With the most iconic comic book characters in their stable and a near stranglehold on pop culture heroes for decades, I’d expect DC comics to have a better success record with film. How hard can it be to take characters everyone loves, and wants to love, and bring them to life on the big screen? Apparently very hard.
DC has had some winners. The modern Superhero film is due to them. They did it right, and it changed film history. But then they did it wrong. And did it wrong again and again and again. For every Superman, there’s a pair of Schumacher Batman films and a Catwoman. When I ranked the X-Men films, I could say that a majority were good. When I ranked the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I could say that all of the films were worth your time and money. With DC…
If the best I can say about a film is that you shouldn’t put in an effort to avoid it, then things are looking pretty dark, and that’s as good a recommendation as I can give to two-thirds of these films. When I put Suicide Squad in the top third, this is not me singing the praises of Deadshot and his crew. It is a condemnation of Superman III and Batman Forever and Jonah Hex and Steel.
But it isn’t all bad, and sometimes you can have some fun with the failures. Come on, with the right crowd and a good deal of alcohol, Catwoman is a hoot.
This is a ranking of Superhero movies, so it doesn’t include other comic book properties like The Losers (which would not rank well) or RED (which would be up near the top). It also doesn’t include the DC Animated films–where DC does much better. I’ve already ranked those here. It does include 35 films, with two of them ranked twice due to different cuts. (Many of the others, including Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad, and Watchmen, have different versions, but while the changes were, in some cases, substantial, they didn’t alter the overall quality enough to warrant separate placement). This ranking has been updated several times.
#37: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Some movies deserve a calm, reasoned examination. This isn’t one of those. This isn’t a movie. This is cultural desecration. If you love Superman, you’ll hate it. If you love hope, fun, joy, life, you’ll hate it. If you love old comics, new comics, superheroes, plots, sense, your brain, you’ll hate it. If, however, you are deep into emo-whining, then maybe this film is for you. It shouldn’t be, but maybe.
If you are hoping for anything from this bleak midwinter agony, it is that the dreariness, dullness, poor characterizations, and gaping plot holes are worth suffering through because BvS offers a true vision of life. Keep hoping. There is nothing realistic here. People do not act this way. They do not speak this way. They do not respond this way. Nothing human is on the screen.
Do I hate this film? No. As a film, it isn’t worth hating. As a piece of pop culture, yes, I hate it.
It’s Shaq’s non-acting vs Judd Nelson’s overacting in a battle to determine who can create the most unpleasant on-screen performance. It’s a draw. It’s hard to blame Shaquille O’Neal who comes off as an amiable oaf. This one is all on the execs at WB who thought that skill on a basketball court translated to the screen. It doesn’t.
Not that Shaq, or Nelson, are helped by the sappy, callow script. It doesn’t get simpler than this. Steel is completely good in all ways. His enemies are completely evil. And teens are stupid and need direction. This is exactly what comics and comic book films needed not to be. The camp is high but the wit is low. Don’t expect much from the action or FX either.
#35: Superman III
Without Richard Donner to restrain the Salkind production team, and with director Richard Lester one-upping them on silliness, Superman III returned comic book movies to being juvenile jokes.
The film is doomed before the long, humorless, joke, opening credits end. The Clark/Lana relationship stuff is painful, the high school reunion scenes are dull, Clark acts stupidly, Lois is mostly missing (Margot Kidder sided with Donner), and the villain is a non-entity. The Superman “heroics” are drab and pointless. But who cares when you kill it all with Richard Pryor. Pryor agreed to star, having said he wanted to do a Superman film only as a gag, but his insult was taken as a genuine desire to act in a superhero movie and they paid him a lot, so he suffered, and so do we. Not a single second of his screen time is funny, believable, or dramatic. But then, not a single second of the screen time without him is either.
#34: Man of Steel
Zack Snyder takes his second shot at merging Ayn Rand with comics, but Rand is the antithesis of Superman. But then so is brooding.
