The-Avengers-Cast-and-Director

Its no secret that DC Entertainment and Warner Bros have been looking for an opportunity to compete with Marvel Studios. Marvel has consistently produced one blockbuster after another and most have been well received by critics and fans alike. With Avengers 2 this May and a Civil War film in the near future, things are looking dark for DC’s iconic Super Friends. Despite Marvel’s success, however, there is one category they haven’t performed well in: the awards.

Looking to get some recognition, DC sets their sights on the Oscars and wants to beat Marvel to a Best Picture win. Here’s an interview with Chris Terrio, writer for the upcoming Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice (2016).

I: …The superhero genre is mocked at these awards shows, not celebrated. What makes you and Zack [Snyder] think you’ve got a shot at the Oscars?

Terrio: (laughs) I’ll admit, its ambitious. A lot of people see superheroes as nothing more than your typical popcorn, blockbuster movie. That’s why we did a lot of research before we wrote the script. We looked at current events. We studied films like Silver Linings Playbook, 12 Years a Slave, and a number of other dramas that did really well. Then we asked ourselves “what is it in these films that people are responding to? How can we tailor our superheroes around that?”

I: Interesting…

Terrio: We found that the Justice League could stand for a lot more than fighting bad guys. They could also speak into modern issues that people struggle with every day. They could stand for justice on more levels than just one. If you look hard enough, its already there in the characters.

I: How are you changing the Justice League characters to do that?

man of steel scream

 “Superman is the privileged white American male who has a crisis when he realizes that traditional American values won’t solve today’s problems.”

Terrio: We’re not changing them,we’re looking at the root of the character and seeing it fulfilled in the 21st century. Take Superman, for example. Superman is the privileged white american male who has a crisis when he realizes that traditional American values won’t solve today’s problems.

I: Wait, what?

Terrio: Think about it. Superman is the big blue boyscout, right? The small town, farmboy, conservative values… all that stuff. When we get to the Justice League movie, he has to face the real world now. Its complicated. His idealistic ideals of black and white, right and wrong, just won’t cut it today. We already saw that character arc begin in Man of Steel. Superman has this psuedo-pacifist code of “no-killing,” but he had to break that code in order to stop Zod. Superman’s coming to terms with the real world is at the heart of these films.

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“Batman is living out a little boys’ fantasy of creating a world where no child’s parents have to be murdered. He’s completely OCD…”

I: If that’s Superman, what about Batman?

Terrio: Bruce Wayne is an orphan who never recovered from the trauma of seeing his parents murdered. He’s still a spoiled little rich kid in a lot of ways. By becoming Batman, he’s living out a little boys’ fantasy of creating a world where no child’s parents have to be murdered. And that’s why he’s so obsessive. This guy has a contingency plan for everything, I mean everything. He’s completely OCD.

I: So your plan is to give the Dark Knight an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Terrio: (laughs) Maybe not so specifically. Mental illness is a big topic that people are interested in connecting with. When we took a look at the Justice League, we definitely see Batman in that same boat.

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“Wonder Woman is a lesbian who brings an ancient Greek message of acceptance and tolerance to the judgmental, fundamentalist America.”

I: Interesting. What are you doing with the other characters?

Terrio: Wonder Woman has always stood for freedom, particularly women’s rights. We looked at our culture today and I think Wonder Woman is relevant now more than ever. She’s a lesbian who brings an ancient Greek message of acceptance and tolerance to the judgmental, fundamentalist America. She stands for the oppressed, especially women’s rights and LGBT rights. Her opening scene is stabbing the entire Instagram board of executives.

I: Um, how is stabbing innocent people “tolerant”?

Terrio: Innocent? I’d hardly call the rich white men who maintain the oppressive regime of social media “innocent.”

I: Well, I guess so… But stabbing them? Are you really going to trade villains like Brainiac and Darkseid for some corporate executives?

Terrio: Its not about stabbing, its about being relevant to modern issues.

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“Green Lantern is a space-cop who has become disenchanted with a harsh and oppressive police state.”

Terrio: …Take the enforcer, Green Lantern. In our film, John Stewart is a space-cop who has become disenchanted with a harsh and oppressive police state. The Guardians and their Green Lanterns have become tyrannical, militant, unjust, and racist. Green Lantern comes to a place where he can’t wear the uniform because it doesn’t stand for “serve and protect” anymore.

I: It sounds like you’re drawing some influence from Ferguson.

Terrio: Absolutely. People are questioning the justice system, and what better way to have that conversation than with Green Lantern?

I: What about Captain America? Winter Soldier addressed a lot of those same themes.

Terrio: Well… Yeah. But our movie will be better because our hero will be played by Chiwetelu Ejiofor. I’m looking forward to the scene where he uses his Power Ring to smash Mall of America.

aquaman

I: What else should we expect from the new Justice League? Is Aquaman gay?

Terrio: What? No… He’s obviously a Buddhist environmentalist who is concerned about the oceans and global warming. Why would he be gay?

I: You know… The skin-tight water suits? The constant beach boy, model look? The fish-scales speedo? The years of fan-fiction?

Terrio: Those things don’t make someone gay.

I: Well, sure, but it seems like you’re looking for any reason to make a connection to social justice issues…

Terrio: I find that really offensive.

I: Okay, sorry, um… What about Flash?

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“Flash is addicted to the “fast-pace” modern world… He’s going to be a social media and technology addict.”

Terrio: Flash is my favorite. We looked at what’s trending, and how to fit Flash’s “fast-pace” into the modern world. He’s going to be a social media and technology addict.

I: Like… Facebook?

Terrio: Not just Facebook. Twitter, Instagram, Clash of Clans, everything. He’s so fast that he tries to keep up with everything that’s being posted to the internet. He’s running like crazy from one thing to the next, just like people today. Flash is punching out badguys with one hand and checking his notifications with the other. Addiction is a hot topic at the Oscars, and we’re excited to be the first to tackle social media addiction.

I: It sounds like you have a contingency plan for everything. Well, except for maybe the Holocaust.

Terrio: Oh, we’re covering that, too.

I: Wait, seriously?

Terrio: Absolutely. The Holocaust always wins big at the Oscars. Its pretty much a guaranteed win.

I: How are you going to get to the Holocaust in a Justice League movie?

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“Martian Manhunter will have flashbacks that compare the Holocaust to the persecution people experience today.”

Terrio: Martian Manhunter. Although, we’re not going to use that name. It’ll be simply, “J’onn” or “the Martian.” J’onn is an alien who came here from Mars in the early 20th century. He wound up in Germany, was arrested and taken to a concentration camp. There will be flashbacks that compare the prejudice of the Nazi’s to the persecution people experience today.

I: I love that idea. Are you going to talk about the innocent people being executed by ISIS?

Terrio: No, that’s the wrong kind of controversy for the Academy Awards. We’re going to talk about American laws that discriminate against certain groups. The Martian comes from a genderless society. Everyone is a shape-shifter, so they can appear as male, female, or anything they want to be. He’s not a cis male like in the comics. In fact, the labels “male and female” aren’t even in the Martian vocabulary.

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I: It seems like you’re saying that the real villain is society itself. That evil is only a result of oppression, and not something every person struggles with.

