Movies & TV / Columns

411 Comics Showcase: 2016’s Comic Book Movies

November 18, 2016 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard

When it comes to comic book movies, 2016 is at an end. Last week, I looked ahead to next year’s batch of films, since I hadn’t watched Doctor Strange at the time. But this week, it’s all about looking back at what this year had to offer us. And much like every other area of 2016, it was a bumpy road for comic book movies this year.

I’m counting down this week, from the worst to the best. Unfortunately, I’ve got a fair amount of bile for the first two films, so if you want to skip to something a little happier, I won’t be offended. We could all use a little more positivity in our lives.

#6. X-Men: Apocalypse
U.S. Release Date: May 27, 2016
Directed By: Bryan Singer
Starring: Oscar Isaac, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Evan Peters, Sophie Turner

If you’ve ever wanted to see a franchise resting on its laurels and refusing to evolve, you need look no further than the X-Men films. Apocalypse is Bryan Singer’s fourth go-around in the director’s chair for this franchise, and he’s clearly out of both new ideas and any passion he once had for it. Featuring an enormous cast of characters, the film fails to develop most of the new ones and instead focuses on the same tired stories of Professor X and Magneto while shoehorning in characters like Mystique and Wolverine that really don’t need to be in the movie. The movie also plays like a greatest hits album of the whole series: here’s a cage fight (again), here’s Quicksilver running in bullet time (again), here’s William Stryker invading the Xavier Institute and kidnapping the X-Men (again), here’s Weapon X breaking out (again), here’s a villain planning to use Xavier’s telepathy to cleanse the world (again), here’s Jean Grey “kinda sorta” being the Phoenix (again), here’s Magneto and Xavier bickering like an old married couple (AGAIN). The one genuine new idea is Apocalypse, a character that traps the otherwise excellent Oscar Isaac in a stupid costume with bad make-up repeating variations of the same couple of lines for the entire film. The film starts with semi-entertaining exposition that’s far too sprawled out, strains to tie it together, jumps off a cliff with a pointless plot turn in the second act, and finishes with a stillborn action climax that plays like a bunch of amateurs trying to recreate the climax from The Avengers. I could go on, I really could. But by now, I think it’s enough to say this is the Phantom Menace of a dying franchise kept on life support by a loyal fanbase who care much more about the X-Men than anyone involved in this movie.

#5. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice
U.S. Release Date: March 25, 2016
Directed By: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons

Overall, this was not a great time at the movies for yours truly. I don’t like this excessively broody, murderous Batman, no matter how good Ben Affleck is or how great his action scenes are. I don’t care for the silent, mopey Space Jesus Superman, not even when he dies to kill Doomsday. And when I don’t like or care about the characters, it’s hard to care about the titular fight, which takes too long to happen and doesn’t really deliver. The film really had too much going on as well; the political and philosophical discussions about Superman and Batman don’t significantly add to the movie, Jesse Eisenberg could generously be called a mixed bag as Lex Luthor, and the shoehorned in Doomsday climax detracts from the narrative and wastes a perfectly good death on the second film. There are many other things I take issue with, but ultimately the good concepts are derailed by a poor script and a fundamental misunderstanding of the characters. I will give credit to Affleck and Irons for their work as Batman and Alfred, to Wonder Woman’s strong debut, and to the extended cut for adding some much needed spotlight on Clark Kent. Hopefully, DC’s 2017 will be a lot better than their 2016.

#4. Suicide Squad
U.S. Release Date: August 5, 2016
Directed By: David Ayer
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Jared Leto, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtney

I was largely indifferent towards Suicide Squad when it was announced, when I saw it, and after the fact. I don’t have any deep connection to any characters in the film like I do the X-Men, Batman, Superman or any of the various Avengers. So unless the movie was really good, I wasn’t going to gush, and unless it was really bad, I wasn’t going to tear it apart. Instead, the film is kind of just there, and if I’m honest I don’t remember it that well, nor do I have any great desire to see it again. There’s good stuff to be sure: Smith, Robbie and Davis really seem to care about their performances, there’s obviously some thought put into the inclusions of Katana and El Diablo, the cameos of Batman and Flash. And there’s bad stuff too; Jared Leto’s interpretation of the Joker falls flat, the villains would feel at home in 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot, and the actual film-making is some of the worst of the year. Ultimately, I get why some people love it and some hate it, but I just don’t care enough to have strong feelings towards it.

