he says, "I had a date…" It's probably my favorite of the Phase One movies, a hair above "Iron Man."
More Marvel Brilliance: Stan Lee Cameos!
MCU Phase Two: The Avengers
Could they really do it? Could they bring all of these characters, and the Hollywood egos, together and make a good movie? And could the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" be the guy to do it?!?!
"The Avengers" released May 2012, $220 million budget. Yes, they did do it, and they did it well. The way the individual characters were brought into the fold is a credit to the writers. It all leads up to the wonderful scene when Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury is confronted by the heroes. The tension in that scene is magnificent (I was thinking "I hope it lasts," as Willy Wonka would say). The movie was smart, exciting, action-packed, with an acceptable amount of comic relief. I think what really made it a quality film, however, is the denouement. Remember that word from high school English Literature class? There's Nick Fury talking to the SHIELD council, and a montage of news clips showing the world welcoming The Avengers. Powerful.
"Iron Man 3" released May 2013, $200 million budget. Uh oh. A little bit of an Avengers hangover, perhaps, but IM3 was disappointing. Comic book aficionados were peeved at the portrayal of the Mandarin. I didn't like it either, but more so because of the way it was handled, with Ben Kingsley really playing it over the top. Guy Pearce's Killian character was one-dimensional and weak. I did appreciate Tony Starks struggle with the aftermath of the events of the Avengers movie, but all-in-all a let down.
"Thor: The Dark World" released November 2013, $170 million budget. Uh oh again. Some bloggers and critics wrote that they were sick of Loki, but I think the character is integral to Thor's overall story. No, I was disappointed in this films excess of comic relief. Dr. Selvig dancing around in his underwear, Thor hanging his hammer on the coat rack, and too much Kat Dennings in general. I didn't see the chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman in the first movie nor in this one. After this, I would rather Thor just stick to Avengers films, but apparently the Ragnarok storyline is important to the coming Avengers storyline.
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" released April 2014, $170 million budget. OK, the MCU is back on track! This movie managed to be a sequel to the first Captain America with the reemergence of Hydra and Bucky Barnes, and a sequel to the Avengers with the subsequent effects on SHIELD. Well done! I like the addition of the Falcon, too, as a fellow soldier to Steve Rogers. Sam Wilson was brought into the fold naturally and effortlessly, not crammed down our throats just to add a new character.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" released August 2014, $170 million budget. I'll include this movie on this list of MCU Phase Two even though it wasn't that good. I was honestly surprised at the critic's positive reactions because I thought this movie was like a bad Star Trek episode. Not a good, new J.J. Abrams Star Trek, but akin to the original TV show. Empty characters, silly bright colored alien life forms, embellished with modern poorly-written dialogue like "Dude, you're a dick!" Chris Pratt seems to be the flavor of the month, but I think he needs to shave that horrible facial hair and take some acting lessons. The comic book is very popular, apparently, and it's tied into the MCU through the Infinity Stones. I, for one, am not looking forward to the sequel, and I certainly don't want to see these characters crossed over into the rest of the MCU. Yuck!
"Avengers: Age of Ultron" released May 2015, $250 million budget. Bigger! Flashier! Marvel definitely came thru with this sequel. The twins of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were great additions to the storyline, well written and well acted. Barton's family seemed a little tacked on, and I don't know if it's part of the comic book, but it was a visual juxtaposition to the gaudy, technology-laden Avengers Tower, and that worked well for the film. The movie, however, reminds me of "The Empire Strikes Back," considered by many to be the best film of the original Star Wars Trilogy. (Not me. I will always like Episode IV: A New Hope the best) Like Empire, this movie is obviously the middle of a trilogy (OK, the third Avengers installment is in two parts, making it a quadology I guess, but you get my point.) In other words, the first Avengers film and the first Star Wars film could both stand on their own, while the middle film of the respective series cannot. Not a criticism, really, just an observation. Am I excited for what is to come? You better believe it! So job well done, Mr. Whedon.
The Dark Knight Trilogy
Coke vs. Pepsi. American League vs. National League. Boxers vs. Briefs. Such debates are fervent and passionate, often leading to irrational judgments and prejudiced opinions. Am I above all of that? Well, of course not. True, the MCU is Hollywood history in the making, but I am and will always be a DC Comics fan because of one character: Batman.
