Thanos is on the horizon and he’s not looking to borrow a cup of sugar from Earth’s mightiest heroes. It’s caused a rippling effect to the point where people are spending more time with loved ones before the purple menace comes searching for the infinity stones with a golden fist. So until that imminent doom arrives, let’s start a camp fire and reminisce about this decade long journey. I’ve got the s’mores.
It’s amazing how far Marvel’s come since their bankruptcy era in the 90’s. DC might have a grasp on video games and television, but Stan Lee’s hall of heroes has changed the entertainment landscape for better and sometimes worse. Since that first after credits scene way back in the day, staying for the next teaser has become a tradition like Halloween or drinking on new year’s. Given that anyone could bite the dust during the Infinity War, a top 10 isn’t going do this roster justice. So we’ll mimic the final Harry Potter movie and split it in two. The only rules are it can’t be anything from Netflix since they haven’t crossed paths with theatrical characters, or Fox even with the recent purchase. Sorry Deadpool, you could always play the Defenders.
For every bulls-eye in a franchise, there’s always that one swept under the rug in hopes that history will acquire amnesia. With Zelda it’s the CDI games. For the Looney Tunes it’s the censored eleven. And in this case, it’s three filler sequels equally lacking quality that they all end up at the same rank.
Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World
None of these reach that same infamous legacy, but in the grand scheme they write the blueprints for the worst Marvel blunders: squandered sequels, underwhelming villains, flat comedy and the bare minimum of action. Let’s not forget their individual sins either. Iron Man 2 rehashed the same villain while banishing a majority of Mickey Rourke’s backstory to the cutting room floor. Then Tony make the dumbest decision concerning his home and spat in the face of the Mandarin in Iron Man 3. And Thor: The Dark World became the Kat Dennings’ happy hour to never-ending irritation when it wasn’t centered on the blandest, emptiest setting in all the nine realms. They still have their moments of fun and suspense, but it’s not enough to match the qualities of the next 15 entries. It’s all smooth sailing from here.
It’s interesting how much the ranks changed before binge watching 10 years of continuity for three days straight. Many titles clashed with each other for a higher position even if it was to no avail. I considered one of these to be the best in it’s own trilogy once, but without the IMAX goggles it’s fallen down the ladder. Still better than Thor: The Dark World though.
While a breath of fresh air, Ragnarok’s inconsistent tone is a double-edge sword. Especially when it’s parodies the grim, grounded Planet Hulk story. Not saying humor is a bad thing, but when everyone wants to be the stand out comic relief even if it goes against their character, it’s hard to get invested outside of Idris Elba’s resistance side quest. There’s no laughing at the destruction of your home. When the jokes do fit the character, like the Grandmaster, it really works. Just don’t overshadow the main villain. The action is a step up in the arena and the climax is one of the best in Marvel’s timeline with blasts of lightning, a giant wolf water-wrestling the Hulk and all while Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song echoes throughout Asguard. Earth has also been left behind to explore more colorful worlds than a puke green desert. And let’s also not forget Loki returning to the spotlight. It is a bit of a mess, but it could be worse. Kat Dennings character could’ve made a cameo. Let’s not give them any ideas.
Phase two was a rocky road looking back, and not the kind you find at Baskin-Robbins. Trying to continue the stand alone adventures while integrating new McGuffins led to a tsunami of exposition. And no one ever justified why the Avengers didn’t assemble for every individual threat. But you know what they say: Third time’s the charm. And phase three was just what that doctor ordered. Almost.
Taking the fabric of space and time and literally turning the world inside out, Doctor Strange went where no hero had gone before. The Inception edition of Jenga elevated the game of cat and mouse of trying to stay grounded in reality that changes at the flick of a wrist. It’s like Woodstock all over again. It’s a shame the Doctor himself is missing that cheeseburger moment of humility to make him a kinder person. We know he’s willing to study any subject to broaden his mind, but he never admits his faults to his mentor to discover his humble side when given a new life purpose. Comparisons to Tony Stark aside, Doctor Strange: The Supreme Sorcerer showcased his emotional turmoil and redemption in a more three dimensional evolution compared to his live-action counterpart. Did I forget to mention the villain? Just throw him in the trash heap next to the dark elves. He won’t be missed.
It’s ironic how popularity worked against this iconic mascot. 18 years ago he was the talk of the town, but when the original crew retired their storyline time became an infinite loop of Tartarus: Never evolving and always re-incarnating in a different body like some terrible curse. And it’s still going on with an animated version down the line. But you got to give Sony credit for finally sharing their toys with others.
None of the Spider-Man movies are the definitive version because each does something better than the others. There’s the rogue gallery in Raimi’s trilogy, Garfield and Stone’s chemistry in the Amazing series and the comedic tone combined with Holland’s energetic personality in Homecoming. That and casting real high schoolers instead of overaged college students in this Breakfast Club reboot. Peter Parker might have real world problems away from the suit, but he always got one-liners for back up with or without Tony Stark’s overbearing mentoring. Not gonna run out of those anytime soon. And what would this be without the always talented Michael Keaton? The villains have been the bane of everyone’s existence since the beginning for their one dimensional imprints, but with an added twist from an icon switching teams, he more memorable than his comic correspondent. Takes notes of this DC. This is how you do a crossover with Batman.