Terrio: Yes. If something such as evil exists, it is the result of systemic oppression. If we get rid of oppression, we get rid of evil.

I: But doesn’t that defeat the entire point of superheroes? The inner struggle of good vs. evil? Our heroes make good choices even when it means sacrifice, that’s why they are heroes. And then the villains do the opposite, choosing to use their powers for selfish gain. It has nothing to do with society. What makes superheroes timeless is the struggle of good and evil in the human heart, not tailoring them to hot-button topics of the day.

Terrio: Zack and I really don’t see it that way. And that’s why we picked the villain that we did.

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“Vandal Savage is the ultimate oppressor… He has both Lex Luthor’s wealth and brilliance, and Ra’s Ah Ghul’s historical conspiracy factor.”

I: So, who is the villain for this film?

Terrio: I’m really excited about the villain we picked, Vandal Savage. He’s the ultimate oppressor. He’s got both Lex Luthor’s wealth and brilliance, and Ra’s Ah Ghul’s historical conspiracy factor. Savage is a power-hungry immortal who has been around since the beginnings of the human race. He’s the one working behind the scenes of history to cause tyranny and social inequality. The opening scene is of Savage talking with the first humans and tricking them into creating an oppressive and selfish society. Evil begins with him.

vandal savage time

I: Interesting. So you’re saying that the question, “what’s wrong with the human race” can be traced back to an initial deception by an evil character? That sounds like a Christian allegory.

Terrio: Does it? Hmm… I never thought of it that way. Do you think that hurts or helps our chance at winning Best Picture?

I: It hurts it. Definitely.

[end transcript.]

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Retcon stands for “retroactive continuity.” It’s a comic book industry term, but it’s used in all kinds of serial fiction these days. Something is retconned when an author goes back and alters the backstory or past events of an ongoing storyline to fit the needs of the current plotline. Perhaps the most famous retcon was carried out by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: the character Sherlock Holmes was just too popular to actually die in that waterfall. Now, to be honest, what I’m doing is technically a revision and not a retcon, but come on, the word retcon is too cool not to use. So what am I retconning? My list of the top 25 films of the last decade, the first article that I posted on this blog. And why am I retconning it? Well, even though the decade was over when I wrote it, there were still lots of great films that I hadn’t seen yet, and not only that, but the order that I would now put the original 25 films in has changed over time as well. If you haven’t read my original list go check it out. That said, I’m not going to rewrite the entire list. I would probably rearrange a lot of the films on it, but I’m only altering the top seven spots, so at least read those entries.

So here goes, my brand new, retconned, top films of the last decade:

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2000, 2001, 2003)

Why is it still in spot number one? Because I’m treating the trilogy as a single entry. Like I originally said, the sequential release of the Lord of the Rings films was the greatest cinematic event of its decade. And treating the three films as a single entry allows me two extra spots to highlight other films; devoting three spots, each to a Lord of Rings film, doesn’t seem fair. And you just know all three would be on this list. I will say this though, if I were to split the trilogy into three separate entries, I don’t think they’d be in the order you’d expect. I actually liked The Return of the King the least and The Fellowship of the Ring the most. And if we’re talking about the extended editions, well then The Two Towers is my favorite.

2. The Dark Knight (2008)

Why did this film move from spot number seven to spot number two? Because most films, when you really start analyzing them or you begin comparing them to other films, you find flaws that you maybe hadn’t noticed before and subsequently you rate the film a little lower, and yet a few films, a rare few, when you do this, you instead realize just how good they really are. I saw The Dark Knight twice while it was in theaters and I was blown away by it. But when I was writing my original list, it was still getting plenty of hype and, even though I loved it, I didn’t want to accidentally jump on a bandwagon, so I put it at number seven. And yet, years later, after the hype has died down, I find myself comparing other films to it, almost as if it were a benchmark. I’ll think, “Wow, that movie was good. But was it as good as The Dark Knight?” No film is perfect, but I feel it’s unhelpful to never give any film a five star rating, something has to be at the top of the chart, something has to set the standard, and in my mind The Dark Knight is such a film.

3. Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

Why was this film added to this list at spot number three? Because I recently saw it and it’s now one of my favorite films. In fact, this film is the main reason I’m doing this retcon. After I’d seen it, the person who recommended it to me asked where it would fall on my old list of the best films of the last decade. That got me thinking about how else that list might have changed since I originally wrote it. By why is this film so high on the list, at spot number three? Because some films are inspiring, some films have something philosophically meaningful to say, some films are darkly hilarious, some films have amazing performances by every single cast member. But this film, it has all of those, and it combines them perfectly. I won’t say anything else, I wouldn’t want to spoil any of the surprises this film has to offer, so you’ll just have to check it out for yourself.

4. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

Why did this film move from spot number two to spot number four? I don’t like this film any less, it’s still certainly one of my favorite films over all. It’s only moved down two spots to make room for a new favorite and for a film I’ve grown to appreciate even more. That said, it’s similar to Stranger Than Fiction, so why did I rate Stranger Than Fiction one spot higher? It’s not necessarily because I like Stranger Than Fiction more, it’s because Stranger Than Fiction is a more accessible film than Little Miss Sunshine. There are certain elements of Little Miss Sunshine that can be off putting to some people, in fact I know certain people who outright hate it, and Little Miss Sunshine’s message, which is actually quite meaningful, can get lost in that. The profundity and the humor of Stranger Than Fiction is an easier experience to share.

5. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

Why was this film added to the list at spot number five? I saw this film well before writing the original list and it was already a favorite of mine. I actually debated adding it but in the end decided not to because it’s actually a documentary. But like I said, this is a retcon, and so I’m changing the rules. It’s one of my favorite films and it’s certainly my favorite documentary, it wouldn’t be right to exclude it on some arbitrary pretext of “no documentaries allowed”. Besides, in an eerie and hilarious way, it actually follows the tropes of a typical movie, it’s got the classic underdog hero fighting against the powerful villain aided by his snivelling minions, there’s even the elderly, manipulated authority figure. And all of  this is in the context of playing the old Donkey Kong arcade game. It’s painfully hilarious, and yet, surprisingly, it actually has an inspiring message within it. The moral of the film is that the best revenge is going on and living a good life and simply being the better person.

6. Hot Fuzz (2007)

Why did this film move from spot number three to spot number six? I also don’t like this film any less, I still think it’s the funniest film of its decade. It’s certainly funnier than the three films before it, but those three films, in addition to being funny, have something meaningful to say, whereas Hot Fuzz is just pure hilarity. Not that there’s anything wrong with “pure hilarity”, that’s exactly why it’s the sixth best film of the decade.

7. Moon (2009)

Why was this film added to the list at spot number seven? In the original list I included a number of “sleeper hits” but Moon gets the award for being the most under appreciated, most un-hyped, and most unrecognized film of the decade. I rented Moon after the decade was over; I’d heard of it but it had a limited release in theaters. After watching it once, I watched it two more times. Baring Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, of course, there’s a strong argument for Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of the lonely astronaut in Moon as the best performance of the decade. Moon is a hard film to categorize. Above all else, it’s psychological. But is it a psychological drama? Yes…but not a normal one at all. Is it psychological horror? In a way, but not overtly. Is it a psychological thriller? No…and yes. Is it psychological sci-fi? I suppose so, but the emphasis is not on the sci-fi. Not everyone will like Moon, some may think it’s slow moving and too contemplative, but even so, it’s an outstanding film that didn’t get the chance to shine that it deserved. You probably haven’t even heard of it, so do yourself a favor and check it out.

