We are currently living in what many people refer to as a golden age of comic book movies which is good news, as long as you like comic book movies. Our summers are now dominated by characters lifted from the pages of DC or Marvel Comics as well as the lesser known publications and a majority of the time the audience is in general agreement as to whether or not they enjoyed what they just witnessed.
Some such as The Avengers, The Dark Knight and The Winter Soldier are held up as some of the best of their genre and widely celebrated. Others such as Green Lantern, Catwoman and X-Men Origins: Wolverine are widely disliked and regarded as low points of the field. As for Batman and Robin, well let’s not speak about that.
There are a select few however, that split the fans and critics right down the middle. They divide the fan base and are either despised or praised for either being too unfaithful to the source material, untrue to the characters, different in tone or style as well as numerous other reasons. The films on this list are often the cause of debate among fans of the genre as for every person that praises it as a masterpiece (or at the very least an entertaining film) there will be another person who despises it.
I feel like I should write this list regardless of my personal opinions of these movies, I will avoid promoting any one side of the argument concerning any particular film. Also one should bear in mind that regardless of your personal feelings about some of the films listed, whether you love or hate them, you shouldn’t be angered or upset just by the inclusion of a certain film on this list because as the title suggests these are polarizing movies so there is nothing wrong with either loving or hating a particular movie here as that is what makes them polarizing.
1. The Dark Knight Rises
Likes: Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy did a great deal to reinvigorate the franchise and superhero movies in general. The final one was epic in scale and carefully examined the characters emotional and physical limitations. The fact that Nolan made a Batman film where Batman doesn’t actually show up for 45 minutes is rather impressive as many blockbusters are accused of pandering to fans while not pushing or developing any unique ideas or characters.
Nolan’s directing is still on top form, as are most of the cast with Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Gary Oldman all returning to the roles with a sense of progression while remaining true to their core characteristics. Newcomer to the franchise Anne Hathaway nailed the part of Selina Kyle (rather surprisingly) and the majority of the film remains deeply human and character based, focussing on the Bruce Wayne story as its centrepiece. The last act is particularly astonishing as well.
Dislikes: Given that Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were so virtually watertight in their stories it comes as a disappointment that one can spot several plot holes within the sometimes sprawling and contrived story of The Dark Knight Rises that features so many supporting characters that even if they are intriguing they are not on display for long enough. It also lacked the courage to kill off a major character from the previous films and introduce some dramatic tension, with all the major returning characters walking out alive.
Tom Hardy’s performance as Bane has also been highly divisive. When compared to his menacing turn in Bronson, his role here seems relatively tame and uninspired, while it’s rife with dry humour, there’s no savage energy to contrast with it. The multiple plot twists are slightly bizarre as well, with one too many red herrings creating an impression of dragging to story out and to keep the viewer guessing rather than a situation that actually feels real. I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t seen it and want to decide for yourself.
2. The Incredible Hulk
Likes: Following the disappointment of Ang Lee’s 2003 film Hulk this was undoubtedly a huge improvement as the CGI of 2008 was far more advanced and capable to bring the titular character to life, not to mention his super powered adversary Abomination. As a result the fight scenes are more visceral and thrilling as well as being shot with more flair and imagination. Overall the film remains much more true to the original comics that fans loved and lacked the dull nature of the 2003 incarnation.
Edward Norton was also a pedigree actor who was easily able to bring the tortured personality of Bruce Banner to life with a sympathetic performance that evokes empathy easily. The romantic chemistry remains palpable as well as the relations between each character. The film is also more commendable for sidestepping the origin story that we already know and the action scenes are expertly staged.
Dislikes: The film is so afraid of being compared to the 2003 version it steers far away from any thoughtful or contemplative moments that may provide more depth to the story and characters. Most of its runtime seems to be devoted to loud and noisy action scenes that verge on the incomprehensible with excessive use of CGI. The film also lacks the wit and humour of the more impressive Iron Man.
As well as this the film is fairly generic in terms of its plot and in retrospect rather forgettable when compared to other films within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, sometimes coming across as standard at best. Apart from the titular character no one else has great depth or charisma and are reduced to simple accessories to Bruce Banner and the Hulk.
Likes: At the end of the day this film is an exhilarating shootout that drives forward with ferocious energy and pulse pounding insanity. It’s undoubtedly made with a flair of style and ultimately becomes a thrilling ride with an undeniable sense of fun as it races from set piece to set piece, gunfight to gunfight. It’s brutal and over the top but it seems to embrace those attributes with a certain bravado that is hard not to enjoy.
