The first weekend in August brought us the tenth film in the “MCU” – or Marvel Cinematic Universe – and since ten is a nice even number and a good starting point to do rankings, I’ve done mine. Here are my rankings of the first ten MCU official films in reverse order.
I do want to say I like Chris Hemsworth and in the subsequent Thor appearances, I enjoy the character. Thor is kind of dumb – but I really enjoy him. I think as an adaptation of the character, Hemsworth succeeds. This film, however, is a fish out of water comedy in the worst way. It is the wrong impulse to do the first movie for a big bad Norse god and make him look so ridiculous. Maybe if we had a movie establishing the character instead of a scene – I would go with some fish out of water comedy stuff in a sequel. But the tone of the film is not the only issue. The writing is bad. This script has no clue what it wants to do and how it wants its characters portrayed. As awesome as Loki is in his other two movies, this film could have squashed him. This film has no idea what it wants Loki to do. This is also the closest the MCU gets to Twilight with its “love” story. Natalie Portman is terrible is this film and the love story is not helping her in any way. This is the epitome of “they fall in love because the script says so.” I can’t watch this film. I can’t even get through it.
9.) The Incredible Hulk
So my category of terrible and unwatchable MCU movies is a category of one. Just because The Incredible Hulk is number nine doesn’t mean I hate it. I think movie has some value. I had been really excited for Edward Norton to be Bruce Banner. For Norton fans, you know one of his best acting qualities is projecting rage from an unexpected face. I also am an Tarrantino fan and so Tim Roth was also a draw for me. Unfortunately, the rest of this cast is really disappointing – including Oscar winner William Hurt. I think that Tim Roth’s villain works, I only with this movie was less about setting up potential other characters for the future and more concerned with a story. It essentially plays like a chase film where the chases end in the Hulk smashing. The stocks of the film are pretty low – and it obviously suffers from a lack of cohesive editing. Some behind the production research would reveal that star Edward Norton fought with the studio to get his own cut, that was three and a half hours long. The studio blanched and just tossed together what the director turned in and what Norton wanted. In two words, “it shows.”
8.) Captain America: The First Avenger
This film is again in the category of “I don’t dislike it – I just don’t like it enough” – I buffer up against whatever digital “old timey” filter gets put on big budget movies set in an older time. (Sky Captain, Indy 4, Gangster Squad) It makes the proceedings feel artificial, so that the steam-punk technology and the Chris Evans balloon head don’t look out of place. I think Chris Evans is strong as Captain America in this film, especially in the earlier scenes when he is “skinny Steve”. He sells that vibe about “the greatest generation” that everyone wants to remember. He’s altruistic, but not campy or unbelievable. I think that Haley Atwell works, but doesn’t feel like she has much to do other than fall in love with Chris – and the same goes for Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark. I do think this film gives us a villain the works and makes sense vs. most of the MCU films. The Red Skull is fleshed out in a way that, doesn’t make him nice or victimized – but understood. Agent Smith actor Hugo Weaver has a real sense to giving a lot to bad guys. I felt that Agent Smith was a fully realized character and the Red Skull is portrayed very well here. Ultimately though, the 3rd and 4th acts are poorly paced, ending with a climax with no resolution other than magic and entombment in ice.
7.) Iron Man 3
This starts my category of the good, but very flawed film. These are the movies I have strong opinions about, general positive, but recognizing the problems with the film. I do believe this is one of the most stylistically fingerprinted films of the whole MCU. Granted, ‘The Avengers’ is a Joss Whedon film, through and through – but I think that has more to do with the fact that the MCU is already Whedon’s aesthetic – whereas Iron Man 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy feel of a different cloth that is inherently the work of the directors involved. Shane Black’s marks are prevalent here with our damaged hero working out his past horrors during Christmas. I don’t mind how the Mandarin was handled (though I am admittedly not a lover of that comic character) and I think the concept of the film is strong. Seeing Tony be a hero without the suit was a great place to take the character. I think the execution is muddy from the pacing standpoint. I also think that the way extremis was handled was unforgivable. The terrible special effects used for the extremis soldiers sink this film down from the other Iron Man features. I also think this film is muddled on which way it wants it’s character to grow – and its closing montage should be have been scenes in the movie.
6.) Thor 2
This film is not very good. As a film, it is honestly worse than Iron Man 3 and maybe The First Avenger. Thor has a tricky track record with me. I – as noted above – hated the original Thor and not sold on his world. We’ve got two Thor movies and I really don’t understand how the realms work – and especially since we are asked to respond to the significance of the alignment in this film. The villain is also one of the weakest in the MCU – Malekith is an elf that wants to turn off the lights. Why? I don’t know – he’s just EEEEEVVVVVIIILLLLLL – and the universe turned into nothingness (including themselves) is his goal because his family died in a war. The two things I really LOVE about this movie though are Loki and the art direction on the dark elves. Finally in the third movie we get some character depth and some exploration of Loki. Thor one he was power hungry.. maybe .. kind of a sap – in Avengers, he was power mad but explored as an antagonist and not JUST a villain. This movie takes his character almost through a redemption story and we finally get some nods to why he had that projection power. I also like the dark elves – I think their weapons are cool (especially those anti-matter grenades) – and I really like Kurse in character design. Ultimately – this Thor movie works because the world he inhabits is cool (even if I don’t understand it) – and he is surrounded (generally) by cool characters (Loki, Sif, Odin, Frigga, Darcy). But that is kind of a problem when the movie isn’t called Loki-Sif-Odin-Frigga-Darcy .. it’s called Thor. And Jane Foster is all over the poster and she is the worst character in the MCU.
