Worst to First: Superhero Movies of 2017
Hello and Happy New Year, everyone! We’ve made another trip around the sun, so it’s time once again to throw out the Christmas tree, pack up the menorah, and navel-gaze at the stuff that came out last year! For my own part, I’ll be taking a look back at all the superhero flicks to grace the screen since January, 2017. I’m glad to say that it was pretty good year for capes and tights on the big screen, with no full-scale disasters to speak of. But which offering was the best of the best? Read on to find out!
I actually feel kind of bad for having this one in last place, because I did get the sense that they were trying to address criticism and make improvements. We finally ended up with a Superman who acted like Superman, heroes who cared about the world around them, and just an escape from the general sense of brooding self-importance that has drug down movies like Dawn of Justice and Man of Steel. There were some cool fight scenes, good character moments, and a lot of spectacle to enjoy as well. But while Justice League is head and shoulders above most of the other DCEU films, it still lands as just mediocre in the larger super hero film landscape. I wouldn’t call it a bad movie by any stretch, but a bland villain, a plot that is just going through the motions, and heavy doses of exposition for half the team hold the movie back. At the end of the day, Justice League is fine, but just fine is a pretty big disappointment for what was supposed to be the big showstopper for the DCEU. Instead of getting The Avengers, we ended up with something closer to X-Men: Apocalypse, which is to say forgettable and underwhelming.
6) Spider-Man: Homecoming
Coming in at #6, we have another movie that I think was better than it’s low ranking would indicate, but again, it was pretty stiff competition this year. Spider-Man: Homecoming is the latest crack at a Spider-Man movie, a franchise that went through quite a tangled web of studio bickering to get to this point. And for the final result, we ended up with a movie that was much, much better than than the recent Amazing Spider-Man movies, but was in the middle of the pack of MCU films. This film had a lot of strengths, including a great performance from Tom Holland, who gives Peter a goofy charm perfect for the awkward teenager he’s supposed to be. I can’t really think of anything I actively disliked about the movie, but in a crowded year, Homecoming doesn’t rise above #6.
5) The Lego Batman Movie
There was some debate about whether this movie should count for this list, but there’s so much love for Batman fans thrown into this flim that it won out in the end. Coming in 5th place, we have The Lego Batman Movie, the spinoff to the pop culture extravaganza that was The Lego Movie. Much like it’s predecessor, this outing is hilarious from beginning to end in a way that both kids and adults can enjoy. It makes our list here, though, for being a surprisingly good Batman film that distills the core aspects of the character. Yes, Batman is objectively awesome (which is on full display here), but he’s also a very vulnerable, damaged individual who fears forming connections with others. I can’t recall any other Batman movie that did as well at tackling that aspect of the character, as unbelievable as that might seem. Between this and the shout-outs to Batman’s rich (and sometimes goofy) past, it’s clear that the creators have a lot of love for the character, which resulted in a real treat for fans of the Caped Crusader.
4) Wonder Woman
Coming in at 4th place, we have the most important super hero movie of the year, Wonder Woman. This movie was the shot in the arm that the DCEU needed, easily their best movie to date, but much more importantly, it dispelled any ideas that audiences wouldn’t be on board for a female led super hero movie. Wonder Woman being a huge success should change the movie landscape moving forward in the best of ways. And it’s easy to see why audiences loved it; it has a great cast, with dazzling performances from the likes of Gal Gadot, Robin Wright, and Chris Pine, and also offered an unapologetic upbeat vision of the character that stands in stark contrast to the more dour (and out of character) takes on the likes of Superman. And we should not underestimate how much this movie meant to women who were long overdue for watching a movie made by women with a kickass woman in the lead. It is worth mentioning that, as a man, I can’t really appreciate how important this aspect of the film was for much of the audience. But while Wonder Woman was an important watershed moment and a good film, it does has some flaws that hold it back, most notably an underwhelming final act and uninspiring final boss battle. So while Wonder Woman was one of the most important movies in general to come out this year, it has some shortcomings as a story that hold it back from being in my personal top 3.
