Ricky Church on the ten greatest superhero rescues…
One of the most popular aspects to a superhero film is the threat facing them, their city and/or the world, forcing them to push harder than they ever have before to save the day. However, sometimes it is on a much smaller scale, rescuing not the world but a single person or small group of people. It’s one element of the superhero fantasy so often appealing: you’re getting mugged, kidnapped or falling from a building when the hero swoops in and rescues you from certain death.
Sometimes these sequences where the hero rescues bystanders prove to be the best part of the film rather than any climactic battle against the villain or mad dash to destroy a doomsday device. Here are the 10 best rescue scenes from superhero movies…
Iron Man – Saving The Villagers
When we first met Tony Stark at the very beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Iron Man, he was an alcohol-guzzling, womanizing, selfish piece of shit who cared more about the profits of his weapons creation and arms dealing than the lives of those it harmed, justifying his actions with his father’s work to defeat the Nazis in WWII. That all changed, though, when Tony was injured by one of his own missiles and kidnapped by terrorists who wanted him to build them his weapons. It forced Tony to reckon with his actions and made him create his first Iron Man suit to escape captivity.
Upon arriving home, he made the drastic decision to cancel all of Stark Industries’ weapons development so they could never again get into the wrong hands. He still didn’t really face the full consequences though until viewing the same terrorist group using his weapons against a civilian village while US and other military forces did nothing. Spurred into action, he donned his new and improved Iron Man suit and for the first time in his life did something selfless and heroic as he saved the village’s men from being killed and the women and children kidnapped into slavery. It showed both the scope of the Iron Man’s power and Tony’s significant character development that would continue to impact one of the biggest film franchises in history.
X-Men: Days of Future Past – Quicksilver’s Kitchen Run
Most of the rescues in this list involve the saving of innocent civilians, but X-Men: Days of Future Past is different in that one of the most talked about scenes of the entire X-Men film series sees one of the heroes saving the other heroes. As Xavier and Wolverine plan to break into the Pentagon to rescue a captive Magneto in order to ensure a dystopian future does not happen they recruit Peter/Quicksilver, a young mutant who can run very fast in an instant.
Suffice it to say Magneto’s rescue doesn’t go according to plan and the group are held at gunpoint by several guards with plastic weapons Magneto cannot control. With Xavier taking a drug that allows him to walk but at the cost of his telepathy, he can’t get the guards to stop either. That’s when Peter oh so casually ramps up his speed and puts his headphones to listen to music as he runs around the room knocking out the guards in very goofy ways, like getting one to punch himself. When all is said and done, Wolverine, Xavier and Magneto are confused as to how that happened until they see Peter nonchalantly standing across the room like it was no big deal.
Captain America: The First Avenger – Grenade Jump
It can probably be said with little doubt, but Captain America is the MCU’s most heroic figure. He’s noble, trustworthy and willing to stand up for people even when he was a small, scrawny guy without any super strength or fancy shield. The first indicator of Steve Rogers’ heroic nature didn’t come when he became Captain America, but when he was in basic training as that scrawny little recruit.
Colonel Phillips was very skeptical Professor Erskine’s choice in Steve as a candidate for the Super Soldier Program. In an effort to prove Erskine wrong, he threw a ‘live’ grenade right into the middle of Steve’s unit. Ironically, this move would only prove Erskine right as Steve jumped onto the grenade to sacrifice himself before it could kill his fellow comrades or Peggy Carter. While no one was in any real danger and this technically isn’t a rescue, it still spoke volumes about how willing Steve is to save others even at the cost of his own life.
Man of Steel – Oil Rig
The story of Superman is one many know: an alien baby sent into Earth before his planet’s destruction where he gains powers and becomes the world’s greatest hero. What Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel does is examine how Clark Kent felt about those powers and embraced his destiny. In the first scene of the film where we see Henry Cavill as Clark, he’s living an unassuming life working on a fishing boat, but when he hears a nearby oil rig is burning down with workers trapped inside he doesn’t hesitate to leap into action and save them despite the risk of revealing himself to the world.
