So Zechs has done the villains, but what about the most underrated heroes from comic book movies? It's judgement time!
* I apologize for how long it took me to write this article. With Gen Con and attaining a nasty flu/cold shortly thereafter, it delayed the writing of this article. So here it is in all its glory!!
To counter-point my most Under-rated Villains from Comic Book Movies, I've decided to do a follow up and follow the other spectrum with heroes this time. My rules are about the same as they were before. I'm looking at the roles nobody really talks about anymore. The ones I really think people should give the actors who play them get the recognition they truly deserve.
I have to confess, this list was VERY hard to put together since there's such a talent pool of heroes out there more than the villains. So yes it hurt me leaving out a ton of actors who should be on this list. More so again leaving out films that have a comic book feel (Darkman movies I love you, but you didn't start in comics first). Still, if I put them on the list well then this list wouldn't be a top ten now would it?
So what defines an under-rated hero? Well, I'd say the ones you never see show up on a list around this time period listing of all the great performances. Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman, Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman (okay I know people love Michael Keaton for me he made a great Batman, though an average Bruce Wayne), and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine for example would be a musts have on any list.
These on the other hand are the unwanted. The misfit actors who either were a good film that many reviewers just forget nowadays that had a good performance. Say for example, if the Dredd (2012) movie that's coming out next week bombs (this is the US we are a movie crowd that's a feckle bunch), I'm going to go out on a limb and say Urban's performance will really be remembered in this film good or bad. So let's start with a classic pulp superhero who many probably didn't even know had a movie...
10.) Ron Ely as Doc Savage – Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975) - What the...? They actually made a film on the famous pulp hero? YES THEY DID GOOD SIR!! Before Christopher Reeve became Superman, it was Ron Ely who got the first crack at super heroes in the 70s. There's a lot of camp in this film, but I'm a sucker for the opening of the film with Doc taking on an Aztec Assassin. It's a nice catch to grab you for the rest of a film that just doesn't fulfill the great beginning.
Yeah the movie isn't the perfect adaptation. There are a ton of issues with it. I just don't care. This is just a fun film made before the first “true” superhero film in Superman (1978). It's a nice history lesson showing how studios could do something right, then screw it up so much with their meddling. In the end, I'll always remember how much Ely embodied Doc Savage and looked like he was ripped from the comic book pages.
9.) Michael Jai White as Al Simmons/Spawn – Spawn (1997) – It amazes me that not many talk about the first African American super hero who was put to film. I mean true when you're up against Wesley Snipes' Blade (who came shortly after), that's pretty stiff competition. Yes in the end the movie had a lot of holes, but I still enjoy both John Leguizamo as Clown/Violator and White's performance as Simmons.
The man really is good at his job at killing but his conscience has gotten to him. Yet, when things go sore he reverts back into his old ways not even realizing that's the idea for those controlling him. What I also like about the use of Simmons is that White does give him more humanity than the animated version. I fully confess I thought Keith David's animated Spawn was alright, but the one thing he had over White's is just an all around superior supporting cast Another element I enjoy is that we actually get closure for the character at the end of the movie. Something we never got in the animated movie and A LONG time it took to happen in the actual Spawn comics.
8.) Dick Durock as Swamp Thing – Return of Swamp Thing (1989) – Yeah Ray Wise played his alter ego Alec Holland in the original (1982), but I rather give full credit to the actual role to the man who played him throughout not only this film but it's sequel and television series: Dick Durock. The man was a legendary stuntman and actor whose performance as the big vegetable was quite tragic.
I could go for the original, which is the superior film, but I'll go with the sequel were Durock got to shine (other than the USA tv series that came shortly after this. Again another under-rated classic). Yes the movie is terrible, but it's so bad that it's good. It's a guilty pleasure movie of mine. Durock I think was the only one who realized that out of the entire cast and he is really the only one who appears to having an awesome time in the role as he battles numerous Un-Men and goons unleashed by Arcane. Oh, did I mention the film also had PSA as well?
So unbelievably cheesy awesome.
7. Ralph Bryd as Dick Tracy – Dick Tracy Series (various serials from 1931-1940, Dick Tracy's Dilemma, and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome 1947) - Okay this is a small cheat, but I did say film! Technically in the 1940s, theaters had a serial in front of a film as well and one of those in the late 30s was a bunch starring Ralph Bryd as the title character. Later on in the 1940s, Bryd would reprise the role of Tracy in two of the four Dick Tracy films of that period: Dick Tracy's Dilemma (1947) and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947) plus star in the black & white television show based on the comic strip as well until his untimely death in 1953.