“Wait a minute!” you might be saying, “what happened to Unbreakable, Signs, and V for Vendetta? Those used to be in spots four, five, and six.” Well you’re very observant, and those films are officially eight, nine, and ten now, and everything else, beginning with Gladiator (which was eight), moves down three spots. And the three on the end, Equilibrium, Sunshine, and X2…well, let’s just say it’s a top 28 Films of the Decade now…

“You seriously haven’t seen Memento yet? It’s been like 12 years, pal.”

And who knows, if I finally get around to seeing Memento, Inglourious Basterds, or No Country for Old Men, I might just have to retcon this list again…

Bane

For those of us who haven’t made it to Harry Potter yet, we missed an exciting bit of news. The teaser for Christopher Nolan’s conclusion of his Batman trilogy doesn’t show much, but it doesn’t have to. It has several shots from the previous films, a monologue from Commissioner Gordon, and a startling image of Bane (played by Tom Hardy). My first reaction to Bane’s reimagined mask was a belligerent what is that dorky thing!? But as Heath Ledger’s performance taught me last time: hold your complaints until you see the movie. Because if anyone knows what they’re doing, its Christopher-freakin-Nolan.

Check out the trailer:

I’m feeling a little nostalgic. Time to read the Batman: Knightfall storyarc again.

Part Four: The Best

7. Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)

Based on Grant Morrison’s JLA: Earth 2, the Crisis on Two Earths story beams us to an alternate dimension where Lex Luthor is the hero and the “superheroes” are evildoers called “The Crime Syndicate”.  When a heroic Lex Luthor from an alternate timeline transports himself to our Earth to beg for help, the Justice League decides to return with him and kick some serious butt.  Traveling to Earth-2, our heroes Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, (and eventually Batman), encounter their alternate (and thoroughly evil) selves. Evenly-matched but quickly outnumbered, the Justice League must find a way to defeat their sinister counterparts.  But the clock begins ticking when Owlman (Batman’s alternate) makes a discovery that could threaten not only Earth-2, but all existence.

Crisis on Two Earths showcases the highest stakes I have ever seen, in any film, ever.  Crisis dares to deliver a plotline that’s epic in scope while maneuvering around most of the pitfalls that come with such an attempt.  The characterization is quite good, especially considering they had two entire teams to develop.  The evil Superwoman and Flash are notably good, while Owl-Man’s character (voiced by James Woods) is absolute genius.  The Crisis villains are interesting and threatening, the stakes high, and the fighting awesome.  Wonder Woman and Owlman have some fantastically well-choreographed fights.  Crisis’ only major pitfall is the voices for our heroes.  It doesn’t bring back any of the familiar voices from the TV Series or other animated movies.  It’s not that Crisis has bad actors, far from it, but the change is hard to get used to.  I liked Superman (Mark Harmon) having a Kansas accent, but Batman (William Baldwin) was ineffective as the Dark Knight.  Couple that with a ton of good and evil superhero incarnations and it all gets a little hard to follow.  (Although that Aquaman cameo was pretty sweet.)  I wouldn’t say its script or storytelling is weak, per se, it just lacks the pacing and consistency of the best animated features like Public Enemies.
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is a success in it’s high stakes action and unique setting.  A spectacular showdown between Batman and Owlman with a quote from Nietzsche lands it solidly in the ‘Great’ section of my list.

6. Wonder Woman (2009)

Wonder Woman is a truly unique animated feature.  It boats the best fight choreography and characterization, but more impressively, uses feminist rhetoric as the centerpiece of the film.  Wonder Woman begins with an epic battle between the Amazons (led by Hippolyta) and the evil forces of Eres, the God of War.  Upon defeating Eres, the Amazons retreat to the hidden island of Themyscira in order to hold Eres captive and “seek peace away from the world of man”.  Hippolyta is given a daughter, Diana, who later becomes Wonder Woman.  Centuries pass, and the peaceful island is thrown into jeopardy when an American fighter pilot, Steve Trevor, crash lands on the hidden island.  Diana is given the responsibility of returning the pilot to America, investigating the state of “man’s world”, and chasing down the escaped Eres.

Of all the superhero movies, my wife and I had the most fun watching Wonder Woman.  It’s story is simple yet enjoyable, the action expertly choreographed, the writing fun, but it’s true success lies in it’s phenomenal casting and voice work, (Keri Russell as Wonder Woman, Alfred Molina as Eres the God of War, Virginia Madsen as Hippolyta, Rosario Dawson as Artemis, and Nathan Fillion as Steve Trevor.)  The skill of these actors takes WW to a new level, and Nathan Fillion’s portrayal of the American fighter pilot Steve Trevor is a real gem.  There is some great dialog between Diana and Trevor, addressing post-feminist themes in relation to perceived chauvinism.

Wonder Woman succeeds because of the thrilling action, excellent fight choreography, and stellar cast.  The soundtrack accompanies the film with quality and appropriate epicness.  It brings some surprisingly good dialog and post-feminist themes to the table (which, despite being a bit beat to death, are handled well).  I went into this film expecting to be entertained by Nathan Fillion and little else, but was pleasantly surprised all around.

5. Hellboy: Blood and Iron (2007)

I was skeptical about including Hellboy in my list, since it’s otherwise dedicated to Marvel and DC, but Blood and Iron was far too good to pass up.  Beginning with a flashback, Blood and Iron tells of a young Professor Bruttenholm defeating a deadly vampire, Countess Erzsebet Ondrushko.  The Countess had desired eternal beauty over her soul and made a pact with the goddess Hecate, giving Erzsebet an incalculable bloodlust.  In present day, Bruttenholm leads the BPRD in investigating a haunted resort hotel on Long Island, NY.  Hellboy and the others encounter a host of ghosts, Erzsebet’s victims, who warn that the followers of Hecate are once again seeking to bring back the legendary vampiress from her grave.  Hunted by all sorts of evil creatures sent by the goddess Hecate, the team must prevent the resurrection of the Countess Erzsebet.

Blood and Iron is spellbinding.  This is truly expert storytelling from Mike Mignola.  The plot unfolds on multiple levels, engages the characters, and chills you down to your spine.  (My wife hates this one because it totally creeped her out.)  I watched this soon after viewing that awful Twilight movie, so seeing a true vampire story was incredibly satisfying.  The mood is creepy, the material horrifying, and the villains threatening.  The action is amped up from Sword of Storms and the ending doesn’t hold anything back.  Mignola really shows us what can be done with a Vampire legend.

4. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)

After Ultimate Avengers 1 & 2, my wife was going to quit watching these animated features with me.  But then I showed her Return of the Joker and it more than cleansed her palette).  (That’s because she had a childhood fascination with Batman, one of the reasons I married her).   I was never a big fan of the Batman Beyond TV series, but this film was incredible.  I highly recommend the unedited version, but also warn that there is one scene which is unintended for young audiences.  The plot begins with Bruce Wayne’s replacement Batman, Terry McGinnis, fighting a dangerous gang called the Jokerz. The new leader of this gang is soon revealed to be Bruce Wayne’s greatest nemesis, The Joker, long thought dead after a battle with the original Batman. To defeat the Clown Prince of Crime, the new caped crusader must reopen a chapter in the original Batman’s career — the story of the night Bruce fought Joker for the final time.

