Stan Lee, the legendary comic book writer, died today at the age of 95. Lee, along with artists Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, helped create some of the most iconic superheroes of all-time, including the Avengers, the X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four. In honour of his passing, we’ve highlighted some of the best Marvel movies to come out in the 2000s. These movies hold an iconic status in geek culture for very good reasons. Each of them does justice to Lee’s legacy as a storyteller, a world-builder, and a creative genius.
The comic world’s favourite vampire hunter is one of the few superheroes who has yet to be rebooted in the modern era. Then again, when you have a movie as cool as Blade II, there really is no need for it. Director Guillermo del Toro brought his own aesthetic to this sequel to 1998’s Blade, adding a stronger horror movie atmosphere, colourful settings and gross-looking monsters brought to live with amazing makeup. However, the film retains the badass action that audiences loved seeing in the original. Wesley Snipes once again rocks the black coat and shades, even at night, because he’s just that awesome. Every fight sequence in the movie is spectacularly choreographed. You even have Ron Perlman and an early American appearance by Donnie Yen rounding out the cast. This movie has style for days, and it’s still hyper violent fun to watch.
For many fans, Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies are the definitive version of the friendly neighbourhood web-slinger, and they’ve certainly earned that praise. Raimi’s interest in making them look and feel as much like the original comics, from the colour palette to the dialogue to the stunt sequences, gives these movies an extra layer of nerd-cred that few other superhero films have attained. However, both Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 also remember to present Peter Parker’s inherent vulnerability and his struggles as both a young adult and a superhero. More than anything, these two movies gave us the best on-screen depictions of Spidey’s villains. Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina are perfectly cast as Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus respectively, playing to the duality of their characters, while also being cartoonish fun whenever they’re in costume. Spider-Man II is still the only Marvel movie to have won an Oscar, winning in 2005 very deservingly for its visual effects. The mesh of fun and sincerity found in these movies gives them huge staying power.
X2: X-Men United
Even in the era of X-Men: Days of Future Past and Logan, X2 still tops many peoples’ lists as the best X-Men movie. Where Byran Singer’s first film in the series established the characters, his follow-up expanded on their history and on the society they lived in, defining mutants as outcasts in a judgemental world and making them much more emotionally grounded. Both the narrative and the action sequences have weight to them and feel like they matter to each of the characters as a result. Before Logan, this was the strongest, most complex depiction of Wolverine, the role that made Hugh Jackman an international movie star. The film also featured brilliant work from returning stars like Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Ian McKellan as Magneto, and even introduced awesome characters like Alan Cumming’s Nightcrawler. The climax of X2 provides several emotional punches for those who love and admire these characters. This is one of the most well-rounded explorations of not just the X-Men, but of any superhero team.
It kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a bang, taking a Marvel character who was not widely read at the time, and reinvigorating him with a whip-smart attitude, a huge dose of charisma, and quite possibly the coolest superhero suit that has ever been created. The first Iron Man is still a favourite among fans of the MCU for all of these reasons. Very few actors have become synonymous with their superhero persona in the way that Robert Downey, Jr. has become synonymous with Tony Stark. Everybody has their favourite Tony Stark quip or insult. They may even have a favourite line by Pepper Pots or JARVIS, because when you live with such a quick-witted hero, you’ve just got to one-up him somehow. The dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny throughout, and the simplicity of the story, focusing on Stark’s personality and character growth, makes it accessible to all audiences. Even as an early entry into the wider Marvel universe, the film still manages to be spectacular, with the aerial dogfight at its mid-point being a particular highlight. It’s hard to find a better cinematic introduction to a superhero than the one given to this genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.
Rest in peace, Stan Lee.