"Batman Begins" released June 2005, $150 million budget. Now THAT'S what I'm talkin' about! I hate to use the term "realistic" when describing movies, but rather "realism." A small distinction, admittedly, but "Batman Begins" has such a strong basis in realism, which is what made it so powerful. Bruce Wayne has no "super powers," and his technology is more based in realism than Tony Stark's. This origin movie was a passionate character piece creating a multifaceted persona. The relationship established with Officer (then Commissioner) Gordon is so important to the mythos, and director Christopher Nolan delivered. Bruce's relationship with Alfred is equally important, and Nolan equally delivered there, too. Of course, having two excellent actors in those roles certainly helped, along with GREAT work by Cillian Murphy as Dr. Crane/Scarecrow. It's not Katie Holmes' fault she looks like a 12 year-old, but even that did not ruin this, yes I'll say it, masterpiece.
"The Dark Knight" released July 2008, $185 million budget. The fanatical anticipation for this sequel began right away when Gordon shows Batman the Joker card at the end of the previous film. I can honestly say I was one of the few who applauded the crucial casting decision of Heath Ledger as the Joker. Of course, he proved all the naysayers wrong with his Oscar winning performance. An Oscar he wholeheartedly deserved. However, and this is a BIG however, the reediting done after he passed was a sad, unfortunate monkey wrench thrown into this trilogy. I do not profess to know what changes were made, but the film does seem to get a little lost in the third act. Plus, I wish someone else was cast as Harvey Dent. I'm just not an Aaron Eckhart fan.
"The Dark Knight Rises" released July 2012, $250 million budget. I believe with all my Batman loving soul that this was NOT the movie Christopher Nolan wanted to make to end his trilogy. Articles have been written, interviews have been done, but I know in my heart that a larger confrontation with the Joker was going to be central to a third movie, and Heath Ledger's tragic death forced Nolan to make some very difficult decisions. I like how they portrayed the character of Bane, and what they did with Selina Kyle, and how they came full circle with Talia Al Ghul. But the movie dragged it's way to the anticlimactic finish line. I wanted to see a movie like "Return of the King" to be the triumphant end to this trilogy, but sadly it just wasn't to be.
To this day, "The Dark Knight" is the only current Super Hero movie to win a non-technical Academy Award. This trilogy will forever be the gold standard in the genre. And to think it could have been even better if not for the unfortunate death of a brilliant actor.
Spidey on the Silver Screen
Alas, Spiderman, you're one of the most recognizable characters in comic book history, and you were truly revolutionary in that industry. So why is it that your movies…well...stink?
"Spider-Man" released May 2002, $139 million budget. By financial standards, a blockbuster. But the movie is reminiscent of Sam Raimi's earlier work, with Kevin Sorbo as Hercules and Lucy Lawless as Xena. In other words, lame. Even the special effects weren't that great, as a very cartoony web slinger swings around New York City. Green Goblin's costume has to be one of the worst ever! He looked as if he should be battling Sid and Marty Krofft's "Electra Woman and Dyna Girl" from the mid 70's! "X-Men" came out two years earlier, yet this movie pales in comparison!
"Spider-Man 2" released June 2004, $200 million budget. Sony and Columbia pushed this dog of a sequel out only 2 years after the original, which shows the lack of time and effort they put into it! With a slightly better villain in Doc Ock (that's not saying much) and the lackluster romance between Peter and MJ revving up, this film showed no improvement in writing, acting or directing from the first.
"Spider-Man 3" released May 2007, $258 million budget. Yep, you read that right. This movie reportedly had a $258 million budget! Where was that money spent? And yet it still made almost $900 million worldwide!! Peter Parker's inner "struggle" after touching the black goo was laughable, Topher Grace proved he should've stayed on "That 70's Show", Thomas Haden Church's Sandman was silly and uninspired. Ugh!
