Time for another Top 10 list. This one is inspired by the exhaustive rankings list done by Dave Gladow who managed to rank every single superhero movie out there (http://davegladow.com/every-comic-book-movie-ranked-mostly/). I’ve seen a lot of them, but even I will not sit through the messes that were Catwoman or Kick-Ass 2 or Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. (My masochism only goes so far). Nor do I mean it to be as set in stone. Movies will shift as opinions change and time allows movies to age. Also,the following just missed the cut: Batman Begins, Blade 2, Captain America: First Avenger, Dr. Strange, Hellboy, Superman I, Spider-Man 2, Watchmen, X-Men: First Class.
- Kingsman: The Secret Service
I’ll admit that there’s a fair bit of a mix here between James Bond and Agent Cody Banks going on. But this adaptation of Mark Millar’s The Secret Service gets three things right: 1. It’s funny. There’s enough levity and humor in here to make the movie a breeze. 2. Its leads in Colin Firth and Taron Eggerton are likeable and rootable. You want to see them win. 3. It’s just fantastical enough to be a comic book movie. The super spies who are trying to keep a mad genius from having humanity destroy itself.
Highlight: The colorful explosion scene set to Pomp and Circumstance. Nearly fell off my chair laughing.
- X2: X-Men United
I really debated between having this entry and the equally good X-Men: First Class.
Ultimately this won out because it does a great job of encapsulating both the totality of the X-Men’s core argument as well as being an improvement in every way on the original X-Men movie. A lot of what the other X-Men movies have done, this one did first and did really well. (I still think the Nightcrawler White House assault is better than Quicksilver’s sequences). But it’s the ability to combine multiple storylines — Storm & Jean’s search for Nightcrawler, Logan & the kids fleeing into the night, Magneto & Xavier & Stryker — into one that makes it the best X-Men movie for me.
Highlight: Tough to go away from the White House attack, but I’m going to go with the attack on Xavier’s School.
I gotta admit that I’m not the biggest Deadpool fan as he is in the comics. Oh, he’s a great way to deconstruct the genre. However, sometimes he can be too much — like too many chillies in your chimichanga. What this movie got right though was the balance between Wade’s antics and the overall story he was in. I maintain this is the first comic book rom-com we’ve seen. It’s interesting that, through all their fucked up lives and tribulations, the relationship between Vanessa and Wade is one that is open, honest, fun and true. It’s what anchors the movie and keeps it from becoming a satire. Even though there’s plenty of funny, action moments.
Highlight: The year of celebration between Wade and Vanessa? Or the Captain Deadpool montage?
- Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
I always say I love Guillermo Del Toro. And while part of me wanted to put Blade 2 somewhere on this list, it had to lose to one of the Hellboy movies. What The Golden Army gets right is that it’s as much about Hellboy as it is about his world. Though they’re not fighting Nazis or demons in this instance, the duality between Hellboy trying to preserve the world of man and Prince Nuada trying to destroy it for having nearly wiped out his creates a new dynamic. That’s what I love about this movie most: it’s a fight between characters that doesn’t shy away from the good and bad qualities of humanity nor giving just cause for its heroes and villains to fight. Plus the art design, the creature effects and the way all the weirdness of Mike Mignola’s classic comics combines with Del Toro’s sensibilities. Nearly 10 years and we’re no closer to a conclusion to this trilogy though.
Highlight: The Troll Market sequence is so chock full of visuals and characters and designs. And then there’s a fight!
- Iron Man
Most superhero comic books lose a ton of their steam the moment the main character returns to their alter ego. Who wants to walk through Peter Parker’s high school life when Spider-Man is battling Doc Ock? Or see Bruce Wayne deal with corporate deals when there’s Batman taking on The Joker? Somehow Robert Downey Jr, by his sheer force of personality, manages to make Tony Stark’s journey not just interesting but fun. Watching Stark be an asshole to Rhodey or to his robots while tinkering and creating what will be the Iron Man suit is half the enjoyment of the movie. The other half is seeing him using it against the Ten Rings and against the Iron Monger. I’ll grant you that the final battle isn’t as exciting as final battles tend to be but, by then, you’re just on board with the plan.
