Since the beginning of their renaissance over the past decade, superhero movies have quickly become some of the most profitable and popular films that are looked forward to by audiences every year. It seems each year sees one or two big blockbuster superhero films that break box office records and receive rave reviews from critics.
We are a little over halfway through 2017 and upcoming superhero films like the highly anticipated Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok have yet to be released. But even with this in mind, there have still been a number of superhero films released this year that vie for both audience attention and positive critical reviews. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the five big superhero films that have been released so far this year and see how they stack up against each other.
5. Power Rangers
How did the cheesy franchised kid’s superhero show Mighty Morphin Power Rangers from the 90’s, imported from the Japanese show Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger and Americanized for the viewer’s convenience, become a major motion picture with a $100 million budget over 20 years after it went off the air in the US? Good question, but a mixture of nostalgia and film company’s desire to cash in on its audience’s nostalgia is most likely the answer.
But despite the film’s efforts to update the concept to the 21st century, including incorporating members of the LGBTQ and autistic community to be part of the Rangers, the film struggled to perform at the box office. Part of the problem is that it lacked the campy quality the original series had, which held much of its appeal to Western audiences.
Another problem was tone: oscillating between being silly and being serious, Power Rangers never seemed to land on either, instead making the film tonally confusing to the audience. While it’s a fun enough film to watch, there is also little for the original fans of the series–now approaching middle age–to grab onto, while their children would be confused why they should care one way or the other.
A box office disappointment, Power Rangers recouped $144 million on its large budget, and not including marketing costs it most certainly lost money for its studio. Easily the weakest of the superhero movies to come out this year, Power Rangers probably won’t be the tentpole for a franchise its creators were hoping for.
4. The Lego Batman Movie
Look: this is a children’s movie, but for a children’s movie it’s a lot of fun. Written and produced by the same team that made The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie is a surprisingly good adaptation of the familiar Batman characters while also working as a fun kids movie.
Will Arnett reprises his role from The Lego Movie voicing Batman, while comedian Zach Galifianakis voices The Joker and Michael Cera is weirdly appropriate as Robin. In fact, the voice cast overall is stellar, with Rosario Dawson as Batgirl, Ralph Fiennes as Alfred, Jenny Slate as Harley Quinn, and maybe a dozen other recognizable voices appearing throughout the film.
Is this a straightforward superhero film? Of course not: it’s a pop culture reference-heavy film that never plays it straight. And it’s a lot of fun. Parents and older viewers will enjoy the clever references that most kids would never catch while it’s appropriate for children. Further, it’s a great way to introduce kids to characters like Batman without having to show them much darker and more violent content. At the very least, it’s a lot better than Power Rangers.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Just when you thought the follow-up to the mega-popular Guardians of the Galaxy would suffer from the sophomore slump, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 came out and put those fears to rest. Retaining the same fun and lighthearted tone as the first film while also advancing the story and adding some heart, GotG Vol. 2 is a follow-up that’s actually worth a damn.
Our goofy hero Star-Lord and his merry band of misfits have just pulled off their latest heist, but Rocket Raccoon puts them all in danger by pilfering some of the goods they were supposed to deliver. This sends Yondu towards Star-Lord and his team to capture them and bring the stolen goods back to their not-so-rightful owner.
Meanwhile, Star-Lord gets the shock of a lifetime when he meets his father, the god-like alien Ego the Living Planet (played in a brilliant casting choice by Kurt Russell), who at first seems sincere in reconnecting with his son but has ulterior motives.
Fun, smart, and more than a little silly, it seems the filmmakers realized what people liked about the first film and did the right thing by not changing any of these elements. Instead, GotG Vol. 2 delivers exactly what fans of the first film wanted in a sequel. And for that, fans were thankful: the film was a box office hit and insured that further adventures by this ragtag group of somewhat heroes will continue.
You know that Wolverine movie that every fan of the character has been wanting for decades? Somehow, they got it–in the most unexpected way possible. Logan is set in a disastrous future, where most mutants have been bred out of existence and the few that are left are being actively hunted.
Professor X is still alive and being protected by Wolverine, AKA Logan, but he has been publicly disgraced since his degenerating mental condition had accidentally led to scores of deaths. It’s possibly the darkest film in the X-Men franchise, and appropriately enough it centers on Logan, the conflicted, angry, and alienated figure that both represents all that mutants are and the human side they also still have.
Logan meets a young girl who seems to have similar powers as him and finds out she was developed from a program by the government to make mutants they can control–and, in essence, she’s his daughter. What follows is a journey across America to try and deliver her to a safe zone before agents find them and destroy her, as well as a fittingly dark and ultimately tragic end to the story of both the X-Men and Wolverine.
Shot with purpose and intensity, Logan is a superhero film that elevates itself from the common pedestrian directing these films tend to fall into and instead becomes a memorable film in its own right. To experience the full effect of its artistry, track down the black-and-white version that was briefly released: the artistry and mood set by the cinematography is even more evident. It was the best superhero film of 2017 until June 2nd, when…
1. Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman was released on June 2, and it has shown no signs of slowing down. Now in its fourth week of release, it has cracked the Top 10 of best fourth-week box office returns of all time, having made $330 million domestically and $653 million worldwide so far. And there’s a good reason why: it’s a fantastic movie.
In fact, it’s one of the stronger modern superhero films released so far. While The Avengers series is great, there are so many superheroes in that film that if one section doesn’t work, there’s a good chance the next one will. But for a superhero film focused solely on one character, Wonder Woman does a stellar job making its character an interesting, well-written, and actually heroic character.
Unlike Batman, who does his business because of a psychological compulsion and aided by his deep pockets, or Superman, who is a nigh invincible alien and it’s either that or working at his stupid reporter job full-time, Wonder Woman is urged on by her iron code of ethics and compassion for people. It makes her character not just interesting, but actually heroic.
When she runs across the no man’s zone between two trenches in World War I, she has no idea whether she’ll survive–she does it because there are people in trouble and she is compelled to try and save them. If not succeed, at least try to–and to do it without flinching once at the potential death that such an action may result in.
About World War I: it was a brilliant idea to set the film in the past. It makes it both foreign but familiar to modern audiences and serves as a period piece as much an action movie. Besides that, it also sets the film in a conflict literally a century old that still most of the world can relate to because, well, most of the Western world was directly involved in it. This colors the film in a unique way and gives it a character that it would otherwise lack without this period setting.
There is a lot more to write about how and why this film is a superb superhero film, but between its excellent character motivation, historical setting, and Gal Gadot’s solid performance that makes a believable and interesting superhero despite being an otherworldly figure detached from humanity, Wonder Woman reigns supreme at the box office for good reason: because it’s the best superhero movie of 2017 (so far).
Author’s bio: Mike Gray is a writer and academic. His work has appeared on Cracked and Funny or Die and he maintains a TV and film blog at mikegraymikegray.wordpress.com.