Friday, February 17, 2012

The Top 7 Worst Superhero Films of All Time

With the release today of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (which currently has a glowing 12% on Rotten Tomatoes), I figured it was as good a time as any to write up a piece that I've been itching to tackle for a while now: the Top 7 Worst Superhero Films of All Time. Below you'll find my picks for #7-#1, as well as some "honorable" mentions below that.

7. Spider-Man 3: 

Of the seven movies on this list, Spider-Man 3 is definitely the best of the bunch...yet oddly enough, it’s also easily the most disappointing. Coming off of the awesomeness of Spider-Man 2, Sam Raimi and company seemed to have all the materials they needed to make a terrific conclusion to their three-film story arch. Yet sadly, that didn’t happen. Crammed with subplots–many of which feel as if they were ripped from a soap opera, including Peter’s on-and-off-and-on-again relationship with Mary Jane, and a story thread with Harry that features, of all things, amnesia–the film tries its hardest to juggle the material, yet ultimately collapses under the weight of its excess. 

Fault shouldn’t go solely to Raimi–stories of the studio’s pressuring of the director to include Venom in the film have been well documented–but regardless of whoever the blame goes, it still doesn’t change the fact that Spider-Man 3 represents a huge missed opportunity. The fact that it remains Raimi’s final sendoff to the series only makes the aftertaste that much more bitter.

                                             6. Ghost Rider: 

Technically it was The Wicker Man that marked the beginning of what we now call the ‘Crazy Nic Cage’ streak...but Ghost Rider more then serves up its own share of Cage-ian moments. Director Mark Steven Johnson (of acclaimed Daredevil and Elektra fame) unleashes his once-actor-turned-money-grubber-star, giving him all the materials needed for a great Cage-spectacle: a flaming skull-head. A chain of fire. A motorcycle fueled by fire. Yet somehow, the end result still feels incredibly flat, almost as if, in their pursuit to make the craaaaziest superhero movie ever made, neither Johnson nor Cage were able to completely realize the potential of their own ambitions. Johnson tries his hardest to milk as much fun as he can from his own rather atrocious script...but ultimately, there’s just not enough flint here to produce much of a spark. 

5. X-Men: The Last Stand: 

Funny thing about the X-Men franchise: in the cinematic spectrum of quality, it’s a series that has seen practically every shade of quality. If X-Men: First Class and X2 are seated firmly on one end of the line, and the original X-Men is planted right in the middle of the “Eh, it’s fine” block, then The Last Stand is more or less near the bottom...with that other entry barely clinging on with its cheap adamantium claws. Yet while the third entry in the X-Men series might not be as much of an embarrassment as X-Men Origins: Wolverine was, it’s still a huge letdown, with director Brett Ratner ditching all of the character buildup that was so carefully construed by Brian Singer in the first two films, and instead just replacing them with more CGI spectacle and noise. Admittedly, a few of the action sequences do pop–the fight at Jean Gray’s house is fun–but beyond that, it's hard to find much here that's interesting.
                                             4. The Spirit: 

The Spirit should have been awesome. It’s based on the classic Will Eisner comic strip. It was directed by Frank Miller, he of 300 and Sin City fame. It had a great cast that includes the underrated Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson, as well as a bevy of hot female talent such as Scarlett Johannsson, Eva Mendes, Jamie King and Paz Vega. And its visual aesthetic was nothing if not striking. With such a learned comic book pro like Miller at the helm, using such a distinctive style, with such a varied cast of talent, with such a great character, like I said: The Spirit should have been awesome. It wasn’t.
I could go over all of the film’s logic holes, or its cheesy, bordering on slapstick humor, or its flat acting. But instead, I’ll allow a single scene to say everything: at one point, The Spirit launches into a full-on mud brawl with his nemesis, The Octopus. The scene is actually rather cool to look at–Miller shoots the landscape with a dark orange tint that's actually reminiscent of his own 300. The problem, however, comes when The Octupus decides to use a toilet as a club. Swinging the toilet, The Octupus proceeds to hammer The Spirit with it until finally, he drops the entire bowl on the Spirit’s head, topping the whole exchange with the line “Come on... toilets are always funny!”
Not funny. Not awesome. 

