Competition: DRM Babelfish and other Classic Companions
Review Round-up: Secret Histories

Five and a Half Superhero Films (almost)

BatmanFancyIt's Friday, it's gorgeous out (I just popped up to the 16th floor on a boring errand and wound up spending five minutes gaping at a hazy early-morning London), and I've got a full pot of coffee to keep me going.

So let's talk about superhero films! Good ones, bad ones, and very in-between ones, superhero films delight and perplex and awe and disappoint, often simultaneously. We live in an era chock-full of 'em, arguably kicked off by 2000's X-Men but, more likely, the result of the runaway success of 2002's Spider-Man.

Twelve years and eleventy-billion dollars later, both Spider-Man and X-Men have been rebooted (if you consider First Class a reboot, which I think I do); Iron Man has revitalized Robert Downey, Jr's career, and The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises have blown everything ever out of the water ever ever kerzomg etc. I mean, crikey. This genre is serious buisness.

So let's talk about them! Because it's Friday, and why not? I'll list a few opinions about a few superhero films (and, erm, one superhero Saturday morning cartoon), and you all should take profound and noisy issue with me in the comments and on Twitter, because it's Friday, and why not?

1. Batman, The Animated Series: (Not a film! Quelle horreur!) We've written about Batman before, but it always bears repeating - Batman TAS is wonderful. The art, dark and highly stylized, is stunning - and, of course, without Batman TAS we'd never have known how good Mark Hamill is at voice-acting. But it's the storytelling that brings me back to Batman TAS; there's a profound melancholy that underlies the entire series, and that's what sticks in my mind, two decades on.

Edna2. The Incredibles: There's an argument to be made that The Incredibles' subtext is perniciously conservative, but I love the film so much I try to see beyond that. Bonus points for the Connery-era Bond fans out there; the film is stuffed to the gills with Thunderball easter eggs, down to the music cues.

21/2. Spider-Man 2: I... don't like the Spider-Man films much. I don't. I was utterly baffled by the success of the first, and unreservedly disliked the third. But approxmately one half of Spider-Man 2 is wonderful. And it's not the stupid 'Mary-Jane leaves her fiance at the altar' bit, or the 'Harry Osborne spends his time on screen being grumpy' bit, or the 'Peter loses his spidey-stuff and turns into a happy dork' bit, or the 'Peter's Aunt gets mad at Peter...' bit or, well, anything except for the Doc Oc bits. Alfred Molina (who is a national treasure, you guys) takes the thankless and, frankly, sort of ridiculous role of a villain with four  mechanical tentacles grafted onto his back and makes him sympathetic. In a weird way, of course; we are talking about a villain who's schtick is that he... wants to make a bigger version of an experimental technology he already proved was unworkable. Whatever; the entire film rests not on Peter's stupid journey or the stupid love-story with stupid Mary-Jane, or stupid Harry Osborne's stupid stupidity, but instead on that single brilliant moment when Peter reveals his identity to Doc Oc in order to rekindle the last spark of humanity within his broken heart. Near brings me to tears, it does.

3. Iron Man: Jared's going to have a heart-attack when he reads that name, but there it is. I didn't think I'd like Iron Man before I saw it. And I didn't think I liked Iron Man after I saw it. But... I keep seeing it. And every time I see it, I like it better. Of course, as with so many of these, the film is anchored by that strong central performance. But, seriously. Iron Man is such a dude film, you guys, from the dude-rock soundtrack to the dude-wish-fulfilment of the premise to the dude-bucks-the-system plot to the dude-gets-the-hot-girl-sorta-but-also-laid-a-lot of the romantic subplot. And yet. I really like it.

Constantine4. Flash Gordon: It's not a superhero film, you're wailing. And, no, it's not. But it also sorta is. I wrote about Flash Gordon at great and, frankly, awed length last year, so it seems like I couldn't possibly have that much more to say about it. But I always seem to have plenty to say about anything, don't I? Anyway, Flash Gordon follows (or... inspires?) a number of superhero film tropes, although with a commitment to campy weirdness we don't get anymore, in our era of SuperSerious Superdark Superheroes.

5. Constantine: It took me a while to figure out if I thought Constantine was legitimately good or just relatively good - you see, the first time I watched it was right after finishing The Legend of Zorro, which is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. And, of course, Constantine has that one enormous, monotonal strike against it: Keanu Reeves as John Constantine. (Hollywood: stop casting him.) But I watched it again a year or so later and... did, actually, really like it. Then, after several more years of browbeating, I got Jared (who loves Hellblazer and hates Keanu Reeves) to watch it. Prepare yourselves for a shock: he liked it, too.