The genre of the modern-day superhero film is probably the most dominant and recognizable film genre to appear in the lifetime of Generation Y. General opinions on the overall value of this genre of film varies strongly from person to person. However, I think it is safe to say that even the most ardent of superhero film advocates would probably recognize that while there have been powerful, artistically complex films that focus on men (and women) in tights, there have also been a quite a few stinkers. At best it’s been a mixed bag. This is why after 12 years of bombastic web-shooting, cowl wearing, rights-trampling, spandex-wearing fun it is time to open up that bag and zero in on the best and worst moments that the genre has produced this century so far. This is Best/Worst: Scenes in Superhero Cinema of the ’00′s.
Worst Scenes in Superhero Cinema
5. ”It’s Overtime!” – Catwoman (2004)
Just three years after delivering a spectacular tornado of a performance in Marc Forster’s Monster’s Ball, Halle Berry experienced an epic fall from grace. Donning the most ridiculous and impractical costume of all time, Berry headlined what very well might be the worst superhero film of all time: 2004′s Catwoman, directed by the illustrious Pitof. Of all the stupidity on display, of all the horrific lines and atrocious acting, the worst scene in the film is probably the dubious “climax,” where Berry’s idiotic feline faces off against Sharon Stone’s bore of a baddie, Laurel. The scene is one of the worst in all of superhero cinema because it encapsulates everything that is abrasive about the genre, in addition to being just terribly conceived and executed. The frantic, ugly editing, mind-numbing choreography and lack of emotional investment in the characters contribute to the scene being about as fun as getting your eyes scratched out.
4. “Back to Back!” – X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
As everyone with half a brain knows X-Men Origins was a totally crappy movie that squandered a prime opportunity. Filled with over-the-top scenes that are obviously striving to be ”cool” yet fall more into the “hopelessly clichéd” category (such as when Wolverine becomes the living embodiment of the SNL parody, “Cool Guys Don’t Look At Explosions“) Origin’s abrasive silliness truly knew no boundaries. One of the worst insults to the mythology of its source material is the film’s final treatment of Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool. In the film Wilson is transformed from his comic-book identity of being a jive-talking, fourth wall breaking, smart-ass to a silent, mouth less killing machine with all of the X-Men’s powers and none of his original personality. The unfortunate result is that in the final battle (which pits Wade against Logan and Sabertooth) there is very little in the way of drama. Also, the scene is unintentionally hilarious. Watch the close-up shot of Logan’s face as Wilson leaps on top of him and stabs him in the back. It is PURE, COMEDIC, GOLD!
It is difficult to figure out which scene is more disgusting. Each one of these sequences is riddled with such saccharine moralizing and sanctimonious nationalism that it is like getting punched in the face with a red, white and blue fist and then getting hauled to your feet and forced to snap off a salute to the stars and stripes at gunpoint. I mean, shit, I know that New York was trying to heal from the trauma of 9-11 during the first half of the past decade but this is just way, way too much.
If you want a film which sums up the industry’s contemptuous attitude towards revered comic book properties, one needs to look no further than the adaptation of Alan Moore iconic book, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The film completely disrespects all the most interesting facets found in Moore’s original books. The only thing it really maintains is the basic concept (a team-up of Victorian-era literary characters). It also reshapes characters in incredibly unimaginative ways (Mina is now a vampire… snore), and puffs up the narrative not with character development but with eye-rolling action scenes (such as the one below) defined by tranquilizer-like intensity.
1. Saturday Night Spiderman or Peter Parker: Member of the Rat Pack – Spiderman 3 (2007)
There is nothing in all of superhero cinema that matches this loathsome sequence. Now, it is not like this sequence came out of nowhere; Raimi’s gonzo brand of tongue-in-cheek weirdness had begun to rear its head in Spiderman 2. However, 2 never crossed the line like 3. I will never forget walking out of the theater all those years ago, despondent and fighting back tears, flanked by hundreds of others who had been similarly hoodwinked into attending the midnight showing of this travesty. I believe that even back then I was starting to reevaluate my love of comic book cinema, saying to myself, “Maybe this ISN’T the greatest thing ever!”
Best Scenes in Superhero Cinema
5. ”Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head” – Spiderman 2 (2004)
This bizarre sequence, incongruent with most of the film, represents Raimi dancing on the line which was so brutally crossed later on in the franchise’s final installment. What was so wrong in the “Evil Parker” sequences of Spiderman 3 works perfectly here. Here, the goofiness is acceptable for the character’s current situation. The scene conveys a great deal about both Parker’s carefree elation (due to the jettisoning of the Spiderman persona) and his inner-struggle to remain out of the fray of combating crime. It is a sequence that is stylistically wacky and shakes up the dour, brooding nature of most superhero films.
4. Night Flight – Superman Returns (2006)
It’s very sad that this film seems to be so universally reviled. To me this is unfair and it ignores the movie’s impressive acting (barring Bosworth), sublime effects and storyline that zeroes in on the basic mythological appeal of the Superman character. He’s a man, burdened by the screams of a world in need of a God. This idea is beautifully conveyed in the powerful conversation between Supes and Lois during their nighttime flight.
3. “As a Symbol I Can be Everlasting.” – Batman Begins (2005)
Similar to the effect that Frank Miller and Alan Moore had on the medium of the graphic novel, Christopher Nolan can be credited with pushing the medium of the comic book film forward. He reshaped the genre in many ways, including imbuing his films with a more somber tone and grounded Batman’s world with a sense of hyper-realistic plausibility. Even more important however was how Nolan tied the actions of his film’s vigilante to the potential effects they would have on the films fictional society. Nolan treated the Batman character as not some sort of perpetually isolated crime-fighter, but a symbol whose theatricality is designed to inspire a more universal sense of social justice. It is in this thematic specificity where an iconic film franchise was born.
2. “The Rules Were Made a Long Time Ago…” – Super (2010)
James Gunn’s Super (along with The Dark Knight) is the cinematic equivalent to the Watchmen graphic novel. It is a film which deconstructs the mythology of an entire genre. However, Super accomplishes this heady notion without transforming itself into some sort ponderous, slow-moving affair. The film is one of the funniest and most entertaining of its genre ever produced. The scene below encapsulates perfectly how the idea of a costumed adventurer is one that is inherently problematic. The extreme nature of the actions of a vigilante (and the rigid moral code that defines/structures these actions) are so disturbing because they eliminate all shades of grey. There is only black and white and it is the vigilante who has absolute authority, being simultaneously the judge, jury and (in this case) executioner.
1. “I Think You and I Are Destined to Do This Forever.” – The Dark Knight (2008)
Of all the great scenes in The Dark Knight (there are one or two) the Joker’s final speech to Batman stands as probably the greatest in the film and in all of superhero cinema. In this scene The Joker not only reveals his full intentions (to break Gotham’s spirit through corruption of one of its symbols) but also seems to reference how the dynamic between Batman and The Joker is one that is so deeply ingrained in our cultural imagination that we will never be free of it, even after we leave the theater.