Snyder has stated that he hates Superman, and it shows. It shows in the ugly, muted color pallet, in the somber, charisma-lacking Superman who dislikes saving people, in the wingnut that is Jonathan Kent who thinks it best just to let the weak die, and in the bland and incompetent Lois Lane.
To distance themselves from the successful MCU films, Warner chose to make their DC films humorless. This was a terrible idea, but it is possible to have a fun humorless movie. However, Snyder doesn’t understand fun. Pretension, that he understands.
It ends in a battle that goes on and on and on. Many fans have indicated that the results of that battle ruin the movie, but there’s nothing to ruin.
#33: Zack Snyder’s Justice League
A variant of Justice League, this film isn’t so much lower than the theatrical version because its massive differences make it worse, but instead, because it has no massive differences. It’s bizarre how much alike Zack Snyder’s cut is to the regular cut. It’s the same story. There’s no extra plot nor deeper insight into the characters. It’s just longer: two and a half hours longer. For all that time, it should have done… something new. Everything I knew at the end of watching this film I already knew at the end of the original. Instead of supplying additional information, scenes are just slower, sometimes comically so as slow motion is used with great abandon (so…much…slow…motion). The character of Darkseid is now in the film, but he doesn’t do anything of effect the plot in any way. He does, however, take Scype calls from Steppenwolf.
The lack of tonal whiplash is an improvement, though only a minor one, and I wasn’t looking for more consistent glumness.
Neither version is good, so the one that takes up less than half the time is the one to watch.
#32: Green Lantern – Extended Cut
Usually, the various cuts of films don’t change the quality so much that I rank the films separately. Green Lantern Extended Cut is the exception. It contains the positives and negatives of the Theatrical Cut (described later on this list), and then adds ten minutes of unnecessary footage. a majority of it involves young Hal. Pre-MCU superhero movies had a strange obsession with childhood flashbacks. We learn nothing about Hal that wasn’t clear from later scenes, but we do get to spend a lot of time watching him run around and gaze at his father. The added scenes slow the film to a crawl, destroy the opening, and so irritated me as a viewer that the movie never won me back. Green Lantern had a lot of problems already; it couldn’t afford more.
If this was the only cut of the film, I’d put it a few notches higher on this list, but it isn’t, so skip this one.
(Full review of Green Lantern)
#31: Jonah Hex
Jonah Hex shouldn’t be on a list of superhero films, but the character is part of the DC universe, so here it is. Jonah Hex also shouldn’t be on any list of movies at all, but if someone was foolish enough to suggest it, then they should have come up with an idea for it. They could have made a serious western or a cult, spaghetti-style western. They could have made a supernatural drama or a horror film. They could have made a superhero action pic or a wild fantasy. They probably should have made a dark comedy. They needed to have made a decision. They didn’t, and ended up with a combination of all of the above, with a lot of cheese spread on top. The film flopped and the stars have admitted it was a mess.
#30: Batman Forever
With Burton out of the directing chair, Joel Schumacher was free to strip away the goth flavor and create a children’s movie. There are no troubling themes or artistry. Batman has been reduced to two hours of caramel corn.
Jim Carry and Tommy Lee Jones compete to see who can chew the most scenery. Neither play a character, but merely loud clowns. I can’t stand either of their performances, but I understand why they are in the picture. The same can’t be said of Val Kilmer‘s. Michael Keaton had created a disturbed Dark Knight. Kilmer doesn’t do anything at all. He’s invisible in the part, being neither an action hero nor a comic. He just exists.
Chris O’Donnell was twenty-five and looked it, giving the film a weird vibe as he pretends to be a teen. He took on Carry and Jones and wins as most irritating, though Schumacher really deserves that award.
