Through reviews, box-office receipts and online chatter, comic-book fans have spoken — 2017 was a banner year for movies starring superpowered, or at least high-achieving, heroes.
Not only did such movies more or less rule the box office over the last 12 months, according to Rotten Tomatoes four of the greatest superhero films of all time were released in 2017. But four is far from the full amount of demigod-starring flicks this year and, unfortunately, not all of them were certified fresh.
Yes, we had "Wonder Woman," but we also had "Justice League" to balance it out. And, yes, the the battle for the best heroic adventure of the year was again an all-out war between the goliath Marvel and DC universes; but there were some other non-comic-book strivers shooting up the charts as well.
So here's a look back on all the biggest, most noteworthy films that featured caped crusaders, costumed adventurers and near-supernatural spies that hit theaters this year, offered in order from the terrible to the terrific.
This thing was screwed from inception. In 2014, it was a announced that a film based on Marvel's Inhumans characters was slated for a 2018 release. By 2016, it was pulled from the schedule, with Marvel saying it was moved to make room for the new Spider-Man movie, only to resurface as a planned television series with an initial theatrical release. Confused? Everyone was.
From the teaser images and trailers alone one could tell that audiences were in for a cheap, clunky adaptation of the odd, visually stunning comics. The show’s pre-release reputation was so bad that by the time the cast was doing press for the event, they had to dodge questions and scurry away from a Television Critics Association panel.
The first two episodes of the ABC series were aired as a modified film on IMAX screens, which only ended up highlighting how bad "Inhumans" looked — not that its script was any better. With a 10 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, it is the worst-rated Marvel Cinematic Universe property to get a theatrical release, a dishonor notable enough that it belongs on this list.
This Russian superhero film is centered around four misfits whose DNA was manipulated to give them supernatural abilities, each of which represents a different strength of the various nationalities and cultures that make up the Federation.
This Fantastic Four-type entry is notable mostly because of its provenance (really, when was the last time you saw an action-adventure flick based in Moscow or the Crimean Peninsula?). Alas, many of the cultural references in "Guardians" are out of reach for international audiences, and the pacing is touch-and-go, as well.
Russian media panned "Guardians" and, though it had a strong opening, its box-office numbers dropped off quickly. Still, one of the characters is a half-man-half-bear with a giant machine gun, so it's got that going for it.
After a dour "Man of Steel" and a messy "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," it seemed that "Wonder Woman" might finally set the DC Extended Universe on track. Unfortunately, the next DCEU film, "Justice League," barely achieved mediocrity.
Even with DC-favorite Zack Snyder sidelined for "Avengers" helmer Joss Whedon here, the aesthetic was annoyingly dark (the biggest weakness of "Man of Steel), the plot was chaotic (not unlike "Batman v Superman"), the effects were dreadful and the patter between the characters was grating, offering little to sustain the franchise's momentum.
Yes, seeing a bunch of your favorite characters team up in live action on the big screen for the first time will geek out any fan. But if there’s not a substantive story behind it, that first hit of nerd power will fade fast, much like the prospects of a renewed DC franchise.
This could have, and probably should have, gone horribly wrong. But — you know what — it kind of works.
"Power Rangers," a take on the old ’90s after-school kaiju-versus-space-ninja show, wasn’t perfect by any means. The "Breakfast Club"-style meeting in detention, the shallow characterization of teens (a character’s only justification for their attitude problem is that they are gay) and the amount of product placement in the climax nearly scuttled it.
However, the film actually takes the time and care to explain its world's mythos, which the television series and 1994 films neglected to do. Many complain that the film takes too long to get a taste of the Rangers in action, but by the time the robot Zords show up to take down Goldar to the classic hair-metal theme song, you realize you're along for the ride.
"Ghost in the Shell"
It was probably a bad sign that an anime classic was being adapted by the director of "Snow White and the Huntsman" and one of the writers behind two of the "Transformers" sequels. The influence of the original, brilliant 1995 animated movie is still felt across many genres; this remake, however, is better forgotten thanks to a whitewashing controversy, clichéd plot, settings and villains, and its habit of ditching all the interesting, existential questions the original movie and TV series asked. What made this failure big news is that it might finally scare off Hollywood producers from interpreting classic anime through Western eyes (or it might not).
"Kingsman: The Golden Circle"
Perhaps not a capes-and-mutants superhero flick, this sequel still has a comic-book heritage, a comic-book attitude and, let's face it, more outré, sci-fi heroism than most things out there. But "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" fell into a second-movie trap. All those shiny weapons, the sharp story and the tone from the first movie appeared dulled in this lazy, lazy ultra-wide release. Still, after grossing $395.4 million, the creators may have the chance to get it right in a third outing.
Wasn't this a horror flick and not a superhero film? Incorrect! "Split" -- spoiler here -- marks the second entry in what will be a trilogy of films centered around gritty, gritty takes on people with superpowers. In this backdoor launch of a shared universe, James McAvoy’s superb acting skills are put to a curious test that he passes with flying colors (though his fantastical, insensitive portrayal of mental illness was off-putting.) "Split" is also notable as it appears to mark a comeback for director M. Night Shyamalan, whether you were rooting for one or not.
