There were a lot of superhero movies this year. Thankfully, they run the gamut of animated insanity, buddy flicks, inspiring origin stories and well-made final chapters. But as the year is ending, it might be worthwhile to take a look back at the best five of 2017’s superhero movies to examine what they did right. With that in mind, here are Comicon.com’s Top 5 superhero flicks of the year.
1. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Spider-Man: Homecoming performed a magic trick in creating the best stand-alone Spider-Man movie while incorporating it wonderfully into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) goals are well-defined. The addition of a legitimate best friend who knows Peter’s secret made him more accessible as a character. Consequently, making Holland the best on-screen Spider-Man to date. Also, the stakes in the film – Adrian Toomes’ (Michael Keaton) attempt to steal a bunch of older Iron Man suits and other Stark tech – are small-scale, but understandable. In fact, the genuinely “grounded” stakes make sense for this Spider-Man, who is intended to be more of a ground-level hero. That sort of solid storytelling, and the great performances, helps make Homecoming the most satisfying of the superhero movies released this year.
2. Wonder Woman
Of course, the difference in quality between Homecoming and Wonder Woman is razor thin. The only thing holding back Patty Jenkins’ otherwise superlative origin story is its final act turn into a CGI battle lacking geography or worthwhile stakes. In fact, all of the antagonists in the film are half-baked; reflecting that Wonder Woman’s true opponent is the Great War itself. And viewed from that lens, the film is very much a triumph. From Themyscira to No Man’s Land, Diana (Gal Gadot) confidently strides from location to location knowing her point of view is correct. And then, just before the third act battle begins, she learns a key piece of her philosophy was a lie invented to protect her. But instead of it undermining her, the revelation allows her to grow into the hero she needs to be. While Spider-Man: Homecoming may be the more solidly entertaining film, Wonder Woman’s underlying themes will make it a perennial favorite.
3. The LEGO Batman Movie
The only Batman movie to ever deal with the character’s intimacy issues head on, The LEGO Batman Movie is also one of the best Batman movies ever made. Embracing just about every take on the character for maximum comedic and dramatic value, it also takes advantage of the underlying thrill in playing with LEGO toys. While it completely rewrites Dick Grayson (Michael Sera) and Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) to accomplish its goals, they become worthy variations of those characters while LEGO Batman (Will Arnett) overcomes his fear of attachments. By the time Joker (Zach Galifianakis) unleashes the villains of various LEGO worlds – like Doctor Who‘s Daleks, the Kraken from Clash of the Titans, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Sauron – the viewer is totally invested in LEGO Batman getting his head out of his minifig ass and working out that the only way to defeat these various threats is by trusting those around him. The fact this heady theme is key to a toy movie is also a remarkable feat.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
While the plot of the second Guardians of the Galaxy lacks the momentum and solid construction of the first, it relentlessness on the family aspects surrounding the crew of the Milano keep it from sinking to the mediocrity of, say, Thor: The Dark World. It also has an irresistible meta-narrative point to accomplish: convincing a generation that Michael Rooker is cooler than Kurt Russell. And, for his part, Russell does an amazing job shifting from dream dad to the all-too common reality of an absentee father; even if that switch includes his attempt to kill Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and rule the universe. Other character pairings, like Yondu (Rooker) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) or Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) underscore the main family theme by revealing tender sides of this misfit organization. While occasionally bloated, the film still accomplishes its main goal by the time the Ravagers assemble to honor one of their own in a multicolor spectacle of visual effects and emotion.
For all the ways Logan breaks the superhero mold, it lacks for some of the more compelling themes or solid entertainment value of the year’s other films. But its importance cannot be undersold. In abandoning the trappings of the previous Wolverine films and the mainline X-Men series itself, star Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold allow the character to stand free of his iconic hair and status as the bad boy loner of comics. What remains is a broken man of the Western tradition facing down a shattered future in which there is little room for someone like him. Like Homecoming, Logan’s stakes are not as Earth-shattering as Wonder Woman or Guardians, but they make perfect sense: he must get a little girl to safety in Canada. It is an instantly relatable goal which allows Logan and Laura (Dafne Keen) to come alive as characters even as they cross a dead landscape. And though Mangold holds your hand to make sure you get the Western connection, Logan proves the superhero is not a film genre confined by a blueprint set by 1979’s Superman, but a multifaceted storytelling device which can be free of generic conventions if the filmmakers put in the effort.
The remaining 2017 superhero films – Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League – both fail to hit the level of satisfaction of the top five. While Ragnarok is funny and solidly put together, it still suffers the Thor series’ major failing: the dullness of Asgard as a setting. Justice League, meanwhile, is just a disappointing and rudderless enterprise; executed, ultimately, so a handful of Warner Bros. Pictures executives could cash in their bonuses for the year. But considering the overall quality of superhero movies this year, let’s hope 2018 releases like Black Panther, Deadpool 2, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Aquaman continue the upswing in solidly built, thought-provoking and, on the whole, good superhero films.