51. Cyclops/Scott Summers (James Marsden, X:Men, 2000; X2, 2003; X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006)
(FYI - this entry is the longest so far by a long shot, and will probably be the longest of the whole list)
The first thing I’ll say is that Marsden is a good actor and he is good in this role. He shows a good acting and emotional range, has good presence, and reads his lines well. He’s the first person on this list to actually have a good acting performance, and some of the characters ranked lower than him give in bad ones. But these character rankings aren’t just based on that, they’re also based on the way the character is portrayed and used in the film.
And regarding that? Boy…I could probably write a 20 page essay on the way Cyclops was mishandled in these three films. I’ll try to keep it briefer than that, but this will probably end up being the longest entry on the whole list.
I understand, to some degree, that these movies were more or less Wolverine’s movies. He’s a more popular and sellable character. But still, the ways they used him, even the small lines and details are a travesty.
Let’s start with Cyclops in the comics. Cyclops is the quintessential X-Man. He’s been a member of the team the longest, almost always being the leader. He is the closest to Xavier, and is more or less a son to him. The most critical component about him, perhaps even more important than the fact that he can shoot optic force blasts from his eyes, is the fact that he is a strategic genius in the field of battle. He can see all angles of the battle, he can figure out what’s going to happen before it happens and use it to anticipate the enemy’s moves and shut them down. He knows where his teammates should go and what they should do, and even unruly characters like Wolverine or Gambit have learned that when Cyclops tells them to do something in the field, they had better do it, because he knows exactly what the hell he’s talking about. That’s why he’s the leader.
Let’s start with the first film. I didn’t have too much of a problem with his use here, and it’s the only one that sort of does him any justice. They show his rivalry with Wolverine in a healthy way. The movie is definitely set up for you to root for Wolverine in this rivalry and hope that Logan is the one who eventually gets Jean, to be sure, but at least Cyclops is shown in action, he’s shown being a competent leader. A more secondary character, but he gets his due, to some degree, although his strategic abilities aren’t really on display too much.
In X2, things get a little shaky. Scott is abducted and out of commission for most of the movie. I can sort of understand the need to do this to keep some characters out of it since there was so much going on, but I’m not a fan of picking the quintessential X-Man as the person you choose to take out of action. Unfortunately, a lot of that decision was because of casting – Marsden wasn’t really the best known actor out of the main group, so they took more liberties with decreasing his role. Really, Storm was the character who should have been left behind and took a reduced role (as she has no personality and contributed nothing as a character other than being a person who’s powers they could use in battle) but she was played by the much more well known Halle Berry, so you know that wasn’t happening.
Still, even with a reduced role, there are little touches here and there they could have put in to at least make Cyclops respectable, and they mess that up to a large degree. X2 shows absolutely none of Scott’s strategic skills or intelligence, and in fact goes the opposite way – he makes a lot of dumb suggestions and moves that the others shut down.
The best example of this is at the end, where they come across the door to Stryker’s Dark Cerebro. Cyclops walks up to the door and is about to blast it, but Storm pipes in and tells him that the door is made of a material that would reflect it back at them and stops him. What? Cyclops would never make a dumb mistake like that. The scene should have been someone else suggesting him to blast it and him being the one to shut that idea down. The crazy thing is? In the novelization, that’s what happens! Storm is the one who suggests he blasts it, and Scott is the one to correct her and say that it would backfire. Why was this changed in the film? I’m willing to bet that when it came time to film, it was something along the line of Halle Berry insisted that their roles be switched for this scene because she couldn’t handle Storm having any flaws, and they caved. Either that, or the showrunners decided to switch it because they don’t care about the character of Cyclops and don’t care if they make him the dumb one.
In any case, this obviously pales in comparison to X3. Because…wow. I understand that his appearance in X3 was probably cut short because Marsden signed on to Superman Returns. But still, they could have reduced his role in a way that wasn’t a gigantic slap in the face. The people making the movie obviously had little respect for Cyclops in the first place, and having Marsden join Bryan Singer to bail on them increased it tenfold. First of all, in the beginning of the movie, they have Scott be so incredibly broken up about Jean’s death that he’s lost focus and control. I know he was the one in a romantic relationship with her, but Xavier, Logan, and Storm also had close relationships with her and aren’t broken up to the point of being out of commission due to it, because the people making the movie have respect for those characters. Xavier shows no concern for Scott’s feelings and instead decides to give up on him and tell Storm that she’s the leader now.
And then, of course, Cyclops nonchalantly dies towards the beginning. If that isn’t bad enough, when the other characters learn that he died…no one cares. At all.
