The comic-book genre is maintaining its audience popularity and 2019 brought 6 new films to the table. This continues the trend of an increase in this type of film each year and with Marvel having just announced their Phase 4 slate, this number is only going to increase. Here, I rank these films in order of my personal preference.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe reached giddy heights this year, particularly with Avengers: Endgame acting as a culmination of all the films thus far and by-and-large satisfied the fans on the promise of Avengers: Infinity War. Captain Marvel had a shaky start at the beginning of the year but when the film came out, reviews were pretty good and Spider-Man: Far From Home rounded off Phase 3 by answering some of the questions fans had on the repercussions of Endgame.
DC had a very intersting year by first doing well with Shazam! critically and the property finding fandom but it didn’t do well at the box office. Later in the year and not considered part of the DCEU, we had Joker which proved very polarising on release and attracted many controversies. However, generally more people like it than not and it has become the highest-grossing 15 rated film, surpassing both Deadpool and Deadpool 2.
Finally, X-Men: Dark Phoenix released in the Summer which tanked both critically and at the box office. It solidified the end of the series and it is inevitable that Marvel will be integrating the heroes into the MCU. We still have New Mutants to go which is now meant to release next year but word on the street is not good.
Overall, I would say this was a strong year for the genre with everything pretty good and this has been quite a hard list to rank as many of them are very similar in quality. Let’s get started!
6) Spider-Man: Far From Home
I’m genuinely baffled why Spider-Man: Far From Home recieved such the positive response that it did. I found it to be a crushing disappointment and undoes a lot of the excellent work returning director Jon Watts achieved in Spider-Man: Homecoming. I was so surprised when that film released how good it was especially after a time where there had been an influx of films with this superhero but it struck the perfect tone between its humour and seriousness, making for a very grounded entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and featured a very formiddable villain in the form of Michael Keaton’s Vulture. Spider-Man: Far From Home is a real mess narratively and is at times, quite boisterous in tone and the notes it strikes are painfully obvious. The humour does not work at all and you know your film has problems when even Jake Gyllenhaal, who I cannot think of ever being bad in a film, is wasted in the villain role. This was a crushing disappointment and I hope the creative team do not fall into the same traps with the inevitable third film.
There is now a big step in quality…
5) X-Men: Dark Phoenix
X-Men: Dark Phoenix recieved terrible reviews and did very poorly at the box office. Surprisingly, I found a lot to like in this film. This is a much more grounded, mature film and director Simon Kinberg interrogates some interesting themes. This is a film where the characters interact with each other and consider the consequences their actions may have rather than having big, brainless action sequences mixed with corny character quips. Perhaps the reason why this film was rejected by many was that it didn’t offer audiences the grand finale of a series it promised and was instead a more meditative affair. I really liked this film and whilst it doesn’t always succeed, the ambition is to be admired. The score by Hans Zimmer is also fantastic and the film is visually interesting. This is a bold move for the series to go out on and I hope the film gets reassessed for what it is as time goes by.
4) Avengers: Endgame
Avengers: Endgame is a mostly satisfying culmination of the films so far but it does have its fair share of problems and Infinity War is by far the stronger film of the two. Endgame has a clear three act structure and it succeeds best in its first act where it deals with the repercussions of Infinity War. Although flawed, it makes for an interesting character study and delves into the psyche of the remaining heroes valiantly. The film runs into problems after its first act where it chooses to rectify the events of Infinity War through time travel. Time travel is always a difficult concept as it does feel like a cheap way of rectifying a narrative and it undoes a lot of the stakes audiences have previously invested and means characters are less expendable. Admittedly, Endgame does negotiate its time travel section competently and the film is always entertaining, even if the very conceit is a flawed one. Endgame runs into big problems in its third act where it makes some obvious choices and chooses to give in to fan service. I found its feminism message in particular quite sickly and the ending rather unsatisfactory. However, for a three hour film despite my problems, I was invested the whole way through and I was never bored by the film. The film gets a lot right but it’s just frustrating that more risks weren’t taken in the film’s finale.
Shazam! is an entertaining romp from start to finish that establishes and develops its characters very well. Horror director David F. Sandberg does a great job with this material and it’s satisfying to see his horror influences in certain places of the film as it is quite dark in places. Sandberg balances this with some well-judged humour and Zachary Levi is excellent as the titular character, as are the younger child actors. The notion of family is particularly well realised here and by the end of the film, I would be very happy to spend more time in this world Sandberg has created. Mark Strong is clearly having a good time as the villain and there are some inventive action sequences. This felt like a breath of fresh air in the DCEU and is definitely a more consistent film compared to both Justice League and Aquaman.
2) Captain Marvel
Other than a wonky first act, Captain Marvel is entertaining throughout and is refreshingly light for a superhero film. It’s also a film that doesn’t spend copious amounts of time explaining everything and the decision to start the film on an alien planet with a whole race of beings audiences are not familiar with is quite bold. Once Captain Marvel finds herself on Earth, there is some great interplay between Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, who gets developed exponentially as a character here. Ben Mendelsohn, who previous collaborated with directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck on Mississippi Grind, plays a Skrull called Talos and he is equally great and is clearly having a fun time, chewing the scenery. The film is at its best when it fully embraces its 90s setting and fun is poked at Larson’s fish-out-of-water character. When the superhero antics finally arrive, the film doesn’t outstay its welcome and it’s never boring. The film has some good twists up its sleeve too and subverts expectations. (My full review here)
And the best comic-book film of 2018 is…
By quite some distance, Joker is the comic-book film of the year. Joker is enthralling from start to finish and is one of the best films of the year. Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerising as Arthur and is strangely sympathetic as a character who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong and commits some despicable acts. Phoenix really becomes the Joker in the last 20 minutes of the film or so and this is particularly effective and it’s astonishing to chronicle the difference in the character from the start of the film to the wicked monster we get at the end. What also elevates Joker from more standard comic-book fare is how it proposes so many different meanings and interpretations. This is a film that requires multiple watches to really get the full picture. Phillips interrogates many interesting themes, the most interesting of which is his depiction of mental illness and the questioning of how society tackles this problem.The string-based score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is hypnotic and compliments the film beautifully. The film is also beautifully shot by Lawrence Sher, who manages to capture the grittiness of Gotham City and juxtaposes it with the neon, pulsating urbanisation. Ultimately, Joker is an unqualified success and another stellar retelling of the iconic character. There are so many standout scenes here that are just stunning to behold. Joker is one of the best films of the year and it will be interesting to see if it gets considered for Awards in the upcoming season, especially given how divisive it has proven to be. (My full review here)
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister