Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 12 months, it’s pretty obvious that 2016 has churned out quite a few box office disappointments. Left and right, more and more movies were receiving “rotten” scores on Rotten Tomatoes, both critically and among audiences. But does the best RT score necessarily make a comic book movie the best? In my humble opinion: No, it doesn’t. Critics and the majority of audiences don’t read comics, so what movie studios create may not necessarily please the long-time loyal readers who’ve been stalking their comic shops every Wednesday for the last 20 years (yes, I am one of THOSE guys). Okay, enough foreplay. Let’s get to the REAL reason you’re reading this: In order, what were the best comic book movies of 2016?
5- Justice League vs. Teen Titans- If you grew up in the 80’s and 90’s and read comics, then there’s no way in hell that you didn’t have at least a few issues of Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s run on The New Teen Titans. Justice League vs Teen Titans taps into that fantastic era of comics and brings us a unique story with familiar elements from those comics. Updating the roster of characters to include Damian Wayne/Robin and Jaime Reyes/Blue Beetle joining longtime members Starfire, Raven, Vic Stone/Cyborg and Gar Logan/Beast Boy as they encounter their first mission together against the evil demon Trigon who seeks to take over the world. Obviously, with a title like “Justice League vs Teen Titans”, you go in expecting some great battles, and this movie does not disappoint. Letting the story dictate the action, none of the fight sequences ever seem forced or gratuitous. Everything is well paced so that you are entertained by the visual elements, but you also get heavily invested in the characters and their development. Part of what has always made the Teen Titans such a fascinating group to read in the comics is the ever-present story element that these young heroes feel misunderstood and alone as they stand in the shadows of the world’s greatest heroes like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Flash. Part of the absolute joy of this movie is seeing the Titans not only stand up to them and proclaim their inclination to make their own decisions, but that they actually end up saving the League and the world BECAUSE they do it their way. This movie just succeeds on every level from animation to action to character design to story. It’s pure fun and enjoyment. Plus, they have a brilliant teaser at the end hinting at the coming Teen Titans: Judas Contract animated movie which fans have been rallying to be made for years.
4- Doctor Strange: It’s no secret that Marvel has an outstanding track record when it comes to their live-action movies these last 8 years, some of their best being their origin stories. Doctor Strange continues that tradition and brings audiences to yet another corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While we’ve been to the war-torn era of World War II, the golden realm of Asgard, the depths of space with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and to the highest of high tech with Iron Man, Doctor Strange introduces audiences to the world of magic. Not your typical Harry Potter movie; director Scott Derrickson utilizes mind-bending special effects with a grounded, human story that ushers fans further into Phase 3 of the MCU. Many people were quick to jump on the movie saying it was a rip off of movies like Inception and Batman Begins, and I won’t lie: there are some elements from those movies in there, but at the same time, this movie is very loyal to the source material in which it’s based on. What Marvel does and has consistently done with their films is to blend rousing fun with human stories so that audiences become invested in characters that they feel they can relate to. I think that the reason Doctor Strange only makes the #4 spot on the list is because it is played very safely. There’s nothing there that you can say that you REALLY love or REALLY hate. But the inoffensive nature of the film is what also makes it somewhat repetitive to what we’ve already seen in the MCU. And while the training period of Stephen Strange is a bit rushed with a quickly resolved climax, Benedict Cumberbatch does an outstanding job stepping into the shoes of the Sorcerer Supreme and makes us all excited for future appearances by the good Doctor in future films, namely Infinity War.
3- Captain America: Civil War: Okay… I’m ready to hear the “Whaaaaaaaat!?!” coming from everyone. Let me first start by saying that just because I put Civil War at #3 does not mean that I didn’t like it. It was a hugely enjoyable film that was a fantastic culmination of 8 years and 12 movies worth of continuity. Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. return to the roles they were born to play as Captain America and Iron Man. Utilizing the largest cast ever assembled in a superhero movie is every other Avenger short of Hulk and Thor. The film does not disappoint as it delivers with the most outstanding action sequences we’ve ever seen in a Marvel film (who DOESN’T love the airport fight?!) and also brings the feels with an emotional climax. Now you’re asking, “If there’s so much good, why is it only #3 on the list?!” Well, these last 3 movies were so good that they’re nearly equal for me in terms of quality so I really had to get into the nitty gritty of picking them apart. At the end of the day, there are two key issues for me: The color palate is severely muted and grey looking to the point where nothing pops on the screen. Also, the main plot of Civil War was abandoned halfway through the movie and it picks a subplot to become the main plot, that of course being the Winter Soldier storyline. While the airport fight is extremely cool and fan-pleasing, the issue remains that the fight is not predicated upon difference of opinion on a moral or political issue like it was in the original comic storyline. Instead, you have Cap’s team not really trying to hurt or subdue anyone as they’re just trying to get to Siberia and stop Zemo. Tony’s team is trying to subdue and capture Cap’s team because they’re viewed as criminals operating outside the law and Bucky is wanted for the murder of King T’Chaka. In that regard, neither teams really knows why the other is fighting them. Add to that poorly executed motivations of certain characters being on certain teams. For example, Spider-Man says to Tony, “When you can do the things I can and then the bad things happen, they become your fault.” From that statement alone, Spider-Man wouldn’t sign up with an organization looking to tell him he can or cannot be a hero in New York. He would do it anyway. Or how about T’Challa. He doesn’t believe in or adhere to the will of governing officials or the rules of the Accords either. Instead of getting authorization to go after Barnes for killing his father, he just does his own thing and operates as a vigilante. He doesn’t care about Tony or his cause. He just wants revenge. So, the loss of focus on the key plot was ultimately a substantial negative to the movie and, in my humble opinion, still leaves Captain America: The Winter Soldier as the best Marvel movie to date and one of the best comic book movies ever made.
