21. Nightcrawler/Kurt Wagner (Alan Cumming, X-Men 2: X-Men United, 2003)
X2 is one of the best comic book superhero movies, and Nightcrawler and his teleporting effects are generally considered the highlight of the film.
We see this character in action right off the bat as the hypnotized Nightcrawler invades the White House and uses his teleporting power to take down several secret servicemen in order to get to the President – and it’s one of the best action scenes in the history of superhero movies. I would venture to say it’s probably the best action scene in the history of superhero movies that occurs early on in the film and not towards the end. The ways that he uses his teleporting power in creative ways to remain untouched as he goes through them and takes the men down is exhilarating.
The teleporting effects were so great and such a hit with the audience that two subsequent films made sure to replicating them despite the Nightcrawler character not being present. Using Wraith in X-Men Origins Wolverine made sense as Wraith was involved in Wolverine’s past, but having the character of Azazel (Nightcrawler’s father) in First Class was completely and blatantly shoe-horned in because they wanted to show off the teleporting abilities again. Azazel is an extra-dimensional being with lots of powers far beyond teleporting who was considered Satan himself for a long time, so having him be some Russian henchman for Shaw was a very blatant way of the producers telling the audience “Hey, you guys liked the teleporting, right? Here it is again!” Blatant as it was, we were totally fine with it.
Which is a testament to how well Nightcrawler’s abilities are used at the beginning of this movie. They are used to some degree later on a smaller scale, but not nearly as much. It would have been pretty cool to see Nightcrawler used them in a more all-out manner in the final battle to take people down.
But enough about his powers, what about Nightcrawler as a character? Well, he isn’t given all that much to do throughout most of the film besides provide them with the location of the base and a couple uses of his teleporting to save people and then get Storm into Dark Cerebro. The X-Men find him and then take him along for the ride, pretty much. There’s a pretty funny ongoing joke about how he keeps trying to explain his name and moniker but keeps getting cut off. But he still gets plenty of screen time and slow moments, and we’re able to see that the character himself is excellently adapted.
His defining trait is his faith, as a devout Catholic, symbolized visually by the markings he has put on his skin for every sin he has committed. His speech about how he pities humans because of their ignorance and how faith is needed to survive is definitely his best non-action scene, giving us really good insight into the depth of the character and why he acts the way he does. It’s especially impressive since he’s interacting with Storm in those scenes and not an actual character. He also gets a little bit of a character arc, as he adamantly refuses to teleport anywhere if he can’t see where he’s going at first, but then after Storm echoes “faith” to him, he does what’s needed.
All in all it’s really a huge shame that Cumming couldn’t stand the makeup and they weren’t able to get him back for X3. X3 didn’t even explain his absence, they put the explanation for his absence in a tie-in video game. It was bizarre that they never mentioned it in the film, as the reason given in the video game (after going on a few missions he realized that a life of violence wasn’t for him) actually makes a lot of sense, and I think the fans deserved to know why their favorite character from the last film is missing.
Overall, Nightcrawler is the highlight of a great film, as a character with awesome powers who was also done quite well from a character/personality standpoint. He’s the runner up in the contest of “best superhero in a supporting role” for this list. And number one is…
20. The Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers, 2012)
Pretty much everything about this portrayal is great, and is the source for a lot of the fun in the movie, and everyone considers it a highlight of the film.
First off, visually, he’s quite impressive. The decision to make the Hulk actually look like Ruffalo was a great decision by Whedon, and helps sell it a lot.
I’m sure you remember all the awesome scenes the Hulk had. The fight with Thor, going around and beating up all the space aliens with glee, the scene where Loki is talking about how great he is and then the Hulk just grabs him and throws him around like a ragdoll in a superb comedic moment that had the audience laughing and cheering so much that no one even heard him say “puny God” afterwards. My favorite moment, though, is when he teams up with Thor to beat up a bunch of aliens, the two of them stand together for a moment to admire their work – and then Hulk turns and punches Thor to the other side of the room. Just a small humorous moment to let him know there’s still a bit of resentment from their fight earlier.
In addition, Ruffalo does a great job playing Bruce Banner in civilian form. He’s a Banner who has, to some degree, accepted his lot in life and is a bit more relaxed and less brooding. You can’t help get the sense that he’s having a lot of fun interacting with everybody, we don’t see him ruminating about his condition. He’s hanging out on a spaceship having fun. His relationship to the other characters is pulled off quite well also – he and Tony are both scientists, so we see them bond and become buddies, and he gets some jabs in towards the others. The other characters besides Tony are cautious around him because they know what he’s capable of, and he actually has some fun with it, taking advantage of the fact that he’s a quiet scientist but all these powerful beings are constantly walking on eggshells around him.
