Note: This is not a list of comic book or any Sequential Art adaptations to films. Superhero’s are a Sub-Genre. Comics are a medium.
The A+ Club:
The Incredibles: Storytelling!
Hellboy: Just a great story, told with unique characters in a refreshing way.
Marvel’s The Avengers: They took Marvel’s playbook and put it on film; talented creators, cross overs, diversity, flawed heroes and good storytelling. One film proves, hiring people in comics on films, female superheros, superhero teams and sticking to the characters makes good movies. The biggest flaw remains with this film in particular (and some on this list); the lack of fare financial compensation the artist and their families who created these characters, like Jack Kirby. It is morally unconscionable and the most classic example of the corporate greed, artistic slavery, audience indifference and growing chasm between the rich and poor destroying middle class America.
Iron Man: Proved a strait forward superhero movie can be just a great movie. Only Doubt, Milk Wall-E and Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist were better films in 2008…not Slumdog Millionaire, not The Curious Case of Benjamin Bunny, not Gran Torino, not Sex in the City and not The Dark Knight…”and that’s a fact.” I don’t know why!?! It’s not more thoughtful, better acted, better written or more challenging an execution. It’s just leaves you with more pleasure. That’s the difference between the two billionaires, Bruce is introspective and Tony is a good time.
Batman Begins: Free of real life tragedies empathy and horror Cillian Murphy as The Scarecrow upstages the masters of craft; Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe, and Morgan Freeman…even Katie Holmes can’t ruin Christopher Nolan, Bob Kane, Bill Finger and David S. Goyer’s masterpiece.
The Dark Knight: We may never know what the effect of one real death had on the wonderful performances and quality craftsmanship found in this epic film. For me there is an asterix and I maybe wrong in placing it here. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a slightly better casting, Heath Ledger & Aaron Eckhart only add to the mastery. The depth and breath of the social commentary inspires.
The Dark Knight Rises: Amplify the above sentiment by a more tangible feeling and a more numerous casualty. All three of these films have the same flaws (female lead casting…although it improves with each film), but who cares. Marion Cotillard with a minor issue, proves casting can work for women in Nolan films. Tom Hardy & Joseph Gordon-Levitt keep the streak going. The reflection of our world is fully engaged.
Tim Burton’s Batman: Nicholson.
Captain America: The First Avenger: There is no reason this film should have worked; flashback period piece about a archaic idealize definition of Superhero sensibility, a villain with a weird red makeup job, a flash forward musical number. And yet, like it’s protagonist, Steve Rodger’s the film won’t quite on principle and the result is super human with hart.
Spider-Man 2: A better movie, because of the love story and the addition of Alfred Molina as Doc Ock/Dr. Otto Octavius. Bruce Campbell makes a better Snooty Usher. Add that to the comments bellow.
Spider-Man: Sam Rami brings to life the hart of all male teen comic book nerds (and many other genders, ages and stereotypes), Spidy. The design and filming is a solid depiction of a 2D Sequential Art world. Stand out performances include Dylan Baker as Dr. Curt Connors, Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man/Peter Parker and James Franco as
Harry Osborn. Rosemary Harris and J.K. Simmons are Aunt May and J. Jonah Jameson respectively. Willem Dafoe as Green as Goblin/Norman Osborn, Cliff Robertson as Ben Parker and Elizabeth Banks as Miss Bryant all bring what is needed to their characters. Bruce Campbell as Ring Announcer and Randy Savage in the ring are cherry’s on top.
Superman: Christopher Reeve for one…
The Amazing Spider-Man: Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy is far better than Kristin Dunst as MJ…even more so than the old Gwen, Bruce Dallas Howard. Andrew Garfield is just a different take on Peter and Spidy…consistent with a quality film and a different artistic interpretation. Still bothered that the fine talent Rhys Ifans played The Lizard/Dr. Curt Connors…wish Dylan Baker had gotten his shot to finish what he started.
The A club:
Hellboy II: The Golden Army: Not the quality plot you would expect for after Hellboy…but everything else is just as good.
Iron Man 2: It’s just not Iron Man I, but has Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow. The first time in film a Female Superhero is written and preformed up to the standards the character deserves.
X2: X-Men United: The first time my wife and I walked out of a Superhero film together completely satisfied. It benefits from being film number two, just as Empire does. It tells the hart of the story.
Thor: The weakest of Marvel’s own studio productions lacks any major criticism. It’s just a feeling of slight dissatisfaction. A little Kat Denning dry whit helps anything.
X-Men: Flawed, but starts the new era of Marvel Superhero on much better footing based on their best comic…and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine…bodes well for the next Wolverine X-Men flick (based on the best Wolverine material)…despite the epically horrible ending in his last solo Wolverine film.
Mystery Men: Paul Reubens as the Spleen…not convinced…Ben Stiller as Mr. Furious, Hank Azaria as The Blue Raja, William H. Macy as Shoveler, Janeane Garofalo as The Bowler, Kel Mitchell as Invisible Boy, Wes Studi as Sphinx, Greg Kinnear as Captain Amazing/Lance, Geoffrey Rush as Casanova Frankenstein, Eddie Izzard as Tony P and Tom Waits as Doc Heller…no Carrot Top as Flaming Carrot, but hay whatevs.
The A- Club:
Superman Returns: My only issue was Lois Lane’s casting. This is a much better film than the Haters give credit.
Megamind: A great super villain comedy for kids. What every generation needs to understand “the other” and their own flaws.
Batman (1966): I read an article through TCJ once that convinced me. Think about it; no film version of a superhero had a more effective iconic defining effect on the broader populous with regards to it’s characters and it’s source medium. It still lasts today. We struggle against it in comics and in superhero film culture. It is so powerful. BAM!
The Powerpuff Girls Movie: Craig McCracken makes perfect little superheroes…only this low on the list due to feature film length removes the pithy storytelling of the cartoon.
X-Men: First Class: The fact that this was not a story about Bobby, Hank, Warren, Jean and Scott bothers me. I now apply my appreciation of cartoonist artistic interpretation of characters in comics to film…but don’t call it First Class and give the supporting casts characters as much respect as you do the leads. Loved the Argentinean scene.
Kick-Ass: Sometimes you need to give a nod to quality, when you are not a big fan of the content.
Unbreakable: A depressing film with interesting deconstructive comments on the genre; one path taken by some of my favorite comics.
Watchmen: “A” for effort…everyone who watched the development A: knew they really tried and B: that it would fail by not translating to screen.
Post Script: these films are more than sci-fi fluff, more than a celebration of American Pop culture, more than our new mythology…they are what all fine art and literature are…a reflection of our community that challenges us to do better. And it does it in a fun way. Which is the best way to learn. There are still more disappointments than successes in this genre of film and as noted, artistic interpretive license should be tolerated as it is in comics…with warranted criticism when it stinks and an open mind when it doesn’t. We are often either fearful of the genre’s power at the box office or overly critical of the authenticity. What I appreciate is that quality is being made. Even if monetarily and respectfully credit it not being paid. At least a respectable version of these American cultural icons is being kept alive. Despite the names of their creators being forgotten. That is what qualifies as good tidings in this world today. At least the work lives on and doesn’t suck to bad. Never mind that it doesn’t reinvest in the medium it’s stories came from (comics) and never mind it doesn’t share it’s profits with those who truly created the fundamental story, character and design (cartoonists). We smile, distracted by pretty motion pictures.