Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ranking the Marvel Universe

It's been a while since I posted, and since I've missed out on reviewing the last couple of entries into the Marvel Universe, I figured I'd do what everyone else is doing and rank the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, based on the incredibly objective scale that is my own personal preferences.

#9 The Incredible Hulk

Remember when Marvel cast Edward Norton as the Hulk and set him up to appear in The Avengers? No? As hard as it is to remember now, The Incredible Hulk was Marvel Studios' second film, opening just a month after Iron Man in 2008, and it wasn't half bad, but of all the Marvel films, it slips the farthest into generic-action-movie territory. Norton's Banner didn't have the same humor or darkness that Mark Ruffalo and Joss Whedon would bring later. Despite that, it seems the continuity of this film is still in place, with references to its events popping up in other films and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

#8 Iron Man 2

The second Iron Man film had its share of problems, many of which were incorrectly blamed on the presence of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury, and the introduction of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in the film. Unfortunately, recent films (*cough* Winter Soldier *cough*) have demonstrated the ability to handle these elements, and Iron Man 2's story issues can't be excused as Avengers-setup. Still, this film did introduce the ScarJo Black Widow, and well as Don Cheadle's War Machine, and racetrack battle is still one of my favorite Iron Man sequences.

#7 Thor: The Dark World

I wouldn't say that I have a problem with Thor 2, or the first Thor for that matter, but here's the thing: There's a scene in the trailer where Thor "fights" a rock monster (watch it if you don't remember), and while it's a cool moment, it's also so short that it fits in the trailer, and it's basically free of stakes. Despite a promise to explore more of the world of Asgard, The Dark World gets too caught up in a save-the-universe plot, when the film could've been better served by digging deeper into the excellent dynamic between Thor and Loki.

#6 Thor

Directed by Kenneth Brannagh, the first Thor traded in Iron Man's grounded science for magic, Shakespearean drama and mythological themes, and it worked. Not only did this film introduce Tom Hiddleston as Loki, one the Marvel Universe's biggest surprises, but it's success opened the door for the entire cosmic universe. More importantly though, Thor is a lot of fun and sends it's main character on a journey that the sequel didn't quite match.

#5 Captain America: The First Avenger

This movie was brilliant origin story for Captain America, and in many ways, took an even bigger risk on its setting than the Thor films. The first half of the film excellently sets up Chris Evans as Captain America, and though the third act of the film stumbles, it's a worthy entry in the Marvel Universe. Chris Evans clearly wasn't a frontrunner for the Cap role after his turn as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four, but Marvel made right call bringing him in as Steve Rodgers, and the romantic storyline between him and Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter is strongest romance to date in a Marvel film.

#4 Iron Man 3

This is probably my only controversial choice, but I seem to be in the minority who thinks Iron Man 3 was an excellent film. It's a strongly character focused story, unlike a couple of other films here, and gives the character a purpose and emotional journey, while Shane Black's writing and direction bring a refreshing change in tone to the Iron Man franchise. In terms of the villain situation, I've addressed that here. I may be a comic fan, but I don't believe in criticizing the film based on the way it changes comic elements.

#3 Iron Man

There's a reason that Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau's first Iron Man film kicked off the biggest franchise in cinema history. The blend of action, humor, political relevance, and brilliant casting created a new template for superhero films. Unlike other superhero films released around the same time, Iron Man wasn't afraid to embrace it's comic book heritage, without becoming a slave to it. Anyway my extend thoughts on the film are here.

#2 Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The most recent entry into the Marvel Universe is notable for proving wrong several points of accepted wisdom. Namely, (1) a movie that ties into the established parts of the universe and sets up for other films (Iron Man 2 for example) must be bad, and (2) that a superhero movie with multiple villains (e.g. Spider-man 3) must suffer from that fact  The Winter Soldier packs in more characters than any Marvel film apart from the Avengers, but directors Joe and Anthony Russo prove that those pieces can aid a story rather than hinder it. New additions to the Marvel Universe like Anthony Mackie and Robert Redford, plus the anticipated expansion of Sebastian Stan's character are highlights, but the real credit belongs with Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson who shine in their lead roles.

#1 The Avengers

When all's said and done, my favorite entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to be The Avengers. What could have been the studio's biggest mess, under the care of Joss Whedon, became something that surpassed my highest expectations. Extend thoughts on the film are here. With so many characters to juggle, every scene has to count, and the amount of character development packed into each scene is remarkable. It ranks highly on my list of favorite films of all-time.

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