Superhero Files – Part 1

A bunch of superhero movies have been piling up on my “to review” list, so let me start getting them out of the way. There’s a lot going on here, from pretty awesome to pretty bad. Here they are in alphabetical order.

The Batman (2022)

written by Matt Reeves and Peter Craig

based on characters from DC Comics

directed by Matt Reeves

When The Batman was announced, I was wholly uninterested. Having gone through the distinctive Christopher Nolan trilogy, and then the terrible Justice League flicks helmed by Zach Snyder (see below), I was all done with the caped crusader. At least let him retire for a couple of years so we can miss him, right? Well, I took the bait… and I’m still not feeling it. Sure, all the ingredients are there, a dark and heady mix of detective film noir, crime thriller, and superhero angst. But The Batman feels disjointed as it tries to rein in all these styles into a coherent plot in which vigilante Bruce Wayne/Batman (Robert Pattinson) faces off against serial killer Riddler (Paul Dano) and uncovers a tangled web of corruption. Might as well have watched Se7en (1995) and The Wire (2002-2008) again. Pattinson mopes like an emo kid, Dano camps it up, and after the second hour I couldn’t care less if The Dark Knight and Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) would get it on. Next.

Rating: **

Dark Phoenix (2019)

based on characters from Marvel Comics

written and directed by Simon Kinberg

Back in 2006, 20th Century Fox released the highly disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand, the end to the original X-Men trilogy in which Jean Grey becomes Dark Phoenix. As everyone knows, they fucked it up. That timeline was erased by X-Men: Days of Future Past, which means they could try again with this new iteration in which a younger version of Jean (Sophie Turner) becomes the titular antagonist. And what do you know, they fucked it up again. This is the fourth film in the prequel installments, and the whole cast looks pretty bored (Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique is killed off early on, in another emotionless goodbye to a major female superhero that reminded me of Black Widow’s equally inane demise in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame.) There’s a lame subplot having to do with a bunch of aliens who want to control Jean. And considering the whole thing hinges on a character that could very well destroy the whole universe, there’s a distinct lack of spectacle. I’m glad the X-Men rights are now back at Marvel. Maybe they can finally get this one right.


Fantastic Four (2015)

written by Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, and Josh Trank

based on characters from Marvel Comics

directed by Josh Trank

I was looking forward to this because co-writer/director Josh Trank’s first film, Chronicle (2012), was a pretty cool low-budget flick about three high school kids who develop “superhero” powers. Perhaps he could bring that indie sensibility to a big Hollywood production? In a way he does. This reboot of Fantastic Four has an interesting opening sequence and a more serious tone with body horror elements… and that’s about it. Word is that 20th Century Fox wrestled the film away from Trank and it shows. The slapdash origin story feels incomplete, and there’s no chemistry whatsoever between the four main characters, Mister Fantastic (Miles Teller), Human Torch (Michel B. Jordan), Invisible Woman (Kate Mara), and The Thing (Jamie Bell). Worse, the confusing and anticlimactic fight against Dr. Doom (Toby Kebbell) in a parallel dimension seems to belong to a different movie altogether. Same as Dark Phoenix above, the Fantastic Four rights are now back at Marvel. Hope the third time’s the charm.

Rating: **

Glass (2019)

written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan followed up the success of his paranormal thriller The Sixth Sense (1999) with the cool and enigmatic superhero film Unbreakable (2000). Sixteen years later, Shyamalan decided to end his horror flick Split (2016) with a cameo from David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the protagonist from Unbreakable. It was a fun little wink to the audience – both movies were set in the same universe! – and I’m pretty certain that Shyamalan didn’t envision it to be much more than that. But then Split became a box office triumph… and the door was opened for Glass, the third in a purported trilogy in which the antagonist from Unbreakable, Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), manipulates the villain from Split, The Beast (James McAvoy), in order to destroy Dunn. It’s a bizarre effort that never reaches the heights of either one of those first two films, simultaneously heavy-handed and minimalistic in that distinct manner only Shyamalan can pull off (or screw up, depending on the movie and your taste for his stuff). I confess I kinda dig it. Glass may be an uneven end to this “trilogy,” but it’s certainly more interesting than the overload of Marvel and DC extended universes.

Rating: **½

Justice League (2017)

written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon

from a story by Chris Terrio and Zach Snyder

based on characters from DC Comics

directed by Zach Snyder

Director Zach Snyder follows his previous DC superhero duds Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) with yet another clunker that fails to thrill, entertain, or even distract at the most basic level. Not even writer/director Joss Whedon, stepping in for Snyder when the latter had to leave due to a family emergency, could save this turkey – and Whedon knows a thing or two about comic books, having helmed the only truly good Avengers movies, The Avengers (2012) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). You can see him try to inject life into the lethargic blob Snyder left behind, to no avail. Is it marginally better than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? A bit. But still crap.


The New Mutants (2020)

written by Josh Boone and Knate Lee

based on characters from Marvel Comics

directed by Josh Boone

Ensemble superhero flicks live or die on the rapport of the cast. And just like with Fantastic Four above, there’s just no spark between the five teenage X-Men and X-Women of The New Mutants. Too bad, because I love horror films, and this story about a bunch of young mutants being trained to become assassins has no shortage of creepy visions, monsters, and physical manifestations of past fears. But damn if isn’t all surface, with no meaningful exploration of the characters or what they’re going through. It still beats Justice League, though.

Rating: **

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

written by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman

from a story by Phil Lord

based on characters from Marvel Comics

directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman

Holy crap. Could this be one of the best superhero movies ever? I don’t know. Maybe. But I do know that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is my favorite Spider-Man movie so far… and probably one of my favorite animated movies ever. Spider-Man is a half-black, half-Puerto Rican kid named Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) who must learn how to control his newfound powers as he battles Kingpin (Liev Shreiber) with the aid of a bunch of Spideys from different universes (among them, Hailee Steinfeld as Spider-Gwen, Nicolas Cage as Spider-Man Noir, and even the cartoon parody Spider-Ham). The animation is superb, deliberately meant to evoke comic book panels through a variety of techniques such as motion smear, dots, and words on screen. And the wickedly clever script by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman strikes a wonderful balance between action and heart. This is how it’s done. Can’t wait for the sequel.

Rating: ***½

Carlos I. Cuevas