Catwoman is no artistic triumph; it has a poorly developed plot, cardboard characters, a non-existent theme, and lackluster acting. Sharon Stone is particularly poor. This is the woman who defined sex in Basic Instinct? What happened? The FX are on a level with Spiderman, and no, that isn’t a compliment. As with the arachnid, you can watch Halle Berry switching from live-action to digital and back again. Shouldn’t good effects try to fool me into thinking I am not watching a cartoon during the action sequences?
OK, so this is a failure. That said, it’s a fun failure. Halle Berry watching fish hungrily and playing with a catnip ball is screwball comedy. And, if you happen to like watching Ms Berry in tight, minimalist leather and a whip (as I do), you’ll find lots to enjoy. As a sexy, silly comedy, Catwoman is a success. Of course, they wanted it to be an exciting action picture. Oh well.
#28: The Batman
This overlong production is two movies squished together. One is a gritty, intense, crime movie, where an off-putting private detective works with a hostile police force to find a serial killer in a very corrupt city. The other is a children’s, action, superhero origin story where an immortal being with variable powers takes mind-bogglingly stupid actions and laughs-off death on his way to learning that vengeance is morally wrong. These two stories do not fit together. If it had been trimmed down to 90 minutes, focusing on the crime and trashing the pointless action scenes, this could have been a tense, engaging thriller.
For a movie that is supposed to be grounded and serious (at least in the detective sections), it is annoying that no one acts in any sensible way, physics doesn’t work, and nothing matters. It all ends in an explosion-filled climax because that’s what superhero origin movies do.
#27: Superman and the Mole-Men
This inexpensive theatrical pilot for the Superman TV show benefits from a sincere and enduring portrayal of the Man of Steel (George Reeves) as well as an outlook on humanity that is relevant today. The humans of the nowhere town are ignorant, violent, and angry for no reason. Where’s Zack’s murderverse Superman when you need him?
The movie suffers from the tiny budget that bought less than it should have, subpar makeup, poor pacing, and a Lois so unpleasant that I wanted the mole-men to sacrifice her to their mole god.
Superman and the Mole-Men isn’t for everyone. It’s hokey and dated. If you are looking for an action spectacular, you won’t be happy. Its heart in the right place. This is a different Superman for a different time.
#26: The Return of Swamp Thing
Out goes cult horror director Wes Craven; in comes low-budget skin flick director, Jim Wynorski. I’m sure you’ve all watched his classic The Bare Wench Project. Out as well is Adrienne Barbeau, replaced by Heather Locklear. Also added is Sarah Douglas of Superman II fame. She deserved better. Somehow they managed to keep Louis Jourdan hanging around.
Gone, also, is the horror/EC comic tone. The Return of Swamp Thing is pure comedy; it is live-action Robot Chicken. If you are amused by a giant plant-man pulling off a tuber for him and a hot girl to nibble on so they can have psychotropic sex, this is your film. If not, best to skip this one.
There are men on sharks with lasers! And dinosaurs! And seahorse mounts! This is dumb stuff, but fun. How can you fail to make a fun picture with men on sharks with lasers? For a start, they should have actually spent some time showing us the MEN ON SHARKS WITH LASERS.
They never decided what kind of film they were making: a light-hearted adventure film, a deeply serious epic film, a romantic comedy, or an angry revenge picture. The tone flips are startling. The music exemplifies the problem, shifting from the overly serious choral, to epic symphonic, to electronica, to goofy, to light piano, to retro rock, to hip hop. It’s distracting. One scene shifts musical genres four times.
There’s some mild fun in a generic action film way, and Jason Momoa doesn’t embarrass himself, but that doesn’t make up for the weak plot and the empty void that is the villain, King Orm. Aquaman should have at least been a good looking picture, but it isn’t. There’s no artistry. The film is muddy. Nothing looks epic or even pretty. Atlantis is drab. There’s nothing but murk.
#24: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
With Superman III a disaster, the Salkinds sold the rights to Superman to the Canon group, makers of B-movies. This meant past feuds could be ignored: Margot Kidder could get decent screen time and Gene Hackman could return. It also meant that Superman was no longer an A property.
Superman IV is an improvement over Superman III. Christopher Reeve once again has a handle on the character. Lois is passable. Hackman’s Lex is fun, if dippy. The film is still campy, but considerably less silly then its predecessor.
It’s not all good, or even an improvement. Budget problems caused everything to look cheap. FX work is shoddy and the editing is choppy. And there are still too many infantile jokes.
Superman IV isn’t for that big night out, but as part of a double feature on a Saturday afternoon at home, it is more or less a success, or at least not as big of a failure as those films above.
#23: Superman Returns
Superman Returns never had a chance. Director Bryan Singer didn’t make a film that could stand on it’s own; he made an homage to the old Christopher Reeve movies. This is a big budget fan film. We get scene after scene that either references the earlier films or are directly stolen from them. Brandon Routh is given no chance to make the title character his own. Routh is good as Routh, but he makes a second-rate Reeve. Kate Bosworth is a bland Lois, continuing the trend in underwritten and poorly performed female love-interests in superhero films (see Nolan’s Trilogy).
While it feels too much like Donner’s work in most ways, the tone is off. The film is filled with goofy comedy bits presented as serious drama. We get a dark and nasty presentation of pure camp, and the first step toward the dismay and Jesus fixation that would mark Snyder’s take on the character.
Supergirl is almost brilliant. It is almost a trippy cult film. I love the Kryptonians as space hippies. I love Kara (Supergirl) essentially on a peace & love acid trip for the first twenty minutes and then switching to become the Terminatrix. I generally love Helen Slater in the lead. I love Peter O’Toole and Peter Cook, who nearly define “cult.”
Ah, you know what they say about “almost.” Things go wrong when Supergirl attempts to tell a story instead of being a pop art event. That would be less of a problem if they had a story to tell. Or if we could have kept Kara out of a girl’s boarding school. Why’s she there? If she’s just being spacey then she should have stuck with the nature walk and bunny gazing. With hippy pop art, we have a different set of rules. With a traditional story, things need to make sense and sense is not available.
#21: Batman & Robin
Batman & Robin is better than its reputation, but only because its reputation is so bad. So many things are wrong: the over-acting, anything having to do with Chris O’Donnell, George Clooney’s drab take on Batman, the childish message about family, the excessive number of heroes and villains, the ice hockey fight. It is the TV show, but without the charm, humor, or understanding of why that worked.
Still, it’s less painful than other DC disasters. It is colorful and fast. Uma Thurman is sexy. Alicia Silverstone is adorable. It has the best Alfred (Michael Gough in his 4th appearance in the role). The art design is reminiscent of, if inferior to, Tim Burton’s work. And it even has one or two humorous moments (out of a few hundred attempts), which puts it ahead of Batman Forever. While Clooney should be no one’s choice for Batman, his slight performance soars over Kilmer’s non-performance.
It’s not good, but in the right mood, I can enjoy it.
#20: Wonder Woman 1984
Wonder Woman 1984 defines disappointment. Things go wrong from the start. We’re given very little Diana in the first hour and a whole lot of our two villains’ origin stories, and there’s nothing in those you haven’t seen many times before. And it all ends in anticlimax after anticlimax. The big fight between Wonder Woman and Cheetah is insignificant. The greatly advertised golden armor does nothing.
As for Diana and Steve, they are less engaging, less amusing, and less believable than in the previous film. I don’t blame the reasonably charismatic Pine or the normally blindingly alluring Gadot. The tone of the entire picture is off. It’s far too solemn.
The action isn’t exciting enough to disguise the blemishes, and the pace is too languid for a film with this much silliness. I’ve got to be given something: excitement, mystery, humor, character. Wonder Woman 1984 doesn’t deliver any of those.
