Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ten Live-Action Superhero Movies You Didn't See (but probably should)

As fans of superheroes, we love to pan Hollywood in their attempts to create superheroes on the big screen. Superhero films have been saddled with bad scripts, poor actors and second rate special effects for years and years. Lately, we've been blessed with a run of really good superhero films. Films like Spider-Man, X-Men, Blade and Batman Begins that stay true to the spirit of the character, if not their continuity, with A-list actors.

We still need to navigate our way past gems such as Elektra and Catwoman, and noble but failed attempts like Daredevil, The Hulk and Fantastic Four. Regardless, from our position of comparative luxury we look back and say "They just couldn't do it back then, other than Tim Burton's Batman."

(Incidentally, I think Batman is fundamentally flawed as a movie. But that's a topic for another post.)

But all was not dark and dismal in the past! We did have good superhero films from the 1960's all the way through the present.

So, in chronological order, here are ten live-action superhero movies that you may not have seen, but are well worth the rental. I tried to avoid the terrible, as well as the obvious.

Batman - The Movie (1966)
Was it perfect? Of course not. Is this Batman familiar to modern audiences, with a dark, gritty, determined Bruce Wayne facing foes who were reflections of his own damaged psyche? Not even close. But it was fun. Camp, when it doesn't apologize for itself, can make a great afternoon's diversion. Sure, Adam West had the Bat-pot-belly, Burt Ward had the corniest lines, you could see Caesar Romero's mustache through the pancake makeup, and they wimped out by using Lee Meriweather instead of Ertha Kitt, but how can you not love a film that includes the Bat-Shark-Repellant, the UN Security council getting their personalities mixed up, and the line "Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb."?

Superman - The Movie/Superman II (1978/1980)
Indulge me here, as I consider these two films together. Donner intended them that way, and I will honor that. Now yes, these films were blockbusters. And yes, they were followed by two sequels we do not talk about. But a surprising number of superhero fans have never seen them. Do so. I implore you. It's not the Superman, Lois and Luthor you're familiar with from animation, Smallville or even Lois & Clark, but no one has ever done it better. Hackman made a wonderfully over-the-top Silver Age Luthor, Terence Stamp remains the most terrifying foe Superman has ever faced in the live-action arena (Kneel before Zod, son of Jor-El!), and despite being third billed Christopher Reeve was Superman. I have high hopes for Superman Returns, but Brandon Routh has some awfully big boots to fill.

Remo Williams, The Adventure Begins (1985)
What a wonderful movie. They, fortunately, toned down the massive levels of power that Sinanju will give you according to the long running series of books (They were well past 160 last time I looked), and there are moments of pure ridiculousness in this movie, but there are also some killer performances. Fred Ward makes an awfully good Remo, and I still picture him when I read the books. The same thing goes for Wilford Brimley as Harold Smith, and the speech he gives Remo was so perfect that our GM in a game where we played agents of CURE used it on each of us.

Robocop (1987)
Paul Verhoeven at his best. Long before Starship Troopers, Verhoven made a movie about the quest for the perfect policeman. Peter Weller turns in an amazing performance as Robocop/Murphy, and the supporting cast is good all around. The ED-209 looks a little clunky by today's standards, but it still isn't too bad, and at the time I remember being thoroughly wowed by it. Look for a special appearance by Kurtwood Smith (of That 70's Show fame) as Clarence Boddicker.

The Flash (1990)
It was the pilot episode for a television series, which got picked up, for all too brief a period of time, but for many years you could only catch this as a Direct-to-Video movie, so I'm including it here. John Wesley Shipp embodied Barry Allen, and may very well be the only live-action Barry we ever get, since a modern Flash movie or television series is likely to focus on Wally West, or Bart Allen (Impulse/Kid Flash). The costume was falsely muscled, and he made for a slightly bulkier Flash than might have been ideal, but even today that blur of red makes for the perfect way to handle the Flash's speed. Return of the Trickster was worth watching as well, and now that the entire series is available on DVD, I know what I want for my birthday.

