A-List: Best Scenes from Superhero Films

By David Mumpower and Kim Hollis

June 16, 2011

I think I saw the dude on the right on Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law.

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"He's just a kid" (Spider-Man 2)

One of the aspects of Sam Raimi’s masterpiece, Spider-Man 2, that is not appreciated enough is the end of the train scene when Spider-Man is unmasked. In the opening moments, mad scientist Doc Octopus leaves the webslinger behind. The train conductor quickly relays to the superhero that the brakes have failed and all of the passengers are in grave danger. His mask singed, Spider-Man is forced to remove his identity-hiding garment and attempt a dramatic rescue in order to save the people on board. Obviously, he accomplishes this task. He is Spider-Man, after all.

The beauty of the sequence, however, is not the action portion. After the superhero has saved the day, he is unconscious and prone. At this moment, the people whose lives have been saved lift him up and lay hands upon him in an almost Christ-like sequence. Finally, one of them makes a point that underscores the novelty of Spider-Man as a character. “He’s just a kid, no older than my son.” A mere boy has saved a train full of passengers and this is not an out of the ordinary act of heroism for him. His actions belie his youth, an aspect of the character Sam Raimi utilizes brilliantly in this, easily the best Spider-Man film to date.


Iron Man returns to Afghanistan (Iron Man)

Iron Man is a novel character in the realm of superheroes and this is reinforced in two key areas of the best scene of the first movie adaptation of the character. Tony Stark gets liquored up at a party, grows enraged while watching a news report, and flies straight to Afghanistan to combat the Ten Rings army. One of the smartest men in the world, Stark demonstrates no forethought with his actions, instead allowing the ferocity of his rage to lead him into an epic firefight. Stark’s demons have been thoroughly explored in the comic books, and director Jon Favreau wisely placed a few of them on full display for the viewers. His reactionary anger, his reckless attempt at resolution, and his egotistical belief that he can fix anything place him in the middle of nowhere, fighting for his life.

Of course, Tony Stark has one key advantage. The Iron Man suit reeks of awesomeness. Moments before an innocent man is mercilessly executed, Stark explodes on the scene and within moments, a wave of destruction eviscerates an entire deployment of troops. One soldier is knocked for approximately 36 loops, another is thrown through a concrete wall, and several others are precisely executed without any harm coming to the people they were using as human shields. In a few brief moments, the viewer understands the technological marvel that is the Iron Man suit, a device that can turn an ordinary drunk into a virtual god of war. An action movie is a form of marketing where the lead character must be sold to the audience in order to make them want to see more. With Marvel having such huge plans for Iron Man and the rest of The Avengers, there was an imperative to identify the things that make the character novel. The nearly instantaneous ass-whipping Stark administers on an army of mercenaries accomplishes just this, but the scene doesn’t end there.

The other thing that makes Tony Stark different is that he delivers the would-be assassin to the people who had been oppressed by the terrorist’s actions. Whereas characters such Batman, Superman and Spider-Man would want to see such a criminal thrown in jail, Stark proves he is different with the line, “He’s all yours.” By leaving the leader of the mercenary army at the mercy of his victims, Stark demonstrates that he has no ethical issues with street justice. Rather than create a media spectacle with a war tribunal, he effectively sentences the man to die immediately…and brutally. Stark is a man of action who will recklessly endanger himself as well as others if he believes he can save the day and if/when he does, the brand of justice he delivers would seem extreme even in Texas.

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