As an adjunct to our Best of the Year Awards, Comicon would like to also recognize the best in films based on comic books. With the modern era of comic book movies reaching its 20th year, the proliferation of superhero movies has made some filmmakers nervous while others, justifiably, note the way they pull attention from smaller, more character driven films. And yet, as this list proves, it is the characters themselves people respond to, even when the spectacle starts to feel a little samey.
The following are Comicon’s 5 Best Comic Book Films of 2019.
5. Hellboy, directed by Neil Marshall, screenplay by Andrew Cosby, starring David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim and Ian McShane, released by Lionsgate
While lacking some of the artistry and finesse Guillermo del Toro brought to the earlier Hellboy film cycle, Lionsgate’s attempt to revive the character as a leading film hero has many qualities in its favor. For one thing: it still feels like the Hellboy comics of Mike Mignola. Thanks to vignettes derived from stories like “The Wild Hunt” and “The Storm and the Fury,” the flavor and characters are there. Harbour’s Hellboy, for example, is true to the comic book character’s spirit. Which may be why people found him an unremarkable follow-up to actor Ron Perlman — it is impossible to differentiate the character if played correctly. And like his predecessor, Harbour plays the part as a monster who spits in the face of destiny and embraces all of his human facets. And whenever the film lean into that, it becomes worth watching.
That said, it is a shame Hellboy goes the entire movie without shouting, “Aw, crap!”
4. Captain Marvel, directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, screenplay by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck & Geneva Robertson-Dworet, starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, and Lashana Lynch, distributed by Walt Disney Studios
Thanks to Disney+, the strengths of Captain Marvel shine through with repeat viewings. The film inverts the typical Marvel origin story with Carol Danvers (Larson) learning her powers and humanity were always locked within her. And instead of the usual hero’s journey from self-centered jerk to somewhat-selfless hero, Carol’s core qualities are underscored by her adventure. This translates into a wonderful road trip with new friend Nicholas Joseph Fury (Jackson) through some of Marvel’s most covert elements. It also leads Carol to a heavily coded same-sex relationship with Maria Rambeau (Lynch). But both of these relationships form the film’s most surprising and satisfying elements: the interactions between the characters. It’s a strength which converts seeming foe Talos (Mendelsohn) into another aspect of the family. In terms of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, it also sets up the Kree Empire as worthy adversaries in stories yet to come.
3. Shazam!, directed by David F. Sandberg, screenplay by Henry Gayden, starring Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Mark Strong, distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
While Warner Bros. continues to fret about putting Superman on screen, it had no qualms with allowing the Big Red Cheese a chance to shine in all his goofy, childlike glory. Thanks to Sandberg’s appreciation of older Fawcett Captain Marvel comics, a fairly strong mythology given to him by Geoff Johns’ reinvention of the Shazam Family, and Levi’s surprisingly strong turn as a twelve-year-old, the film is a sweet superhero flick. It is also a showcase for Grazer, whose Freddy Freeman steals nearly every scene he’s in. It also feels like a tone-setter for whatever DC movie universe Warners may find in disparate flicks like the upcoming Birds of Prey and Shazam!‘s own sequel. Hopefully, as Sandberg did with Shazam!, the studio will let the characters themselves point the way.
2. Avengers: Endgame, directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, starring the Marvel Cinematic Universe, distributed by Walt Disney Studios
Endgame is another film which will benefit from easy access on Disney+. At the very least, it will give the viewer control over its extensive runtime. But its length only underscores how much it accomplishes. From a palpable sense of dread following Thanos’s (Josh Brolin) early announcement, to the way Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) re-introduces a sense of joy into the post-Snap world, the film manages to hit the right tones and serve its characters in an admirable way. Where Avengers: Infinity War felt like the first issue of a prolonged event storyline, Endgame often feels like the snappy Marvel Annual concluding the plot line.
Well, snappy if you take two key breaks from the film and treat the film like two Avengers annuals sandwiched around an Ant-Man annual.
But upon repeat viewings, you find certain characters win out among the explosions, Fat Thors, and quips. Tony’s emotional reunion with his father in the 1970s (and that Jarvis cameo) stands out. As does Nebula’s (Karen Gillan) journey across just four films, thanks to a literal confrontation with her angry past, and Bruce’s (Mark Ruffalo) conversation with the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). It’s these moments, more than the grand fight at the end, which make Endgame a worthy conclusion to 22 films worth of story.
1. Spider-Man: Far From Home, directed by Jon Watts, written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, starring Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, and Samuel L. Jackson, distributed by Sony Pictures
As with its predecessor, Spider-Man: Far From Home does an amazing job making the MCU feel like a personal, intimate affair. Well, personal and intimate with European landmarks getting destroyed, of course. As in his other outings as Peter Parker, Holland continues to be the best person ever cast in the role. He plays Peter’s confusion and Spider-Man’s bravado with equal aplomb. And because he wears his emotions on his mask, it is easy for villains like Quentin Beck (Gyllenhaal) to weaponize his empathy and search for a father figure against him. And that might be the most satisfying element of Far From Home — Peter’s emotional state meshes so well with the larger-than-life machinations of his adversaries. Hopefully, he’ll get some sort of reprieve and a father figure who won’t immediately die or turn evil in his third — and seemingly final — solo MCU outing.
Meanwhile, add in wonderful performances from Zendaya as MJ, Batalon as Ned, and Jackson as Talos as Fury, and you get a film which examines the deeply personal within the Marvel Universe and its furthest-flung, high concept ideas.