Hard-Traveling Fanboys: Countdown (Most Disappointing Superhero Movies)

Mild-mannered reporters by day, Greg Phillips and Nick Duke share an intense love of comic books that has made them the Hard-Traveling Fanboys. And if there’s anything that fanboys love, it’s debating what book is better than another book or which character is “cooler.” Enter Countdown, a monthly column where Greg and Nick will give a top 5 list and debate the merits therein.

Nick: Hello, loyal readers, and welcome to this month’s edition of Countdown. Last week, we left off Secret Origins by talking about a couple of the major letdowns in cinematic superheroism during 2005 and 2006. So, now we’re going to take you through our own most disappointing superhero movies of all time.

And remember, this is not the “worst” superhero movies, so if you’re expecting Catwoman or Elektra, they likely won’t be appearing.

Greg: Movies based on comic books have taken over Hollywood. From traditional superheroes like Superman and Captain America to more off-the-wall properties like R.I.P.D. and Jonah Hex, we’ve seen a lot of our favorite stories translated to the big screen. Not all of these projects lived up to our expectations, though. We’re not discussing the worst superhero films. In fact, some of these might not even be bad films, per se. They’re simply the movies we were most excited about that left us feeling deflated in the end.

Greg’s No. 5: Batman Forever

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Nick: I have a lot of things to say about Batman Forever, but I’ll hold off for a bit. For now, suffice it to say that I’m glad it popped up on your list.

Greg: When the summer of 1995 hit, 11-year-old Greg was unimaginably excited for the upcoming sequel to Tim Burton’s “Batman” and “Batman Returns.” Sure, Michael Keaton was gone, but Val Kilmer was hot off the heels of one of my all-time favorite performances in “Tombstone.” He was probably my favorite actor at that point. And I had no idea how important the director was, at that age.

While I enjoyed the movie when I first saw it, it ultimately left me feeling completely unsatisfied on each rewatch. I was watching “Batman: The Animated Series” completely redefine how to tell Batman stories each afternoon, and here was a movie that couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. From Tommy Lee Jones’ cackling misfire on Two-Face to Jim Carrey’s mediocre Frank Gorshin impression, the movie came up short in both the comedy and drama departments. For all the good things that are there (some excellent scenes between Bruce and Alfred, better fight scenes than the first two films) there are even more horrible things that ruin the experience. Ultimately, this is as good an example as “Batman and Robin” of how poorly Joel Schumacher understood the characters.

Nick: Completely agree with everything here. I’ll add more in a bit. Anyway, moving on!

Nick’s No. 5: X-Men: The Last Stand

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Greg: Like you with Forever, I’ll reserve comment on this. It isn’t a terrible movie, but it certainly failed to achieve its goals.

Nick: While I know that Greg will have this one a bit higher on his list than I do, this is a movie that still let me down quite a bit. X2, at that point, was my favorite Marvel movie, and the stage seemed set for one of the great all-time cinematic adaptations in the Dark Phoenix Saga. And for me, the movie even started off well enough, what with Jean’s resurrection and the death of Cyclops (Cause screw him, that’s why). But, it soon fell apart, as unnecessary character after unnecessary character was introduced and then never fleshed out. Characters like Angel, Kitty Pryde and the Juggernaut were never given the just due that their characters from the comics deserved. And if you want to talk about underwhelming fight scenes, the final showdown between Pyro and Iceman might go down as the biggest fight scene letdown ever. Brett Ratner crippled the franchise, and it’s a miracle that we’ve gotten back to the point of being excited about an X-Men sequel again.

Greg: To quote the Iron Sheik, “You said it perfect, Bubba.” But we’ll get back to the third X-Men movie a bit later.

Greg’s No. 4: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III

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Nick: Man, I had forgotten all about this one. I kind of enjoy it in that “so bad it’s good” kind of way, but I can see the reason for a kid to be disappointed in how the movie turned out.

Greg: Because many of us grew up with the Saturday morning cartoon series, it’s easy to forget that Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael originated in a comic book series by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. I adored the first two movies in the Turtles franchise as a kid. And guess what? I still do.

Nick: Yeah, the people who try to retroactively hate on those movies can stick it. I still love them both, “Ninja Rap” and all.

Oh, you know you loved it.
Oh, you know you loved it.

Greg: Needless to say, my cousin and I were pumped when my parents agreed to drive us to the only nearby theater that was showing Turtles III, which was about 45 minutes away in Sarasota, Fla. We were a little unsure of the premise, which revolved around the Turtles going back in time, but the TV ads seemed to indicate Shredder might still be involved. Or even, we hoped, Krang! Instead what we got were nameless, faceless villains that had no connection to the comics or the TV show. No Rocksteady or Bebop, no Shredder and no Krang. The budget was unimpressive, the humor was missing, and taking the Turtles out of Manhattan and into feudal Japan removed the sense of fun and mystery. Think a really boring, really badly written version of “The Last Samurai,” but with mutated turtles.