#19: Justice League
Well, it’s better than its predecessor, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s not good, but it is better. BvS was created by an artist—a terrible, terrible artist. Justice League appears to have been made by an artistically-devoid, amateur committee. BvS attempted to say stupid things and did so poorly. Justice League doesn’t say anything at all. The plot is slight, but that wouldn’t matter if it had good character interaction or a solid villain or some nice fights. It has none of those.
There’s some fun moments and some pleasant quips in Justice League, but the whole doesn’t work. With the massive production problems, they had a garbage pile, so they constructed a film out of it not to be good, but to avoid being a disaster. So, win one for Warner Bros. It isn’t a disaster, and that should be its tag line.
This is Zack Snyder’s first bleak, superhero murderverses—before he transformed the DCEU into one. The difference is it fits Watchmen. The story is depressing and nasty, so it ought to be shot that way. Snyder’s tendency for bombast, for posing, and for speeches instead of conversation may also be fitting, but that doesn’t mean they are good. Watchmen didn’t need to be subtle. It couldn’t have been. But it didn’t have to be this. Grandiose voice-overs, excessive use of slow motion, and too many close-ups makes Watchmen the cinematic equivalent to someone screaming in your face for three hours.
The episodic story would have been fitting for a miniseries (or a comic book…). The overall arc pauses for 30 minutes here, 45 minutes there. That makes it a bit of a slog to sit through. So does having no character to like or follow. Everyone is either an unpleasant fascist or just drab. The fascists I could deal with, although if that was all we were going to get, three hours is too much.
#17: Swamp Thing
This is the one with Adrienne Barbeau’s boobs. If you think that doesn’t matter, this isn’t your film.
Swamp Thing is more EC Comics than DC Comics. It’s a simple horror morality play. No time is wasted. The evil folks are evil and the good are good. Love develops in ten minutes and the monster goes from mourning to eternal loneliness in a day.
Director Wes Craven (between The Last House on the Left and A Nightmare on Elm Street) had an understanding of cult films. He knew to add squashed heads and bare breasts, to shift this from a kids film to the EC vibe. Louis Jourdan, slumming it, gives class to a milquetoast villain, and Barbeau was the personification of the early ‘80s, sexy non-damsel. It adds up to a film for teen boys, but they deserve a film every once in a while.
Some releases censor Ms. Barbeau’s attributes as well as some topless party entertainers. Don’t get those versions.
#16: Green Lantern [Theatrical Cut]
Ryan Reynolds kept trying superheroes till he got it right. This wasn’t that time. But Green Lantern isn’t as bad as its reputation suggests. It just isn’t very good.
Reynolds has charm and the basic idea of the Green Lantern corp fighting an enemy of its own making is a solid one. The rest of the cast does the best it can with some clichéd characters. The foundation is here for a good action flick. The problem isn’t the one-liners or the CG, as is often suggested, but a pointlessly unlikeable protagonist and a lack of imagination.
I’ve seen a lot worse action, but with no one to care about, and nothing innovative or unexpected, Green Lantern ends up as a might have been.
#15: Superman II
Superman II has Christopher Reeve as the perfect Superman. It has Margot Kidder being adorable and quirky. It has the John Williams score. And it adds in General Zod and Ursa, two of the most memorable screen villains.
What it doesn’t have is a good story. Lex Luther shouldn’t be in the film at all, but then Gene Hackman refused to return once Donner was fired. A central plot point, the big sacrifice of Superman’s power for love, is a cheat and easily undone. Lester’s added jokes are childish. There is also the infamous kiss and Superman getting revenge on a bully. And I’m not fan of the civic duty over love theme.
Still, I can’t dislike this film. Reeve, Kidder, Douglas, and Stamp are too memorable.
While the “Richard Donner Cut” is better, it ended up right next to the regular one in my rankings.
(Full Review, including a look at the alternative cut)
#14: Batman Begins
This is a meticulously made film, even if large chunks were stolen from The Shadow. There’s plenty of action and a coherent story. Character interaction is a high point, though with some exceptions. Rachel follows in the tradition of bland love-interests and Katie Holmes lacks the maturity for the role. Falcone is a stereotypical crime boss, Earle is a stereotypical evil businessman, and Ra’s Al Ghul is just some British bloke (shouldn’t he be Arabic?)