"The Amazing Spider-Man" released July 2012, $230 million budget. Only 5 years removed from the debacle that was "Spider-Man 3" and Sony and Columbia decided to reboot the franchise. Better actors? Yes. Better CGI effects? Definitely. More in tune with the current tone of Super Hero movies? Sure was. A much better finished film? Not so much. It wasn't drastically different from the original story in plot (I guess they felt they HAD to do the origin story again), and the costume was basically the same. I left the theater scratching my head thinking, "I thought this would be better…"
"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" released May 2014, $200 million budget. Jamie Foxx's portrayal of the excessively nerdy Max Dillon and his transformation into the over-the-top Electro show that the writers have not been paying attention to the current state of Super Hero movies! And then there was the Rhino, who was teased in the trailers and barely visible in the film. Huh? I was hardly moved when Gwen Stacy died. Dane DeHann's Harry Osborne was sufficiently creepy, but his connection with Peter Parker did not fly. A regrettable movie.
The news has hit that Spider-Man will be entering the fold of the Marvel Comics Universe, and fans of the Web Slinger should be overjoyed. Perhaps the character will gain the respect he deserves on screen. We'll just have to wait and see. Until then, stick to the animated versions of Spidey. Or try to squeeze into that SpiderMan t-shirt from the 70's.
The Super-est of Heroes
Talk about a character with big shoes to fill! George Reeves did it for my father's generation. Christopher Reeve did it early in my generation. Even Dean Cain and Tom Welling took their turns with a certain amount of success. Now it's Henry Cavill's turn to take the character, and DC Comics, to the next level. But first...
"Superman Returns" released June 2006, $209 million budget. I can picture the meeting of Warner Bros. executives. The Super Hero revolution is in full swing, so they HAVE to put Superman back on the big screen. Reboot? No way! Some executive stood up and said "We will not erase the legacy left by Christopher Reeve with a complete reboot of Superman!" The actor was beloved in Hollywood, and they decided to make a movie that was kind of a sequel to the first two movies of the previous series that were made over 25 years earlier… Not a smart move, Warner Bros. They cast Brandon Routh, a virtual look-alike to Reeve, and tried to rehash the Lois Lane love story. Sure, the effects were better, especially Supe's first call to action saving a jumbo jet, and Kevin Spacey was a good choice for Lex Luther. Otherwise, this was a lamentable film. Instead of DC getting a jump on Marvel Comics, they took a step backwards. Too bad.
"Man of Steel" released June 2013, $225 million budget. I was very anxious to see this movie upon it's release. There are truly exceptional aspects to this movie, but there are also unfortunate disappointments. First, the good. The "first contact" theme was brilliant, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Christopher Nolan's input lead to that decision. I read some bloggers complain about the flashbacks, but the movie was pieced together in excellent fashion, creating a stunning flow to the story. Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane performed superbly in their very important roles, with honorable mentions to Dylan Sprayberry as the teenaged Clark Kent and Michael Shannon as Zod. And Henry Cavill has both the looks and the acting chops to do the character justice. The bad, however, also came in the form of casting. Sorry, I don't like Amy Adams as Lois Lane. The producers also seemed to spend all their money on the top cast leaving Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff and Christopher Meloni to bite off more than they could chew as the General, the Doctor and the Colonel. My biggest problem with the film, however, was the denouement (there's that word again), or more precisely the lack thereof. The filmmakers missed a great opportunity to begin the DC Cinematic Universe with a powerful epilogue to the events of the film. I picture a Superman voiceover accompanying a full page editorial in the Daily Planet where the newly discovered alien professes his intentions and love for the human race, while images of the survivors in Metropolis are shown, even teasing the controversy his existence creates (which will be brought up in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice") No. Instead there is a silly scene with Superman blowing a surveillance plane out of the sky and a female soldier telling the General, "I just think he's kinda hot." Then we see Lois getting hit on by a co-worker with tickets to the game. Didn't the city just get destroyed? Ugh. Kinda like that last sip of a good beer that ends up being warm backwash, not a good ending to an otherwise nice piece of film work.
The excitement I feel about the upcoming "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" reminds me of the childhood longing I felt before my first trip to Disney World, or the first WrestleMania, or my first "Spin the Bottle" game…OK, maybe that's going too far. But it's gonna be big, and there is a ton of pressure on Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. to do what Marvel has done in creating a cinematic universe. The biggest question may be, will Gal Gadot measure up to Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, literally AND figuratively!?
The Battle of the Century Coming Soon...
OK, I guess I have to mention...
There have been several other movies produced since 2000 featuring comic book Super Heroes, but none of them deserve much of a mention. Some of them should be completely forgotten, and probably have been by the stars, directors and writers through expensive therapy sessions.
