Recent installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe exacerbate the tension between the franchise’s humanistic ethos and its nihilistic cosmos. Is there still room for God in this universe?
I’m thinking of a moment in the original movie in which Stephen looks skeptically at a deeply corrupted individual nattering about the greater good and retorts, “No. I mean, come on — look at your face.” Nobody says that in the sequel, but they should.
Questions around how what people need and deserve and how they should be governed are of course recurring themes in the saga of Zorro’s more famous heir, Batman … We don’t look to superhero movies to answer these questions for us, but their varying answers tell us something about ourselves and the times in which they were made.
Not so long ago, a movie like John Watts’ Spider-Man: No Way Home would definitely have prompted me to open my review by dubbing it, if not the best Spider-Man movie ever, at any rate the most Spider-Man movie ever.
Incarnations of The Man vary from one MCU movie to another in terms of how sympathetic or compromised he is. Always, though, The Man has damaging secrets, misrepresents his true intentions, and can’t be trusted, at least not completely.
If it took a full-on case of amnesia to put Jason Bourne on the path to redemption, how do you redeem a Black Widow?
Wonder Woman 1984 is bonkers in a way that superhero movies these days don’t have the nerve to be.
Is it possible, in the world of Joker, to believe in real heroism? Do the filmmakers even care about that question?
Tony, Tony, Tony. How can we miss you if you won’t go away?
The best X-Men movies, by my lights, are about hope. Dark Phoenix doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be about.
Running just over three hours long, Avengers: Endgame builds to a denouement with a valedictory air akin to the last act of Peter Jackson’s similarly sprawling The Return of the King, except that it comes at the end of 22 movies instead of three movies.
It’s a little bit about the Seven Deadly Sins and a lot about how a 14-year-old boy would react if he were suddenly bequeathed with superpowers beyond imagining and also an Adonis-like adult physique in a bright red super-suit.
At this stage in Marvel Cinematic Universe history you almost need a Tolkieneque set of appendices and diagrams to make complete sense of everything.
Chris Miller and Phil Lord, Chris Miller and Phil Lord / Do whatever Chris Miller and Phil Lord do.
Can they swing from a thread? / No they can’t, they’re Hollywood filmmakers.
Like the Star Wars prequels, like James Cameron’s Avatar, it’s a movie with tons of problems, but it also contains images that made me catch my breath — gorgeous and even numinous sights I will remember forever.
Here, at last, is the Spidey that family audiences need and the Spidey they deserve — and that’s just two of them!
The superhero movie to end all superhero movies? Or every superhero movie at once?
I dared to hope this one would be more than merely good. I was afraid it would be less than good.
No infinity. No war. (Almost.) Why can’t more Marvel movies be like this?
In some ways Ant-Man and the Wasp is the kind of movie I wanted Ant-Man to be: namely, a refreshing antidote to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
As The Incredibles in its day towered over the Hollywood animation landscape of the last decade, so in some measure does Incredibles 2 in this decade — but what a different and diminished landscape it is today.
Six years ago I described The Avengers as “awesomeness squared”; Infinity War strives with all its might for awesomeness cubed and even tesseracted. It wants to leave you texting your friends “MIND. BLOWN.” It might succeed — but there’s a catch.
Is Black Panther the first movie in Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe with something in particular on its mind?
The ghost of Superman hovers over much of Justice League. You might say Superman’s ghost has always haunted Warner Bros’ big-screen DC Extended Universe, though the haunting is more pronounced now that Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel is dead.
Officially, Thor: Ragnarok is the third Thor movie, but in spirit it’s closer to being the third Guardians of the Galaxy movie. This is both a mark of the massive success of the Guardians films, with their colorful, whimsical design and self-mocking humor, and of the relative failure of the first two Thor films, especially The Dark World, to find a vibe of their own.
No one almost destroys the universe or the planet, or even demolishes a large European city or a sizable chunk of a New York borough, in Jon Watts’ Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Movies like Man of Steel and The Lone Ranger misunderstand and besmirch their iconic heroes. This movie understands and reveres its protagonist. That’s worth a lot, especially today.
Here’s the thing: You haven’t even seen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 yet, but you’re already an incipient fan, aren’t you?
