The First Dozen Marvel (MCU) Films Ranked

With the release of Ant-Man, Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films has concluded. Before Phase Three begins with Captain America: Civil War, now would be a good time to rank the twelve MCU films released so far.

1. The Avengers (2012) – As the culmination of years of careful seeding by previous MCU films The Avengers was a bold, energetic triumph. Director Joss Whedon accomplished the impossible by bringing together completely different characters and molding them into a superhero team just like in the comic books.

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As the most successful superhero film of all time, The Avengers excited numerous viewers and changed the landscape of superhero films. Before this film, the usual superhero films operated in their own realities without any indication of a rich universe as seen in comic books. But The Avengers embraced the richness of its comic book lore and it paid off. Now, shared cinematic universes are the rage. However, The Avengers is the best of the MCU films because it was so energetic, witty, and snappy, and had the novelty of our favorite heroes meeting for the first time. It all led to one of the most exciting finales presented on film that still reverberates with viewers.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – Marvel Studios showed they were willing to take a chance with this quirky and exciting space adventure yarn. Who would’ve imagined that a sci-fi movie about a bumbling space pirate, violent green aliens, a foul-mouthed raccoon and a walking tree would strike a chord with audiences?

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Technically, Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t a superhero film, but this demonstrates how this MCU entry is quite different from its standard superhero repertoire. What made it special wasn’t just the premise, beautiful visuals or production design, but a toe-tapping soundtrack that ingeniously used ’70s pop songs. It was a unique signature for this space opera tale about a group of space losers who banded together to save the galaxy. Chris Pratt became a star thanks to his silly, but good-hearted role as Star-Lord, the self-proclaimed legendary outlaw.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – The best MCU solo superhero film and one of the greatest superhero films ever made. More importantly, this was arguably the most volatile entry in the MCU because by the time the film ended, the cinematic universe was forever changed by the film’s events.

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Chris Evans as Captain America/Steve Rogers has demonstrated how he has grown in stature in these films. As a man out of time, Steve Rogers faced his greatest threats from a former friend (one of the deadliest and most frightening supervillains on film) and a shocking global conspiracy that rocked the MCU to its roots. Adding to the film’s specialness were a tightly written script, well-executed and riveting fight scenes and terrific performances from the cast.

4. Ant-Man (2015) – The final Phase Two film is known for its numerous behind-the-scenes hurdles where the original director quit after having developed the film for years. Yet, in spite of that and the titular character’s obscurity, Ant-Man was an unexpectedly great superhero film that’s full of panache.

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As one of the more humorous MCU films, Ant-Man quickly won over viewers with its outlandish premise: a man who can shrink and communicate with ants. Wrapped around that was a swift-paced heist story that deftly integrated itself into the larger MCU in a natural way that eluded other films that attempted this. Adding to the film’s enjoyment were many winning performances, fantastic special effects and unlike other MCU films, Ant-Man was able to deliver an astonishing final act that helped pave the future for the MCU.

5. Thor (2011) – What sets Marvel Studios apart with their MCU films is its willingness to remain faithful to the comic book source material. At the same time, Marvel Studios has the ability to make organic changes and updates to its characters and situations. Thor is a perfect example. The film wisely eschewed its magic-based comic book roots that Thor and his ilk were actual gods and cleverly used science fiction tropes instead.

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Thor followed the winning formula of MCU films by having an egotistical, flawed character learn some humility and become a hero. Thanks to director Kenneth Branagh, Thor also had a sense of grandeur that evoked a Shakespearean family drama. In this case, that involved otherworldly aliens mistaken for gods. It was also noted for its humorous fish-out-of-water scenario and Tom Hiddleston’s star-making performance as Loki, the MCU’s best villain.

6. Iron Man (2008) – The one that started the MCU phenomenon still holds up as a well-made origin story. Robert Downey, Jr. shined as he made a personal and professional comeback in the role of a lifetime. His trend-setting Tony Stark/Iron Man was a self-centered narcissist who learned to become something more.

