Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits theaters this Friday. In appreciation of this, I thought I’d do a post on superheroes. Here are my Top Five Superhero Movies.
5. X-Men: First Class (2011)
Of all the superhero films I’ve seen, the X-Men films are some of my least favorite. That doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re good. I’m just not as invested in them as others. However, X-Men: First Class was one of the most entertaining films of 2011. While everyone else is looking forward to the action, I’m soaking up the backstory. First Class does an excellent job of setting up the future films, as well as providing some epic action sequences. Not to mention it has Michael Fassbender (sexy beast #1) AND James McAvoy (sexy beast #2). For me, the best part of a superhero film is the emotional storyline that ties the characters together, and gives us a reason to root for the them. That’s why this is the X-Men film that made it onto the list. It explains who these people are and what their motives are. Magneto becomes more sympathetic when we get a detailed look at his history and his early relationship with Charles Xavier makes their later fights more tragic.
4. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The “first Avenger” is at heart a true American soldier. Thankfully this film ended up in the hands of director Joe Johnston, who was able to treat it with the care it needed. Rather than force Captain America and his traditional ideals into the new world (that would come later in The Avengers, where the brilliant portrayal of the character by Chris Evans made it work), Johnston made the film a period piece. He set the film in the 40s and let the character speak for himself. Steve Rogers’ defining characteristics are his bravery, courage, loyalty, and undying devotion to his country. Becoming Captain America only intensified these traits, and gave him super strength. Captain America is a commentary on the American soldier and it says that patriotism is not a dying quality but something that resides deep within those who truly believe in a greater good. It is a telling tribute to the military to depict a character who embodies all of these good attributes and saves the world from an evil supervillain.
3. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
In case you haven’t noticed a theme here, it’s the emotional connection to other characters that makes a superhero movie worthwhile in my mind. The action is always a bonus but it’s more exciting to see a hero we care about fight evil for those he loves. Tobey Maguire was the perfect Peter Parker. He was just sweet and humble enough and does such an excellent job of expressing emotions with just his eyes. To me, Parker’s struggle with feeling a sense of duty and wanting a normal life is the essence of superhero conflict. Yes, fighting evil bad guys is also important but what difference does it make if there is no human connection? Spider-Man/Peter Parker was humanized in this film and we felt his pain and envy of normality. In the end, the thing that saves him is having someone who understands that instinct to go into the fire rather than run from it. The very thing that he fights for is also the thing that grounds him and makes him worthy of cheering on.
2. Superman (1978)
I don’t understand why Superman gets so much hate from “fans” of superheroes. Maybe it’s because they don’t like his “good boy” persona and the fact that he is nearly perfect physically (except for that darn Kryptonite). For everyone that holds up their favorite hero as being the underdog, the outsider of society, Superman is literally an outsider. He came from a different world entirely. His complexity comes from his desire to fit in and defend those who don’t quite understand him. Superman’s story is a little different in that he doesn’t have that instinctual connection with the human race. His connection manifests itself from his love of his adopted species. He sees the good in them that so many others refuse to acknowledge. Christopher Reeve was clumsy, awkward, and wonderfully charming as Clark Kent (something the recent Man of Steel missed entirely) and as Superman he was handsome, idealistic and completely heroic (another thing the recent film missed the beat on). Superman is a fun superhero and an enjoyable movie. It’s nice to have a philosophical film that questions humanity once in awhile but it is much more entertaining and uplifting to watch a film like Superman.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
Speaking of dark and philosophical, this film was one of the best adaptations of the superhero genre. The Dark Knight was the best of the Nolan trilogy, in my opinion. It had the best villain and it had that emotional tie that draws you in. How does a logical hero defeat a lunatic who has no real agenda or end goal? How much of himself is Bruce Wayne/Batman willing to sacrifice to give the people of Gotham continued hope and faith in humanity when even his own is faltering? The cast was perfect. Aaron Eckhart played the noble, good-hearted Harvey Dent just as well as he played the pushed-over-the-edge insane Two-Face bent on revenge. Maggie Gyllenhaal did a fine job taking over as Rachel Dawes and Christian Bale was just as excellent as he was in the first film. We all know though that the star of the film was Heath Ledger as the dark, demented Joker. Without his performanc the film wouldn’t have been as good. I think people like to think that The Dark Knight gives us a grittier representation of reality, as well as a rougher, less perfect hero with whom it is easier to relate. However, I think that the previous heroes on this list are just as flawed, and in much the same ways. Batman still longs for that normality they all want and still fights it with a deeply ingrained sense of duty. No matter how much we change as an audience, we still want to see our heroes as real people. We still want to root for them and we still want to see good conquer evil, in all its forms.