2019 was a banner year for film in general, featuring a plethora of great films, whether you were looking for fun blockbusters or stirring dramas or great indies. But comic book movies were the hot ticket, and the theaters didn’t go long without one of these properties on some of their screens. Of course, there were good ones and there were bad ones, but in which categories do this year’s releases fall? I’m so glad you asked, because that’s what we’re going to do today! Let’s rank these movies, from the worst to the best, starting with…..
I can’t think of a major motion picture this year where everything that possibly could’ve gone wrong somehow went even more wrong. The extremely talented David Harbour is saddled with a horribly written script, devoid of humor or intelligence or even basic structure and coherence, and he’s the best thing about it by far. Unfortunately the script is just one of the many bad things in this film. Director Neil Marshall, formerly a rising star from his brilliant work on Game of Thrones, presides over badly directed action, choppily edited scenes of comedy (?) and drama (?), and an overall low budget amateur hour feel for such an expensive blockbuster. I feel bad for this film and for Lionsgate (who eventually bounced back), but I feel even worse for Guillermo del Toro, whose third installment of this series was sidelined for this film. Jeez, what an insult!
While Hellboy was pretty much forgotten by the masses shortly after it dropped, Dark Phoenix had the misfortune of being the final film in Fox’s X-Men series. It’s undoubtedly been a rocky ride, but the X-Men films were foundational to this genre, and to see it end with such a pathetic whimper is a real shame. This second (!) telling of the Dark Phoenix Saga falls flat primarily due to a lack of competent direction, a lackluster script, and just a real lack of imagination and scope. It’s baffling that the same studio that recently gave us boundary pushing movies like Logan and Deadpool decided to opt for the laziest possible movie to end their ownership of this franchise. The only saving graces are Sophie Turner, who does an excellent job as the conflicted Jean Grey, and the very last action sequence on the train, which is admittedly super badass. Otherwise, this is a skippable movie at best and an embarrassing disaster at worst, and not at all what these classic heroes deserved.
Two years after DC released Wonder Woman and showed that female superhero movies could be great, Marvel released Captain Marvel to show that female superhero movies could be mediocre, too. Telling the origin of the MCU’s most powerful Avenger, Captain Marvel foregoes an interesting, emotional and epic story for a dull, soulless and paint-by-numbers one. It has a few fun moments, and Samuel Jackson is always a treat, but Marvel’s first female superhero movie is surprisingly boring, and a waste of the considerable acting talent that Brie Larson has. Carol Danvers is a fascinating character in the comics, but for some reason the movie couldn’t even scratch the surface of that. Hopefully with the character established Marvel can get it right in the future, but for now they’ll just have to settle for their billion dollars at the box office. Woe is them, indeed.
Remember when M. Night was having a comeback? He’d done The Visit and then Split, two good movies that seemed to end the curse he’d been under since The Village. Well, Glass was the movie that finally ended that. M. Night’s Unbreakable trilogy comes to a close here, and it is about as weird and WTF-ish as you would expect from this director, which I’ll admit does add a certain joy at times (though not in the way they intended). Samuel Jackson is a delight as Mr. Glass and James McAvoy shines as The Beast, but the story is so boring and the “twist” so mind-numbingly dull that I had a hard time staying awake. M. Night also seems to believe that we live in a world where no one has ever heard of comic books, explaining their basic components and morality to an audience that has had ten plus years of comic book movies to watch and enjoy. It’s mind-boggling from the director of Unbreakable, which is still one of the most creative takes on a superhero movie out there, that he didn’t have the self-awareness to realize that he needed to update things. I’ve been very critical of M. Night over the years, but I was willing to give him another chance after Split. Looks like I did, in fact, get fooled again.
