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.


“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.


“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.

green lantern

“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.


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?


“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?

holocaust capture

“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.


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.


“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.]


Iron Man (2008) – Review reworked and reposted.

“You stood by my side all these years while I reaped the benefits of destruction. Now that I’m trying to protect the people I’ve put in harm’s way, you’re going to walk out? – I shouldn’t be alive, unless it was for a reason. I’m not crazy, Pepper. I just finally know what I have to do. And I know in my heart that it’s right.”

I know what you’re thinking, Audience, “everyone has seen Iron Man! What can Isaac possibly say that I haven’t heard already?” – Trust me, I’ve got this.

Tony Stark saves the Cat

Until last night, I had never seen the first two minutes of Iron Man, and it totally changed my perspective on the entire film. “So what”, you ask, “nothing happens, they just crack some jokes on a Humvee ride.” – But oh, its incredibly important. You see, this is Tony Stark’s initial “Save the Cat” moment. (“Save the Cat” is a phrase for when the main character does something endearing/heroic in the first 20 minutes so that the audience will like him.) The opening scene: the legendary Tony Stark is riding in a Humvee with three US soldiers; its quiet, awkward, and boring. Tony breaks the silence with a few jokes, and after a minute everyone is laughing, snapping pictures, and enjoying his company. Its a simple scene but it establishes Tony Stark as inherently fun and likable. Without this introduction, Tony’s character is merely an arrogant billionaire playboy with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Raising the Bar

Iron Man showed the world that superhero movies can be fun, witty, action packed, engaging, adventurous, well-written, expertly directed, fantastically acted, and most of all, pretty darn good. Superhero movies don’t have to be half-baked, poorly written, 2-hour cheese fests. Long gone are the days of “let’s cast somebody big! like, uh… Ben Affleck!” (facepalm.) Iron Man has it all, especially in the acting department. Robert Downey Jr owns Tony Stark and has great chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts.

The Origin of a Icon

Jon Favreau did a fantastic job of directing Marvel’s first big movie. I wish all superhero films were executed with such exquisite attention to detail. He captured the essence of Iron Man: Tony Stark discovers a reason to live for something other than himself. He begins as a spoiled and naive playboy, the ‘quintessential capitalist’, but its not long before the billionaire is thrown into a cave (‘with scraps!’) and given an ultimatum. This is where Iron Man finds its heart; Tony Stark becomes a man of character. In a stirring montage (gotta love those montages), our hero builds the MK1 armor, pounding away with a purpose. This is more than a thrilling tale of how Tony Stark made the superpowered armor, this is the mythic essence that drives our hero onward. This is the powerful ‘origin story’, the ‘heart of the hero’ that will call audiences back to film after film of Iron Man’s legacy. Executing the ‘Origin of the Superhero’ is the most important part of the mythos, and every sequel must uncover a subsequent heart and passion to drive the Superhero on. (More on that in Iron Man 2).

Themes: Redemption, Technology, the Global Arms Race

While its spotlighted more intensely in Iron Man 2Iron Man talks quite a bit about the nuclear arms race. While this was a hotter topic during the Cold War (the era of Iron Man’s comic debut), the global arms race is far from irrelevant today. The United States is involved in a number of foreign crisis’, and Tony Stark’s situation begs the question: “what’s America’s responsibility in foreign affairs?” While Jon Favreau wisely avoids the archetypal wise-old-man repeating “with great power comes great responsibility,” he asserts that Iron Man has a duty to use his technology to not only right his own wrongs, but to protect the innocent. The ending crowns Stark with the fame of the Iron Man identity, but the technology will inevitability open a proverbial ‘Pandora’s Box” of evil potential.

At at its core, Iron Man is a story of redemption. “I shouldn’t be alive… unless it was for a reason. I’m not crazy, Pepper. I just finally know what I have to do. And I know in my heart that it’s right.” Tony experiences a profound change of heart as his eyes are opened to his true legacy: death and destruction at the hands of Stark Industries. Everyone around Tony challenges his redemptive experience, insisting that its PTSD. They encourage him to “get back to his old self.” But this idea is abhorrent to Tony; his old life represents selfishness and death, his new life must embody selflessness and justice.

Conclusion: Shut Up, and Watch the Movie.

I could go on about the Superhero Formula (trading punches), the humour, the gorgeous visuals, the thrill of the Iron Man suit… but who am I kidding, you’ve all seen this. Here’s one time where I’ll just Shut Up and Watch The Movie.

4.5/5 Zipped Lips

One of the best superhero movies ever, setting a high standard for a new generation of comic-book films.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

“Here you have a chance to be part of something much bigger than yourself.”

Synopsis: In 1962, a young Professor Xavier recruits a team of mutants to combat a Cold War threat. Among them is Erik Lensherr, his best friend… and future archenemy.

Preboot? – So what is X-Men: First Class, anyway? Is it a prequel to the other 4 X-men films also made by 20th Century Fox? Or does the fresh cast and origin story indicate this is a reboot like Batman Begins? First Class can’t seem to make up its mind. It sports a brilliant new cast, fresh design, and origin story; which all point to a complete reboot. But its also filled with nods to the previous X-men movies (and one of the funniest cameos of all time) which point to a prequel like the X-Men Origins: Wolverine film. The result has people calling it a “preboot”, as if its intentionally walking the line and hoping nobody cares too much. (Its now been confirmed that First Class is the first of a new X-men trilogy.)

Thankfully, First Class is way too much fun for me to care. Seriously, this movie was a blast. The action is fun, the pacing well tuned, the characters charming, the use of history intriguing, the special effects impressive, and the soundtrack spellbinding. Its certainly not a perfect movie, but it captures the charm, darkness, and scale of what the X-men are about. I was especially impressed with First Class’ use of actual history. From young Erik in a Nazi concentration camp to the Cuban Missile Crisis, this ‘secret history’ is a brilliant move. My hat is off to director Matthew Vaughn for tying it all together.

When it comes to X-men, there’s two origin stories I’ve always wanted to see: Wolverine’s past, and the friendship between Professor X and Magneto. Thankfully, First Class is much better than the sloppy Origins: Wolverine. I was initially skeptical about James McAvoy as Professor Xavier, but I was proven wrong. His cool confidence and leadership were perfect for a young, prebooted Charles Xavier. Michael Fassbender steals the show as Erik Lehnsherr, a Nazi hunter obsessed with revenge. (Anytime you make Nazi’s the villains, you’re golden in my book). Erik’s character arc is emotionally gripping, and the best part of the movie. And speaking of the Nazi’s, Kevin Bacon makes a surprisingly good one!

I’ve got a thing for movies with good soundtracks. (listen here!) Henry Jackman’s work on First Class isn’t the most complex or intricate score you’ll hear this summer, but it fits the film perfectly. Traditional strings and brass are supported by subtle electric guitar and bass, giving it the modern feel needed for a superhero movie. I won’t spoil it, but a particular scene with a submarine is stunning both musically and visually. First Class used the dynamic duo of special effects and soundtrack without a hitch, and I love them for it.

X-Men: First Class isn’t without its imperfections. It doesn’t depend on familiarity with its characters, but it certainly assumes it (and rightly so, being the 5th film in the franchise!) The result is glossing over some characters and details because it assumes the audience knows who they are and who they become down the road. Chances are you’ve noticed the white wonderbra wearing Emma Frost (played by January Jones). First Class manages to explain her ridiculous outfit (she looks just like her comic-book counterpart) but overall Jones lacked the commanding presence required for Emma Frost. But considering that there’s two more X-men films coming, she has time to develop into the strong willed telepath we know and love.

Finally, First Class has a moral message. The civil rights movement of the 1960’s is merely a backdrop for X-Men’s human/mutant dilemma, and Xavier’s hope for a peaceful future between humans and mutants is contrasted with Erik’s downfall. “We have it within us to be the better men,” Charles teaches. “We already are,” replies Erik. Above all, X-men reminds us that being good requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

4.5 out of 5 Zipped Lips

X-Men First Class is a fantastic superhero movie and easily the best of the franchise. It has its imperfections, but the movie is so much fun you won’t care. Here’s looking forward to a fantastic new X-men trilogy under the direction of Matthew Vaughn.

"peace was never an option"

Thor (2011)

June 16, 2011

Thor (2011)

Synopsis: The powerful but arrogant warrior Thor is cast out of the fantastic realm of Asgard and sent to live amongst humans on Earth.

Let’s be honest, Thor is kind of a lame Superhero. He’s the Norse God of Thunder, Son of Odin, and wields an awkwardly giant hammer like a yo-yo. Put this dude in a lineup between Iron Man and Captain America and Thor looks dorkier than Tobias Fünke. So naturally, I was very skeptical as to how Marvel was going to pull this off. My hat is off to Marvel Studios and director Kenneth Branagh, because Thor is one solid movie.

