It’s funny how a great year for superhero movies has somewhat quelled the “there are too many superhero movies” complaints you see every now and then on the internet. Maybe it was the realization that superhero movies actually make up a very small percentage of the movies released into theaters. Or maybe it was just a quality thing; oversaturation isn’t a problem when the vast majority are good-to-great, I guess.
Regardless, as far as I’m concerned, this was a very solid year for this classification of film—not a genre. Let me repeat: superhero movies are not a genre. We had several great movies and only one true dud (that we’ve all forgotten about by now).
So, here’s how 2017’s superhero movies played out.
Power Rangers, which was supposed to be the start of a new franchise, came and went in March of 2017, generating little fanfare and containing the single worst product placement in a movie this year. If there’s anything that immediately comes to mind after watching it, it’s hunger for donuts. The film is 2/3 boring teen drama and 1/3 an abbreviated episode of the television show—but somehow less interesting than the show. It is the worst superhero movie of 2017.
Justice League contains a few moments that aren’t terrible. Some of the comedy lands, some of the action is tolerable, and one or two of the actors look like they care. The rest? Mediocre-to-bad. The tonal whiplash from the directorial change, the abbreviated back stories for several of its characters, the bland villain, the CGI hellscape finale, and the way it uses Superman—that’s all bad, folks. A movie that costs $300 million shouldn’t be anything worse than “pretty good.” And Justice League ain’t there.
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Color me pleasantly surprised that I didn’t hate Captain Underpants. Now, please don’t think I’m saying it’s great or even very good. I expected it to be a garbage animated film on the level of The Emoji Movie. It’s very okay. It has some decent comedy, the action is good, the animation—particularly given its low $38 million budget—is great, and it ends before it gets annoying. All in all? It’s better than it should have been.
Here’s where we start getting into the great films—and we’re still in the bottom half of this list! After two abysmal—and they were—Amazing Spider-Man movies, Sony and Marvel decided to team up to reboot the character and introduce him to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). What we got is awesome: A teenage character who feels like a teenager, no forced origin story, a lot of laughs, a great villain, and one of the best sequences at the movies this year (the lead-up to the homecoming dance). There’s not a lot to dislike about Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Finally, a great Thor movie! While there’s a decent amount to like about the first two chapters, this one knocked it out of the park. And it did it primarily by, at least in part, changing up the characters we’ve gotten to know over several films. It gave them new things to do, slight personality changes or traits, and it made them interesting again. Sick of the Thor-Loki dynamic? This one makes it fresh. Tired of The Hulk mindlessly smashing things? Here’s a revamped The Hulk. Want to see Heimdall be awesome? Here’s Heimdall being awesome. It’s got great action, comedy, and characters, and the only thing holding it back is its obligatory villain portions—even though Hela is fun, her segments are somehow less interesting than Thor and co. hanging out on a planet. Also: Tessa Thompson is amazing in it.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Guardians of the Galaxy came out of relative nowhere and stunned us all by bringing us characters we didn’t know and turning them into some of our favorites in the MCU. Their follow-up adventure? Also really good, it turns out! Maybe lacking the freshness of the original, and the villain is a mixed bag, but the film is emotionally resonant, really funny, and has some great action, too. When even the tough raccoon is crying, you know you’re in for a show.
The LEGO Batman Movie
The best Batman movie since The Dark Knight, The LEGO Batman Movie takes the caped crusader and tries to give him a new family—something he’s unbelievably afraid of. Also: the Joker recruits a bunch of characters from all sorts of Warner Bros. franchises to take over Gotham. The way that it pokes fun at the previous “dark, gritty” Batman films is fantastic, and it’s the first version of the character in quite some time that’s felt fun.
It sure is weird how a director can make an Oscar-winning film and then not get another chance at directing a movie for almost a decade and a half, but that’s what happened with Patty Jenkins. Monster won Charlize Theron an Oscar, Patty Jenkins made a great movie … and then a couple of projects fell apart and she moved to TV. But she made a film comeback in 2017 with Wonder Woman, a fantastic superhero movie. It’s the first exciting DC Extended Universe movie. Its action, story, themes, humor, acting, and aesthetic are all wonderful. And in a different year it could have easily walked away with the crown of Best Superhero Movie of the Year.
Unfortunately for Wonder Woman, 2017 was the year that Logan came out. Logan paid off over 15 years of X-Men building in a fantastic movie that allowed us to appreciate on last time and say goodbye to Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine. The movie, which is less a traditional superhero movie and more a Western mixed with Lone Wolf and Cub, delivers a heartbreaking story set in the near-future where most of your beloved superheroes are dead and the ones who aren’t are close to it. It’s very violent and profane—the R rating helps—and has one of the best final moments in a film this year. It’s so great.