Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Last week, I presented my picks for the best and most underrated super hero films ever made. (To check out those picks, just go here.) This week, I spotlight the worst and the most overrated films in the ever-burgeoning super hero genre.
X-Men 3: The Last Stand (2006):
This is what X-Men 3 SHOULD have been about.

Never before (or since) has so much potential for a great sequel film been pissed away. And never before (or since) have I walked out of a film so angry at a movie because of What Could Have Been. The end of X-Men 2: X-Men United set it up perfectly: 20th Century Fox now had the Dark Phoenix Saga right in their hands. THE FRIGGIN’ DARK PHOENIX SAGA, for crying out loud. Probably the most acclaimed, beloved, powerful, and talked-about X-Men story of all time—and this steaming pile of turd is what we got. The elimination of Scott (Cyclops) Summers during the opening ten minutes was the first (and most important) sign that something was very, very wrong, and that the key people behind the making of this film had no comprehension of what they were working on. The only saving graces were Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Hank McCoy (the Beast) and Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde.

2) Spider-Man 3 (2007):
He must have just read the script.

This comes within range of X-Men 3, but it’s not quite as awful. Sam Raimi, what happened to you? You had proven yourself with the first two Spider-Man movies, and while they were both flawed, they were fun and exciting and at least captured the spirit of the original comic books by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and John Romita Sr. But between the second and third movies, it seems like you forgot everything you knew about Spider-Man—and about making Spider-Man movies. The third entry was an overcrowded, loud, dumb, ill-conceived mess that, for me, at least, tainted the entire series. Too many villains (one of which was completely unnecessary), too many coincidences in the story, characters acting way out of character inexplicably, the butler from out of nowhere, a sudden and appalling lack of understanding of one of Spider-Man’s most important powers (which had been portrayed more or less correctly in the previous two films), unfunny attempts at humor, and the disembowelment of Spider-Man’s origin. All in all, an unfortunate way to close out the “Tobey Maguire era.”

3) Batman and Robin (1997):
The death of a franchise.

The only Batman movie I never went to see in the theater, based on early word of mouth. I still have yet to see it in its entirety, as I bailed out during an airing on HBO the moment Batman pulled out his “bat credit card.” What audience did director Joel Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman think was demanding a return to the dopey campiness of the Adam West TV show? What made Schumacher think that putting nipples on the Batman and Robin costumes was a good idea? What made him think that what the majority of fans of the previous films really wanted to see was numerous close-ups of Batman and Robin’s butts and crotches? Thank goodness both Schumacher and Goldsman have been kept far away from the Batman movie series since this debacle, which is often cited as one of the worst movies ever made. I saw Schumacher walking down the street in SoHo a few years ago, and I nearly stuck my foot out to trip him because of what he did to this movie series and to this character.

4) Captain America (1990):
The shield turned in the best performance.

A total crapfest, which is no surprise since it’s directed by the notorious Albert Pyun, whose other “masterworks” include 1988’s Alien From L.A. (which starred then-supermodel Kathy Ireland and went on to become the subject of one of the funniest installments of Mystery Science Theater 3000) and 1993’s Brainsmasher... A Love Story (starring an already washed-up Andrew Dice Clay and Teri Hatcher, just about to hit it big as Lois Lane on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman). Like most of Pyun’s movies, Captain America never even got a theatrical release; it went straight to video. This one’s got it all: a shoestring budget, bad acting, incompetent direction, hackneyed attempts at patriotism, changes to the characters just for the sake of change (unless there’s another reason why the Red Skull—always portrayed in the comics as German, a fervent Nazi, and Adolph Hitler’s right hand during World War II—was now an Italian Fascist), and a Captain America uniform that was so poorly constructed that instead of simply having lead actor Matt Salinger’s ears sticking out of openings on the sides of the mask (as with the comic-book version), the mask had flesh-colored rubber ears protruding from the sides.

5) TIE: Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987):
How could things turn so bad so quickly?

They’re both terrible, but for very different reasons. III was a poke in the eye to anyone who enjoyed the first two films—it treated Superman and his universe with utter indifference bordering on contempt (which is apparently exactly what director Richard Lester felt toward the franchise). The movie was basically a vehicle for Richard Pryor, who was neutered into a family-friendly shnook who was uninteresting and, most appallingly, unfunny. Superman himself was relegated to the sidelines, essentially a supporting character in his own movie. The only real highlight was Annette O’Toole as Lana Lang.
From bad to very bad, despite the return of Hackman as Luthor.

As for IV… inept filmmaking plus a criminally ill-conceived script, plus a budget that was slashed in half right before filming began, plus a scrawny-looking Christopher Reeve who didn’t even bother to bulk up again for the role, plus a Lois Lane who looked less like Superman’s girlfriend and more like Clark Kent’s well-built aunt from Cleveland, plus bad comedy, plus Jon Cryer at his most annoying, plus cheap-looking sets, plus horrendous editing that led to gaping plot holes, plus near-zero story logic, plus some of the worst special effects ever produced for a major motion picture equals… well, I’m sure you can figure this equation out for yourself. At least Gene Hackman looks like he’s having a good time—and why not? Most of the budget probably went to his salary!
MOST OVERRATED (Not bad, just not as good as many would have you believe):
1) Superman II (1981):
Rednecks, beware!

