Review: “The Avengers”

Marvel Studio’s “The Avengers” is the culmination of what may be the most ambitious project in film history. For those movie fans who have been living in a cave for the past several years, Marvel has been releasing several individual superhero movies that have all set the table for this huge event film. Two “Iron Man” pictures, “Captain America”, “Thor”, and “The Incredible Hulk” have all been linked together through brief reoccuring¬†cameos and hidden after-credits scenes¬†that refer¬†to something called “The Avengers Initiative”. As any comic book geek could tell you, that’s a reference to the Marvel superhero team that first debuted in comics in 1963. On the surface, the idea for an Avengers¬†film that’s directly tied into other individual superhero movies sounds great. On the flip side, even though the other films have been good, there are still plenty of areas where “The Avengers” could go off track. Well as a movie and comic book fan, I’m happy to say that “The Avengers” not only meets the challenges of it’s vision, but it’s an action packed adrenaline rush that offers some of the most fun I’ve had at the theater this year.

To handle this rather large undertaking, Marvel placed the project in the hands of Joss Whedon. Whedon¬†was a good choice mainly due to his variety of experience. He’s found success in television, film, and comic books and he uses his knowledge of each combined with Disney’s deep pockets to create a movie that would appeal to the fanboy and the casual moviegoer¬†alike. One thing that helps Whedon¬†is that the¬†film doesn’t require your traditional origin story. While we do see the generation of the team, we know all of the characters from the previous Marvel movies so¬†Whedon is able to dive right into the story.¬†That being said,¬†don’t mistake this for a deep, engaging story that will challenge the audience. But I’ll also say that anyone going into “The Avengers” for that has already missed the point.

Throughout the other Marvel films, particularly “Captain America”, we learned about a cosmic energy source known as the cosmic cube. In “The Avengers”, S.H.E.I.L.D. head honcho¬†Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has a team of scientists led by physicist Dr. Erik Selvig¬†(Stellan¬†Skarsgard) trying to harness the power of the cube,¬†now known¬†as the Tesseract. But suddenly the cube activates and opens a portal allowing the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to entire the facility and steal it. Knowing the immense threat¬†associated with¬†the Tesseract being in the wrong hands, Fury activates the Avengers Initiative. But getting such a diverse group of superheroes to cooperate and coexist proves to be a lot harder than expected.

Fury starts by contacting Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). He sends her to India to find Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo)¬†while sending¬†Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) to Stark Tower to speak to Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.). While the two are gone, he approaches Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and sends him on a mission to retrieve the Tesseract. Upon hearing of Loki’s involvement, the thunder god¬†Thor (Chris Hemsworth) also entires the mix as does the marksman and assassin known as Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Each of the heroes have their own baggage and their own personalities which often times clash to the point of dysfunction. But their disagreements give us some of the movie’s cooler and often times funnier moments. As you would expect the situation worsens and it’s up to the team to pull together or the world will be taken over starting with New York City.

It’s a pretty cut-and-dry story but it really works because Whedon¬†understand his characters and he knows what kind of movie he’s trying to make. His familiarity with the Marvel comic book universe is clearly seen throughout the picture but nowhere more than in his treatment of the characters. As a comic book fan, I was really impressed with how¬†they all¬†felt right and it’s clear that the source material played a big role in shaping the on-screen¬†versions. But Whedon¬†never falls into the trap of taking things too seriously. The movie is filled with laugh out loud funny moments that are cleverly used and they never feel cheap or forced. They mix perfectly with the razor-sharp dialogue and the jaw-dropping action sequences. But the fantastic action and special effects shouldn’t surprise anyone. Afterall, “The Avengers” is a superhero action picture and Whedon knows it. The action comes¬†at a furious pace¬†and I can see where some may view it as relentless. Personally, I was completely wrapped up in¬†it. The movie sells the¬†superhero action through some¬†of the most spectacular visuals and editing that¬†you’ll see. I was blown away.

