Are you sick of superhero movies yet? Well, too bad, because Hollywood is hell bent on giving us even more of them next year. Black Panther, New Mutants, Infinity War, Deadpool 2, The Incredibles 2, Ant-Man and The Wasp, Venom, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, an untitled animated Spidey-flick … hell, we’re getting to the point that come 2020, practically every other movie at the local multiplex will be based on some kind of comic book or cartoon vigilante.
We can all list a few contenders for worst superhero movie off the top of our heads. From Batman and Robin to Barb Wire to Catwoman to Jonah Hex to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, there’s certainly no dearth of underwhelming to totally awful spandex-and-superpowers fare to trudge through. But in the vast panoply of “bad” superhero flicks, there are quite a few that, possibly, are undeserving of their fanboy resentment.
These are the superhero flicks that, while hated and abhorred when originally released, may have gotten a smidge better with age and perchance are worthy of a revisit and reassessment. So, are the following seven genre pics below still as terrible as widely believed, or thanks to the gift of hindsight, are they considerably better than we once thought?
1. Hero At Large (1980)
Oddly enough, Hollywood has been deconstructing the superhero mythology almost as long as they’ve been pimping caped-bedecked ubermensch. Long, long before Birdman, Kickass, Super and The Watchmen (the film and the comic), this early ‘80s superhero spoof was already lampooning the tropes and cliches of the genre. John Ritter stars as a down on his luck actor portraying a superhero at publicity events; after he thwarts a real robbery while clad in the Captain Avenger gear, however, he decides to take up costumed, amateur vigilantism as a full-time hobby. From there the movie morphs into, of all things, a political drama, with Ritter’s character getting embroiled in a mayoral imbroglio and becoming a public pariah.
Hero At Large is a movie that certainly feels ahead of its time, serving as a deceptively caustic criticism of the superhero genre and its quasi-fascistic, underlying philosophical overtones. Written off as a hokey B-comedy back in the day, in hindsight it’s actually a strangely insightful little parody of the superhero-industrial-complex that would, eventually, take over Hollywood.
2. Superman III (1982)
While the first two Superman films are considered genre classics, the hoi polloi consensus seems to be the third film flat out sucks and is an affront to the entire Super-mythos. While Richard Lester’s flick might be a noticeable step-down from Richard Donner’s precursors, a good 35 years down the road audiences are slowly but surely beginning to appreciate Superman III as the misunderstood miniature masterpiece it is.
Yes, the film is unquestionably cheesy and perhaps a bit too light-hearted, but there’s no denying it has some outstanding camp value. Watching a visibly coked-out-of-his-gourd Richard Pryor chew the scenery as a retconned Brainiac is one of the most brilliant casting choices of the eighties, and let’s not discount the sheer creepiness of that chick who transforms into an unofficial imitation of Metallo at the very end of the movie.
And who can’t enjoy watching an alcoholic, womanizing version of Bizarro going toe-to-toe with Supes in a junkyard battle to the death? It may not have the storytelling chops of its predecessors, but when it comes to old-school, brain-dead, comic book fun, there aren’t too many superhero flicks out there as satisfying as this all-time guilty pleasure great.
3. The Fantastic Four (1994)
The ultra low budget comic adaptation from Roger Corman and pals was considered so underwhelming by the folks who produced it that it never made a theatrical run – or even a run at Blockbuster, for that matter. Amazingly, however, it remains the truest adaptation of the long-running Marvel comics staple out of four live-action productions – and, arguably, is the most entertaining of the quartet to boot. Though it takes some liberties with the source material, this film certainly feels more in-tune with its characters than the much, much higher-budgeted Fantastic Four films that came out in 2005, 2007 and 2015, respectively.
While the special effects can’t compete with the bigger movies that followed, the Four from ‘94 at least gives us characters who look and act more like their comic book counterparts, including an appearance by the Mole Man (who, naturally, is renamed “The Jeweler” for no apparent reason whatsoever.) Is it campy, hokey and just a wee bit stupid? Without question. But unlike the later films, this one never takes itself too seriously or tries to coast on its CGI effects alone; next to The Incredibles, it’s probably the best cinematic treatment the superheroes have received to date.