3) Thor: Ragnarok
I’m a bigger fan of Thor as a character than I am of any other character on this list, so I was kind of surprised with myself when I put this one at #3. And to be clear, I absolutely loved this movie; watching it made for some of the most fun I had at the theater this year. Pivoting away from the more subdued tone of the previous Thor films, Ragnarok is wall to laughs and thrills, with great turns from a strong cast. Chris Hemsworth adapts to the more humorous tone quite well, Tom Hiddleston delivers another strong performance as Loki, and series newcomers Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett, and Karl Urban all give great contributions. Additionally, the inclusion of Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk and Bruce Banner feels organic and brings up the whole experience. To be honest, I was pretty much sold on the film just by Thor’s gladiator bout with the Hulk, and the rest of the movie being so much fun was a real delight. That being said, I couldn’t put this one any higher because it lacked something that the top spots both had: heart. As much as I enjoyed Ragnarok, I couldn’t help but feel that there were times where it needed to put the breaks on the gags and let serious moments be serious moments. Throughout the whole film, some pretty dire things are happening, but there are only a few scenes that seem to carry an appropriate amount of gravity. That being said, the film is still a blast, with a subtle message about imperialism worked in to boot. It certainly has me looking forward to a new Thor film somewhere down the line, and that’s always a good thing to be feeling when you walk out of a theater.
2) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2
The first movie depicting the exploits of Marvel’s band of galactic outcasts was easily one of the best from the MCU, and it’s sequel didn’t miss a beat when came out this year. Taking the silver medal, we have Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Fans of the first entry will know what to expect in a general sense; lots of laughs, a ton of personality, and a killer sound track, all held together with heart. It is this final element, I would argue, that makes the Guardians franchise truly great. I have a great time watching a Guardians movie, just like I had a great time watching Ragnarok, but Guardians sets itself apart by also providing an emotional punch that makes it more than just a popcorn movie. This is also the area where Vol 2 makes a big step up from its predecessor. While the sequel can’t really have as much of an impact as the original, and the playlist wasn’t quite as good to me, Vol 2 does provide more emotional resonance. This is a movie about damaged people and the solace they find in each other, imperfect though it may be. These issues are handled expertly by director James Gunn, who never resorts to heavy-handedness, but rather makes things feel organic and genuine, both with quiet moments and dramatic ones. I ended up seeing this movie 3 times in the theaters, and there were both scenes that made me laugh and ones that made me tear up every time I saw them. It’s rare for a movie to give you such a range of experiences, but it’s exactly what you can expect from our favorite space-faring misfits. In most years, this would easily take the top spot, but in 2017, the honor goes to…
Coming in at #1, we have Logan, the brutal, heartbreaking send off to Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s decades-long stint with the X-Men franchise. Part of the reason the movie hits so hard is that it is a goodbye to actors who have become so iconic in their roles, but I firmly believe that this is a genuinely great film regardless of that. Taking place in a possible future of the X-Men’s cinematic universe, this movie gives us a world in which mutants are practically extinct, in which Wolverine must escort a young X-23 to safety. What unfolds is a moving story that gives us a side of Wolverine that we hadn’t been the focus on the screen: the tragic side. This movie is everything an R-rated Wolverine movie should be, and not just because of the toned up violence (though it most certainly has that). Rather, it takes advantage of the R rating by focusing on the loneliness, loss, and misery that follow Wolverine around at his worst moments. This is a story that doesn’t pull its punches, letting us know early and often that there isn’t much room for optimism around. At the same time, though, it isn’t just a cynical exercise of nihilism either, because when the characters do find some solace and happiness, it feels earned and all the more powerful for all that had to be done to get there. All of this is brought to life masterfully by Jackman, Stewert, and newcomer Dafne Keen, who is phenomenal in her role as X-23. Furthermore, anyone who was concerned that melodrama would get in the way of the action need not have worried, since this is some of the best (and unsurprisingly the most brutal) fighting the series has ever seen. The movie is not without its faults, most prominent in my mind being a couple of instances where our heroes REALLY should have kept moving instead of hunkering down for the night, but a few nitpicks don’t do much to take away from this amazing movie. There are times where it will break your heart, but also give you moments of hope to get you through. In my mind, this was the perfect way to go out not only for Jackman and Stewart, but also for Fox’s slate of X-Men movies, what with the characters set to be absorbed into the MCU in the near future (sorry, Dark Phoenix). Logan is a masterpiece, and my pick for the best super hero movie of 2017.
So there you have it! Like I said, it was a pretty close competition between all the spandex clad heroes last year, so the order here might very well not up with your opinions. Be sure to share said opinions in the comments, and thanks for reading!