The feeling I had leaving the theater was similar to the feeling I had watching William Wallace die in “Braveheart,” or watching Bret Hart lose to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 12.

Nick: Yeah, that movie really didn’t seem to know its audience. Kids don’t really care about the politics of feudal Japan being introduced to western technology for the first time.

Nick’s No. 4: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

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Greg: Oof. EXCELLENT choice.

Nick: Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “If you were so disappointed in The Last Stand, why exactly were you so excited about the first Wolverine movie?” The answer is simple: The first three X-Men movies, through all their highs and lowest of lows, had always had one consistent element: Hugh Jackman’s nearly perfect portrayal of Wolverine, and the way he fit into the plot. So, when details began to surface about Origins and the cast was slowly revealed, I began to get really excited. Gambit! A non-mute Sabretooth! More William Stryker! And again, GAMBIT!

But.

But.

But……..

Then I saw the movie. And to call it a trainwreck is an insult to trainwrecks.

Greg: I still like the first third or so of the movie. And then he gets adamantium and it becomes one of the worst things you’ll ever see. Bad CGI, a horrendous script, nonsensical character decisions, some horrendous acting and the metaphorical castration of Deadpool.

Nick: The entire movie is one badly written, poorly acted, poorly cast, overly contrived mess. From the terrible CGI to the atrocious Blob effects to Taylor Kitsch’s Razzie-worthy portrayal of everyone’s favorite Cajun mutant, there just aren’t that many positive things to say here. Ryan Reynolds’ brief scene as Wade Wilson is fantastic, but what they did with the Deadpool character was not. This movie had all the potential in the world, but all it left me with was a deep sense of disappointment and fanboy anger. Thank God for the more recent Wolverine solo flick, or else this would stand as Jackman’s only solo X-Men outing.

Greg: In fact, the movie is so bad that I had blocked it from my memory and forgot to include it in my list. Like Nick, I was very excited for this one because Hugh Jackman is awesome and Wolverine is awesome.

Greg’s No. 3: Green Lantern

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Nick: Man, talking about this movie depresses me.

Greg: Before I even start, let me make it clear that I don’t think this is a bad movie. Unlike many, I actually think it’s decent. The problem is that Green Lantern deserves much better than a decent movie.

Nick: Yeah, it isn’t that it’s awful. It’s not great, but it should have been so much more. Plus, we’re ranking our own personal disappointments, and I’m sure I speak for both of us when I say our excitement and anticipation was near an all-time high.

Greg: As many of you already know, both Nick and I share an intense love of the Green Lantern mythology that borders on being unhealthy. We speculated for years about what a Green Lantern movie would and could be. Once Geoff Johns confirmed something was in the works, we were over the moon with excitement.

A Green Lantern movie should be akin to Star Wars meeting Lord of the Rings, with a dash of James Bond thrown in. It should ignite the viewer’s imagination and show us a side of superhero cinema we’ve never seen. What it should not do is be like every other generic capes-and-tights film.

Nick: Yep, it should be ambitious. It should strive to be completely different from every other superhero movie that came before, and yet, what we ultimately got was something that seemed to want so badly to be ordinary.

Greg: Director Martin Campbell is extremely talented (just see his Bond work), but he clearly didn’t “get” Hal Jordan or the concept of the Green Lantern Corps. The script frustratingly took most of the sci-fi and fantasy out of the movie in an attempt to keep the story “grounded” and Earth-based. The best parts of the movie — Sinestro, Kilowog, Tomar-Re and Oa itself — are shoved almost entirely out of the picture in favor of evil senators and air shows. What we were left with was a movie that could’ve been made about almost any character or any comic mythology. And it must be stressed that Blake Lively was atrocious as Carol Ferris, a great comic book character.

Nick: Ugh. Can we move on for now?

Greg: Please.

Nick’s No. 3: Spider-Man 3

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Nick: As we touched on in Secret Origins, I was quite excited for Spidey’s third big screen adventure coming in.

Greg: I wasn’t as excited as you, due solely to the stories I’d read about the movie’s production. But I was still expecting a lot better than what we got.

Nick: The seeds had been sown for an epic confrontation between Peter and Harry Osborn, the Sandman CGI looked GORGEOUS in the trailers and they were introducing Venom/Eddie Brock, one of my all-time favorite characters. Plus, they cast Topher Grace as Brock, which pretty much pushed my excitement over the top. I was, and remain to this day, an obsessive fan of “That 70s Show,” and I was pumped to see Grace land such a huge role.

