Category Archives: Super Heroes
In late June of last year I took advantage of some free days to visit my Mother in Virginia for her birthday. It was a fun long weekend that included meals out, a screening of Finding Dory, and an unexpected shared activity when I ran across a puzzle in the book store that was just too good to pass up. It consists of thirty-nine posters from a wide variety of classic films stretching from the silent era of the 1920s into the 1970s. It was an engrossing project to undertake alongside my Mother and we naturally discussed several of the featured movies as we built it. What stunned me a little was that I had actually only seen twenty-six of the thirty-nine films honored. I have vowed to fill these gaps in my knowledge of film and take you along for the ride as I reconstruct the puzzle in question. I’ll re-watch the movies I’ve already seen along with experiencing the ones that are new to me and share my thoughts on each one.
I want to start off this installment in the series by admitting up front that our host Lebeau probably has a stronger and more personally informed take on this particular piece of pop culture. I fully expect he will share some of that in the comments section. Although I did grow up with reruns of the Adam West Batman television show running repeatedly on a variety of stations, I ended up both a Marvel guy and someone who took superhero stories just a little more seriously than this version of the “Caped Crusader” ever did. At the same time, if you ever want to participate in a fully tiresome example of “old man yells at cloud,” you might consider engaging me in a discussion on the merits of the “edgy” tone comic books have taken on in the intervening years. The long term reaction of the art form to what it perceived as its undeserved goofy and childish reputation appears to have resulted in a swing way too far in the other direction. The 1960s television Batman is often cited by those who resent the dismissive attitudes many people held toward sequential art.
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Okay, first things first. I’m going to be blunt about this. 1) It’s not 1964 anymore. That should be obvious, considering that I wasn’t born yet in that year and I’m well into my forties now. 2) Peter Parker and his Aunt May live in an apartment in Queens in New York City. Why am I pointing these two very basic things out? Well, unfortunately it’s because I’m imagining some objections to the nature of the new Spider-Man reboot from people who want its supporting characters to adhere firmly to those presented in the comic book stories of the sixties through the nineties. Look, I get it. I grew up in the eighties firmly entrenched in that well-established classic Spider-Man world. If you read my ranking of the first five Spider-Man movies, you’ll know that Sam Raimi’s films were my favorites there in part due to their stylistic and character similarities with those books I read as a teenager. But if you’re going to present a teenaged webhead set in the current day, some changes are just going to have to be made. Are we on the same page with this? Great. Let’s talk about the new movie then.
It is in part due to these changes that this new Spider-Man film is easily one of the best we’ve seen yet. If you are hoping for no spoilers at all in a review I would recommend that you stop reading here and go ahead and see the movie. It has my unreserved recommendation even if it’s not absolutely perfect. If you’re okay with some very mild spoilers, then read on!
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We’re looking forward to tonight’s release of the new Spider-Man movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming with another of our “Worst to First” articles. I’m not sure I’ll offer too many surprises on the top end here, but there might be a little bit of suspense in the lower half. Since most of us will not have seen the new film, we’ll only be ranking the existing five for the time being. If you have seen the newest solo Spider-Man flick already, feel free to share your non-spoiler thoughts here in the comments section.
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It may seem counter-intuitive to discuss the death of the Spider-Man franchise pending the release of a new movie starring the comic book hero. These days, studios are unable or unwilling to let their movie franchises die. It doesn’t matter how well or how poorly Spider-Man: Homecoming performs this weekend, Sony cannot afford to stop making movies about Marvel’s famous wall-crawling, web-spinner. But just three short years ago, the studio released a Spider-Man movie that was received so poorly that the studio put the brakes on all future Spider-Man-related projects and turned to a competitor for assistance.
Superhero movies are dominant at the box office. But that wasn’t always the case. In the 90’s, Batman was the only successful superhero franchise. Just two years prior to the release of the fourth film in the series, Warner Brothers was so confident of the caped crusader, they released a movie titled Batman Forever. It’s true that the studio will probably continue making Batman movies long after you and I are gone, but the next Batman movie they released derailed not just the series but the entire superhero genre for years to come.
The X-Men franchise, with its wiggly continuity, spin-offs, reboots and cross-overs, is an odd duck. Perhaps that’s appropriate for a series of movies about mutants. Over the last several years, the series has certainly mutated in some unexpected ways. Seventeen years ago, who would have expected movies like Deadpool or Logan would ever get made? With the latter representing Hugh Jackman’s final performance as Wolverine, Jeffthewildman marked the occasion by ranking all ten of the X-Men movies from Worst to First. Of course we wanted to hear from you readers as well. Let’s see how readers ranked the X-Men movies.