Ang Lee's 2003 "Hulk" wasn't bad, I'm just not a fan of Lee's films. The climax of Eric Bana as Banner confronting Nick Nolte as his father was difficult to sit through. Also in 2003, Ben Affleck's "Daredevil" hit the screens with a resounding thud! OK, it wasn't a good movie, but I found redeeming qualities in the visual depiction of Matt Murdock's power's, Colin Farrell's whacky portrayal as Bullseye, and Jennifer Garner in that gown! "Elektra" wasn't any better in 2005, but again, JG in her costume was almost worth it. I'd still watch any of these three movies before sitting through "Spider-Man 3" again!
I had the unfortunate opportunity to see 2005's "Fantastic Four" and it's ugly 2007 sequel "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" very recently on TV. Wow. I had forgotten how bad they were. Apparently, Michael Chiklis petitioned to have a "real" Thing costume, rather than CGI. He got his wish, and we saw a guy in a rubber suit pretending to be made of rock. Horrible. At the very least, Chris Evans showed promise, reportedly ad-libbing many of his lines. The upcoming reboot looks promising, maybe it will wipe the memory of these two movies from everyone's consciousness.
DC had it's own failures, starting with the Razzie Winning "Catwoman" in 2004. 'Nuff said about THAT one! 2011's "Green Lantern" was a disappointment. Ryan Reynolds has the looks, and he has proven to be pretty good actor in other roles. Too much reliance on special effects? Maybe. The movie just kinda sat there. The box office receipts confirmed that. No wonder there was, thankfully, no mention of a sequel.
In 2009, the groundbreaking, critically acclaimed graphic novel "Watchmen" was finally put on the Silver Screen. Here's an interesting case that contradicts my usual position. I've always said that these Super Hero movies are not being made for the comic book fans. Yes, there is a built in audience, but studios are investing big money in these films, and they need more than the Comic Con crowd to see them to make a profit. Even some of the other Graphic Novel adaptations, such as "300" were made not because of comic fan buzz, but because it was a good story to tell. "Watchmen," however, seems to have been made just to please the comic book crowd (of which I was a member in the late 80's). Hell, even the book's writer, Alan Moore, wants nothing to do with the movie. The resulting film is largely forgotten, by Hollywood and by DC Comics. Too bad.
I am not including the reboot and re-reboot of Punisher, because I don't include the character as a Super Hero, per se. Same for Ghost Rider, but that movie and it's sequel were about as bad as it gets!
Alan Moore on the "Watchmen" Film
- 2008 - Alan Moore Interview
Here is the huggable Alan Moore in a 2008 story for the LA Times "Hero Complex" blog telling his side of the "Watchmen" debate.
The Super Hero Revolution!
Super Heroes Everywhere!
Bandwagon (n.) a particular activity that has suddenly become popular or fashionable.
Hollywood LOVES the bandwagon, and that's not always a bad thing. In the case of Super Hero movies, there have been tons of movies (and TV shows) exploring the possibilities of super powered people. "Hancock" was very good, although I am NOT among those yearning for a sequel. "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" was actually pretty funny, with Eddie Izzard standing out as the super villain. Was M. Night Shyamalan's "Unbreakable" a Super Hero movie? It was woefully dull, so it doesn't really matter. And, of course, "The Incredibles" was…well…INCREDIBLE!
Not Your Grandfather's Comic Books!
Some time ago, comic books grew up and a new genre was created: the Graphic Novel. No, this is not a squishy politically correct term, like calling short people "vertically challenged" or referring to janitors as "custodial engineers." The writing and artwork has vastly improved, and characters that have been around since the 40's were reborn with depth and dimension never seen before. Exciting new characters have joined the rosters of heroes and villains written with complexity and illustrated in various artistic styles. Gritty. Dark. Powerful. For Hollywood to "discover" these works and adapt them to the big screen is, as the young people say, a no-brainer. After all, a comic book is essentially a storyboard ready to be filmed. It's not a new phenomenon. Early film versions of comic book favorites have been around since the beginning of cinema - Batman, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy. The advancements in CGI effects, however, have catapulted the genre to new heights. Finally, Super Heroes have been faithfully and dutifully captured on the silver screen.