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The first part of Iron Man was engrossing, particularly during the moments when Tony Stark first faced his mortality and was forced to construct a crude armored suit. However, the film faltered a bit in the second half. The pace dragged as we waited for him to construct a proper Iron Man suit. Things weren’t helped by the final battle that looked like something out of the Transformers and was just as cartoony. But Iron Man’s successful formula set the tone for the rest of the MCU. Continue reading

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Marvel Wins The Movie War…For Now, Part One

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Sorry DC Comics fans, but with the runaway success of the recently released Guardians Of The Galaxy film and the announcement that the upcoming film Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice won’t directly compete with the third Captain America film, it’s pretty clear that Marvel Entertainment has won the Comic Book Movie War over its rival DC Entertainment.

DC’s Early Success

For years DC was at the apex of comic book-based films thanks to Superman then Batman dominating the box office. Marvel wasn’t even a contender; it was consigned to bargain-basement FFshlock efforts like Captain America, The Punisher and Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four, which wasn’t even released. It seemed like Marvel just couldn’t get its act together and was floundering with its attempts to put something out into theaters much less TV. Meanwhile, DC had solid hits with its flagship heroes and films that although were flawed, were generally well received.

supe lexDC’s advantage was that it was (and is still) owned by the studio giant Warner Bros., which had the deep pockets to finance the superhero films. This was why the Superman and Batman films looked so good. In their day, they had big budgets with big-name stars, directors and the best special effects and production people working hard to put out quality efforts. The best Marvel could muster was getting Dolph Lundgren to star as the Punisher.

Fans asked for years where were the big-budget adaptations of Marvel’s best heroes? While Batman tore through theaters where was Spider-Man? Well, Marvel was just a comic book company then that went through many owners who didn’t know a thing about expanding into other media, specifically film and TV. Then there was the legal mess over who had the rights to produce a Spider-Man movie that was only resolved a couple of years before Spider-Man. By that time, Marvel had gone through bankruptcy and in order to raise money sold their coveted properties to different film studios. That is why properties like the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man aren’t made by Marvel Studios today.

Double-Sided Victory

Despite their overall success, DC still had some chinks in their movie armor. For every rousing Superman II or Batman there were undeniable stinkers like Superman III or Batman & Robin. Worse were truly abysmal films like Steel and The Return Of Swamp Thing that not only failed in the box office, but sullied the reputation of superhero films.

batmanDC Entertainment didn’t fully capitalize on the success of the Batman and Superman films. Yes, they did push forward TV adaptations of the Flash and Superman, but they should’ve concentrated on making quality films of their other properties. Instead they pooled all their efforts into Batman, which made sense since he’s their most popular superhero. But the problem with that approach is that when a Batman film falters it affects the rest of their line. And this is what happened with the release of Batman & Robin in 1997. That film strayed far from the winning dark and gothic formula that director Tim Burton used in the first two films and instead was a throwback to the campy 1960s TV shows. That silly approach used by director Joel Schumacher irked many fans who felt that Batman was a dark and serious hero and putting him in goofy situations was undignified. At the same time, DC was floundering with their attempts to reboot the Superman film franchise after the pitiful failure of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace back in the 1980s. A lull existed for DC superhero films that lasted from 1997 until 2004 when the DOA Catwoman was released. DC wouldn’t get back on its feet until the following year when Christopher Nolan’s reboot Batman Begins was unleashed.

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That film’s success did come with a price. Chiefly that Nolan’s unique and grounded Batman universe couldn’t have any ties to the rest of the DC universe. Hence no mentions of Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. Not even their home cities seemed to exist in Nolan’s dark and brooding world where costumed beings didn’t have true superpowers. As good as that was for the Batman films, it meant that DC couldn’t use them to introduce other heroes. That’s not to say they didn’t try expanding. There was almost a Justice League film made. George Miller was supposed to direct it and a cast was set, but the 2007-2008 writer’s strike ended that dream. Then everyone knows about Superman Returns and Green Lantern, two highly anticipated films that failed and left DC’s expansion efforts stillborn. Unfortunately, as these two films floundered Marvel Studios began its ascension.