Stewart gives us a brittle, confused Xavier somewhat akin to his elderly Picard from the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And Jackman, who has invested even more in Wolverine than Stewart has Xavier, gives his most complex, conflicted performance to date as a battered, weary, despairing warrior longing only for oblivion.
Despite the villainous full-court press, Batman’s victory is so assured that no one is even worried about it. Clearly, something subversive has to happen to kick things out of superhero-movie business as usual and challenge Batman to his core. Would you believe … a giant swirling energy portal in the sky?
In each of their latest films, the battle against a threatening power raises questions about which principles the protagonist should or shouldn’t compromise in order to protect his world — questions that aren’t necessarily clearly answered by the end of the film.
The paradox of contemporary Hollywood blockbusters is that in our time virtually anything conceivable, no matter how wild and out there, can be put on the screen, but it almost never is.
At last, a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie that doesn’t come down to destroying a large urban area while saving the city, planet, or universe.
Civil War also demonstrates that the right way to do a “versus” movie pitting heroes against one another is by building relationships — and tensions — over time, then allowing characters to fall out over meaningful practical and personal issues.
The modern era of superhero movies was arguably inaugurated by two films: Bryan Singer’s 2000 X-Men and Jon Favreau’s 2008 Iron Man.
Batman v Superman is even more charged with theological language and iconography than Avengers: Age of Ultron. Even the Good Friday opening may not be an accident.
“He has been many different men,” Antonio Banderas tells Catherine Zeta-Jones in the last scene of the rousing 1998 action movie The Mask of Zorro.
We aren’t exactly talking The Matrix here, but it’s been awhile since a Hollywood popcorn action movie elicited such a range of theological and philosophical analysis.
The negative buzz around the new Fantastic Four is so radioactive you could almost expect to develop superpowers just by reading about it. Ah, but that’s old-fashioned talk. In the 1960s radioactivity was mysterious and eldritch, capable of producing all manner of hulks and spider-men and what have you. In the 1950s you could even get godzillas.
Three years ago, when Marvel first announced that Ant-Man would be getting his own movie, I tweeted, “I don’t care how much money Avengers makes. The world does not need an Ant-Man movie.” Ant-Man, I felt, was too minor a hero, too obscure and inconsequential — in a word, too small — to warrant the big-screen Marvel movie treatment.
Above all, it’s the story of the incredible lengths to which the Make-a-Wish staff and volunteers go in order to create special experiences for long-suffering children to make up in some way for their lost childhood.
The first word of dialogue spoken by an Avenger in Avengers: Age of Ultron, from Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), is a rude expletive. The second word, from Captain America (Chris Evans), is a mild rebuke. In two words of dialogue, writer-director Joss Whedon gives us characterization, conflict and theme.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” says Matt Murdock, the blind lawyer turned masked hero in the first line of the new trailer for Netflix’s upcoming Marvel Comics superhero series “Daredevil.”
It’s a Marvel movie! It’s a Disney cartoon! It’s … a Marney movie! It’s set in San Fransokyo! Wait, what?
At the intersection of Disney and Marvel, in a pan-Pacific megalopolis spanning San Francisco and Tokyo, in a world with one foot in science fiction and one in superhero adventure, is Big Hero 6. By my lights, this is a very good place to be.
Less than two months ago, the British Catholic writer Stratford Caldecott died after a lengthy battle with cancer. In the weeks prior to his death, his name became improbably entangled in a viral Twitter storm that made international news in connection with the superhero movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier, now available on home video.
Guardians is a romp, a lark — rare descriptors for a popcorn summer movie, alas, in these days of dark, grim tentpoles from Maleficent to Hercules, Edge of Tomorrow to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
If you’re not into turtles, and you have half a brain, this may be the movie for you.
The director who launched the new era of comic-book movies 14 years ago with X-Men is back.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is one of the geekiest comic-book movies ever made — and one of the best. It’s easily the best superhero movie since The Avengers — and, like The Avengers, it plays as a triumphant climax to an uneven series of earlier films.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s biggest liability is that it follows The Amazing Spider-Man. This sequel is so much better than its predecessor that I’ve gone from being merely disappointed with the 2012 reboot to being downright angry about it.
I like Lawrence Toppman’s comment on this one: “This sequel is, by design, entirely absorbing and satisfying without being one whit memorable.”