Return of the Joker is a triumph in it’s daring storyline and thrilling action.  I mentioned before that I’ve never been a Batman Beyond fan, but the characters and the storyline were handled so well that I really enjoyed this.  In many ways, it’s a crossover between The Animated Series and Batman Beyond. Because of Joker’s return, Bruce is forced to address his past while Terry must question if he can carry the mantle of the Bat against such a brutal foe.  The dark quality of Joker, particularly a certain flashback, carries the film into a dark realm where the TV show wouldn’t go.

The movie was originally scheduled for release  less than a year after the Columbine shooting, and suffered the ensuing backlash against violent media aimed at children.  The film was re-edited shortly before it’s release, cutting significant amounts of action, practically removing all references to killing and death, drawing seat-belts on Bruce and Terry, and toning down the darker elements of the film, (particularly dumbing down a pivotal flashback scene in the movie).  Following an online petition, the “original uncut version” has been released, (which I got ahold of).  I understand and applaud Warner Bro’s for wanting to make an appropriate movie for younger kids, but the re-editing essentially castrated a terrific Batman film.  Practically everything that made Return of the Joker special is absent from the edited version.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that two versions exist; one for kids, and another for teens and adults.  Let me make myself clear: the “original uncut version” is not ‘Rated-R Batman’, it’s not Batman Begins or The Dark Knight, but because dares to be darker than the TV series it deserves a PG-13 rating.

With it’s thrilling story, terrific action, great handling of the characters, and especially it’s dark quality, Return of the Joker is a great addition to the animated Batman mythos.

3. Planet Hulk (2010)

After the disappointing Ultimate Avengers films, I had low expectations for anything Marvel Animated and especially Planet Hulk. But this Hulk really grabbed me and pulled me in to one of the best Hulk adventures I have ever experienced.  It begins with a video of Iron Man and the Illuminati explaining to Hulk that he has been exiled to another planet.  Hulk starts smashing up the spaceship and it crashes on the planet Sakaar, ruled by the Red King.  Hulk is captured and forced to fight in gladiatorial arena, where he rises to fame and bonds with a unique group of slaves who call themselves The Warbound.  Hulk must decide to challenge the Red King or seek a path of isolation, because unlike the Earthlings, the desperate people of Sakaar believe a monster is just the hero they need.

Planet Hulk is a Hulk you have never seen before.  All the other Hulk stories feature the struggle of Bruce Banner.  Then when Banner loses control, the character development is over, the story is over, he just transforms into Hulk and a giant slug-fest ensues.  But Bruce Banner isn’t even in Planet Hulk, and we get to see how deep and conflicted the character of Hulk can really be.  It’s not a journey of man into monster, it’s the journey of a monster into a hero.  It isn’t Banner’s struggle, it’s the Hulk’s struggle.  But the character-work doesn’t stop there, the Warbound group is a very interesting and well handled group of gladiators.

Which leads me to the fights.  The idea of making the Hulk a gladiator on an alien planet is such a good concept for his character that I can’t believe this wasn’t thought of sooner.  It gives Hulk ample opportunity to pummel a host of unique foes.  There’s some really memorable fight scenes and powerful moments here.  Due to copyright issues, they could not feature the famous fight between Hulk and the Silver Surfer that’s found in the comics.  Instead, they used Beta Ray Bill from Thor and tied it in with the events of Hulk vs. Thor.  The end result is an incredible match.

I highly recommend Planet Hulk as a great exploration for Hulk’s character, and Marvel Animation’s best film to date.

2. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

Based on the incredibly successful graphic novel of the same name, Public Enemies is a roller-coaster ride from start to finish.  When a Kryptonite asteroid is discovered heading for Earth, United States President Lex Luthor blames the Man of Steel and declares Superman and Batman enemies of the state.  Luthor also puts a bounty on Superman’s head, and most of the rogues gallery shows up to bring down the World’s Finest.  Evading villains and government employed Superheroes, Superman and Batman have to get to Luthor and stop the asteroid before Earth is destroyed.

Public Enemies is an excellent adaptation of a beloved graphic novel.  It centers around the characters of Superman and Batman, but once they’re named enemies of state it’s an all out cameo-fest.  From Bane and Mr. Freeze, to Mongul and Banshee, from Power Girl and Katana to Captain Marvel and Hawkman, our duo fights everyone.  The story is packed with action from beginning to end, letting those fists really fly. Though the violence itself is rather tame, there’s enough of it to warrant the PG-13 rating.  Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly reprise their legendary television roles as Batman and Superman, their portrayals here are effortless.  The banter between Superman and Batman is hilarious and great for their characters.  My only real critique is that the art style is a little stiff at times, but overall solid.
Public Enemies is mostly faithful to the original storyline, which is part of why it was so good.  Jeph Loeb is a very talented writer, and his handling of the World’s Finest heroes is worth committing to screen. Hopefully the “planned sequels” realize this and continue to use the ample source material.  With stunning action and classic dialog between DC’s two most iconic character, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is a roller coaster you don’t want to miss.

1. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

This is the oldest and greatest animated feature.  Designed as a straight-to-video feature and then reworked for the movie theaters at the last minute, Mask of the Phantasm was way ahead of its time.  Between Phantasm and  Batman: The Animated Series, this animated incarnation was the definitive Batman for over a decade.

When the city’s most feared gangsters are systematically eliminated, the Caped Crusader is blamed.  But prowling the Gotham night is a shadowy new villain, the Phantasm, a sinister figure with some link to Batman’s past.  On the run, Batman must track down this masked murderer while fighting the inner torment of a life lost, a torment that drives the Dark Knight onward.

Mask of the Phantasm works effectively on two levels.  First, it is an action and detective story, the staple of Batman: The Animated Series.  It boasts a number of action scenes that pushed Batman into a darker realm than the television series allowed.  Seeing Batman shot, bruised, and near death at the hands of the Gotham Police is an emotionally resonant scene.  On a deeper level, we see the circumstances that created the Dark Knight.  Bruce Wayne makes a vow to fight the dark abyss as Batman, but this vow is questioned when Bruce could live happily with Andrea.  But when Andrea disappears, Bruce is once again called to fulfill his vow, donning the cape and cowl for the first time.

Mask of the Phantasm isn’t the most flashy or action packed of superhero stories.  If you’re looking for action, I suggest Public Enemies. But if you’re a fan of The Animated Series and appreciate the handling of Batman’s character, Mask of the Phantasm is as good as it gets.  Few superhero movies, animated or live-action, reach the emotional depth we experience here.
“Vengeance blackens the soul, Bruce.  I always feared you would become that which you fight against.  You walk the edge of that abyss every night.  But you haven’t fallen in, and I thank heaven for that.”


Thanks for reading!  Keep your eyes peeled for Marvel’s Thor: Son of Asgard and DC’s Batman: Under the Red Hood, DC Showcase (a series of short films), and the Superman/Batman sequel.

