Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Top 6: Marvel Studios - Phase One

Now with The Avengers out on Blu Ray, and having had time to rewatch it a few more times to see if it truly was the real deal (which it still is), I thought it'd be a good time to take stock of Marvel Studios and their movies.

Only six movies have been produced under the Marvel Studios' banner:  Iron Man and Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America:  The First Avenger, and of course, The Avengers.  These six films have garnered the title of Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the promise of Phase Two kicking off next year.  In fact, let's look to the future for a moment and see what Marvel Studios has in store.  

Next May brings Iron Man 3, then next November holds Thor: The Dark World, followed in 2014 by Captain America:  The Winter Soldier and The Guardians of the Galaxy, capping it all off with The Avengers 2 on May 1, 2015.  That is a full slate of five films, four of which are sequels, and there are still the rumors that an Ant-Man movie will surface somewhere between all of those, as well.  So Marvel isn't just sitting around patting each other on the back after completing Phase One so successfully with The Avengers.  However, I would like to take a little time as a fan just to sit back and look back on the awesomeness that was Phase One before going full speed ahead into Phase Two.

In the recent weeks I have rewatched all of the Marvel Studios' movies, and I've gotta say, I love them all.  Some of them worked well on their own before The Avengers, like Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, and then others, like Thor, have actually gotten better due to The Avengers thanks to how Thor and Loki were fleshed out even further in that movie.  With six films, I figured it'd be fun to do a list and just see which movie of Phase One was the best, and which ones kind of dragged their feet a bit.  It was real fun to go back and rewatch all of these films, and in my personal opinion, all of these films are special in their own individual ways, but there is always one that is better than the other.  So without further ado, here are the films of Marvel Studios' Phase One, counting down to my personal favorite of the six:

6.  Captain America:  The First Avenger
Chris Evans as Captain America is the highlight of this film.  He plays Steve Rogers with the right amount of heroic idealism, portraying the kind of man that most want to be, and that is what makes the character of Captain America so endearing.  The period setting was also an extremely nice touch, with the pulp traditions of the early Captain America comic books being given a chance to shine.  The characters work brilliantly, and the film clicks along at a nice pace, but there just never is a moment in the film that delivers that jaw-dropping moment that makes you say Captain America is a superhero, not just a soldier, but a superhero, doing things that only a superhero can do.  Even still, it's hard to not be charmed by this film.

5.  Iron Man 2
This sequel seemed like it was merely a prequel to The Avengers when it was first released, mainly because it expanded the role of SHIELD and introduced Black Widow, but after seeing what Marvel did with The Avengers, you begin to realize how much of this film really was its own entity.  It successfully continued the story thread in Iron Man where Tony Stark reveals his secret identity to the world (more on that in a moment), and it also delved deeper into who Tony Stark is, setting his character up where he is at the beginning of The Avengers, allowing him to go on that journey.  There is a surprising lack of action in this sequel, and there are a few moments where it seems the actors were more interested in improving than moving the story forward, but the story about Tony's arc reactor in his chest slowly killing him, and the answer to saving his life lying in his fractured relationship with his father, is where the movie still works the best.

4.  Iron Man
This was the film that kickstarted Marvel Studios' whole initiative, and almsot all of the success lies with Robert Downey, Jr.  The action in this film was minimal, but it was merely the charisma that Downey, Jr., brought to Tony Stark that made this movie.  It's just flat-out funny, but also has a ton of heart.  As well, this film innovated in two ways.  First, Tony Stark revealing that he is Iron Man at the end of the movie was such a novel concept, that has sort of played throughout all of Marvel Studios' movies.  None of these Marvel characters really have secret identities, people know who is under the mask, saving the day, and it was a new approach to superhero storytelling on film.  Second, and most importantly, the after credits scene with Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury was that first shimmer of hope for The Avengers to become a reality.

3.  Thor
I was not all that crazy about this film when it was first released, but subsequent viewings -- after having seen The Avengers -- has made this film for me.  I was never a big Thor fan before, and I still do not read the books, so the fantastical nature of the world of Asgard took me aback the initial time I saw this movie, because I knew very little about it.  The whole concept of the nine realms boggled my mind, but what The Avengers did was renew my vigor for the characters of Thor and Loki, and now going back to this film I find it more charming.  The way the film plays, it kind of thrusts you into this fantastical world, with little setting you up about the Norse mythology at play here, and even though The Avengers is technically a sequel, I think it works better to see The Avengers first and then see Thor.  Here's why.  These characters are so fantastical, being thrust into Asgard with all of these fantastical characters is overwhelming, but meeting the fantastical characters first on a more realistic setting like Earth, and then going back to see where they come from, plays better for me.  I can't quite explain it, but I now appreciate this film so much more.  Not to mention, the film is, and always has been, funny, and wears its heart on its sleeve.  Director Kenneth Branagh expertly deals with the familial conflict between Thor, Loki, and Odin, as great Shakespeare, and the relationship between Jane Foster and Thor as a charming romantic comedy.  It's one of those movies that perhaps I wasn't in the right mood when I first saw it, or something, but I now love it and feel it is one of Marvel's better efforts.

2.  The Incredible Hulk
This is a film that is often beaten by the ugly stick from fans and critics alike because of the behind the scenes politics that mired this movie.  Star Edward Norton wanted more creative control on the project, clashing very often with writer Zak Penn, ultimately rewriting much of the script himself and not getting screen credit for it.  It's still in the continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but this is the reason as to why Edward Norton did not return in The Avengers and was replaced with Mark Ruffalo.  It's a shame, because Norton's version of Bruce Banner was not all that different from Ruffalo's that everyone loved so much.  Norton played Banner as a guy travelling the world, helping people, while trying to gain control of the Hulk.  What this movie did, was it made the Hulk a hero, when Norton battles Abomination at the end of the film, he saves New York and those that he loves.  This actually created the biggest confusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The Avengers sort of retells the character arc of Bruce Banner from this film, him seeking to gain control of the Hulk, with this film ending with the idea that Banner has finally gained control of the Hulk and his transformations.  Even still, this is a fun, entertaining movie with a sweet romance between Banner and Betty Ross, played by Liv Tyler.  The most action packed Marvel movie aside from The Avengers, I really don't understand why this film gets a bad wrap, cause it truly is awesome!

1.  The Avengers
Come on, did anyone think that this wasn't going to be number one?  The Avengers had all of the goods:  tons of action, wonderful characterizations, humor between ego clashing superheroes, and moments of spine-tingling heroism.  Few movies are the whole package, and this movie is.  I often liken it to the original Star Wars from 1977.  It's an enjoyable, feel-good movie that takes itself seriously enough to understand and feel what is at stake, and yet it has enough fun to keep you from getting bored to death.  Like Star Wars, The Avengers emotionally involves the audience, because without knowing it, we have grown to love these characters and have become emotionally invested in them.  This is a rare feat, which is why I feel The Avengers will forever be remembered, not just as one of the greatest superhero films of all-time, but as a genuine classic of cinema.  It changed the game and proved it possible to do a crossover film between four different franchises.  This is Marvel Studios' finest moment they have had so far, but I am only hoping that this is just the beginning of what they have in store for us.

1 comment:

  1. All the Marvel movies so far have been awesome; it’s kind of hard to afford to buy something like this right now because of the huge price tag. I did however add the movies individually to my Blockbuster@Home queue. I found out about Blockbuster because a co-worker of mine at DISH pointed out to me that it’s better to rent movies for a flat monthly fee instead of buying them. It saves a ton of money in the long run.