10 underrated superhero films to stream right now
- Kevin Harley
- 27 May 2020
Escape the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Dark Knight trilogy with ten other superhero outings
For superhero movie fans who started lockdown with plans to revisit the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Infinity Saga, the dust may already have long since settled on Iron Man's final sassy exchange with purple peril Thanos and Spider-Man's high-tech tussle with Mysterio. Yet alternatives await, proving just what – in the words of comics artist Bryan Hitch – 'a malleable umbrella' the superhero framework can be. From child-friendly European and Disney offerings to adult offerings involving messy slow-motion death by designer drug, here are ten often-neglected superhero movies for those in need of escapist strategies.
The Invisible Boy (Il Ragazzo Invisibile) (2014)
Italy's Gabriele Salvatores brings subtlety and sensitivity to superhero movies with his child-friendly fantasy. Ludovico Girardello is a winning presence as Michele, a 13-year-old boy with time-honoured teenage problems: in the growing-pains style of Peter Parker, he is bullied at school and he has the hots for a classmate. A cheap superhero costume and newfound powers of metaphorically charged invisibility transform his life, leading to playful comic twists on coming-of-age convention with unexpected complications. Although the plot could use more oomph, Salvatores nails the character work nicely, especially when it comes to Valeria Golino's performance as Michele's perma-worried mother.
Watch now on YouTube, Amazon Prime Video and Google Play.
After Bryan Singer's X-Men (2000) and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man (2002), Ang Lee's Marvel entry was much-dismissed as a failed bid to add the angry green smasher to the resurgent superhero genre's popcorn frontline. Viewed in retrospect, the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon director's intentions were not so simple. Less an origin story than a return-of-the-repressed reflection on origins, Hulk treats Eric Bana's Bruce Banner as a tragi-monster doomed by family legacies. Lee's balance of the serious to the spectacular sometimes wobbles, but it is hard not to admire the ambition in his singular hybrid of psycho-drama, pulp art and – mind the dogs – comic-book excesses. For particularly out-sized fun, Nick Nolte is a scenery-chewing hoot as Banner's radioactive father.
Watch now on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.
Fast Color (2018)
Julia Hart's dreamy eco-fantasy resembles a superhero origin story in soft, sober disguise. In a drought-stricken near-future, Ruth (a precision-pitched performance from Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is on the run from the authorities. As she sets out to reunite with her mother and daughter, we discover that Ruth harbours earth-moving powers: not only can her seizures cause earthquakes – she can also disassemble/reassemble matter with her mind. And she is not alone in her family with her talents. Hart and her co-writer, Jordan Horowitz, use this premise as the backdrop for a meditation on the strength in three generations of black women, which burns slow before it reaches its enrapturing conclusion. An extended TV series has lately been in development at Amazon Studios.
Watch now on Netflix.
Josh Trank's debut has been rather forgotten amid the gossip about his studio struggles on 2015's ill-fated Fantastic Four movie. But it deserves another look. Trank satisfied and subverted genre expectations with his bolt from the demi-budget blue, a twist on origin-story clichés in which three high-school dudes become equipped with superpowers. Dane DeHaan, Michael B Jordan (Black Panther's Killmonger) and Alex Russell deliver layered performances as the pals who use their powers to lark around initially; meanwhile, Trank's found-footage conceit is well-rooted in themes of scopophilia and outsider-dom. Most impressively, Trank handles the shift from Superman-meets-Jackass mischief to pulp tragedy with emotional clarity and galvanising punch: with great power comes big thrills in the marvellously well-realised climax.
Watch now on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, YouTube, and Google Play.
Although social media demands recently helped secure director Zack Snyder's unreleased cut of 2017's Justice League a home at HBO Max, fan campaigns could not spawn a sequel for this stylish, brutal and underseen 2000AD movie. Pity, because director Pete Travis and writer Alex Garland gave the neo-fascist Judge, jury, and executioner the tight, hard, and deadpan treatment he deserved after Sylvester Stallone's 1995 botch-job. The set-up of a tower block under a sociopathic drug lord's locked-down control helps focus the plot, as does the dynamic between Karl Urban's helmeted veteran Dredd and Olivia Thirlby's rookie Cassandra Anderson. Best of all, Lena Headey oozes malevolence as the villainous Ma-Ma, who doses victims up on designer drug Slo-Mo just to extend their pain.