Thor is an excellent example of “willing suspension of disbelief.” In other words, “are you gonna buy into this premise or not?” You can skeptically complain, “those helmets look dorky, Thor’s costume is too shiny, frost giants? …this movie is crap!” Or you can choose to enjoy the fantastical setting and see if Thor delivers. So much of our enjoyment is based on choices. we can choose to be overly critical or choose to enjoy something different. And if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, Thor packs a wallop.

The film explains that Thor and his fellow Asgardians are an extra-terrestrial race who the ancients mistook for Gods. Thor describes Asgard as “a place where science and magic are one in the same.” Asgardians have immense physical power but also wield incredibly technology (like building a “Rainbow Bridge” that teleports adventurers between planets). Science Fiction has a long-held tradition of explaining ancient deities as powerful alien beings (see Star Trek: The Original Series), so Thor’s explanation felt simple and familiar.

Marvel ones again proves they can line up a terrific cast. Chris Hemsworth is likeable, heroic, and perfect as the brash and arrogant Thor. Tom Hiddleson is subtle, creepy, and his portrayal of Loki reminded me of Wormtongue. Anthony Hopkins is iconic as Odin, a father trying to raise two sons while keeping peace. Natalie Portman‘s nerdy scientist pleasantly surprised me. If anything, Portman’s small stature makes Chris Hemsworth look all the more godlike in proportion.
Thor’s honorable relationship with Jane Foster (Portman) was a ‘stark’ contrast to Iron Man’s hedonism. There’s a brilliant moment where you think Thor and Jane will break for a self-indulgent kiss or a lusty romp in the bed, but instead Thor simply kisses Jane’s hand. This concept of honoring women and sex has practically disappeared from our culture; allowing Thor’s respect to not only surprise us, but to critique our lustful expectations as audience members.

My only disappointment with Thor was that it felt kinda short (115 minutes). I don’t mind lengthy films (Braveheart!) and would’ve enjoyed an additional 30 minutes for exposition, character depth, and action. The common complaint seems to be “not enough hammer smashing”. I could tell they were holding Thor back for the upcoming Avengers film.

Thor is truly a unique superhero movie. Kenneth Branagh is far more interested in themes of honor, pride, and family than pandering to our desire for explosions and lusty sidekicks. The action is there and Mjolnir pack’s a wallop, but hammer swinging isn’t what Thor’s here to do. Its about the journey of two princes and their father, the King. And ultimately, Thor is a hero who must be humbled before he can become a champion.

4 / 5 Zipped Lips

Thor is a unique superheroes movie; it is far more interested in themes of honor, humility, and family than dishing out violence and explosions. Likeable, engaging, and fun whether you’re a lifelong fan or new to the Marvel Universe. Catch it before it leaves theaters or check it out on DVD.

Iron Man 2 (2010) – Review by Isaac

I’m specifically calling this “Isaac’s Take” because I’m a megalomaniac.  Okay, not really. It’s because despite hearing “Iron Man 2 isn’t as good as its predecessor”, I was still disappointed and I’m going to be a little hard on it.

Synopsis: With the world now aware of his dual life as the armored superhero Iron Man, billionaire inventor Tony Stark faces pressure from the government, the press, and the public to share his technology with the military. Suffering from blood poisoning and unwilling to let go of his invention, Stark must delve into his past and confront powerful enemies.

I’m not sure what to think of this movie. I watched Iron Man the night before I saw Iron Man 2 thinking it was a good idea to familiarize myself with its story and style, but maybe that was a mistake. Iron Man 2 wasn’t as fun or adventurous, and things didn’t really get rolling until 2/3rds of the way in. My wife and I both had this feeling of “okay… when is the movie going to start?” I wasn’t exactly expecting this to be The Dark Knight, but I was at least hoping for a power-packed sequel like Spider-Man 2 or X2. Don’t get me wrong, this is still far from falling on its face like Spider-Man3 or X3. Iron Man 2 isn’t a bad movie. But if the original Iron Man showed us anything, it’s that a superhero movie can be fun, adventurous, action packed, and well-paced. Iron Man 2 captures only a handful of this.

I’ll start off with what I really liked: the characterization. Robert Downey Jr. returns in full force and gives a terrific performance. Gwyneth Paltrow is once again endearing as Pepper Potts. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Natalie/Natasha/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are underwhelming but a welcome addition. Despite criticism, I enjoyed Black Widow’s presence in the film and thought her fight scene terrific. If anything, she’s one less character to be introduced in The Avengers film (planned for May 4, 2012). Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) and Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) are fantastically cast and add a lot of depth to the film. Don Cheadle replaces Terence Howard and James “Rhodey” Rhodes, making for a slight awkward transition but satisfying enough by the end. (Apparently Jon Favreau hated working with Howard and wanted a replacement).

