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March 24th, 2014

THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT

Durp... durp... durp...!

Think about it, won't you?

-The Gneech

Super Movies

So I've lately been wanting to run a supers RPG campaign. For my money, there's only one game that really does that perfectly, and that's CHAMPIONS, particularly the "Big Blue Book" era (i.e., 4th Edition) [1]. However, one of my players just has an allergic reaction to point-based systems; he can and has played in the HERO System, but he's never comfortable with it. He likes classes and levels. Also, "system fatigue" is becoming a thing; I know that for myself I'm tired of trying to remember in which systems you can move twice in a turn and in which you can only act once in a turn and when you roll to resist damage and when you don't and so on.

So I've decided to run a supers game that pretty much uses Pathfinder combat, and am bashing together a character-creation system based on Star Wars Saga Edition (which is the best d20 variation). "Super Classes" are fairly easy to identify-- I'm currently working with Gadgeteer (Iron Man, Batman), Infiltrator (Spider Man, Nightwing), Mentalist (Dr. Strange, Professor X), Paragon (Wonder Woman, Captain America), and Powerhouse (Superman, The Hulk). I haven't decided if I need one more, "Meta" or something like that, to cover heroes that are just a random bag of powers (such as flying energy-blasters, iceball-shooting mutants, etc.).

But while I'm chewing on that, I've been watching superhero movies for inspiration. Now is an amazing time for supers in TV and film. Growing up in the '70s, everything we had (other than Saturday morning cartoons) was riffing off the camp success of the 1966 "Batman" TV series-- superheroes were purely goofy and played for laughs. This of course led to the "dark and grittification" of everything that started in the '80s and is finally (finally) starting to run out of steam now. DC/Warner still hasn't gotten over that, alas, but thank goodness Marvel has! Looking over my list of personal favorite superhero movies, I've been struck by how many of them are Marvel properties. But the current run of Marvel success would have never happened if it weren't for the Tim Burton Batman, so it's not like you can just say "Marvel good, DC bad" or anything like that. And in fact, one of the very best superhero movies of all time was made by Pixar, and not part of the "great comics divide" in any way.

So looking over the list, here are Gneech's Top 10 Favorite Superhero Movies (so far)-- with the caveat that I'm eagerly looking forward to Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy later this year:


  1. Superman (1978): Despite clearly showing the influence of Star Wars and being way, waaaay too '70s, this movie still has a certain hokey charm about it. Being made when it was, it can't keep itself from delving into camp for more than 5-10 moments at a time, but Christopher Reeve is at his lovable best and Luthor's plan, epically half-baked as it may seem, was apparently good enough to be stolen for A View to a Kill seven years later.

  2. Batman (1989): Okay, so Nicholson was way too old to play the Joker and most of the dialog made no sense, particularly when Kim Basinger was on the screen. But this was the first movie in forever to take the superhero genre "seriously" since the 1978 Superman. Alas, all of its sequels were studies in botched opportunities (really, you had Danny Devito as The Penguin and still somehow managed to make it suck?), but this one? This one was good. It also paved the way for Batman: The Animated Series, which is both the best incarnation of Batman ever, and the best superhero animated series ever.

  3. Iron Monkey (1993): A somewhat obscure choice, I realize, but period setting notwithstanding, the Iron Monkey is a costumed vigilante in the exact same tradition of Zorro or Batman, and the crazy superpowers of Governor Cheng and his lackeys are definitely out there. This is the movie that made me a Donnie Yen fan, and one of my favorite superhero flicks.

  4. Spider-Man (2002): Tobey Maguire was the perfect Peter Parker, and this was the first spider-outing to do webslinging right, so it gets big props on that score. Mary Jane was all wrong, and the Green Goblin was all wrong, but it still had a nice tight script and it was great to see Spidey in the flesh without it being the clunky attempt of the 1970s TV series. Spider-Man 2 had some good moments (stopping the train was very cool) and I liked Alfred Molina's Doc Ock, but that's mostly 'cos I like Alfred Molina. But the sequel's script didn't hold together like the first one's did. Funny how that tends to be the problem.

  5. X-Men (2000): Strong script, great performances, terrific effects. They even managed to make Wolverine likeable, which amazed me. A great superhero film, but like so many, betrayed by its sequels.

  6. Iron Man (2008): Robert Downey Jr. just owns the role of Tony Stark. If and when he hangs up the role, they're going to have to retire Iron Man from films for a while because nobody will be able to fill his shoes. He manages to walk the fine line between "arrogant jerk" and "lovable scamp" so perfectly, and also makes Tony's character development convincing and relatable. Seeing the original Iron Man armor tromping around is a lot of fun, too.

  7. Iron Man 3 (2013): Actually more of a sequel to The Avengers than to Iron Man, this movie actually addresses the sort of PTSD issues that a real-world superheroes might have after being almost-killed so many times, as well as building on Stark's discussion with Banner in Avengers about the heroes' biggest flaws also being the things that save them. It's also great to see Pepper Potts kicking ass.

  8. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011): There isn't anything not to love about this movie. Done as a WWII period piece (YES), obviously tying in connections with the rest of the "Avengers Phase One" movies without letting them detract from the story at hand, and of course Hugo Weaving as The Red Skull. First rate all around.

  9. The Incredibles (2004): The only Fantastic Four movie worth watching, which is kinda sad since it doesn't have the Fantastic Four in it. Seriously tho, this film is great on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. Just start with this discussion and go from there. "I love how well Syndrome represents basically ‘toxic nerd culture’. When he can’t see superheroes as people he relates to any more, he regresses and sees them as playthings instead. He acts like these real people are action figures for him to do with as he pleases, as visually demonstrated by the scenes where he holds people in zero-point stasis and moves them about, frozen in stationary action poses..." This movie also features Edna Mode, who is all kinds of awesome.

  10. The Avengers (2012) When you tease something over the course of five? six? other movies, you'd damn well better deliver on that, right? Well The Avengers does. This is hands-down the best superhero movie made in my opinion. It's not afraid of the genre-- it glorifies in it. It's not simplistic "we are all pals who just happen to have superpowers and save the world," but it's not "everything is a crapsack world and superheroes are just as pathetic and awful as the rest of us." I'm sure it's got plot holes or other problems in it somewhere, but honestly I enjoy the whole thing so much I don't care. And considering how weak all of his filmgoing attempts before this one had been, it's kinda cool that Hulk steals the show.



There are others I've liked-- honorable mention goes to Batman: The Movie (1966) for keeping the genre alive during a rough patch. I was also debating whether or not to put Batman: Mask of the Phantasm on this list or not. It should probably be tied with Superman for 10th place. There are others that are left off of this list for a reason (Nolan's Batman films, I'm looking at you). I can't bring myself to watch The Amazing Spiderman-- the few scenes I have caught with Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker have just made me itch.

I should probably comment on Superman Returns here, which was a movie I really wanted to like, and did have some neat bits-- the bullet bouncing off of Supes's eyeball was brilliant and Kevin Spacey did a great job as a continuation of Gene Hackman's Luthor-- but the script was frankly so awful that even those things couldn't save it from the dustbin of history.

So, that's my list. :) I'm sure other folks will have different opinions on the matter.

All of which said, I want a Captain Marvel or Wonder Woman movie, NOW. And I want it to not suck please, Hollywood.

-The Gneech

[1] I've looked at the most recent (6th Edition, I think), and while it definitely looks like a step up from the tiny-text phonebook of 5th, I haven't felt like it was worth investing the time and money in, given the other issues at hand.

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