The comic-book genre is continuing to reach new heights and 2018 brought 7 new films (6 live-action, 1 animation) to the table. This continues the trend of an increase in this type of film each year. As a reflection on last year, in this post, I will rank these films in order of my personal preference.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe reached giddy heights this year, particularly with Avengers: Infinity War acting as a culmination of all the films thus far and a storyline that will carry on in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. Many would argue that Black Panther was the studio’s crowning achievement with it being the first Marvel film to earn lots of Awards nominations and even be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award through its progressive representations of diversity. Whilst Ant-Man and the Wasp didn’t receive as rapturous a response as Marvel’s two other efforts, many felt it to be an enjoyable pallette cleanser ahead of Endgame.
DC mainly sat the year out but struck big with Aquaman in December which recieved positive reviews, course-correcting their shaky track record so far. It also made a splash at the box office earning over $1 billion dollars along with Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.
Whilst three films were meant to be released in the X-Men film series last year, only Deadpool 2 made it into release which was another success for the studio. Now that the merger between Fox and Disney is underway, the future of this series is unclear but fingers crossed Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants get a release this year.
Finally, Sony had an interesting year with the genre. Venom, a Spider-Man spin-off focussing on the famous nemesis released and there was a big divide in response, critics mixed and audiences generally liking it. It also surprisingly did well at the box office which has resulted in a sequel being greenlit. Lastly, Sony also released the animated Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse in December which opened to surprisingly overwhelmingly positive reviews despite the marketing of the film making it look rather lacklustre.
Overall, I would say this was a disappointing year for the genre in that nothing really excelled and this has been quite a hard list to rank as many of them are very similar in quality. Let’s get started!
Venom is a strange concoction. I can’t say I liked the film much and for a lot of it, it is embarassing to sit through. The script is so obvious and cliched and story beats so haphazardly and embarassingly put together. Brock’s girlfriend, Anne Weying, played by the always brilliant Michelle Williams, is a particular sore point as Brock betrays her for the sake of journalism very early in the film and then has the cheek to hang around her trying to win her back. At the beginning, Tom Hardy’s performance is cringeworthy and his character is an annoying loser and an embarassment of a low point of an entry into the career of journalism. Furthermore, the action sequences are ostensibly terrible, resorting to shaky-cam and there is a complete lack of any choreography or movement, making them also incoherent despite them being conventional.
Bizarrely, when Venom enters the film, the film begins to unknowingly start to create an interesting dynamic between the symbiote and Brock, with some rather juvenile but interesting humour. Hardy does better in these scenes and the back-and-forth fares well.Also, there is a genius post-credit scene that hints at a better sequel. With this and Tom Hardy finally coming to terms with his character towards the end of the film, I would strangely look forward to a sequel. (My full review here)
There is now a big step in quality…
6) Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
I’m not sure how to position this film between 5th and 6th place and a rewatch may bump this up but for the moment, I have it 6th. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is an energetic and entertaining film that is heartfelt and provides a refreshing spin on the popular superhero. It packs some good twists in its storyline and should be a delight for comic-book fans through some more obscure and metatextual references. It finds big success in playing with comic-book convention and it manages to not fall into certain pitfalls of the genre. But it’s not quite as good as it could have been as it falls into typical problems of a lacklustre villain who is underdeveloped and underused and the customary final act fight is a little tiring. (My full review here)
Aquaman just about works as a film and it is a largely entertaining underwater extravaganza that is consistently visually stunning. I was frequently in awe witnessing the underwater world Wan created and there are many shots in the film that are wonderfully crafted. Even when the characters are on land, the visuals are excellent and a chase scene in a Sicilian setting is choreographed particularly well. As for Aquaman himself, James Wan certainly embraces the more corny aspects of the character but manages to inject a lot of heart and development to make him more likeable which is a relief. This cheesy tone Wan goes for isn’t entirely successful and the film is stuffed with formulaic dialogue and plot points. It’s also overlong at a whopping 143 minutes and although not to as bad an extent as other films, it does succumb to a CGI-fest in its final act. (My full review here)
4) Black Panther
Black Panther is a mixed bag and has some severe structural problems that really hinder the film. Coogler fails to develop what are some really interesting ideas and the action sequences are surprisingly poor. That said, it is mostly entertaining and the first half is quite strong. On the strength of some of the characters and with a firmer grasp of the material, there is potential for the future. At least Coogler has created a film that is very standalone in the canon. Black Panther isn’t concerned with setting up future sequels or constantly referencing other films, which is a good thing as there have been some installments that have fallen down this rabbit hole. That said, I really don’t understand why this film is being heralded as one of the best superhero films of all time and the Oscar nominations honestly bewilder me. (My full review here)
3) Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Infinity War begins very strongly with some bold choices in its narrative. The Russo Brothers manage to juggle all the character arcs well and manage to craft a coherent, unified narrative that doesn’t feel overstuffed. What I particularly liked about this film given its flaws was how the Russo’s have admirably attempted to adapt the character of Thanos to the big screen, with Josh Brolin putting in a scene-stealing performance. The idea they had that this film was going to be from his perspective is an interesting one and this would have really worked well and made the film more fresh if they had actually gone in this direction and focussed on him more. There are a number of scenes from his perspective where his motivations are made clear and Brolin’s villain is one that can be empathised with. Thanos has to make a number of key decisions, some that bring a lot of emotional pain and this is dealt with really well.
Unfortunately, the film runs into problems as it then starts to involve too many characters which impact the film tonally and they then makes a cheap, poor choice in its conclusion which is really frustrating. There is always the risk in these kind of tentpole films to lose focus when there is a whole roster of characters to follow and whilst each superhero does get their moment to shine, some inevitably do get more screentime than others. That said, the Russo’s clearly have tried their best and the choices they have made are generally sound in terms of characterisations. (My full review here)
2) Deadpool 2
Deadpool 2 was a pleasant surprise given how I wasn’t a big fan of the first film. The film manages to successfully expand on its predecessor and wind up being a far superior film. The jokes land far more consistently than the first film and it’s a far more engaging narrative which successfully subverts the genre and develops the now familiar character. The first film failed to do this with its obvious jokes and its formulaic narrative. Ryan Reynolds once again, completely inhabits the titular role. Director David Leitch slickly directs this sequel (after Tim Miller exited) and as expected, the action sequences are creative and visually pleasing. The laughs fly in frequently to the point where I couldn’t stop laughing and missed the next one. This is definitely a film which requires repeat viewings to fully appreciate this film. The film isn’t perfect and its chief problem is its rather shambolic construction but the laughs make up for it and it all just about comes together in the end. (My full review here)
And the best comic-book film of 2018 is…
1) Ant-Man and the Wasp
This is probably a controversial decision but for me, Ant-Man and the Wasp was an absolute blast from start to finish. It is just as good as the original and like it, it is full of heart and character-driven moments. Director Peyton Reed further develops the innovative action sequences through the creative variations in size and spectacle in the first film, a car chase fares particularly well. This is aided again by confident performances from the cast all around and the additions of new cast members make the film feel fresh. Laurence Fishburne and Randall Park fare the best out of the new additions, Fishburne fitting perfectly into this world and Park is frequently hilarious as a bumbling, slightly useless agent. Like Black Panther, this film feels refreshingly standalone within the Marvel canon and despite my frustrations at Infinity War‘s ending, it does tie in well to it. It’s not particularly deep like my winner of last year, Logan, was, nor does it reinvent the genre but this is my top pick purely based on how enjoyable it is. I can’t wait for another sequel if they’re this good. (My full review here)
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister