My Favorite Superhero Movies

New Mutants, to be released during Spring 2018, seems to be a fully fledged horror movie. Of course, I don’t know about the details, but this is what the trailer seems to promise. We’ll see what we get. It doesn’t get a prime release date, but April has been fertile ground for movies in the past few years, so it’s not dumped either.

What this is indicative of, is that these movies are no longer simple straight-forward action movies. Instead, studios have been venturing out into different directions with their work. Sure, we still have those movies where the teams gets together to fight the Big Bad, but that would become boring if done too much (and to me, it actually already has).

For this reason, the majority of this list is movies that dare to do something different. I used to read a lot of Marvel comic books. Well, some, because living in Finland when I was a kid, we didn’t get much beyond Spider-Man, X-Men and a couple of titles which would collect stuff from various other American titles, such as Daredevil, Punisher, Hulk, Fantastic Four, The Avengers and occasionally something like Alpha Flight. I did still read enough of them to want them to branch out.

My favorite issues were always the ones that were different. I’m talking about stuff like The Sin Eater and the issues where Kraven decided to bury Spider-Man alive to take his place to finally show he was superior. Some of this stuff, like The Secret Wars, was really bad in hindsight, but I still appreciate the effort to do something like that, even though it did devolve into something horrible. Especially, when they started going back to that well regularly.

Anyhow, what I’m trying to say here is that though there’s plenty of superhero movies, the ones that stand out for me are the ones that do something a bit different with the trope. Not just the usual origin story, followed by a blue light from / into the sky that has to be stopped for reasons you hardly care about.

So, there won’t be Avengers in here, nor will there be anything from the new DCEU (even though I did enjoy Wonder Woman… it just didn’t make top 10). I didn’t consider movies like Birdman, which despite having a superhero appear in it, isn’t a superhero movie. Sometimes the line is a lot more blurred though and I’ll discuss that when I need.

These are in a chronological order.

The Rocketeer (1991)

What can I say? It’s schlocky and it’s fun. Well, Jennifer Connelly was my first long-distance crush, so that might have something to do this as well.

It might not be the first movie that comes to mind, when we talk about superhero movies, but in some ways it’s much closer to the original superhero trope in all it’s earnestness. Well, you don’t get much of that in my lists, but there you go. Sometimes that works as well. Not often, mind you.

Some spoilers ahead.

Batman Returns (1992)

Yes. That much-maligned sequel to Burton’s groundbreaking first Batman. I love it. It’s the complete opposite of The Rocketeer. It’s dark and morose. And weird. Weird enough to be inducted into the 366 Weird Movies list as the only superhero movie on it. I don’t see another one coming soon.

Is this even a superhero movie? Hard to say actually. It delves into the psyche of these people and what we find isn’t pretty. Of course, the series got a lot worse after this one.

Batman Begins (2005)

… and 13 years later, Batman was reborn as the hitech ninja we now know.

I understand that The Dark Knight is in many ways superior (especially The Joker), but this is my favorite of the three. Now that I’m writing this I find it hard to explain even to myself, but I’m guessing it’s historical context. Before this you couldn’t make superhero movies without winking just a little bit (like the original Spider-Man trilogy) or trying too hard to make something serious (like Ang Lee’s Hulk). Nolan took the idea as serious on it’s own and went with it. No ironic winking to let others know your really a serious filmmaker. Just straight-forward story that takes Batman on facevalue.

The Dark Knight (2008)

… and then there was The Joker.

I remember the discussion before the movie opened being that would Warner really dare to put out a movie without Batman in the title. Who would even go and see that? Well, as it turns out, everyone. And well, the poster isn’t actually coy about Batman’s involvement either.

Not that Batman is the character people remember. This was clearly the Heath Ledger Show. If we would analyze this based on who’s the protagonist and who’s the antagonist, it would be hard to side with Batman on the protagonist side. It’s The Joker who stole the movie for his own purposes and went about trying to achieve his goals.

Super (2010)

Okay, enough about Batman and moving on to different kind of mental problem.