“Oh man, Jean is out of control! She even killed Scott!”
“Oh, weird. Well, let’s go try to stop her.”
He’s barely mentioned again, and none of the characters show any concern or care whatsoever that he’s dead. Wolverine I can sort of understand since their relationship was a bit icy, but the others? Storm has been teammates with him for years – he’s led her in battle dozens of times, and they were friends. But that pales in comparison with Xavier’s lack of a reaction. Scott was more or less his son, he raised him since he was a boy, had been the leader of his team for ages…and he barely registers any sort of emotion when he learns that Scott died. What a travesty. I was fuming when this happened in the theater. And later on, of course, Xavier dies, so that’s used as a rallying cry and Scott’s death was basically pointless and redundant. I’m surprised Marsden even agreed to film X3 when the script was so clearly an “F U” to him and his character.
Cyclops was never my favorite character in the comics or cartoon, but I respected him, I knew of his importance and his leadership. The people making the X-Men movies didn’t. Obviously I have very strong feelings about this, but I can’t put him much lower than this because Marsden did a good job acting-wise and the first movie did him justice for the most part.
50. Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd, Fantastic Four, 2005; Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, 2007)
The Fantastic Four movies were relatively bad, and had some awful elements in them (especially the portrayal of Doom), but had some okay and even pretty good elements and characters in them. Reed wasn’t one of them, although he also wasn’t egregiously bad. Gruffudd’s performance was mostly just bland and wooden, and Reed just kind of came off as kind of a wimp and had no screen presence. But I suppose, in all fairness, they did stick to the comic book character relatively well, most of the elements of Reed are there, they certainly didn’t bastardize any core elements of his character. I suppose they could have shown him being more of a decisive leader. In the first movie, he just kind of hangs around for awhile and then gets kidnapped. In the second movie, he does a little bit more stuff – his abandoning spending time with Sue in order to work on science projects certainly was a staple of the comics. One strike against him was that it was kind of weird how in the second movie, he was contemplating leaving the hero life behind to start a family with Sue – I really don’t think Reed would ever consider that. How normal of a life can you really lead when you’re both public superhero celebrities? Wouldn’t the public be pissed off that you’ve decided not to use your powers to help the world anymore?
A bigger point against him, however, is that of the five heroes in the two films, Reed is the only one who never has anything remotely resembling a moment of glory and never really has much of a hand in defeating the villains. He gets kidnapped and tortured in the first film and the other three come to his rescue. Ben heroically agrees to revert back to his Thing form in order to come in and rescue him from Doom, Susan fights Doom and then creates a force field to trap Doom with Johnny while he goes supernova to defeat him, Johnny creates the aforementioned supernova and then in the second film is the one to absorb the other powers and defeat Surfer-Doom, and then the Silver Surfer is the one to sacrifice himself to defeat Galactus. Reed doesn’t really do much of anything. You would think that as the leader of the group and as the ostensible “main character” he would at least get some sort of moment to use his powers or genius to help solve the problems at bay, but he is granted no such opportunity. I saw the first movie with a group of friends and the second with my family, and in both instances they asked me why this character was granted the status of leader despite his somewhat underwhelming powers and lack of really doing much of anything. I tried to explain to them that the comic book Reed was on another stratosphere from the other three in an intelligence and tactical leadership standpoint so he was the obvious leader, but this wasn’t really on display in the films. All in all, a bland and relatively poorly acted “leading man” who doesn’t do much and stars in two overall films.
49. Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider (Nicolas Cage, Ghost Rider, 2007; Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, 2012)
First off: these films are ludicrous and a very bad portrayal of the Ghost Rider character.
Cage’s character in these films has absolutely nothing to do with Johnny Blaze in the comics. Cage decides to be an eccentric weirdo who forgoes other vices in order to have an addiction to jelly beans for some reason.
The films are rushed and bizarre. I love how, in the first film, they introduce three elemental demons (who have the powers of earth, water, and wind) and set them up as badasses, and we kind of get excited to see Ghost Rider use the power of fire to defeat them. When they finally do confront him, Ghost Rider dispatches each of them in less than 90 seconds apiece, through some simple action like waving his chain around. I also love how Sam Elliot’s character tells Blaze that he has been saving his own Ghost Rider form for one use in order to confront evil, and then Elliot transforms into his Ghost Rider form in order to travel alongside Blaze through the desert and then just disappears. Wait, what? You were saving the last remnant of your power just to pointlessly accompany him through the desert for a bit but then not actually using them to confront Blackheart?
