Monday, November 7, 2016

A Lifelong DC Comics Fan Ranks the 14 Marvel Cinematic Universe Films

In my little review of Doctor Strange today, I referred to it landing in the middle of the pack in terms of the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe. So, it seemed only fair that I put together an actual list ranking all 14 MCU films. This is a rare instance where I'll go from best to worst, so let's kick it off with...

1. Guardians of the Galaxy 
No MCU film has been as much fun from beginning to end.

2. Captain America: Civil War 
Winter Soldier MIGHT be a better film, but the best superhero fight scene of all time wins the day.

3. Iron Man 
Gotta give props to the one that started it all, from the excellence of casting to elevating a lower-tiered superhero into the upper echelon.

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier 
Re-imagining a superhero film as a Seventies conspiracy thriller and then getting Redford to appear — genius.

5. The Avengers
Sure, there’s some sizable flaws and ball drops in the film, but seeing the first culmination of what Disney/Marvel had been aiming for was a true thrill. Plus: “puny god”.

6. Captain America: The First Avenger
A good old fashioned rip roaring WWII film that managed to pull off a character that could have come across as pure cornball cheese.

7. Ant-Man
The only challenger to GotG as far as bringing the funny — which is little surprise with Rudd as the star. Plus, the most troubled film behind the scenes turns out to be pretty damn good after all. No "small" feat!

8. Doctor Strange
Cumberbatch continues a line of perfectly cast MCU heroes, just ends up being a little too lightweight for such a heavy character.

9. The Avengers: Age of Ultron
It was nice they gave Hawkeye something to do this time around, but the whole enterprise felt weighed down from beginning to end — as if decisions were made in a boardroom rather than in Whedon’s mind.

10. Thor
Props for even trying to do a film about the God of Thunder, and Hemsworth is a good fit for the role. And Loki remains the best MCU villain to date... 

But a lot of the execution feels limited in scope and range for what should have been a much bigger undertaking, not to mention an Asgard that looks as though it was designed by Donald Trump.

11. Iron Man 2 / Iron Man 3 (tie)
Anything remotely commendable in IM2 is undone by the painfully embarrassing drunk Iron Man scene, which is on-par for sheer cringe-inducing awfulness with the insipid Emo-Spider-Man in SM3. Speaking of wasted, if you get Sam Rockwell to be in your film, that's what you don't do -- waste him!

As for IM3 — as much as people disliked the borderline offensive Ben Kingsley/Mandarin BS the film tries to get away with, I was far more annoyed by Guy Pearce's Killian having an origin that is beat-for-beat a bizarre imitation of how Jim Carrey becomes the Riddler in Batman Forever. Say what?

12. The Incredible Hulk
The biggest sin of all: an utterly forgettable film. The not-so Jolly Green Giant has been one of the best parts of both Avengers films, and signs look promising for his sizable role in the upcoming Thor flick, but I’ve seen video game commercials more memorable than this heaping pile of meh.

13. Thor: The Dark World
But…this one is a far bigger head-scratcher. After two previous film appearances, both Thor and Loki were so well established, well defined and well liked — this should have been easy money, and a vast improvement on the first wobbly effort. Instead, it’s a big loud dud. From meh to bleah...

DOCTOR STRANGE: My Spoiler-Free Quickie Review

Dazzling visuals aside, DOCTOR STRANGE is a superhero origin story that is not only cut from the same cloth as movies like BATMAN BEGINS and IRON MAN, you can actually see the seams where they stitched in elements from both flicks. But also like those two franchise-launching films, what might have been rote is elevated by a strong cast. Sure, Benedict Cumberbatch may want to take a stab at a leading role that isn’t about a misunderstood, misanthropic and (of course) egocentric genius — but damned if he doesn’t pull it off every single time.

Although similar in formulaic structure to the aforementioned BB & IM, DS doesn’t do quite as good a job balancing the origins of the main character with the ultimate threat he must face to “save the day/world”. Perhaps fearful of a second act sag, the script has Strange go from novice to master of the mystic arts a little too fast, which is epitomized a key scene at the Sanctum Santorum in New York City. It’s still quite enjoyable, but they were really cutting to the chase far faster than a more fleshed out film should have.

In addition to the somewhat rushed nature of the script (which still feels more fully baked than other of this this year’s DC entries, if I’m being honest), there are attempts to lighten the story and characters sprinkled throughout the film. Some jokes land but others feel forced, as if concerns over the mostly humorless BATMAN v SUPERMAN from their rivals over at DC/Warner Brothers meant they needed to make damn sure smiles were being cracked here. No specific line or gag made me groan, so I wasn’t that put off with the attempt. After all, not every joke line in DIE HARD makes me laugh either. In either case - be it well crafted or not, the humor doesn’t negatively impact the overall tone of the film. And ultimately there IS something satisfyingly funny about how Strange ultimately DOES “save the world”.

I would also give the movie high marks for those dazzling visuals I mentioned at the top — the trippy nature of Strange plummeting through cosmic vortexes and mystical realms is far more “out there” than anything I’ve seen in any film of this genre so far. As for the INCEPTION conceits — yeah, there’s no denying that, but I’d also point out that both are tips of the hat to the works of MC Escher — done to great effect any number of times throughout the movie. This might be the one time I wouldn't have minded seeing the 3D conversion version (can one say “conversion version” — I’m not sure, but I just did).

Overall, I’d probably put the film a notch below ANT-MAN. It’s not as funny (which therefore reduces the fun), but you do get better antagonists (even in the typical limited scope of an MCU villain, I will always have a ball watching Mads Mikkelsen work), and I am very intrigued to see Stephen Strange appear in future Marvel films. There’s been 14 MCU films so far — I’d say this one lands almost exactly in the middle of the pack.

PS: Doctor Strange's cape is an actual fucking character unto itself — how crazy cool is that?