"Wonder Woman" wasn’t the only female hero to grace the screens this year. "Atomic Blonde" hits us with only slightly more realistic action and the presence of the always captivating Charlize Theron. If you think she’s just a pretty face, the film tells us, she might break yours. The story doesn’t quite live up to the talents of its star and its wonderfully chilly aesthetic, but this solidly reviewed, solid-earning adaptation of a graphic novel proves that high-powered espionage capers aren't just for the Captain Americas or Winter Soldiers of the world. The women can play, too.
"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"
The first "Guardians of the Galaxy" changed the superhero movie game in 2014 when it assembled a poor man’s Avengers for a romp that was as much about comedy, heart and personality as it was about cosmic action. Director James Gunn paired funny, relatable takes on C-list Marvel characters and killer '70s music to good effect. The sequel wasn't nearly as fresh (and perhaps more than a bit overcooked), but the visuals were still stunning, the laughs were still there and we still cared about the characters. And, really, who can deny Baby Groot a generally favorable review? Just look at him!
"Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie"
Well animated with a tight plot and far-reaching comedy, this adaptation of a comic-styled children's book is family-friendly, but won’t put adults to sleep. Sounds a lot like "Shrek," right? Well, it suffers from some of the same weaknesses — a rushed plot and overuse of pop tunes included — though in a year with such dark superhero fare, this was a happy guy in a cape you couldn't help but get behind. Cheap to make, strong at the box office and a critical favorite, it's already spawned a forthcoming television series, meaning the biggest superhero debut of 2017 involved a bald guy running around in white briefs. It's been a weird year.
"The Lego Batman Movie"
Lego Batman’s biggest strength is its on-point critique of the Batman mythos and its massive, massive heart. From his loneliness and attention craving (the results of childhood trauma) to the obsessive nature of his relationship with the Joker, this might be the best character study of Batman to date and a surprisingly well-justified entry into the Dark Knight's film pantheon. It's also, like the "The Lego Movie" before it, almost achingly visually inventive, voiced by wonderful talent and features a lump-in-your-throat happy ending.
After one popular trilogy and a second franchise that had potential but never quite got there, Marvel took the reins from Sony and freshened poor Spidey up. Peter Parker is best when he’s a hard-luck dork from a NYC outer borough (albeit a genius, superpowered hard-luck dork). In this, newcomer Tom Holland was pitch-perfect, if perhaps too young. Have we finally reached a point in Hollywood history where even Aunt May has to be young and objectified? Is the next Spider-Man is still in utero?
Best of all was how chilling Michael Keaton’s Vulture was in his most intimate scenes with our hero. On the downside, the teen-comedy energy was so up, up, up the stakes seemed low, low, low.
The sharpest critiques of Marvel films have pointed at their surfeit of jokes and lack of memorable villains. That comes to a head in "Thor: Ragnarok," which not only features the deliciously wicked Cate Blanchett as the heavy, but steers into Marvel's tendency toward laughter, somehow creating what many say is one of the better overall comedies of the year. With sweeping visuals and a surprisingly relevant allegory, the movie has a lot to recommend it. However, the pacing is a tad too fast and much sense is sacrificed to produce its emotional ending. Still, all in all, a hit.
"Wonder Woman"was destined to be high on the list, just as Diana was destined to battle the gods. Though she couldn’t necessarily defeat a clunky plot, cliché climax and at times tragically cartoonish villains, the "it’s about time" historic significance greatly makes up for the film's minor faults. Gal Gadot is everything one could ask for here, and more. If you didn’t get chills watching her walking into a hail of bullets, taking out platoons of German foot soldiers with only a tad of backup from the boys, or falling in love with ice cream, you just might not like movies very much.
The best thing about "Logan" is its fearless, innovative use of genre, something the often-staid superhero category is not known for. It is about a comic-book hero, yes, but it is also the Western-style tale of a wandering, reluctant hero fighting local outlaws who are terrorizing an innocent community. It is also a sensitive drama about the difficult love between sons and fathers and between fathers and daughters. Finally, it's a study of regret, acceptance, forgiveness and death. Heady stuff for a guy who sprouts claws when he's in a bad mood, and a gauntlet thrown at the feet of everyone else making superhero films.
Yes there are more than a few plot holes and some touch-and-go pacing, but it's a fitting end to Hugh Jackman's arc as Logan, a loner who doesn’t quite know how to forge substantive personal relationships. His scenes with the young, mysterious Laura, played by the brilliant Dafne Keen, are something rare and profound in this or any genre. Even with its slight flaws, Logan still scores the highest rating on Rotten Tomatoes of live-action superhero movies this year and may very well leave you tearing up as it fades to black. Most of all, "Logan" isn't just a good superhero film. It's a good film, period.