Welcome back to the Seattle Cinema Survey, where I ask the critics/bloggers/snobby pricks of the area various things about movies new and old.
In week two of our questions, we ask something the internet loves to ponder on a regular basis; What’s your favorite superhero film? For this particular survey, I kept things wide open. Answers need not be stuck with ties to Marvel, D.C., Image or event Valiant. Characters aren’t required to don masks or fly. If our crew found the person to be a superhero, and came up with solid reasoning, so be it.
Personally, the answer has to be 2004’s Spider-Man 2. With his 2002 first outing, Sam Raimi got a lot right about the Webhead, particularly in the Peter Parker realm. The action, however, left a little to be desired. Spider-Man 2 amped that up with precision, giving an all-time blockbuster scene as Spidey swung over, under and around a speeding monorail as he fought Doctor Octopus. There is stunning fluidity to the mayhem, with Peter desperately trying to keep up with his nemesis, as the camera jolts along with our hero being dragged along concrete and hanging on by a thread to the tracks.
Hanging over all of this is the ol’ Uncle Ben idiom, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Peter is caught up in the turmoil of his life; the longing to do great things but also find some semblance of happiness. If you can’t pay rent, let alone live on a floor where people host literal rat-races, you disappoint the love of your life time and again, as well as get constant hate from the city you protect, what is the purpose of stopping a random bank robbery? Peter Parker has always been the most human of our superheroes and Spider-Man 2 is the cinematic perfection of that, even getting in big laughs along the way as Spidey complains about his itchy outfit to strangers.
Mike Ward of Should I See It @ShouldISeeIt
For most people, the Superhero movie is defined by your Batmans, your Iron Mans, your Captain Americas, those Supermen, Spidermen, Avengers, and X-Men. And while I can appreciate a great superhero movie as much as the next person, for me, hands down my favorite superhero film is Brad Bird’s animated classic The Iron Giant. For those who quibble over the choice, the 1999 film was Iron Man before Iron Man was ever cool and fits all the trappings.
After crash landing on Earth from the deep recesses of outer space, an unnamed, metal-eating iron man befriends a young boy, learns about the fragility of life on a mortal planet, and ends up forced to not only save those who become close to him, fight off an aggro military, but try and restore humanity to a place desperately in need of it. Voiced by Vin Diesel, the Iron Giant says no more than probably 100 words through the entire film, but creates a character you simply never will forget.
Bird has said that the greatest effect a movie can have on a viewer is making them “care about a character.” And while I love a good number of superhero films, nothing from the genre has ever connected deeper and/or more profoundly with me than this one.
Tim Hall of Seattle PI/People’s Critic @peoplescritic
After what I just watched, it has to be Captain America: Civil War. It had everything you’d want from a superhero movie – action, drama, emotion, humor, and an amazing battle sequence that’s going to be hard to top
Since CW is still fresh on the brain, I’ll have to go with Die Hard. John McClane is a superhero. He has a secret identity, his super power is pissing people off and escaping the jaws of death, and there an argument to be made that he’s bulletproof. If the sequels teach us anything, in true superhero fashion, trouble seems to find McClane wherever he goes.
(YES Tim did pick two films and when asked if he could pick just one, he responded…
Brian Taibl of Brian The Movie Guy @MovieGuyBrian
Huge fan of the genre and especially impressed with the universe Marvel has been building since the release of Iron Man back in 2008.
My absolute favorite – as of this particular time of day – would be the immensely rewatchable, Captain America: The Winter Soldier – a brilliantly crafted blockbuster torn between freedom and fear; a movie that fires on every single one of its super serum-fueled cylinders. It’s a slick, snappy, sharp and suspenseful Jason Bourne-like ride that’s explosively action-packed, morally charged and grounded in all sorts of intriguing governmental goonery. I’m normally all for differing opinions because it encourages spirited discourse – but if you’re one of the seven people who wasn’t impressed with this flick then you’re flat out wrong and I feel sorry for you and your un-envious penchant for not having fun.
Some of my notable non-comic book related and/or off-the-beaten-path favorites include, M. Night Shymalan’s Unbreakable, Pixar’s The Incredibles, Sam Raimi’s Darkman, Joe Johnston’s The Rocketeer and Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant.
Brent McKnight of The Last Thing I See @BrentMMcKnight
Picking my favorite superhero movie is a tough one. I have an affinity for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, much of the Marvel catalog, and I still use Jack Nicholson’s Joker from Tim Burton’s Batman as a comparison point for the Clown Prince of Crime. Not to mention less traditional, or even not-based-on-comic-books-at-all entries.
