Thursday, June 15, 2006

My Top 15 Superhero Movies, #11-15

First, a few ground rules. I have excluded animated films from the list, although had I chosen not to, then The Incredibles would not doubt have made it. Likewise I am excluding made-for-television movies which regrettably knocks the two-hour pilot episode of The Flash off.

So here is my list of the greatest superhero movies in ascending order.

15. Hulk

This movie represents the anguish of unfulfilled promise. All the pieces appeared to be in place: a well-respected, artistic director (Ang Lee) and a solid cast of Oscar-nominated actors in service to one of the most well-known and intriguing superheroes in the marvel pantheon. Where did it all go wrong? It seems to me that Lee's artistic instincts got in the way of this one. His attempt to film the movie as though it were a comic book, complete with a paneled layout, did not work for me. I find it needlessly distracting. The saving grace of the film are those scenes when Bruce Banner is Hulked out. Although some criticized the movie's special effects, I found the Hulk himself to be riveting. Unfortunately, the movie drags whenever the Hulk is not on screen.

14. Batman Forever

I love the Batman character and am quite fond of this film as a whole, but certain features conspire to keep it near the bottom of the list. First, this film represents the beginning of the downward trend for the Batman franchise due to director Joel Schumacher's decision to move the franchise into a campier mode, eventually culminating in his next Batman movie -- a film of which we shall never speak. Second, the film wasted a couple of potentially outstanding villains. I like Jim Carrey, but the film could have exploited his role as The Riddler in a better way. Likewise Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face. Two-Face is such a multi-faceted (pardon the pun) villain that he is wasted in what amounts to little more than a supporting role. Finally, the scene at the end where Batman decides that he is Batman not because he needs to be, but because he chooses to be, is a violation of the very nature of the character. What makes Batman interesting is the desire for vengeance that drives him and, at times, almost consumes him.

13. Blade

Not your traditional superhero, Blade is a part human, part vampire, hunter of all that is Undead. I could attempt to wax eloquent about the metaphorical use of vampires in horror movies throughout the century, but the fact is that what makes this movie work are the intense and seemingly non-stop action sequences.

12. X-Men 3

Another example of a new director taking over an established franchise and moving it in a different direction. In this case, Brett Ratner does a good job of sticking with the ongoing story line, but he largely removes from the film the underlying angst and dramatic tension that made Bryan Singer's first two attempts so effective. The metaphor of the X-Men as representative of the outsider, be it racial, social, sexual, etc, was employed subtly and to great effect in Singer's movies, but here is made too obvious. Some of the action sequences are outstanding, but the film ultimately adds up to little more than action scenes linked together by plot contrivances.

11. Superman

The first Superman movie was great for its time, but the special effects don't quite hold up as well today. Gene Hackman does a fine job as Lex Luthor, but the whole villain angle here comes across as somewhat campy, thus robbing it of full resonance.


At 5:38 PM, Blogger Eric said...

I think I would have rated X-3 higher than X-2. I agree about Batman Forever being a disappointment of the whole series. The first two with Michael Keaton were so well done, I am a huge fan of Keaton and his work in Batman.

At 9:01 PM, Blogger Ron Cox said...

Regarding the Hulk, I think your analysis is accurate. However, you left out what I consider to be its major strength as a film: Jennifer Connelly.

At 11:36 PM, Blogger Jim said...

I think Hulk and Batman Forever are at the top of my "Superhero Movie Disappointments" list.

The worst thing they did with BF was make Two-Face a Joker knock-off. Tommy Lee Jones lives to play dark, broody, and angry - that would have been perfect Two-Face.

I agree in putting X3 a number of steps behind the other two. Had it been the first of the franchise, it would have been a great action film, but it just ended up in the shadow of the other two excellent films.

At 7:46 PM, Blogger KMiV said...

I actually liked a few of the religious themes in these. Batman forever--the issue of ethics and vigilanteism (like in Spiderman). Hulk--I like the scene where Nick Nolte mentions going beyound the boundaries of God (genetics is our superhero now). X Men--I was dissappointed that they took Kurt Wagner out from the mutants. He was a great fighter and staunch believer.

I think that the super-hero movies do talk about faith/religion more. In the old days they were created by radiation (our national fear). Now they are created by genetics (our national hero). It seems that they are asking the question of what next? Is there a God beyond this?


At 11:09 AM, Blogger Random Rich said...

I agree that the Batman franchise took a hit when Tim Burton and Michael Keaton left. The first two were very well done. I think Michael Keaton was perfect for Batman. I wish he & Burton had stayed on for 3 & 4. Val Kilmer was a decent Batman, I thought, and I also thought that Jim Carrey was excellent as the Riddler. Jones as Two-Face presented two problems: 1) You had to forget that Billy Dee Williamns was Harvey Dent in the first flick and 2) you are right, he was reduced to 2nd fiddle. It's as if Shumacher thought he needed both villians to play off each other.
Can anyone clarify for me why Michael Keaton didn't want to play Batman for the 3rd and 4th movies? I had heard that he was tired of being upstaged by the other stars and wasn't top billing, but I could never prove that.

I liked Hulk a lot more than most of the people I know. The story book effect was interesting to me. Very creative, but I can see why it would be distracting. It was also a departure from the comic book origin of the Hulk, unless I am mistaken, which is one thing I did NOT like.

X-Men 3 was a disappointment because once again, they departed in a major way from the comic book story line. In the originals, Cyclops is NOT killed by the Phoenix/Jean Grey and neither is Prof. X. Jean Grey just stood around most of the time. In the closing fight scene, Jean just stood there while everything was going on around her until the end. Was she trying to control the Phoenix all that time or what? A friend told me that Cyclops and Prof X were killed off because neither James Marsden, nor Patrick Stewart wanted to be in the 3rd episode. They signed contracts to do so, but backed out I guess or something like that. Can anyone clarify that for me?

At 11:43 AM, Blogger Greg said...

I am not sure about the contract issues for X-Men 3. I had heard that Keaton would have done the third Batman movie, but only if Tim Burton were directing. When Burton was not hired as the director, he chose to leave.
I watched Batman Forever again yesterday and it only confirmed for me again how much they wasted Two-Face. Two-Face is all about duality. He has a good side that is in tension with his dark side. The coin is about him trying to navigate between the two. In the film, they made him just completely evil and insance, so the duality was merely given lip service and not genuinely present at all.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger Brian said...

This is a fun post.

I don't agree that the X-men-as-sexual-outsider metaphor was more subtle in X2 than in X3.

I used to refer to X2 as "the gayest movie ever." I mean, it even has a coming-out scene! How much more obvious could it be?

"Have you ever tried not being a mutant?" - that line always cracks me up! :)

At 9:13 PM, Blogger Greg said...

You are right. Actually what I was trying to say is that the outsider metaphor is employed in a more heavy-handed way in X3. As I wrote the line about X2 being more subtle, I thought about the very scene you mentioned and realized it was intentionally un-subtle there -- but then I was too lazy to change it.


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