Top 10 Comic Book Films of the 2010s #8

What makes the comic book genre unique from others is that it’s the only one which has perfected the cinematic universe. This was inevitable as it’s how the comic books which inspired the films were always structured, whereas other genres are reverse-engineering their properties to connect with each other after-the-fact and to lesser results. In this way, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is like an entirely new form of cinema and Avengers: Endgame distils that form into a single product, which is why it’s the one piece of essential viewing for that franchise. If you can see only one Infinity Saga film, this is the one that will provide the most satisfying experience. It includes all the major characters (an almighty 45 actors receive single on-screen end credits) and journeys back to previous films (including Guardians of the Galaxy, featured on this list as #10).

This is the singular representation of the experience of having followed the Saga from its beginning twenty-one chapters prior and is the most expensively-budgeted thank you to the fans that have enabled it to exist. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an experiment so far not replicated by any other production company to such popularity and Avengers: Endgame is a microcosm of that experiment. It would’ve been the perfect ending had Marvel Studios the wisdom to eventually stop in order for the story to have value in being complete. Just as Logan (#9 on this list) will, I think, be remembered as the film which was produced by a studio brave enough to end their story, Avengers: Endgame will inversely be compared as the moment Marvel Studios should’ve done the same but didn’t. How the two films’ respective legacies will develop only time will tell.

Avengers: Endgame will definitely be the more well-remembered film, though Logan will likely earn more academic favour. And yet, I’ve placed Avengers: Endgame above Logan. Why? Because, for a list ranking the decade’s comic book films, Avengers: Endgame is more representative of the whole. The Infinity Saga has been the golden age of the genre and its finale, Avengers: Endgame, is the golden statue of it, reminding us in one film of exactly what that golden age was by being the definitive on-screen depiction of comic books: a mishmash of characters from all genres and styles in a heightened reality combining themselves in emotionally stimulating adventures of epic proportions. No other film based on comic books will ever come close to better translating them to the screen because Avengers: Endgame gets it exactly right.

Those of us who’ve grown-up reading comic books and watching the films they subsequently inspired have waited our whole lives for something like this and part of the joy seeing it done so perfectly is that it doesn’t just transpose the frames to motion pictures but brings with it the same feeling so accurately as for there to be no difference in experience. This film is a generational zeitgeist that, in years to come, will serve as a preserved reminder of what growing up as a shamelessly naive comic book reader was like; the way they can switch between high fantasy action to intimately dramatic scenes as if they’re one and the same. The third act accomplishes this to a fault, making the final battle, like all the great double-page spreads of iconic whole-company crossovers, one in which everything external is an outward manifestation of the internal.

Captain America has finally overcome the greatest challenge and become worthy of Mjolnir and now finds himself, when faced with the worst threat he’s ever fought, surrounded by all the friends and allies he’s ever known or inspired – a This is Your Wonderful Life befitting of a centennial warrior who’s devoted his whole life to guiding the human race and giving them everything he can to protect them. In his most desperate moment of need, everyone he’s every positively affected assembles to help him and I found myself asking, if this were me, how many would come? Who would they be?

It’s the perfect conclusion of the dramatic half of the film, which is about trauma and learning to overcome it, and does so by exploring the question of what happens when superheroes lose? How do they cope with that? The genre exaggerates the Human experience and so, in this case, overcoming it is Thor finding himself still worthy of his name. It’s a relatable moment because it’s when he has the key breakthrough that begins to turn things around for him. Everyone has their own version of that moment. It matters because we’ve been on his journey with him through all his previous appearances, and so that moment is the culmination of the developing character arc which led up to it. This doesn’t need a cinematic universe to be possible but only a cinematic universe can develop a film character in so much detail for that kind of pay-off to be delivered – or any of the other moments of pay-off.

Every previous Infinity Saga film is somehow referenced by Avengers: Endgame – some directly, some indirectly. But that’s what makes it the perfect case study of what happens when a cinematic universe is done well, rather than just being a marketing gimmick – the result is directly proportional. That’s why I believe that Avengers: Endgame will be the essential viewing for film students in decades to come when studying the cinematic universes of the early 21st century: Marvel’s is the prototype and Avengers: Endgame was what it all led to and didn’t disappoint and so will therefore be looked back-upon as the definitive example of the kind of films that are being produced by western culture at this current time – which is what making films is really all about.

2018 Year-in-Review/2019 Year-in-Preview

2018 was a great year for film and I think 2019 will be just as great. As we celebrate another year passing and a new year beginning, I find myself thinking about the films of this year and the ones  I’m anticipating of next year. Films released in Northern America in 2017 are included here because they weren’t released in the UK until 2018.