Highlight: Seeing Iron Man in action for the first time.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
It’s interesting how a character created in the 1940s and revived in the 1960s has managed to tackle some of the more interesting 21st Century dilemmas. Don’t get me wrong: ultimately, The Winter Soldier is about the punching and the flying and the superheroing. BUT in there also lies ideas about security versus freedom and about the role of technology in a free society. The Russo Brothers — guys best known for directing sitcom episodes — manage to make a movie that’s heady and also fast-paced; that’s fun without being silly. And with Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Samuel L Jackson and Sebastian Stan all nailing their roles, it never feels like the stakes don’t matter for Cap or those around him.
Highlight: The opening ship rescue where Cap quietly takes out a team of terrorists before going mano-a-mano versus Georges St. Pierre!
- Superman 2
I almost wanted to merge Richard Donner’s Superman 1 with Richard Lester’s sequel. They’re basically one long, continuous movie (and that was the way they were originally going to be). And while Donner’s movie has all the mythmaking, Lester got the action and that’s what broke the tie. I don’t need to explain this too deeply. Chris Reeve was Superman. Gene Hackman’s Luthor was a smarmy dick. Terrence Stamp’s General Zod was a great addition to the Superman mythos. And the idea of Superman foregoing being Superman to be in a relationship with Lois Lane brought an element of drama that none of the other adaptations have dared try. Of all the Superman movies, this one is the most satisfying still.
Highlight: Come on now. Has to be the big fight in Metropolis! KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!
- The Dark Knight
For a while there, it seemed as any critique of this movie was not allowed. It was like Chris Nolan’s follow-up to Batman Begins was the answer to every comic book fan’s prayers. The movie that proved that comic book movies could be more than just straightforward colorful adaptations. The Dark Knight is coated in darkness, both in its palate and its tone. Yes, that starts with Heath Ledger’s epic take on The Joker. But it goes into the fall of Harvey Dent into Two-Face and even the cost that being the Batman takes on Bruce Wayne. Unlike most other comic book movies or even Batman movies, The Dark Knight makes it clear that being the Caped Crusader costs Bruce dearly — and that not being Batman is something that could be for him. That is, until, he cannot be anything else. The Dark Knight will likely be THE Batman movie for a generation.
Highlight: The Hong Kong exfil of Lau replete with sneaking in and out of the city and those amazing IMAX shots of Batman gliding.
- Guardians of the Galaxy
Without daring to plagiarize myself, I think this movie is damn near perfect as a send-up of so many 80s action sci-fi tropes. But that alone wouldn’t make it as good. Deep down, the movie makes it so we care for Peter Quill, for Drax, for Gamora, for Groot and for Rocket. All the eye candy, all the action set pieces; they work because we want to see these erstwhile heroes succeed. Yes, I’ll grant you that Ronan the Accuser doesn’t quite work as the big bad for this story, but by the time you notice that, it’s too late. It’s always charming and endlessly watchable. And all from a story about C-list comic book characters that no one knew or cared about before the movie came out!
Highlight: The whole breaking out of The Kyln sequence is awesome.
- The Avengers
Comic book adaptations are hard. Team comic book adaptations are harder. And yet Joss Whedon manages to do it deftly, easily and make it look so good. The movie plays to its characters strengths and gives each one of its leads sufficient moments so that everyone knows them and gets to know the stakes for them. Why Iron Man is there and why Thor is there are different reasons and the movie moves them from potential adversaries to allies. And when it’s time for the battles, the movie delivers on spectacle. That it gives us a villain worth rooting for and that it manages to never feel overloaded are signs of a great adaptation happening. This is the movie that closest came to giving me that sensation of reading a comic book.
Highlight: Since the entire last act is a battle, let’s go with the battle between Thor and Iron Man in the forest.