It’s superhero week, the most super of all the weeks! For some, like Sean, the answers were obvious, and for others, namely Jay, the least Marvelicious of all the Assholes, there was a struggle. Thank you, as always, to Wandering Through The Shelves, for putting forth this challenge.
The Dark Knight – I went to the midnight showing for this one and loved every minute of it. Heath Ledger is phenomenal. Hands down, his Joker is the best villain in any superhero movie. It’s not even close; he is perfect and he carries this movie. Full marks to the writers as well for capturing so much of what I love about the Batman-Joker rivalry. The choice the Joker gives to Batman is genius, and this is what a superhero movie should strive for: to be true to these characters and give us a fresh story (not just another rehash of the hero’s origin)!
Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel has these movies down to a science by now. I have lost track of how many movies their cinematic universe contains but it’s a lot. Guardians of the Galaxy is the standout for me. It feels different and it is full of memorable moments. Groot, Starlord, baby Groot, Rocket, and the rest do dysfunctional the right way. With the Avengers the internal turmoil felt forced and unnecessary, but these five feel like true misfits who end up being more than the sum of their parts, and who somehow pull it together when it matters. And isn’t coming through in the clutch the definition of heroism?
Spider–Man 2 – Tobey Maguire made a good Spider-Man because he was a good Peter Parker. This movie is very Peter Parker from start to finish. Peter doesn’t always get it right and he rarely gets ahead. But he’s a good guy because he wants to be a better guy than he is. He really wants to be a hero and he’s the last guy you would expect to find under Spider-Man’s mask, but when you see he’s the one who saved your subway car from Doc Ock, you make sure you have his back. Spider-Man tries so hard to be a good guy that it is contagious. This movie captures the character perfectly and that’s why it made it on my list (it was very hard narrowing this list down to three). It’s such a shame they couldn’t get Venom right in #3, but the main reason #3 was such a letdown is because #2 sets the bar so high.
Sean is the superhero guy, the one who was thrown out of school for drawing an underground comic book back when he was young and had a sharp pencil. Me? I have super hero fatigue. Too many reboots and reiterations of stories I’ve already heard and teams we’ve already assembled and battles we’ve already fought.
Unbreakable – This movie’s not just about superheroes, it worships them. It prays at the altar of comic books. There was a day, not so very long ago, when “directed by M. Night Shyamalan” were not dirty words. This movie, for me, surpassed The Sixth Sense. It felt quietly important. Revelatory. I loved how a seemingly ordinary man might one day awaken to the fact that he is a superhero. Has been all along and never really noticed. Bruce Willis is “unbreakable”, never injured, never sick, but never paid any attention until Sam Jackson finds him. Very breakable “Mr. Glass” he has some sort of brittle bone disease, always breaking bones and living in pain. He figures if he can exist, on his end of the spectrum, so must someone else on the other end. Having found him, he ingeniously starts training him up to put to put the hero in superhero. Quentin Tarantino is also a big fan of the movie, calling it a “brilliant retelling of the Superman mythology”, and lamenting that it had not been properly hyped with the simple tagline “what if Superman was here on earth, and didn’t know he was Superman?”
The Incredibles – If the last movie asked what if the hero didn’t know he was a hero, this one asks, what if we asked the heroes to stop being heroic? Superheroes, including Mr. Incredible and his dishy girlfriend Elastigirl were doing a pretty bang up job of clearing the streets of scum when suddenly the litigious society in which they lived caught up with them. Leave it to Americans to ruin a good thing. Overwhelmed with lawsuits for collateral damage, the supers are sent into retirement, their secret identities now their only identities. Mr. and Mrs. Incredible are now a family of five in the suburbs. Mr. Incredible hates his desk job but knows his family’s happiness depends on his remaining inconspicuous: hard to do when even his young children are displaying super powers. No one is surprised when he gets back in the saddle, or that it’s Mrs. Incredible who has to save him, but what I love about this film is the satire – the masks that totally obscure identity by merely concealing the eyebrows, dear costumer Edna’s strictest rule: DAHHHHLINGS, NO CAPES!
Big Hero 6 – I know this one has a special place in Sean’s heart as well, so I’d better do it justice! Why do I like it? Probably because these heroes have my favourite super power of all time – just being smart. Nerds have their day in Big Hero 6 – a group of young scientists and the robot they built use their own clever inventions to turn a close-knit group of grieving friends into crime-fighting prodigies.
Special Mention: Confessions of a Superhero – A super cool documentary that follows 4 people who patrol the Hollywood Walk of Fame dressed as superheroes in order to make money from tourists. They make for easy targets but the film is pretty sympathetic. They’ve each come a long way to “become stars” and are at varying points between following their dreams, and watching them crumble. The movie does an interesting job of showing the disparity between the larger-than-life personas they inhabit (Super Man, Batman, The Hulk, and Wonder Woman) and the ordinariness of their actual lives. They may strive to live up to their heroic identities but anger, addiction, and homelessness are the realities that threaten. Their costumes remind us of the best that Hollywood has to offer – the elusive superhero franchise – while at the same time highlighting their humbled situations. Very watchable and worthwhile.
The Crow (1994)- As Jonah Hill correctly pointed out in Superbad, Home Ec is a joke. I watched The Crow in Home Ec when I was in the eighth grade and it both fascinated and terrified me. I thought super heroes were supposed to be nice. The Crow is less about Truth, Justice, and the American Way than he is about good old-fashioned payback so his restless soul can finally rest in peace. When I rewatched it this weekend, the tone wasn’t quite as sinister as I remember but this rare R-rated comic book movie is still a refreshing change from the PG-13 watered-down adaptations I’m used to. The Crow may be bulletproof but even he isn’t safe from a 2016 reboot. Boardwalk Empire’s Jack Huston is playing him next year. I can’t argue with the casting but I wish they would leave this one alone.
Batman Begins (2005)- Batman has been my favourite since I was six. He’s a little nuts which makes him much more interesting to watch than other heroes. Plus, his rogues gallery kicks fucking ass. There are many schools of thought on how the Caped Crusader should be portrayed and many interesting directors have brought their unique vision to it but none more effective than Christopher Nolan. He combined all the best elements of so many classic Batman stories and made an origin story that was uniquely his own. Christian Bale is a dick but I got chills when we first see him in cape and cowl. For the first time, when an actor growled “I’m Batman”, I actually believed him.
The Dark Knight (2008)- If this genre had a Citizen Kane it would be The Dark Knight and if it had a Martin Scorsese it would be Christopher Nolan. I anxiously awaited this sequel to Batman Begins for three whole years but never dreamed it would be like this. Nolan took everything that worked about Begins and took it to the next level. He explores even darker themes while embracing the Dark Knight’s comic book roots even more. Even without the presence of the late great Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight still would have raised the bar to the point that I can’t believe they can still get away with making movies like The Avengers.