Part One: The Ugly
Part Two: The Mediocre

Part Three: The Good

Part Three: The Good


13. Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)

Since New Frontier already covered Green Lantern’s origin, First Flight spends its time getting Hal Jordan off on his first space adventure.  Hal Jordan is chosen by the ring, but the Guardians are skeptical of whether or not a human will be disciplined enough to be an effective Green Lantern.  The well-respected Sinestro takes the human rookie under his wing, and they chase after some intergalactic baddies who are using the Yellow Element to create a weapon powerful enough to defeat the Green Lantern Corps.

First Flight covers the Green Lantern basics well, but those who are unfamiliar with GL will probably be confused near the end.  It introduces the setting nicely; Hal Jordan as the first human, Sinestro as the rising villain, the GL Corps, the Green Element, and the Guardians as a frustratingly ineffective authority.  However, they seem to leave their explanations at half-mast, telling you just enough so you understand but not enough to develop it into something really unique and interesting.  It’s a little like “here’s the ring, here’s the battery, it’s powered by this green rock.  Got it? Let’s go kick alien butt!”  Seeing as it takes place almost entirely in outer space, First Flight is unique when compared to the other animated features.  I liked the character development, I really believed it was Hal Jordan’s human ingenuity and determination that made him so powerful.  Sinestro is handled very well and his character arc is one of the best things in the film.

While an entertaining space opera adventure, First Flight simply lacks the congruency to make it a great animated feature. I was willing to cut it some slack, but my wife made a good argument that the audience needed more explanation about how the Green Lantern and Yellow Lantern batteries work, how they can fly around and shoot stuff, and how they’re related to the individual rings themselves. Apparently this discrepancy is because First Flight draws on knowledge and events from the comic series, which is okay, but it goes largely unexplained.  Don’t get me wrong, First Flight is entertaining and a fun watch, but some more consistency wouldn’t have hurt.

12. Dr. Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme (2007)

I went into this with low expectations.  Given that Marvel’s other films hadn’t done well, even with their all-star Avengers cast, I wasn’t expecting much from Dr. Strange.  But surprisingly, this was quite enjoyable.

It begins with Dr. Strange as a brilliant yet self-centered surgeon whose interests lie solely in wealth and prestige.  But an encounter with the spiritual realm causes a crippling car accident, leaving Dr. Strange without the intricate use of his hands.  Strange exhausts his fortune seeking reconstruction surgery, but no-one is able to restore his fractured hands.  Years later, poor and destitute, a desperate and near suicidal Strange journeys to Tibet to explore his last hope, “the Ancient One”.  Dr. Strange seeks the restoration of his hands, but his magical tutors are more interested in the redemption of his soul.  Strange slowly begins to discover the world of magic and learns to become its guardian.  Finally, he and his companions must make a stand against the dark forces seeking to destroy Earth.

I never thought a movie about magic could be this interesting.  I expected some really laborious magical duels that just look like two people doing sign language, but thankfully Dr. Strange delivers both visually and kinetically. The action is beautifully choreographed and emotionally resonant.  The art style is sharp, visually engaging, and memorable.  But the highlight of Dr. Strange is in its characters and storytelling; the journey of a selfish yet resourceful doctor to a humble leader and protector of earth.  Doctor Strange: the Sorcerer Supreme is a memorable and emotionally engrossing film, and one of Marvel’s finest.

11. Superman: Doomsday (2007)

Based on the incredibly popular comic series of the early 1990’s, Superman: Doomsday covers the Death and Return of Superman.  It begins with Doomsday breaking out of his underground chamber and directing his warpath toward Metropolis.  Superman gets wind of the new villain and goes head to head with the monster.  Superman and Doomsday’s battle ends with both titans lying dead.  There’s a funeral for Superman and we watch Lois, Jimmy and Luthor deal with the absence of Metropolis’ greatest champion.  But wait!  Superman is back on the scene with a new found sense of justice, willing to execute the criminals who threaten his beloved city.  Is this the real Superman come back from the dead or some impostor?  And what’s his strange connection to Lex Luthor?

This was a decent adaptation of a famous graphic novel series.  The film cuts out a lot of the convoluted and unnecessary bits, but it also misses some of the best parts.  For example, the movie leaves out when Doomsday ferociously tears apart the entire Justice League, leaving Superman the only hero standing.  Superman is not the only guy around, but the only one with the strength and will to stop Doomsday.  Without Doomsday vs the entire League, we’re unable to witness the contrast.  The comics also featured the entire Justice League mourning the death of Superman.  Without these heroes fighting Doomsday or mourning Superman’s death, the film simply cannot provide an emotionally resonant funeral.  Sorry Jimmy Olsen, but your tears just don’t compare to Batman’s tears.

I didn’t mind that they basically boiled down all 4 of the “Supermen” into one character, but it could have been handled better.  Perhaps if the returning Superman was Cyborg, it would have presented a stronger antagonist.  The end fight is pretty good though, I really enjoyed that.  Ultimately, Superman: Doomsday hits the target but lacks the depth to make it really great.

10. Batman vs. Dracula (2005)

This animated film is thoroughly a product of The Batman television series.  The greater your familiarity with this particular Batman and his style, the greater your enjoyment of this animated feature will be.  Batman vs. Dracula begins with the untimely death of the Joker.  Left without his nemesis, Batman is exceptionally brooding.  But when people start disappearing and the culprit is a recently awakened Count Dracula, the Dark Knight finds himself completely outclassed by a phantom of the night much more powerful than himself.  With Dracula amassing an army of the undead, Batman certainly has his work cut out for him.

Batman vs. Dracula deftly explores the connections and similarities between the Prince of Darkness and the Dark Knight.  This supernatural enemy provides a great challenge for Batman, as if Bruce Wayne is confronted with “the terror of the night” Batman seeks to embody.  As Dracula himself says, “Thanks for keeping the legend alive, Batman.”

Batman vs. Dracula features some great action, music, acting, and artwork that I’ve come to appreciate through The Batman television series.  I highly recommended this for Batman fans, and definitely a must-see for fans of the show.

9. Justice League: New Frontier (2008)

New Frontier is an epic DC Comics series that chronicles the origins of the Justice League of America amidst the dynamic era that ushered in the Kennedy administration.  Now made into an animated feature, it effectively captures the spirit of the 1950’s Silver Age of comics.  It’s also the most adult oriented storylines here, focusing less on action and more on plot development.  The story begins with a “Watchmen” effect as each Superhero struggles with their purpose and identity during the McCarthy era.  Batman is in hiding (more than usual), Wonder Woman leads a group of female rebels in Korea, and the Flash is pursued by the US Government. Superman signed on as an agent of the US, but doesn’t know where his loyalties lie.  New Frontier also covers the origin stories of Hal Jordan (the Green Lantern), and J’onn J’onzz, (the Martian Manhunter).

The villain in New Frontier is the weakest point of the film, as it uses the ‘unexplainable alien evil that’s existed for centuries’ motif that was so popular in the Silver Age.  But New Frontier isn’t really about the villain; it’s about the characters and their transformation from one age to another. The art and acting is all great and really embodies the time period they’re shooting for. The voicework is a mixed bag.  Neil Patrick Harris as The Flash is a delight, but Batman left me missing Kevin Conroy (TAS) or Rino Romano (The Batman series).  The action is well handled here, though kind of odd because of the villain.  Overall I was pleasantly impressed with New Frontier and highly recommend it as New Frontier establishes the foundation for the new launch of DC Animated Films.