Batman Begins and The Dark Knight kickstarted a trend to make superhero movies more dark and gritty. In more recent years, however, people are starting to get tired of the “dark and gritty superhero” trope and embrace lighter fare, like the majority of the MCU movies. In fact, one of the main complaints against Batman V. Superman was that it was too dark and gritty. But there are still some superhero movies and TV shows that can do dark and gritty well. Ironically, Marvel’s Netflix series show this. One example is Jessica Jones.
Like Batman V. Superman, Jessica Jones takes a more realistic, grounded approach and shows what the possible negative consequences of those with powers in the world would be like in real life. But what does Jessica do that makes it beloved yet makes Batman V. Superman hated? Why does one franchise get away with being dark and gritty yet another doesn’t?
Last summer, Spider-Man made his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU for short). This summer, the web-slinger will be headlining his own movie. But before his “homecoming”, Spidey was the star of two of Sony’s franchises. First, Sam Raimi a trilogy starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. Then Marc Webb rebooted the series in 2012 with Andrew Garfield taking over the mantle. In both cases, the franchise’s started off well but then, through executive meddling, things didn’t go so well.
Then came The Amazing Spider Man 2, which had the lowest grossing domestic gross of any Spider Man film, grossing $202 million domestically. That being said, it was technically a hit at the box office, making $709 million worldwide. However, while that wasn’t much different from the first movie’s worldwide gross of $757 million, Sony was expecting the movie to make more money and, when it didn’t, they ended up firing Garfield (though the fact that he had a falling out with the head of Sony didn’t help matters either), they cancelled their plans for an Amazing Spider-Man franchise, and decided to reboot the whole thing all over again. But why wasn’t it the huge hit Sony was hoping for? Let’s find out!
No hero can outrun his origin story… not for long. Luke Cage was an anomaly in the superhero world for essentially picking up with Luke Cage as he was, but this couldn’t last for long. In fact, not much longer than the reluctant hero who just wants to be a normal person storyline. It should come then as no surprise that the 3rd and 4th episodes of Luke Cage fall right into place within these two tropes… and that’s not really a bad thing.
Somebody has to die. When you have a reluctant hero, you also know that some untimely death will be what springs them into action. Superhero tropes are becoming well-trodden only 20 years or so into the genre, and the stories themselves are struggling under the weight of them. However, a good performance can sell anything. Luke Cage did right by getting Frankie Faison.
Marvel’s Netflix partnership is now in its fourth season. So far, the quality has been a mixed bag. Daredevil went from a great first season that presented a dark, lived-in crime story with thought-provoking drama, strong characters, and strongly choreographed fight scenes to a second season that devolved into fantastical nonsense/magic storyline punctuated by unrealized potential in Punisher and the groan-inducing Elektra. Jessica Jones arrived with an outstanding first act to the season using a compelling villain, a strong (and still feminine) female hero, and an edgy metaphor for rape and abuse victims. This was bogged down by a weak middle act, bizarre character choices, and mostly salvaged by a solid ending. These shows have proven much more daring in content than the cookie-cutter Marvel films, even if the episode order should be more like 8-10 instead of the padded 13.
These shows will be culminating in The Defenders, a street level Avengers, that will see Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and possibly Punisher join forces. While we will still have to wait to see the latter two, we are now treated to Luke Cage. After making a memorable supporting turn in the JJ series, and proving he could yell, “sweet Christmas” and still seem cool, Mike Colter debuts his bulletproof hero for hire. The results are, predictably, mixed. The first episode is much too stodgy in its table-setting for the rest of the season, with clunky exposition and bad writing weighing down charming performances.
Batman & Robin is the textbook definition of an infamous film. It’s considered one of the worst movies ever made, it’s almost every comic fan’s example of a terrible comic book movie, and, at the time, it was considered a franchise killer for the Batman series. It was also considered a career killer for many of the people who worked on it. However, is that really true or has the effect this movie had on their careers been exaggerated?
Here’s a forgotten piece of pop culture for you. I was going through the Starlog archives looking for stories to run and I stumbled across these promotional photos for a TV pilot based on Will Eisner’s pulp hero, The Spirit. The pilot was filmed in 1986, but the proposed series wasn’t picked up. So it eventually aired as a stand-alone movie the following year. The lead is none other than Flash Gordon star Sam Jones and that’s Nana Visitor of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine clutching his shoulder. The pilot was written by Steven E. de Souza prior to hitting it big with Die Hard.