The List: Marvel’s Best Superhero Films

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Like it or not, we live in the age of the superhero film. Although its origins can be traced back to the late 1970s with Richard Donner’s Superman, the comic book medium had created these characters long before that. Myself being a life-long comic book fan as well as a film buff, I see both the positives and negatives of such a trend. But as far as I’m concerned, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Although there have been plenty of clunkers, which have spawned sequels for no apparent reason, we’ve also been given a treasure trove of legitimately good adaptations of these fairy-tale-like characters. Marvel, who seems to have cornered the market on the superhero film as of late, is one of these companies with a backlog of memorable characters that have been brought to the big screen. As a life-long Marvel fan (Spider-Man in particular), it’s definitely exciting to see your favorite childhood characters brought to life for your enjoyment every Summer.

In anticipation of the release of this week’s Iron Man 3, I’ve decided to make a list of my favorite Marvel adaptations, both those made by Marvel Studios as well as outside studios. Let the Summer movie season commence!

Honorable Mentions: X-Men: First Class (2011), Thor (2011), Spider-Man (2002), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

5. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

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– “Peter, don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

– “But those are the best kind.” 

We begin this list with something a little unexpected. A reboot of a franchise that began just ten years prior, many were unexcited at the prospect of yet another origin story for everyone’s favorite wall-crawler. In doing so, however, critics seemed to overlook the simple fact that no matter how many times a story has been told before, making a good, compelling film is paramount above all else. I feel confident in saying that Marc Webb’s reboot is just that. Boasting a cast much more fitting to the original characters than the previous incarnation, the chemistry between leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone is the film’s true success. Garfield gives Peter Parker a vulnerability, an emotional edge from the loss of his parents at a very young age. This isn’t Batman however, and the story isn’t focused on simply the death of his parents, but the fact that they made a choice to leave Peter behind. And then there’s Emma Stone, who is completely charming as Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker’s true first love. She isn’t your typical superhero love interest, and is able to match wits with Garfield’s Parker. Together, they give the film an emotional core that is something notably different from past incarnations, all this in spite of the film boasting a less than compelling villain storyline that prevents it from soaring to new heights. Sometimes, you’ve got to search these films for something more than just entertainment, something different, something complex. As far as I’m concerned, despite its flaws, The Amazing Spider-Man has it.

4. Iron Man (2008)

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“Give me a scotch. I’m starving.”

Yet another Marvel outing that boasts a less than compelling villain, Jon Favreau’s first outing with Iron Man wastes an always game Jeff Bridges. Fortunately, that is one of the only shortcomings of the film itself. Robert Downey Jr. was born to play Tony Stark, the genius billionaire with a penchant for scientific innovation. He fills the film with a non-chalant energy, yet underneath gives Tony layers to show us that he truly cares about the people his company may have put in harm’s way. As head of Stark Industries, Tony decides to forgo their quest on cornering the weapons manufacturing market after being taken hostage in the desert by a terrorist cell. What follows is an exciting, compelling political allegory with charm to spare. If only the messy sequel had lived up to the promise. Here’s hoping Iron Man 3 gives us more to like.

3. The Avengers (2012)

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– “I have an army.”

– “We have a Hulk.”

I’ll be honest, I was extremely wary when I heard Marvel was planning a team-up film about Marvel’s best and brightest. In the comic book world, I’ve often found that putting multiple heroes together results in a flawed story further weighed down by a cluster of characters who serve no purpose other than to fight the bad guy.  Thankfully, Joss Whedon proved me wrong by taking this band of heroes and turning them into a ragtag group of misfits, each serving a purpose. Their personalities clash, as if they were warring factions of teenagers in a school cafeteria, and the result is something incredibly entertaining. Overcoming a slightly worrisome first act, Whedon pits the heroes against Loki, a fantastically menacing Tom Hiddleston, who lives up to his nickname as the god of mischief. Two larger than life action sequences later, and we’ve got an undeniable monster of a film. It’s funny, action-packed, and even has some intelligence thrown in there. What more could you ask for in a Summer blockbuster?

2. X2: X-Men United (2003)

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“People don’t change, Wolverine. You were an animal then and you’re an animal now. I just gave you claws.”

Bryan Singer’s second outing helming the outcast team of mutants was a breath of fresh air on arrival. Improving remarkably from the first film, X2 benefits from a compelling story anchored by a fantastic performance from Hugh Jackman as Logan AKA Wolverine. Searching into his past, Logan comes face to face with William Stryker (Brian Cox) who may just be responsible for his adamantium-laced skeleton. From a thrilling opening sequence involving an attack on the White House by Nightcrawler to the entertaining chemistry born out of joining Professor X’s heroic mutants with Magneto’s less than noble breed, the film never loses its stride. Singer is confident in his direction. He knows not only how to entertain, but put the heroes in situations that are both exciting and thought-provoking. The X-Men will always be the perfect example of how exploring social issues in comics can be incredibly compelling. Fortunately for us, X2 embraces this ten-fold.

1. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

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“Sometimes, to do what’s right, we have to be steady and give up the thing we want the most. Even our dreams.”

Sam Raimi, one of my filmmaking heroes, grew up a Spider-Man fan much like myself. Although we grew up in different eras and loved different aspects of the character, I always admired how much he respected the character and his important presence in the New York landscape. This was never more evident than in Spider-Man 2, one of the very best films to come out of the recent fascination with the superhero blockbuster. Its pretty much a how-to manual on how to tell a compelling story and make a good film without sacrificing what makes a given superhero special. For once, a villain is every bit as good as the hero he faces off against, with Alfred Molina giving a compelling turn as Doctor Octopus. What’s most interesting about the film is that it perfectly adapts one of the more popular storylines from the comics, ‘Spider-Man No More’, in which Peter turns his back on his alter-ego hoping to be able to live a normal life. Rosemary Harris as Aunt May was always the heart of Raimi’s spidey trilogy, and she is put to good use in this film as Peter’s conscience. Tobey Maguire was never the perfect choice for the character, but most importantly, he’s a good actor and this film boasts one of his best performances (and let’s not forget his epic scream face!). And then there’s James Franco as Harry Osborn, perhaps my favorite aspect of the Raimi Spider-Man films. He is a conflicted character dealing with the ghosts of his father and the fact that his best friend Pete may not be what he seems. Overall, Spider-Man 2 is not only the best Marvel has to offer, but it’s certainly in the debate for best superhero film period.

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