Face it—it’s not as great as you remember. Upon first viewing, especially if you were 11 years old (as I was), it may have seemed like the ultimate super hero film. But upon closer scrutiny, you can really see the seams. Superman II is a Frankenstein’s Monster of a movie. Roughly 80 percent of it was shot by director Richard Donner while he was making Superman: The Movie. But to due major creative, professional, and personal differences with producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind, Donner was removed from the project before he could finish filming it. The Salkinds brought in director Richard Lester (A Hard Day’s Night, The Three Musketeers) to complete the movie. To ensure that Lester, not Donner, would receive sole directorial credit, significant portions of what Donner had already filmed were reshot by Lester or removed entirely. As a result of these shenanigans, Marlon Brando’s performance as Jor-El was cut from the film, thus creating a major plot hole in the narrative. (How the hell did Superman get his powers back?) Also, Gene Hackman, who refused to return for reshoots, is at times replaced by a body double and a voice impersonator. And Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane shifts back and forth—sometimes within the same scene—between looking young, healthy, sassy, and adorable (as she was in the first film) to looking like a frail, haggard, worn-out substance abuser wearing a bad wig. Much of the humor is stupid and unfunny—added by Lester as a show of his lack of respect for the film and the source material in general. The new super-powers given to Superman and the three Phantom Zone criminals are just ridiculous. Even the music suffers—John Williams declined to return, so his iconic musical score for the first film is adapted by conductor Ken Thorne and sounds like it’s performed by an under-rehearsed, out-of-tune high-school band. And yet… it’s an enjoyable movie! The good definitely outweighs the bad. And now, due to popular demand, a Richard Donner-approved version of Superman II now exists on DVD, with his lost footage restored—including the Brando material, so that gaping plot hole has finally been resolved.
Father knows best.

However, while the “Donner Cut” fixes many problems in the Lester version and is an improvement in a lot of ways, it has some pretty big problems of its own, some of which, oddly enough, could have been avoided easily. Best to look at the two versions together and try to imagine how it could have turned out had there not been so much chaos behind the scenes.

2) Batman (1989):
Michael Keaton, in a costume once intended for Bill Murray. (No lie!)

I went to see this opening night. I had to see this opening night. Batman was the first super hero I knew. His comics were the first I’d ever read, starting at the age of 5 or 6. After all the build-up for this movie, all the hype, and that wonderfully enticing trailer, this was going to be THE pop culture event of the summer of 1989. I went to see it with 12 of my closest friends, including my girlfriend at the time. And when the movie was over, I walked out of the theater, turned to my dear friend Nick, who was as psyched to see it as I had been, and I asked, “Is it me, or was that kind of disappointing?” Nick’s response: “It’s not you.” On the plus side, director Tim Burton succeeded in getting people to accept a dark and serious version of Batman, one that was far distanced from the campy Adam West TV show. But Batman really should have been called The Joker, Guest-Starring Batman, because that’s how the movie played out. Nicholson was fine as the Joker, very effective. But he dominated the film to the point where Bruce Wayne and Batman were little more than props—and apparently, this was exactly how Burton wanted it. We never really learn much about Bruce or Batman, and we never get to see him put his mind and his skills to full use. Kim Basinger was okay as Vicki Vale, and Michael Gough was a very good Alfred. However, Pat Hingle’s Commissioner Gordon seemed ineffectual, bordering on incompetent. And I still have no idea what purpose Robert Wuhl was supposed to serve in this film: his character, reporter Alexander Knox, was completely superfluous and the story would not have suffered one bit had he been cut out entirely. As for the title character… Michael Keaton wasn’t bad as Bruce Wayne/Batman, but he certainly was not an ideal choice. (I said it back in 1988 and I still say it now: It should have been Alec Baldwin!) As with most of Tim Burton’s films, the visuals in Batman are strong, often captivating, but proper storytelling is not a priority for him, nor are internal story logic or strong character development. And I hate the surprise plot “twist” that the Joker was the one who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. It added nothing to the story and smacked of being arbitrary and tacked-on—which, apparently, is exactly what it was. I went in to this thinking it would be the Batman movie I’d always dreamed of seeing. It wasn’t. That wouldn’t come for another 16 years.

3) Spider-Man 2 (2004):
Spider-Man is rocked by Doc Ock.

Yes, it’s very enjoyable, and many believe it’s better than its predecessor. In some ways, it is. But Spider-Man 2 is more flawed than the first movie. For one thing, Spider-Man plays no major role in resolving the main threat at the climax of the film. The real heavy lifting is accomplished by Dr. Octopus, of all people. (At least Spider-Man 3, the worst film of the series, showed Spider-Man being proactive in the final battle and using his wits and his cleverness to defeat Venom.) Oh—and Peter Parker sees someone being mugged and doesn’t lift a finger to help? Powers or no powers, that shows a real lack of understanding of who Peter is, and of the lesson he learned as a result of the death of Uncle Ben. However, audiences didn’t seem to mind.


  1. For those of you who read the Vault of Buncheness, I wrote a big thing on how bad Spider-Man 3 was. I still can't bring myself to sit through it again.

  2. The best and most accurate assessment of Burton's first batman movie and its inexplicable popularity described it as "the greatest act of mass-hypnotism in human history."

  3. Also, Nicholson's Joker was nothing more than his usual Nicholsonian schtick in kabuki makeup. Vastly over-rated. Ledger blew him out of the water in chunks that spewed thick, black gasoline smoke.

  4. Glenn, I'm shocked that Ang Lee's Hulk flick didn't make it onto your list!

  5. Bunche,

    I agree--Ledger was a FANTASTIC Joker, and I prefer his version over Nicholson's by leaps and bounds.

  6. Zaki,

    I was far too bored with Ang Lee's HULK to even want to bother thinking about where to rank it. :-)

  7. You forgot the Dark Knight. That was the worst movie I saw in 2008. I still don't get what was supposed to be good about it. It made me miss the Adam West Batman movie, which was far more entertaining.

  8. Barry,

    For my comments on THE DARK KNIGHT, go here:


    I know you'll be disappointed.