Glass wasn’t the only indie-ish superhero movie this year, but Fast Color is actually a good one. Following a young woman hunted by the government for her powers, she returns home to reconnect with her family, with the three women all sharing similar power sets. While this wasn’t a big budget film, the use of powers is very creative and unique, and when you finally “see the colors” yourself it’s actually a very eye-popping experience. It’s also anchored by three great lead performances, all of them bringing texture and nuance to characters beyond what the sometimes clunky script offers them. Unfortunately the film drags a bit and the plotline involving the government gets sidelined to the point where I almost forgot it was in the movie. It definitely leans more into the character drama than superhero action, which won’t please everyone, but I thought it was a pretty good film. Definitely worth checking out to decide for yourself.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
What a year Spider-Man has had, am I right? He won the Oscar at the beginning of the year, was in the highest grossing movie of all time and then was the subject of a bitter studio divorce. Then, of course, there was Far From Home, Sony’s highest grossing movie and the “official” end to the Infinity Saga. Following Peter Parker post-Endgame and dealing with the death of Tony Stark, the film has him facing off a multiversal danger alongside Mysterio while also trying to get the heart of Zendaya, enjoy his trip abroad and other teenager things. I’ve gotta admit, I was really bored through the first half of this. Mysterio as a hero was flat, the teenager stuff (which was so good in Homecoming) was pretty annoying for me, and I just wasn’t thrilled by the action scenes. When Mysterio reveals himself as the villain, though, it’s a completely different story. Tom Holland still shines as this character, Jake Gyllenhaal is a delight as the villainous Mysterio, and the entire film steps up to the plate in a fantastic second half that left me excited and wanting more. So while it’s half a great superhero movie, that last half is so good that I can’t help but recommend it!
The former Captain Marvel finally got his chance to shine this year, and to say I loved it is an understatement. Taking the trappings of an 80’s kids’ film more than a modern superhero movie, Shazam! weaves in the action and mythos of the Big Red Cheese with a really touching and genuinely emotional at times story of family and finding yourself. Zachary Levi was born to play this character the way Ryan Reynolds was born to play Deadpool, Mark Strong finally gets to play a good DC villain as Dr. Sivana, and Jack Dylan Grazer for me was the true heart of the movie as Freddy, but the entire cast is excellent. Director David Sandberg really leveled up from his indie horror days with this movie, and despite a few small nitpicks I thought this movie was fantastic. Whether it’s emotional moments like Freddy’s speech about being crippled or Billy finding his mother, comedic moments like the convenience store scene and the powers testing montage, or even good old-fashioned crowd pleasers like the reveal of the Shazam family, this movie literally has it all. Add this film, bound to be a superhero (and Christmas!) classic, into your collection!
Talk about a shocker! If you’d have told me that a movie about the Joker, directed by the Hangover guy, that doesn’t even connect to the DCEU would’ve been not only a great movie, but possibly the best movie of the year, I’d have said you were crazy! Anchored by Joaquin Phoenix’s brilliant performance, Joker is a dark and brutal mirror to our society, highlighting the growing lack of compassion and empathy and the rising cruelty we show to each other. It also walks that fine line of having us understand this character, but never excusing his actions. All we can do is watch as the corruption and evil of Gotham tears at this man until all he can do is descend into madness, and it is not an easy watch. It also might not be for everyone (and is NOT for kids), and some might even find fault with it in some areas, but I personally loved it. It’s another step forward for the comic book genre, and with its incredible financial success and potential for Oscar wins it could be a game changer for how these movies are made, and could encourage studios to finally take more risks on these films.
Oh come on, was it really going to be anything else? While Endgame might not be the best movie of the year, it is certainly the best comic book movie, tying together the loose threads of over 20 separate films made over the course of a decade. Everything has literally built to this moment, the way a great comic book event does, and this film has all the action, humor and adventure that we could have asked for. I had a few issues with it, major ones in fact, but you can’t help but get swept up in it and forget about those things while you’re watching it. The Russo Brothers are truly fantastic filmmakers and this movie proves it, delivering some great action scenes as well as nice little cinematic touches that enhance the viewing experience. All the actors continue to shine as these characters, particularly Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans, and Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner are able to do their finest work as Black Widow and Hawkeye here as well. It’s amazing to me that this film works at all, let alone that it was a very good film on top of it. The MCU, love it or hate it, is this decade’s crowning cinematic achievement, and Kevin Feige has solidified his place in film history with this series. There really is nothing like it out there, and if you want to see Marvel at its best, look no further.
2019 was a great year for comic book properties, and I haven’t even touched on The Boys or Watchmen. Let’s hope 2020 is just as good!
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