This is a genre that has seen much activity in recent times. The Spidey movies, Chris Nolan’s reboot of the Batman franchise, all the other Marvel comics adaptations… It is also a genre I am very fond of. So here are my six favourite superhero movies:
6. Superman: Much of the credit for this movie’s charm goes to Gene Hackman’s splendid performance as Lex Luthor, and the chemistry between Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. The only real weak link is the ending, where Superman turns back time. This would’ve been a laughable idea even in H. G. Wells’ time. To do it in a movie in the second half of the twentieth century, and so crudely at that, is downright criminal.
5. Hellboy: An unlikely-looking hero, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, and a wonderful performance from Ron Perlman in the title role. Listening to him say ‘Oh, crap!” is a singular pleasure.
4. The Matrix: I know this doesn’t qualify as a superhero movie in most people’s opinion, but I think it’s a way of seeing it. Outside the Matrix, there’s little for Neo to do except fly around in a grungy-looking spaceship and try and find a private corner to indulge in some serious necking with Trinity. Inside the Matrix, he is a man who has the potential to have superpowers. The fact that all it takes is the power of the mind (“There is no spoon”) does not necessarily disqualify it from this category.
Aside: Another movie that treads a similar path in that it deals with a “mental” superpower is Alex Proyas’ Dark City. Visually, this movie is a remarkable achievement: science fiction that looks like film noir is not an easy trick to pull off. It belongs on a list of visual masterpieces, but as a superhero movie, it falls a mite short of the mark. It would’ve easily made the Top 10, though.
3. Spider-Man 2: Spidey’s superpower, when it comes to box office receipts, doesn’t come from the spider that bit him. It comes from Peter Parker. The man in the mask flying around the city is interesting because the man behind it is interesting. This is what made Spider-man such a bit hit. The sequel does one better: it keeps the human element intact, and manages to get the CGI and the action sequences right as well. Besides, Doc Ock is more effective in getting our sympathy than the Green Goblin was. Alas,the makers overdid it in the third installmentand veered into Yash Chopra territory. Pity.
2. Batman Begins: Kind of an obvious choice, don’t you think? Finally, Christopher Nolan broke away from the rubber and latex fetish that dominated Tim Burton’s Batman movies and concentrated on Bruce Wayne. Christian Bale proved to be a good Batman, and the comforting presence of veterans such as Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman made this an immensely satisfying watch.
1. Unbreakable: This choice might surprise some. But here’s what I really liked about the movie: It regarded the superhero story from the point of view of an ordinary man. Outside of Hellboy, my other choices have also been about that. But this movie, I felt, did it best. It took its time, didn’t worry about action set-pieces, and looked inward. I didn’t think the “surprise” ending really worked as well as it did with The Sixth Sense, but I wasn’t too disappointed. The movie’s payoff wasn’t in the ending.
Since we’re on the topic of superheros, before I sign off, let me quote one of my favourite passages, from Kill Bill Vol. 2:
Bill: As you know, l’m quite keen on comic books. Especially the ones about superheroes. I find the whole mythology surrounding superheroes fascinating. Take my favorite superhero, Superman. Not a great comic book. Not particularly well-drawn. But the mythology… The mythology is not only great, it’s unique. Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He’s weak… he’s unsure of himself… he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race. Sorta like Beatrix Kiddo and Mrs. Tommy Plimpton.