I can’t write a review of “The Avengers” without mentioning the incredible cast. One of the reasons the Marvel films and particularly “The Avengers” works so well is because of the amazing casting. Everyone is invested in their character and not one single performer phones it in. Downey, Jr. continues to be the perfect Tony Stark mainly due to his natural ability to¬†use sarcasm and fire off funny quips without hesitation. Chris Evans, known more for his goofier¬†roles, ¬†is also quite good as the serious and straight-laced Captain America. I also really liked Mark Ruffalo¬†as Bruce Banner. He’s the third actor to take on the role and he nails it. Much like Downey, Jr., Hemsworth¬†is the perfect Thor and he shares some of the film’s best scenes with Hulk. Renner and Johannson¬†also handle their roles very well. But I have to give special time to the wonderful Tom Hiddleston. He’s a remarkably diverse actor and he shows it here. His Loki¬†is mysterious, mischievous, and evil and¬†Hiddleston¬†slithers through his scenes stealing many of them. There are also nice smaller performances from Gregg, Gwyneth Paltrow¬†and Cobie¬†Smulders that¬†are just icing on the cake.

I can see where some people may not respond as positively as I did to “The Avengers”. The action is pretty much start-to-finish and if you’re not interested in the characters you’ll have a hard time embracing the story. There are also¬†a few¬†shortcuts taken with the story for¬†the sake of convenience¬†that could have been done a little better. For me, I have a connection to these characters through all my years of comic book reading and this film exceeded my expectations. But being a comic reader isn’t a prerequisite for enjoying this movie. If you’ve liked what Marvel has put out leading to it, you’re going to love “The Avengers”. Sure, it’s a loud, energetic summer popcorn flick, but it’s also a really good one. It’s honest and it never tries to be something it’s not.¬†Featuring one of the better ensemble casts and some top-notch directing from Joss Whedon, “The Avengers” is a big budget blockbuster that actually deserves all the money it’s going to rake it. When’s the next showing? I’m ready to see it again.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4-stars

COMIC BOOKS 101 – WHO ARE THE AVENGERS? PART 2

“The Avengers” movie event is upon us and we’ve been celebrating it all week on Keith & the Movies. Yesterday we looked at the comic book backgrounds of Captain America, Iron Man, and Hulk. Our intent was to give moviegoers who may not be familiar with the source material a look at the comic book histories that make these kinds of movies great. Let’s take a look at three more heroes you can expect to see on the big screen this Friday.

THOR

Thor, also known as the god of thunder, is the son of King Odin the All-Father. Thor was raised by Odin¬†and his wife Frigga in the mystical city of Asgard. Thor would later learn that his true birth mother was an Earth goddess named Jord. Thor grew up alongside Loki, Odin’s adopted son. Loki, the god of mischief, was always jealous of Thor and his close relationship to Odin. Loki always desired his father’s throne and viewed Thor as a threat. He also was jealous that Odin had created the enchanted hammer Mjolnir to be used only by Thor. His jealousy eventually grew into hate which caused a great deal of animosity between the two that continues to this day.

Over time Thor become the mightiest warrior in all of Asgard. He defended the city and battled all sorts of threats including the Frost Giants. He also developed a close relationship and romance with a goddess named Sif. Their relationship had it’s share¬†of ups and downs and they were an on-again off-again item. All of the accolades eventually went to Thor’s head. He became arrogant and prideful and Odin believed he heeded a harsh lesson in humility. Odin stripped him of Mjolnir¬†and banished him to earth. He forced him to take the form of a handicapped doctor named Donald Blake. Blake had no memory of his Asgardian¬†alter-ego. But after a long period of time, Odin soon put things in motion that would cause the memory of his identity as the thunder god to reemerge. Thor’s time as Donald Blake was instrumental in developing his love for the planet Earth. He also fell in love with a nurse named Jane Foster. Odin was infuriated that Thor would care so much for a mere mortal. Much like his romances with Sif at Asgard, Thor’s relationship with Jane met many complications often times due to Odin’s meddling.