8. Hellboy: The Sword of Storms (2006)

Sword of Storms makes the transfer from graphic novel to animated feature brilliantly.  This story centers around Japanese mythology, beginning with the BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) investigating a mysterious demonic possession.  Hellboy picks up a magic samurai sword and is transported to a magical realm where he must reenact the journey of a samurai warrior (with plenty of creepy Japanese mythological monsters!)  Abe and Liz face off against dragons in the real world, while agent Corrigan track down the demon possessed professor.  Wielding the Sword of Storms, Hellboy must escape the alternate dimension and prevent the demonic gods of Lightning and Thunder from escaping their prison inside the sword.

Sword of Storms is everything you love about Hellboy.  It’s well written, creepy, adventurous, mythological, packs plenty of fist-to-face action, and downright hilarious.  It utilizes the paranormal and Japanese mythology but keeps itself from getting too weird, making it accessible to a general audience.  Sword of Storms success is greatly due to its production team.  They worked with Mike Mignola (the graphic novel author) and kept the same actors who worked on the Hellboy major motion pictures.  This consistency from graphic novel to film and back to animated feature keeps the Animated Hellboy movies strong and familiar.  Overall, I enjoyed Sword of Storms more than the silver screen Hellboy adaptations.

Part One: The Ugly
Part Two: The Mediocre
Part Four: The Great

Part Two: The Mediocre


19. Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo (2006)

Trouble in Tokyo was released following the Season Finale and cancellation of the television series Teen Titans. It more or less wraps up the show and completes the character arcs of our young heroes.  The Teen Titans are thrown into action when a new dichromatic foe, Saico-Tek, attacks their tower.  After a brief interrogation and mysterious disappearance of the villain, the Titans follow their only clue to Japan in search of “Brushogun”.  While most of the Titans are enjoying a “vacation”, Robin utilizes his detective skills to uncover their mysterious opponent.  After battling a Godzilla like monster, it becomes clear that not everything is well in the streets of Tokyo.  Each Titan is attacked by a monster possessing similar powers to their own, Robin is framed for a crime, and the villain Brushogun is nowhere to be found.  Can Robin solve the mystery in time to save the Titans from Japanese prison, or death at the hands of these mysterious creatures?

Teen Titans succeeds because it knows exactly what it is and what its going for.  It’s thoroughly a kids movie and knows better than to take itself too seriously.  We get some well choreographed fight scenes, (especially one surprisingly emotional scene with Robin), but there’s also some cartoon humor and silly montages.  The artists definitely utilized the Tokyo setting.  I loved the anime references in art style, and there were some really hilarious genre mashup segments.  (The Godzilla attack was fantastic).
As far as plot and general interest, Teen Titans lacks what the other features have going for them.  It isn’t nearly as serious or intriguing as the other films and most people probably wouldn’t give Trouble in Tokyo a second thought.  Trouble in Tokyo is more like an 80 minute cartoon than a true movie.  But it also knows exactly what its going for and nails it spot on the head, and I am definitely rewarding that.  I’d rather watch a movie that knows what it wants and succeeds with flying colors than something like Invincible Iron Man that plans big but falls flat on its face.

18. Gotham Knight (2008)

Taking a few tips from The Animatrix, Gotham Knight is an animated anthology of six animated short films set in-between Major Motion Pictures Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.  Correction: loosely set between Begins and Dark Knight, but not really capturing the same feeling as Christopher Nolan’s Batman films.  The six short films feature different aspects of Batman and his relation to Gotham City.

The first, Have I Got a Story for You (Studio 4°C) depicts children telling grossly exaggerated stories about Batman, which addresses the Dark Knight’s mythical influence on society.  Crossfire (Production I.G) shows Batman’s effect on city cops as he stops a gang war.  Field Test (Bee Train) focuses on the technological advancements Batman uses to fight crime.  In Darkness Dwells (Madhouse) takes Batman to the sewers beneath Gotham, pitting him against Killer Croc and Scarecrow.  Working Through Pain (Studio 4°C) tells of a younger Bruce Wayne who dedicates himself to a psuedo-spiritual discipline in managing pain.  Here Bruce learns to master martial arts and physical pain, but is still driven on by his inner demons.  Deadshot (Madhouse) is the final short-story depicting Batman’s face-off against the villain Deadshot.

Gotham Knight is worth watching for its animation style and character work with Batman, but it’s far from a masterpiece.  The animation of Gotham City is a real treat, but Batman goes through a costume design kaleidoscope.  Some depictions are simple, others exuberant, and some are just far too bizarre for the Dark Knight.  There’s some thoroughly silly anime moments here that just shatter the Batman feel.  In Deadshot, Batman deflects a bullet meant to assassinate Lieutenant Gordon by punching it.  In case you missed that, let me repeat myself: flying through the air and punching it.  Things like this make “willing suspense of disbelief” a little tough.  My wife agrees with me that Gotham Knight really shot itself in the foot by using the most bizarre story and animation in their opening feature, Have I Got a Story for You.
Bruce Wayne’s journey is a uniquely fascinating one, but one scene with firearms (from Working Through Pain) is Batman portrayal at its lowest.  Character development is a wonderful thing for Batman, but only if it’s good.  To conclude on Gotham Knight, I think promoting itself as a companion to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight was its biggest mistake.  You can’t claim to support Christopher Nolan’s Batman concept and then have him animated in such a stylized fashion and punching bullets out of the air.  It’s still Batman, making Gotham Knight worth watching and automatically more interesting than the other superheroes, but it’s also sloppy and a real mixed bag.  And with Batman, a “mixed bag” doesn’t cut it.

17. Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (2008)

It’s a little ironic that the best Avengers movie is the one clearly made for kids.  Sporting classic kid-stuff plot devices, cheesy lines, a pre-pubescent superhero team, and a PG rating, Next Avengers is probably the tamest superhero animated feature.  The film opens with a “story”, telling of the great Avengers who brought peace throughout the Earth.  They hooked up and had kids (the heroes of this film), but soon after were killed off by Ultron, the most powerful villain ever.  With the Avengers slain, Tony Stark whisks the children off to an Arctic hideaway to raise the next generation of heroes in safety.  The four kids, James Rogers (son of Captain America and Black Widow), Henry Pym Jr. (son of Giant-Man and the Wasp), Azari (son of the Black Panther and Storm), and Torunn (daughter of Thor and Sif) are raised on fairy tales of the great Avengers who came before and live in fear of Ultron.  After some typical kid-story plot devices (like accidentally activating a switch in a room they weren’t supposed to be in) Tony Stark’s robotic “Iron Avengers” launch off in search of Ultron, revealing the location of their arctic hideaway.  The Iron Avengers are quickly defeated and assimilated by Ultron, who then seeks out Tony Stark, the last Avenger alive.  Iron Man sacrifices himself so the kids can escape, which is silly because they just turn right around to rescue Tony Stark from the machine-city.  Here they meet up with the human resistance, led by Barton (son of Hawkeye the archer).  Faced not only with Ultron, but a group of iron robots who embody the powers of their parents, it looks pretty grim for the young heroes.  It’s concluded that the Incredible Hulk is their only chance, and the heroes of tomorrow seek out an extremely old (and whiny as ever) Bruce Banner in order to defeat Ultron.

