5. Man Of Steel
The most controversial entry here? You bet your goddamn ass it is. But there’s no doubt that this is one of the best movies in the superhero business. The movie is a clear eyed and somber look at the hero, but one that is still a very optimistic look at the hero despite with the sheeple on the internet like the think it is. This is not muder happy Superman, this isn’t a Superman that hates being a hero.
How anyone can think this Superman is a reckless maniac clearly hasn’t watched the movie or hasn’t truly allowed themselves to engage with the movie, seeing as how Clark Kent can’t stay in one spot because he can’t help himself. He has to save people. Nor is this Clark reckless, as he does what he can to save people in the midst of a fight, but this is a man who has never been in a real fight going up against multiple foes with the same powers but who are trained killers.
So if he may not be the perfect Superman on the first fight in the tights, so be it. It’s a real nitpicky way to criticize a movie, especially when it shows more about you than it does about the movie. One of the most interesting things this movie does is go against the traditional Superman lore of him being indebted to his fathers for who he is.
This Clark has two fathers trying to shape him into being what really isn’t Superman, but he was born with an innate goodness and heroism inside of him. So he goes against his isolationist father on Earth, and he goes against his Krypton first father. We watch this inherently good man deal with an Earth that is too fearful to accept him but who risks it all to save them. It’s powerful stuff, the comic book equivalent of The Last Temptation of Christ in many ways.
Zack Snyder delivers his best movie here, an action classic that delivers on all fronts. The fight in Smallville is great, and the movie hits a new gear when the world engine is revealed. Snyder is the first man to really nail how powerful and destructive these beings are, and when they fight the world crumbles around them.
As for the controversial killing of Zod? It works. It’s a thematic moment, the final remnant of Krypton left and Clark has to snuff it out to protect his true home. It’s a moment where he learns he has to be better than he was here, that he can’t allow people to die again. This is the moment where he becomes Superman and no one should feel afraid of monsters anymore.
Engage with the movie on its own terms and not that it isn’t a new Christoper Reeve movie. It’s a great movie, one wrapped up in a gorgeous package that is detailed with a truly iconic score by Hans Zimmer. It’s a great movie, no questions about it.
4. Iron Man 3
Shane Black was not the person you would expect to helm the third entry into a franchise that costs 9 figures each time out. He was a small pulp movie filmmaker and this seemed like a weird idea initially. But he delivered what is the best MCU movie to date and is truly rich and rewatchable. Building off elements laid out in Avengers without ever being beholden to that last movie, it follows Tony as he deals with severe PTSD after the Battle of NY.
A super narcissist like him being thrust into a battle that shows he is nowhere near the greatest entity in the universe is truly destructive to his mind, and he is a wreck. Cooped up in his house and building new suits obsessively, he is not the hero he should be. But when a new terrorist cell headed up by a man named The Mandarin comes to play and hurts his friend Happy, he comes out of his shell and invites a world of hell down around his head.
The movie strips Tony down and he is without a suit for most of the movie. It’s a Shane Black play, taking his heroes and breaking them to build them back up. He also turns the movie into another mystery conspiracy thriller he likes to build, with a good dash of buddy cop stuff thrown in throughout. He adds a kid to the mix, but not with the typical blockbuster business. Tony is an asshole throughout as a way to highlight how broken he is, but he’s trying.
What makes this movie, outside of Blacks usual comedic mastery, is the twist. Yes, the twist that The Mandarin isn’t actually the Mandarin but is an actor meant to scare people. He’s just the face of the terror cell and it is brilliant. It works as a look at the real world, terror cells needing a face to be taken seriously, but it’s also a meta look at Marvel movies themselves.
They constantly use villains from the books but do them wrong, essentially just being those villains in name only. Which is what this movie does, and it’s brilliant. The execution is masterful. The ending is great as well, one of the few movies that Marvel has where the action is great, with Black utilizing all the suits to make a wild climax with Tony jumping from suit to suit to make a bonanza of mayhem.
Everything here is done perfectly. It’s the perfect movie to make with Iron Man after the events of Avengers. It’s the perfect movie to show that things are going to be different and there will be room for filmmakers to come in and make a movie that fits into the world while still making a movie that contains their voice. Iron Man 3 is champion in the MCU. One of the most immensely watchable movies in their stable and in all of superherodom.
3. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
The first Hellboy was good. A solid little movie that was fun to watch. But it lacked a special something. It didn’t feel fully like Guillermo’s voice was inside of it. Like it was too indebted to Mignola’s work to be truly Guillermo. But with this sequel, that wasn’t exactly guaranteed, Guillermo went full Del Toro. This is all him. It’s a gothic fairy tale with imagination out the ass production design that could only come from him. It’s just a beautiful movie. One that takes some real risks and, as he did on Blade II, adds some complexity to the plot.
