5 . Blade 2 — Admittedly, I’ve never been the biggest Blade fan there is. The character, especially when blown up onto the big screen — with his jet black shades, dark leather jacket and expansive arsenal of lethal weaponry — was always a bit much for me: perfectly poised on the razer edge of what a 1990’s edgelord would think is cool (see also: The Matrix). Add to that it’s questionable special effects (which, even for the time, looked a bit off) and the “best of both worlds” daywalker shtick of the character, and it simply failed to live up to the better comic book movies of the era.
Blade 2 is a different beast altogether, though. It gave a potentially promising setting, an astoundingly talented actor in Wesley Snipes and buttloads of blockbuster-grade money to one of the more singularly talented and aesthetically unique directors on the planet: none other than Guillermo del Toro. He took the generally sound foundations of the first and blew them up to truly cinematic proportions: presenting us with a tightly-shot, claustrophobic, Aliens-esque sequel more in line with the horror movies that inspired its source material than the overly edgy action pulp it had quickly turned into. The Reapers, mutated vampires that feast on their less evolved brethren, are a truly terrifying escalation of the franchise’s traditional bad guys, the forced team-up between them and Blade grounds for constant tension and second-guessing and coalesce into one of Del Toro’s more technically impressive, if admittedly less ambitious, early films.
4 . Spider-Man 2 — I’ve mentioned several times in discussing the more recent Spider-Man: Homecoming that Raimi’s interpretation of the franchise was never my interpretation of it. I never really cared for Tobey MaGuire’s mopey, sadsack of a Spider-Man . I always hated Mary Jane as a romantic lead in all of her incarnations. In translating the property into a new medium, Raimi never did enough to distinguish its visuals from it source material: making it seem less like a Spider-Man movie and more like a Spider-Man motion comic. And, of course, I never could bring myself to forgive Raimi for sucking the fun out of a franchise based on a character whose humor was a trademark of how he interacted with not just the world at large, but his villains in particular.
But even with all of those misgivings, I can’t bring myself to down-talk such a revolutionary and perfectly realized film as Spider-Man 2. While I can’t say that it fixed all, or even most, of the faults I found with the first movie (the massive eyesore subplot about Mary Jane getting married to somebody other than Peter was fuel for both Mary Jane as a poor romantic lead and mopey, sadsack Peter), where it succeeded was transcendent enough to make me not care about whatever else it was doing.
Raimi showed that superheroes could be delve into serious subject matter without devolving into black leather and grimdark protestations about the Human condition. He reinvented Doc Oc for a whole generation of Spidey-fans: one that was far more interesting and fleshed out compared to what had heretofore existed between the panels of the comic books. And not only was he able to perfectly recreate iconic moments from the comics, but he was able to bend them toward the purpose of telling his Spider-Man story, rather than using his story as fodder for comic book recreations. If not for this film coming out in the age of X-Men, I seriously down that we would have gotten Iron Man in the age of The Dark Knight.
3 . Deadpool — Before X-Men Origins, I honestly had no idea who Deadpool actually was. I recognized him from those Upper Deck X-Men trading cards from the 90’s, but I really had no sense of who he was as a character or what his shtick was as a potential movie franchise. When he appeared at the end of Origins, I didn’t give it too much thought. He was basically DBZ’s Cell — everybody’s superpowers crammed into one body — and that was a fun enough ending to a somewhat lackluster film.
Clearly, I didn’t know what I was missing back then. Deadpool is a sharply funny film that can balance its raunchy subject matter with insightful genre meta-humor and physical gags. It’s only real weakness — lacking anywhere near the kind of budget that it needed to flesh out its world and make its action sequences pop out from the screen — was fodder for still more jokes at its own expense. It was a much-needed chaser for the lighter superhero fare that had overtaken some of the darker films of the 80s and 90s and even paved the way for other movies of its kind (but more on that later).
2 . X-Men: Days of Future Past — The problem with the X-Men movies have always been that they feel so incredibly small, especially when compared to their source material. Even X2, based on the seminal God Loves, Man Kills, played out more like a remote squabble between political rivals than a battle for the fate of all mankind. The pen-and-paper X-Men crossed timelines, jumped universes and even shot to the other sides of galaxies on a regular basis. These X-Men just took field trips to British Columbia.
That finally changed with Days of Future Past: a commanding adaptation of the storyline of the same name that bridged two disparate timelines and casts of characters. After fourteen years with the franchise, Fox finally figured out how to appropriately raise the stakes for Xavier’s team of gifted young mutants and how best to put Wolverine to work (at least in a PG-13 film). It was a dark twist on the fairly vanilla X-teams we had followed until now, a moment of profound development for several key characters and culminated in one of the most jaw-dropping action climaxes ever committed to screen.
1 . Logan — For a character whose unique set of powers were really only good for two things — getting hit really, really hard and then stabbing the person who threw the first punch — Fox never really let Wolverine off of the very tight leash that they had him on. He was an R-rated protagonist trapped in a PG-13 series, even when divorced from the rest of his team and ostensibly able to let loose for a little bit. Instead, they always focused on the least interesting elements of his character (his amnesia) and let him take pot shots at an increasingly brooding Cyclops.
All that changed with Logan: the hard-R, genre-and-character deconstruction, solo Wolverine film that fans have been clamoring for since 2000. It had far more in common with neo-westerns like Hell or High Water or No Country for Old Men than it did your four-color superhero stories, and because of that felt far more faithful to the character of Wolverine than any of his earlier appearances ever did. Between Jackman and Stewart exiting the franchise, which may soon be rebooted into the MCU if the pending Disney takeover of Fox goes through, it felt like the end of an era. And if you’re going to do that, you might as well go out on top.
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