If only all comics were as easy to adapt as Spider-Man. Superhero movies can get away with a lot more compared to the 90’s and early 2000’s, but that doesn’t ease the tension of adapting the panels to a different medium. Which is why the best case scenario can still be the definitive stand alone edition even with abandoned plans. It’s not easy being green.
The Incredible Hulk
Joss Whedon describes the Hulk as impossible to bring to life for meshing polar opposite giants: a werewolf and a superhero. Do you focus on Bruce Banner’s humanity or the Hulk’s destructive nature? Ask Ang Lee. In retrospect, this is as good as it gets with such a complicated character. The balance between Bruce and the gritty green giant is just right with Edward Norton walking the tightrope between both personas during quiet relaxations and loud, bombastic military clashes. The pacing is also more steadfast as evident of the opening credits showcasing Banner’s origin without uttering a single word. And little details in the foreground and background add more substance like Betty Rosses estranged connection with her father as he tries to protect his career over his family. Did you also spot Stark Industries on his computer? Too bad Ross, the Leader, the Abomination and Norton got left in the dust down the road when Ruffalo came into the picture. Perhaps we’ll meet them in another lifetime. If not, Terrance Howard is always looking for new friends.
Of all the obscure characters to integrate in this long-term plan, one wonders what the process of elimination is like when selecting the best to crossover with others and stand alone against the cruel world. But by the time phase two was coming to an end, there was a strong urge for something different to conclude on when the sequels weren’t delivering on expectations. I’d wager that Howard the Duck would’ve been a consolation prize had this one not come into play.
Often considered Marvel’s middle finger to Edgar Wright, Ant-Man doesn’t get as much love because of the publicly known production troubles. However turning the typical origin story into a passing the torch chronicle was a liberty that brought many new twists. The family drama with the Langs and Pyms is the glue holding the heist together through planning and execution, even if the sidekicks can be hit or miss. It even answers the question everyone’s been asking since Iron Man 3: Why don’t they call the Avengers? The digital effects might not bet the most realistic, but they aid the inventive scenarios Scott Lang gets into, big or small. Ant butlers are so adorable when dropping sugar cubes into a cup of tea. Don’t forget an epicly funny final battle capping off phase two, which is saying a lot. Who knew Thomas the Tank Engine could be a home owner’s worst nightmare?
When such a groundbreaking bar is set, it can be difficult to reach the same heights a second time around. Just look at the live-action Disney remakes. There’s a fine line between retreading old ground and evolving story and characters that separates The Godfathers from The Hangovers. Sometimes it’s a bit of both in the end.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
There was a lot hype behind Age of Ultron from the second James Spader gave a twisted spin on that classic Pinocchio song, but the biggest problem with the sequel is that it’s not a destination. The Avengers usually mark the end of a long journey for each phase when things take a turn for either the better or worse. It did open doors to new characters and insights on their lives individually and as a team. Just look at how they bounce off of one another at a party trying to lift Thor’s hammer, or chopping wood at Hawkeye’s cabin. The action didn’t take a huge dip in quality either with the addition of the Hulkbuster and a highway truck chase (Though that climax could’ve been more fast paced). But when all was said and done, nothing evolved the landscape to new heights, which might’ve be impossible at that point. Had Spectre not come out the same year and undo everything the Daniel Craig Bond reboot established overtime, this would’ve been lower on the ladder. Dodge a bullet there.
So hands up if you’ve read Iron Man. Hand ups if you’ve read The Incredible Hulk. Hands up if you’ve read Guardians of the Galaxy circa 1969 or 2008?………..Where did half the hands go?
Guardians of the Galaxy
With a history of a cigar chomping duck, a mystical wizard and a high tech Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, it’s peculiar that only die hard true believers know of either incarnation of this intergalactic ragtag family. Former Raja Gosnell puppet, James Gunn took a huge gamble on spreading his wings with a naïve, walking tree and a blaster-crazy raccoon. And boy did it pay off. Without the deadweight of the live-action Scooby Doo director, Gunn really went all out with the insanity of roaming the galaxy with four fugitives that want to kill each other as much as they depend on each other. Hilarity ensues after a jailbreak. Some dramatic moments come out of nowhere affecting the pacing and once again the villain is as expendable as the next. But the focused humor keeps everything else on track from the mixed tape tracks to the constant jokes in ever new situation. So much so that even Solo: A Star Wars Story is trying to copy its style giving new meaning to the shoe is on the other foot. Maybe Chewie will go one on one with Groot someday. They both have the same father now.
This is TheCinematicBandicoot and going on a three day binge of all the Marvel movies since 2008 has left a crack in my skull. It’s gonna take some time to rest up, so join us next time in counting down the best of the. Hopefully it concludes before we all surrender our free will to the behemoth.
To Be Continued….
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