You may have heard that a little movie called “The Avengers” hits theaters this Friday. In honor of this highly anticipated, sure to be blockbuster I thought it would be fun to spend some time this week looking at the hugely popular superhero genre. I’m doing two Phenomenal 5 lists this week starting with 5 Phenomenal Superhero Movies. Now with the title “superhero” my intentions are to stay within the comic book arena. Since the genre has grown there are many movies to choose from. But these are five that made the cut for me. As always I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, but there’s no doubt that these 5 superhero movies are absolutely phenomenal.
#5 – “X-MEN” (2000)
Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” should be thanked for its role in relaunching superhero movies into the popular money-makers they are today. Here Singer does a great job of introducing the team and effectively laying the groundwork for what the team was all about. Another great thing is the fun casting. Patrick Stewart is absolutely perfect as Charles Xavier and Hugh Jackman stole the show with his portrayal of Wolverine. Ian McKellen, James Marsden, Famke Janssen, and Halle Berry are also well cast. While some of the dialogue is a little clunky, the story is well written and even though dealing with some heavier underlying themes it doesn’t take itself to seriously. “X-Men” spawned two sequels, neither as good as the first film. But “X-Men” is a movie I can watch anytime.
#4 – “SPIDER-MAN” 2 (2004)
I really enjoyed the first Spider-Man film but this was a case where the sequel was better than it’s predecessor. With the constraints of an origin story behind him, director Sam Raimi puts together a sharp, action-packed story pitting Peter Parker (Tobey Mcguire) against Dr. Octopus (Alfred Molina). The character development and story progression is very well done, the production design is at a higher level, and the movie as a whole is much more polished. Molina is fantastic and the special effects are a blast. The train scene alone is worth the price of admission. Unfortunately the third movie flew completely off the rails instead of building on the success of this film. But “Spider-Man” 2 remains a great example of how to make a really good sequel.
#3 – “BATMAN BEGINS” (2005)
When I heard Christopher Nolan had signed on to do “Batman Begins” I was immediately intrigued. Batman is my favorite comic book hero and I was still bitter at how Joel Schumacher had left the previous Batman franchise in shambles. How happy I was to see Nolan not only successfully reboot the franchise but develop an enthralling film that captured the fun elements of a comic book movie as well as a darker and more fitting tone for the Batman character. Christian Bale is great as Bruce Wayne and Gary Oldman is the perfect Jim Gordon. Throw in Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, and Morgan Freeman and you have a brilliant cast that perfectly fits Nolan’s vision. “Batman Begins” is not only a really good movie, but it sets the foundation for what has been an incredible franchise so far.
#2 – “IRON MAN” (2008)
I remember when I first heard that an Iron Man movie starring Robert Downey, Jr. was coming soon. I didn’t see how on earth Downy, Jr. could play the role of Tony Stark and I pretty much doomed the movie to failure. Not only was I wrong about the movie but I have no problem saying that Robert Downey, Jr. IS Tony Stark! “Iron Man” is a well crafted and incredibly well written movie that rides Downey, Jr.’s performance. It takes a second tier Marvel superhero and catapults him into the lead role of the upcoming Avengers film. There’s some fun supporting work from Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Terrence Howard and some jaw-dropping special effects. “Iron Man” is a brilliant franchise-launching origin story and a super fun action popcorn picture. It’s incredibly well done and Robert Downey, Jr. is a blast to watch.
#1 – “THE DARK KNIGHT” (2008)
“The Dark Knight” is the second movie in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and I have no problem calling it the best superhero / comic book movie of all time. But it can’t be confined to just the superhero genre. It’s an incredible film that can stand its ground against any movie from any genre. Nolan’s vision takes Bruce Wayne and Gotham City down a much darker and more violent path with the introduction of The Joker played by Heath Ledger. Ledger gives a stunning and unforgettable performance that won him the posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Nolan’s direction is near perfect and his slick style is evident throughout the film. The special effects are very well done and Hans Zimmer’s score is a perfect fit. Bale, Oldman, Freeman, and Caine all return and Aaron Eckhart makes a great Harvey Dent. “The Dark Knight” is a comic book movie but one that never strays to far from reality. It’s dark and intense but it’s also an exercise in precision filmmaking. It’s a movie that legitimizes the superhero genre and one of my favorite movies of all time.
There you have it. What do you think of my list? See a glaring omission? What are you favorite superhero movies?