Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ranking the Marvel films so far

Now that Ant-Man has brought Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a close, and it'll be another year before we get another Marvel film ("Fantastic Four" doesn't count), it's high time I ranked the films thus far. 

12. The Incredible Hulk (2008). The film is billed as "incredible"; I call it distilled weaksauce. Some fun action scenes and humor do not make up for the lackluster performances, most notably from Edward Norton (who reeeeally came across as disinterested), and Hulk taking out the Abomination by ... choking him out with a lead pipe? What? At least the previous film had Sam Elliott!

"Thunderbolt" Ross does not condone your buffoonery. 

11. Thor: The Dark World (2013). Anytime Loki is onscreen, the film is a blast. But once he exits the narrative it goes downhill fast. The audience is given no further reason to care about Jane Foster (although Lady Sif does regard her with some epic side-eye), and when we first see Dr. Selvig he's running around naked ... for no reason except "he's craaaaazy." Even Anthony Hopkins, who was perfectly cast and utilized as Odin in the first film, seems wasted here, and he seems to phone it in. And there's no reason to care about the villain except for the fact that he killed Thor's mom to remind us how evil he is. Plus, the last 30 minutes are essentially just Thor and Malekith playing "Portal."

"There goes the neighborhood ..."

10. Iron Man 3 (2013). This one is still a lot of fun, but it just doesn't hold up compared to the other two, especially after repeated viewings. The "twist" regarding the Mandarin isn't a death sentence for the film by any means, but it's still a disappointment, and the fire-breathing Aldrich Killian is quite unimpressive compared to the darkly sinister Ben Kingsley mumbling assorted nonsense about teaching America a lesson. Killian's underlings, on the other hand, played by James Badge Dale and Stephanie Szostak, are a lot more interesting, and a lot more bloodthirsty. The movie also falters a bit in its attempts to counterbalance the darker tone with one-liners and gags ... it works to an extent but after a while it gets old, especially with the plucky comic relief kid.

To be fair, though, who WOULDN'T leave Ty Simpkins behind?

9. Iron Man 2 (2010). Honestly, this movie gets a lot more hate than it deserves. It biggest offense, which admittedly does detract a great deal from the overall product, is the rushed ending. Like most moviegoers, I really could have gone for another 5-10 minutes of Iron Man and War Machine whupping up on Whiplash (or vice-versa). Mickey Rourke was such an enjoyable villain, and I would have liked to see him at least have words with Tony before the two armored heroes "crossed the streams" and vaporized him. More of Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer would also have been appreciated. The "my arc reactor is slowly killing me" subplot, too, was pretty weak, especially since Iron Man 3 showed he could have had it removed at any time. 

This guy ... we need more of this guy. 

8. Ant-Man (2015). What I liked about Ant-Man was (pun intended) its small scale. There's no imminent threat to mankind, just the implied threat of what will happen if CEO Darren Cross has his way. It's a fun, good-natured heist film, and the ever-endearing everyman Paul Rudd is a perfect addition to the MCU as Scott Lang, heir to the Ant-Man mantle. But even though the movie is good fun with heart, that's not quite enough to put it at the top of my list.

"Stupid drain's clogged again ..."

7. Thor (2011). There's really nothing wrong with Thor. In fact, its greatest triumph is making Thor, a rather stuffy character in the comics, a likable if slightly boorish character you'd actually want to hang out with in real life. Kenneth Branagh did a great job adapting the character to the big screen, but at times it does drag a little bit, and the slower pace is what keeps it from being a top-tier Marvel film. I was also a bit displeased by Natalie Portman as love interest Jane Foster, who in the comics is a nurse but in the film is an astrophysicist. If their goal was to make her more of a "strong female character," they kind of failed, because at every turn she's still practically swooning for the muscle-bound thunder god (the sequel takes it even further in the wrong direction, showing Jane's life has become a lonely, miserable mess in his absence). The animated series Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes got Jane right, portraying her as a tough EMT who runs directly into danger to help the wounded, and thereby gaining Thor's attention and respect. The movie version of Jane ... I honestly don't see why Thor would give her the time of day. 

Old-school Jane ain't got time for Thor's crap. 

6. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). I loved this movie. I really did. And it hurts to exclude it from the top 5. Excellent casting, exhilarating action and a great pulpy feel all contributed to a great movie. I especially enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones as the gruff yet witty Colonel Chester Phillips and Toby Jones as the scheming HYDRA scientist Arnim Zola. Buuuuut it still rates below the top dogs, and it has its share of goofy moments.

Sorry, Steve ...

5. Iron Man (2008). Marvel got it right the first time with this film. It's exciting, it's funny, it's got a terrifying heel turn from Jeff Bridges and it showed us that Robert Downey, Jr., was actually leading man material. It's not the best of the Marvel films, but it set the stage for all the awesomeness that followed over the next seven years.

"Hey, bebbeh ..."

4. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Nowwwww we're down to the tough choices. From here on out, they are all 5-star movies in my book. Age of Ultron is not the best of the top four, and the parts where Whedon clearly had more to say are evident, but this is still an immensely satisfying movie. Some developments are a little out of left field, such as Black Widow's teased romance with Dr. Banner, who she should be terrified of after the first film, but overall it's a very well-crafted film with high stakes and Whedon's trademark knack for sharp banter and character development.

It also had this jack@$$.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Marvel's best solo film so far, even though it wouldn't be a stretch to call it Avengers 1.5. The action is breathtaking, and finally gives Samuel L. Jackson the chance to be the Nick Fury we've been waiting for all this time. And even though those expecting Robert Redford to be the Red Skull in disguise were disappointed, the implosion of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the revelation of HYDRA's resurgence were nonetheless developments that shook the entire MCU, and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series as well.

And you thought you had a lousy commute ...

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). How can you not love this movie? A ragtag band of misfit characters get together in decidedly "Star Wars"-ish fashion and save the galaxy, with a delightfully awesome soundtrack to boot. It's not quite meaty enough to take the top spot, but it is a VERY close second. The best argument that can be made for it deserving the top spot, though, is its universal appeal. ANYBODY can enjoy this film, whether or not they typically like superhero or sci-fi movies.

Stay swashbuckly, my friends.

1. The Avengers (2012). All of the yes. Although subsequent viewings are a reminder of how excruciatingly slow the first act is, once it pays off IT PAYS OFF BIG. I'd go so far as to call this movie the culmination of all my childhood dreams in one glorious spectacle. The most ingenious aspect of the Marvel model is that all of the characters had already been established--all The Avengers had to do was bring them together, and once they get off the Helicarrier and into action, it's a sight to behold. Plus you get the wonderfully hammy villainy of Tom Hiddleston's Loki in all his figurative mustache-twirling glory. The Avengers might not hold the top spot for long, with The Infinity War being the obvious endgame of Phase 3, but for now it's still the one to beat.

... like a rented Loki. 

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