Thor’s story is one of the more complex¬†ones in the¬†Marvel Universe. His troubles on Earth as well as Asgard often times overlapped. He found himself both ruler of and exiled¬†from both Earth and Asgard. At one point he sought to merge Earth with Asgard and cause humanity to worship the Asgardians¬†as their gods. Asgard was brought to Earth eventually settling near a small rural town in Oklahoma. His actions eventually led to tension between him and the rest of the Avengers. After a series of conflicts Thor soon found himself back in the good graces of Earth and was fighting alongside his Avengers friends against threats from Dr. Doom, Loki, and more. Perhaps the biggest threat was from Norman Osbourne’s Dark Avengers. Osbourne ordered Sentry, who was possessed by the¬†evil Void,¬†to level Asgard. During the siege¬†on Asgard, Sentry was accomplishing his mission until Loki sacrificed himself by magically¬†empowering the heroes to repel the Void.¬†The Void killed Loki after seeing¬†that he was¬†responsible for the heroes heightened powers. An enraged Thor struck the Void with a massive lightning blast killing him and also the helpless Sentry.

Loki¬†has since been¬†reborn, Asgard has been rebuilt, and Odin¬†has been brought back to life. Such¬†are the storylines you can expect¬†from Thor. More father and son trouble followed in the recent “Fear Itself” storyline and currently Thor is back with The Avengers to face off against the X-Men in the current series “Avengers vs X-Men”. Thor’s history is almost impossible to cover in such a small space. He’ll continue to have father issues with Odin and trust issues with Loki. He has a great assortment of side characters such as Sif, Balder, Heimdall, Volstagg, and more. He also is a very complex individual which guarantees that his story will see it’s fair share of bumps in the road.

HAWKEYE

Clint Barton¬†was orphaned after his parents were killed in a car accident. He spent several years in a children’s home but eventually ran away and joined a traveling circus. He worked around the circus but also developed incredible skills in archery thanks to some intense training from Swordsman. After leaving the circus his life still didn’t have much direction. After witnessing Iron Man fighting crime, he decided he would use his archery skills to become a costumed hero. But his first night out didn’t end well and he was mistaken for a thief. While on the run he encounters a beautiful Soviet spy known as Black Widow. Barton blindly follows her and helps in several criminal acts which puts them at odds with Iron Man.

Hawkeye decides that criminal life isn’t for him and he goes to the Avengers wanting to prove himself to be a force for good. He was accepted as a member of the team and was an Avenger for many years. Hawkeye wasn’t always the easiest to get along with. He could at times be a hot head and he’s very outspoken. His attraction to fellow Avenger Scarlett Witch caused problems with her brother Quicksilver. He also found himself at odds with Captain America by constantly questioning his decisions and leadership. But the two were¬†an amazing force in the field and over time they developed a close, close friendship.¬†But Hawkeye soon found himself in trouble again due to his affections for Scarlett Witch. It led to some serious issues with Vision and soon he left the team.

Hawkeye would come back to the Avengers several times. But he also spent a lot of time away trying to develop a solo career. It was during one of these leaves that he met and eventually married Mockingbird. After returning to the Avengers yet again, he was assigned the job of creating a second Avengers team based in Los Angeles.¬†He and Mockingbird established the West Coast Avengers and fought evil for several years. But it was also there where his relationship with Mockingbird deteriorated. They eventually divorced but soon reconciled until¬†she was killed saving Clint from Mephisto. He¬†also¬†spends time leading the¬†Thunderbolts, a group of sketchy ex-criminals. Clint was sympathetic to the group mainly due to his own checkered past. He trains them and establishes them as a legitimate crime fighting team. After joining the Avengers yet again Clint is killed during Scarlett Witch’s reality altering breakdown (The House of M storyline).

Once reality is put back in place, Clint is reborn. He is asked to join The New Avengers and he assumes the identity of Ronin. He played a big role in the war against Norman Osbourne and his Dark Avengers. He also was reunited with Mockingbird who was alive and had been held captive by Skrulls for years. He eventually goes back to his Hawkeye identity and¬†was a member of several different incarnations of Avengers. He played a key part during the siege in Asgard, teamed up with Black Widow again, and almost lost his sight. He continues to be an Avenger today and also serves as a teacher at The Avengers Academy. Hawkeye is a great character. He’s a fireball who doesn’t mind sharing his mind and even though he’s considered a lower level hero, I’ve always loved him.

“BLACK WIDOW”

Natasha Rominoff’s¬†parents were killed in a fire when she was just a little girl. She was rescued and raised by a man named Ivan Petrovitch. Revisions to her history add that she also in the “Black Widow Ops” program as a child. Throughout her childhood she received training in espionage, martial arts, and weaponry. She was groomed to be a top-notch spy. She was also given scientific enhancements which explain her long life and amazing agility. Her first mission to the United States put her at odds with Tony Stark. The two face-off several times as she tries to ruin Stark Industries.¬†She runs into a young Hawkeye and manipulates him to help her fight Iron Man. Iron Man prevails and she soon heads back to the Soviet Union.

After some failed attempts, Natasha finally defects from Russia to the United States and spends a brief time working with the Avengers. During this time she forms a close bond with Nick Fury from S.H.E.I.L.D. and does several independent missions for him. Her involvement with S.H.E.I.L.D. forced her to decline membership to the Avengers once it was offered. She also had a fling with Daredevil and spends time fighting crime with him. Black Widow fought against and was captured by HYDRA only to be rescued by Spider-Man and she was poisoned to the point of near death by The Hand. Her relationship with Daredevil fell apart and she decided she was better fit to work alone.

She carried out several freelance missions for several years before she was asked to join Iron Man’s task force during the Civil War.¬†As the Civil War ended, she fell in love with Bucky Barnes who was serving as Captain America after the murder of Steve Rogers.¬†She helped him through his personal struggles with his past sins as The Winter Soldier and helped him cope with the death of his life long friend. She also continued to do undercover work for Nick Fury including¬†infiltrating¬†Norman Osbourne’s ¬†Thunderbolts. As the Avengers splintered off into several groups, Black Widow was asked to join Captain America’s black-ops Secret¬†Avengers team. She was an intricate part in several key undercover missions.

Black Widow has always had a mysterious side to her. He early spy work made it hard for the other superheroes and the United States government to trust her. But over time she became an important player on many missions against many villains. She¬†has never been a top-tier Marvel Comics character but she’s always been intriguing. Over the past several years she has obtained a more prominent role in the Marvel Universe and the movies are taking advantage of it.

There you have it, a crash course on the Avengers and their comic book history. As I mentioned, this only scratches the surfaces of what is a long history for each of these characters. Hopefully the upcoming movie will take these great characters and present us with one amazing film.

COMIC BOOKS 101 – WHO ARE THE AVENGERS? PART 1

I’m fairly certain that by now everyone knows about this Friday’s release of Marvel’s “The Avengers”. All week I’ve looked at all things superheroes from special Phenomenal 5 lists to flashback reviews. I think it’s also safe to say that most people know that “The Avengers” is based on a comic book superhero team. The characters were first introduced years ago through Marvel Comics. As a comic book nerd, I thought it would be fun to introduce moviegoers to the movie’s characters from a comic book perspective. Each of these characters have a¬†full and¬†rich comic book history. With that in mind, let me introduce you to The Avengers that I grew up reading and loving.

