Pop-Ed: Ranking Marvel Phase 1

daniel cohen counts it down …

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While I’m more of a DC guy, there’s no denying Marvel Studios has owned the superhero film genre the last few years. And while superhero movies have always been fairly popular with Batman, X-Men, and Spider-Man, it was 2008’s Iron Man that started the idea of the ‘shared universe.’ Honestly, when Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury made a post credits tease at the end of Iron Man, basically announcing the Avengers movie, I laughed in sarcastic fashion. ‘Oh, yeah … I’m sure that’s going to happen.’ It wasn’t until I was actually sitting in a movie theater watching Iron Man 2 when I finally believed this whole Avengers thing was happening. But give Marvel credit, because it worked with flying colors. And now with Iron Man 3 out this weekend, and Marvel’s ‘Phase 2’ officially underway, I thought we’d take one last look back at Phase 1. So grab Thor’s hammer, Cap’s shield, and Hawkeye’s bow & arrow … here is my Marvel Phase 1 Movie Rankings!

6. Iron Man 2 (2010):

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Yeah, no surprise here. I think we can all agree this is the weak link in the Marvel chain. By no means a bad movie, it’s just very mediocre, and with plenty of little problems cluttered throughout. What’s ironic about Iron Man 2 though is that they improve on the things that were bad in the original (villains/third act climax). I like Mickey Rourke’s intensity as Ivan Vanko, and Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer was just a delight, so we definitely had better villains this time around. But the elements I enjoyed about the first Iron Man got worse. For example, I don’t like Tony Stark here. Robert Downey Jr.’s performance was still great, but the character was just too much of a prick. In the first film, Stark is the likable asshole, but in this one, he’s just the asshole. This film is also waaaaaaaaaay too long, with 90 useless sub-plots, including a 30 minute Avengers commercial in the middle of the film. But what I hate most about Iron Man 2, and what is my biggest superhero pet peeve are the childish antics. Superhero films have come such a long way, that when I see crap like Iron Man drunk at a party spinning records, Stark hung-over in a giant donut, and missiles that fart, it irritates me to no end. I know director Jon Favreau didn’t have a lot of time to make this movie, but there’s no excuse for that crap. Iron Man 2 … not bad, but definitely Marvel’s low point.

5. Iron Man (2008):

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I’m sure this is controversial, and I do enjoy the film, but it’s probably the most overrated superhero movie ever made. I like two things about this movie — the first act, and Robert Downey Jr. Now granted, Downey’s performance makes up for a lot of the film’s shortcomings, but that doesn’t mean they still aren’t there. Aside from Stark, this film has no other interesting characters … nothing. Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard are totally bland, and what a complete waste of Jeff Bridges as ‘evil business guy who jumps into a metal suit at the end.’ And once Stark returns to America, the film gets pretty boring. Really, we have to watch Stark build his suit again … we just saw this in the cave. But it’s really the third act that is an absolute mess. But I must say, I can’t think of another actor who truly and singlehandedly carries an entire movie on his shoulders then Robert Downey Jr. This performance should have been nominated for an Oscar. It is the definition of charismatic.

4. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011):

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Out of all the Marvel films that needed to be made to make the Avengers a possibility, Captain America was the hardest sell. In today’s society, the idea of a guy running around dressed as an American flag fighting evildoers has so much potential to piss people off. Look at 2006’s Superman Returns … they didn’t even want to have Perry White say ‘Truth, Justice, and the American Way.’ They change it to ‘Truth, Justice, and all that other stuff.’ But as soon as I saw a picture of the costume, I knew everything would be okay. It’s very downplayed and sleek looking. The casting of Chris Evans surprised me, but he pulled it off. Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, and Stanley Tucci are all stellar supporting characters. I wasn’t crazy about Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull, but he’s okay I guess. Captain America: The First Avenger is a solid all around superhero movie. I really don’t have any complaints other than nothing about it really blew me away. I could watch Cap throw his shield all day though.

3. The Incredible Hulk (2008):

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It’s sad not a lot of people saw this as The Incredible Hulk had to suffer for Ang Lee’s pretentious crap fest in 2003. The studio also never flat out admitted it was a reboot. Just say it … it’s a reboot! But this is a tight and well-paced movie that I love more and more every time I watch it. It’s got a strong supporting cast in Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, and William Hurt, but the man who steals the show is of course Edward Norton. He’s fantastic as Bruce Banner. It’s a subtle performance, but Norton makes it so easy for you to root for this guy. Mark Ruffalo did a great job in the Avengers, but I think Norton alongside Downey, Hemsworth, and Evans would have been even better. The look of the Hulk is also much better then the slimy/gooey version from 2003. Craig Armstrong’s score is also great. Everyone should download the ‘Favela Escape’ track right now. The Incredible Hulk is a very underrated Marvel addition that also happens to include a breathtaking fight between Hulk and the Abomination at the end.

2. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012):

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Marvel and Disney are still counting their big bags of money. I had my doubts, but writer/director Joss Whedon pulled it off. The Avengers is pure and unapologetic fun … a great achievement. All the actors are at the top of their game, especially Chris Evans who’s even better as Captain America here then in his own film. Although, I do think Thor gets shortchanged a bit. And while I enjoy this movie a great deal, I just can’t help but be annoyed by it at the same time. While Whedon’s script is hilarious and fun, it almost becomes a parody of itself. Guys playing Galaga. Hulk punching Thor for no reason other then to get a laugh. Agent Coulson gushing about his Cap cards. And yeah, I’m going to get on my Batman/Nolan high horse for a minute, but it’s hard to believe these two things are in the same genre. I’m sorry, but I’m taking the Batman/Joker interrogation scene any day of the week over Hulk smashing Loki. But at the end of the day, you’d have to be a real negative nelly to dislike the Avengers.

1. Thor (2011):

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While all the previous Marvel films are solid and great fun, Thor is the one that delivers what I love most about this genre: good character development, a riveting hero/villain conflict, and truly memorable scenes. The scene where Odin banishes Thor from Asgard is legit drama. Chris Hemsworth is just as good a Thor as Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. And while Loki is a fun villain in the Avengers, Tom Hiddleston’s performance is far more interesting here. In the Avengers, Loki wants to take over Earth … yay. But in Thor, you have no idea what his plans are, and it’s a more personal conflict between him and Thor. And the personal conflicts are always far more interesting then the ‘Yea, I want to take over everything’ mantra. The action is top notch, like with any Marvel movie. And I’m not a CG guy, but Asgard, and especially the rainbow bridge, are downright gorgeous to look at. I could go on all day about Thor’s greatness, but the real MVP of this film is director Kenneth Branagh. This could have easily gone horribly wrong, but Branagh brings a Shakespearian quality to a movie about Vikings who travel via dimensional portal…and that for me is why this is Marvel’s crowing achievement of Phase 1.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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