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The superhero films of the year- A look back

With the release of Justice League this past week, the annual bunch of superhero films has come to an end. And what a year it has been for Marvel and DC! Two Batmen, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Thor, Wolverine, Baby Groot and more. To me, this has been an outstanding year for comic book movies, so let’s go through one of the craziest, most insane years in superhero film history. We’ll start from the beginning, and there will be spoilers for all movies apart from Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok-

Way back in February, we had the hilarious LEGO Batman Movie. I haven’t seen the LEGO Movie, although I’ve heard it’s good and based on this movie, I will be first in line to the sequel (I’m also hoping for the Doctor to appear in that film). This is a great, fun film for fans of LEGO, DC and good movies. I honestly didn’t expect to love the movie as much as I did.

This movie homages and references all eras of Batman, from the 30’s to Batman V Superman. This Batman is absolutely hilarious, less of a Dark Knight and more of a spoilt rich kid who happens to be a superhero. In the first case of “superhero father problems” this year, Batman has to learn to raise the orphan Dick Grayson as his own son whilst also having to fight off the Joker, whose attempts to get Batman to notice him causes him to ally himself with every villain from every franchise Warner Bros can get their hands on. Behold, as we see Voldemort, Sauron, King Kong, Daleks and more team up with the Joker to invade Gotham City. The results are glorious-

This movie is just awesome. It contains so many references and in-jokes to over 75 years of Batman that I just couldn’t help but love every second of it. This is the first Batman film to have the Bat Family, the first to have Condiment King and the first (and only I think) to have the shark from Jaws defeated by Bat Spray. A great start to a great year of comic book movies.

And now for something completely different in the best comic book film of the year, Logan.

I saw this movie and the LEGO Batman movie less than a month apart. The difference could not be bigger and it’s a testament to the diversity of comic book films that these two movies exist in the same year, let alone a month apart from each other. I’ve gone on about how this movie deserves serious consideration at this year’s Oscars and I still haven’t thought of a single legitimate reason why it wouldn’t. In terms of final bows, I can think of nothing better than Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine for one last time. Please Fox, don’t recast him, just leave this chapter of comic book history alone.

In part two of “superhero father problems” (yes I did just link the LEGO Batman Movie and Logan), an ageing Logan has to care for a dying Professor X in the near future, in the same way Xavier used to care for him. The daddy issues truly come to ahead when Logan ends up on the run with Laura, a young girl who happens to be a genetic clone of Wolverine. Logan now has to care for his “father” and make his “daughter” a better person than him, all the while escaping from the Ravagers. This is easily the darkest and least comic book like superhero film since The Dark Knight and is more like a western character study which happens to have a clawed mutant. This movie delves deep into themes such as redemption and what it means to have a family, and juxtaposes some of the best action scenes I’ve ever seen with complex character dynamics and moments of quiet.

Give. Patrick Stewart. An Oscar. Comic book films honestly don’t get better than this, and I honestly think this should be the last X-Men film (barring Deadpool films, but they’re allowed to exist because they’re Deadpool films). To end one of the oldest ongoing comic book franchises on this note will be so much better than the next continuity confusing X-Men movie. Seriously, the timeline is so confusing and whilst it’s not clear what timeline Logan is set it, I don’t really care seeing how this is a standalone film. The best comic book film this year, no question, and I expect to see this movie reap in many nominations come Oscars season.

Moving on to the giants of superhero movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe-

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the third part of the unofficial quadrilogy of 2017 superhero films about problematic fathers, and it’s the movie most obviously about the issue. The second Guardians film is a joy to watch, filled with fantastic comedy and great character growth. I’ve touched upon why I love this film previously, but since May I’ve grown to love the film even more, to the point where I love it more than the first film and it’s now one of my favourite MCU films.

This movie has one of the most emotional and powerful stories in the whole MCU, with Star Lord coming to terms with his father and completing his emotional journey across two films. The Guardians go through a lot in this film and whilst they come out on top, their world will never be the same again. Seeing all the arcs and subplots come together in the final act is immensely satisfying. This film is about belonging somewhere and embracing family. Ego is one of Marvel’s best villains, brilliantly playing off Star Lord and giving the movie a sense of real menace. The plot with Rocket and Yondu is my favourite part of the film, as they bond over their reluctance and then acceptance of fatherhood (Rocket with Baby Groot and Yondu with Star Lord).