4. Blankman (1994)
How weird is it that Hollywood was so open to original pastiches of superheroes in the ‘80s and ‘90s but they wouldn’t dare bet the farm on licensed superhero fare until the early 2000s? As part of the very short-lived African-American superhero parody trend of the mid 1990s (anybody remember The Meteor Man?) Mike Binder’s Blankman is definitely a film trapped in its times. Still, the comedic chops of costars Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier go a long way in making the goofy premise work, and at the end of the day, the flick certainly came out much better than it had any right to be.
The premise? Fed up with the mob wreaking havoc in the hood and city hall not doing diddly to stop it, super nerd Wayans decides to craft a bulletproof suit and arm himself with all sorts of odd gadgets to go out and wrangle up all the drug dealers and gangbangers the po-po are too incompetent/corrupt to apprehend. While not every joke the movie throws at the audience works, by and large it’s a pretty entertaining spoof that certainly beats the pants off stuff like Mystery Men and The Specials.
5. Underdog (2007)
Few people expected this Saturday morning cartoon adaptation to be any good, and the condemnatory reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic prove it. But with a good ten years behind us, perhaps we were all a bit too harsh on pop culture’s most popular super-powered pooch.
Clearly catering to the elementary school set, Underdog doesn’t offer much in the way of subtext, but that’s kind of its charm. It’s just a straightforward comedy adventure starring a costumed beagle voiced by Jason Lee locked in an eternal struggle against Peter Dinklage, a mad scientist who wants to blow up city hall and spread mind control microbes all over the place.
No, it doesn’t really resemble the old cartoon at all, but it does give us Amy Adams voicing a furry Lois Lane analogue and a surprisingly tense grand finale with our canine hero rushing against the clock to bury a ticking time bomb. Spider-Man 2, it most definitely isn’t, but by that same token, it’s nowhere near as atrocious as the denizens of the World Wide Web would lead you to believe, either.
6. The Spirit (2008)
After the success of 300 and Sin City, somebody figured giving comic book scribe Frank Miller (who, incidentally, penned the original script for Robocop 2 back in the day) carte blanche as a first time director was a win-win situation. Considering this film came out the same year as The Dark Knight and Iron Man, however, of course it couldn’t live up to its own hype. Although this adaptation of Will Eisner’s beloved superhero is unmistakably a muddled mess of a motion picture, it’s certainly not as terrible as its 14 percent Tomatometer score would indicate.
In fact, Miller’s flashy, neo-noir caper is actually a pretty enjoyable film, pending you’re able to tolerate a glut of pretentious visual effects and a script that really can’t decide what genre it’s supposed to be. That, and the cast absolutely eats up the material, and it’s clear Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johannsen are having a blast playing the melodramatic neonazi/cowboy/samurai/Russian/pimp(!) badguys. It may not be good in the traditional sense, but one thing’s for sure – this is anything but a boring movie.
7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows (2016)
After six theatrical motion pictures, Out of the Shadows finally gave TMNT fans the movie they’ve always said they wanted – so naturally, everybody called it a massive turd of a motion picture and demanded the reels be burned in effigy.
Marking the first live-action motion picture appearance of heavies Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady, Out of the Shadows is essentially a live-action version of the old 1980s cartoon, and as such is filled to the brim with corny humor and plenty of CGI-assisted kung fu nonsense. While the movie does hit some snags here and there, for the most part it’s an entertaining, well-paced action romp with surprisingly decent character development and an unexpectedly solid ensemble cast (who would have thought Tyler Perry would actually be convincing as Baxter Stockman?)
Alas, despite giving the faithful what they’ve been clamoring for for ages, the Internet reaction against the film was severe, with many viewers lambasting it for its superficial plot holes (most notably, the inclusion of a solar-powered van that somehow manages to work despite never leaving the sewers.) I suppose Out of the Shadows is further proof that you just can’t make all the people happy all the time – ESPECIALLY when you think you’ve given fans everything they could ask for.