2- Deadpool: I don’t know who was more shocked by the massive success of Deadpool: audiences or the studio that had so little faith in the property that they only gave director Tim Miller $65 million to make the movie, then took away $8 million of it to give to another project. This movie completely redeemed the shit-show they created for the character in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and blends the brilliant chaos of Deadpool from the comics with the reality of a live-action movie. What puts Deadpool at the #2 spot is just how fresh and unique the movie is. It’s not just the fact that it’s a mainstream character in a movie with an R rating and more F-bombs than a Tarantino movie. It’s the fact that the filmmakers and Ryan Reynolds were unapologetically loyal to the source material and the character and you can see that they didn’t care if the studio didn’t like it. They were only after making the movie that they wanted to make and having the fans love it. And when you make a movie for the fans and not for a projected box office dollar amount, you get a great movie that will perform well. Boasting terrific action sequences, gut-busting comedy, and a straightforward revenge story, Deadpool fires on all cylinders the way that a successful comic book movie should. Of course, there are things that fans can poke holes in such as the lack of explaining that Deadpool’s healing factor comes from Wolverine or the failure to introduce the key players like Department K and doctor Killbrew from the Deadpool comics. But what ultimately makes Deadpool one of the best comic book movies ever made is the fact that it doesn’t try to set up sequels and spin-offs and a massive world like the MCU and DCEU have been doing in their franchises to the point where they don’t really focus on just making a great movie. Deadpool is unapologetically crude and in-your-face and that’s what makes it so special. They know what they wanted the movie to be and they committed to it.
1- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Probably the most controversial and divisive comic book film ever made, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was met with reviews of praise and disappointment from critics and audiences alike. Like Suicide Squad, many would point out its choppy editing and poor storytelling as deterring elements of the film, while also pointing a finger of blame at the disappointing adaptations in Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor and the rendering of the infamous Kryptonian deathbringer, Doomsday. So, how pray tell did Batman v Superman take the #1 spot on this list? As I said earlier, this isn’t a list about what was my personal favorite movie or which one I thought was the most fun. This is an examination of the physical components of a film and the quality of those components. For the sake of this article, I will be referencing the Ultimate Edition, not the theatrical cut as the Ultimate Edition was the version we were all meant to see. First and foremost, the cinematography of BvS is absolutely outstanding, creating beautifully visceral images that make each frame feel like a comic book panel come to life. No scene exemplifies this more than the Batman/Superman fight in the rain which feels like it was ripped right out of The Dark Knight Returns. Other elements such as the score by Hans Zimmer, the costume designs by Michael Wilkinson, and the production design by Patrick Tatopoulos make Batman v Superman stand out as one of the best made films of the decade in my opinion. Now, that isn’t to say that the film doesn’t have its problems. The film sets out to tell an ingenious story of how the world deals with the existence of Superman and the danger his power presents to the world. This in turn creates the central villain of the story, which isn’t Batman or even Lex Luthor, but is instead public opinion and media. Fear and doubt are opponents that Superman cannot punch his way out of and this creates arguably the most compelling struggle that we have ever seen Superman face in any of the live action films that have come before it as we see Superman struggle to prove his loyalty and dedication to the world through his actions. For me, part of what makes great films is the film’s ability to be re-watched and reinterpreted different ways when viewed again. With Batman v Superman, audiences can go back and re-watch the film 7 or 8 times, and still pick up new bits and pieces that they never caught in their first few viewings, and with each new morsel they pick up, it affects how they interpret the film. The very fact that fans and audiences are still debating the quality and meaning of the content within the film proves the complexity and overall messages of the movie. That being said, was Batman v Superman made the way it should have been made? I think that answer will vary depending on who you ask, but I would say no. While I immensely enjoy the film and continually find it a refreshing new direction in the genre, I feel that the first film starring these two iconic characters together should have been played more safe and tailored to the widest audience possible considering how large the budget was. The best way that I can put it is that if Captain America: Civil War was the Empire Strikes Back of 2016, then Batman v Superman was the Godfather Part II of 2016: they’re both amazing films, but in two completely different ways. Zack Snyder is an extremely visual director. He asks of his viewers to pay extremely close attention to the composition of every frame of every sequence to fill in elements of the story with their eyes. He doesn’t spoon feed information through blunt dialogue and fight sequences. He makes the audience work for it to understand the underlying themes and motifs of his films, as we’ve seen with his past works like Watchmen and Sucker Punch. While that makes for an extremely pleasurable experience for film buffs and intellectuals, it makes for a very frustrating experience for the average movie goer who just wants to have fun and forget their problems for 2 hours. All of that being said, by closely looking at all of the structural components of the film, I have to say that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the best comic book film of 2016.
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