The Summer Superhero Season (So Far)
To celebrate the official start of summer, here are my thoughts on the superhero movie season so far.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (★★★★★)
After The Avengers made 48 billion dollars (give or take), I looked down the road at what Marvel had planned for Phase 2 and ranked everything according to interest. CA:TWS was dead last, taking a back seat to Thor, Iron Man, and even the newcomer, Guardians of the Galaxy. It's not that I disliked Cap as a character, it's just that the first movie didn't leave a great lasting impression. Good, but not great.
Then came the first TWS trailer. YOWZA. Cap already felt different in the hands of the Russo brothers--two guys whose reputation was built on comedies. The action looked tight, the music was great, and the tone was something I wasn't expecting from a Cap movie. After finally getting to see the thing at a screening in March, I couldn't get home fast enough to shout its praises to the Internet. The Russos took what could have been a safe, boring, run-of-the-mill superhero story and turned it into an exciting, brutal, layered political thriller that just happened to have a superhero in it.
Cap and Superman both have the same lingering issue in their movies, and that's trying to make the audience give a damn about a squeaky clean boy scout character. Chris Evans, along with the TWS writers, managed to break this curse by showing his struggle to reconcile a black and white world view with the shades of gray the modern world has become. You can sense the change in him by the end, and that's what sets this movie apart. Yes, the action scenes are phenomenal (seriously, I think my ribs break every time I see Cap slam his knee into Winter Soldier's chest), but it's the character moments that really push it past its competitors.
Evans now owns the role of Cap just like Robert Downey, Jr. owns Iron Man and Chris Hemsworth owns Thor. I expected CA:TWS to rank somewhere around the original Thor in the middle of my all-time favorite superhero movie list. In the end, it's neck and neck with The Dark Knight for second place, and The Avengers shouldn't get too comfortable at #1. When I see this movie again on Blu-ray, I might have a new champ.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 (★★)
You have no idea how painful it is for me to only put two stars beside a Spider-Man movie title. Spidey is my favorite character from the comics, and even after the mediocre Amazing Spider-Man, I was optimistic about what the sequel might bring.
Holy shit was I wrong.
First of all, someone at Sony needs to take away Avi Arad's right to make a decision about anything. He looked at the success of Marvel Studios and thought he could recreate it at Sony by turning Spider-Man's movies into a sprawling interconnected universe. The problem with that is that Spider-Man is the only hero they have the rights to. How do they get around that unfortunate handicap? Focus on the villains! Brilliant. "Who doesn't want to see a movie centered around the likes of Rhino, Doc Ock, and Vulture?" Arad asks. Pretty much everyone, the Internet answers.
ASM2 fails on just about every front, and it all goes back to the decision to focus on the villains. It doesn't help that Marc Webb seems to have graduated from the Joel Schumacher School of Camp. The plot was nonsense, the editing was scattershot, and the one thing the movie had going for it--a trio of good actors in Garfield, Stone, and DeHaan--was buried under scene after scene of cringe-worthy dialog. "He can do everything a spider can!" DeHaan screams with an admirable attempt at sincerity. I couldn't press my face any harder into my hands.
All you need to know is that this movie features Electro playing Itsy Bitsy Spider on a string of transformers during the final fight. Wars have been fought over less.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (★★★½)
So we go from the best superhero movie in years, to the worst, to one that sits squarely in the middle. It still feels to me like Fox is trying to recover from the thunderous turd that was Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand. That shit smear nearly doomed the X-Men franchise back in 2006. They washed most of the skid marks out with X-Men: First Class, but it was on DOFP's shoulders to truly rescue it from the toilet. I've run out of dookie metaphors, so let's just say that it succeeded. Mostly.
Like First Class, DOFP works best when Magneto and Xavier are on screen. Wolverine was a nice addition, but Jackman's character has to play the part of diplomat this time around, and a diplomatic Wolverine is a boring Wolverine. Since the movie centers around time travel, we get a lot of the X-Men's future mixed in with scenes of X-Men past. It was nice to see some of the old guard back (except Rogue, who was criminally underused), and I liked the FC mutants better this time around, but time travel stories are usually plagued with plot holes and this movie was no different. I understand why they had to use it--to reset the screwed-up X-Men franchise timeline--but I think it could've been handled better.
Despite its flaws, DOFP was easily the best X-Men movie since the first two. Now that we're past the obligatory franchise reset, it'll be neat to see the mix of old and new cast members for X-Men: Apocalypse in 2016.
And please, Fox, even though it's probably a long shot since she signed up for Star Wars, do whatever you have to do to get Lupita Nyong'o to play Storm. It's all I want for Christmas.
Still to come: Guardians of the Galaxy
Things I am a sucker for: superheroes, space stuff, and smartassy humor. Guess what the top three ingredients in a Guardians story are? Yep.
It's tough for me to keep my expectations in check for this one, mang. I want it to succeed, if only so studios will feel easier about making more of this type of stuff in years to come. I mean, how could this movie not be great? Look at this trailer. LOOK AT IT.
The future of cosmic superheroe movies is in your hands, James Gunn. No pressure!