46. War Machine/James Rhodes (Don Cheadle, Iron Man 2, 2010)
First, a brief note: Terence Howard’s performance as James Rhodes from the first film is not on this list because he only served as a supporting character and never actually became a superhero in it, and this is a list of superheroes.
Overall, Iron Man 2 was not all that bad, but something about this character and performance left me very cold.
I didn’t mind, upon first hearing it, that Howard was recast with Cheadle for the second film. Cheadle was a great actor, surely he could pull off a relatively simple role like this flawlessly.
Once I actually saw the film, however…mehhh. Something about this character really rubbed me the wrong way. With Howard, you could really see the chemistry between him and Tony, and could see why they were friends. With Cheadle, however, it seems a bit perplexing. Maybe this is partly a reflection on the fact that they switched actors between the two movies, but we don’t really see much of a buildup of Rhodey and Tony’s friendship in this movie and so it rings a bit hollow. And for the most part, they sort of act like they don’t really even like each other throughout the film. Howard had a certain friendliness, charm, and exuberance, and we could see why him and Tony would be friends. With Cheadle, however, he seemingly acts like he can barely stand Tony throughout most of the film, so their verbal assurances that they are friends ring a bit hollow.
Overall, I sort of thought that this character was a bit of a jerk. He acts superior to Tony despite betraying him at one point. Tony does engage in some less than heroic behavior at several points to make this justifiable, but the fact that we are so drawn in and sympathetic with Downey’s great performance makes us immediately side with him and hold some disdain towards Rhodes for being judgmental and side with Tony in their physical confrontation despite the fact that Tony has displayed questionable judgement at that point in time. Rhodes also learns to pilot the War Machine armor basically immediately despite the fact that we saw that it took Tony quite some bit of time to master how to use the armor, in an obvious plot convenience. Overall, a performance that didn’t exactly endear the audience to the character and left me cold, but not egregiously bad.
War Machine is the last character who's portrayal is overall negative. Next up is the "Neutral to Good" tier, where the characters have flaws but left an overall positive impression.
The decent, mostly positive tier
45. Shadowcat/Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page, X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006)
Obviously the Shadowcats in the first two movies were far too minor to be included. In X3, though, the Ellen Page version is given a real character. And it’s…okay, I guess. A minor character that isn’t offensive, but doesn’t stand out either. Her relationship with Bobby was a bit weird and hard to figure out, and it was sort of weird how Rogue was built up throughout the first two movies and then Kitty comes in and basically takes her role for the most part in the third one, but I’ll talk about that in their respective sections. Page, I suppose, does an okay acting job with what she’s given, and the character’s powers are put on display and used in some creative way. The most offensive thing about her is her juvenilely calling the Juggernaut a “d*ckhead.”
44. (tie) Havok/Alex Summers (Lucas Till, X-Men: First Class, 2011),
Banshee/Sean Cassidy (Caleb Landry Jones, X-Men: First Class, 2011)
There isn’t too much wrong with these characters when taken in the context of the film itself. Still, this is a list of “greatest superheroes,” and at some point minor and supporting characters who don’t stand out much are going to be pushed down below more prominent ones even if the minor characters don’t really have many flaws within the context of the film and the major ones have some spots.
They work well within the context of the film – they’re not just thrown in. They have flaws and fears, and they learn to overcome them and how to control their powers so they can help out in the end battle in a satisfying way. Banshee and Havok serve the plot well, are decently well developed and they have their moments, although they’re obviously overshadowed by Xavier, Magneto, Mystique, and Beast and aren’t terribly memorable after watching the movie.
I do have to take into consideration, however, the fact that these characters basically have very little in common with their comic book counterparts besides the names and powers. Which I was totally okay with for the purposes of the film telling a story, but this is a character ranking where the characters are taken on their own, so a factor like that detracts from them.
For Banshee, I’m not entirely sure why they didn’t make him Irish. That’s a pretty defining trait of the character, and there’s really no reason for them to change it. Maybe they thought it would be better if Charles and Erik kept their search local to the U.S., but Sean could have been someone from Ireland who moved to America. Really no reason to change it and could have helped give the team somewhat of an international flavor. That being said, I thought it was a good idea in general to include Banshee in general since he was a relatively well known X-Men member who was usually portrayed as slightly older than most of the others.
For Havok, I have no idea why he was included in a film set in the 1960’s. I didn’t mind it upon seeing the film, but it still somewhat baffles me. They must have really liked his powers and the visual potential of using them, because Havok in the comics is mostly known for being Cyclops’s brother and his relationship with Scott is probably his most defining one. They still gave him the last name Summers and Bryan Singer mentioned that he was still related to Scott in some way, so it seems like they’re probably going to make him his father instead, which is kind of weird. Till isn’t signed on to Days of Future Past yet, so I wonder if the character will re-appear and we’ll find out the answer.
42. Kestrel/John Wraith (will.i.am, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 2009)
A comic book character so minor and obscure that no one cares about him or knows about him, portrayed by a musician (of a mostly disliked musical group), playing a character in a universally reviled movie. One would think will.i.am’s portrayal of John Wraith would place much lower on the list, and not in the “overall positive” category.
And yet, this character and performance was far from a blight on the terrible “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” film. To the contrary, this performance and character was a bright spot of it.
Wraith doesn’t do anything terribly special, but he is portrayed as a cool and competent character who knows what he’s doing. It’s fairly clear that this obscure comic book character largely portrayed a role in the film since the movie-makers saw the visual success of Nightcrawler’s teleport abilities in X2 and wanted to include another teleporter (the same reason Azazel was included in X-Men: First Class), although Wraith does play a part in Wolverine’s origins so it wasn’t a stretch or anything.