#3. Doctor Strange
U.S. Release Date: November 4, 2016
Directed By: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen

Much like Suicide Squad, I was mostly indifferent to Doctor Strange when it was announced. I was aware of the Sorcerer Supreme, but wasn’t dying for a movie, and I wondered if general audiences were ready for something like this. As it turns out, Marvel just seems to be getting better and better at these; Doctor Strange is one of the strongest debuts from Marvel Studios. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the character better than I expected, and the story gives a compelling dynamic character arc that is satisfying to watch. He’s supported by an outstanding cast; basically everyone is on their A-Game here. The visual effects are mind-blowing, the magic spells and items are cool, the script is humorous and packs an emotional punch, and I’ve liked it more each time. My only real problem is that I wanted more of what I got. It would have been nice for Stephan’s psychedelic rollercoaster ride to be a little slower, and I could have used more of Mikkelson and McAdams. I look forward to seeing Strange in other Marvel movies as well as his sequels.

#2. Captain America: Civil War
U.S. Release Date: May 6, 2016
Directed By: Joe and Anthony Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Robert Downey Jr., Chadwick Boseman

The top two could really be interchangeable depending on my mood, and both are really indicative of where comic book movies are at right now. Civil War could not have come out a decade ago, but Marvel’s shared universe concept has changed the game. This movie is a careful balancing act, working as a third act climax for both the Captain America series and The Avengers movies. The Russos are back with their more measured approach to action directing and high drama; the film maintains a melancholy seriousness for most of its runtime that is refreshing in the MCU. This is a great look at how leaders build a team by forging relationships, standing firm in their beliefs, and making tough decisions. Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. so some of their best work as Captain America and Iron Man, Chadwick Boseman gets a stellar debut as Black Panther, Black Widow gets to be genuinely morally complicated for once, characters like Scarlet Witch and Falcon really come into their own, and a nearly perfect version of Spider-Man joins the MCU. This captured the spirit of big event comics, left the MCU at a second-act low point, and delivered on pretty much every level.

#1. Deadpool
U.S. Release Date: February 12, 2016
Directed By: Tim Miller
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, Brianna Hildebrand, Gina Carano, T.J. Miller

Confession time; I am not a big fan of Deadpool as a character. I think his South Park by way of Looney Tunes schtick gets old pretty quick and I’ve never found his comics compelling. But everything that is good about Wade Wilson is compressed into this movie and set ablaze, resulting in an uncompromising film that is an absolute blast to watch. The humor and the violence that’s too be expected, and I consider this the best comedy of 2016 and one of the best action films. But there’s genuine surprises as well. Vanessa is a remarkable effective love interest, and Wade’s cancer is not glossed over at all, resulting in a shockingly effective emotional throughline that makes the movie work. Colossus arrives looking and sounding like he was ripped from the comics, a character who has no business in this movie and is thus perfect for it. Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Blind Al and Weasel all play off Wade perfectly. And of course, Ryan Reynolds embodies this character exactly as he should. Deadpool is the right movie at the right time; superhero movies have never been more ubiquitous, and while I am just fine with that, it’s fantastic to see one that lovingly roasts the genre while forging its own unique path to success.

So that’s 2016. Some good, some bad, and two that have to stand tall as among the best the sun genre has to offer. Here’s to what will hopefully be a steadier year for it in 2017.

I am on Letterboxd!
Check me out here to see my star ratings for over 600 films. I have reviewed every movie I’ve watched since mid-August, and recent additions include both the 1958 and 1986 versions of The Fly, Sausage Party and Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Check out From Under A Rock!
Michael Ornelas and I write weekly on 411, taking turns introducing each other to films the other hasn’t seen. Last week, Michael finally completed a trilogy with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,. This week, things turn ugly when we review David Cronenberg’s The Fly.

How would you rank 2016’s comic book films? Feel free to disagree and discuss in the comments; I love reading your feedback.