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Ranking The Best Superhero Movies Of 2016

From Deadpool to Doctor Strange, here’s how I rank the top superhero movies of the year. The post below is a transcription of the video above, minus some extra commentary at the very end.

It’s pretty obvious at this point in 2016 that the “superhero genre” is here to stay. These movies seize a huge share of box office profits every year, and their mainstream takeover isn’t slowing down in the slightest. Going back a decade, we’ve gotten at least four or five “big” superhero movies a year, sometimes six, and this year saw eight alone, with all but two of them being huge moneymakers and making the top 10 grossers of the year.

I say “superhero” movie, by the way, because things get messy when you try to categorize these films by “comic book.” For the same reason it would get a little hairy if you tried to lump all book adaptation movies together, because they stretch across so many genres and sub genres. With a superhero movie, you’re at least addressing a few basic similarities between movies that are derived from DC, Marvel, and other studios. You have a hero (or heroes) with strange abilities who goes on some type of emotional, action-packed journey.

superhero movies 2016

So this year, I want to point out which superhero movies in 2016 were “better” than others, not just from a film critic standpoint, but also from how they contribute or don’t contribute to the ever-expanding superhero movie genre. I have to leave out two movies in particular because I haven’t seen them: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and Max Steel. Because I don’t review absolutely everything that comes out, these ended up being on my cutting board of films to review over the summer, and I have no desire to check them out anytime soon.

But the rest of the entries on this list are certainly ones you’ve heard of if you’re a big fan of superhero movies, but in case you haven’t watched them all, I’ll be avoiding any and all spoilers within reason. So let’s begin with the worst of the bunch:

#6 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

superhero movies 2016

The film critic in me can’t stand this movie. It’s an abomination of narrative, pacing, and character development to the point of almost being a parody. But the DC fan in me has plenty of nice things to say in spite of all that, notably from a visual standpoint. The costumes are incredible, the subject matter is at least interesting in theory, and most of the characters are well-cast with the exception of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.

The strange thing, though, is that despite being such a weak movie overall, it contains some of my favorite superhero moments of 2016, including Batman’s warehouse fight, the Trinity’s stand against Doomsday, and Wonder Woman’s theme music. Unfortunately, these bright spots just don’t overshadow enough of the problems to redeem the rest of this frustrating embarrassment of a superhero movie.

#5 Suicide Squad

superhero movies 2016

For me, Suicide Squad was just a slim margin better than Dawn of Justice, mostly because the standards were set just a little lower thanks to this being a movie about lesser-known characters I’ve always wanted to see on the big screen.

It does have some of the same issues as Dawn of Justice, though, particularly when it comes to style over substance with its visuals and plot. But the characters are mostly fun to watch and suggestive of a bigger, better DCEU we haven’t gotten to see enough of yet.

#4 X-Men: Apocalypse

superhero movies 2016

I actually liked this one quite a bit more than most, mainly because I’ve been hoping for a better realization of these characters since the third X-Men movie, and for the most part, Apocalypse is immensely entertaining lore for longtime fans.

It’s nowhere near perfect, of course, but there are enough great moments here to overlook some of the bland story structure and checklist of characters for Fox to cross off their list. This is one of those superhero movies I walked away from wanting more, which is both a criticism and a complement in this case.

#3 Doctor Strange

superhero movies 2016

Familiarity breeds contempt, and so it goes for some who view Doctor Strange as more of the same from Marvel. And they’re not entirely wrong. This is the origin formula Marvel has been polishing since 2008, complete with a flawed protagonist who has to humble himself after gaining extraordinary powers.

And mileage varies for anyone who appreciates some stunning visual effects that go with the whole package, as you might be one of those viewers who can’t get past folding cities reminding them of Inception, or just someone looking for a breezy, colorful Marvel movie with some clever spins on what’s already worked before.

#2 Deadpool

superhero movies 2016

This was the movie that arguably had the bigger impact on comic book fans this year, even ones who never liked the character much before seeing this movie. And that’s because it’s less a superhero or anti-hero movie and more a self-reflection of the genre itself.

That lended for some great movie moments and humor, but at its core, Deadpool is just barely shy of real greatness, as it only manages to tackle a small handful of neat ideas over and over again, using a formula that’s not far removed from much of what we’ve seen before. It won’t be long before the movie will be remembered as a lightning in the bottle experiment that aged a bit quicker than we expected.

#1 Captain America: Civil War

superhero movies 2016

If you had to criticize Civil War for one thing, it might be that it almost has too much going on in its long running time. But if what you’re looking for is a dense spectacle that reshapes a cinematic universe with recognizable characters, then Civil War absolutely had you in mind.

There were so many ways for this movie to completely fail: the villain could have been atrocious, new arrivals Black Panther and Spider-Man could have been mishandled, we could’ve gotten more Iron Man than Captain America, the emotional stakes by the very end could have come off as meaningless, and so on. But while it stumbles at times, Civil War pulls all of this off in an entertaining, often thrilling way.

And close to everything we love most in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had a time to shine, paid off after years of buildup and patience. Similar to how a comic book event can impact longtime readers, this was worthy of its title and then some.


Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. 

Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni


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Review: ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ Takes Fan Service to New Heights

x-men apocalypse review

Apocalypse will have a hard time swaying movie fans over to its clunky, bombastic style that feels more like a comic-book adapted to the screen than even Snyder’s Watchmen, and this latest X-Men sequel isn’t even strictly based on any one story.

Other factors work against Apocalypse in the sense that it will lose many different types of viewers along the running time. It still suffers from problems it can’t readily solve, like with how overwhelming this cinematic universe has become in terms alternate timelines, the large cast of characters, and keeping your mind off of its now irrelevant predecessors (especially when Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey makes a not-so-subtle wink at how Last Stand is the “worst.”)

