The five best comic book superhero movies
It's a great time to be a nerd. Earlier this summer, geeks were gifted with the explosively entertaining Avengers movie, and Comic-Con is promising even more comic book-based excitement for years to come. Most importantly, the mecca of the summer movie season, "The Dark Knight Rises," comes out in less than 72 hours.
Before audiences discover whether Nolan's final Batman film is the second coming or the most disappointing thing since a "Star Wars: Episode 1/Indiana Jones 4" double feature, let's take a look back at some of the best comic book superhero movies to grace the screen.
I seem to be in the minority on 2005's "Constantine." Critics' reviews were unenthusiastic at best (a 24 percent from Rotten Tomatoes' top critics), and audiences have pretty much forgotten about it since its release seven years ago. It's a shame, though, because "Constantine" is an underrated comic book movie gem.
Most of my love for Francis Lawrence's debut (get used to hearing his name; he's directing the next "Hunger Games" film) comes from the wildly imaginative world "Constantine" creates for the viewer. Yes, it's just Los Angeles, but Keanu Reeves' supernatural battle between angels and demons is filled with inventive gadgets, creepy creature designs and a kind of brilliant logic that brings them all together. The plot gets a bit convoluted in spots, but it's worth it for the unique experience "Constantine" provides.
4. The Avengers
After five movies and years of anticipation, who would have thought that "The Avengers" would not only reach its lofty expectations, but also surpass them? It's easy to say that Marvel's magnum opus was going to succeed no matter what, but the cards weren't exactly lined up perfectly. Writer/director Joss Whedon had only directed one feature film before, and the idea of jamming four superheroes into one film sounds great on paper but hard to properly balance on screen.
Luckily for fans and studio execs alike, Whedon pulls it off, combining spectacular action set pieces while not sacrificing the entertaining personalities audiences have grown to love. "The Avengers" may have only come out two months ago, but I feel pretty confident saying it's already one for the ages.
3. Spider-Man 2
A big reason why people were upset about "The Amazing Spider-Man" is that it was attempting to fix a franchise that, for the most part, didn't need to be fixed. Sam Raimi may have struggled with the overstuffed "Spider-Man 3," but he aced it in "Spider-Man 2."
What's impressive about Spidey's second feature is that Raimi balances Spider-Man's inherent gleeful comic book goofiness with storylines and characters that are dramatically satisfying. Alfred Molina's Doc Ock is a terrific villain with a surprisingly emotional performance behind it, and as much as some fans hate Tobey Maguire, I think he brings a certain sincerity to Peter Parker's inner conflicts. "Spider-Man 2" may not feel as serious or important as something like "The Dark Knight," but the combination of earnest campiness, equally genuine drama and exciting action creates a unique cinematic feeling that can't be duplicated, much less rebooted.
2. X2: X-Men United
The X-Men are the somewhat forgotten members of Marvel's arsenal. It's too bad, because the franchise has turned out one of the best comic book superhero movies of all time with "X2: X-Men United." Director Bryan Singer assembles a solid team of actors, including the always-charismatic Hugh Jackman and a menacing Brian Cox as the main villain, and combines them with an exciting story and some truly awesome action. Nightcrawler's opening attack on the White House is a breathless start to the film, and the action only gets more epic and intense as "X2" goes along.
In addition, "X2: X-Men United" is perhaps one of the smartest of the comic book movies to hit theaters. The X-Men have always symbolized the cultural struggles between the minority and the majority; in the comic's earliest days, they represented race relations in America. In the modern films, however, they've become a metaphor for current LGBT issues. "X2" handles the similarities with a deft hand; a conversation involving a mutant "coming out" to his parents is far more effective than "X-Men: The Last Stand"'s and "First Class"' groan-inducing obviousness. It's those smart details and emotional notes that make "X2" more than just another action-packed superhero movie.
1. The Dark Knight
As if anything else was going to be on the top of this list. "The Dark Knight" is pop spectacle made perfectly and a comic book movie that feels like so much more. Director Christopher Nolan revitalized the Batman character with 2005's "Batman Begins," but in "The Dark Knight," he perfected his vision of the caped crusader with terrific performances, pulse-pounding action set pieces and a twist-filled story that's full of character and thematically driven intrigue.
As time has gone by, I've run into a surprising amount of people who argue that Nolan's first Batman movie is the better of the two. Though I do enjoy "Batman Begins" a great deal, "The Dark Knight" takes everything that film started and makes it even bigger and better. The action is more grandiose and exciting ("Batman Begins" was Nolan's first action movie, and his over-reliance on quick-editing shows his inexperience), the villains are more menacing (namely thanks to Heath Ledger's utterly mesmerizing performance) and the theme of fear is expanded from one man to an entire city.
I could talk for days about "The Dark Knight," which is a sign of a great film.
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