Ok it’s summer superhero blockbuster time again. And yes, I know that in the northern hemisphere, we’re barely into spring but hey, Captain America came early (sorry, Cap!) and the annual rollercoaster has officially started. Pretty soon, we’ll be webslinging with Spiderman, mutating with the X-Men, and guarding the galaxy with, well, the Guardians of the Galaxy. But for the true geek, three movies are barely enough to get through to lunchtime and, as ever, we must turn to past films to prolong our fix.
You could argue that the 21st century is when superhero movies finally became worth seeing (or maybe ’98 or ’99, before fans of Blade and the first Bryan Singer X-Men flick get upset). After all, go back any further and special effects and CGI weren’t really up to the job of translating comic book panels to the screen. Sure, they may have a place in our nerdy hearts, but Matt Salinger as Captain America? And Richard Donner’s 70s Superman films? They may have achieved cult status (and yes, we all love Christopher Reeve) but come on… Dark Knight it wasn’t. Hell, it wasn’t even Man of Steel.
So, everything produced since 1998 has been great, yes? Well, no, not really. In among the likes of Iron Man and The Avengers, there’s been a lot of critical panning and fan disappointment reserved for other efforts. And this is where I’m headed. I think we may have judged a little harshly and some of the ‘disappointments’ are worth a revisit. Lower your expectations, adjust your criteria and prepare to enjoy them the second time around…
Okay, it’s not dark, it’s not gritty, the character arcs are non-existent but apart from Julian MacMahon as Victor von Doom (the guy from the plastic surgery show?) it works as a bit of fun so long as you don’t expect too much. Think of it as your summer girl/boyfriend and “Flame on!”
Boy, did this get panned! But adjust your reception, tune in to the fact that it’s just goofy, over the top, hammy fun and once you’re on that wavelength, I guarantee there’s some viewing pleasure here: the visuals are straight out of Sin City (while we’re interminably waiting for that sequel), it includes Scarlett Johansson and Eva Mendes, and Samuel L. Jackson looks like he’s having the time of his life; Nazi dentist, anyone?
Again, stop looking for plot (trust me, it’s so full of holes there isn’t one). Sure, Nicolas Cage is the worst piece of casting since Sly Stallone played Judge Dredd but get past that and his performance becomes strangely and manically compelling; kind of like an onscreen psychotic episode (he gets worse in the sequel). Besides, Peter Fonda is the devil – enough said.
Yes, the Ang Lee one. No, it’s not faithful to the comics. Yes, Eric Bana looks perpetually confused. But… there’s a slightly more artistic aesthetic at work here. Stop trying to make it fit in with the rest of the Marvel Universe; just relax and you might even enjoy it. And once again, it’s the villain who makes it: as you’d expect, Nick Nolte is the perfect broken, vengeful father (who wants to destroy the world).
Ben Affleck subsequently described the experience as “humiliating” but I guess they offered him so much money for the forthcoming Superman/Batman crossover that he’s prepared to force down another slice of humiliation pie and don the spandex a second time. But really, the only reason the DD movie failed is that he’s kind of a poor man’s Batman in the first place and nobody outside of Marvel fandom knew who he was (oh, and Jennifer Garner was an awful Elektra). But… Colin Farrell? Best. Performance. Ever.
Oh, and to give DC another nod, Green Lantern wasn’t really so bad either, was it?