If there's any sort of actor who deserves his fair share of being under-appreciated it be Bryd's Tracy. No doubt the reasons are two fold in A.) Most remember the 1990 Dick Tracy film by Warren Beatty and B.) Bryd's films were made in the 1940s far and away from most anyone superhero radars. For those who enjoy noir or ever want their kids to enjoy comics, I think a viewing of Bryd's Tracey stuff should be a requirement.
6.) Dolph Lundgren as Frank Castle/The Punisher – The Punisher (1989) – I've already pissed off one actor who played the Punisher and I refuse to piss off the other two. I really enjoy Ray Stevenson's portrayal of Frank Castle, but in the under-rated category I enjoy Dolph's as well. Yeah he doesn't really carry the skull symbol, but he gets to have a huge body count, one that puts the others to shame.
Plus there's just a glee that I get watching Lundgren's Punisher just do his punishing. Stevenson's reminds me of Garth Ennis's Punisher. The one you just never want to mess with if you ever actually walk around the streets of New York and are kind of dirty. Ludgren's version is remincent of Chuck Dixon's. When I read Dixon's Castle it was one who you expect is stuck in a cliché 80s action film. That's this film a totally cliché 80s action film and it's utterly glorious.
5.) Billy Campbell as Cliff Secord/The Rocketeer – The Rocketeer (1991) - I love that this film is finally getting the justice it deserves after so long. I love the goodie goodie performance he gives to go along with the slimy scene chewing evil to counter-point Neville Sinclair. Campbell's Secord is very innocent as he discovers the rocket pack and what possibilities it can bring.
That's what I truly love about the character. How he's thrown into this mess and how he becomes such a hero. What the whole thing about becoming a hero is all about. So when the end hits and well we see what fate bequeaths him after going through so much hell.
4.) Jeffery Combs as Doctor Anton Mordrid – Dr. Mordrid (1992) - I know what you're thinking and ready to say: “Zechs this isn't a comic book character.” Technically you'd be half correct, but the other half you'd officially be wrong. You see this film was originally going to be an adaptation of Dr. Strange. Yes, Marvel's Dr. Strange. The movie even had Jack Kirby himself design some of the concept art for the film. But the director kind of lost the rights of it being a Strange adaptation so they went with this. So must I overlook something the King himself did?
NO I WILL NOT!!
Nor, will I overlook this under-rated performance of probably one of the few actors at the time that would have been perfect as Stephen Strange in the one and only Jeffery Combs. I confess this is a C-List movie at best, but I cannot help but enjoy every second of it. Plus you have the option of enjoying this film for being a Doctor Strange movie if only having its name removed from the title and the characters. I mean come on! The characters in this could easily be Strange and Baron Mordo!!
So those wishing for a Doctor Strange film, and want to avoid the really bad 1970s one. Well this is the film for you. Now as for next entry I'm just going to be utterly predictable here:
3.) David Forman (actor)/ Brian Tochi (voice) as Leonardo, Josh Pais (actor/voice) as Raphael, Michelan Sisti (actor)/Robbie Rist (voice) as Michelangelo, Leif Tilden (actor)/Corey Feldman (voice) as Donatello, Elias Koteas as Casey Jones, Kevin Clash as Splinter (voice and puppeteer) - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) - Yeah again I'm somewhat cheating, but if I'm to put all the performances of the protagonists from this film they deserve to be all in one spot since they're all in the same film. The performances are all memorable as well with all the characters getting their iconic portrayals done right. Nobody gets to have too much of a moment and the Turtles all get balanced roles. Leonardo gets to have his spiritual side explored in the middle half and explores his frustration he has at times with Raphael, the loner hot head of the group. Mikey is the wise cracking scene-stealing show-off. Seriously the opening brawl between the Foot and the Turtles is primarily Mikey just stealing every second, until well my next favorite character from the group shows up. Dontello well he also gets some good one-liners, but really when compared to Mikey they just aren't as chuckle worthy.
That would be the performance of Elias Koteas as Casey Jones who was just so perfectly cast in the role of hot headed sarcastic hockey masked vigilante. Every scene he's in is just utter gold. My personal favorite scenes of the character are his opening introduction with the fly by banter he has with Raphael and him vs. Tatsu. Koteas looked like he had a ball working on this film and his performance showed it highly. If anything he's also the only redeeming factor of Teenage Mutant Turtles III (1993).