This is a truly well written and complex movie with every character’s arcs tying into some way about the idea of family, friendship and trust. However, this is still a movie with a talking raccoon, a tiny dancing tree and Taserface, so it’s not all doom and gloom. But it’s the way the hilarious comedy is weaved together with this brilliant story that makes this one of Marvel’s absolute best. I do love the first film, but I honestly believe this film surpasses it in every way. A triumph.

And with that, we move onto the movie I’m so happy ended up being so good, Wonder Woman-

Oh DC, DC, where do we start with DC? I’ll go into their current predicament later, but for now let’s cast our minds back to June, when DC made a movie everyone could agree was good. I honestly prefer DC to Marvel overall (I’ll happily read a Green Lantern comic over any Avengers comic) and I only really like the Marvel characters in movie form. DC on the characters have characters I unreservedly love, especially the Justice League. So I was happy when Wonder Woman was great, as it was such a breath of fresh air for the DCEU movies. I didn’t hate the other films, but this movie was clearly superior to the others.

What this movie nails most of all is how to embrace the silly comic book roots whilst also dealing with incredibly dark themes and ideas. This movie is all about war and it doesn’t sugarcoat it in any way- Diana sees first-hand the horrors of the First World War and has her optimistic view of the world of man shattered. The movie also deals with the idea that humanity is flawed, which is something that Diana fails to grasp, as she sees defeating Ares as the key to ending the war, only to realise it is the humans causing the war with Ares merely guiding them. A lesser movie would have painted the conflict in black and white but Wonder Woman is all about what war really is, as anyone who knows history knows the First World War was far more complex than just good vs evil. It’s a really mature story but at the same time it embraces the comic book roots and has delightfully over the top action and effects. The No Man’s Land scene is, in my opinion, the absolute best scene in any comic book movie this year-

What a scene. I hope future movies write female characters in this way- make them strong because of who they are, not based on their gender (this applies to male characters too). This film could have easily been about how Wonder Woman is awesome because she’s a woman, but instead she’s awesome because of who she is and what she values. Ares is a great villain and I love how the film misdirects the audience into thinking it’s Luddendorf (who was actually a real person whadyya know?) before revealing the much more satisfying and thematically profound answer. This movie embodies who Wonder Woman is and why DC has endured for so long. If it wasn’t for Logan, this would be my favourite film of the year.

Moving on to the most iconic Marvel character, Spider-Man-

Remember how I said I mostly prefer Marvel characters in film form? That’s not the case for Spider-Man. I’m a huge fan of the comic book character, especially the original Stan Lee run. They’re incredibly cheesy but heartfelt and genuine, which is something this movie captures well. One of the highlights of Civil War, it was great to see a fully established Spider-Man and not having to go through the origin again. In Uncle Ben’s place we have Iron Man, whose role as a surrogate father figure and his clashes with Peter make this part four of superhero dads. This Spider-Man is just a normal kid, which I really appreciate, as it’s how the character started.

What works about this movie is how small scale it is. The world is not at stake and it’s not a part of the ongoing Thanos saga- it’s just a standalone film about a kid who wants to be a hero. The small stakes allow the villain to work- and I mean really work. The Vulture looks awesome, is awesome and is the best comic book villain of the year. You understand where he is coming from and why he’s doing what he’s doing, which is not something I can say for a lot of Marvel villains. In terms of characterisation, this Spider-Man is probably the closest we have to Stan Lee’s original vision and it’s great to see the MCU stripped down to Earth. In terms of past Spider-Man films this is very unique as it deals with issues not faced by the other ones, especially seeing how the MCU’s desperately wants to join the Avengers.

This is probably my second favourite Spider-Man film after Spider-Man 2 (which to be fair is a very high bar to reach) and it captures the care free nature of the comic so well. I particularly like the action scenes, as they feel really cartoony and ridiculous, which is what a Spider-Man film should be. I also love how Spider-Man leaves the Vulture alive, setting up not only a possible reunion but also a possible Sinister Six film. It’s also a really funny film, with lots of great laughs. And it’s not even the funniest Marvel film this year! But most importantly, much like Wonder Woman it captures who the main character is perfectly. I still love the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man films more (well, the first two), but this Spider-Man is my favourite. If that makes any sense.