Watch now on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.
Long before his loving swing at Spider-Man, Evil Dead director Sam Raimi brought his passion for pulp to his own superhero. Brimming with untutored invention and reckless tonal swerves, Darkman focuses on Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), a doctor whose experiments with synthetic skin prove useful in his rage-fuelled bid to exact revenge on the gangsters who dropped him in acid and left him largely faceless. Drawing heavily on his love of sympathetic screen monsters, Raimi attacks the ensuing chaos with a deliciously deadpan blend of slapstick, sadism and soul, the latter embedded in Westlake's attempt to resume relations with a somewhat underused Frances McDormand. Even when Raimi fumbles the tonal balance, his giddily unrestrained energies usually take up the slack.
Watch now on Amazon Prime Video, Now TV, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes and Sky Cinema.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Long before 2019's botched reboot, Mexican monster maven Guillermo del Toro's creature-feature adaptations of Mike Mignola's comic book dished up fun, romance, sweep, soul and monster love in teeming abundance. Released in 2004, the first Del Toro outing is good – but this wickedly enjoyable sequel is the bigger, better 'Boy. Ron Perlman pitches the puns perfectly as the stogie-sucking, blue-collar anti-hero of the title, a half-demon who joins other misfits to help America's battle against dark forces. Del Toro's outsider empathies ensure we care about the monster characters and their battle with Luke Goss' preening villain, while a fabulous drunken sequence offers what we never knew comic-book movies had been lacking: a lovesick sing-along to Barry Manilow.
Watch now on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube and Google Play.
The Rocketeer (1991)
Between his art-direction contributions to Raiders of the Lost Ark and directorial role on the MCU's Captain America: The First Avenger, Joe Johnston gave the nazis another brightly entertaining biffing. Set in late-'30s Hollywood, Johnston's adaptation of Dave Stevens' comic focuses on Cliff (Bill Campbell), a pilot who learns to fly without a plane when he finds a jet-pack. Problem is, Cliff has to save himself, his lover (Jennifer Connelly) and the free world when dastardly villains (including Germans and Timothy Dalton) and the Feds try to get hold of the gear. Loving period design, a sincere affection for the source material and a sure-handed sense of levity help to hoist The Rocketeer above its minor shortfalls of tension.
Watch now on Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play and iTunes.
Mystery Men (1999)
In the wilderness years between 1997's awful Batman and Robin and the superhero revivalist fervour of the 21st century, director Kinka Usher's offbeat adaptation of Bob Burden's comic book took an amiable, ahead-of-its-time pop at superhero team stories. When Geoffrey Rush's villainous Casanova Frankenstein emerges from asylum, a useless superhero team unite to fight him. The sole ability of Ben Stiller's Mr Furious is to get really quite tetchy; Hank Azaria's Blue Raja excels at flinging cutlery and William H Macy's Shoveller is good with shovels. Though overlong and occasionally scattershot, Mystery Men benefits from its frontline of likeable blue-collar dopes and a deadpan appearance from Tom Waits, who has growly fun as an inventor of madcap weapons. Anyone need a Blame Thrower?
Watch now on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play and iTunes.
Sky High (2005)
What Disney's cheerfully cheesy live-action superhero movie lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in warm, witty affection for its source matter. 'The Incredibles at Hogwarts' is the pitch, as Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is mortified to be sent by his super-powered parents to superhero school. The problem is, the teenager appears to be what JK Rowling termed a 'squib': a child of the empowered with no powers of his own. Within its child-friendly framework, Sky High generates some clever, playful twists on high-school anxieties, much aided by fine casting and amiable in-jokes. Kurt Russell is deliciously hammy as Mr Stronghold (aka the Commander), Lynda 'Wonder Woman' Carter relishes her cameo as Principal Powers, and the sight-gag involving the guinea-pig is a cracker.
Watch now on Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play and Sky.
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