With just five months of 2016 and two further comic-book movies remaining, Tom Buxton ranks the four comic-book adaptations we’ve seen hit the big screen so far this year…
Perhaps to a greater extent than any other period in the genre’s history, 2016 represents a historic year for superhero films, not least since it’s playing host to a wider, more ambitious and therefore riskier ensemble of comic book adaptations than we’ve ever seen before. One only has to look at how new efforts centring on never-before-seen, previously underrated characters like Deadpool have already been eclipsing – or at least coming incredibly close to matching – the commercial successes of far more expensive works of cinema like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and X-Men: Apocalypse in order to realize just how game-changing these twelve months will prove to be for competitors like Marvel Studios, DC Entertainment and 20th Century Fox.
Indeed, with further big hitters such as Suicide Squad and Doctor Strange still just around the corner, the fun’s only just beginning; before all of that excitement, though, it’s high time that we take stock of the latest additions to the genre which have graced our screens over the course of the first half of 2016. As such, prepare for shocks, debates and roars of blasphemy aplenty as we rank the four superhero motion pictures released between January 1st and the time of this article’s writing in early July, thereby determining which of those efforts produced so far poses the greatest threat to the critical prospects of those due to launch in just a few short weeks or months’ time…
4. BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (THEATRICAL EDITION)
Now, in fairness, this ranking probably won’t come as a colossal surprise to those of our readers who took the time to blast through our two-part feature on how to redeem your faith in the Man of Steel after Zack Snyder’s latest Super-travesty, and owing to the belated UK release of the film’s Ultimate Edition, we can’t yet say for sure whether the extended cut will affect where the second DC Extended Universe movie places come the end of 2016.
All the same, Dawn of Justice’s myriad failings were plain to see even for casual movie-goers. Between its woefully structured storyline, barebones characterisation of beloved DC heroes, villains and secondary players – see Jimmy Olsen – as well as its hysterically poorly directed dream sequences, contrived Justice League cameos, dreadful turns from Gal Gadot and Jessie Eisenberg, and above all its utterly soulless final set-piece, there’s little to no redemption to be found for this shallow cash-grab beyond Affleck and Irons’ competent attempts to offer more character drama than the tonally bipolar script allowed. 3/10
3. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
If the sequel which came fourth on our latest Best to Worst shortlist didn’t come as a shock to many of you, then Civil War finding itself in second-to-last place probably does in comparison. Just before anyone starts raising their pitchforks, we’ll wholeheartedly admit that this third chapter in the Captain America series often looks like The Dark Knight in comparison to Batman v Superman, with the Russo brothers going to impressive lengths to provide each character with a tangible arc, to capitalise on the devastation caused by the Avengers in previous MCU instalments so as to give a sense of narrative consequence and to – successfully – bring us the single greatest version of Spider-Man witnessed on-screen to date, not to mention a set-piece like no other in the form of the iconic airport brawl.
That said, many critics appeared intent on overlooking this one’s shortcomings at the time of its premiere, the most notable of which was how the sheer density of primary and supporting players made for a rather overstuffed narrative that paled in comparison to the source material. Sure, having Tom Holland’s hilarious Spidey as well as Chadwick Boseman’s refreshingly family-driven Black Panther enter the fray provided us with some great individual character moments, but it also meant we spent scene upon scene waiting for the core narrative to progress in a motion picture which could easily have trimmed 20 minutes from its running time so as to provide a more succinct tale with more dramatic gravitas, an element which felt seriously lacking by the time that Steve Rogers essentially offered Tony a truce.
It’s for that reason that Captain America: The Winter Soldier remains the franchise’s finest hour to date, although equally, if this is just a trial run for Infinity War, then we’re absolutely dying for 2018 and 2019 to come around ASAP. 6/10
Had someone told this writer last year that Deadpool would turn out to be one of his standout favourite works of superhero cinema released during 2016’s first half, yours truly would all but certainly have called the informant in question delusional at best. Yet four months or so from this instantly beloved X-Men spin-off’s launch in cinemas the world over, that’s fast looking to be the case, especially given that markedly more audacious blockbusters like Civil War and Dawn of Justice have failed to provide anywhere near the same levels of – rather surprising – heart, effective comedic relief, unashamedly visceral action, simple but direct storytelling or downright cathartic – especially in a year of terrorist attacks and Brexits – entertainment.
Are we looking at a 5*-warranting, flawless masterpiece worthy of countless Oscar nods here? Absolutely not – try as it might, Deadpool still hits a few too many of the old clichéd origins beats and takes a turn for the dull whenever its scribes attempt to inject some proper drama into the mix via torture sequences or the like, yet whenever it’s focused on the lead antihero’s – brought to life with unmistakable ease by the brilliant Ryan Reynolds – hilarious rapport with his D-list X-comrades, his deliciously metatextual fourth-wall call-outs of the series’ troubling timelines or his gut-wrenchingly humorous approach to besting each and every one of his foes, the film marks itself out as an undisputed must-watch for any and all fans of the comic-book movie genre. 8/10
1. X-MEN: APOCALYPSE
Last but by no means least – quite to the contrary, in fact, given the point we’ve reached on the list – comes a trilogy closer like no other, a finale which proves once and for all that the third one isn’t always the worst, despite what Sophie Turner’s already psychologically fascinating version of Jean Grey / the Phoenix might have to say as she finishes Return of the Jedi. Sure, one could justifiably point out a few chinks in X-Men: Apocalypse’s armour, most notably its predictable outcome and the Civil War-esque overabundance of characters robbing the likes of Psylocke of much to do, but in all honesty, it’s immensely difficult to spend much time doing so without subsequently touching on the countless highlights which more than compensate for any slight narrative hiccups.
From the nuanced way in which Simon Kinberg and Bryan Singer finally resolve the three movie-spanning, interwoven arcs of James McAvoy’s Xavier and Michael Fassbender’s Magneto – both of whom are played by those two actors with just as much relish, conviction and heart – to Oscar Isaac’s career-defining, chilling turn as Apocalypse, from the unforgettable debuts of fan favourite X-Men like Cyclops and a new version of Nightcrawler to the equally memorable return of Wolverine as Weapon X and Quicksilver via the 1980s classic “Sweet Dreams”, from the breath-taking opening sequence in Egypt to the tantalising final team shots, Apocalypse stands as a pitch-perfect summation of comic-book cinema at just about its very finest. 9/10
Be sure to let us know your thoughts on our comic-book movie rankings in the comments section below, and look out for a new Best to Worst comic-book feature here at Daily News Service very soon…