Darkman (1990)
When they announced that Sam Raimi was going to be directing Spider-Man, I had no fear. Why? Because I saw this movie. Darkman's breed of vigilantism goes beyond my definition of what a superhero should be, but everyone should understand exactly what drives Liam Neeson's Dr. Westlake. The sequels aren't terrible, although they lack the originality of the first. On the other hand, while Neeson may be a stronger actor, Arnold Vosloo is a lot easier on the eyes.

The Rocketeer (1991)
Oh man. Everything about this movie was just perfect. Bill Campbell's Cliff has that perfect mixture of enthusiasm, youth, ability, clumsiness and overconfidence that every young superhero needs. Jennifer Connelly was possibly at her best in this movie, and Dalton's Neville Sinclair was everything a Golden Age villain needs to be; Suave, overconfident, treacherous, wants the girl, and a Nazi. I weep for the fact that Iron Man wasn't made ten years ago, when Dalton would have been the perfect Tony Stark.

The Shadow (1994)
"Psychically, I'm very well endowed." And there we go. This film had it all. It captured the look of the era, it had the right mixture of mystery and action, good effects, and incredible banter. I'm not the biggest fan of Alec Baldwin, but he nailed it in this one. As creepy as his Shadow is, every dialogue between Lamont Cranston and, well, anyone is full of wit. Credit goes to the David Koepp for the writing, of course, but Baldwin and his co-stars delivered them perfectly.

Mystery Men (1999)
They're second rate heroes, at best. They need help, and the only real superhero in the world has been dispatched by Casanova Frankenstien. There are a grand total of three people with superpowers on the team, and two of them have questionable powers at best. But this band of misfits manages to entertain for two solid hours, and they even defeat the evil in the end. Plus we get to see Paul Reubens again, after his long departure from film.

Sky High (2005)
It's a new movie. It was made by Disney. It wasn't as good as The Incredibles. We know all this. Get over it. This movie may have been as much about life in High School as it was about superheroes, but there isn't a bad moment in the movie. Lots of good, funny moments, a smokingly hot villainess, good comic relief supporting characters, decent special effects all overpower the terribleness that is the Commander and Jetstream's costumes. And we get to see Lynda Carter in a superhero role once more. (Joss Whedon, you are on notice. She gets a cameo in Wonder Woman. I'd hate to hold your puppy hostage. But I'd do it.)

So, there we go, ten superhero films that you probably didn't see, but really ought to. Feel free to disagree or argue with me on them. But in the meantime, at least you have something to rent from Blockbuster tonight.

10 Comments:

Anonymous grace said...

I've decided my superhero is Glamour Girl and my secret weapon is the famous flying elbow with the war cry followed by the bumper shove.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Zombie_Flyboy said...

Pretty cool.

I'm a big fan of the Superman movies and Robocop.

3:59 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

flyboy,

I'm going to hope and pray that you only mean the first two Superman films.

Dig your site by the way. And that reminds me, I need to do a review of Marvel Zombies sometime soon...

4:08 PM  
Blogger Clarity25 said...

Superman, Batman the movie and the Rocketeer are three of my favorite movies from my childhood! I haven't seen Mystery men yet.. I have to check that out! Cool entry!

6:18 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I'll go with Robocop and Darkman.


Chris
My Blog

6:39 PM  
Blogger Al B Here said...

I can't say I really enjoyed Mystery Men... was ok, at best... for pure campiness, I'd go with The Specials (2000) with Jamie Kennedy and Rob Lowe.

7:01 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

Al,

I never caught The Specials, although I heard good things about it.

Perhaps I need to take a trip to Blockbuster myself...

8:08 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Some people haven't seen Superman: The Movie? Why, I remember seeing it in the theater just... um...

Wow. Almost thirty years ago.

Excuse me while I go stare blankly at a wall contemplating my mortality.

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave,

I don't want to hear it monkeyboy ; )

-Nico

12:45 PM  
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3:14 AM  

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