For a film that is the antidote for camp and contains a heavy, pounding, theme about fear, Batman Begins can be pretty silly. Fox makes a drug antidote like he’s a super scientist. The bat-summoner and microwave bomb are devices best suited for Adam West. The finale is goofy, which is a fatal flaw in a film begging to be taken seriously. This is all silly stuff. For a film that’s been given the label “gritty realism,” it ends up being a fanciful superhero flick, with 50% less fun.
(Full Review of the Nolan’s Trilogy)
And this, finally, is where I say you should pay money and see the pictures in a theater—though for these next few, only at a matinée.
#13: Suicide Squad
Suicide Squad is explosion/SFX porn divided by solid jokes and less solid character development. We watch bad-natured, CGI fog while listening to meaningless big booms. The boss battle is a bore. And most of the character development is terrible, where it exists at all (Will Smith doesn’t bother playing Deadshot; he just plays Will Smith). It’s best not to think about the plot.
So Suicide Squad is a mess, but it’s a mess with Harley Quinn. She’s funny. She’s sympathetic. She’s violent. And she’s a joy to behold. Her relationship with The Joker is the only one that works, but it works well. I was rooting for those two swell kids to make a life for themselves…and maybe slaughter a few people. Robbie nails smart, sexy, and crazy. This should have been The Harley and Joker Movie, and nearly is. As for The Joker himself, Jared Leto gives us a very different version of the character, one with more heart than usual. Traditionalists were not pleased, but he entertained me.
#12: The Dark Knight Rises
The third Nolan Batman film is the most interesting. It is full of messages on economic inequality and terrorism and plastered with allusions to the French revolution. It also contradicts the entire point of The Dark Knight.
It is also the dumbest. There’s an ancient prison that lacks plumbing but gets Gotham City cable news. There’s Bane’s voice (the second character Nolan has white-washed). There’s orphan-sight. There’s the entire police force running underground. There’s tugging on ropes to fix a broken back. And there’s much more.
So, the movie is dim. It drags. It’s over-stuffed. Yet I find it the most enjoyable of the Trilogy. Partly that is due to Batman finally being a likable character and having an arc that is engaging. Partly it is due to the addition of Selina Kyle. And partly it is due to it not ending as a depressing drama nor as a ridiculous, empty fight as its predecessors had, but as a wild, post-apocalyptic war. The big stupid fight at the end may indeed be stupid, but it is a good time.
(Full Review of the Nolan’s Trilogy)
#11: The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight is clever, but flawed, and like its predecessor, lets its theme overwhelm its plot. Poor Batman is overwhelmed as well. He’s pale compared to Two-Face; compared to the Joker he’s invisible. Being invisible is better than dragging down the film as Rachel does.
The Joker rules this movie, which is odd since this should be Harvey Dent’s story. But the Joker is cooler. His gags are funny and his weird, lip-licking, twitching, hunched mannerisms are hypnotic. He’s not a character, but an archetype, the personification of chaos. That works, except these are supposed to be real people in a real world and Ledger doesn’t attempt to grant the Joker any connection to reality. Harvey Dent could be a real man. The Joker is just weird. I like weird, but does it fit?
The Dark Knight is a preachy drama, a two-hour treatises on the meaning of heroism, masquerading as an action film. I should either care more about the fights or see fewer men in rubber.
(Full Review of the Nolan’s Trilogy)
This is a good kids film while being reasonably entertaining for adults as long as they ask very little from it. Where Shazam! excels is in the relationships of the group home family, and in the humor. The children seem to genuinely like each other in a way that isn’t sickeningly sweet, and the parents are not played as fools or fanatics. Thoughtful? No, but it’s nice. The jokes go after other superhero films and their attempts to be epic, and mostly land.
