It’s been an intriguing year for comic book movies. There’ve been a few ups, some meandering about in the middle road, and a couple of fairly low points (hello, The Green Lantern). It’s seen the Marvel cinematic canon firmly cementing its place and DC bettering their live-action offerings with their animated ones.
With the season of graphic novel adaptations ending with Cowboys & Aliens back in August, it’s now time for the DVD and Blu-ray releases to roll around. Here we’ve picked out our five favourite superhero and comic book movies of 2011…
Thor was something of an unexpected triumph, and this was down to just one man – Kenneth Branagh. In any other hands, the strange mix of Norse mythology and America-set superhero caper could have been entirely mishandled. But Branagh towed the line between silly and serious beautifully, creating a fantastically entertaining experience that was part Shakespearean melodrama, part bombastic action movie and, above all else, incredibly faithful to its source material.
Yes, Thor lost his spikey hat, and yes, Idris Elba as Heimdall was a bit of a curveball, but considering that he was one of the best things in it that just goes to show quite how well Branagh understood just what he was doing.
Combined with the fact that it’s part of one of the grandest set-ups in movie history means that we simply can’t wait for Joss Whedon’s The Avengers to arrive in cinemas next year.
#2: X-Men: First Class
A close second to be sure, but just edged out by its Asgardian counterpart purely because its ambitions – whilst no less grand – perhaps got the better of it.
Still, too many characters is ultimately hardly a criticism for an ensemble movie, and the fact that Michael Fassbender utterly nails the role of a young Magneto (if not a consistent accent) is reason enough to go see the film, regardless of some underdeveloped supporting characters. James McAvoy’s young Charles Xavier is perhaps a little disconnected from Patrick Stewart’s older incarnation – “groovy” – but he still fits within the context of ‘60s-set movie itself.
Also of note is that, when compared to 2009’s other X-Men prequel, this one fits far more neatly into the cinematic canon, with story beats and characters motivations that actually make sense. The Cuban Missile Crisis finale is perhaps a touch on the ridiculous side, but this, quite simply, never fails to entertain.
#3: Captain America: The First Avenger
Perhaps a little too traditional for its own good, there was still a lot of fun to be had with Marvel’s second movie of 2011. Joe Johnston – one of Steven Spielberg’s many protégés – directed with a clear and steady hand, but it was Chris Evans who really shone in the title role and made the film what it was.
Perhaps not the strongest actor on the planet, Evans still deserves an enormous amount of credit for nailing Steve Rogers’ clear-cut, optimistic heroism while avoiding Superman-style corniness. No wisecracks and cocked eyebrows – which seem to pervade most of Evans’ cinematic characters – just a heroic smile and a stoic glint to his eyes.
Plus we had the year’s best comic book villain in the form of Hugo Weaving’s deliciously insane Red Skull. Oh, and of course it’s yet another cog in the Avengers machine, with cameos and mythology galore, not to mention that post-credits scene. Yes, we’re definitely excited.
A curveball, yeah, but it’s nonetheless a nice little catharsis to the special effects wizardy and mad storylines, coming from the mind of James Gunn, who brought us the likes of Slither and was part of the reason that the Dawn of the Dead remake didn’t suck.
Developed almost in tandem with that other not-so-super-hero movie, Kick Ass – only without the relatively high-budget trappings and with an even greyer sense of morality – Super is a movie where the hero isn’t even in it to help people. He’s more about finding out who he is, and the definition of ‘crime’ is a little, shall we say, fuzzy.
Gritty, occasionally unsettling, and yet in possession of Gunn’s distinct wit and visual style, this was an unexpected indie treat that you should definitely try and catch.
#5: Cowboys & Aliens
Considering that both the trailers, and even the title itself, promised a straight-up sci-fi adventure movie, it was something of a surprise as to quite how dark and gritty Cowboys & Aliens turned out to be.
Daniel Craig simmers beautifully in the ‘man with no name’ lead role, all action and little talk, while Harrison Ford manages to provide just enough of Dr Jones’ charm to prevent the movie from getting stuck too far down the well of hopelessness.
Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man)manages to bring his impressive action chops to the table, creating a visual treat, whilst also managing to imbue the film with a hard-nosed horror edge that is yet another unexpected round in the film’s six-gun. It never quite manages to fully capitalise on its great premise and characters – and it’s unusually long for a film that this can be said of – but Cowboys & Aliens is never dull and just about fully satisfying. Oh, and did we mention, it has Indy and James Bond in it?
What’s your favourite comic book movie of the year? Let us know below…