The term “superhero fatigue” was recently coined to describe the deluge of tights and capes that are continuously making their way onto the big screen, although we can certainly debate the term and the differences between “too many” and “a lot.” While there’s no mistaking that there are a number of superhero movies being churned out by the big studios on an annual basis, that definitely wasn’t the case prior to the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008. Superheroes on the silver screen were sporadic and hit-or-miss with audiences, critics, and financial success. Let’s take a look at five pieces of superhero cinema that missed the mark upon their original releases but deserve reconsideration.
When I recommend Dredd to most fans, the first image that comes to mind is Sylvester Stallone’s Judge Dredd from 1995 and screams of, “I am the law,” in their best Stallone voice. The 2nd adaptation in 2012, Dredd, was a hit with critics and fans alike but somehow managed to greatly underperform at the box office, making it the only film on this list that wasn’t a financial success for its respective studio. Karl Urban is amazing as the titular hero, but unfortunately, no matter how fast he rides his legendary bike, Lawmaster, he can’t escape the legacy of Stallone’s iconic outing in the same role. Admittedly, there’s not much in the way of the character development that moviegoers have become spoiled with these days, but the stylized violence, straightforward storyline, and sadistic villain are worth giving this film a second chance, or a first chance if you, like many others, didn’t know it existed.
batman forever (1995)
batman & robin (1997)
Coming off the cultural phenomena that were Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman and his 1992 follow-up Batman Returns, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin had impossibly large shoes to fill. Burton was out as the film’s director and Michael Keaton was out as the film’s lead. Joel Schumacher was tasked with creating a lighthearted, familyapproved, toy-centric third film in the Bat-franchise, and the new cast was incredible. Batman Forever stars Val Kilmer and Chris O’Donnell as Batman and Robin, respectively, while the villainous Two-Face and the Riddler are played by none other than Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey, the latter of whom was at the peak of his massive stardom. Two years later, the fourth outing for the dynamic duo, simply called Batman & Robin, featured an equally
amazing cast with George Clooney taking up the cape and cowl alongside a returning O’Donnell, with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the pun-tastic Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman playing the seductive siren Poison Ivy. Although the films serve as sequels to the first two Batman movies, it’s “in spirit” at best. Flashy, fun, and full of corny one-liners, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin invoke the spirit of the Light Knight Adam West. Comparing the two individually is something that we can’t help but do, but should we? Alone, each movie is entertaining in its own right, with its own exploration of its Gotham set pieces. I also enjoy a Batman who enjoys being a hero; a Batman for whom the cape and cowl is not a burden, but rather a glorious responsibility that he willfully shoulders, and both Kilmer and Clooney, despite performances that have become divisive for fans, give lighter, almost jovial takes on the Caped Crusader. Batman Forever and Batman & Robin double down on thrill and excitement, and certainly deserve another look.
Ben Affleck is a talented actor and director. He also has the honor of putting on several super-suits on the silver screen throughout his illustrious career: He was Superman in 2006’s Hollywoodland, and then of course both Daredevil and Batman. Admittedly, Affleck’s Daredevil doesn’t compare to Charlie Cox’s version of the character from the Netflix series, but he certainly does a praise-worthy job portraying the Man Without Fear. Along with his underrated performance, the action sequences and the mindful musical score by Graeme Revell compensate for the rushed storyline. I remember seeing Daredevil upon its 2003 release and loving it, confused by the backlash it received amongst fans of the character. Whether you don’t love the movie or believe it deserves a second chance, at least we can all agree that it should still hold a special
place in the hearts and minds of superhero fans everywhere, because without it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe wouldn’t exist. It was on this film that John Favreau approached Marvel executives about working on a superhero project of his own. Fast-forward a few years later and John and Marvel gave us Iron Man, thus birthing the MCU.
fantastic four (2005)
fantastic four: rise of the silver surfer (2007)
Anytime someone asks me my opinion on the best Fantastic Four film, I insist that it’s Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles. That movie has the perfect balance of family dynamics, incredible action, and a credible villain. Although, while we wait for Marvel’s First Family to enter the MCU, it’s the perfect time to give the original theatrical releases a second look. Chris Evans’ Johnny Storm is worth the follow-up viewing alone, as well as Doug Jones as the Silver Surfer, who shows up in the sequel. The unfulfilling tease of Galactus as a space cloud is still frustrating, but the playful dynamics between the familial heroes is worth the price of admission. Released around the same time as Christopher Nolan’s brooding Batman
Begins and The Dark Knight, these two Fantastic Four entries surely caught audiences off guard, most of whom were probably expecting a dark and grim tale, unsure of what to make of these lighthearted and colorful films. If these movies came out in the late ’80s, we’d still be singing their praises.
ghost rider (2007)
Sit back and enjoy the wild ride that is Nicolas Cage! Ghost Rider is definitely worth a second, third, and fourth viewing. The film suffers a good deal from the lack of a daunting and interesting villain. Because while Peter Fonda plays a perfectly sinister Mephistopheles, Wes Bentley’s Blackheart comes across more like a petulant child than a centuries-old accumulation of evil. Main villain aside, the film finds brilliance in the chemistry between Cage and Eva Mendes, the special effects, and the over-thetop energy of Cage himself, all of which are enough to keep me glued to my seat again and again. And the marquee moment when Johnny Blaze first transforms into the Ghost Rider is cinematic perfection!