The Hidden S in Phone Booth

Five great underrated Superhero film/television performances... The list of great performances in superhero films is a short, but distinguished one starting with Christopher Reeves, Michael Keaton, Christian Bale and, of course, Heath Ledger. Despite these fine and memorable performances there are quite a few more that go unnoticed for one reason or another. Here are a handful of peformances worth a second look... George Reeve as Superman Christopher Reeves is often thought of as the gold standard for celluloid versions of the Man of Steel and it is true that his performance in 1978 helped make him a minor Hollywood star and helped usher in a degree of seriousness and quality for Hollywood superhero films. Having said that, George Reeves is still the best Superman on television or film to date. Why? Mainly the reasons have to do with G. Reeves' good-natured but authoritarian prescience as Superman AND Clark Kent. C. Reeves' Clark Kent was the wuss that the character has too often been portrayed as (unnecessarily so). George Reeves' portrayal of Clark Kent was as a competent professional newspaperman who was smooth and competent almost to the point of being suave. Physically, Reeve was no candidate for a Men's Health cover, but he did have the right barrel-chested, thick-waisted shape that the comics Superman had in the 50's. For what it is worth, it seems that Alex Ross in particular pays great homage to Reeves' portrayal in many of his Superman portraits. Thomas Jane as the Punisher This film is no undiscovered masterpiece, but it is a good film with a solid performance by a buffed up Thomas Jane. Of the Marvel films from this decade, it seems to in some ways be the most realistic and is more along the lines of one of the 70's style revenge flicks like Dirty Harry or one of the Charles Bronson epics with a cracked superman coming on strong for revenge. Jane, a solid performer (but so far not a star), was crucial casting as the actor commands audience sympathy as both a vigilante and a good father and husband. Marvel (usually a good caretaker of its properties) seems to have dropped the ball here as the sequel was a bungle with another actor (the intimidating but limited Ray Stevenson) and a different and superviolent tone*. The Punisher could be a property that would work well in episodic television, but at this point Punisher fans will have to make due with this solid effort and Jane's respectable performance. *Editor's Note: Marvel more than dropped the ball on this one. They dropped an hour and a half of your life that you'll never, ever get back. Gabriel Macht as The Spirit I don't know what happened with The Spirit. It was no disaster, but it's performance at the box office was such that it basically put the kibosh on any sequels (not to say anything of Frank Miller's career as a director, which seems to have stalled if not imploded). I hate when journalists say the audience doesn't "get it" but I think this might have been a time when the audience (and critics for that matter) really did not get it. In the middle of this is a great, witty turn by Gabriel Macht as the Spirit. Wittier than Bale's Dark Knight, less intense than Downey's Tony Stark and more fun than Ed Norton's Hulk; Macht has the kind of old-fashioned looks that might have made him a move star a generation or two ago. Unfortunately, there is nothing more out of fashion now than traditional movie star looks, so Macht might have to be satisfied with being a steady working actor. Too bad. Billy Zane as the Phantom Zane's performance as the Phantom is one of the most unusual in superhero films and probably one of the least witnessed as this film did poorly at the box office and is rarely on television. I actually interviewed Billy Zane when I lived in North Carolina for a straight-to-video film called Morgan's Ferry and I asked him about the film. He told me that he based his performance on some of the body language of the Phantom character of the strips and even some dance stuff from Gene Kelly. Looking at the film again there is some of that stuff in there which makes it the rare superhero film which has Gene Kelly as an influence. Beyond this, Zane got in admirable shape and from just a pure "look" standpoint he made a great looking Phantom in an unfortunately bad film. Matthew Goode as Adrien Viedt This is definitely a guilty pleasure pick in a list of guilty pleasures. Goode, a solid British leading man type cut out for Noel Coward plays and squiring Keira Knightley around, is cast as the "so heroic he has to be the bad guy" Adrien Veidt/Ozymandias in Zack Snyder's Watchmen. This film was a considerable and bitter disappointment to fan's of this work who had waited decades for a film treatment. Goode, in my mind, was the best thing in the film, mainly because he looked more at home in his ridiculous costume (unlike Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earl Haley) and actually seemed at home in his Egyptian inspired "Fortress of Solitude" lair. Goode even seemed convincing in his fight scenes; his performance is a small triumph of casting against type. Honorable Mention: Sylvester Stallone in Judge Dredd ("PREPARE TO BE JUDGED!)-Priceless stuff... The Hidden S