The first few films based on Marvel properties were huge hits with the public and fans, some decried how they ignored fundamentals in core concepts. For instance, as Hugh Jackman became a big star for his portrayal of Wolverine, many complained that he was too tall and good looking. Others griped about why Spider-Man all of a sudden had organic webbing and never invented web-shooters. Then there were the misfires that were forgotten in the wake of the successes of Spider-Man 2 or X2: X-Men United. Those included Daredevil, Hulk and Ghost Rider. Continue reading

Top 10 Marvel Movie Villains

With Marvel’s superheroes blazing their way across movie screens, one factor for the films’ success is the supervillain(s) the heroes face. As any good storyteller will tell you, the vital ingredient for a gripping yarn is a formidable foe to put the story’s protagonist to the test.

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Being that the Marvel superheroes have such memorable enemies and that they translate well to the screen it’s one reason why the Marvel films have been successful. Naturally, with future Marvel films coming up, this list will change, but that’s part of the fun in making up these lists. So for now, these are the top ten villains to appear in Marvel movies…and the five worst.

Ivan Vanko10. Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2 (Mickey Rourke): Combining elements of Whiplash and the Crimson Dynamo for the big screen, Vanko is a cold, deadly and enraged Iron Man foe who was much more engaging than the original film’s Obadiah Stane or this one’s Justin Hammer.

9. Emil Blonsky/The Abomination in The Incredible Hulk (Tim Roth): Come on, the guy had the balls to go up against the Hulk man to man! That’s one tough SOB, and yes when he becomes The Abomination and fights the Hulk it looks like something out of  a video game. But it was a lot more fun than that turgid Ang Lee film.

8. Bullseye in Daredevil (Colin Farrell): One of the bright spots in that film, Bullseye had a maniacal sense of energy, ego and deadliness that upstaged Daredevil and gave him a personal motivation for trying to defeat the title hero.

7. The Red Skull/Johann Schmidt in red skull hugo weavingCaptain America: The First Avenger (Hugo Weaving): A bit one-dimensional but well-played by Weaving  as an uber Nazi whose ambitions elevate his evil to another level altogether.

green goblin spidey 16. The Green Goblin/Norman Osborn in Spider-Man (Willem Dafoe): The outfit stunk otherwise the Goblin would’ve ranked higher. Dafoe, however, gives Osborn his all as a crazed CEO with fantastic gadgets and (aside from the outfit) largely works as a villain.

5. Col. William Stryker in X2 (Brian Cox): Despite not having any powers, Stryker is one terrifying person whose bigotry and fear of mutants is a driving force that threatens the lives of the film’s mutants whether they’re hero or villain.

4. The New Goblin/Harry Osbron in new goblinSpider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 (James Franco): A true tragic villain, Harry doesn’t become bad until the end of Spider-Man 2 where the agony of his father’s death and his own inadequacies unhinge him. His hatred for Peter Parker/Spider-Man, the means he goes about seeking vengeance and his final tragic redemption are the best things in the third Spider-Man film.

doctor octopus3. Doctor Octopus/Otto Octavius in Spider-Man 2 (Alfred Molina): The best of the science-driven-mad villains. Molina gives us a very dimensional Doc Ock who isn’t driven by world conquest or revenge but to achieve a scientific goal. Never mind that trying to create his version of fusion threatens the world. Calculating and arrogant even before his accident, Octavius paid the price for his arrogance and was a formidably tough foe for Spider-Man.