This was James Gunn’s first feature as the director (and the only one before Guardians of the Galaxy) and I’m guessing it needs a bit of an explanation, since there’s a chance not that many people have seen this, although based on the number of IMDb ratings, this isn’t exactly obscure either.

Anyhow, Frank has lost his wife, who went back to her drug habit and thus a drug dealer. Frank sees a vision in which God reaches out and touches his brain, so he decides to become a superhero, like a guy he was just watching on a Christian TV channel. Obviously, he has no powers, no talents and no training, so he makes a huge mess of it with his partner, Libby, who’s just an employee of the local comic book store Frank happened to meet when researching possible weapons.

I especially like the ending. Frank saves his wife, but the movie takes a very realistic stand and she doesn’t return to him. And why would she? At that point Frank is a bigger mess than her drug dealing boyfriend. So, she goes out on her own and finds herself another role in life.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Speaking of Guardians…

This was the tenth MCU movie. The series was overdue for a change of pace. Not that the previous ones were bad. In fact, just the previous one, Captain America: Winter Soldier, was one of the better ones, if not the best. It also started to move just a little bit away from the usual recipe by adding a thriller element to it. Guardians, on the other hand, took this whole thing to a completely new direction.

Early on in the movie we see Peter Quill (or Starlord) stealing an orb while listening to music and kicking around the local equivalent of rats off-handedly. It’s a good, old-fashioned space adventure, but at the same time there’s depth to the characters. There’s an excellent video essay about Vol. 2 by Lindsay Ellis that explains this in much more detail and better than I ever could. Let’s just say, that the outwardly comical characters seem to be better constructed than any of the other characters in the whole MCU franchise.

Ant-Man (2015)

Okay, maybe this wasn’t such a huge high point in the whole MCU, but I like it because of, once again, subverting the expectations. It’s a heist movie, with a superhero, who is already a good burglar, but now has the added benefit of superpowers. The climactic fight scene at the end of the movie is the most enjoyable out of all the movies they have done thusfar simply due to taking the absurdity of those situations into a completely different direction, as the two cause havoc in one bedroom instead of a city, as usual.

Deadpool (2016)

There’s many problems with this movie. Sometimes Deadpool is too obnoxious and sometimes the jokes fall flat, but at the same time, I can appreciate what they were trying to do. Reynolds fought to keep this an R and rightfully so. The budget was cut to pieces, but they kept moving on. They lacked the budget to have huge fights, so they had smaller ones, but ones that make an impression. I actually remember them. They cheated a little bit with them, essentially not having enough budget to have three big set pieces, so they just cut one of them into two parts. That’s a creative approach I can appreciate. You do your best with what you have and they did exactly that.

Logan (2017)

Now that we’ve established with the last three movies that superhero movies can be fun, I guess it was the right time to go into a very different direction. This is a somber movie about a man who has to rediscover himself while he’s actually dying, despite having being more or less immortal throughout most of his life.

I guess after Deadpool the studio was more open to R rating, even if this movie did something completely different with that freedom. Whereas DCEU seems to try to follow in the immediate steps of what was popular before, Mangold and Jackman did what they felt needed to be done with the Wolverine character before Jackman stepped away from the character. I don’t know whether you have to have a history with the character (but I doubt it), but this is a great send-off. Some sentimentality, sure, but nothing overbearing.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

… and back to the fun.

After Sony messed up the reboot of Spider-Man quite badly (I thought I would try to pick on Webb for his name here, but I doubt he was responsible), they let Marvel take a stab at it. And they did. Nicely foreshadowing it all in Civil War in a sequence that was nicely incorporated into this movie.

This is perhaps a bit too much of a Robert Downey Jr. show, but I guess they felt they had to use his starpower after those Amazing failures. What I especially like about this movie is that it brings Spider-Man back to those stories I remember from my youth. Its not about global or even citywide threats. It’s just a gunrunner, who happens to deal in hitech stuff, but in the end, he’s just a guy, who works for his family.

You don’t have to put the whole city, galaxy, mutantkind, or whatever into jeopardy to get us interested, as long as you have a good story and characters. Despite the hundreds of millions spent on the production of these movies, in the end it’s about those little things.

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