Next Avengers is thoroughly a kids movie, much moreso than any other film here (except Teen Titans, of course), but it’s also pretty fun.  I enjoyed some of the childish jokes and fun action.  They did remarkably well with developing each kid as the descendant of the superpowered Avengers we know and love.  The storyline has a nostalgic “what-if” Saturday-morning-cartoon feel.  It develops, in a mild way, a darker world where only Tony Stark survives and takes responsibility over raising the Avengers kids.  Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow is just good old kid fun with some wisecracks about the Avengers, which just happens to make it more entertaining than the actual Ultimate Avengers releases.

16. Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003)

A new “hero” has arrived in Gotham, a reckless female vigilante bearing Batman’s iconic cape and cowl (but with a dash of pink!).  This “Batwoman” has both Gotham City’s villains and the Dark Knight investigating her identity, until the crime-lords get so worried that they hire Bane to beef up their private security.  Batman must find this masked heroine and stop her before the female vigilante’s willingness to kill gets out of hand.

Mystery of the Batwoman does a great job at introducing enough female characters to keep you guessing at the new vigilante’s identity.  The characters are handled well and the action scenes unfold pretty expertly.  That is, until the ending.  It’s not a terrible ending, just lackluster when compared to Batman’s other exploits.  The film consistently kept Batwoman’s identity secret, but then everybody feels pretty free to rip their masks off for the whole world in the last 10 minutes of the film (it’s almost as bad at Batman Returns!)  Batwoman is not as dark or action packed as Return of the Joker, and narrower scope than Mask of the Phantasm, but it’s a concise adventure placing Batman up against, (or teamed up with?), a female character.

15. Hulk Vs. (2009)

If you love the Hulk Smash, then this dvd is for you.  Hulk Vs. is a compilation of two animated short films, Hulk vs. Wolverine and Hulk vs. Thor. The first: Hulk vs. Wolverine was created to feature the character of Deadpool and generate hype for the new Wolverine and the X-men TV series, (which is now in its second season and doing rather well).  Hulk vs. Thor introduces audiences to Thor and his world, designed to build up interest in Marvels upcoming Thor live-action film.

Hulk vs. Wolverine features Logan’s original comic debut, where he’s sent by the government to bring down the Hulk.  Our two heroes duke it out for awhile before being captured by Weapon X.  We’re introduced to Wolverine’s past and his villains,\ (Sabretooth, Lady Deathstrike, Omega Red, and Deadpool).  The script really showcases Deadpool as a comedic highlight; the movie is worth watching for him alone.  Packed with tons of nicely choreographed action and a stunningly well-cast Wolverine, Hulk Vs. Wolverine is an excellent watch for any X-men or Hulk fan.

Hulk vs. Thor does a fine job of introducing the realm of Asgard and its heroes.  Loki, the God of Mischief, captures Bruce Banner and sends the rampaging Hulk to kill Thor.  Thor and all of Asgard throw themselves against the Hulk, but it’ll take even more than Mijolnir’s Hammer to stop this raging green beast.  If you get tired of really repetitive action and a lot of screaming “RAARGH!” every time someone gets hit, this movie is not for you.  Some more fight choreography would have done wonders here.  But if you’re up for half an hour of Hulk going head to head with Asgard, (it fittingly reminded me of Minas Tirith from Lord of the Rings), then you’ll get an eyeful.  Hulk vs. Thor serves its purpose of introducing Thor’s characters and his world, but it just gets a little too long and a little too ridiculous.  The “eye-roll” moments are rather high here, what with lines like “but if the mighty Thor fails, what hope is there for Asgard?”  I recommend it for the fact that it sets up Planet Hulk extremely well.

14. Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero (1998)

The Animated Series is attributed with developing Mr. Freeze into one of the best Batman villains ever.  (Until Freeze was tarnished by Arnold Schwarzenegger in that awful Batman and Robin movie. Blegh.)  Dr. Victor Freis developed state-of-the-art cryogenic technology in order to save his wife from a terminal illness.  When his superiors pulled funding, there was a horrible lab accident and Dr. Fries’ body had to be constantly kept in subzero temperatures.  This led him to become the supervillain Batman knows as Mr. Freeze.  Subzero skips this origin story and begins with a icebreaker submarine unknowingly crashing into Victor Fries’ arctic sanctum.  His wife’s cryogenic chamber is severely damaged, leaving Mrs. Fries in need of an organ transplant.  Freeze resorts to kidnapping Barbara Gordon (who he doesn’t know is actually Batgirl) and takes her to an abandoned oil rig to harvest her organs.  Most of the film features Barbara’s attempts at escape while Batman and Robin investigate her disappearance.

Subzero is classic Batman: The Animated Series. Any fans of the beloved 90’s TV series will find some nostalgia here.  There’s the classic detective work, an impressive motorcycle chase, great voice acting, it’s all here.  But with that said, Subzero doesn’t go the distance.  For reasons I don’t understand, it doesn’t spend any time covering Freeze’s back-story (which is odd, because TAS are the ones who created it).  Without this explanation, Freeze comes off as a real toolbag rather than someone making evil choices out of desperation.  However, the film finishes his character arc extremely well.  The last 2 minutes are the best part of the film.  But unless you’ve seen TAS episode revealing his origin, you miss the full picture.  Because of this, Subzero feels like a lengthy episode instead of a movie.  It’s good, it’s classic, but it doesn’t put in the extra effort.

Part One: The Ugly
Part Three: The Good
Part Four: The Great

I was inspired to create this list for several reasons.  The first being that I am a total fanboy and love superheroes, I even learned to read with comic books.  Much to my wife’s dismay, graphic novels and movies are easily my hobbies of choice.  So when I discovered that Marvel and DC have been putting effort into producing quality straight-to-DVD animated features, it peaked my interest.

Marvel Animation and the DC Universe Original Animated Movies have produced 7 films each over the past 4-5 years.  Though DC’s results have been notably better, both seem to be making a solid effort at making good films and a general increase in quality.  (Okay, I take that back, Marvel has only been “trying” for about 2 years).  I’m excited to see how this new trend develops over the next few years.  Keep your eyes peeled for Marvel’s Thor: Son of Asgard and DC’s Batman: Under the Red Hood, DC Showcase (a series of short films), and the Superman/Batman sequel.

A few rules:

-I ranked these as best as I could from worst to best.  I got some feedback from friends and fellow nerds, but ultimately it came down to my opinion.
-I decided to leave out movies designed for and released in the movie theater.  If I started including movies like The Incredibles and TMNT, this list would be incredibly unbalanced.  Films designed for the movie theater simply have a sharper edge to them, they’re really playing in another league.
-These are actual movies.  I did not include any DVD that simply grouped a series of episodes together and presented itself as a movie.
-I focused my research mostly, though not exclusively, on Marvel and DC Comics titles.  I spent several months tracking down every superhero movie falling into this category of “animated straight-to-dvd”, making this list (the current count is 24 films) as extensive as possible.