2. Loki in Thor (Tom Hiddleston): One loki in thorof the biggest surprises wth Thor is how subtle and crafty Loki came off. It would’ve been easy with a title as God of Mischief to have him be a Norse god version of The Joker and be cackling and chaotic. Instead, thanks largely to Hiddleston’s quiest expressions, Loki is seen sympathetically as the seemingly less-favored son who holds a secret grudge against his brother Thor. The film successfully shows why Loki detests his situation and why he turns on his family; it’s more layered than him finding out his true origin. Rather his envy and anger are due to his own insecurities, Thor’s arrogance and is his validation for taking over Asgard through crafty means.

old magneto1. Magneto/ Erik Lehnsherr in X-Men, X2, and X-Men: The Last Stand ( Ian MacKellen): As one of the deadliest and most powerful villains, Magneto is someone you can’t help empathize with considering his background; he’s a World War II concentration camp survivor. He developed a hatred for non-mutants who persecuted his own kind,  thus making him feel justified in his actions against society. Magneto was usually one step ahead of Professor X and willing to go the extra distance to achieve his goals whether it involved harming a young girl or firing a gun point blank at a cop with his magnetic powers. Despite his age, Magneto was someone to take seriously as a foe and was also the mirror image, in terms of idealogy, of Professor X’s dream of peaceful co-existance with humans. Sadly, many of humanity’s actions throughout the original trilogy only added fuel to his cause and made viewers wonder as to who was truly evil or misguided.

new magnetoSpecial shout outs in no particular order go to Mystique (Rebecca Romijin Stamos) in the X-Men films, Venom/Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) in Spider-Man 3, The Kingpin/Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan) in Daredevil, Jared Nomak (Luke Goss) in Blade II, and Magneto/ Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) in X-Men: First Class.  Fassbender’s portrayal of Magneto was good enough to make the top ten list but for most of the movie he is actually an anti-hero who only becomes truly villainous by the film’s end.

And now for the five worst. Before getting to the these turds let it be noted that all it takes to sink a film (sometimes singlehandedly) is a poor villain. When coming up with a screenplay attention must be paid to the villain’s motivation, execution and threat level. It’s a hard thing to pull off; when it works you have a great movie when it doesn’t you have a franchise killer. So here they are, the Marvel movie villain Hall of Shame inductees:

5. Howard Saint in The Punisher (John Travolta): You know as a villain you’re in trouble when the colorful assassins you send after the Punisher like the Russian are more interesting than you.

4. Toad in X-Men (Ray Park): Talk about hamming it up! That scene at the Statue of Liberty when Toad tries to mock Storm with his silly dancing earned him a good lightning strike that ensured that he didn’t return in the sequels.

3. Blackheart/Legion in Ghost Rider (Wes Bentley): Boring, boring, boring! Generic demonic foe that looks more like a goth reject than the son of Mephisto. His father was a more intriguing foe yet this film chose to focus instead on this bratty emo.

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2. Dr. Doom/Victor Von Doom in Fantastic Four (Julian McMahon): This is miscasting at its worst. McMahon was terrific as the narcissistic plastic surgeon in Nip/Tuck but lacked the gravitas to be Marvel’s most infamous and regal villain. Everyone expected an Eastern European despot but got your standard egotistical CEO and coming so soon after Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin performance it just drew unfavorable comparisons. In trying to tie his origin with the Fantastic Four and making him a mutated being, this film robs the character of his rich backstory and menace. In this film he’s just a poor Goblin/Magneto/Electro knock-off. He was more like his comic book counterpart, power-hungry and more Machiavellian in the sequel but that film’s awfulness wiped out any improvement made to Doom’s character.

1. Galactus in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Destroyer of worlds, nearly omnipotent, a force of nature personified by a giant being with that wonderfully whacky Kirby outfit, that is how fans conceive of Galactus. Do we get this on film? No! We get a cloud. A stormy cloud. Seriously how lazy is this? What’s equally laughable is the filmmakers’ attempt to explain why they went with a cloud, apparently they wanted to leave it up to whoever did a Silver Surfer film to have a free reign designing Galactus. All this did was help to scuttle that film and any followups to the Fantastic Four. The execution reeks of not being imaginative and/or having a limited f/x budget. It was the ultimate payoff that never happened and signified the film’s problems. There was too much going on in the movie to adequately explore the most famous Fantastic Four story, it would have been better to end it with a cliffhanger even if it never happened. It would have left less of a bad taste.

José Soto