It’s undeniable that over the last few years, movies based on Marvel comic book characters have been inescapable. Demolishing their competition year after year, the majority of films within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a fair few of the ones that exist in the multiverse just outside of it, have broken box office records left right and centre. This is the era of the comic book movie. In 2016 alone, three of the most anticipated ‘Marvel’ movies (or, I suppose, two superhero movies and one anti-hero movie) were released to the masses.
With several major film studios having taken on standalone character introductions, team franchises and the MCU’s third phase already well underway, there are dozens of good (and bad) Marvel-related movies out there, but we thought we’d pick five of the best and five of the worst to look back on from the last fifteen years.
5. Daredevil (2003)
Despite being based on one of the more popular characters in the comic book canon, Daredevil is widely regarded as one of the worst Marvel-related films ever. From the overabundance of subplots to the uncomfortable and extremely forced relationship between Matt Murdock and his sai-wielding love interest Elektra Natchios, the 2003 film is a disaster from start to finish.
On top of ruining the heroism of Matt Murdock’s origin story by making him an impartial bystander during the chemical accident rather than the brave kid who pushes a man out of harm’s way and is blinded for his efforts, Mark Steven Johnson’s film also fails to create any likeable characters. With a main character who shifts between being a giant bore and a creepy womaniser, an incredibly underdeveloped female lead and a bad guy whose thirst for the hero’s blood stems from a single interaction involving Daredevil messing up a shot he takes, there’s not a whole lot for audiences to take an interest in. Despite having a certain aesthetic appeal in certain shots, Daredevil isn’t worth the time it takes to watch; dragging through every minute of its painful 2 hour run time.
4. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Not all good things come in threes; something that is painfully clear when watching the final chapter of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. Stuffed to the brim with second-rate villains and one of the most cringe-worthy dance scenes in history, Spider-Man 3 is thankfully terrible enough that, despite its $890 million gross, it killed all plans the studios and Raimi himself had to make a fourth.
Sometimes a hero is only as good as his nemesis, which is why using the symbiote to turn Peter Parker into a hostile, ‘venomous’ version of himself, had it been done properly, would have been a great way to round out Spider-Man’s journey; allowing the protagonist to fall from grace, only to rise victorious after defeating his own inner-demons. Unfortunately, evil Peter Parker turns out to be a gyrating emo whose biggest crime is winking at random ladies on the street. Combine that failure with the film’s obvious lack of real subplot for any of its three villains, or motive beyond Harry Osborn’s ‘you killed my father’ diatribe and Spider-Man 3 becomes nothing more than a few flashy fight scenes and some CGI that seemed impressive in 2007.
3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Generally, origin stories are the expected opening chapter to longer film franchises; they detail the backstory of the main character (or multiple focus characters) and help set up where the story arc will eventually lead. You would think that the biggest problem with Wolverine’s origin story is that, by the end of the film, he won’t even remember it, but honestly? It’s not. In fact, by the time credits roll most people watching probably wish they could join him in blissful ignorance.
After making it through the Howlett-Creed mutant family drama and the opening-credits-war-montage which consists mostly of shots of Logan and Victor running through various historical battlefields dramatically, the two half-brothers are recruited by well-known enemy Colonel Stryker – so we all know this isn’t going to go well for old Wolverine. The Weapon X program is something we’re all well aware of as it’s already been pretty well covered in comic-books and multiple Marvel animated shows and X-men Origins: Wolverine manages to add nothing new to the storyline, except a new version of Wade Wilson that no one asked for or wanted. There is little the film has to offer beyond a naked Hugh Jackman running around the countryside. The dialogue is stilted and often boring, the action sequences are pretty unrealistic and well, they ruin Deadpool, which is an unforgivable sin.
2. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Where the first film succeeded, the second Iron Man installment seems to stumble and fall flat on its face. More of a set-up for The Avengers than a sequel in its own right, Iron Man 2 acts like a teaser trailer for the 2012 team-up film; introducing us to Black Widow and giving more of an explanation as to who Nick Fury is, all while slipping in as many mentions of the Avengers Initiative as it can without sounded too over-eager.
Sure, Tony Stark is still his overly sarcastic, yet somehow genuinely charming and charismatic self and his support team are all as entertaining as they were first time around (even though we seem to have lost one on the way and had him replaced), but in the end the film feels like a rush job. The sequel’s script lacks the same levity and spark that made its predecessor such an entertaining action flick and the villain doesn’t really hold a candle to Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane. Mickey Rourke’s tattooed, vengeful, whip-wielding Vanko could have been greatly improved by letting the character battle it out with our hero in a more original, unique way, but instead the closing reel of Iron Man 2 plays out like an amped up rehash of the first film’s final showdown.
1. Fantastic Four (2015)
‘Fantastic’ isn’t a word that should be associated with the 2015 reboot of the superhero quartet consisting of Reed Richards, Sue and Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm. It’s not just that Fantastic Four is slow, unfocused and badly written, but that it also lacks evidence of chemistry between any of the characters. In trying to create a darker, gloomier atmosphere for the Marvel team movie, Josh Trank and his team completely missed the point of franchises like Fantastic Four: they’re supposed to be fun.
Completely devoid of any emotional significance, the film slowly drags its audience through stilted, monotonous interactions between the characters that make it seem like the actors themselves would rather be anywhere else. Not only that, but the team don’t even get powered up until over half the film has gone and by the time they finally team up properly to take down Dr. Doom the big battle is squashed into the last fifteen minutes, every second of which feels flat and lacking in tension or build up.