There are lots of minor flaws: The structure is off a bit, the villain barely registers, the CGI is so-so, Billy is too old, and it’s too long. But these are problems for a movie trying to be something more substantial. Shazam! wants to be a pleasant distraction for people whose brains are still developing and in that it succeeds. (Full Review)
For a rip-off of Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, Joker is surprisingly good, with some emotional moments that hit hard. It effectively conveys the grim reality of the poor in America and the hopelessness of their lives in the present system. Phoenix is believable as a man whose minor connection to sanity is being torn away. I could feel the frustration, loss, and longing. This is a film with a message, one that is front and center at all times, but somehow didn’t feel obnoxious to me.
But director Tod Phillips is not Scorsese. He doesn’t understand how to use color in a drama. He has no idea how to edit a serious film. Over and over I could see how a scene would work better if the camera was shifted over, the lights were brightened, or a second was trimmed. Much of the dialog needed to be punched up, and less needed to be explained in speeches. This is a good film, that could have been a great one if it had a few better filmmakers involved. (Full Review)
#8: Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
Margot Robbie is spectacular as Harley Quinn, even when the script lets her down. Ewan McGregor is a hell of a lot of fun as the villain, even when isn’t given the greatest lines or the best things to do. They elevate the material. Unfortunately, the three Birds of Prey lack personality, development, and charisma. Black Canary, Huntress, and Montoya take up a lot of time and add nothing.
The fight choreography is solid, the music sets the tone, and the themes are worth the time, but that doesn’t balance a so-so script, a clichéd plot, workman-like direction, and supporting players that are a void. Robbie and McGregor are left carrying the entire movie on their own, which they do well, but imagine how much better this would be if they’d gotten some help. (Full Review)
#7: The Suicide Squad
This is a fun, campy, crazy, violent picture that’s worth seeing, yet it is disappointing. With James Gunn at the helm, I expected more. Mostly I expected different, but this is very much the same movie as 2016’s Suicide Squad. One animal-themed brute was swapped for another as was one grumpy, family-obsessed, sharpshooter. They again spend a good deal of time traveling until they face a world-destroying boss that they shouldn’t be able to beat, but do so easily. Harley Quinn is again the best thing in the film and the main reason to watch. This isn’t a new film, but a do-over. And yes, it’s better, but I would have liked something more than a better version of an OK film we had before.
While everything is a bit of a step up (except for Harley, who is equally good in both), the big improvement is in editing. Suicide Squad is one of the poorest edited films of the last several decades. And this one is fine. I wouldn’t give it any editing awards, but it looks like professionals were involved, which I suppose is enough.
#6: Batman: The Movie
Existing in the same absurd, pop-art world as the Batman TV show, The Movie amps up the humor and the fun, yet manages to insert character development and a plot—of sorts. Batman has never been so passionate—in a hysterical junior high way.
Adam West is superb and so earnest when all around in insanity. Batman’s joined by a marvelous collection of villains played with manic energy by Hollywood greats Cesar Romero and Burgess Meredith along with relative newcomer Frank Gorshin. Julie Newmar was unavailable, but Lee Merriwether is an amiable replacement.
The gags here are no mere clownishness (as with the two Schumacher Batman films) but come from the characters. Batman’s sincerity and passion are a source of much of the humor—his routine of trying to dispose of a bomb is a classic.
The only problem with the film is if you just can’t deal with a funny, joyful, good-time, camp Batman. I can.
#5: Batman Returns
Batman was the most Tim Burton-y of Tim Burton films; I couldn’t imagine him going further. He did. Batman Returns is a dark fantasy where art deco meets circus freak and the 1920s, ‘50s, and ‘90s are merged into a Never-Never Land. This isn’t our world or one this side of a nervous breakdown. Gotham City is more lovely, if your tastes run to the eerie, and more fantastic. Wayne Manner is a haunted house. Danny DeVito’s Penguin is a grotesque monster for those who love a carnival and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman breathes sex and insanity. There’s a lot to love.