Then there's Kevin Clash as the sensei/father Splinter. Though his screen time is extremely limited, Clash gives probably still my favorite portrayal of the ninja master of the five TMNT movies. There's something about the way he uses his voice like an old 70s Kung Fu movie and the scene he appears to his sons via the campfire. YOU WILL CRY DUE TO HIS WORDS!! His performance is that endearing to me.
If anything additionally that I love of the film is just how well the suits and animatronics of Jim Henson Studios hold up to this day. The effects don't look cheap (even if you can see some wires at times) and the movement of the five mutant creatures holds up real well. For those who haven't watched this film in like forever, you should seriously watch this film. It's aged like a fine wine having gotten better. Given the level of performances from all those involved it surprises me at times how many people forget how good a film this was.
2.) Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), The Shoveler (William H. Macy), The Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), The Spleen (Paul Reubens), Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), the Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), and the Sphinx (Wes Studi) – Mystery Men (1999) – So who else could be my top under-appreciated heroes than the greatest bunch of under-appreciated heroes EVER! Again yeah it's cheating to include this group, but again though more so than TMNT movie it's the entire assemble that works for me. Each character just plays off the other so well. Again, the banter is what sells me every-time I watch this film. With the talent involved with this film, it's just a gold mine of fun and amusement.
The other great thing is everyone gets their little moment to shine in the movie. Mr. Furious vs. Casanova Frankstein, The Shoveler's inspiring speech, Blue Raja backing up his friends, and the Bowler avenging her pop are some of the moments that still stick in my head.
I know some of the actors of the very film discard and hate the film. Me? I enjoy it for message of the movie. That even the most lowly F-List hero can become an A-List at any moment. That's the spirit I always enjoy when watching the film.
1.) Brandon Lee as Eric Draven/the Crow – The Crow (1994) – “It can't rain all the time.” Almost twenty years and still one of the most iconic performances, yet Lee never gets the due he deserves for his final role. Lee as Draven is a haunting performance, one that gets to you the moment he steps out of his grave. You share that same rage and contempt for all those that brought him and his lover's end. It's a fulfilling journey and even then you like Draven himself just feel that even having revenge is still leaves one empty.
I confess there are moments were Lee has Draven act out of some 80s action film, namely when he confronts Sleazy Pawn Shop Owner played by Jon Polito. It gets more dramatic when he finds the item he's looking for, but I can't help but chuckle a little at the 80s action banter said between the two. Same goes for Draven just going berserker rage on all those criminals in Top Dollar's office. It's still one of the best beat down drag out rage fests a superhero has on film.
Then there are the other moments in the film when Lee plays against the type. The one scene that best shows that for me is when he appears in the apartment room of Ernie Hudson's cop character with little jokes of the whole disappearing out of thin air. Instead, he just talks with Hudson's character like an honest human person. Someone who was normal still deep down no matter this unnatural path of vengeance led him. Though the series has had four sequels, Lee's Draven is still the best amongst them all and still the memorable one of the lot (same goes for Wincott's Top Dollar).
The only thing that unsettles me every-time I watch the film, is the tragedy that befell the film as well with the accident that cost Lee his life near the end of filming. I always get discomforted at Eric's “death” scene, because I know these were pretty much the final scenes acted by Lee. It's a gut punch that knowing such a fine talent was gone from us way too soon.
It just astonishes me that after all this time and every single time I look at lists on favorite superheroes I rarely see Lee in this all. The problem I see is the same age old one with any list that some other websites do. The old performances are instantly discarded and forgot for the hot new one. Even more they try shock value with dump iconic performances in with some performances that shouldn't be lumped with them. A performance should be judged two or three years after, not instantly put on the list because it was that damn good. That’s why I made this and the Underrated Villains lists. There's just a feeling I have nowadays that roles of the past are being forgotten due to today’s reviewers being blinded by the hot/new movies jetting in.
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About the Author - Zechs
Zechs is the lord and master of The Toy Shed, Character Spotlight, and Cartoon Reviews. He's also an aspiring comic book writer trying to get some of his works published on the Outhouse. If there's any greater quality to Zechs, it's that he's an avid fan of comic book characters and would defend them to the bitter end against the companies that use them wrongly. Zechs walks the lonely path in Chicagoland area.
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