Friday, March 24, 2017

Marvel Movies: Ranking

It's been quite a long time since I posted anything. And while I won't be doing reviews anymore (or at least for the foreseeable future), I thought I might put a little list together about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an somewhat controversial financial juggernaut. About half the people who care love them all. The other half are bored to death with the inundation. There's very few in-betweeners. I am one of them. I thoroughly enjoy the concept behind it, a fact made possible by the excellence of a handful of the releases and the entertainment value of some others. None of them are Batman and Robin levels of bad, but are still incredibly lackluster.

Anyway, having either watched or rewatched all 14 of the films over the past month or so, I thought I'd do a short ranking of the films with some thoughts on each. Keep in mind I'm only listing the MCU films, so there will be no mention of stuff like either of the 2 Spider-Man iterations (though Homecoming, coming out this year, is fair game when the time comes), Fantastic Four, or any of the X-Men movies. So without further ado:

14. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

A film worth watching only if you revel in made-by-committee schlock or just like ogling Chris Hemsworth's chiseled features, Thor: The Dark World is the definition of lackluster filmmaking. Hemsworth, Tom Hiddlestone, and (sort of) the visual effects make the film watchable, but they are no match for director Alan Taylor's incompetent, limpid direction. The fight scenes are indescribably boring; the romance is completely devoid of anything resembling chemistry, feeling more inevitable than authentic; and the villain is incredibly unthreatening. The more I talk and think about it, the less I like it. Watch it only as a cure for insomnia. 1.5/5

13. Thor (2011)

Thor is not a good film; it's not a bad film. It's about as average as they come. Aided by a strong, reasonably complex performance from Tom Hiddlestone as Loki and Anthony Hopkins' reliable grandeur, both of which help ground the fantastical elements in the actual world, it doesn't fall flat on its face like its successor, but it's not exactly riveting viewing either. Director Kenneth Branagh is definitely trying to do a good job, but he frankly seems lost in many of the fight scenes, and the romance is overcooked, underperformed, and devoid of chemistry. Elsewhere, many of the scenes feel utterly sterile. Overall a disappointing, though not entirely worthless, display. 2.5/5

12. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

This is the point at which the Thor movies cease and at least somewhat worthwhile films begin. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what to make of The Incredible Hulk. Some aspects are decent: Edward Norton's performance and the action/fight scenes to name a couple. But many other other aspects fail to impress. Liv Tyler and Ty Burrell are thoroughly unconvincing as PhDs, and Louis Leterrier, rather good at directing the fight scenes, fails to make many of the other scenes anything other than inert. Additionally, Norton and Tyler's chemistry is somewhat lacking, though certainly better than that found in either of the Thor films. 3/5

11. Iron Man 2 (2010)

Now Iron Man 2 is a bit of an odd apple. Robert Downey, Jr. is still entertaining enough as Tony Stark, even if the character is a bit stale and Downey, Jr. is clearly unchallenged. And that second bit is just where the rub is. Iron Man 2 checks almost all the boxes you need for a good superhero flick, but it lacks two crucial elements: a decent villain and an air of originality. Mickey Rourke is pretty bad overall, not to mention terribly unconvincing as a scientist. The story may be ostensibly original, but it doesn't feel fresh, so while it may be entertaining as you watch it, it doesn't really stick with you. And Sam Rockwell, a high point for some other reviewers, was, at best, underwhelming and, at worst, annoying, not entertaining. It does feature the genesis of War Machine (an underrated aspect of the Marvel film canon) and a great final fight sequence, but it's not enough to elevate the film. 3/5

10. Doctor Strange (2016)

It may seem harsh putting this so low, but I simply couldn't justify putting it any higher. Doctor Strange is certainly not a bad film, but aside from the outstanding visual effects, it never becomes anything all that special. Benedict Cumberbatch is good, not great, and is occasionally overshadowed by his somewhat annoying American accent (which I initially thought was intentional, until watching some of his SNL sketches and realized he doesn't have a better one). Rather surprisingly, he and Rachel McAdams actually have something, and the supporting cast is quite good, particularly Tilda Swinton. But Scott Derrickson fails to bridge the gap effectively between the supernatural elements and the rest of the Earth-bound narrative. The FX obviously help mask that unfortunate shortcoming, and it works for the most part. 3.5/5

9. Iron Man 3 (2013)

While it suffers from Guy Pearce's proclivity for overplaying every single villain he's ever been cast as, Iron Man 3 nevertheless succeeds where Iron Man 2 failed, with new writer-director Shane Black's fresh, new take bringing the freshness the second installment sorely lacked, and Ben Kingsley making for one of the better "villains" of the canon, just because he's so ridiculous. Perhaps the best aspect, however, is the new and improved Tony Stark. I say new and improved in the sense that he's a much more complex and challenging character than before. As a result, Downey, Jr. gives his best performance in any one of his character-centric films. The final battle is very well-down and elevates the film beyond Pearce's unfortunate work. That said, it's only good and not great. 3.5/5

8. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

In many ways Age of Ultron is a lackluster follow-up to The Avengers. Its final battle sequence, for one, isn't as gripping as its predecessor's, though it's still rather compelling. It is perhaps saved by its plethora of superheroes, a fact I'm always willing to count in a film's favor, particularly if they've been well-developed in previous films, which many of them had been by this point. Additionally James Spader does a decent job grounding Ultron with his voicework and the transitions by the Maximoff Twins are well-handled by Elizabeth Olsen and (rather surprisingly) Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Definitely not an improvement over its predecessor, but still nothing to balk at overall. 4/5

7. Ant-Man (2015)

A completely different sort of superhero movie, in a good way, Ant-Man is thoroughly entertaining and intermittently funny, Ant-Man is just plain old fun. Paul Rudd is a joy, and what it may lack in character or narrative complexity, it more than makes
up for in pure heart. 4/5

6. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

A great example of how to do an origin story right, Captain America is thrilling, entertaining, thoughtful, and patriotic. Paired with the effortlessly charming Agent Peggy Carter (played with dynamism, spunkiness, and sex appeal by Hayley Atwell, and whose own eponymous show is one I wholeheartedly recommend), Steve Rogers and Captain America are brought to life effortlessly by Chris Evans' terrific portrayal. He's not as complex as some of the other superheroes to emerge from the pens of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but with his determination, patriotism, and dose of underdog spirit, he's my favorite. This fact, coupled with the film's period setting and accurate detail (a definite weakness of mine), may bring me to up the score later on, but for now I'll leave it as is in case my sentimentality is clouding my judgment. 4/5

5. The Avengers (2012)

Terrific at pretty much every turn, The Avengers is a terrific ensemble piece and a fabulous example of how to make an action movie. Aided by its central sextet's great chemistry, writer-director Joss Whedon (one of my favorites) sets about creating a witty (shawarma anybody?), action-packed film that manages not just to entertain, but to raise interesting dilemmas and develop characters and relationships in the midst of the action set-pieces. 4.5/5

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

The Russo brothers brought something new to Marvel movies when they directed The Winter Soldier. Anchored by Chris Evan's steadfast performance and animated by Anthony and Joe Russo's great direction and an underrated screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the film in some ways paved the way for the arguable redefinition of what the genre could be in its successor. Tremendous action sequences and emotionally resonant character development between the title characters make it all work. And work it does. 4.5/5

3. Iron Man (2008)

The film that started it all, Iron Man single-handedly redefined the superhero genre. With a career-best directorial effort from Jon Favreau and the return of the somewhat dormant talent of Robert Downey, Jr., the film is both the MCU's best example of a superhero origin story (even nearly a decade later) and a terrific stand-alone movie in its own right. There's really not much more that I can say. If you haven't seen it you're missing out. 5/5

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I can count on one hand the number of times I've had a better time watching a movie than I do every time I watch Guardians of the Galaxy. With a fantastic soundtrack, talented cast, and assured writing and direction from James Gunn (his screenplay is perhaps my favorite of 2014), Guardians is funny, heart-filled, and fun as hell. Chris Pratt is tremendously entertaining as Peter Quill, Dave Bautista is damn-near hysterical as Drax the Destroyer, with Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, and Vin Diesel (to a lesser extent) playing/voicing their parts to great effect. It's hard to find faults, but they do exist. Lee Pace is dreadful, as is Karen Gillan (which is unfortunate as she's rather great in Doctor Who), and Djimon Hounsou leaves something to be desired. But on the whole I love it and can't recommend it highly enough. 5/5

1. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

In a phenomenon unsurprising for those familiar with how my opinions on movies and TV shows often go, my favorite Marvel film is not the one I consider the best. While Guardians of the Galaxy is undoubtedly my favorite, it lacks the complex characterization and conflict of Civil War, and that is by design, but is true nonetheless. Captain America: Civil War is a tremendous film and features an MCU-best performance from Robert Downey, Jr. It's eponymous character is also well-developed, and Sebastian Stan gives a performance as Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier that has gone unfortunately unappreciated. The conflict is developed incredibly well, and the action/fight sequences are incredibly well-done and completely gripping, as well as entertaining. The introduction of new characters at seemingly every turn never seems forced or unnatural, and Tom Holland's and Chadwick Boseman's turns as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and T'Challa/Black Panther, respectively, promise great things to comes in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther both to be released this year. The film is not without faults, particularly Scarlett Johansson, who is unable to effectively convey the inner-conflict her character should clearly be feeling. There are other faults as well, but the highs of the film are so powerful they easily overshadow any negative aspects. Plus, Stan Lee has easily his best cameo (Tony Stank?). 5/5

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