Ever since Spider-Man and X-Men proved how popular and profitable comic book adaptations can be, the studios have rushed to satiate our demand to watch caped crusaders fight. And this year saw no less than 9 major superhero films hit theatres.
I recently watched this movie, so it’s fresh in my mind, and I’m standing by its place at the very bottom of this list. While this movie was admittedly entertaining (sometimes), it was also pretty damn terrible, by whatever metric you want to judge it.
Aquaman goes for the fish-out-of-water route, by placing a stoner-bro under the sea and surrounding him with grim-faced aqua-people wearing sparkly wetsuits. It’s just as unsettling as watching Joe Rogan enter the world of The Little Mermaid, and nobody but Jason Momoa seems to understand how ridiculous everything is.
What does being King of Atlantis mean? Is Arthur “that was awesome!” Curry going to craft laws? Balance the markets? Delve into oceanic geopolitics? The action sequences might be genuinely impressive, but while painstakingly choreographing those stunts, the story was completely neglected, which makes it difficult to care if Aquaman succeeds.
8. Ant-Man And The Wasp
This is Marvel’s weakest film since Thor 2: The Dark World, with a story that does little but push Ant-Man into a place where he needs to be for Avengers: End Game.
It’s a paint-by-numbers plot with one-liners seemingly crafted by a committee of humorless corporate clowns, and manages to somehow erase the personality of these established characters.
Suddenly, Ant-Man is a complete moron, the Wasp is hyper-efficient and dull, while Hank Pym just … exists. And right when the original Wasp shows up, the film abruptly ends. Next time?
The plot is driving this story rather than the characters, but the film is far from irredeemable – the action sequences are extremely inventive and fun, with the shrinking/growing powers providing an opportunity for unique spectacle.
Not a great entry to the MCU, so it’s lucky they released 3 films this year.
Venom suffers from exactly the same problems as Aquaman and Ant-Man, but the special effects are much poorer, and the action sequences are akin to watching two globs of mucus slap each other. This is made worse by the fact that Venom and his nemesis are the same color, and fight in the dark.
So, why is it slightly better than Ant-Man? Because Tom Hardy and his inner demon are genuinely funny, and their weird bromance carries the entire, terrible film.
Hardy’s crazy charisma pushes through the mediocrity, somehow making you care for his character, wanting him and Venom to be best friends, forever. Even Venom’s personality shines through, despite the creature being hidden away half of the time; he’s like an id hiding inside Eddie, only coming out to wreak havoc and eat heads.
And when the two decide to profess their mutual affection, the moment is oddly touching, and insanely stupid. Kind of the movie in a nutshell.
6. Deadpool 2
This follow-up to Deadpool, the film which brought the superhero genre into the realm of R-rated comedy, is slightly better than the original, but a bit hollow. While the film boasts action sequences that are simultaneously exciting and hilarious, the ending really lets it all down.
Dumb comedies need plots too, and Deadpool 2 was doing so well until the time-travel kicked in and killed the whole point of the film. In Deadpool’s brutal-but-funny world, is it really so hard for death to remain permanent?
Sometimes, humor needs a bit of pathos to balance things out, and Deadpool 2 chickens out when it needed to stick to its guns. It’s definitely an enjoyable movie, but ultimately, forgettable.
5. Teen Titans GO! To The Movies
This animated gem smartly subverts superhero genre tropes without resorting to the crudeness of Deadpool, and explores the (understandable) identity crisis of Robin, nobody’s favorite character.
Robin is the Hawkeye of the DC universe, even in his crew of misfits, and his obsession to be noticed isolates him from his lazy-but-lovable friends.
It’s an adorable adventure that struggles to tell a full feature-film story, but manages to charm, regardless. The Teen Titans’ self-awareness, and their complete lack of incentive to do good in the world is wonderfully refreshing.
These guys aren’t superheroes at all; they’re just a group of lazy kids who happen to have superpowers, but their story is strangely captivating.
4. Black Panther
The biggest film of the year (according to Google’s metrics), Marvel’s first film with a predominantly black cast left a massive cultural impact and changed the superhero genre, in a subtle way.
The unique set and costume design imbued Marvel’s standard sci-fi aesthetic with a colorful coat of Afrofuturism, which helped sell Wakanda as a convincing fantasy world.
While the cultural milestone is important, the real strength of the film lay in the complexity of the central conflict, of tradition vs. modernity, isolationism vs. interference. Those are unusually deep themes, and they birthed a supervillain that was, alarmingly, much more likable than his heroic adversary.
3. Incredibles 2
This film doesn’t quite hit the heights of the original, but it manages to connect the domestic with the fantastic, by pushing Elastigirl into the workplace and Mr. Incredible into the immensely challenging role of full-time parent.
The superhero genre might actually be best suited to animation; as good as the live-action films have become, they can’t quite compete with the scale and visual splendor of the scenes here, where multiple superpowers align in battle, choreographed to perfection.
The villain is a bit lackluster, and Jack-Jack is an adorable deus ex machina, but the film is incredibly entertaining from start to finish, rising well above the majority of this year’s superheroic shenanigans.
The story doesn’t subvert the superhero genre the way the original did (because that was a perfect film), but it explores the challenges that occur when gender roles shift, and highlights the inherent heroism of parenthood.
2. Avengers: Infinity War
With a ten-year build-up, and a ridiculously large cast of characters, I’m still surprised by how this film managed to deliver on the hype. Infinity War had every reason to dissolve into a meaningless CGI-fest, but by turning Thanos into the protagonist, the story managed to shine.
While much of the film is a slug-fest, a desperate attempt to take down the purple ideologue, Thanos’ personal journey, the extent of his personal sacrifice, is really rather interesting. Just like our superheroes, Thanos genuinely strives to do what is right (but oh-so-wrong), and when the credits roll, the epic supervillain relaxing, in victory, makes for a most unusual sight.
But the emotional impact of the big snap is very much undercut by the fact that we know the damage is going to be undone. Disney would probably rather kill Mickey Mouse than Black Panther and Spider-Man, making this unhappy conclusion a temporary tragedy.
1. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
I’m still blown away by this one; after the massive number and variety of superhero films released in the last decade, Sony’s animated Spider-Man reboot manages to carve out a unique identity, to faithfully channel the kinetic energy of comic books.
Boasting a gorgeous art style that seems to combine the best of hand-drawn and computer-generated animation, this story emphasizes the fact that comics always have several universes running parallel to each other, contrasting, overlapping, and fighting for attention.