CAPTAIN AMERICA

Steve Rogers experienced a lot of hardship at a young age. He grew up during The Great Depression and both of his parents died while he was still a teenager. A key moment in Steve’s life was when he saw news reports of the atrocities being carried out during World War 2.¬†He enlisted in the U.S. Army but was rejected due to his physical frailty. Steve was given a second chance by Dr. Abraham Erskine, creator of the Super Soldier Serum. Steve was the experiment’s¬†first and only success. Erskine was murdered before sharing¬†his formula.¬†As a result of the experiment, Steve gained body muscle and mass¬†along with¬†lightning reflexes. Through training he became the ultimate super soldier.

Steve fought in World War 2 and became known as Captain America. He served as an inspiration to a war-weary country. It was there he met his sidekick and dear friend Bucky Barnes. They fought through several memorable campaigns with troops and with other superheroes (known as the Invaders). But as the war’s end drew closer, Cap and Bucky were on a mission to destroy a drone rigged with explosives that had been launched by Baron Zemo. The two were on the drone as it exploded in air and both were believed to be killed. Cap had actually plunged into the icy waters below but was saved by the super soldier serum. His body went into a state of suspended animation. It wasn’t until years later that Steve was found by Namor still frozen. The newly formed team called “The Avengers” took Steve, thawed him, and he eventually became their first recruit.

After joining The Avengers, Cap immediately was recognized for his leadership skills. He led the team in epic battles against the likes of Kang the Conqueror, Ultron, The Masters of Evil, and many more. He also found himself up against old enemies like Baron Zemo and his arch-nemesis The Red Skull. But one of the biggest moments in the history of Captain America came at the end of what was known as The Civil War. Following an incident that killed hundreds of civilians, the American government issued The Super-Human Registration Act which required anyone with super-human powers to register with the government. This act split the superhero community in half. Iron Man led the pro-registration group while Captain American led the underground anti-registration group. The conflict was solved when Cap turned himself in. On the steps of the federal courthouse where Steve Rogers was to be indicted, he was assassinated in an elaborate plot orchestrated by The Red Skull.

But as with all good superheroes, you can’t keep him down. Over a year later it was learned that Steve Rogers wasn’t dead. He returned where he continues to lead a group of Avengers and is currently involved in the intense “Avengers vs X-Men” storyline. Steve Rogers has always been my favorite Marvel superhero and this only touches on his history. He’s a much more layered and complex character than you may believe and so far the movie’s are doing him justice.

 

IRON MAN

Anthony “Tony” Stark is the son of the wealthy industrialist Howard Stark. Tony showed himself to be a creative genius at an early age, excelling in everything from engineering to mathematics to physics while still in his teens. But Tony’s relationship with his father wasn’t a perfect one. He eventually inherited his father’s company, Stark Industries, at a very early age. He turned the company into the foremost weapons manufacturers in the¬†world and quickly became a multi-billionaire. His big moment came when he was overseeing the testing of a new weapon for the head of a Communist regime. But there was an accident and Tony was seriously injured. A sharp piece of shrapnel was lodged in his heart. The Communists agreed to save Tony’s life but only if he built them a secret weapon. Tony agreed but instead used the time to create a device that was keep his heart beating as well as a suit of heavily armed armor which he used to escape.

Upon returning home (with the help of James “Rhodie” Rhodes who would become a life long friend), Tony began tinkering with the armored suit idea. Tony was still arrogant and self-absorbed and he saw the suit as another opportunity to make more money and gain more power in the weapons manufacturing business. But soon he found that the suit could serve a greater good. He maintained that the “Iron Man” was his bodyguard but secretly he used the suit to battle all sorts of threats. Only a trusted few knew that Tony was Iron Man, including his trusted secretary Pepper Potts. Tony and Pepper always had an “interesting” relationship. Her dedication to him, even through trying times, could never be questioned.