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The problem with a lot of the middle films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that they act as transition episodes – setting up the bigger, flashier ensemble films without getting room to show off their own individual stories. Just like many of those films, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one that requires a certain level of knowledge of the previous installments to understand the inner workings of what’s actually happening, but unlike the rest, it doesn’t need that knowledge to be an enjoyable movie experience.
Opening on an out-of-time Steve Rogers, who spends his days running around the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool and visiting museums to look at pictures of his long lost best friend, Winter Soldier is far grittier and more ominous than its predecessor set during World War 2. Pitting our ‘all American hero’ against the very military department he’s been working for and a Winter-Soldier-shaped ghost from the past, the Cap sequel works to isolate Steve from everyone; forcing him to question even Nick Fury as he realises the work SHIELD is doing “isn’t freedom. This is fear.” With some of the best action sequences the MCU has seen, a healthy dose of man-pain and enough humour to stop the film from becoming too dark, Anthony and Joe Russo created what is easily one of the best Marvel films out – showing that even Marvel’s seemingly straightforward, black and white good guy is far more complex than he seems at first glance.
4. The Avengers (2012)
With the Avengers finally assembled it’s easy to see why so much planning and preparation was put into the final addition to the MCU’s first phase. Although the journey to get to this was a long one, The Avengers is definitely the MCU’s biggest payoff so far, with the highest gross of any comic-book adaptation to date. Bringing together a team made up of two spies, one genius in a metal suit, one ninety year old super soldier, a giant green rage monster and a Norse God, who are all led by Samuel L. Jackson with an eyepatch, it’s easy to see why Joss Whedon’s superhero blockbuster killed at the box office.
It takes a while for the film to finally get going as each of the main characters are introduced, but even with its long-winded start, The Avengers doesn’t really have a boring moment in its nearly 2.5 hour run time. Managing to balance the individual introductions, the conflict with Loki, the team up and the big New York City battle, all whilst fitting in jokes about classic arcade games, flying monkeys and the Hulk’s impulse control, The Avengers is a film with universal appeal. The chemistry between each of the characters is palpable even when they’re at each other’s throats and although the set up scenes feel stretched thin between the six team members at times, the way these completely different characters come together and fit so well; balancing weak spots and knowing when to back each other up more than makes up for it.
3. Iron Man (2008)
Nine years and a sprawling cinematic empire later, the 2008 film that kicked off the first phase of the MCU is still undoubtedly one of its best. Iron Man was the perfect opening for what Marvel studios were trying to create and with Robert Downey Jr. playing the sometimes obnoxious, but constantly charismatic genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist Tony Stark, they really managed to strike gold. Maybe at the time, Iron Man was a character only the comic-book faithful were aware of, but after three solo films, two team blockbusters and one shared civil war, the name Stark might as well be emblazoned on a New York skyscraper for all the world to see because where DC have Superman and Batman, Marvel now have Iron Man and Captain America.
There are a lot of times that Iron Man defaults back to the typical superhero movie setup in terms of structure, plot devices and the very-obviously-evil Jeff Bridges, but between the brilliant special effects, the clever script and RDJ’s Stark persona, Iron Man is still an entertaining film even after the 20th time you’ve seen it. The film’s end is probably the most defining moment however, solidifying its top 5 status, when Tony Stark shows up Batman, Spider-Man, and every other superhero who hides in the shadows; standing up in front of everyone to say “I’m Iron Man”.
2. Deadpool (2016)
So long awaited it felt as though Deadpool was never going to be able to live up to the hype, especially after his abysmal cameo in the first ‘solo’ Wolverine film. A lot of fans believed that the other much-loved dude in red spandex would have to stick to the pages of comics instead of the silver screen, but his 2016 R-rated film adaptation more than made up for his first silver screen appearance.
Verging on demented at times, Wade Wilson’s origin story is the breath of fresh air that the comic-book-movie business was in need of. Despite displaying the same conventionality that most superhero films are guilty of, Deadpool is different from the rest in a few key ways; the most important being that the main character is definitely not a superhero. Wade the wise-cracker is a violent, foul-mouthed mercenary who spends the better part of the film killing his way through the ranks of a criminal network to get to Francis, while the rest is spent developing a backstory that any Deadpool fan would know probably isn’t even true. Staying true to the source material, the Deadpool film is an ultra-violent, hilarious, self-referential addition to the comic-book-movie world that is far and above one of the best Marvel adaptations ever.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Who could have seen this genuinely funny, quirky, and at times heartbreaking superhero sci-fi ensemble film coming? James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy is exactly what a comic-book movie should be; absurdly silly, colourful, clever and endlessly entertaining. Well-paced and expertly-scripted, the film manages, within its two-hour run time, to expand on an already established universe, introduce a team of lovable (if somewhat obscure) roguish anti-heroes, clue us in on their backstories enough to establish sympathy for each of them and provide us with a bevy of wonderful supporting roles as well.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe managed to not only exceed our expectations with its tenth installment, but it also unleashed a film that is brilliant in its own right – not just as part of a larger canon. All five members of the renegade team steal the show with every scene they’re in, including the tree whose “vocabulistics is limited to I and am and Groot, exclusively in that order”, making it hard to determine a favourite amongst them. With the perfect blend of action, humour, aliens and the best movie mixtape ever, Guardians of the Galaxy is, without a doubt, Marvel Studios crowning glory.
So there you have it! Some of the best and worst Marvel adaptations of the last fifteen years. Let us know which of our picks you agree with and which ones you think should have made the cut!