And now to my favourite Marvel character, Thor-

I’ve written a review for this as my last post so I’ll keep it brief- this was my most anticipated movie of the year and it did not disappoint. Everything I want from a Thor movie is here and more. Every character is awesome, with the highlights being Korg (spin-off please!), Valkyrie and the Grandmaster. Thor is as funny as he always is, Hulk is great in a movie that shouldn’t really have him in it, and Loki is just Loki. Even Doctor Strange is awesome for the brief time he’s on screen. Incidentally, both Thor and Doctor Strange are Marvel characters who, like Spider-Man, I love the comics for as well. It’s also so, so funny- as in laugh a minute. It has amazing action, great character development and is the ultimate comic book blast. I can’t really dive into this one seeing how it’s still fairly recent but if you haven’t seen it yet, there’s still time. In short- watch it. Can’t wait for Black Panther and then… Infinity War.

And now for the elephant in the room, Justice League. This movie is causing quite a stir so let’s dive straight into this-

OK, this will be less about the film itself and more to do with the fallout after this movie’s poor box office. Firstly, I’m going to come out and say that I actually like this film. Admittedly it’s mainly because Wonder Woman’s in it and I really like this universe’s Batman now that he doesn’t kill people. Seeing the Justice League together was really cool and I’m glad Superman is actually Superman. The only character I wasn’t too keen on was Aquaman, as I think he was too similar to Thor in terms of personality and didn’t really resemble the comic book character. He could have been any hero. The villain wasn’t too great but overall I still enjoyed watching it. That said…

Let’s talk about the future of the DCEU and how they can improve. At this point the movie is severely under performing at the box office, causing mass panic for Warner Bros. It isn’t superhero fatigue (a term coined by cynical art-house critics; the other six films this year have all performed brilliantly) but mostly due to a lack of faith in DC properties and the mixed reviews. Whilst I basically ignore reviews for superhero films, a lot of people don’t and that has clearly affected Justice League- Wonder Woman was a success due to the positive reviews and its standalone nature, whilst Justice League has the highly divisive Batman V Superman in its shadow.

So what’s the future for DC? I don’t see Wonder Woman 2 being affected seeing how that’s the only successful franchise they have right now. Aquaman is still being released and depending on how successful that is we may have another hit franchise. As for the rest, I think Warner Bros honestly need to step back and think about this carefully. Personally, I would use Flashpoint to restart the universe, keeping everything that works (Wonder Woman) and changing everything else. Start the universe with a Wonder Woman film with the same continuity as her previous films, then do solo films for each Justice League member with the team up film simply called Trinity. I mean, they could make do with the current universe, but the fans have spoken and as a DC fan, I think a fresh start is in order. That said I still enjoyed this version of the Justice League, but I can’t see the current DCEU surviving outside of Wonder Woman.

So after this great year of comic book movies, I honestly think this has been the best year for fandom in ages. Marvel and DC were both on their best and I watched and enjoyed all the films. Next year is set to be even more nuts and if the quality of superhero films can keep up then we’re in for a good year. All we need is The Last Jedi and a good Doctor Who Christmas special to cap this year off in style.

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Spider-Man 2 review

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It’s going to be a busy couple of weeks in the world of fandom, in particular the latest Marvel movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming. My expectations are sky high, and I hope the movie can live up to the great run of previous MCU movies as well as live up to the fantastic standards set by comic book movies this year, with all of them being brilliant.

So, to honour the third incarnation of Spider-Man on the big screen, I’m looking back at not only my favourite comic book movie, but one of my favourite movies in general: Spider-Man 2. In my opinion, this is also the finest sequel ever made.

