Top 50 Superhero Movies Of All Time: 2012 Edition
10 Kick-Ass (2010)
2011 position: 6 (down 4 places)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Aaron Johnson (Dave Lizewski), Chloë Moretz (MindyMacready/Hit Girl), Nicolas Cage (Damon Macready/Big Daddy)
It’s predictable but depressing that Kick-Ass garnered so much press coverage for all the wrong reasons. Instead of focusing obsessively on the fact that it features a little girl with the potty mouth of a docker and the death-dealing skills of a Shogun Assassin, the Tory tabs should have been celebrating a national success story. Here’s a film by a British director, made in Britain, written by a Brit, from a comic by a British writer, whose protagonist and principal villain are British actors. Taking a classic American template and bringing it bang up to date for the internet age, this is a movie that’s slugged it out with Hollywood heavyweights like Iron Man 2, and beaten them at their own game.
Kick-Ass is a great comic, blessed with one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” high-concepts. But the movie is far superior, and much of that’s down to screenwriter Jane Goldman. While Millar’s comics are brimming with bold ideas, his writing can have something of the eternal 14-year-old about it, an element of the snickering playground Butthead. Goldman brings greater emotional depth to the table, as well as goofy humour and bags of charm, fleshing out the characters of Dave’s buddies, and beefing up the romance thread – Kick-Ass beats high school movies at their own game too. And all of this is done in a fittingly off-kilter fashion, never selling out on the source material.
The cast is superb. Chloë Moretz may spit the C-word and fillet people with a samurai sword, but what really grabs your attention are her acting chops. Utterly convincing as an ordinary girl living an extraordinary life, her performance leaves you impatient to see the actress she’ll blossom into. Aaron Johnson is a likeable, vulnerable everydweeb, whom you’d never suspect hails from Hertfordshire. And then there’s Nic Cage. We’d love to have been a fly on the wall the day Cage decided that Big Daddy should talk in the halting manner of Adam West’s ‘60s Batman. On the face of it, it’s a rotten idea. And yet.. it works. The editor didn’t think so, begging Vaughn for reshoots because Cage’s scattershot emphases were so hard to cut around. But Vaughn took a risk, and it paid off.
Indeed, that’s the secret of Kick-Ass’s success. There’s so much more to praise here, from the vibrant colour scheme to the flawless soundtrack, with its combination of cheeky John Williams homages and killer cuts of bubblegum punk. But ultimately, it all comes down to a willingness to take risks.
9 Batman Begins (2005)
2011 position: 4 (down 5 places)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Michael Caine (Alfred), Liam Neeson (Henri Ducard), Cillian Murphy (Dr Jonathan Crane), Katie Holmes (Rachel Dawes)
After the passage of years wiped the memory of the Schumacher-era Batman from our minds, the world was ready for the next re-invention of the Dark Knight. But perhaps nobody was quite ready for the radical overhaul that Memento director Christopher Nolan delivered. Suddenly, Batman was all grown up.
Nolan’s Gotham – far from the fantasia of the Tim Burton movies – grounds the film in a credible urban environment, but it’s an emotionally grounded tale too. Until now, Batman’s origin story was a flashback-referenced aside. Here, it’s the essential character trajectory, the driving beat. No villain hijacks this story and Bruce Wayne’s father is no longer a doomed aristocrat to be gunned down, but a dreamer whose heartbreakingly optimistic vision of a future Gotham, all monorails and gleaming towers, is the dream that Batman chases.
There’s a canny structure to David Goyer’s screenplay. The film doesn’t dunk you headfirst into a world of capes, spandex and manly jaws. It builds the Batman universe in tiny, logical increments. Bruce Wayne’s war on crime unfolds as a focused, military operation, and by the end of it all you’re seeing Batmobiles and Bat Signals, but accepting them as absolute necessities – a far cry from the kitsch trappings of Schumacher’s movies. It’s hardly po-faced, though: there’s a great scene in which Bruce and Alfred figure out how they can order custom-sculpted Bat-ears from China without arousing any suspicion.
At the same time, Batman Begins is rich and resonant with a sense of mythology. It doesn’t wink at its pulpy source material, instead it elevates it, convincing you that there’s something inherently noble about putting on a mask and beating the living daylights out of criminals. And it is a brutal film. An initial, surprising burst of violence steels you for its visceral tone. It bruises, scars, punches your heart. In short, it’s Batman gone hardcore.
Batman himself is the most terrifying thing in the film. When we finally see him, he’s a blur of fists and shadows – a feral, supernatural force. The suit may look pretty bulky and constricting in photos, but it works onscreen, which is where it counts. This Batman is the “weird creature of the night” of the classic ’70s Batman tales, with all the sleek grace of an old Neal Adams illustration.
There’s a magnificent Batmobile chase, a twist worthy of The Usual Suspects and, above all, a sense of new possibilities that will leave you delirious at the thought of how this reborn franchise will hopefully one day retool everything from The Joker to The Penguin and the Bat Plane.
8 X2 (2003)
2011 position: 7 (down 1 place)
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Cast: Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier), Anna Paquin (Rogue)
During the promotional circus for the first X-Men movie, director Bryan Singer stated that his approach to the script wasn’t to make the film about a whole group of mutants, but to concentrate on one character – Wolverine – and tell his story. With X-Men 2, he ignores his own advice. And he gets away with it.
