Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

wrath of khanThey may not be my favorites, but I favor the Original Series movies, with Trekkies considering this one the ideal Star Trek movie period, more than I favor the Original Series itself. Wrath of Khan could even act as a series finale, with Captain James T. Kirk facing the consequences of his past decisions, both the marooning of the titular Khan Noonien Singh’s superhuman crew and the womanizing ways he once lived; the film’s heartbreaking climax that probably wouldn’t resonate so much with newcomers could have changed the series forever if it weren’t reversed in the sequels. William Shatner as Kirk and Ricardo Montalban as Khan both bring big slices of ham to their performances, with Shatner’s being more restraint than in the TV series, amid the sparse but suspenseful space battles and the somewhat glorifying but chiefly cautionary commentaries on playing God. Many recommend this as a newcomer’s starting point; I say watch it if you started off with and enjoyed First Contact.

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

spider-man 3One of the most polarizing superhero movies ever made due to its “more is more” storytelling, which I’m in the minority of being willing to embrace. Above its three supervillains, two of which take the series’s cinematic comic-bookiness to a whole new level, the film’s chief villain is the ego that Peter Parker himself has developed out of the public’s favorable view of Spider-Man. Before the fittingly both rousing and bittersweet sendoff, however, so much happens, including one popular comic book storyline adapted with a widely despised execution, that there’s no way to sum it all up here. In short, its boisterous plotting—a portion of which is made due to studio demands—, lazy holes, and both intended and unintended hilarity make it all the more fun for me. Its visuals aren’t as stylish as its predecessors’, but the series’s heart still beats steadily, especially as the conflicts mainly lie on one of the ultimate moral dilemmas: forgive or retaliate, and it’s in its answer to this dilemma where the film is at its noblest.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

spider-man 2After a disjointed predecessor that, along with the first X-Men, helped revive comic book movies from the disastrous Batman & Robin, this superior sequel takes chances not only in comparison to its predecessor but in comparison to most mainstream superhero movies period, such as by featuring both a room of screaming surgeons getting slaughtered by robotic tentacles and a montage of Peter Parker comically adjusting to his life set to the tune of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.” Although Doctor Octopus makes his way into the plot, the story’s true conflict revolves around Peter’s double life and how it affects his jobs, his grades, and his friendships with Mary Jane Watson who’s now a stage actress and Harry Osborn who’s falsely been led to believe that Spider-Man killed his villainous father in the original. Funny, exciting, dramatic, and uplifting all at once, it’s a rare superhero flick made with unabashed passion, down to the unforgettably riotous portrayal of J. Jonah Jameson.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

civil warIf you played with action figures when you were a kid, then you’ll be watching Marvel’s latest big-screen episode wishing that you could have thought up superhero showdowns as ingenious as these. The context you would have framed them in, however, would probably have been simpler than the Avengers initially splitting up about whether or not they should be overseen by the United Nations or stay independent—an issue that comes up in the wake of the destruction that keeps following them—, eventually causing Tony Stark and Steve Rogers to battle each other over who’s the real star of this movie and causing us to realize how frightening it would be to live in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of course, the rewatchability of all this thematic weight and emotional resonance is hampered by its own status as a preview for Marvel’s next slate—additionally introducing two superheroes starring in upcoming solo movies—, although Ant-Man’s brief role here offers highlights of the entire MCU.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Although it’s tempting to call an adaptation where Batman’s a killer and Superman’s a mopey cynic a complete disaster, “joyless, darkly violent, and downright nightmarish misstep” is more accurate. Even so, my biggest issues with it are more dramatic than tonal. After Man of Steel—a bland destruction fest that I’m now ashamed to say I enjoyed four times in theaters—, this film just introduces too much too soon: Wonder Woman, the rest of the Justice League in cameos, Lex Luthor, Doomsday, and of course the conflict between Batman and Superman—the last of which the film does make sense of, and the conclusion of this fight is both nonsensical and emotionally satisfying. But even though these two superheroes have been pop culture icons for decades, it would be more resonant if these versions of them had a history of friendship before their feud, and if they actually stuck to their roots. I do at least admire the film’s ambition; it’s just an ambition that fails more than it succeeds.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

first contactNow this is a Star Trek movie that anybody, both casuals and Trekkies, could agree on—the Next Generation crew’s answer to the Original Series crew’s Wrath of Khan as the highly acclaimed second installment of their respective movie series that revisits a plotline from their respective TV series, though squeamish viewers might get put off as soon as it opens. Here, the Borg—cybernetic enslavers who are Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s most personal adversaries—travel back in time to prevent the defining moment of Trek history, introducing characters in the process who are discovering Star Trek‘s lore just as much new audiences are. While this film’s popcorny nature has led to the dumbing down of Star Trek through cinema’s recent schlock fests, it’s nonetheless not only bursting with creativity and suspense but also with enough brains to be called Star Trek—topped with tense and hilarious performances and Jerry Goldsmith’s both eerie and wondrous musical score.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

the force awakensThe Twilight Princess of Star Wars—the most iconic myth of its respective medium now being rehashed for a new generation, though Twilight Princess has a lot more ambition between its throwbacks to Ocarina of Time than The Force Awakens does between its throwbacks to A New Hope. Of course, it really is meant for a new generation who hasn’t experienced Star Wars, and I certainly can’t call it a sloppy mess like J.J. Abrams’s own Star Trek movies. Most of its reused plot is freshened up enough, especially as Daisy Ridley takes the lead in a brilliant breakout performance. But the film follows the Marvel mentality, setting up so much for later that I won’t be able to judge it as a whole until episodes VIII and IX come out. Do they really think we need to be asked to see the next ones? Until then, while Awakens won’t be in the same league of first acts that The Fellowship of the Ring is in, watching it in a living room at least makes it feel more like the Original Trilogy than watching it in a theater does.