I loved the character of Justin Hammer (played by Sam Rockwell). Head of Hammer Industries (no pun intended), he’s Tony Stark’s business rival and least favorite person. Or perhaps a better title would be “Hammer aspires to be Tony Stark’s rival”. Sam Rockwell’s character is funny, quirky, intelligent, and plays opposite Robert Downey Jr perfectly. His presence prevents the film from taking itself too seriously.
I think director Jon Favreau overestimated the character’s ability to carry the story without assistance of action or quick pacing. The first two acts meander along with only one substantial action scene (the racetrack), leaving RDJ, Sam Rockwell, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Mickey Rourke to carry the film with dialog alone. These stars are up to the task, but the result is a lengthy, all over the place, and ungrounded storyline.

Mickey Rourke did a terrific job beefing up the villain Ivan Vanko, insisting on character quirks and speaking half his dialogue in Russian. But overall, Whiplash is underwhelming as a villain. The racetrack scene is excellent (a perfect Inciting Incident) and I expected it to really “kick-off the film” after a slow first-act. But alas, it did not. Vanko is simply captured, and the second act continues to limp along as all the blockbuster is saved for the 3rd act. [spoilers] Did anyone else think that Ivan Vanko was defeated way too easily? The racetrack scene was okay, but the ending left much to be desired from the Whiplash/Crimson Dynamo suit. The film spends a lot of time building anticipation of Ivan Vanko’s appearance and threat to Tony Stark. I get that he set out to “make God bleed”, but couldn’t he have put up more of a fight at the same time?[end spoilers]

The slowest and most meandering segment of the film is Tony Stark’s depression. I appreciate character depth and the traditional “superhero sequel” where the hero must decide if can bear the burden asked of him. This wasn’t nearly as bad as Tobey Maguire’s emo dancing, but it left some to be desired. Instead of excitement, Iron Man and War Machine slugging it out felt pointless. I get that their working with source material (which I haven’t read) and this was a necessarily valley for the character, but it made for a very directionally challenged second act.

As for the “heart of the film”, Iron Man 2 waits until about 2/3rds of the film before it delivers. Tony is struggling with his impending death/alcohol/daddy issues, until Nick Fury forces him to watch some footage of his dad. This is where the film really picked up the pace and got very interesting, it was my “Moment of Intrigue” (that’s what I call it, I’m sure there’s a scholarly term. You could probably argue that this is closely tied to the Inciting Incident). The Moment of Intrigue is when the audience member connects with the story and says “alright, I’m in”. Be it one hour or three, we’re committed to seeing the rest of the film and following the hero to the end. After the Moment of Intrigue, the film usually picks up and really starts rolling along in an intentional direction. In the first Iron Man, this comes early on when Tony Stark is captured and commits to build the suit to escape. Iron Man 2 develops some general intrigue, fun and charm; but ultimately fails to establish connection or direction early on, and delivers the Moment of Intrigue late in the second act. I think this is the single biggest flaw in Iron Man 2 and prevented it from being a great film like its predecessor.

Iron Man 2 does the ‘rope-a-dope’ but lets loose in the 3rd act. The ensuing pacing, humour, fighting, explosions, and special effects are really something. The team-up is excellent and War Machine comes close to stealing the show. While the trailer gives away most of this fight (curse you advertising industry!) there’s still some great work being done here. I kept thinking “WOW, if they can do this, why’d they save it all for the finale?”
-Which is a good question. This is a comic book movie after all. You know what this movie needed? – A superhero fighting crime montage. I know, I know, they’re almost as cliché as the ‘damsel in distress’ (which is used here), but Iron Man 2 needed it. How about instead of just bragging about establishing World Peace, we get to see a little of it. An opening credits montage featuring Iron Man flying around the world, punching holes through jets, blowing up tanks, disabling missile silos in North Korea… That’s just the sort of comic-book fun action Iron Man 2 needed to kick off the plot.

Rating: 3.5/5 Zipped Lips.

If the first Iron Man was the “Fun-Vee”, then Iron Man 2 is more like the “Hum-Drum-Vee”. It simply plodded along for too long before grabbing my interest and gluing me to my seat.

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