Four of our top ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2011Thor, X-Men: First Class, Green Lantern, and the first place-ranking Captain America: The First Avenger – are comic book movies that all arrive in theaters this summer. We’ve gotten to see footage from all four films, and debates are already raging over the actors/actresses cast, character portrayals, costumes, visual F/X, action sequences – you name the detail, it’s already been analyzed to death.

So here comes the big one question: Which one of these films looks the best? Which one appears to feature the best acting, direction, story, characters, and stands out above the rest as the best superhero movie of Summer 2011?

We could spend all day talking about which of these films appears to be the most loyal to the source material, but the convoluted nature of these superheroes’ mythologies makes that discussion tricky, to put it mildly. So I will be focusing specifically on how these films look based off the previously-released footage, previews, and trailers.

To refresh your memory, check out all the trailers, previews, and clips released for these films at their respective links below:

I will be focusing on three aspects of each film, as they are presented (briefly) in the previews – namely, the main/supporting characters, the action/effects, and the story as a whole.

The Characters

All four of these movies boast an impressive collection of leading men, ladies, sidekicks, and villains, and a couple minutes of footage can’t do justice to all (if any) of them. Based off what has been shown to us, which of these motion pictures looks to have the best cast of characters so far?

The Thor footage has done a nice job of illustrating the complex and multi-layered nature of the Asgardians (Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Anthony Hopkins as Odin, and Tom Hiddleston as Loki), but the regular Earthlings seem all the less interesting and one-dimensional in comparison. To be fair, though, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, and Stellan Skarsgård haven’t gotten to do much of anything so far – save fleeing in terror, looking confused by Thor’s behavior, and (in Denning’s case) providing comic relief.

All the same, this is (of course) foremost the God of Thunder’s story, and Hemsworth is the one who really needs to sell Thor’s transformation from an arrogant warrior to a more humble hero in order for this film to work – and so far, it looks like he’s done a pretty good job of just that.

X-Men: First Class previews have so far focused on the relationship at the heart of the film: the bond between the young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender). There have been brief hints about the personal conflicts and issues that supporting players like Beast (Nicholas Hoult) or Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) will have to deal with, but nothing substantial enough to really pass judgement on just yet.

Much like the success of Thor rests in part on Hemsworth’s shoulders, McAvoy and Fassbender really have to pull off the difficult friendship between young Professor X and Magneto for X-Men: First Class to be engaging – and early signs indicate they’ve done just that.

Green Lantern‘s WonderCon trailer has really turned the tide of negative buzz this pic’s been riding on since the first trailer premiered. Now we’ve gotten a solid glimpse of Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, and concerns that the character will come off as Reynolds doing his goofy but charming schtick have abated.

While we haven’t seen much of players like Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) or Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) yet, Green Lantern Corps members like Tomar-Re (voice of Geoffrey Rush), Sinestro (Mark Strong), and Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) all appear readily distinguishable and interesting, with respect to their personalities. That’s definitely a good thing in my book.

If Reynolds deserves credit for not doing his customary bit as Hal Jordan, then Chris Evans really ought to get props for ditching his usual comical bend as Steve Rogers in Captain America. The character seems quite genuine so far, like someone who earnestly wants and deserves the chance to help the world – and while that sort of do-good attitude won’t be to everyone’s tastes, Evans looks to have nailed it.

A shout out should go to Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) as well, since she seems a very active figure who’s more than just a love interest for the hero (I’m still skeptical about Portman’s Thor character in that regard). Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Phillips seems rock-steady as always, but we haven’t really gotten to see Hugo Weaving as Red Skull yet; still, it’s hard to imagine him not making a fantastic villain.

Verdict: This one is a close call, but for now I’m going to give X-Men: First Class the lead – with both Captain America and Thor being close behind.

Continue to Action & Visual Effects…

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