“Let’s face it—this is not the worst thing you’ve caught me doing.”
It’s hard to imagine this time, but superhero movies used to be, well, pretty terrible. DC Comics franchises had a surprise hit in 2005 with Batman Begins, but Marvel Comics franchises had been mediocre at best. We had the X-Men movies, and the Spider Man movies, and a few oddballs like 2003’s Hulk and Daredevil. Each of these had problems. Lower budgets meant special effects suffered in places where they really shouldn’t have suffered. Characters were often shallow, and the acting matched. The direction of the movies gave them this larger-than-life feeling that felt far removed from what we saw everyday. What we needed was a down-to-earth, relatable hero, played by a charming actor or actress, placed into extraordinary circumstances with a special effects budget to match. In 2008, Iron Man finally delivered.
Directed by Jon Favreau (Elf, The Jungle Book) and starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jeff Bridges, this was a surprise hit for many reasons. Of course the track record for Marvel-franchise movies was bad, but director Jon Favreau hadn’t directed anything like Iron Man before; star Robert Downey Jr. had been in and out of rehab and wasn’t known as a reliable actor; and the character of Tony Stark was very different than the heroes we had seen in film thus far: arrogant and full of vices. But Iron Man worked better than I think any of us were expecting it to, introducing viewers to the now hugely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, which pulls in hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Comic book movies had, up until this point, been mainly for die-hard comic book fans, but this film opened up the genre to general audiences and opened the door for some of the amazing movies we’re getting today.
“Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
2008 was a good year for superhero films. Iron Man put the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the map, and The Incredible Hulk followed later that year; Hellboy II was a surprise hit; we even got Hancock, an interesting take on the superhero genre (even though it wasn’t that good). But The Dark Knight came along and it made the rest of these films look like child’s play. Best superhero movie of all time is a hotly debated title now, but back in 2008, The Dark Knight was the undisputed winner. Directed by Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar) and starring Christian Bale and Heath Ledger, this is a smart crime film and a competent action film in addition to a superb superhero film, and it, along with Iron Man, showed the world that superhero movies could have an appeal beyond comic book fans, being artful blockbusters in their own right. This is a brilliant entry in the superhero genre and it will be remembered as one of its great classics.
“In the real world, people die, and no self-promoting asshole in a fucking leotard can stop this.”
If you were to go back to the year 2000, when the first X-Men movie came out, and tell me that one of the best character studies I would ever see would be about Wolverine, I would have laughed in your face. Since then, we’ve had movies like The Dark Knight and Iron Man 3 that have brought their lead characters and the genre to new levels of depth. These paved the way for Logan, a deep and moving story about the complex character of Logan, better known as the Wolverine. Directed by James Mangold (Walk the Line, Girl Interrupted) and starring Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen, and Patrick Stewart, Logan is more of a drama than a superhero film, although it will satisfy both audiences. It sets a new standard of writing for the superhero genre, and I’m excited to see what films follow in its wake.
“You said it, bitch. We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Guardians of the Galaxy, directed by James Gunn (Super) and starring Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, and Zoe Saldana, was a risky movie to make, especially for the budget Marvel Studios gave it: $170 million. Gunn, the director, had no major successes and only one movie to his name, and Pratt, the main star, was untested as an action hero. The source material, the Guardians of the Galaxy from Marvel Comics, was a relatively unknown franchise. Did the risk pay off? Yes. It paid off in a big way.