What’s so brilliant about it? Simply put, it’s the story. The story of Spider-Man is simple: a cocky teenager is given powers through chance and through events such as the death of his uncle he learns to use his powers for good. This is all set up in the first film just fine, but it’s in this movie where the themes of the character come into play. In Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker is struggling between his superhero identity and his normal life. He fights crime at night but loses focus on the things that he cares about such as Aunt May and Mary Jane. It’s a simple but captivating dilemma: should Peter give up his responsibility as a superhero to be happy or should he continue his superhero life because it’s the right thing to do even if he can’t be truly happy? This dilemma is at the heart of the film and is the main reason why this movie is amazing.

It’s all in the subtlety of how the story is told. While I love The Dark Knight, I feel the themes are a bit “in your face”. The characters often break the flow of the movie to discuss the themes at play, which is fine, but Spider-Man 2 addresses its themes in a more subtle manner and maintain a strong pace throughout. This is helped by the humour (especially J Jonah Jameson), the comic book esque direction and colour pallette (one of my few flaws with the MCU is how the colour palette is the same greyish tone throughout, except for Guardians of the Galaxy) and the camp factor. It’s an inherently cheesy movie but I feel like it has to be: it’s a movie about a guy dressed in red latex fighting a guy with giant mechanical arms. I feel like comic book movies have to be cheesy, which is why I’m glad DC is embracing the inherent silliness of their comics in Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad after the grim tone of their previous movies. The key to avoiding a completely camp disaster is to have heart and a sense of direction, which is what Spider-Man 2 has.

J Jonah Jameson is the. Best. Character. Ever.

There are so many standout scenes, most of them not action scenes. Even a simple scene like Peter admitting to Aunt May what really happened the night Uncle Ben died have so much impact due to the background behind the characters. My favourite scene is Peter’s vision of Uncle Ben convincing him to keep being Spider-Man, which Peter refuses to do and throws the costume away. It’s a marvellous scene because it perfectly captures the themes of the film, which is Peter abandoning his promise after Ben’s death to ensure no one else has to suffer the same way he did. By abandoning his powers, Peter is also throwing away what Spider-Man stands for.

There’s also Aunt May’s speech about ordinary people having the strength to do extraordinary things as well as the scene where Harry Osborne learns of Peter’s secret identity. Harry is another strong character in the film and his journey builds brilliantly on the ending on the first film and sets up the third. Even though he isn’t the focus of the film, he still gets an arc, which is another strength of the film-making every character feel real.

The best character next to Peter (Spider-Man isn’t in the film much, but when he is it’s brilliant) is Doctor Octopus. An incredibly one dimensional character in the comics (he’s a mad scientist and that’s about it) is turned into a very complex, fleshed out villain. I wouldn’t even call him a villain, as he’s just misguided. He just wants to continue his experiments and the death of his wife drives him to madness and he turns to crime to help continue his research. This is why his sacrifice at the end of the film is important, as he realises the error of his ways. A fantastic villain who complements the themes of the movie perfectly, as whilst Peter is struggling with his double life, Doc Oc has embraced it. This is another aspect of older comic book movies I wish more recent ones would embrace, and actually have a compelling antagonist.

I haven’t even talked about the action yet. As I’ve mentioned, the action in the movie is not the main focus, with the action scenes being there to further the story forward. That doesn’t stop them from being fantastic though. Spidey and Doc Oc’s brawl at the bank is fantastic but the ultimate action sequence is the train battle near the end of the second act. After powerful character moments, compelling dialogue and a brilliant story which details Peter’s struggle to return to normal life, Peter Parker dons the suit once again to battle Doc Oc for a second time. The experience of watching the scene is nothing short of breathtaking, as it’s literally a comic book battle brought to life. I can’t describe the brilliance of this scene, so I’m just going to put the scene here and you will see for yourself. It’s the best action sequence ever put in a comic book movie and it’s so awesome the final fight in the old clocktower feels underwhelming in comparison, even thought it’s still good. The only other times I’ve felt this giddy whilst watching a comic book movie is the Avengers fighting each other in Civil War, and the only other action scene that gives me this amount of satisfaction is the Battle of Minas Tirith in Return of the King.

Overall, Spider-Man 2 is what I would call a perfect movie. It sits comfortably in my Top 10 favourite movies of all time and is the finest comic book movie I’ve ever seen. I’ve heard that Homecoming is the best Spider-Man film, and while I’m sure it’ll be awesome, I don’t feel like anything can top the genius of this movie.