Film Feature: The Marvel Comics Movie Awards

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CHICAGO – When “Thor” hits theaters this Friday, it will be 22nd Marvel Comics movie to make it to the big-screen since “Blade” rebooted Marvel’s box office potential back in 1998. There have been more Marvel movies if you count such Marvel-owned properties as “Men in Black” or “Kick-Ass” (or if you count the cheesy straight-to-VHS Marvel movies of the 80s and 90s), but “Blade” was the first “modern” Marvel superhero flick.

Since it debuted, Marvel has been increasingly aggressive in bringing its superheroes to the big screen. This summer gives us three new entries into the Marvel canon – “Thor”, “Captain America”, and “X-Men: First Class” – and with “The Avengers” and the “Spider-Man” reboot currently filming, the Marvel movie library will be 30, 40, heck, 50-movies strong any day now.

In fact, there are so many Marvel superhero films in existence now, it’s practically its own genre – the Marvel Comics Movie. And, as we start on this summer full of Marvel, we decided to take a look back at the origins of the Marvel Movie genre and give you some of our picks for the best and the worst that the Marvel Movie machine has had to offer. Sit back, relax, and keep an eye out for that Stan Lee cameo, as we break down the highest and lowest moments in Marvel movie history.

Best Marvel Movie: “Spider-Man 2”

Spider-Man 2
Spider-Man 2
Photo credit: Marvel Movies

Why?: Because it’s the whole package. While most Marvel movies have primarily succeeded with individual moments – delivering us tasty little appetizers of geektastic fun within films that rarely live up to the promise of those delicious first courses — Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2,” more than any other Marvel film, delivers a full, seven-course meal of awesome. It’s got great performances, characters you care about, a story you can follow, pathos, pain, joy, a complex villain, a flawed hero, and some of the BEST superhero action sequences ever set to film. Sure, New York doesn’t really have an elevated subway, Doc Ock’s plan doesn’t make a ton of sense, Aunt May sounds a bit too much like Yoda, and the “Here Comes the Bride” moment was pretty cheese-tastic, but the rest of the film is so confident and powerfully assembled that it just doesn’t matter. “Spider-Man 2” is the “Dark Knight” of Marvel movies, and it definitely has set the standard for what a full-blown superhero movie SHOULD look like.

Runner-Up: “X2: X-Men United” (like “Spidey 2”, the rare sequel that outperforms its original); “Iron Man” (the first 2/3rds are fantastic)

Worst Marvel Movie: “Fantastic Four”

Why?: Because it’s an amazing concept executed TERRIBLY. And how do we know that the “Fantastic Four” was so terribly made? Because Brad Bird took, ostensibly, the EXACT same concept and turned it into “The Incredibles “– released one year before the FF movie – which stands as probably the single best superhero movie ever made. Granted, it’s hard to live in the shadow of “The Incredibles”, but, like it or not, that film set the bar for what a “Fantastic Four” movie could and should be. And director Tim Story – seeing that challenge – completely failed to deliver in any way, shape, or form. The movie looks painfully cheap, the action sequences are inept (some of the worst big-budget FX scenes ever filmed), the plot is filled with holes, Story WASTES his not-half-bad cast (the scene where he makes Jessica Alba strip down to her underwear for no apparent reason is particularly repugnant)… the movie flops spectacularly. And, sure, there are plenty of other bad Marvel movies, but most of them have either small moments of redeeming grace or only bungle B or C-list heroes. But the Fantastic Four are the first family of Marvel Comics – a franchise that should be as A-List as Spider-Man, X-Men, or The Avengers – and, in their first feature, absolutely NOTHING worked. They were treated worse than second-string picks like Blade or The Punisher and any true Marvel zombie should find that unbelievably depressing.

Runners-Up: “Elektra” (really, how good did you think an Elektra movie would be?); “Spider-Man 3” (like FF, HUGE potential wasted); “Punisher: War Zone” (incoherent)

Best Action Sequence: Nightcrawler Tries to Kill the President in “X2: X-Men United”

Photo credit: Marvel Movies

Why?: Because it’s 2 minutes and 22 seconds of pure “squee!” Yes, it’s not as big or bombastic as the Hulk or Iron Man throwing down against an army of enemies, but it is, without question, THE most BAD-ASS moment in Marvel movie history. It takes one of the most underrated and fanboy-beloved X-Men ever – Nightcrawler, the swashbuckling, teleporting furry blue hero – and has him TAKE APART a full squad of Secret Service agents in the White House as he comes within an inch of assassinating the President. AND Bryan Singer has the stones to make this one of the first scenes in the movie. It’s as if he was directly responding to the critics who were underwhelmed by the action in the first “X-Men” film. The film opens and BAM! (Or should we say “BAMF!”) Alan Cumming’s Kurt Wagner is teleporting, punching, flipping, and destroying his enemies to the tune of a gorgeously overwrought Mozart soundtrack. The scene is fantastic – one of the best things Singer has ever shot AND it’s a fantastic example of how AMAZING superpowers can look on the big screen when a director creates the perfect sequence to show them off.

Runners-Up: Spider-Man vs. Doc Ock on the clocktower in “Spider-Man 2”; the aftermath of the opening blood rave in “Blade”; Hulk fights from the desert to San Francisco in Ang Lee’s “Hulk”

Best Kiss: The upside-down kiss in “Spider-Man”

Why?: Because it’s a no-brainer. In fact, it’s such a no-brainer that we almost didn’t even include this category. However, we left it in for two reasons. Reason #1 – it was a great concept for a kiss and, c’mon, it’s become an icon of pop culture that’s been parodied ad nauseum. Reason #2 – to illustrate how WEAK the romance has been in the Marvel movies we’ve seen so far. Like it or not, geeks, but comic books (particularly superhero books) are big ol’ soap operas, and romance has played a big role in most major comic sagas. So, that being said, why have we been so underwhelmed with Marvel movie romance so far? Jean Grey flirts a bit with Wolverine, Rogue flirts with Iceman, Pepper flirts with Tony Stark, Bruce Banner pines for Betty… there’s been a lot of middling tension, but no real passion. That’s why Spidey’s upside-down kiss is so significant and why we’re hoping that, in the future, Marvel will start making us fall in love with their characters falling in love.

Runners-Up: None (isn’t that sad?)

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