At first it seems pretty straight-forward once he gets the riggers out and on top of the helipad so the medivac copter can evacuate them, but then the tower above starts coming down. This is the only moment Clark hesitates because he’s unsure he can hold the structure up long enough for the helicopter to get away. Despite his strength, he still struggles with the massive steel tower and it’s this moment we realize this is his first time lifting something so heavy. He’s never used his powers on such a massive scale like this before, but he still took the chance in order to save both the riggers and medivac. It’s quite a powerful establishing moment for this rebooted version of Superman and as we soon learn from Lois Lane this is not his first instance of superheroics as he, despite not knowing his Kryptonian roots and constantly moving from place to place, could never stand by as people were in danger, leaving a small trail of breadcrumbs for her to follow.
Daredevil – Hallway Fight
Though not a movie, the one exception to be made for a TV series is Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil with its infamous and brutal first season hallway fight. The Russian mob Daredevil – in his early days dressed as a black-clad vigilante – had been targeting kidnapped a young child to lure him into a trap and nearly succeeded in killing him. After a chance meeting with the nurse Claire and her quick stitch up, he still went out injured, weakened and tired to rescue the boy in a jaw-dropping sequence.
Taking place entirely in a hallway and shot in one single, continuous take, Matt Murdock fought several mob enforcers with his bare hands. He bounced off walls, kicked down doors and even threw a microwave at a guy trying to step into the fight. It is an incredibly tense and exhilarating sequence as the camera moves up and down the hallway and around the fighters, perfectly capturing the brutality of the fight as well as Matt’s exhaustion, determination and skill against so many men. Once the last man finally drops, Matt prepares to enter the room where the child is held but takes a second to lift up his mask to show him he doesn’t have to be afraid. It’s a moment that humanizes the up-and-coming hero so much that when he strolls out of there with the boy in his arms it is a very cheer-worthy scene.
Spider-Man – Saving MJ and the Kids at the Bridge
In Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film – arguably the one that helped launch the superhero film genre to new heights – its climax isn’t some world-threatening machine or villain, but much more small scale as the Green Goblin put Spidey through a torturous dilemma: Either save Mary Jane Watson or a group of young children. The whole thing is a test for Spidey as Goblin has tried throughout the film to make him see the futility of being a hero.
The climax is a homage to the issues The Amazing Spider-Man #121 – 122, ‘The Night Gwen Stacey Died’, where the Green Goblin kidnapped Spidey’s then girlfriend Gwen Stacey and threw her off the George Washington Bridge. Though Spidey caught her with his web, the force of the stop resulted in a whiplash strong enough that broke her neck. Raimi definitely echoes that deadly consequence as Spider-Man is forced to catch either MJ or the kids, but instead he chooses to save both in a move that is heroic and epic, but leaves him totally vulnerable for Goblin’s attacks. Spidey doesn’t even worry much about the brutal hits he’s taking as his full concern is on the safety of MJ and the children. It is such a dire situation even the citizens of New York pitch in to help as the onlookers on the bridge start throwing whatever objects they can at Goblin while Spidey safely gets all of them on a passing sail barge.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Warehouse Rescue
By now it goes without saying Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has a mixed reaction from fans. Some love it, some like it, some hate it and many are downright obsessed with it. While a fair bit the film gets things both wrong and right about the characters of Batman and Superman, one scene among the best of Batman’s live-action appearances is his rescue of Martha Kent from a warehouse full of Lex Luthor’s mercenaries.
Throughout BvS, Batman is further traumatized by the climactic events of Man of Steel and is obsessed with the idea of killing Superman to stave off any more death should Superman ever turn against humanity. When he finally has the chance to kill the hero, he hesitates because of one thing Superman says: “Save Martha.” As much maligned as this scene is in some quarters, it thematically fits with Batman’s arc as he is psychologically triggered to his initial trauma: witnessing his mother brutally shot and his father’s final word of “Martha”. The moment forces him to realize he has placed himself in the shoes of his parents’ killer and despite being an alien, Superman is just as human as the rest of us because of his upbringing by a woman who shared the same name as his deceased mother.
It leads to a pretty awesome sequence where Batman, reignited with his original purpose to prevent what happened to him happening to anybody else, promises Superman “Marta won’t die tonight.” Now we’ve seen plenty of Batman fight scenes before, but the previous films involved either clunky suits where the actors couldn’t turn without moving their whole body, close-up and quick-edited fights where it could be difficult to tell what was going on or the classic “ZAP!”, “POW!” and “BAM!” from the ’66 series. What we get here is much closer to the fight style in the Batman: Arkham games as he uses a mix of scare tactics, gadgets and brutal bonebreaking as he moves around the room, often taking on more than one henchman at a time. For Batman fans wanting to see him displayed as the master fighter he is, it certainly is his best fight scene to date.
