36. Phoenix/Jean Grey (Famke Janssen, X:Men, 2000; X2, 2003; X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006)
Man did I have a difficult time choosing where to place this character.
On one hand, her portrayal in the first two films is spot on. Jean is obviously not the flashiest character and doesn’t exactly have the juiciest stuff to work with, but Janssen does a very good job. Jean is a calming presence, she is obviously intelligent, and Janssen has a good performance. With a lesser actress, Jean could have been forgettable and bland like Storm, but Janssen gives her enough personality to make her likable. Her chemistry with Wolverine is also pretty good.
I especially like that she isn’t used as sex appeal – I don’t remember any gratuitous shots of her ass anywhere. I also like that she is a solver, that she is smart, and never gets kidnapped, instead being the one to do the rescuing in the first two movies. Also, it’s not too often you see a female character be the one to pull off the big heroic sacrifice to save the day at the end of a movie.
Overall, if she was only in the first two movies, she would be much higher. But, unfortunately, X3 exists.
There are some entries on this list where the character appears in both good and bad movies, and I cut them some slack for appearing the bad ones, especially if the good movies come to the forefront when thinking about that character.
That’s pretty hard to do with Jean, however, considering that the third film retroactively changes everything you thought you knew about the character from the previous movies.
Now, I understand the need for a change in the Dark Phoenix storyline. No doubt introducing the cosmic entity element would have been a very poor choice that would have baffled readers. And, in all fairness, I can’t think of a very good alternative way to do the Dark Phoenix storyline myself (in retrospect it probably would have been better not to touch it at all, although most fans including myself didn’t realize this at the time of X2, excited by the hints towards it like her glowing red eyes and the Phoenix symbol at the end).
Still, what they chose did not work at all. As you know, it turns out that Jean had a buried split personality the whole time, which is dubbed as “The Phoenix” for some reason even though it has little to do with Phoenix’s. Oh, and by the way, it turns out Phoenix is the most powerful being on Earth. By far, not even close. The super duper ultra god level mutant.
The split personality wasn’t with her since birth, but actually created by Xavier when he put blocks into her mind as a child in order to limit her powers since he didn’t trust her. This pushed her elite-level powers into her subconscious mind, which Jean’s conscious mind didn’t have control of , and thus created an alternate personality. Good old timey comic book nonsensical pseudo-science babble for ya.
There are two major problems with this concept. First off, is the fact that Jean’s growth as a character is slightly hindered from the first movie in retrospect. Oh, to be sure, X2 had tons of hints that something like this was going on as her powers rapidly increased. X1, however, had a nice little arc for her where she doesn’t fully trust herself or her powers and doesn’t want to use Cerebro, but she bravely agrees to stretch her powers to the limit and use it in a time of crisis to help save the day. In retrospect, now we know that there was this unlimited source of power in there that was simply being blocked, and using Cerebro helped break through a barrier made by Xavier. Second problem is that it requires a series of bafflingly stupid decisions by Xavier, but I'll get into that in his section.
Now, that being said, this concept in and of itself COULD have been good if it was used well, in the right hands. Hands that didn’t belong to Bret Ratner. Check out this quote from X2 screenplay writer Mike Daugherty (who left X3 with Bryan Singer for Superman Returns) on how he and singer were planning on handling it:
“The idea – you open up with Alkali Lake but it’s completely barren and dried up and there are these odd reports of strange phenomena going on around the world accompanied by bright lights in the sky.”
“The idea would be that both the X-Men and the Brotherhood realize that essentially a very god-like force had entered their reality and that it was causing disruptions around the world – mutant prisons being decimated. I had pitched an idea about a fleet of cargo ships getting torn apart in the Atlantic and you found out that they were shuttling mutants as slave labor.”
“So basically you found out was that Phoenix was going round the world taking things into her own hands and that she had basically returned as a god, which they did touch upon in X3. She had viewed herself as above the conflict, that she was here to end things on her terms, she was basically sick of the fighting and she was going to take things into her own hands and she didn’t give a **** what the X-Men or the Brotherhood had to say about it.”
You can see storyboards for this here:
We would to have to see how they pulled it off in practice, but that could have been pretty cool, right?
Instead, we got a bizarre plot element that really seemed rushed and stupid. What we got was a Phoenix who...stands around. Stands around and stares, and occasionally has moments where she destroys things around her when the plot needs her too.
The character has no real clear motivation or purpose, which I guess could be attributed to the fact that it’s a manifestation of a subconscious, but in reality it just seems like a cheap device to have Phoenix factor into the plot when needed, and stand around and do nothing when needed. The film should have either focused on the Phoenix storyline OR the mutant cure storyline, not both. Or at least, incorporated them together better. This results in a baffling ending where Phoenix stands around doing nothing while the mutant cure storyline resolves itself on Alcatraz – Magneto doesn’t use her to break in or do his bidding or tie into that at all, she just stands around waiting for that storyline to finish, and then once it’s done she decides it’s time to start doing her psychic rage stuff. Baffling, lazy, and stupid.
Like I said, I had a hard time placing this character, especially because it’s a superhero ranking and the film she’s being penalized for is one in which she mostly functions as a villain. Still, as a character ranking, I have to penalize the character for her most defining arc in the comics being an absolute disaster onscreen. Still, she does end up in the “Good” category, as the first two films gave us a rare example of a female superhero who is smart, competent, likable, and isn’t used as a sex symbol.
35. Daredevil/Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck, Daredevil, 2003)
The movie that was released in theaters was okay. I enjoyed a lot of it, but I wouldn’t call it a “good” movie at all. It had lots of issues, especially with pacing, editing, and tone. It had a lot of bad looking and unnecessary CGI, the fight scenes were a little out of whack and filmed weirdly.
Most of the movie is decently enjoyable, but there are two scenes that bring it down. The fight between Matt and Elektra on the playground, in broad daylight, was unbelievably stupid and hard to watch. The ending is a bit of a mess – despite recently being wounded by Elektra, he defeats Bullseye, and then IMMEDIATELY goes on to fight the Kingpin in hand to hand combat. (which he is able to do as the Kingpin sends away all of his security because he wants to face Daredevil one on one.) That’s idiotic, the Kingpin’s reasoning is really dumb and is only there to pretty blatantly tell the audience “eh, we’re just about ready to end this now.” It really makes the audience scratch their heads. Wouldn’t it have been much better to have a scene where Daredevil takes down a bunch of Fisk’s bodyguards and cronies in order to get to him? That would have been much more satisfying, and we wouldn’t have had the redundancy of the fact that there are two one on one battles with the main antagonists back to back.
As I’m sure most of you know, there was a director’s cut of this film released that was a HUGE improvement. 30 minutes were added, but it also deleted and replaced scenes from the theatrical release. However, the director’s cut was never released in theaters, so I’m not taking it into account here. This ranking is based only on what we saw in theaters.
Still, even though I wouldn’t quite call the theatrically released movie good, I’m able to put the character himself in the overall “positive” category. Affleck’s acting performance is pretty good, not fantastic or anything but he is effective. A lot of the character building scenes are pretty decent. There are a bunch of moments where he gets morose and introspective and I thought those were alright, but is also able to show a decent amount of likable humor when he’s in his everyday life as a lawyer. In costume, he gets to do a few cool things, and I liked him overall. The costume I also thought was pretty good. Overall, I wasn’t blown away by him and the movie has a bunch of flaws, but I still liked the character overall.
34. Superman/Clark Kent (Brandon Routh, Superman Returns, 2006)
Another entry that I had all over the map at certain points.
There were some characters on this list, like Jean Grey for example, who are part of both good and bad movies, and I had a hard time debating the excellent high points in the good movies and the horrible low points in the bad ones.
Brandon Routh’s Superman is similar in that I am having a hard time finding a settling spot for him as I have to consider some attributes that reach very high peaks, and attributes that reach some low valleys. Only difference is, the attributes of Routh’s Superman reach these extremes within the span of one single movie.
The highs: I mean, my god, look at him, he’s Christopher Reeve’s Superman reincarnated. He fills out the suit extremely well and looks natural. He has a commanding presence and you really feel like you’re watching Superman when you see him. But perhaps just as importantly, he also (albeit all too briefly) does a fantastic job as Reeve’s bumbling, charming Clark Kent. He doesn’t get much to work with, but I think Routh kills it. I totally understand why people wanted him to return for Man of Steel, even though it would have been confusing to have the same actor play the same character in different continuities. Some of the action scenes are great, especially the one with the plane, and give you an exhilarating sense of watching Superman in action.
The lows: He is the deadbeat dad of a bastard child. The movie itself and its plot aren’t very good. His chemistry with Lois is low, even though I think that’s largely Bosworth’s fault. He is the deadbeat dad of a bastard child. He doesn’t get all that much depth or character development, and it seems like he’s used more of a Christ analogy than an actual character, and doesn’t even seem to have all that much dialogue. The movie is more or less devoid of any sense of fun or adventure. How in the hell did people not think anything of it when Superman and Clark Kent both return from a 5-year hiatus on the exact same day? He is the deadbeat dad of a bastard child.
OK sorry to keep harping on that child point. I know that he wasn’t aware that he impregnated Lois, but still, he obviously didn’t use protection or anything so one would think he might check up on her or at least wait before departing on his oh-so-important space mission. Also, I’m going to bring up a point that Kevin Smith made in his stand up routine where he talked about the movie, in the fact that Superman apparently erased Lois’s memories of having sex with him, so when she realizes that her son has Superman’s powers she is going to think that Superman raped her at some point. Also, Bosworth was 22 when the movie was made, and he apparently had sex with her five years ago…yeah.
All in all, I think Routh himself did a great job and there were moments that elicited exuberance. So much so that I can’t help think back on the character as overall positive. However, I cannot ignore all of the negative points, especially the fact that the paragon of Truth, Justice, and the American way is a deadbeat dad of a bastard child, so I have him here as the last member of the “Neutral but Mostly Positive” tier and can’t quite move him up into the “Good” tier.
Routh’s superman is the end of the “Neutral but Mostly Positive” tier. Now we have the “Good” tier. These characters I would all legitimately consider “good.” I’ll still have criticisms for quite a few, but some of the descriptions will have nothing but positive elements in them, and the only reason they’re lower than other entries is because the positive elements of the characters ahead of them were stronger.