This time around, the roll call of graduates and students at Professor Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters (a euphemism for mutant superheroes) is expanded massively, while characters who only cameoed last time get promoted to a very crowded centre stage. So, as well as Wolverine’s voyage of self-discovery, we get Magneto’s escape from his plastic prison, Jean Grey trying to cope with telekinetic powers that are growing exponentially, and the introduction of teleporting Teutonic Nightcrawler.
There’s also the defection of Pyro to Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Iceman coming out as a mutant to his parents, and General William Stryker – the guy in charge of the project that created Wolverine and other enhanced mutant hybrids such as Lady Deathstrike – with his plans to wipe out mutantkind. Any one of these strands would provide M Night Shyamalan with enough material to create an entire trilogy.
It’s amazing, then, that X2 isn’t a confused mess. On the contrary, it’s amazingly focused. The characters are fleshed out in deft, economic strokes, while the plots intertwine effortlessly. It’s witty, sharp, action-packed, touching, and visually stunning; every scene – heck, every frame – demands your attention.
It is a shame, though, that the movie opens with its best sequence – Nightcrawler’s audacious attack on the President in the White House is a breathtaking combination of fight choreography, stunts and effects. While later action setpieces (particularly Magneto’s extraordinary escape from his plastic prison) are still impressive, nothing else matches the sheer comic book energy that explodes from X2’s curtain-raiser. And the overwrought plotting does claim casualties: Professor X, Cyclops and Storm, despite ample screen time, don’t progress as characters.
You’re more than ready to forgive the movie such lapses, though, because there’s so much to enjoy. And if you’re a comics fan (the litmus test being quite how excited you get by that shape under the water in the final shot), with the power of your freeze frame button you can now have even more fun playing spot the references, and trying to work out which X-Men the kids at the school are going to grow up to be.
7 Thor (2011)
2011 position: 12 (up 5 places)
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Natalie Portman
Thor had the potential to be an Asgardian train wreck. The idea of marrying Marvel’s shared universe to Norse mythology seemed like an impossible task to pull off; like suddenly introducing Clash Of The Titans into the Bond franchise. Instead, Marvel chose an unlikely director – Branagh – who chose an unlikely approach – play everything straight – with an unlikely outcome – everybody loved it.
Playing it straight is not as easy at might seem when you’ve got Norse Gods in operatic costumes poncing about gloriously theatrical sets thee-ing and thou-ing all over the place. But the fact that Branagh pulls it off comes in the moment when Thor’s buddies – the Warriors Three – walk down the dusty high street of a desert town, and it takes a SHIELD agent to point out how ridiculous they look. You? You’ve just been watching the comics of your youth brought to life, and accepting it, lovingly.
Thor also benefits from some glorious production design that brings Jack Kirby’s fantasyscapes to dizzying reality; a spectacularly charismatic performance from Tom Hiddleston as Loki (no wonder he’s back in The Avengers); and a star who looks and acts just like Thor should (come on, you’ve always know he was a big spoilt brat who’d cy if somebody nicked his hammer).
If anything lets it down it’s the fact that the Earth action feels less than suitably epic. You’d hope that if Thor were sent to Earth to learn a lesson in humility it would take more than 48 hours in the desert, a quick battle with a firebreathing robot and a foxy chick batting her eyelashes at him.
6 Superman The Movie (1978)
2011 position: 3 (down 3 places)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Cast: Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Marlon Brando (Jor-El), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor)
Superman: The Movie was the first superhero screen adaptation to truly capture the bright, dumb heart of comic books and (with love, money and talent) polish it until the myth gleamed. Director Richard Donner slices the legend in three: the film moves from the glacial Neverland of Krypton, all stately SF majesty, to the heartland of Smallville, where Norman Rockwell paints strange visitors from distant stars, and then on to the hip, neurotic Metropolis, a city bustling with kooks, pimps and one-liners.
It’s quite a journey, even without the ’70s disaster movie climax. Donner’s binding seam is what he calls verisimilitude – the appearance of being true or real – and it’s this heartfelt belief in the material that holds the tale together and coaxes such fine performances. Brando is astonishing, making the words “Fortress Of Solitude” sound like poetry and not some hack concept from the funnybooks. Christopher Reeve is Jimmy Stewart in spandex, all boy scout decency and charm. And Margot Kidder believes that a man can fly, so you do, too.
Tags: Avengers, Avengers Assemble, Bartman Returns, Batman, Batman Begins, Batman Forever, Blade, Blade 2, Captain America, Captain America: The First Avenger, Chronicle, Condorman, Daredevil, Darkman, Fantastic Four, Featured, Green Lantern, Hancock, Hellboy, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Hulk, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Kick-Ass, Megamind, Mystery Men, Sky High, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3, Super, Superheroes, Superman 2, Superman Returns, Superman The Movie, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Crow, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, The Incredible Hulk, The Incredibles, The Punisher, The Rocketeer, The Shadow, Thor, Unbreakable, Wanted, Watchmen, Wolverine, X-Men, X-Men 2, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: The Last Stand, X2