Greg: All those factors you named (minus the CGI and Grace) added to my worry. How could they fit three major villains who had little to do with one another in the same movie? It went about as well as the 2004 Lakers adding Gary Payton and Karl Malone to Shaq and Kobe’s squad.

Nick: But, as I should have expected, they totally pulled the rug out from under me. Raimi and Sony’s conflicts over the story’s direction have been rumored for years now, and most seem to agree that the director never really wanted Venom in the movie at all. As such, whatever plot he had in mind wound up being rushed and under-developed. The Harry Osborn amnesia plot was awful, as was the continuation of the Peter/MJ “will they/won’t they” conflict that should have been considered closed after Spider-Man 2. Sandman served no real purpose in the story, and Grace’s Eddie Brock was woefully underutilized. All of that by itself would make for a disappointment. But, once you throw in “Emo Peter,” which was Raimi’s interpretation of how the symbiote affected Peter’s personality, you have a disaster of massive proportions. I wanted to love Spidey 3 so much, but I instead wound up walking out of the theater feeling overly deflated.

"I've taken your time and money..."
“I’ve taken your time and money…”

Greg: When Harry Osborn is a more likable and relatable character than Peter Parker, your movie has a problem.

Greg’s No. 2: Jonah Hex

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Nick: Ah, yes. Can’t say I was overly excited for this one, but I know you were.

Greg: When this was first announced, everything about it had me excited. I love Westerns as a rule. I’d only recently become interested in Jonah Hex as a character, though I enjoyed his appearances on “Batman: The Animated Series” and “Justice League Unlimited.” I quickly realized what a great character Jonah is, and the casting sounded great. Josh Brolin as Hex? John Malkovich as the villain? What’s not to love?

Unfortunately, this foray into the Western genre wasn’t quite to the same level for Brolin as his work in “True Grit.” In fact, comparing the two movies should be a sin punishable by being forced to watch “Jonah Hex” again. This movie was like Will Smith’s “Wild Wild West” mixed with a dose of Roger Corman’s “Fantastic Four.”

Nick: Well, with a credible actress like Megan Fox, what could possibly have gone wrong?

Greg: I don’t know that they hired Ms. Fox for her acting acumen. The biggest problem with the movie, outside the direction, lighting and editing, was the writers’ fundamental misunderstanding of the Western genre. The movie feels more like a lame sci-fi movie than a true Western. In fact, the writers inexplicably gave Hex the superhuman ability to raise the dead and force them to tell the truth, like a Solomon Grundy-ized version of Wonder Woman’s lasso.

It was ultimately a huge missed opportunity to make an outside-the-box comic book film.

Nick’s No. 2: Batman Forever

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Nick: Much like Greg said earlier, when Batman Forever came out, I had been watching Batman: The Animated Series redefine characters that needed redefining while it reminded us what was so great about the characters that didn’t. When I heard the new Batman movie was going to feature Two-Face as a villain, the excitement I felt at 7 years old was overwhelming. But, when my Dad took me to see the movie, something unexpected happened.

I hated it. Every single second of it. Well, at least every second Nicole Kidman wasn’t on screen. From the new, really lame Batsuits to the hideous Batmobile redesign, everything just made 7-year-old me really angry. But, nothing angered me more (and it still does, by the way) than the “Two-Face” we were given in this film. I try to avoid fanboyish criticisms, but any media that features Two-Face flipping a coin and then ignoring the outcome of the flip REPEATEDLY is not one that I’m willing to get on board with. (Yes, I know it happened in Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum, but this script wasn’t one-100th of the Batman story that AA was.) It’s seriously as if they just told Tommy lee Jones to go home and watch the 1989 Batman movie and just act like Nicholson’s Joker. Throw in Carrey’s…. enthusiastic Riddler portrayal and you’ve got a pretty bad movie. But then the movie adds Chris O’Donnell as perhaps the most wooden Dick Grayson I’ve ever seen/read/heard. All in all, the movie was a massive disappointment, and stands to this day as my least favorite Batman movie. Yes, that includes Batman & Robin, but that’s another discussion for another day.

Greg: 
With that said, let’s close the book on that bowling-shoe-ugly take on the Batman universe.

Greg’s No. 1: X-Men: The Last Stand

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Nick: The floor is all yours, sir.