While multiple action films can be branded as being lazily made Wanted can hardly be called a lazy film in terms how it is constructed and executed. Each sequence is directed with a unique visual style that emphasises the kinetic energy of the movie. It’s also filled with high profile actors who are all giving invigorated and enthusiastic performances from James McAvoy to Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie as well as an early movie role for Chris Pratt as some brief comic relief.
Dislikes: While the film is undeniably energetic and hyperactive, one can feel almost bombarded with ridiculous and nonsensical action scenes as well as its preposterously over the top premise and not in a good way as the viewer can become sick and tired of the endless display of noise, violence and meaningless body count. Though some say it embraces its insane tone, some feel that Wanted occasionally takes itself a bit too seriously and doesn’t realise quite how idiotic it is as it attempts to build needless dramatic tension and pointless development that ultimately falls flat.
Fans also take issue with how the film differs from the source material. Mark Millar’s graphic novel is once again a ridiculously over the top display that can be loved or loathed, but it is undeniably unique. The movie on the other hand simply becomes a generic action film in terms of its plot and tone and rather than a satirical comment on the idolisation of super villains (as fans of the novel claim it to be, among other things) it simply feels like the fantasy of an over-excited teenager.
4. Iron Man 3
Likes: Following the departure of John Favreau as director of the franchise, it was up to Shane Black to take the reins of the Iron Man trilogy. He packs the film full of his trademark humour that is almost as entertaining as the action that features some rather spectacular scenes that are enthralling and well directed. As opposed to being a mess of noise and nonsense that it could have been the action remained engaging and enjoyable.
The cast themselves are all doing a great job as well, in particular Robert Downey Jr in the lead role who brings his usual charisma and charm to Tony Stark while also developing the character further, daring to question whether it is the man or the suit that makes the hero by metaphorically and physically. The supporting cast are able to play off of Downey’s performance brilliantly as they are all competent actors that can match his own screen presence.
Dislikes: While an entertaining movie on its own Iron Man 3 doesn’t necessarily fit alongside the other two in terms of its style and tone. In many ways it did feel as if Black used the already established characters to create his own comedy buddy-cop-like movie, shown by some of the odd plot twists that, while acceptable and humorous in that kind of film, do not play as well within a film based on a comic book with characters that audiences already know and love even if they have not featured in a previous film. So as a result it undermines certain aspects of the mythology and history of the Iron Man universe.
Not only that, but even the elements that were borrowed from the comics used sparingly and haphazardly. The Iron Man suits themselves were used in great quantity, but more is not necessarily better as they became almost meaningless, lacking a sense of tension or uniqueness in the suit and almost undermining the films central theme, as in it wants to emphasise that Tony is Iron Man but repeatedly features different people utilizing the suits technology in a highly successful way. It is a knit pick but it also ties in to how the resolution to certain emotional arcs and storylines are rather sudden and rather derivative.
5. The Wolverine
Likes: While almost everyone unanimously despises the 2009 outing for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, his 2013 solo adventure was a welcome improvement. Rather than trying to cram in as many references and needless action scenes as they could, the filmmakers chose to emphasise the character as the central force of the film and focussed primarily on his own state of mind and internal complexities. As a result of placing the spotlight squarely on Wolverine it gives Jackman an opportunity to dominate the screen as the character that has defined his career with good reason.
By actively deconstructing its central character both physically and emotionally by robbing the character of his invulnerability as well as delving into his psychological turmoil the script also gives Jackman a chance to reach into more complex themes in order to portray the character. The action scenes remain visceral and excellently directed as well as a host of new characters to create a deeper but still very entertaining film.
Dislikes: Many comic book fans know that Wolverine and Japan go together very well, with some of the characters most iconic stories having taken place there and while The Wolverine journeys to the Land of the Rising Sun, the cultural embrace feels somewhat superficial and skin deep, represented only by the characters and environment rather than with the actual tone, structure or themes of the film. There is also little impact from the film as it ultimately changes virtually nothing within the X-Men universe, forcing the viewer to conclude it may have been an exercise in futility.
Even if a viewer can enjoy the first two acts of this film, many will argue that things fall apart within the films conclusion and risks derailing the entire film. For such an emphasis on grounded and realistic fight scenes the ultimate showdown is a ludicrously contrived CGI mess that contradicts the sense of realism that permeated the rest of the film and therefore felt very inconsistent. It’s also deeply unsatisfying in terms of scale and features multiple plot twists that come across as artificial and nonsensical above all else.