The best way to describe the crop of superhero movies from 2016 is “a mixed bag.” While there are two really solid entries, there are also a couple of pretty big duds, and a movie that really disappointed in the way that it handled a pretty famous story. Interestingly, from a live-action perspective, the studios were pretty balanced in terms of number of releases. Disney had two, Fox had two, and Warner Bros. had two. Quality, unfortunately, wasn’t as evenly distributed.
Here’s how 2016’s superhero movies played out:
I bet you already forgot about Max Steel. Or maybe you didn’t even know that Max Steel is a thing. It was released onto over 2000 screens in October of 2016 … and nobody cared. It failed spectacularly, failing to crack the Top 10 of its opening weekend and lasting just three weeks in theaters—and was pulled from over 1750 is screens after just two of those weeks.
It’s terrible and deserves to be forgotten. It’s based on a Mattel toy line (which got its own TV series in 2013), and was created ideally to sell more of those toys, it’s an origin story for its hero that is so dull, so been-there-done-that, that it’s hard to imagine any creative thought went into its creation. I mean, I saw it and I can’t even remember what its hero even does. Something about energy, I think. It’s utterly forgettable.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
For some people, this movie will be their number one. And that’s okay; the world would be boring if we all thought the same. But there’s almost nothing for me to enjoy about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a movie that runs for either 2.5 hours or 3, depending on the cut, that has the philosophical insight of a 10-year-old, a dark-and-gritty, no-fun approach to superhero movies, and a lack of cohesion and purpose.
The X-Men franchise has gone through its various ups and downs through the years, and while X-Men: Apocalypse probably isn’t as low as it can get (hello, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), it’s pretty close.
This is a bloated, generic, lazy mess of a movie. You’ve got Apocalypse, this seemingly great villain, and he’s presented here as a bland villain whose powers are poorly defined and inconsistently used. We see the same back-and-forth between Xavier and Magneto we’ve done for several films now. The action isn’t good. And the effects aren’t even that strong. It feels a lot like previous X-Men films, but less interesting because it’s now familiar to us. What a bore.
Batman: The Killing Joke
The Killing Joke is one of the most famous stories from the Batman comics. It provides an origin story for the Joker, did a fantastic job of creating parallels between Batman and Joker, and is very engaging.
Batman: The Killing Joke, which did make it into theaters (hence its inclusion on the list), tells that story … for part of its running time. It includes a lengthy prologue and its actual adaptation is a mixed bag, to borrow a description I used earlier. Its animation isn’t even as good as many of the other DC animated movies. Its strength comes from the voice acting from Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, but they’re not enough to save it from being a big disappointment.
Suicide Squad might not be great, but it’s at least tolerable—which compared to the other DCEU movie from 2016 is a step up. It sees a bunch of villains team up to stop a worse villain, all while being controlled by the government (so they can’t escape). The characters aren’t interesting or well-written, and some of them don’t even get proper back stories.
The Joker is in the film for less than 10 minutes and Jared Leto’s performance is less than good, to put it lightly. The action is mostly okay, and the effects are fine. A couple of the performance—Margot Robbie and Will Smith—are good. The movie should have been rated R (it needed it) but with a PG-13 couldn’t be as edgy as it wanted to be. It’s just another largely unenjoyable DC movie. Where’s the fun?
Doctor Strange probably would have been a better movie if it wasn’t “Iron Man but with magic.” If there’s a problem with the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s that many of them feel too similar to other installments. Doctor Strange suffers from this.
Where it succeeds is in its visuals, which do offer something fresh and keep the movie more than worth watching even if you completely write off the plot. You remember that scene from Inception where the street stands up on its end and the characters just walk up it like they’re walking up a wall? Doctor Strange is like that, but 10x trippier and with far more particle effects—and it does it a lot more often. It’s a sight to behold.
Deadpool, a subversive, fourth-wall-breaking, foul-mouthed superhero movie is so enjoyable and endlessly rewatchable that it almost ranked first for me when it comes to 2016 superhero movies. It’s so much fun, it’s so clever, and Ryan Reynolds is so good in it. It’s one of the best X-Men movies, it’s hilarious, and its action is stylish and creative—especially with a trimmed-at-the-last-minute budget. Its R rating allowed it to do exactly what it needed to be a success, and the filmmakers ran with it.
I can’t wait for Deadpool 2.
Captain America: Civil War
While it’s technically not an Avengers movie—meaning that the Captain America trilogy wound up being really great—Captain America: Civil War is pretty much an Avengers movie. It takes the themes we saw in Batman v Superman and explores them with more depth. We actually get an idea that both sides could, in theory, be right.
It gives us characters we’ve seen well-defined over several movies and has them square off against each other. It’s funny. Its action is great, inventive, and exciting. And it’s even somewhat emotionally compelling. There’s almost nothing to dislike about it.