With the release of Justice League this past weekend, the superhero movie run of 2017 has officially come to a close. In honor of that, let’s take a look back at the six movies released this year as well.
If you look up the word, “overcorrection” in the dictionary, a picture of Warner Bros. Studios is sure to pop up. Having taken the critiques of Batman v. Superman as an overstuffed attempt at a thinkpiece too seriously, Zack Snyder & co. attempted to make up for it by instead making an unfocused campfest. Unable to properly utilize its outstanding cast, Justice League relegates characters to overused team-up cliches for the sake of “comedy.” What little characterization exists fails to hit home since (unlike Avengers) this is the first time we’re introduced to most of the team. Add to the lackluster characterization an over-the-top, directionless plot and the result is aggressively mediocre. Though one should take into account directorial complications and studio interference impeded this movie from reaching its potential, it is nevertheless the worst superhero movie of the year.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
James Gunn’s sequel to his standout space-western is by no means an unworthy follow-up, but it fails to hold up against the largely fantastic features this year. Vol. 2 feels more like a filler episode in a Guardians TV series than a defining point in the team’s journey, even in spite of hero Peter Quill’s daddy-issues arc. Though Gunn manages to sneak in some truly heartfelt as well as comical moments (with Drax being a surprisingly fun part of the movie), creating an altogether enjoyable piece, there is nothing particularly outstanding about Vol. 2. The movie’s more dramatic (and at times, frankly tedious) pace does not mesh well with Chris Pratt’s traditionally comedic acting chops nor the dynamics of the rest of the team. The end result is an undeniably fun ride, but hardly something you’d want to see more than once.
With director Taika Waititi at the helm, Marvel finally understands its Nordic Avenger. Ragnarok quickly discards of the overdramatic and unfocused tone of the first two films. Waititi understands the universe of the nine realms and plays with it to great effect, creating a half-sci-fi half-steampunk style that serves as an enormous refreshment from the unrelatable universe of Thor 1 and 2. He allows for the story to build within the world, making every location feel real and forgetting the bizarre astrophysics/high fantasy jargon that muddled Asgard before. In addition to understanding the universe, Waititi also understands his leading man, letting Hemsworth diverge from the dull, stilted, blonde jock and instead run wild with a wise-cracking and lovably dorky Thor. Despite Waititi’s improvements, however, the movie is somewhat insubstantial. Like Guardians, the film is a fun ride all the way through, but leaves little impact once it’s over. Cinemasins’ Jeremy Scott describes it best:
Thor: Ragnarok Tweet Review: I had fun. You'll have fun. It's fun. But it's the cotton candy of movies: tasty; full of air & no substance.
— cinemasins (@cinemasins) November 4, 2017
Almost universally beloved by its viewers, Wonder Woman appeared to break the DC Universe curse (that is, until Justice League came along). Driven by the astounding performance of Gal Gadot and supplemented by the charm of supporting man Chris Pine, Wonder Woman manages to recycle the age-old fish-out-of-water trope without it feeling stale. Gadot’s nonchalant badassery as Diana is truly jaw-dropping and when combined with Diana’s defiantly optimistic attitude, creates a compelling new addition to the DCEU. Wonder Woman is not only refreshing as a heroine in the midst of a male-dominated superhero film industry, but also as a hopeful yet badass character in the midst of gritty antiheroes. Wonder Woman’s only truly weak point is its third act, which (like Batman v Superman) rushes a overly-CGIed, overly-tinted climactic battle between a villain and a hero who (like in Man of Steel) both are too powerful for anyone to truly care about what’s happening.
Being the second reboot of a franchise in a single decade is no easy task, but Homecoming pulls it off magnificently. Like the youngest of six siblings, Homecoming makes sure to carve out its own path, avoiding any signature traits of the previous five films. It hones in Spider-Man’s story as a coming-of-age tale, making sure to place emphasis on Peter’s life as a highschooler navigating the pitfalls of adolescence and wanting to prove himself as an adult/Avenger. And at its helm is Tom Holland, who plays arguably the best of the three Peters, giving us a Spider-Man who loves being Spider-Man while managing to combine Andrew Garfield’s snappy humor with Tobey Maguire’s gawky nerdiness. It all culminates in a well-paced, genuine film with heart that hits all the marks.
Logan, like Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier before it, proves that superhero movies are at their best when they’re not superhero movies at all, but genre films about superheroes. Logan tosses every known trope in the book, foregoing the easy-to-root-for arc of a clean hero for a morally dubious and struggling Wolverine. Hugh Jackman’s performance as a world-weary Wolverine who pulls no punches is a masterclass in range. The film beautifully wraps up Jackman’s run as the gruff X-Man, displaying the decidedly un-glorious result of the mayhem in all prior X-Men films. But Jackman may not even be the star of the film, as he is met tit for tat by Dafne Keen’s breakout performance as Laura, who gives us a fabulous new brand of hero in the form of a throat-slitting little girl. The film lays out a blueprint that future superhero cinema would do well to follow, not necessarily to do a post-apocalyptic Western, but to break from the formula and not fear what comes after.