Here are my thoughts on some of the films of 2018:

Darkest Hour

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From the moment he appears on screen, I forgot I was watching Gary Oldman – that’s how good he is. It’s very on-the-nose and self-aware, so I felt invited to take part in its eccentric spirit. As a film based on Churchill, instead of giving us the historical figure, he’s shown for what he is: an unlikely choice for leader who turned out to be the one that was needed for the particular task at hand.

 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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This is a film that I know I need to see again a few more times in order to fully understand it. From my single viewing of it, I’d say it’s about how blame destroys society; that it’s always someone else’s fault. It’s morally complex and deceptively simple at the same time; bitter on the outside but tender within, just like its protagonist.

 

The Shape of Water

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It’s basically a melting pot of lots of things that Guillermo del Toro likes. Perhaps I’d have liked it more if I’d known certain things about it before seeing it. After about the half-way point, it becomes something different and – I must confess – I don’t understand the hype around it.

 

I, Tonya

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It spins many plates and styles and versions of its narrative but it all comes together as one cohesive piece. The story is fundamentally about the damage that can be done to oneself and others – emotionally and bodily – by seeking approval and validation, told through the lens of a series of real events that were already dramatic enough. The best film that I saw in 2018.

 

Avengers | Infinity War

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Instead of spinning lots of plates, this lifts as many weights as it can without letting up. Every opportunity is taken and played to its maximum potential. It’s what happens when the highest ambition is combined with herculean film-making and is one of the most re-watchable films I’ve ever seen.

Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars

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The main shortcoming of this documentary is that it’s all surface. There are a lot of interesting moments touched-upon and explained but it’s all too soon that it moves on to something else. It could’ve given me more.

 

Incredibles 2

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Just like the original ‘Incredibles‘, the action has value because the emotional core is so believable. This is my generation’s most eagerly anticipated sequel, and was worth the 14-year wait. Many creative choices weren’t the obvious ones but I think that proved to be the best strength.

 

Mamma Mia! Here we go Again

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Look, every ABBA song is great and if you don’t hear the joy in their music then your entire existence is trash, okay? It’s impossible for this film to be bad. I felt Meryl Streep’s absence but other than that it’s just like getting back together with all my old friends and having a great time.

 

Ant-Man and the Wasp

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I enjoyed this more than Ant-Man because of how well the two eponymous heroes’ are combined and their chemistry together. The inclusion of a second major hero added a new dimension that I think was necessary for a genre sequel like this. The gags also made me laugh more this time.

 

First Man

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This dramatisation tells the story from one character’s point-of-view; that’s why it has an emotional core. Like many space films, it’s about a person’s own inner space. It’s effective because it’s underplayed and subtle instead of melodramatic and obvious.

 

Bohemian Rhapsody

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At the end, I felt as if I really was at Live Aid, and everything we learn about the creation of the songs in that final sequence only gives it more value. The Queen members feel like a family that fights a lot but love each so I felt a part of that lineup. Rami Malek does give a great performance as Freddie Mercury but the other main actors are, I think, overlooked – especially Ben Hardy as Roger Deacon.

 

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

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Like most other anthology films, the weaker vignettes tie-down the stronger ones. This is a great scrapbook example of the Coen Brothers’ film-making style; quirky and funny in some moments, and self-indulgent and weird in others. As a single piece, it’s a bit here-and-there, but the segments that do work are very sparse with quickfire wit and humour.

 

Dishonourable mention: Robin Hood

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Having grown up with Sherwood Forest on my doorstep, the Robin Hood legend has always been an influential aspect of the kind of stories I tell. When I look at the trailers to this, it’s basically sacrilege. Going on the box office response, it would seem that everyone else thought pretty much the same.

 

 

And now: my most anticipated films of 2019

Avengers   Endgame

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Of course I want to see how Avengers | Infinity War is resolved. A part of me wonders whether anything after this will be able to live up to it. For now, the rest of me is just enjoying the hype.

 

Toy Story 4

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Toy Story didn’t just establish Pixar as a film studio heavyweight but also defined the cultural zeitgeist of my generation. For them to do a fourth one is a big risk but wasn’t Toy Story 2 as well? Maybe I’d be sceptical were this not Pixar.

 

Darkest Hour and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri were released 12th January 2018.

The Shape of Water was released 14th February 2018.

I, Tonya was released 23rd February 2018.

Avengers | Infinity War was released 26th April 2018.

Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars was released 30th June 2018.

Incredibles 2 was released 13th July 2018.

Mamma Mia! Here we go Again was released 20th July 2018.

First Man was released 12th October 2018.

Bohemian Rhapsody was released 24th October 2018.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was released 16th November 2018.

Robin Hood was released (unfortunately) 21st November 2018.

The Christmas Chronicles was released 22nd November 2018.

Avengers  Endgame is released 26th April 2019.

Toy Story 4 is released 21st June 2019.