Tony was instrumental in forming the¬†superhero group called The Avengers. Not only was he a founding member, but it was his mansion in New York that later became Avenger’s Mansion. His vision¬†for The Avengers was to be a force for good. To protect against all threats global or intergalactic. But Tony private life sometimes conflicted with the image The Avengers wanted to project. He was known for his womanizing and became a self-destructive alcoholic. There were also issues with him being on a team protecting the great good while also being a manufacturer of weapons¬†for all sorts of bad people. It took time but Tony really evolved as a person. He eventually controlled his drinking (although¬†it remains a¬†personal demon of his and has reared it’s ugly head once again) and stopped the manufacturing of weapons.

Stark has fought a wide assortment of enemies individually and as an Avenger. He’s battled those wishing to overthrow and take control of his company as well as more global threats. He was a key player in the destructive superhero Civil War and was viewed by many as the¬†man behind¬†many of the problems that caused it. Tony saw many friends turn against him during that period. But time heals all wounds in comic book land and bigger threats require pasts to be forgotten. Tony Stark has patched up his relationships with Thor and Captain America and they continue to fight¬†all kinds¬†of evil as members of The Avengers. Tony Stark is a character with a great Avengers history but with a lot of humanity as well. His real life struggles were pretty bold when first introduced into comics and the fact that he is an imperfect person makes him all the more intriguing.

HULK

The story of Bruce Banner may be one of the saddest in the Marvel universe. He grew up in a dysfunctional¬†home. While he had a loving mother, his father, an accomplished physicist hated him. His father was an unhinged¬†alcoholic who was eventually institutionalized after murdering Bruce’s mother. This left Bruce very closed off as he grew up. He kept all of his pain to himself and didn’t have a social life. This would later play an important role in Banner’s transformation. Bruce was still a brilliant young man and excelled in nuclear physics. He got a job working for the U.S. government. This is also where he first met Betty Ross. The two quickly fell in love. It was also here where Bruce was working on a secret weapon known as the Gamma Bomb. It was during a Gamma Bomb test that Bruce was showered with high levels of radiation. The radiation is what caused him to transform into the large, extremely powerful monster which would become known as Hulk.

Banner’s transformation into Hulk was linked to the release of adrenaline into his system. Whenever he became excited or angered he would turn into the powerful creature. While as Hulk, he would gain body mass, strength, and agility. But he would also lose the brilliance of Banner cause him to be more of a wrecking ball than a tactical fighter. The military immediately fought to contain Hulk. Led by Thunderbolt Ross, Betty’s father, they chased and fought Hulk to no avail. Hulk went into hiding but found time to fight a wide assortment of enemies. He turned from grey to green and evolved into a popular Marvel hero.

Hulk’s association with The Avengers is a strange one. He was a founding member of the team and fought the team’s first real threat, Dr. Doom. But Hulk and The Avengers had a falling out and he quit the team shortly after they were founded. Hulk found himself at odds with both them and The Fantastic Four causing him to once again go his own way. Hulk found himself on the run from everyone. Recognizing his immense power, he was often the object of manipulation making it harder for him to trust people. Banner constantly looked for ways to “cure” himself just wanting a normal life where he could be with Betty. But his attempts resulted in more failure. The Hulk did find a home for a while with The Defenders, but his story is mostly one of loneliness and pain.

More recently, Hulk was jettisoned to an uninhabited¬†planet by a superhero group known as The Illuminati (Iron Man served on the group of higher minds). The group thought sending Hulk there would get rid of the threat he posed once and for all. But their plan went wrong and he landed on a gladiator alien planet called Sakaar. Here he fought until ultimately overthrowing the planet’s leadership. He placed himself as King of Sakaar, even falling in love and having a child. But his family was killed when the shuttle that brought him to the planet exploded. Enraged, Hulk assembled a team and headed to earth where he engaged in a brutal revenge-fueled war against earth’s superheroes. Hulk’s rage was eventually quenched but not without causing more stress in¬†his relationships with the other heroes. There have been several incarnations of the Hulk and a Hulk family in comics. For me the Hulk isn’t as good these days as he once was but he still has a history of great but sad storylines.

To be continued……..

5 PHENOMENAL SUPERHERO MOVIES

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?