This year's crop of superheroes left me mixed, and sometimes grumpy. I liked Logan and Spider-Man: Homecoming and loved Wonder Woman but I was nonplussed by Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, was relatively bored by Thor: Ragnarok and outright hated Justice League.

When I thought about the genre that has come to dominate the movies, a pattern became clear: the superhero films that work best for me, and the moments that resonated in those that didn't, were about love and sacrifice, not cool fight scenes.

What set Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman, James Mangold's Logan and Jon Watts' Spider-Man: Homecoming apart was their willingness to engage with emotions that are more tender, and more complicated, than the standard "with great power comes great responsibility" dilemma.

Wonder Woman was the best, in part because those emotions are the driving force behind the entire movie. Because Diana's (Gal Gadot) goal is to end all wars, it is a bittersweet tragedy, not another story of victory.


In a similar way, Logan feels powerful because it's about another sort of no-win scenario. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is trying to give one generation of mutants a dignified ending, even as Charles Xavier's (Patrick Stewart) failing body and mind make that impossible, while trying to safeguard the next generation, represented by Laura (Dafne Keen), even as he loses power to preserve her and himself.

Logan is marred by the silly metaphor that effectively has Logan fighting himself, and by Mangold's heavy-handed treatment of the parallels to the classic Western Shane.

And though Spider-Man: Homecoming deviates the least from existing formula, it's anchored by Tom Holland.

The superhero movies that vexed me all had some sense of sacrifice, or at least of potentially difficult choices for their characters. Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) decision to give up god-like power is one of the most interesting parts of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, which would have been much more interesting were it willing to give full rein to the ideas about grief and loss dancing around its edges.

Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) loss of his eye in Thor: Ragnarok actually provides one of the more striking images in a frenetic, cluttered movie.

2017 feels like the year superhero movies stumbled on a big idea, even if they didn't all realise it: sometimes it's more interesting to watch super-powered people lose than to cheer when they win.