Four of our top ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2011 – Thor, 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:
- Thor (Theatrical Trailer #1) (Theatrical Trailer #2) (Super Bowl Trailer) (TV Spots) (1st Clip)
- X-Men: First Class (Theatrical Trailer #1) (Russian Theatrical Trailer)
- Green Lantern (Theatrical Trailer #1) (WonderCon footage)
- Captain America (Super Bowl Trailer) (Theatrical Trailer #1)
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.
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.
Action / Visual Effects
Extraterrestrials, fantastical worlds, colorful mutants, shape-shifters – and a whole lot in the way of explosions, gunfire, and characters raining destruction down on their surroundings has been on display in all the trailers for these comic book movies. So which one looks the coolest so far?
Thor has featured some truly epic CGI landscapes, fantastical beasts, and scenes of the titular hero laying the smackdown on his opponents with his trusty hammer, Mjolnir. There has also been some standard slo-mo cinematography and curious usage of Dutch (read: slanted) camera angles in the action-oriented scenes set on Earth, which could prove to be a bit distracting in the final product.
Overall, though, the combination of impressive digital imagery, gorgeous practical sets and costumes, and fight scenes that clearly involve either the film’s stars or their stunt doubles – instead of just CGI stand-ins – looks good enough to ensure that Thor will definitely triumph in the style department.
Captain America footage has included a fair amount of practical effects, used to create some snazzy 1940s-era battle sequences (shootouts, hand to hand combat, etc.). The visual trickery used to create the illusion of Evans’ Steve Rogers being short and scrawny – prior to his treatment with the super soldier serum – is nicely done, though at times it does look a bit fake.
Some of the sci-fi technology and vehicles revealed in the Captain America previews have looked a bit too over-the-top and incongruous with the period setting. My issue with that material is that it that it looks a bit too modern, and less like advanced tech that would’ve existed during WWII.
X-Men: First Class looks to fall somewhere between X3 and the first two X-Men films on the action scale – which makes sense, given how this series has generally been more meditative in nature than a number of its peers. What visual F/X have been on display so far – be it Emma Frost (January Jones) turning into diamond form, or Magneto lifting a submarine into the atmosphere – looks quite flawless.
However, the visuals shown from X-Men: First Class haven’t jumped out or left as much of an impression as some of the other comic book movies arriving this summer. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but it does mean the other films may be better at giving fans their action fix.
While’s Reynold’s face mask for Green Lantern still seems kind of pasted on, his CGI costume appears to have been noticeably improved, based off the recent WonderCon preview. Other digital creations like Parallax, Tomar-Re, and the Oa landscape are rich in color and definitely deserve to be called eye-popping, while the makeup and prosthetics used to create Abin Sur, Sinestro and Hector Hammond make those characters look as convincing (more so, arguably) as their computer-crafted counterparts.
What short bits of Hal Jordan using his Lantern powers in battle look pretty fantastic as well. It’s possible Green Lantern will feel too CGI-heavy when watched in theaters, but that doesn’t appear to be the case at this point.
Verdict: I’m calling this one a tie between Green Lantern and Thor right now, since both promise to have loads of excellent CGI work and awe-inspiring action.
All four of the comic book movies arriving this summer are essentially origin stories that explore the beginnings of either a single superhero or (with X-Men: First Class) an ensemble of warriors. But which one really looks to be the most interesting and thought-provoking?
Part of what grabs my attention about Thor is that it doesn’t tell the tale of an ordinary person becoming something greater, but rather the story of an already powerful warrior who is forced to learn the value of those weaker than himself. Combine that with Thor’s Oedipal issues, Loki’s jealousy and prejudice being heightened by his rise to power, and Odin having to confront his elderly state – there’s plenty in the way of meaty substance for the film to explore.
While the plot threads involving Asgardian characters again seem more interesting than those of the regular humans in Thor, it could also be interesting to see how the film addresses matters that relate science and magic. So long as the movie doesn’t get bogged down in setting up The Avengers (a la Iron Man 2), it should be very good.
Green Lantern deals with more of a familiar superhero storyline: a weaker individual gains great power and must learn how to use it properly and responsibly. What make Hal Jordan’s journey all the more intriguing is that his is more psychological in nature – it requires him to overcome his insecurities and emotional shortcomings, as his limitations are less physical but mental in nature.
Parallax is an excellent metaphor for the corrupting and destructive power of fear, and the manner in which characters – be they Hal Jordan, Sinestro, or Hector Hammond – respond to the creature should make for some engaging drama as well. Hopefully all these ideas and concepts will be developed to some degree and executed well in the film.
It’ll be almost impossible to not cheer on Steve Rogers in Captain America as he transforms from a wannabe fighter for justice into a super-powered hero who understand the value of his abilities and strives to use them solely for good. Match him against a ruthless and diabolical villain like Red Skull and
the Nazis his Hydra soldiers, and you’ve got the makings of a fun old-fashioned adventure tale about ridding the world of evil.
That kind of story may not read as especially interesting on paper, and it might not fly so well with viewers in the mood for something more complex, but – if done right – Captain America could be just as good (if not better) than its comic book movie peers.
X-Men: First Class really sticks out for me in the story department for a number of reasons. There’s the mutant metaphor being explored in the context of the 1960s, a time when counter-cultural movements were beginning to really take place; the political intrigue and suggestion that real-life historical events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis were affected by mutants; and of course, the aforementioned evolving dynamic between young Professor X and Magneto (juxtaposed to, say, The Civil Rights Movement).
That’s not to mention the coming-of-age drama concerning the younger mutants who are just struggling to find their place in the world. So long as that aspect of the film’s plot doesn’t dip too much into the Twilight pool, it’s hard to envision X-Men: First Class really faltering in the story department.
Verdict: At this point X-Men: First Class is the winner for me, but the other three titles have the potential to either match or exceed it, in this regard.
Our Prediction For Best Superhero Movie of 2011…
Although X-Men: First Class came out on top in two of my three categories, I’m going to give the edge to Green Lantern right now, since it came really close to the X-Men prequel in terms of characters and story – but really looks to rock it in the area of F/X and action . That certainly would’ve been more of a controversial decision had I made it last week, but after the WonderCon trailer?…
…To quote numerous people in response to that preview, “Your move, Marvel.”
Feel free to let us know which film you think will emerge with the title “Best Superhero Movie of 2011” in the comments section below.
Thor kicks off the 2011 summer movie season on May 6th.
X-Men: First Class is set to arrive in theaters on June 3rd.
Green Lantern will be released in theaters on June 17th.
Captain America: The First Avenger makes its way into theaters on July 22nd.