I don’t know that it’s necessarily my favorite, one that comes to mind right now is Michael Morrissey’s 2010 Boy Wonder. Not a traditional dudes-in-tights superhero joint, it’s a more realistic pseudo-origin story for a street level vigilante in the vein of Batman or maybe even Daredevil. Perhaps the Punisher is a more apt parallel. And it’s certainly a film that flew under most radars.
The story follows a fucked up, antisocial kids who bears the scars of trauma. After witnessing the murder of his mother as a child, and being brutalized by his abusive, alcoholic father, he stalks the streets of Brooklyn, exacting strict, severe vengeance against criminals, specifically those who murder the innocent and get off scot-free.
He doesn’t have an alter ego or a costume beyond wearing black and sticking to the shadows. This a bitter, gritty revenge story, one character’s attempt to deal with cope with trauma, and while you feel for him, you’re also a little afraid to see what he’s going to do next. Dark and dirty, Boy Wonder throws uses vaguely superhero trappings to throw you around and pummel you for 90 minutes.
Erik Samdahl of Film Jabber @filmjabber
I was going to say The Dark Knight because I think it’s just a superbly done film (aside from some bits toward the end) but I’m going to go with Unbreakable, which is a terrific film that even non-comic book fans (such as my fiancé) can appreciate.
Sara Michelle Fetters of MovieFreak @moviefreaksara
I think a strong case could be made films like John McTeirnan’s Die Hard or John Woo’s Hard-Boiled could be considered superhero films, considering the lengths the protagonists in these two action classics go to in order to see the innocent they are striving to protect survive. As far as more traditional, and fairly recent, cinematic entries in the genre are concerned, it’s becoming more and more clear to me as time goes by that Tim Burton’s Batman Returns is a gloriously complex, emotionally multilayered gothic masterpiece that deserves to be thought of as one of the top comic book-based epics ever made.
But my favorite superhero film? Gosh darn it all if this doesn’t prove to be director Rouben Mamoulian’s 1940 adventure classic The Mark of Zorro starring Tyrone Power as the titular masked hero. In my youth growing up in Spokane, WA, the local (and only) art house theatre had a summer film series for kids, movies as diverse as The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg popping up on the schedule. Mamoulian’s film popped up on the schedule, and I remember being astonished at the time something so old, let alone in B&W, could be so thrilling. Filled with some of the best sword fighting sequences I’d ever seen, a dashing hero, a strong heroine and a truly despicable villain (the always terrific Basil Rathbone), the movie captured my imagination and thrilled me senseless, and in a very profound way fueled my growing love of cinema.
While certainly a film of its time, and while not as complex or as nuanced as many of the superhero epics that have come to life during the past two-plus decades, nonetheless Mamoulian’s adventure holds up beautifully, The Mark of Zorro a deliriously entertaining throwback that continues to make me smile and holds a special place in my heart to this very day.
Jason Roestel of Examiner @filmbastard
I would never label Batman Returns with the platitude ‘hero film.’ It’s an inconveniently dense, wildly romantic work of modern art before it’s anything else. Inconsiderate to both fanboys and film snobs alike. It also happens to be frame perfect, and is easily the most interesting piece of cinema Tim Burton has produced, or will produce. I spent three months of my life when I was nineteen watching this film on a daily basis. A feat I have never repeated with any other film since.
Drew Powell of Drew’s Movie Blog @Drewpowell123
This is a tough question because while there aren’t a lot of bad superhero movies, there are a lot of mediocre/forgettable ones. So, I guess I’ll go with The Dark Knight, even though it’s a cliche choice at this point.
For better or for worse, Christopher Nolan changed the way superheroes could be presented in films. Batman no longer had to exist in campy comic book land or Tim Burton land, he could exist in the gritty, rainy real world. As superb as Batman Begins is (The Dark Knight Rises is a bit of a let down) The Dark Knight is the only installment that transcends the franchise, standing on its own as a compelling, multilayered neo noir that just so happens to feature Batman and the Joker. Not only that, something significant actually happens at the movie’s end besides simply stopping the villain; Batman chooses to preserve Harvey Dent’s heroic reputation–becoming the outcast and the villain in the process.
Yes, there are logic holes and yes the last ten minutes or so tends to drag, but The Dark Knight continues to stand the test of time and its one of the few truly great superhero films.