Poll Position: The Golden Age of super-hero films

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!

9 Responses to Poll Position: The Golden Age of super-hero films

  1. DJ says:

    I started to click The Dark Knight because it is the best on the list but then I started thinking about it and I’d have to choose the Dark Knight still. I love that movie.

  2. amathakathi says:

    I was close to choosing Ironman – Stark is an amazing character, the effects are great, Downey’s acting is superb and the updated origin was perfectly conceived. The only down side really was Obadiah Stane, he somehow seemed out of sync with the rest of the movie. Too cliched a badguy for a movie intent on breaking so many cliches.
    Dark Knight was a cool movie, but I’ll be honest – the Joker was the only thing I *loved* about it. Everything else was a little bland IMO. Ledger outshone everything in that movie, perhaps everything on film this year, but I guess he just wasn’t on screen enough to make the movie as good as it could have been.
    I had to choose Hellboy, but then I’m biased. The movie was made by a HB fan, for HB fans – and I’m one of them. I’m reading a Hellboy right now as I type this! But personal taste aside, the movie was a well orchestrated super-hero movie, without sticking to the well-beaten path. Sharp dialogue, a cigar-chomping demonic main character who is hard not to like, epic enemies and sinister plots, and effects to drool over.
    It wasn’t to hard to choose.

  3. nate says:

    I’ll be very very surprised if dark knight doesn’t win this. I voted for it, both because i thought it was a great movie overall and because the Joker is one of my favorite villains ever, comic book or otherwise.

  4. collex says:

    It’s hard to choose just one. Spider-man is the hero I grew up with, Iron Man is the movie that had me buying comics on a monthly basis(I was reading only TBP and Graphic Novel before), Batman Begins is a movie I know almost by hearth, The Dark Knight is a superb piece of entertainement (Two-Face is amazing), Watchmen is a unique oddity, Hellboy got Nazis and Rasputin, X-men I and II started it all.

    I don,t know. I think I’m going to go with Iron Man too, because I friggin loved it, but it,s a tough choice…

  5. collex says:

    Oh and Jeff, I have (what I think is) a very good idea for a poll. How can I forward it to you?

  6. Jeff Hebert says:

    You can use the Contact Us form up there in the top banner, or you can just email me directly at afdstudios at gmail dot com.

  7. HalLoweEn JacK says:

    As much as I enjoyed the Batman films and a couple of the others, I voted Iron Man.

    It was well written, filmed and acted with few (if any) serious cringe momoments. It made enough reference to the comic books to keep most die hard fans happy and still told a story appropriate to the character and the medium of film (i loved the litttle war-machine reference towards the end).

    Iron man also walked the line between teenage and adult entertainment reasonably well, and finally I was impressed with the treatment of the middle eastern terrorist bad guys. My only initial cringe moment when i first watched the film was at the thought of Iron man battling pseudo-taliban bad guys, but the flip around into an anti-american-corporate-greed themed ending was, while a little heavy handed, generally handled with style and still allowed for a super-suit punch up at the end of the film.

    Iron Man FTW!

  8. Thomas McManus says:

    Hey all,

    My logic agrees with Jeff’s on this one. I saw Dark Knight as the best overall film. My only real gripe against it was the too-frequent false climaxes. There were several places the movie could have ended satisfactorily, including the final one. But it wasn’t a superhero movie. True to the original comics, Dark Knight was a mystery man film, with a costumed, but all too human, hero. This isn’t to say you need superpowers to be a superhero. But this Batman was on a very human sale, unlike the Batgod of the JLA. Sometimes Batman is a superhero, other times he is a costumed crime fighter. For me the two are not necessarily the same.

    Ironman was a superhero film in every sense of the word.

    I look forward to seeing more of both.

  9. The Imp says:

    I voted for Watchmen, hopefully not because I’m still flushed with seeing it three times in four days ( 😀 ), but because I honestly thought it was a ‘thinking man’s superhero movie’.