Greg: “X2” was an amazing movie, for my money. It stands as one of my favorite films in the superhero genre, with outstanding performances across the board. And best of all, it ended in such a way that we were promised a film version of one of comics’ greatest arcs, the Phoenix (and Dark Phoenix) Saga. Though I worried when director Bryan Singer departed to work on “Superman Returns,” I had faith Brett Ratner would do an admirable job. With that cast and that ready made story, what could go wrong? The answer: almost everything.

From killing Cyclops without much fanfare early in the film to a lackluster death for Professor X, from a one-dimensional mutant Juggernaut to a useless Colossus, this script seemed to flippantly disregard some of the most important characters in the X-Men world. And what’s frustrating is that there are some genuinely good moments here — Kelsey Grammer’s spot-on interpretation of Beast, the display of the Phoenix Force and the death of Jean Grey by Wolverine’s hand. That makes it all the more maddening when the remaining 80% of the film is so off-the-mark.

As Nick mentioned earlier, the CGI was woefully inadequate, particularly in the big fight scenes pitting Colossus against Juggernaut and Iceman against Pyro. Boring, unimaginative fights were not expected after the visual wonder of X2’s action scenes. And the debut of Angel is one of the cheesiest scenes in the franchise.

Crushing disappointment hits me to this day when I think of this project and what it could’ve been.

Nick’s No. 1: Green Lantern

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Greg: Ah, it rears its head once again.

Nick: Now, I thought long and hard about putting Batman Forever at the top of my list. But, in the end, I had to give it to GL. I followed the development of this movie religiously, eating up every bit of casting news, every interview given by the producers, every trailer or teaser that was released. And that was the frustrating part: it looked GOOD.

Greg: It absolutely did look good. Despite some concerns about the CGI effects, what sold me was the Comic-Con footage of Ryan Reynolds reciting the Green Lantern oath to a small child.

Nick: Ryan Reynolds seemed ready to silence his critics, Geoff Johns was on board as a producer and story consultant, promising us the GL movie we all wanted. Geoffrey Rush came on to voice Tomar-re, as did Michael Clarke Duncan, who couldn’t have been a better voice choice for Kilowog. Amanda Waller was in the movie, we learned, hinting at plans for an overarching DC universe on film after years of hoping and waiting. And then there was Martin Campbell, who was responsible for two of my favorite Bond movies ever. All of this, plus Warner Bros was reportedly so pleased with test screenings and daily footage that a sequel had already been greenlit.

So, in my mind, it wasn’t whether the movie was going to be good, but whether it would be on par with Iron Man and The Dark Knight, 2008’s films that represented each company’s best work to date.

But, as we’ve often said throughout this column, opening night came and I was left crushed.

Greg: And it’s a movie that left both of us with the dreaded “What if?” questions. It could’ve been so much more.

Nick: And it isn’t because the movie is bad. Hell, I really enjoyed the first third of the film. Sadly, despite the involvement of Geoff Johns, it seems as if neither Campbell nor the powers that be at WB really “got” the concept of the Corps. All the sci-fi, universe-spanning fantastical elements were there, but in the smallest amounts they could get away with. Plus, they blew Parallax, which should have been saved for an all-time great sequel, in a movie that also had Hector Hammond.

Greg: So true! If they really felt Hammond wasn’t a strong enough villain (he is), there were a number of unused GL villains that could’ve been used, from Black Hand to the Controllers or the Khund.

Nick: Perhaps the greatest thing I can say about Green Lantern is that it was a giant tease. It showed us flashes of what Hal Jordan on the big screen can be, but it never lived up to the potential inherent in the concept and the character. I still say Green Lantern could eventually be the next generation’s “Star Wars,” but now it seems as if we’ll never get that chance.

What bewilders me to this day is how they didn’t take advantage of Geoff Johns being right there. From what I understand, he tried like hell to save the movie and was largely overridden. But, that’s all Internet hearsay.

But that’s enough traumatic recollections for one week, wouldn’t you say?

Greg: Absolutely. Let us never revisit this topic ever again.

Nick: Join us next week as we finally get to review one of my all-time favorites, the first hardcover collection of Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man.

Greg: And remember to drop us a line at our PTB email accounts, on Facebook or on Twitter. What comic book films disappointed YOU the most?

Nick: Hit us up with feedback at the PTB Nation Facebook page, our PTB email addresses ( NickD@placetobenation.com and GregP@placetobenation.com) or on Twitter at @nickduke87 and @ gphillips8652.

Greg: You never know when your responses might get used in a future column.

Author: Greg Phillips and Nick Duke

Greg and Nick share two passions above all others, both of which involve people in spandex punching each other. Reporters by day, they also insist on being called "Two Dudes with Attitude" but can't decide who is Kevin Nash and who is Shawn Michaels.