But as a whole, more is less. The sheer weird spectacle gets a bit tiring and there is too much going on. Three villains is at least one villain too many. Catwoman and Penguin each could have carried the film. With too many stories to tell, none got the focus it needed and Batman (Michael Keaton) became a supporting player in his own film.
Constantine is a supernatural noir set in darkened streets and a post-apocalyptic Hell, and filled with winged angels and scuttling demons. Score one for the art director and several more for the special effects team. For a story about the destruction of our happy existence, as well as suicide and lung cancer, it is emotionally distant, but then noirs often are. I can’t say I cared about the plight of humanity or John Constantine’s fate, but that’s alright as posing half-breed angels and treks into perdition’s flame are cool.
In the genre community, Constantine gets a lot of criticism for not matching the comic books. I’ve no interest in purity nor in fanboy complaints based on something other than the film. There’s a twisted, if borrowed, plot, interesting characters, and a captivating world. The color of the lead’s hair does not interest me.
#3: Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman has too many dramatic speeches, too much slow motion/pauses, a few FX issues that take you out of the picture, and numerous other problems, and it doesn’t matter. I didn’t love the move. But I loved Wonder Woman.
And that’s what matters. I don’t know if Gal Gadot is a good actress, but she is a charismatic one, and she was born for this part. DC Comics-based films haven’t had her like since Christopher Reeve in Superman. She is perfect, and the role is written exactly right. Diana is friendly and good in the purest sense of the word. But she’s also cool—we’re talking Tony Stark level of cool. She’s innocent but smart. She’s strong while also being very feminine. She’s sensitive but knows when a smirk is the proper response. She isn’t broken. She doesn’t have weird issues. She is a hero and one you’d want to meet. With a franchise film, what matters most is character, and they nailed it.
I ranked Wonder Woman third, but it is surprisingly close to second place. It has similar pluses and minuses. I think it only loses out on score.
Sure, Superman has its flaws: The plot is a mess; the Krypton scenes are silly and the Smallville segment is plodding; Lex Luther’s scheme is ludicrous; it is both overly saccharine and overly camp. And none of that matters.
Superman was the first A-picture superhero film. It was (and is) beautiful. The SFX are excellent, yet never dominate. But those don’t matter either. It has three elements that trump everything.
- First, there is a quirky Lois Lane personified by Margot Kidder.
- Second, the heroic, uplifting score by John Williams that sells the epic nature of the film.
- Third, and most importantly, there is Christopher Reeve. He is Superman. Blending strength with sensitivity, he charmed a generation.
The elements alone are not enough, or I’d be speaking of the great quality of Superman III. It is how you use them, and Richard Donner knew how. Superman pulls you in—at least it pulled me in—to its wondrous world. There may be problems, but those are for later. While watching, there’s nothing but a man who can fly.
Batman is a gothic wonderland. It is a triumph of art design; on that basis alone, it is one of the best superhero films ever made. Other attempts at Gotham have either been tacky (Schumacher) or dull (Nolan). This is beautiful and twisted.
Beyond the look and feel of the film, so much is done right. There’s Danny Elfman’s stirring score. There’s the rapid pace and action, but with the focus always on character. There’s the humor. There’s a fabulously loony Joker.
And then there Michael Keaton, who nails the two sides of the character, Bruce Wayne and Batman. His Batman is dangerous and frightening in a fundamental way. There’s something unhinged about him. Bruce Wayne is even better. This is the only Wayne I can believe would choose to become Batman. I could believe him choosing to wear a mask made of human skin and carry a chainsaw too. As an actor, Keaton has a talent of being an everyman, but at the same time, he can embody insanity and ruthless dedication. That is Batman.
And that’s it. I only strongly recommend three of the films and even the top 10 gets soft by the end. DC-Warner Brothers really needs to step up its game.