Part One: The Ugly


24. The Batman/Superman Movie (1998)

I’d like to say that this was enjoyable because it stars two of my favorite superheroes, but I was thoroughly disappointed.  Maybe I should give it a break considering that it came out in the late 90’s.  The plot is as simple as can be: Lex Luthor and The Joker team up.  Joker goes to Metropolis with a plan to kill Superman, while Batman pursues the Clown Prince of Crime to Superman’s turf.  Some clever moments ensue when Superman and Batman meet for the first time, but it’s altogether lackluster.  It’s worth watching if you’re a big fan of the animated series, or you still think the Joker is funny even after you hit puberty.  Superman is way underpowered, and the film is just too cheesy to be engaging on any level.

23. Superman: Brainiac Attacks (2006)

Brainiac Attacks is all about the fight scenes.  You’d expect this from a movie with Attacks in the title, but really, a lot of really ridiculous fighting.  Brainiac arrives on Earth, fights Superman, Lex Luthor gets involved, and… That’s pretty much it.  There’s one or two emotional moments where Lois is poisoned and Superman has to travel to the Phantom Zone to harvest a cure.  But even this interesting subplot fails to meet its potential.  Brainiac basically follows the “Power Rangers” formula where near the end he adds on pieces until he’s just a massive tank-thing.  Not quite the intelligent Brainiac I’m used to seeing.  Oh yeah, and the thrilling dialog like Lex Luthor saying “Super Duper Man”.  Okay, setting my harsh feelings aside, it’s probably worth seeing once and a fun (but disappointing) watch if you liked the Superman Animated Series.

22. Ultimate Avengers (2007)

Worth watching once, but ‘ultimately’ pretty disappointing.  Avengers begins with Captain America’s last mission of WWII.  He successfully stops a team of Nazi’s and some weird aliens (called the Chitauri) from launching a nuclear weapon, but Captain America himself is lost in the frigid waters of the Arctic Ocean.  Skip ahead to modern times where Nick Fury and Bruce Banner recover Cap’s body to continue working on the super-soldier program.  Apparently the Chitauri aliens we saw in Nazi Germany are still causing trouble 60 some years later, and a team of superheroes is needed to defeat them.  Captain America survives his thawing, and goes about recruiting ‘The Avengers’: (Nick Fury, Captain America, Iron Man, Wasp, Giant-Man, Thor, Black Widow, and Bruce Banner/The Hulk).

While managing to introduce some famous superheroes, Ultimate Avengers feels rushed and the characters underused.  It has moments but never takes the time to develop anyone other than Captain America, Nick Fury and Bruce Banner.  This is partly due to the film itself, and partly because it was released before major motion pictures Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk.   After witnessing Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man, the Tony Stark here was incredibly disappointing.  Bruce Banner is exceptionally whiny, and Thor is hardly even in the movie.  However, there are some great moments with Wasp and Giant-Man and I appreciated being introduced to Black Widow.

The other aspects of the film are so-so.  The art itself works pretty well, but most of the military equipment is drawn with cgi and apparently no effort was made to blend the two styles together.  The story is adequate but its pacing helter skelter.  I’m not very familiar with the Avengers, (I’ve read a few of the first issues, watched a few tv episodes, etc) so I at least appreciated getting to know some lesser known heroes and seeing the characters work as a team.  I won’t give away what it is, but the end fight is particularly impressive.

Overall, I enjoyed watching it but left feeling empty.  My wife was really disappointed with its storyline and poor character development.  Ultimate Avengers is worth seeing if you’re a fan or want a quick introduction to the Avengers, but nothing worth adding to your DVD library.  I’d recommend seeing Avengers just because your appreciation of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and the new Marvel films will be much, much higher.

21. Ultimate Avengers: Rise of the Black Panther

I was rather disappointed by the first Ultimate Avengers, but after seeing a great trailer for Rise of the Black Panther I thought this could be a pretty successful sequel.  Boy was I ever wrong.  The story picks up where the first one left off.  Captain America is trying to lead The Avengers and most of the team is reluctantly following or outright quitting.  Bruce Banner spends most of the movie in a prison chamber and whines more than I thought was humanly possible (-exception: Twilight).  T’Challa, Prince of Wakanda (a lost primitive/advanced paradise in Africa), is made King when his father is murdered by a Nazi Chitauri shapeshifter, (yes, the lame alien villains from the first Avengers movie).  T’Challa gets into contact with Cap. America, and the Avengers try to investigate why the aliens are poking around Wakanda.  But oh no, they stepped on the culturally insensitive Wakanda, who won’t allow outsiders into their kingdom!  Some rather convoluted stuff happens and it turns out the aliens are trying to steal the power source behind Wakanda.  Eventually there’s a huge battle between the Chitauri and the forces of Earth, (think ID4), and the Avengers get to kick alien butt.

Black Panther isn’t really so awful, except for the part where I’m supposed to care.  I really, seriously, had no reason to care.  About 3 minutes into the film we realize that the main villain is once again the Chitauri, who were a good concept but are esthetically unconvincing as a global threat.  They just aren’t interesting enough to be the villains for two films.  Oh, and whoever designed Wakanda looks like they were never told it’s supposed to be in Africa.  The architecture is extremely similar to Aztec and Mayan designs, not African.  I’m not a hater, but that whole Wakanda bit was just totally unconvincing.

There’s actually some good moments and improvements here, especially a bold move to kill off one of the Avengers. But it just ain’t enough.  Between the aliens and Wakandan architecture, my wife kept telling me to just turn it off.  But I do have to add, having both of the Ultimate Avengers films under my belt made the New Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow pretty enjoyable.


20. Invincible Iron Man (2007)

This movie is a real tragedy.  The story and character development is above-par, but the absolutely horrible computer graphics bring down the entire film.  It starts with Stark Industries, despite having been warned against doing so, using breakthrough technology to raise an ancient (and cursed) city in China.  This fulfills an ancient curse and releases elemental demons.  Tony Stark is captured by Chinese rebels and forced to design a weapon capable of leveling the city once again.  Following Stark’s origin, he builds Iron Man armor to escape.  In order to defeat these mystical monsters he is responsible for releasing, Tony Stark must become the Invincible Iron Man and find a way to save the world.

As it stands, Invincible Iron Man has strengths but some serious weaknesses. Tony Stark is well handled pretty well here, though still cannot touch the amazing work done by Robert Downey Jr.  The female lead is quite good and her story arc is touching; introducing an Asian cultural theme of family duty that most Americans, especially Tony Stark, cannot comprehend.  The overall plot is serviceable, but the villains rather underwhelming, especially because of the terrible inconsistency between animation and cgi.  Most of the film is traditionally animated, but the villains, (and Iron Man himself during some of the fights), are done with very cheesy cel animation.  Maybe it would’ve been impressive in, idk, the 90’s?  Saying it looks like a cut-scene from an original X-Box game would be insulting the X-box.
This honestly could have been one of the better films, but the animation is just so horrible that it hijacks the entire film.  There’s some great character work with Tony Stark and the overall storyline is serviceable.  If you’re a hardcore fan and don’t mind your fight scenes looking like something out of The Sim’s, then you’ll probably enjoy Invincible Iron Man. But if you’re a normal human being, there’s no way you’ll watch this over the 2008 Iron Man starring Robert Downey Jr.

Part Two: The Mediocre
Part Three: The Good
Part Four: The Great