The teleporting effects are, despite their blatant use, pretty cool, and will.i.am does a pretty decent job, and we do kind of feel bad when he dies. They also were pretty faithful to Wraith's appearance and history in the comics, which was nice of them, considering no one cares about him in the comics. Still, however, he’s a minor character in a horrible movie, so he can’t rise up too far.
41. The Human Torch/ Johnny Storm (Chris Evans, Fantastic Four, 2005; Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, 2007)
Chris Evans is a good actor, as evidenced by the fact he has another role that’s much higher on the list. And while the Fantastic Four movies were bad, he wasn’t the reason why. I actually sort of enjoyed him in these movies, and thought some of the intentional humor was pretty good. The interplay and banter between him and the Thing was genuinely funny at times and probably the best part of the first film. I liked some of the pranks he played, like when Ben first woke up in the hospital after the spaceship gets back.
The second film, while overall stronger, doesn’t quite have as many humorous moments from this character that worked. I still didn’t find the character to be a weak point, however. I can see why some would think he got annoying at times but I didn’t mind it much, I thought he was sort of a welcome break from the mind-numbingly dull Reed, Sue and Doom, and his personality was pretty consistent with the comics. The effects of him becoming the Human Torch aren’t terrible. Not super impressive, but not terrible and they don’t take you out of the movie.
Still, you do have to consider that he plays a part in two pretty wacky and not entirely well-written movies, so some of the plot shenanigans he gets into have to be considered. I thought the entire thing about them switching powers around because of the Surfer got a bit wacky, and Johnny was on the forefront of most of that.
Let’s also give Evans a little bit of acting props for what must have been a tough job – whenever the movies blatantly made Jessica Alba get naked for some reason, he had to pretend to be grossed out by it.
40. Superman/Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve, Superman, 1978; Superman II, 1980; Superman III, 1983; Superman IV: The Quest for Peace)
Despite all the obviously hokey and ridiculous moments, this portrayal of Superman definitely still had a good deal of charm, and I’m willing to forgive a little bit of the ridiculousness due to the obvious fact that it’s a product of its time.
Oh, wait, whoops! Sorry, I got confused. This one isn’t supposed to appear until later. Sorry, I meant to put a different Superman here with the last name Reeve/s.
The real 40. Superman/Clark Kent (George Reeves, Superman and the Mole Men, 1951)
Sorry, this is the one I meant to put here.
This movie was a film, not a serial. It was intended to help create a TV show, but it was indeed a theatrically released film with its own storyline, thus making it not only the first Superman film, but in fact the first superhero film ever released.
So, clearly this movie has a vast historical significance. As for its quality while watching it? Uh, that’s a bit of a different story. Obviously it has to be judged somewhat as a product of its time, and the fact that it had the budget of a 50’s TV show and not a 50’s movie has to be taken into consideration as well.
The plot is that an oil well digging to near the center of the earth causes subterranean creatures called “moleman” to rise to the surface. They’re short, wear bald caps, have bushy eyebrows, and are radioactive.
You’re probably thinking to yourself that in a Superman movie, naturally these creatures come out and Superman has to fight them and protect the humans from them.
Surprisingly, it’s the opposite. Superman has to protect the molemen from prejudiced mobs of humans, and spends most of the time talking about prejudice and acceptance.
In a lot of ways, that’s actually kind of cool. A clichéd message now, but taking a stand against racial discrimination actually sort of meant something in 1951.
That being said, it’s not a very good movie on its own. The movie is pretty sluggish – there is a very long scene involving a mob chasing the molemen around that goes way too long.
It’s also not very Supermanly – he displays his powers enough times, but he never gets into any fights. He gets in the way of a bullet, he bends a rifle, but never throws a punch or anything, and barely flies. A lot of what he does is stand around lecturing people. There’s no adventure here, and Superman isn’t even in costume for all that long. To be sure, acting as a peace-maker and preaching tolerance is definitely part of Superman’s character as well, but it seems an odd choice to showcase that side of his character in his first theatrical film.
The movie obviously contains tons of 50’s B-movie schlock. For example, there is a scene where Lois and Clark are told that the oil well is digging 6 miles under the earth, and Lois says “Why, 6 miles, that’s practically to the center of the Earth!” She isn’t saying that as an exaggeration – she actually is trying to tell the viewer that the center of the earth is only slightly more than 6 miles down in this universe. (and she’s right – the molemen are said to come out of the center of the earth, and come up through that very hole). I find it hard to believe that even in 1950 they could be so radically wrong about something like that. Clearly using a fraction of common sense would let you know that 6 miles is barely a fraction of the distance to the center of the earth.
As for Reeve himself, he does a fine job with what he’s given. He certainly looks the part of Superman, and is stoic and imposing enough. His job as Clark Kent is a little shakier, he doesn’t change his personality one iota from that of his Superman personality. Other portrayals (including his predecessor from the serials, Kirk Alyn, who Reeve replaced for this film when Alyn demanded too much money) incorporated a difference of personality and gave Clark a bumbling everyman charm to help sell the difference between the two. Still, you have to give some respect to this movie and portrayal for its historic value, and the take on Superman itself works quite well onscreen.
This movie is viewable on YouTube in its entirety – check it out if you’re a huge Superman fan or for its historical value. It’s an alright movie for its time, but don’t expect to be thoroughly entertained.