I will admit, however, that I am not the hugest Ghost Rider fan in the comics. If I were, this character would probably be lower. However, I am a Nicholas Cage fan (in a mostly ironic way), so I can’t help but appreciate movies in which Nicolas Cage does Nicholas Cage things. In the first movie, he’s sort of reserved and bland, and if that was the only movie he appeared in this character would be much lower. He steps up the Cage-iness and hamminess in “Spirits of Vengeance,” however, giving a largely over-the-top performance where he gets to perform plenty of trademark Cage schlock.
Oh, to be sure, Spirits of Vengeance sucks and the character is a complete bastardization of the Ghost Rider character. The Ghost Rider is a hero who doesn’t condemn people for petty sins like telling white lies – that aspect of the character seems almost like it was taken from the Spider-Man villain Demogoblin. It also doesn’t seem consistent – surely every single person he comes in contact, including Nadya and Danny, with has committed some sort of minor sin like any other human at some point, right? It’s also pretty ridiculous that after “redeeming himself” at the end of the movie he’s somehow given the powers of angels instead of demons, and this is represented by his red flames turning blue…but he’s still a skeleton. If he’s now fueled by the power of Heaven instead of Hell, wouldn’t he be given a completely different appearance besides just the color of the flames? Why would the powers of Heaven still make him appear as an imposing skeleton man?
That being said, I don’t know…I know the second movie is horrible, but I still have somewhat of a soft spot for it. There’s something about it that makes me think that the ridiculousness is intentional for comedy purposes. If I was a Ghost Rider fan and purist instead of someone who was mostly ambivalent about the character, and if I didn’t have a blast watching this ridiculous Nic Cage film with my friends, he would probably be lower. He’s still deservedly in the “bad” tier, but on the basis of the second film is the first character that I found somewhat enjoyable.
And now for a very short, 3 character tier:
The “More or less neutral, but overall negative” tier.
48. John Constantine (Keanu Reeves, Constantine, 2005)
This is the first character on the list who appears in (when considered outside the comics it was based on) an overall pretty decent to good movie.
That being said, this is a character ranking, not a movie ranking, and very little of what made Constantine enjoyable had to do with Reeves’s portrayal of John Constantine itself.
The elements of what makes John Constantine a great character in the comics has little to no presence here. Keanu Reeves is playing Keanu Reeves – the character in this movie is the same character as Neo, Johnny Utah, and Jack Traven. The only exception is the role he plays in the script, and the fact that he’s a cynical chain smoker, but personality wise, it’s the same character.
In terms of differences from the comic, the first major difference is that Constantine is set in Los Angeles rather than London – probably because they didn’t want to have to force Reeves to put on a British accent after seeing his disastrous portrayal of one in Coppola’s 1992 Dracula. He also doesn’t display much of the comic book character’s wit and cunning. There isn’t much mentioned of his sorcery, replacing it with an ability to see half-demons and half-angels on Earth. His other critical trait of his adrenaline addiction is also forgone, and his other trait of keeping a wide address book and being well connected of people from various dimensions isn’t mentioned, either. So in terms of representing anything regarding the awesome comics character, this character pretty much fails.
Still, I feel like I may be somewhat biased regarding this movie since I saw it before learning much about Constantine as a comic character. I remember it as being a pretty good movie, with Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare absolutely killing their roles s Gabriel and Lucifer, respectively. Still, I realized at the time that Keanu’s performance and character weren't much of a part of what makes the movie effective, and eventually realized over time that they left a great deal on the table regarding a quite fascinating comics character in favor of a mostly bland standard Keanu protagonist, so here he sits.
47. Silk Spectre II/Laurie Juspeczyk (Malin Ackerman, Watchmen, 2009)
Constantine was a pretty decent-to-good movie, but this is the first character to appear from a really good film. As you can no doubt ascertain from this low ranking, Ackerman’s Silk Spectre II is the weak point of said film. In terms of the script, story development, and the character’s role in the film, there is nothing wrong with this character. Silk Spectre fulfills the exact same (pretty good) character and role that she does in the comics to a T.
My only complaint with this character, however, is entirely based around the fact that Ackerman’s performance is quite bland and wooden, and serves as the weak point of the film, acting-wise. The other actors in this great film act circles around her, and Ackerman is quite bland and uninspiring. The first entry that has nothing to do with the script or the character’s role and 100% to do with the actor, although I will admit that Silk Spectre is not exactly the most intriguing role in a film full of much more compelling ones. Still, though, Ackerman could have emoted much more compellingly than she did in the film.