Why do we love costumed crusaders? Larger-than-life heroes fill a cultural niche occupied in the 1950s by gunslingers, in earlier centuries by Robin Hood and King Arthur, and in antiquity by the likes of Hercules, Perseus, and Odysseus.
Is Loki a villain or an antihero? Either way, the fan favorite is basically the Marvel Universe’s answer to Catwoman, but he can’t carry the movie if he isn’t the main antagonist.
He’s the best there is at what he does, but what he does isn’t very nice. The Wolverine: my “Reel Faith” 60-second review.
It’s not a great film, but it’s a pretty good one. This year, that’s enough to make The Wolverine not only the season’s best superhero film, but arguably its best popcorn action movie: a gingery palate cleanser in a summer of overcooked Big Macs.
A Superman movie for our times — but is that a good thing? Man of Steel: my “Reel Faith” 60-second review.
To borrow a line from Man of Steel producer Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight: This isn’t the Superman movie we need, but it’s the one we deserve.
Iron Man Three in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
Iron Man 2 in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
Iron Man in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
It’s a potentially promising setup for a slam-bang finale to what has been, despite its flaws, one of the brightest and most entertaining franchises around. Unfortunately, the slapdash plot is pretty much a disaster. A string of miscalculations hamper the fun. And a late revelation, when you stop and think about it, undermines most of the preceding drama.
The Dark Knight Rises is very nearly the thunderous finale that Christopher Nolan’s unprecedented super-hero trilogy needed after the pitch-black nihilism that Heath Ledger’s Joker brought to The Dark Knight … Yet something crucial is missing — a major omission that lingers over the whole trilogy, a question raised ever more insistently in all three films, and at best left unanswered, if not answered negatively.
For all that, the new film bungles who Spider-Man is, where he’s coming from. This isn’t the only problem (there are notable issues around the plot and the interpretation of Spider-Man’s reptilian foe, the Lizard), but for me it’s the most intractable, because it undermines the hero’s moral center.
The Avengers in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
If The Avengers isn’t necessarily the best superhero movie ever made, it is unquestionably the most superhero movie ever made — and, in that capacity, it is more than well-made enough to take comic-book entertainment to unprecedented levels.
What do today’s superhero movies tell us about ourselves? For one thing, we’re more skeptical these days about heroes and heroism. In contrast to the stoic confidence of the typical Western hero — or even of Christopher Reeves’ Superman, who as late as 1978 could unabashedly say, “I’m here to fight for truth, justice and the American way” — today’s heroes have feet of clay, and have to grow into their heroic roles.
After a rash of immature, bad-boy cinematic superheroes for whom responsibility is a bigger challenge than taking down supervillains — think Iron Man, Thor and Green Lantern — a hero for whom decency, humility and self-sacrifice come naturally is a breath of fresh air.
Green Lantern: my “Reel Faith” review.
If only the filmmakers had put as much creative energy into the character of Hal Jordan as they did into his lovingly rendered CGI-enhanced suit, which pulses and glows as it hugs every bulge and swell on Ryan Reynolds’ impeccably sculpted torso.
Despite missteps, X‑Men: First Class succeeds in doing in some measure for the X‑Men what J. J. Abrams did for Star Trek two years ago: Not only does it bring new energy to a tired franchise, it reinvents a familiar cast of characters in unexpected ways, laying the foundations for the defining relationships and conflicts of later chapters, while telling a ripping story into the bargain.
It starts pretty promisingly, and it stays pretty promising throughout, and at some point you realize it’s never actually going to deliver on that promise. There’s never a moment where it goes really wrong — it just never really gets started.
Megamind is a satiric take on the Superman mythos, seen through the eyes of a supervillain who’s part Lex Luthor, part Brainiac. Instead of a rocket ship bearing an infant survivor from a doomed planet to Earth, there are two ships from two planets. Fate deals the infant survivors very different hands: One is a super-powered golden boy who grows up privileged and smugly superior; the other grows up on the fringes of society, an outcast with one asset: his super-brain. It seems the two are destined to battle each other forever … or are they?
All good things must come to an end, but “The Spectacular Spider-Man” ended too quickly, after only two seasons. In April 2010 Marvel pulled the plug on the acclaimed but long-stalled series, leaving the season 2 finale as the satisfying but not fully resolved series climax.
