This might be a controversial opinion, but I think I Am Number Four is a better superhero flick than Captain America or Iron Man. Or possibly just about every other mainstream superhero flick out there.
Here me out before you start violently disagreeing.
First of all, we need to define what is the essence of the superhero flick. This isn’t easy. Everyone seems to have their own values on this. Since this is my blog, we’ll talk about what I value most about superheroes. And what I value most is ACTION.
Action above all. End of story. if I feel let down by the action of a superhero flick, then I feel let down. I don’t care how nuanced and clever the writing is. I don’t care if the characters are fully developed and subtle. These elements are great and if they can be worked into a superhero movie, I’m all for them. The Incredibles remains the greatest superhero flick ever because it has great writing, great characters, and slam-bang superhero action adventure. More than any other superhero film ever, The Incredibles manages to be heartfelt and sincere while being over-the-top and awesome. That’s hard to do, and it’s a small wonder no superhero flick since has really captured that for me. But it’s unfair to compare otherwise good movies to something as amazing as The Incredibles. Instead, let’s judge them on their own merits.
To me, the heart of the superhero has ever been epic battles. The idea of superheroes is built on physical conflict resolved through violence. People don’t like Bruce Wayne because he set up a charitable foundation and helps the needy. They like him because he swoops out of the shadows and regularly punches a bad guy dressed like a clown. Captain America isn’t about tact or diplomacy. It’s about shoving a red, white, and blue shield into the faces of evildoers. And Spider-Man’s “great power” is, and will always be, the ability to kick people in the head.
On an intellectual level, superheroes are all about raw physical power and the ability to use it for the greater good. Even if that power isn’t physical, like say, Doctor Strange for example, it’s still about using your amazing advantages for the benefit of the world. On the flip side, that’s what makes supervillains into villains. Even if they only rob banks or bully normal people, they represent amazing gifts being used for selfish ends.
Of course, stories with benevolent god figures who are above the law and determine what is and isn’t best for society by their own codes is a scary thought in reality. Hence, the huge number of deconstructions of the genre. In real life, human beings tend to abuse their powers. Sometimes because they’re jerks. And sometimes with the best of intentions. In real life, a person like Superman or Batman would probably be about as big of an arrogant prick as you are would find. But superheroes don’t live in the real world, and while it’s all well and good to deconstruct the genre, it often misses the point. Like any fantasy, introducing reality to the world of superheroes is the quickest way to make it seem petty and foolish.
And now we’re a bit off topic. Sorry about that.
I’m not here to say that I Am Number Four is an amazing movie. Or that it is even a better movie than Marvel’s recent efforts. Although I will say that Four is a pretty solid movie and that I liked the characters and their story. Much more than Marvel’s Spidey films, for instance, where Peter Parker always comes across as a whiny punk who I don’t like at all.
But what really sets Four apart is that, in the final showdown, everything is EPIC. Larger than life and full of close calls and awesome moments. At one point, our hero is cornered by a slavering bat-like monster and, just when it appears he’s about to meet his end, a heroic monster rushes out to his rescue. The two beasts grapple in a titanic struggle that culminates in a fight in the school showers. It is more epic and awesome than anything in Captain America. Considering that I actually enjoyed Cap, I don’t mean this as an insult to his movie, but as high praise toward Four.
This is one of the reasons I can’t get behind The Dark Knight. Aside from my problems with the plot, it never really feels epic. Because this is Batman, I don’t expect planet destroying explosions or legions of robots, but I also don’t expect the film to just kind of peter out to an anti-climax. This judgment is a bit unfair though because The Dark Knight is not trying to be my ideal superhero flick, and thus, we are on different ends of a similar spectrum.
Perhaps I’m just out of sync with the rest of the world, but everything people mocked about Green Lantern, I loved. And I felt like the epic scale of the thing was what made it work. Captain America had its epic moments, but not enough to make it truly great. It introduced amazing things like ray guns and super giant tanks and then it really didn’t do much with them. Hydra never came across as more dangerous than the Nazis. The Red Skull never seemed more of a threat than any other madman. And his defeat was too easy and too quick.
Although, it’s better than Iron Man 2‘s anemic Whiplash battle at the end, which is over so fast you could probably blink and miss it.
All of which, means nothing. Criticism aside, this is the way people seem to prefer it. And like any genre, the superhero film is an evolving concept. There is no definitive final version of what makes a great superhero movie, and we’ll all disagree. But if you’re going to have ray guns, storm troopers, and evil geniuses in your movie, I say go big or go home.
Cap is a good movie. It’s even a good superhero movie. But it seems like a snack, not the main course. It’s why I’d much rather watch I Am Number Four or Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World to scratch my particular superhero itch. But that’s just one guy’s opinion. Make of it what you will.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,