Batman – The Batmobile Chase
It’s funny to look back on Batman’s pop culture era in the 80s, but he had a bit of a reputation to rebuild as the mainstream audience was so used to his campy, goofy adventures from the 1966 Batman series. Michael Keaton’s casting further dismayed fans as he was mostly a comedic actor at the time, making them believe director Tim Burton was just going to do an updated take in the ’66 show. That couldn’t have been further from the truth though as his 1989 Batman broke box office records and fully restored Batman to his Dark Knight stature.
A strong contender for the film’s highpoint is Batman’s rescue of Vicki Vale at the Gotham museum, a trap The Joker orchestrated for Vicki so he could have a date with her. When it seems Vicki is well and truly out of options, crash goes the ceiling window as Batman comes through with Danny Elfman’s classic theme kicking in. Rather than fight Joker and all his goons, his mind is totally on getting Vicki out of there, even earning Joker’s jealousy as he marvels at Batman’s “wonderful toys.” As if the scene couldn’t get any more exciting, the Batmobile is revealed with its cool and sleek design, one that many still say if their favourite. After a chase through Gotham’s streets, the Batmobile is presented as a formidable vehicle and culminates in an alley fight between Joker’s goons and a sword-happy ninja. It definitely shows how skilled and prepared Batman is in his war in crime.
Spider-Man 2 – Stopping The Train
In the early 2000s before the superhero genre really exploded, the standard bearer for many superhero film fans became Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 and for good reason. It explored the complications of Peter Parker’s life with the broken promises, missed dinners and fractured friendships that came with being Spider-Man, forcing him to retire when his powers seemingly started going away. That all changed when Doctor Octopus kidnapped Mary Jane, giving Peter the strength he needed to refocus his powers and become Spidey again.
Even over 15 years later it remains one of the best action scenes to a superhero film, especially from a visual standpoint as much of the CGI holds up. Spidey and Doc Ock engage in a no-holds barred fight atop a speeding train through New York City, fighting on top of, on the side, around and even inside the train. It is an amazing (no pun intended) sequence showing off both how quickly Spidey moves in a fight as well as how dangerous Doc Ock can be.
The climax of the fight, though, is the real memorable part as Doc speeds the train up and removes any possibility for it to brake, creating a very severe problem for Spidey as the train is set to go off a dead-end part of the track. The fact his full face is revealed due to a scorched mask is of little concern to him as he does everything he can to stop the train. Victorious, the effort tired him to the point of blacking out. In what is a bit of a cheesy but very earnest scene, the people on the train bring Spidey onboard, give him his mask back and even attempt to save him from Doc Ock. It is a truly great scene from a great film that continues to awe.
Superman: The Movie – Superman’s Introduction
The best of them all is Superman’s formal introduction in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie with Christopher Reeve in the titular role. Clark Kent has returned from years of training at the Fortress of Solitude and moved to Metropolis, getting a job at the Daily Planet and becoming friends with Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. Clark Kent hasn’t yet revealed his powers to the world, but an unforeseen accident with Lois and her helicopter happens, leaving it teetering over the edge of the Planet’s roof with Lois dangling out of it holding on for dear life.
The crowds have gathered outside the building and out comes Clark, who finds Lois’ fallen shoe on the ground. He takes no time in deciding what to do as John Williams’ music builds. When he rips open his shirt, revealing the ‘S’ underneath, Williams’ classic Superman theme soars as does the hero to save Lois in what is arguably remains the best onscreen introduction to a superhero as Superman catches Lois.
“Easy miss, I’ve got you.”
“You’ve got me? Who’s got you?!”
A smile. A chuckle. A shake of the head. Nothing else needs to be said to confirm Reeve perfectly captured the spirit of Superman in that moment as he easily caught the falling helicopter and placed it and Lois back safely on the Planet’s roof. Superman: The Movie may be out of date with its characterizations of Superman and his supporting characters, but damn if that scene doesn’t put a smile on your face thanks to Reeve’s acting, Williams’ score and how Superman introduces himself to the world.
Did any of your favourite superhero rescues make it on the list? What are some of yours? Let us know on our social channels at @flickeringmyth…
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