Once upon a time, Marvel-based movies were mighty hard to come by; they were something dreamed about on message boards and wished for in fan magazines. Now, they're a fact of yearly movie-going existence and, considering how we're looking forward to no less than three of them this summer (a once-inconceivable number!) I figured it was a good time to reflect on my three favorites so far...
The bone I often have to pick with most action-adventure movies these days is the credibility of the hero and the villain. I can easily suspend my disbelief over any amount of fantasy, but I simply can’t buy a lead who doesn’t have the build or the steely intensity to make me believe, with no uncertainty, that he wouldn’t hesitate to kick my ass. Following that, the heavy needs to be genuinely threatening or, at least, evil enough for me to absolutely relish the scene where he finally gets his comeuppance. BLADE’s the movie that started this renaissance and for good reason. It stands strong today as one of the most bad ass action movies ever because Snipes is just on the whole time. When he takes down the vampire goons, it’s brutal, nasty and efficient. On the other end, Stephen Dorff’s re-envisioned vampire yuppie Deacon Frost lays on the scummy-ness so wonderfully thick that you can’t help but pump your fist when Blade lectures him about ice-skating at the end before finishing him off.
I also dig that this unapologetically embraces how hollow Blade would actually be in the circumstances. Trained from his wretched misbegotten birth to hate vampires almost pathologically (and to hate himself by extension,) there’s literally nothing except cold, persistent vengeance in his life. Some people look at the romantic sub-plot in this as being underdeveloped, but I think it’s an unusually honest treatment of that traditional “falling for the tall dark stranger” trope. Outside of the sexually-charged blood drinking scene at the climax, there’s not much affection between Blade and Dr. Karen Wright because there's really no capacity for that stuff in him. == TEASER ==
Doc Ock's a little silly and the digital stunt doubles looked weird even in '04, but this flick’s the best case of a Marvel movie that's more like a drama incidentally about superheroes. Secret identities have been interpreted through countless metaphors, but few have hit home as applicably as this has for me. You can’t help but feel for a kid whose struggling to reconcile the disparate spheres of his life; whose sense of personal responsibility spreads him so thin that’s he’s denying himself basic human needs. I remember how frustrated viewers were about the first movie's ending where Peter resists every natural urge in himself and walks away from MJ for fear of putting her in danger again. This flick picks up that arc up and offers a fitting answer to an age-old superhoic dilemma in superheroes as Pete and MJ realize that repressing their feelings is just as terrible a fate as getting dropped off a bridge.
Obviously, this is on the exact opposite spectrum of BLADE. The most powerful scene doesn’t involve Spidey swinging over New York or brawling with Doc Ock: it’s the emotionally-honest dinner table conversation where he confesses his responsibility in Uncle Ben’s death to Aunt May. Watch Tobey Maguire’s eyes there and you can just see the years of unsaid guilt that’ve been eating him up inside. Superheroes are so often understood to be role models, but few of the stories about them can extoll messages that relate as directly to your real life as this does. Being honest about your feelings or about something wrong you've done can take just as much courage as knocking out some super-villain’s solar doom machine can - - that's a fabler theme that a rare number of movies, superhero or otherwise, have pulled off as touchingly.
I dig the first three movies (yes, even THE LAST STAND. Lighten up.) but this still impresses me for how tight it is. The pacing's lean, there aren’t any loose plot threads left dangling at the conclusion and no unnecessary appendages have been kept on for misguided purist reasons. Considering how notoriously-convoluted the X-Mythos can get, it's damn near amazing how Singer's crew was able to make this accessible while still capturing 40 odds years of history and revisions. By centering a very Western style plot on Wolverine and Rogue's begrudging kinship as nomads, new viewers got handy guides into this world that didn't make everybody want to roll their eyes the way that most "entry-level characters" do and veteran fans got to see familiar territory with a fresh set of eyes. Indeed, I consider this to be the true ULTIMATE X-MEN and it's still a really liberating novelty to see Wolverine act as rude as always made out to be in the comics, but never really allowed to be.
As always, this whole article is but an invitation for all you maniacs to post your own favorites.