Who would win in a fight?
It is a primal question that has spurred on more schoolyard arguments and message board flame wars than can be counted. Be it comic book characters, historical figures, fabled monsters or anything else, I can tell you that my favorite will kick your favorite’s butt any day of the week.
In that grand tradition, Unwinnable has embarked on a series of similar battles, pitting contributor against contributor in a battle royale of wits and smack talk. First it was the Kung Fu Showdown. Now it is the Superhero Movie Smack Down. Enter the arena, Dear Reader, and be thrilled by our blood sport.
Stu Horvath – Donnie Darko
An unconventional choice, I admit (and one that will inspire my fellow writers to flay me alive, I am sure), but Donnie Darko (2001) is easily my favorite superhero movie. It illustrates how broad and deep the genre’s conventions are by taking the great-granddaddy of the superhero flick, Richard Donner’s Superman (1978), and applying its core concepts to a completely different kind of story.
Both Donnie and Clark are born from a crash (Clark’s escape ship, a plane crashing into Donnie’s bedroom). Both have powers (Clark’s from the light of the yellow sun, Donnie’s from surviving the crash he was meant to die in, or schizophrenia, or both). Both do battle with charismatic villains (Lex Luthor, Patrick Swayze’s child molester Jim Cunningham). Both love women who die tragically and both alter the flow of time in order to prevent that death.
The trappings may differ (kryptonite, real estate deals, Frank the Bunny) but the broad strokes are the same, but incredibly different in tone, atmosphere and resolution. Donnie Darko is the best superhero movie because it is an example of the potential of the form. It rises above the high-water mark set by Unbreakable (2000) and is unrivaled a decade later.
Ethan Sacks – Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and that goes for my esteemed Unwinnable colleagues, no matter how wrong and twisted their picks for greatest super hero movie of all time. (Zebraman? Robocop? Don’t we have drug testing at this damn place?)
The genre has had its share of spectacular portrayals
of superheroes and supervillains, but the casting of Ron Perlman as the titular demon-turned-paranormal investigator in Hellboy (2004) is so perfect, it’s as if director Guillermo del Toro summoned him right out of a panel with some dark occult blood offering.
It wasn’t until Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008) that the rest of a movie matched Perlman’s makeup and prosthetic Right Hand of Doom.
There’s Luke Goss’ heartbreaking turn as Prince Nuada, so good that you’re not sure whether or not to root for him in his quest to wipe out the destructive human race – you know, the one populated by weirdos who would pick Donnie Darko for their best superhero movie ever. There’s Doug Jones as Abe Sapien, more human than most of the humans who are repulsed by the fish-man’s appearance. There’s Jeffrey Tambor chewing up the scenery the way Hellboy chews up cigars and candy bars.
There’s del Toro’s signature brilliance with practical effect monsters, from the Troll Market’s grubby denizens to the swarming tooth fairies to the macabre Angel of Death that haunts you for days after the closing credits roll. In an industry that buries its heroes in crappy CG, the make-up and rubber prosthetics are scary good – literally.
“I love monsters, I make monster porn,” del Toro said when Hellboy 2 came out.
Most of all for longtime readers of the Dark Horse comic, there’s the script for Hellboy 2, which just nails Mignola’s recipe of 1/3 horror, 1/3 adventure and 1/3 humor. And only half-forgotten Lovecraftian demon spawn hell-bent on destroying the Earth while watching the Dolph Lundgren Punisher wouldn’t love every frame.