The bad guy isn’t completely in the wrong here, but is such an asshole about it that he has to be stopped. But to stop him would kill his sister, who is good and who is also in love with Abe Sapien. There’s Hellboy’s relationship with Liz, which is a little rough at the moment as Hellboy is still an immature clown. But when Liz finds out she’s pregnant, the relationship hits some new levels as Liz has to make a deal with a dark figure to save Hellboys life.
It’s a perfect movie from start to finish, but the highlight has to be the troll market. It’s so rife with imaginative creature designs, all done practically, that it’s overwhelming. It feels so real and alive that it’s transformative, similar in a way to the Cantina scene in the original Star Wars. A true joy from frame one, it’s a damn shame that Guillermo wasn’t allowed to finish his trilogy here.
The Unforgiven of superhero cinema. It’s truly unthinkable that this movie exists, and that it exists within the realm of the massively underserved X-Men franchise at Fox. The series has always been mishandled, and while they sometimes overcame those problems, something so perfect and challenging and adult to come from that environment is wild. Deadpool may have kickstarted a new trend that allows R rated superhero movies, but Logan couldn’t be predicted.
This is everything that Deadpool isn’t. Grown up and mature and smart and thematically rich and brutal and emotional. It’s a perfect movie and it’s a perfect send off to Hugh Jackman as Logan. James Mangold came in and delivered a masterpiece. It’s many things at once. A look at a good man broken by time, a look at legacy, at becoming a father, at mortality.
It’s all thrown into a mix that is Unforgiven and Mad Max while being it’s own thing. Immeasurably brutal physically and emotionally. It’s a movie that put’s its characters through the wringer and the audience, so by the time the movie ends we are just exhausted at the horrors these people went through.
One of the most interesting things this movies does is forgo any big villain, choosing to go with three smaller villains that represent the horribly inhuman nature of corporate America. There’s Boyd Holbrook as Donald The Ravager, the strong arm aspect of these companies who will destroy without second thought. There’s Richard E. Grant as Dr. Rice, the brain that gives these companies the inhuman ideas that fills their pockets.
Then there’s the logical end point for Logan and the apex of the companies inhumanity, the Clone of Logan. It’s the choice they make that puts into motion the entire plot to kill off a bunch of children, a being lacking in all humanity. It’s corporations desire to strip humanity out of all reaches of life made literal. And for this to be the ultimate foe for Logan is perfect, as it means that Logan has to die for his progeny to live by fighting what he was made to be. He’s fighting his past. He’s showing her she doesn’t have to be what she was made to be.
It’s a heartbreaking ending that ties it all together and gives Logan the proper ending, dying with his daughter holding his hand, at peace for once in his life. Every single thing here is perfect and ties together to form a movie where every piece enriches the themes, all in a package that can be enjoyed simply on the surface. Given time, this may very well be the number one on this list. But for now, it isn’t.
1. The Dark Knight
This movie changed cinema forever. There’s no denying it. Superhero cinema became the priority after this. The Academy awards changed their nomination process after this was snubbed at the Oscars for Best Picture, with Heath Ledger even winning Best Supporting Actor posthumously. It was the movie that showed these movies can be something more that popcorn flash, they could be rich with ideas and adult themes.
A mixture of blockbuster entertainment and arty intellectualism, this movie is perfection. It is a blockbuster in the mold of Jaws or Star Wars, its impact being felt immediately thanks to its perfection. Nolan came in and immediately blew the doors off his prior work with the Bat, doing his own thing that feels in line with the last one. It’s a massive step up in every way.
Continuing the idea of escalation he set up in Batman Begins while adding in a look at current day War On Terror, this movie is heady without being boring or pretension. It all fits and flows perfectly, every element feeding into each other to heighten the thematic work being done.
The Joker is the best villain of all time, and for two reasons. One, Heath Ledgers work is insane here. It’s next level scary and intimidating. Two, his chaotic and nihilistic ways fit perfectly into the war on terror analogy. Pitting Batman, a character all about order, against a character so dead set on chaos is fitting.
To then compare it to terrorism and how Joker represents the mayhem that can be unleashed by terrorism and how Batman takes extreme right wing measures to try and stop him but fails is genius, a real swipe at the Patriot Act. And while Nolan has taken some lumps as an action director, the action here is a big jump up and wonderfully exhilarating. The truck chase is a blockbuster classic and builds and builds to that perfect ending point where the truck flips. Making a Batman movie where Batman fails is ballsy, really looking at his tactics and showing that there may be a better way.
We all know this movie is the best. There may be a rallying cry these days that all comic book movies need to be light and kid friendly, but that idea is patently absurd. There’s room for all tones here and The Dark Knight proves that. It’s the best there is and no amount of kiddie pandering humor wouldn’t make it better.
Author Bio: Tom Lorenzo is from Long Island, he’s NY’s most preeminent pop culture fanatic. If it’s a western or a horror movie, he wants to see it. No argument is too minuscule or flawed for him to go full force with.