The latest installment of the MARVEL superhero movie universe opened last week, and I saw it on opening night.
Avengers: Age of Ultron hit all the perfunctory notes that a modern comics-to-screen film should, though I left the theater without feeling thrilled. That's ok. I'm not really the target audience for the genre anymore. As a teenager, I collected comic books for a few years, almost exclusively Marvel. Among my favorite were: The Avengers, Captain America, Spider-Man and Thor. After awhile, I stopped collecting, mostly because it became obvious the story lines would never end. It's one reason why I'm not a fan of soap operas.
In spite of having abandoned serious comic collecting in the early '90s, I still enjoy a good superhero film. There have been many and, at last count, I'd seen 29 movies of the genre (though how to categorize them is up for debate. I do not, for example, consider V for Vendetta to be a superhero movie. Great film? Yes. Superhero? No. Others think of it as such, so there you go). After sifting through the 29 that I'd seen, it wasn't too difficult to whittle them down to a Top 10 of what I consider to be the best of all-time.
Without further ado, here is another list of truth from the (cyber) pen of Matt. The greatest superhero movies of all-time....
- #10. Iron Man (2008)
Superheroes are complicated characters, but none may be more so than Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. Over the years he has tempered his ego-mania, and here, in his origin story, the beginning of the transformation is deftly handled. From his time spent with the kind and gentle co-hostage in the cave, to the betrayal by a patriarchal figure, Tony is humbled and, in the process, comes to re-order the various components of his personality into a better person. It can be argued that Stark becomes the superhero, not Iron Man.
- #9. Batman Begins (2005)
I tire of the seemingly endless cinematic reboots that have become part of our pop culture landscape. This is a major reason why I did not watch the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man flicks. Tobey Maguire's trilogy was just fine, thank you very much. So, eight years after the previous Batman franchise came to an unceremonious end, I was skeptical about Christopher Nolan's take on the dark knight. Batman Begins proved me (happily) wrong. It managed to be an intriguing, complex film, and set a notably different tone from the Tim Burton origin movie (which I also like). Kudos to all involved.
- #8. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
This won Best Picture for 2004 via the world-famous Matt Awards. It impacted me deeply, with Peter Parker's inner-frustration with whether or not he wanted the responsibility of being Spider-Man. The story was crackling-good, too. This movie was full of angst, but in a positive manner that didn't annoy.
- #7. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Somewhere between 1983 and 1999, George Lucas lost his way when it came to telling a good Star Wars tale. I was reminded of that when watching Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time, as it came across -- at least in spirit -- as what the prequel trilogy should have been. In truth, Guardians is Stars Wars with characters you've never heard of before. And it works. Proof that superhero movies can still be fun.
- #6. Batman (1966)
Speaking of fun, it doesn't get much more laughable (in a good way) than the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman and Robin cinematic outing. Containing all the good nature and whimsy of the TV show, plus nearly all the major villains, this slice of '60s craziness is often overlooked in the canon of superhero movies, though it definitely shouldn't be.
- #5. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
I love time travel scenarios, especially when the stakes are high, and so this movie brought it in spades. The X-Men are under attack in the not-too-distant future, on the brink of extinction. Enemies become friends in order to stave-off the danger, and Wolverine is sent back to the 1970s to try and prevent it all from happening. A great premise that's very well done.
- #4. The Dark Knight (2008)
Much is made of Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker, but it's really the movie as a whole that comes together to make this one of the classic superhero touchstones. With Chicago-as-Gotham, Eric Roberts as a suave, debonair crime boss and Nolan's assured direction, this is truly film noir for the modern age.
- #3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
You don't often see the plot of a political thriller melded onto the template of a superhero film, but that's just what we got with Winter Soldier. With several standout scenes (elevator ambush, anyone?), game-changers in the Marvel universe, and a star turn by none other than Robert Redford, this movie stands out as a cut above the rest.
- #2. Superman II (1980)
The oldest, and perhaps the best, film on this list. Why is it not # 1, you ask? That's a good question, and mainly down to the slight clunkiness it has in its look and feel. Nothing too bad, of course. I love the movie. But it looks.... very 1980. Regardless, we have here Christopher Reeve as the definitive Superman, Margot Kidder as the world's best Margot Lane, and Sarah Douglas, Jack O'Halloran and Terence Stamp as probably the best cinematic superhero villains ever. And the way Superman tricks them in the end..... wonderful, priceless, classic.
- #1. Batman (1989)
This one has it all: mob boys, superheroes (and villains), a smoldering dame in distress, the nosy newspaper reporter, a stupendous Danny Elfman score, songs by Prince, deft direction by Tim Burton, set design that harkens back to Metropolis, and a stellar turn by Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman. I remember waiting in line to see this on a hot summer day at the Virginia Theater. When the titles began rolling across the screen, I was enraptured, and that feeling has never left.
And, there you have it. Of course, we have more Avengers movies yet to come, along with sequels for Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, and others. Next up this summer is Ant-Man. We'll see how that goes.