His suit may be iron, but he’s still got feet of clay. Tony Stark may not be the same narcissistic jerk he was at the beginning of Iron Man two years ago, but that doesn’t mean he’s someone completely different either. The road to redemption is seldom so straight as that.
Silent star Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. is still the silver screen’s ultimate swashbuckling Zorro. Tyrone Powers ideally embodies the sly subterfuge of a man of iron turning on a dime from foppish languor to finely double-edged banter to masked derring-do. But Guy Williams, hero of Walt Disney’s popular 1950s television series, is the most beloved Zorro of all time.
If you’re a fan of the material, you’ll want to see it. There are some decent action scenes, and an inevitable, tragic climax. There are also things that make no sense. It’s not bad, really. What it’s most conspicuously lacking is any sense of surprise, of revelation, of creative boldness.
The movie is an impressive work of transposition, but I can’t recommend it. Excessively brutal and sexually graphic as well as nihilistic and and antiheroic, it’s a thoroughgoing deconstruction of humanity as well as heroism, one that takes its world apart without putting it back together again. There are things to admire here, but Watchmen doesn’t make me care. If you can’t care about characters facing the end of the world, perhaps it’s time to turn back the clock and move on.
The movie version of The Spirit is a straightforward excursion into the Frank Miller Universe at its most reductionist, self-parodying and content-free. There are no characters or relationships, only placeholders where characters ought to be. There is no drama or conflict, only dueling line readings and cartoony brutality. There is nothing at stake and nothing and no one to care about, only a pointless, shapeless exercise in wildly veering moods and styles.
By rights, pulp heroes like Batman and James Bond belong to this world of escapism, not the world of The Godfather. Bond was even one of the original inspirations for Indiana Jones. (“I’ve got something better than James Bond” was how Lucas pitched the character to Steven Spielberg.) Now, though, the boundaries are becoming less clear.
So deeply does The Dark Knight delve into the darkness that lurks in the hearts of men that it comes almost as a shock, bordering on euphoria, to find that it maintains a tenacious grip onto hope in the human potential for good.
Bigger effects and badder creatures make Del Toro’s second take on Hellboy more entertaining than the original, but something’s still missing in the story of the super hero from hell.
Although most viewers will probably find The Incredible Hulk diverting but — after a strong first act — forgettable entertainment, for Hulk fans smarting from the limitations of the Ang film, it may just be balm for the soul.
Smart, sardonic and more than a little silly, Iron Man is a successful super-hero movie that never takes itself too seriously.
Perhaps this is what is most fundamentally wrong with the Fantastic Four franchise: None of these allegedly “fantastic” heroes has any gravitas, any actual heroic weight or depth of character. There’s nothing particularly noble, compelling or even interesting about them. Far from inspiring admiration, they don’t rise even to the level of thinking, acting and relating like grown-ups.
Spider‑Man 3 is a movie stuffed to bursting — with action, plotlines, characters, humor, energy, moods, spectacle and certainly inspiration. Like its web-headed hero careening crazily through the canyons of Manhattan at the end of a web-line, the film swings breathlessly and without warning from one thing to another, from breakneck excitement to outrageous silliness to comic-book morals about responsibility, sacrifice and now even vengeance and forgiveness.
For all their evident interest and affinity for the material, though, the filmmakers haven’t made a very good movie. They’ve figured out how to get Blaze (Cage), the motorcycle-riding hellion who makes a deal with the devil, into the same picture as Carter Slade (Sam Elliott), the originally unconnected (and not even supernatural) Ghost Rider of the Old West. But they haven’t figured out either who Johnny Blaze is as a character, or what the Ghost Rider is all about.
From the rousing fanfare of the classic John Williams score to the comic book–inspired opening credits, it’s clear that Superman Returns means to be nothing less than the film that Superman III could have and should have been, but wasn’t. Except it’s actually better than that.
Superman II isn’t perfect, but in the annals of comic-book movies it remains an indispensable touchstone.
Expressions like “Good things come in threes” and “Third time’s the charm” may have their place in the world, but when it comes to comic-book movies, so far at least, anything after two is all downhill.
More precisely, it’s a “funny family action film” in the Fantastic Four mold — that is, a movie whose key qualification as kid entertainment is that it isn’t good enough for grown‑ups. Too bad. Our kids deserve better. For that matter, so do we.
