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“They only lack the light to show the way”

As an addendum to my list of my five favorite super-hero movies posted at the start of this week, here are three super-hero movies that I consider to be tremendously under-rated:

Superman Returns — I just don’t understand the almost universal apathy or even dislike towards Bryan Singer’s Superman relaunch. I love that this film has a somber, melancholy feel to it. I love that the story creates complicated character conflicts (the Clark-Lois-Superman-Richard love tangle) that aren’t easily resolved by the end of the film. (I was SHOCKED that Richard lived through the movie — and I really respect the filmmakers for not killing him off, thus providing an easy way for Lois and Clark/Superman to get back together.) I also love reverence the filmmakers showed for Richard Donner’s Superman movie — it really tickles me all the times the movie refers to Donner’s films, both visually (the design of the Fortress of Solitude, the use of Brando as Jor-El), and in the echoing of lines of dialogue in the script (such as Superman’s “statistically speaking, its still the safest way to travel,” and the reprise of Jor-El’s message to his son: “You will make my strength your own. You will see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father and the father… the son.”) The film has weaknesses — there’s not enough action, and Lex Luthor’s plot is pretty stupid. But watch again the plane crash sequence in which Superman reveals his return to the world, and tell me that’s not a magnificent moment of pop-fantasy magic. I’d love to get a sequel to this film to see where Singer takes the story from here, so I hope Warner gets around to making one.

Daredevil — Here’s another movie that I seem to be the only one who likes. As with Superman Returns, there are weaknesses to this film, like some embarassingly dodgy CGI effects. But there’s so much that I enjoy about this movie. I love how down-beat it is. I love how the filmmakers differentiate Daredevil from a more selflessly heroic character like Spider-Man. (This is epitomized by the scene on the rooftop between Matt Murdock/Daredevil and Elektra, in which he hears someone in trouble — but when Elektra asks him to stay with her, he does. Peter Parker would never make that choice — and I love that.) Speaking of Murdock/Daredevil, I know that its a popular sport to make fun of Ben Affleck, but I actually find him to be extremely watchable as Matt Murdock. And the rest of the cast is strong as well — Michael Clarke Duncan, Joe Pantoliano, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, and Jon Favreau in a terrific turn as Foggy Nelson. Although just a moment ago I criticized some of the visual effects in this film, let me take a moment to praise the clever way in which Daredevil’s “radar sense” is visualized. Like Superman Returns, this is another movie to which I’d love to see a aequel (although I’ve resigned myself that I never will), as the movie ended (with the Kingpin aware of Matt Murdock’s identity) in just the right place to take on one of the best Daredevil stories ever from the comics: “Born Again,” in which the Kingpin uses that knowledge to pretty much destroy Murdock’s life.

Hulk — As with Superman Returns, this is another film that I love for its slow, melancholy nature. Ang Lee’s movie is derided for its lack of action, but I think it has some TERRIFIC action sequences, like the Hulk’s desert battle with the army. Its just that the movie takes its time to get to those sequences. That would be a problem only if what was going on wasn’t so compelling. Again, this is a movie that is made by the strength of its cast. Eric Bana gives what I find to be a mesmerizing performance as the haunted Bruce Banner. Sam Elliott is terrifically cast as General Ross, and Jennifer Connelly and Nick Nolte are strong as well. Sure the movie is weird, and it does take some liberties with the comic continuity (particularly Bruce Banner’s father’s involvement in his origin), but I really enjoy this more cerebral, psychological telling of this story. I also find the comic-book panel scene transitions to be immensely clever.

If its been a while since you’ve seen one of these three movies — give ’em another chance on DVD! I don’t think you’ll regret it.

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