Throughout the film, Banner brushes off the others’ concerns of a “Hulk out,” saying he’s in control. In the end, his reasoning for this (“I’m always angry”) is well earned and very clever and a great interpretation of the character.
So people rightfully called him the highlight of the film. A lot of people also said that it’s the best overall portrayal of the character so far, that Whedon is finally the one to get the Hulk “right.” And some even said “Wow, I can’t believe he finally pulled off the Hulk, and it was an even tougher, it was in an ensemble film!”
I can understand why people called it the best portrayal, but NOT the point of “I can’t believe the Hulk was finally done right in an ensemble film, which makes it even tougher.” No, no, no. The fact that he’s in an ensemble film makes pulling off a satisfying Hulk much, much easier.
In this film, Hulk is the “fun uncle.” He’s like a guy who comes by occasionally with presents to visit his nephew/niece, and the kid loves him because whenever the fun uncle comes by it always means presents and fun and never any discipline or other elements of parenting. Whether or not the “fun uncle” can support children of his own is up in the air – it’s certainly possible, but his role as the fun guy who comes around every once in awhile in his nephew/niece’s life is not necessarily indicative of it.
Similarly, the Hulk in this movie gets to do fun Hulk things and we don’t have to worry about too much character development, and he doesn’t have the burden of carrying the entire film. Whedon can pick and choose his spots when to use Hulk to make it the most satisfying. The Avengers had the built-in advantage of “Oh boy, I can’t wait for the Hulk to show up and smash stuff!” – if the entire film is based on Hulk and the film is filled with the Hulk showing up and smashing stuff from the early points of the film onward, it’s much, much more difficult to pull off a moment as satisfying and hilarious as the Loki smash. Now that isn’t to say that Ruffalo’s Hulk couldn’t be involved in a great solo film, it’s just not necessarily indicative of it. (and based on the fact that a certain other character hasn’t appeared yet, I’m sure you can tell that I think Marvel Studios is perfectly capable of making a great Hulk film).
Now that being said, this is not in ANY way a flaw in the film and I basically wouldn’t change anything about the way the character in the film (except some elements of the Widow chase scene, it had some unfortunate undertones). The Hulk is used almost perfectly, and gets a fantastic response from the audience. But I do feel that there may be a reaction of “Hey, this character made everyone in the theater stand up and cheer, the characters you’ve put ahead of him never did that!” (especially that aforementioned character in particular) and believe me, I struggled with that as well. But at some point there needs to be a distinction between great supporting characters, who are much easier to get right and don’t have to do as much, and great main characters, who have the burden of carrying the film.
Ultimately, after analyzing it a lot, I made this the distinction and cut off mark, and Ruffalo’s Hulk gets the honor of “best superhero in a supporting role in a Marvel/DC movie.” Nothing but major characters from this point forward.
The Great Tier
ii. Major characters
Now we're really getting into the best of the best. Some of these characters do appear in bad movies, but with the exception of one character who achieves very low depths in one of their films but is offset by the extreme highs in their others (take a wild guess who that might be) it's mostly nothing but praise from this point forward.
19. Robin/Dick Grayson (Burt Ward, Batman, 1966)
18. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Adam West, Batman, 1966)
First of all, I will take note that the television series version of the character takes no part here, and that I am only basing these rankings based on the theatrically-released film itself. They’re played the same way, definitely, so you might think that it doesn’t matter since the characters are exactly the same as the way they’re portrayed on the show. The only reason this makes an impact is the fact that the full impact of the TV show (its enjoyment, consistency, popularity, and historical impact) is not taken into account here, and if this was a ranking of “superhero portrayals in any medium” these characters would probably be higher based on that fact, but here I am only rating them based on their appearance in one singular 105 minute comedy film. I obviously can’t avoid talking about the show itself during this analysis, however.
Now, everyone loves to “make fun” of this movie. Everyone knows about the bat-shark repellant, about the running around with a bomb on his head, the “BAMs” and “POWs” that come up onscreen. So they mock it for its stupidity, and laugh at the movie. This always confused me. These people don’t realize that they’re not laughing AT the movie, they’re laughing WITH the movie.
It doesn’t get said enough – nothing about what makes this film (or the show) funny is unintentional. They knew exactly what they were doing. This is a comedy. They had Batman grab a can of bat shark repellent in order for you, the audience, to laugh at the fact that it’s ridiculous and implausible that he would have a can of shark repellent on hand!
There are a lot of parodies out there of this show/movie (especially, parodies of the visual sound effects). Like the “campy Radioactive Man TV series” shown in the Simpsons. I never quite understood this. You’re making a parody of something that was already a parody! The Batman series and movie were intended to be enjoyed in their own right, but also served as a parody of old serials, as well as comic book conventions that were occurring at the time.
I mean, just look at this part of the producer’s note in the opening sequence.
And to lovers of adventure, lovers of pure escapism, lovers of unadulterated entertainment, lovers of the ridiculous and the bizarre--- to funlovers everywhere---this picture is respectfully dedicated.
They call their own movie “ridiculous and bizarre” in the first few seconds!
And Adam West’s performance really is what sells most of it. Despite being faced with such ludicrous situations, he plays it completely straight. Everything that occurs is completely natural to him and he sells it with his conviction. Ward is good at this as well, but more enjoyment comes from West so he’s one spot higher.
Obviously, this is not the dark Batman. Not at all. The Wayne murder is not mentioned in this film (and was only mentioned once in the TV show, in the pilot). He’s Batman because, well, crime has to be stopped, doggone it, and he’s the one to do it!
There’s obviously been some backlash against this depiction of Batman. It’s obviously a completely different character than the brooding dark one a lot of people prefer, and people who love the dark Batman think that’s the only version that can possibly exist, they want “the true Batman.” They hate this comedic version and want to sweep it under the rug, so they decry it and want to pretend it never existed.
Since there are obviously two “dark” and serious versions of Batman that are ranked ahead of this one, I certainly am someone who appreciates the potential that Batman has as a serious character. However, I feel there’s room for this version of the character to exist as well, that real enjoyment (albeit a completely different type) can come out of it, and it’s a mistake to decry it and pretend it never existed.
One look at superdickery.com will tell you that, yes, there was a period of time where the Batman comics being released largely filled with somewhat campy and ridiculous romps. Some consider this a chicken and the egg scenario, blame the success of the TV show on helping perpetuate this period of camp in the comics and delaying a more serious dark detective interpretation in the comics, which they resent. In any case, you can’t deny the fact that this version of Batman does have a basis.
In any case, this is about the movie itself. The movie pretty much the same as the show, except on a larger scale. There are a few changes, however. There are obviously no cliffhangers, which the episodes frequently ended with. Another difference is that instead of the BLAMs and the POWs are shown full-screen, they become small bits of text that appear onscreen during the battle screens (so that more of the action can be seen, presumably). The film’s budget is a little larger, we get more vehicles, and the stakes are raised – this isn’t a small scheme that the episodes of the show would focus on. As Batman correctly deduces, the fact that FOUR villains have teamed up means that surely their minimum objective must be…the entire world!
Other than that, it’s the same thing as the show.
Obviously, I had a hard time ranking these characters. The parameters for what makes this movie good are wildly different than any other film on the list – this is the only film that is intentionally a comedy.
And what a comedy it is.
First off, I think my absolute favorite parts of the show are the way that they always correctly solve the Riddler’s riddles and then brush them off like they were easy. We get some good ones here. The best:
Commissioner Gordon (reading a note from the Riddler): What weighs six ounces, sits in a tree and is very dangerous?
Robin (almost immediately): A sparrow with a machine gun!
Gordon: Yes, of course.
And he’s correct! What?
The best scene in the film is the bomb scene. He grabs the bomb and looks for a way to get rid of it, but keeps running into people and things (nuns, a baby in a stroller), sometimes twice. As he is about to throw it into the water but stops because he sees some baby ducks, he stops and delivers a perfectly timed “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!” A brilliant piece of physical comedy. And the best part is, for the most part, people on the streets don’t even notice the fact that Batman is running around frantically holding a giant bomb over his head.
So as I mentioned earlier, these characters were difficult to rank because the parameters are completely different than any other film on this list. How can I rank the attributes of one-dimension characters from a 105 minute work of insane comedy against characters from serious films? West and Ward’s performances are great and carry the whole film, so ultimately I couldn’t have them below any supporting characters. But ultimately this is a character rank, and the portrayals of these two (while perfect) are fantastic comedy vehicles but don’t have anything resembling depth or emotion. And I wouldn’t want them to – it’s what sells the movie – but ultimately I have to respectfully have them below the serious major characters in the great tier even if you can argue that Batman 1966 does what it’s trying to do way better than some of the films later on in this list.