Thrilling, heartbreaking, witty, romantic, and largely family-friendly, The Mask of Zorro is possibly the best swashbuckler of its decade, a film at once true to the spirit of the classic period actioners and also thoroughly of its own time.
Critics adored Batman for its eccentric, Burtonesque take on a pop-culture icon, for its moody, noirish gothic art-deco Gotham City, and of course for Jack Nicholson’s showy performance as the Joker. Comic-book fans, meanwhile, appreciated the film for rescuing the Dark Knight from the over-the-top camp comedy of the 1960s series and making him suitably dark and brooding. For all that, though, the film’s flaws are hard to overlook.
Less than a month after Fox’s dumb, trashy Fantastic Four somehow passed itself off as a family-friendly superhero comedy comes Disney’s Sky High, a film that actually fits the bill.
How bad is Fantastic Four? So bad that in desperation execs have resorted to trying to spin it as a "funny family action film," as one studio rep put it. It’s the Kangaroo Jack strategy: When your dumb, trashy film clearly isn’t good enough for adolescents, let alone adults, reposition it as a kiddie flick. It’s an insult to family audiences. Our kids deserve better than Hollywood’s garbage.
The Incredibles is exhilarating entertainment with unexpected depths. It’s a bold, bright, funny and furious superhero cartoon that dares to take sly jabs at the culture of entitlement, from the shallow doctrine of self-esteem that affirms everybody, encouraging mediocrity and penalizing excellence, to the litigation culture that demands recompense for everyone if anything ever happens, to the detriment of the genuinely needy.
It’s tempting to call Batman Begins the Citizen Kane of super-hero movies; at any rate, it’s the closest thing so far.
The comic-book Constantine is a blond Brit based in Liverpool (think Sting by way of Christopher Lee in Terence Fisher’s The Devil Rides Out). For the film, the casting of Keanu led to a change of setting to California and LA. Similarly, the casting of Shia LaBeouf (Holes) as Constantine’s ally Chandler turned the character from a seasoned comrade in arms into a Jimmy Olsen-like junior sidekick. (Whatever happened to casting actors who fit the part?)
This is what a Spider-Man movie should be — freewheeling, rip-roaring, hilarious, heartfelt, over the top.
From its breathless, cartoony title sequence, with the letters of cast members’ names stuck like flies in a vast spiderweb,
The best thing about Hellboy is Hellboy. And he’s a demon.
Not the best or most exciting of comic-book movies to date, but the most thoughtful and arguably one of the most interesting, Ang Lee’s Hulk offers a new look at Marvel Comics’s green-skinned Jekyll-and-Hyde pulp anti-hero through the director’s poetic, psychologically attuned sensibilities.
Don Q Son of Zorro, named one of the year’s ten best films by The New York Times, actually outdoes its predecessor, with a stronger and more sophisticated plot, better pacing, more interesting and complex characterizations, grander production values and set design, and more consistent action.
You haven’t seen Zorro until you’ve seen Douglas Fairbanks Sr. as Zorro in the 1920 silent swashbuckling classic.
Powers can’t match the original Zorro’s astonishing acrobatics and doesn’t try — but the rousing climactic duel against Basil Rathbone’s villainous Captain Esteban, one of the best swordfights ever filmed at that time, almost makes up for it.
Where other super-hero movies, like James Bond movies, take place in a static universe in which nothing really changes and the essential mythology remains the same, X2 is set in a world in flux. The plot is part of an ongoing story-arc reaching back to
A classic tribute to an American pop-culture icon, Superman is the first great comic-book movie and a nostalgic ode to the ideals of a more innocent time.
Ultimately, Daredevil works best as a triumph of screenwriting redaction and well-utilized effects over weak characterization and generally uninspired casting. As super-hero movies go, I rank it below Spider-Man, but above any of the films in the Batman franchise.
This is a world in which characters are not larger-than-life cardboard cutouts, but human beings with affecting problems, motives, conflicts, and interests; in which opposing ideas are at least as important as clashing super-powers or martial-arts moves; in which super-powers and special abilities are more than mere arbitrary plot shortcuts or empty pretexts for colorful special effects, but are treated thoughtfully as serious story elements with logical consequences in immediate events and also wider social implications.
Such “hope” as Shyamalan has to offer is less persuasive and less memorable than the fears and horrors he conjures; the overall impression created by his film is an ultimately dehumanizing, depressing one.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.