You can make a pretty good case that the 2000's have been the Golden Age of the super-hero film, culminating with the most recent trio of "Dark Knight", "Iron Man", and now "Watchmen" (which, even if you hate it, is still a top-tier Hollywood production). Super-hero movies have finally caught up to super-hero comics, becoming focused on adult characters in adult situations (in the "grown up" sense of the word, not the "Hi I'm the pizza delivery guy and WOW are you naked!" sense), dealing with serious real-world issues. While being dressed in spandex.
Which brings us to this week's Poll Position:
Discussion after the jump.
Taking them in alphabetical order:
- Batman Begins: One of the best retellings of the Batman origin, this taut and dark thriller brought the "realism" trend to DC's longstanding champion. Incorporating many elements of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's "Batman: Year One" series, a grateful nation was finally able to shake off the last, lingering horror of Joel Schumacher's nippled batsuit era. Thank goodness.
- Dark Knight: I've made the argument before that this is a "mob movie that happens to feature super-heroes", but without a doubt it's one of the best comics movies of all time. Heath Ledger's Joker may end up redefining the way we think of comic-book super-villains, in movies at least, and it's just a gripping, terrifying movie.
- Hellboy: A different sort of film with a different sort of agenda than the recent Batman franchise, "Hellboy" remained just as true to its source material as Nolan's Dark Knight. Just with a lot more fun. If the latter is a "super-hero mob movie" then Hellboy is a "super-hero monster movie", which is just fine with me.
- Iron Man: The perfect fusion of the rock-em, sock-em unabashed geek fun of traditional super-hero comics with the harder-edged more modern sensibility. Robert Downey Junior just absolutely slayed this role, but everything about the film screamed FUN.
- Spider-Man: A delightfully understated Tobey Maguire performance, the expert and subtle use of CGI, and an entertaining story helped seal the Era of the Super-Hero Film that "X-Men" began. My big beef with this one was how overwrought Willem Dafoe's "Goblin" was, and how silly his outfit looked. But that kiss ... even my wife liked this one. Very entertaining for the general non-comic-fan audience.
- Spider-Man 2: I think the sequel was the better movie of the two on this list, with a much more involved storyline and a much better villain.
- Watchmen: The "psychological super-hero film" of the set, it remains to be seen how this will hold up once the rush of seeing it in a theater ebbs. An excellent adaptation, but it suffers from having the most specific source material and thus the least room for error.
- X-Men: The one that started it all. From Singer's opening montage of Magneto's childhood, you knew you were in from a very different sort of super-hero film than we'd (unfortunately) become accustomed to after the debacles of Superman III and onward and the later Batman projects. Serious, cool, violent, fun, and filled with crunchy super dialogue; finally super-hero films were like the comics!
- X-Men II: Possibly even better than the original, the opening Nightcrawler assault remains one of the most effective and coolest filmed super-power sequences ever.
Going through the list, it's a really tough choice. A lot of where you'd rank these movies depends on what you like in a film. But for me, I think "Iron Man" is the best example of a true "super-hero film". "Dark Knight" and "Watchmen", while good, are in the end too depressing for me to put them at the absolute top. I prefer comics that retain some of that exuberant, four-color spirit, that in-your-face, I'm wearing a cape and I don't care who sees it wonder. Iron Man did that, but also combined it with the best modern techniques of characterization, story telling, acting, and sheer ass-kickery. I even liked the female lead, and that hardly ever happens in these movies.
But, I think a good case can be made for any of the others. So if you have a different opinion than I do, head to the comments and MAKE! THAT! CASE!