5.) Iron Man 2
This movie is probably the poster boy for the “Damned By It’s Franchise’s Ambitions” issue. There is a giant hole in the third quarter of this film that sinks it so low. That middle section is so bad it sets Iron Man in the same league with Thor 2 and Iron Man 3. I honestly could throw all three in a pile and on a different day choose a different order. For this however, I have done a lot of thinking and have arrived the this is still my 5th favorite. I think pitch and tone for the three quarters of that movie are straight in step with the original, and I think it starts off by trying to capture some of the dramatic depth of the original. Downey is being Downey – and the pace and fun of the beginning is incredible. The first fight with Whiplash is a sequence I would hold up as a Top 10 moment in MCU history. I think this film escalates the first appropriately with the new armor and the bigger threat. What is so lacking here is that third quarter where Tony must do some soul searching while being (badly) babysat by Coulson. The solution to his problem is bogus – although I would go with it if explained a little better. It feels like, the problem is fixed because there’s only twenty minutes left and we need to do the climax and not because Tony grew or discovered something in himself that makes him ready to face the bigger bad. Still, this film is much more tonally consistent with itself than Thor 2 or IM3 and feels much more of the same piece with its original.
4.) Guardians of the Galaxy
I think when you find episode 5 of the podcast, you will know how I feel about this film. So I will be a little more brief. You can also read my review with Amy here (http://culturebabble.com/2014/08/04/amy-bobs-guardians-of-the-galaxy-review/). I love the film. I love the vibe. I think the word is cool and I think all of its characters are at least conceptually cool. Chris Pratt is arriving has a leading man in this film. Rocket and Groot are a great new generation Han and Chewy. Why this film fourth for me is that it has nip-pick flaws in it’s universe crafting and it’s villain. I like Ronan conceptually, but I don’t understand his beef. I wish there were more subtle ties to the MCU int his film which could have been done through Kree culture nods that then get fleshed out on Agents of Shield or something. I don’t think you need a great complex villain to tell a good story. But I think you do need one to tell a GREAT story. This films pieces were so close to a GREAT story, that I just wanted it to elevate itself.
3.) Iron Man
This is the second best script and story Marvel has done with the MCU. (But Bob, why is it 3rd) I’ll get into why I have it ranked at three now and in my next section. So much of this film is iconic and self-resonate. It is a redemption story, not just for its character, but also for its actor. Robert Downey Jr has had numerous run in’s with the law and rehab. So much so that studios would refuse to insure him on set. Marvel takes a chance on the wildly talented actor in this self-reflective role and it sings. What I also love about this is it’s Stark (sorry- pun) realism. This film takes on the very thorny war in Iraq head on and the military industrial complex as a whole. It builds a hero and sets up Marvel’s most costly, but perhaps most bankable superhero. This film took a B (maybe C) list Marvel hero and made him the cornerstone of their multi-billion dollar franchise. The effects work is brilliant in the film. It is the only Iron Man film with any shots of 100% model suits – and you can’t tell the real models from the 10101010101011 models. It is a complete film, and while its ending turns into a little bit of a cliche, the film has already earned it so I just sit back and enjoy.
As I said in the previous post – I do think Iron Man has a better script than Avengers, but only in so much as it is a more complete and unflawed narrative. The script and direction work in Avengers by Joss Whedon is nothing short of a MARVEL (again – pun) and frankly – probably unrepeatable. It is a juggling act of epic proportions and that is why this film is number TWO. This film manages to give all (12-18) characters a few moments to shine – and not in a contrived way, but in a way that makes sense character wise and in a narrative sense. I think we are finally getting a great Bruce Banner character in Mark Ruffalo’s performance. I think Scarlett Johanssen also gets better character definition to act with. The battle scenes, in particular the climax, are so wild and kinetic that I will sit and home and just watch the last 30 minutes over and over again. If it were not for the achievement of it’s scope – there are some moments of silliness here that are close to unforgivable – in particular the rules of Loki’s mind control. The hit on the head to revive them cliche is silly and the “tink” sound the scepter makes on Tony Stark’s reactor take me out of those moments. Granted the later is played for laughs, but it is because it brings up a possible complication to the climax, but then cuts it away so thoughtlessly that is damning. I also think the Star Wars Episode One ending is very bad – not just cliche and a cheat, it also comes out of left field. However, like I said, the film’s scope is massive and it executes a mission of comic book adaptation that will stand the test of time (I hope)
1.) Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I do want to take a little time here to gush about my favorite MCU movie. This is the best script Marvel has ever produced and it is the only film since Iron Man that feels like it is going for being a genre breaking movie. This film wants everyone to get something out of it, which is more that what Avengers could have achieved. This isn’t a superhero movie so much as it is the best kind of James Bond movie. The way it catches the new comers up in an inventive way, to its conception of very silly villains, and the compelling and well-explored nature of its main villains. The acting in this film is the best – I mean everyone – even the new comers. The actress that plays Peggy Carter is better in five minutes here than this is in the whole first Captain America film. Sam Jackson is giving his best performance as Nick Fury, and it is because the material deserves it. There are a couple of troupes the film uses, but I don’t find they detract. I think the action choereography is the best of any MCU film and the climax is the most satisfying from a character standpoint of any of the films. Chris Evans elevates Captain America to make him the most exciting single property film series for me. It used to be Iron Man, but I will be hotly anticipating Capt. America 3. Once the Avengers get back together, I will probably settle back to liking how Downey plays in the group, but for the single adventures – I am stoked for Capt America 3, whereas I am tepid on Iron Man 4, dreading Thor 3, and doubting we will ever get a Hulk, Black Widow, or Nick Fury movie.
There it is folks. It took me a little longer than I wanted it to, but we’re here. We’re done. How do you rank the films. Please hit me up on twitter @BobHolt58 or in the comments section here. Enjoy and look forward to our in depth discussion of Guardians of the Galaxy on Episode 5 coming out next week!