Continuing with my list of the top 10 best superhero movies (if you stumbled upon this article by chance, I highly recommend you to start reading that part first), this second half highlights the more gritty and darker films. I like superhero movies, but I particularly enjoy those that take the single concept of a masked vigilante fighting crime and take it much further, creating crime thrillers and sci-fi epics that reflect the true nature of men and the darkest facets of society.
X-Men: First Class
During a year that was plagued by superhero movies, X-Men: First Class stood out from the mediocrity. The movie that tried to bring a breath of fresh air to the growing tiredness of the X-Men franchising, succeeded at doing not only that, but alto at becoming the best movie of the saga.
First Class takes us to the roots of the X-Men, when there was not a squad of mutants led by Professor X trained to defend the humans from the prideful group of mutants led by Magneto, yet. The movie explores the origins of these two great names of this fictional universe, and how they came to become friends and allies, in the fight against a malicious organization of powerful mutants, before going their separate ways.
Alongside the return of younger versions of popular characters, the movie features a whole new group of mutants. In addition to the origin of the X-Men, there is also a very intricate plot in the movie, and these people must learn to overcome their fears and cooperate with each-other if they want to survive. The special effects are incredible, the battles are grand, and the movie has a very well-constructed narrative, underlining delicate themes such as racism, prejudice and war.
My Score: 8/10
When superhero movies were starting to become really popular among teenagers, mostly thanks to the Spider-man and X-Men sagas, there was a movie that came to give the genre a darker, more adult side to it, Batman Begins. This retelling of the origins of the dark knight proved audiences and critics alike, that there was more to superhero movies than just colourful masked super heroes, fighting equally colourful masked super villains.
Batman Begins is the reconstruction of the popular caped crusader. Batman's stories are often more violent in nature, while focusing on more obscure themes in comparison to other popular comics. This, allied with the more realistic approach of the movie, that disregards fantasy and tries to create a universe within the realms of possibility, have created a masterpiece of a super hero origin.
Through the course of the movie, you learn everything that led to Bruce Wayne's picking up of the mask. His own reasons and fears, the origins of his skills, the cave, the weapons, the car, and so on. Christopher Nolan, the director of the Dark Knight trilogy, usually emphasizes a particular theme in each of his movies, the choice for this one was fear, Batman's greatest weapon... and Bruce Wayne's biggest enemy.
My Score: 9/10
It had been a good time for superhero movies. After the brilliant The Dark Knight and the surprising Iron Man from the year before, another epic superhero movie of grand proportions reached our screens, the ambitious Watchmen. The setting, story, and characters of Watchmen aren't like anything else you have seen in other superhero movies. This is a movie of outstanding style and a great concept. It feels like a hybrid of many genres and styles, mixing action, science fiction, film-noir, suspense and mystery all in the same package!
Watchmen tells the story of a "reformed" group of masked vigilantes who get on their costumes once again to investigate the murder of a former partner. They will discover, however, that this assassination is only the tip of the iceberg, as a much more obscure and intricate plot is behind this case. The masked heroes in this movie have a very shadowy background, and the revelations that happen throughout the movie show that these people, despite being accepted by part of the society, including the government, could be considered the villains, for their unorthodox methods raise too many ethical questions. Even if the intentions are the most honourable, "the means don't always justify the ends" quote applies here.
The action in Watchmen is brutal. The fights are fantastically choreographed, fast-paced, and don't spare on the violence! While this may turn-off some viewers, the dark nature of the film wouldn't feel the same otherwise. Watchmen is incredibly long, I confess I didn't feel comfortable when I sat through it at the cinema. However, it did grow on me after rewatching it, a lot. Its underlining themes, metaphors, complex plot and unusual direction, demand a much more attentive viewing than the minimum attention span of your average superhero flick.
My Score: 9/10
The Dark Knight Rises
After a bad year for superhero movies that saw much more quantity over quality, 2012 became the year of expectations. It saw two of the most antecipated movies of all time: The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. While the former was the much-expected action-fest culmination of all the Marvel's greatest superheroes put together on the same film, the latter was the conclusion of the most acclaimed superhero saga of all time, The Dark Knight trilogy.
Despite being the third installment of the saga, thus following the second film, The Dark Knight Rises correlates much more closely to Batman Begins, as some of the events of this movie take us back to its origins. In any case, in this movie, Batman is considered an enemy of Gotham due to the events that led to the self-sacrificing of his name for Gotham's protection in The Dark Knight. However, a new threat to Gotham city's inhabitants and its hard-earned peace arises. Bruce Wayne, with a little push from a certain someone, comes out of hiding to once again stand up for Gotham city, as the Batman.
The Dark Knight Rises is very rich, not only as a superhero film, but also as a piece of thought-provoking, emotional entertainment. Contrary to its previous installments, this film deals with an intrigue of great proportions, that will bring anarchy to Gotham city. In order to aid the police force restore the natural order, Batman will have to face a physical and mentally superior enemy, Bane. To succeed, he will have to visit hell, and find a way to come back alive.
My Score: 10/10
The Dark Knight
Of course the number one could only go for the finest superhero movie ever produced, The Dark Knight! This movie hit critics and movie-goers with such surprise, exceeding every bit of exception, that it has gone as far as being called the Godfather II, or The Empire Strikes Back of superhero movies. The impact that this emotional crime drama and psychological thriller leaves on the viewer is simply unparalleled. Add to that the best CGI action one can buy, and you have a superhero movie that transcends the genre.
Being the second installment of the The Dark Knight trilogy, this sequel came off as an improvement to Batman Begins on every level: The acting is phenomenal, the action clearer and larger in magnitude, the soundtrack epic, and the overall story darker, more intense and thrilling. While the first movie gave us the origin and set up the introductions, this one went with a full-fledged crime story, where the narrative is driven forward by the actions of a sadist mad man, who goes on spreading chaos through Gotham city in order to clash with its masked protector. And that man is the Joker, one of the most terrifying comic book villains, played by the late Heath Ledger, in one of the most astounding performances ever seen in a superhero film, or any other action movie for that matter.
This was the movie that most effectively caught my interest and attention from its beginning to the very end. With a gripping intro, engaging characters, a memorable villain, stunning action, an epic soundtrack and a very strong ending, The Dark Knight offers a thrilling ride while providing a mesmerizing cinematic experience. It simply does not have anything not to like. It has become the highest tier of the superhero genre, and my one choice for the perfect movie-session.
My Score: 10/10
And with this epic movie I end my top 10 superhero movie list, a genre that has been evolving to become something more than a mere teenager flick or Summer blockbuster. And even if it continues going down that road, I'll gladly continue consuming a genre that has brought me so much excitement and exhilarating entertainment! That is, if it continues delivering titles with at least a similar level of quality as the content present on this list!