3. Green Lantern: 

You know that feeling you get when you’ve eaten way too much candy, and you kind of feel like you might throw up but you’re not sure, and so for the next hour you sit, waiting for the moment when you have to make a mad dash to the toilet? That’s the way I felt the entire way through Green Lantern...and it had nothing to do with that box of Jujyfruits I ate before the movie started.
$200 million down the drain. That’s what Green Lantern represents. The film made only $116 domestically and $103 internationally; factor in marketing costs on top of that budget, and you’ve got a movie that literally made no money. So, in essence, you have a film that, technically, never happened. Martin Campbell never wasted his time on a half-baked script. Ryan Reynolds never donned CGI pajamas. Peter Sarsgaard never walked around with a giant prosthetic head. Golly...isn’t it beautiful outside?

                                             2. Batman and Robin: 

This one’s almost not even worth mentioning, so infamous is its atrociousness. Oh, where to start? There’s the bat nipples, for starters (not to mention a plethora of codpieces, Bat butts, and S&M-esque aparel). Or how about the avalanche of ice-related puns (sorry, couldn’t resist getting one more in there), spouted by Arnie with all the nuance of...well, Arnie? Or how about the blatantly derisive direction, with Joel Schumacher shooting every scene as if it were a toy commercial? 
Batman and Robin is what happens when you take the core idea of the Batman essence and dilute it down into safe, sanitized, easily packaged piece of family friendly entertainment. George Clooney has long since denounced the production, as has Chris O’Donnell; it practically destroyed screenwriter Akiva Goldsman’s career; even the director’s commentary plays more like a feature length apology from Schumacher than a legitimate movie. Add everything up, and you’ve got not just one of the worst superhero movies ever made, but also one of the great cinematic stinkers of all time.

1. X-Men Origins: Wolverine: 

No, it’s not the disaster that Batman and Robin is. It’s not as overstuffed as Spider-Man 3, or as CGI-heavy as Green Lantern, or as stifled as Ghost Rider. Admittedly, it’s not even as dumb as The Spirit. Yet what makes Origins: Wolverine the worst superhero movie ever made is the fact that, unlike all of the other films mentioned, Wolverine does something unforgivable: it completely destroys its central hero. 

It doesn’t merely get Wolverine wrong, or mistake certain characteristics–it destroys him. Director Gavin Hood takes one of the most beloved superheroes of all time, neuters him, and then completely obliterates any and all traces of the character that we’ve come to know. It’s essentially like the Miami Vice movie, where pretty much none of the actual movie took place in Miami...but whereas that movie actually had other aspects within it to recommend, Wolverine literally only has the essence of its character to ride on. And when that essence is trampled to the point of unrecognizability, what do you have left? More of the same: bad CGI. Lame story. Terrible dialogue. Poorly shot action sequences.
Yet as pronounced as these problems may be, I’d actually be willing to be more forgiving towards the movie had it simply given us more of the Wolverine that we’d met in the last few movies–that is to say, the gruff, dryly humorous hothead who only looks out for himself. The "Han Solo" Wolverine, you could call it. Hugh Jackman is so good as the character, I imagine he could have made even the most putrid of crap watchable had he actually been provided the opportunity. But Wolverine doesn’t provide him that opportunity. It doesn’t provide anyone anything. It’s the cinematic equivalent of someone pissing all over your favorite comic book collection, and then setting fire to it...and then on top of that, throwing the ashes in the garbage disposal, just to be safe. 
So who is this Wolverine, you may ask? I’m glad you asked. That gruff, dryly sarcastic guy who only looks out for himself that I mentioned? This is the nice, drably comical guy who looks out for everyone. This isn’t Wolverine, neither of the films nor the comics. This is an impostor, disguising himself as our adamantium-clawed hero in order to execute a stealthy plot to destroy Wolverine from within. This is the Olos Han of Nah Solos, the Ilmig of Gimlis, the Yolef Lexa of Alex Foleys. This isn’t Wolverine. This isn’t anyone, or anything. And in being nothing, it ends up being something beyond awful, beyond being the worst super hero movie ever made. Ultimately, it ends up being the single most devastating crucifixion of an individual since...well, that other time.

Honorable Mentions: Elektra, Catwoman, Daredevil, Superman III, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, The Phantom, Steel, and The Shadow. 

What do you think? What are your picks for the worst superhero movies ever? Feel free to comments below.

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