These were problems with Days of Future Past, too, but for the first time since X2, an X-Men movie has come along that does far more with its material than we should have otherwise suspected. Flaws and all, X-Men: Apocalypse is an excellent work of film in both ambition and execution, despite how alienating it will be for a wide swatch of viewers.

Even at its most convoluted, director Bryan Singer offers a movie with some thrilling set pieces that connect a lot of meandering pieces. They’re some of the best moments in the franchise, even if they have to share screen time with some of the weirdest flaws in the franchise.

x-men apocalypse review

This is the third film of the trilogy started by First Class, and it even sports several flashbacks to both that and the second film in order to deepen the lore many of us took for granted over the years, including plot involvement from Rose Byrne’s Moira and even Alex Summers.

Some of the loose story threads from those films come to a head in Apocalypse, though not in a way that feels paid off by the main narrative of this movie. Apocalypse opens with the origin of its titular villain, the “first” mutant played by Oscar Isaac, a power-collecting man worshipped like a god who was buried by rebellious followers thousands of years ago. Mystique and Magneto’s actions in D.C. ten years prior have since sparked mutant cults, including one that sets out to resurrect Apocalypse for no real explanation beyond…well, he exists to be worshipped.

While this happens, the film spends a lot of time catching fans up with the established characters and setting up new mutant students that will inevitably team up to face this new threat. The pacing and plot jumping from these characters is actually quite competent, though sure to confound anyone who skipped First Class or hasn’t seen it since 2011. If you’re invested in this universe, it’s more exciting than worthy of head-scratching.

For once, Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops is given the screen time worth his due, including a sub plot that better sets him up as a future leader within the ranks. Jean Grey’s character arc is a little messier, but easy to latch onto, and Nightcrawler is handed scraps he turns into some meaty offerings, thanks to a fun rivalry established between him and Angel.

x-men apocalypse review

Jennifer Lawrence plays a more relaxed Mystique than her somewhat lazy performance in Days of Future Past. She still seems miscast here, but Apocalypse seems to have a better idea of what to do with this hero/villain who constantly finds herself switching sides. In Apocalypse, she has a more solid foot in the heroic camp, and it’s refreshing to see her work with the X-Men without the tedious guesswork over whether or not she’s sincere. It’s a testament to the film’s willingness to allow Mystique a story in these movies that follows swiftly from the first two films, rather than a correction to make her evil for the sake of being truer to the comic.

As for Apocalypse and his four, loyal followers, the film falls a bit short in giving them time to shine, aside from a satisfying continuation of Magneto’s tragic story. Yet once again, we’re forced to sit through familiar stories that place Charles Xavier and Magneto at the center, with offhand characters (including the villain and a just-as-good-as-last-time Quicksilver played by Evan Peters) working around them.

In other words, Apocalypse lives, breathes, and dies as a comic book story, not a movie. Like a comic, it shifts locations quickly and without much cohesion. Its colors brightly match the 80s time period in a way that makes me wish for more X-Men films in this decade. And the plot boils down to a simple battle between good and evil that focuses more on the main characters deciding what truly is good and evil, as well as how their actions in this battle will affect future storylines in the series.

x-men apocalypse review

Its biggest flaw is probably where it falls extremely short with visuals. The CGI is either decent or poor to the point of distraction. You have to be fully onboard with this universe of zany characters and over-the-top action in order to overlook some of the weaker effects, but it’s somewhat matched by some of the most entertaining fight choreography seen in these films, including what may forever be a wholly underrated fight sequence between Beast (reprised by Nicholas Hoult) and Psylocke (played by Olivia Munn), that utilizes both characters in a way X-Men fans probably never expected to make it to the movies.

Perhaps along the way, Singer decided to make this the X-Men film that pays more service to fans of X-Men, rather than movie fans. Unfortunately, that’s sure to be a problem for plenty of big X-Men fans as well, but that doesn’t negate much of Apocalypse that is just solidly entertaining.

Grade: B

Extra credits: 

  • I really wanted to give this film a higher score, if only because I was so enthralled by it, in a way that rivals Deadpool and Civil War even. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to overlook some of the bigger flaws and how they will be deal breakers for most audiences. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy Apocalypse as much as I did, because it’s easily one of my favorite X-Men films to date.
  • No spoilers, but stick around for the end of the credits. Not like you needed to be reminded.
  • Comparisons will likely be made to Dawn of Justice, a film that is also likened to being too much of a comic-book in terms of structure, so it’s off-putting to movie fans. The big difference is that Apocalypse does a much better job, all around. At no point was I shaking my head at plot holes or gaps in character motivation.
  • I was always a fan of X-Men: Evolution more than the older animated cartoon. Sorry. But for that reason, Apocalypse worked on a deeper level for me considering the similarities. Something about seeing Jean, Scott, and Nightcrawler as students felt right.
  • Not enough Storm. Not even close.
  • I might actually be in the camp of people who now wish for an X-Men movie that takes a break from Magneto and Mystique for a while. Apocalypse might have been something really special (and for everyone) if it had streamlined its characters more and made this an Xavier vs. Apocalypse affair.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Insurgently Allegiant to Divergent Detergent

allegiant podcast

This week on the Now Conspiring podcast, my cohosts and I review The Divergent Series: Allegiant, discuss a ton of new trailers, and talk about a cool new thing called “The Screening Room.”

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Would you like to have a box in your living room that lets you watch NEW theatrical releases for $50 a ticket?

Go on…Insurgently Allegiant to Divergent Detergent

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