It is a mere 10 days until Marvel Madness (a disease known to cause fits of hysteria, cosplay, and long lines for midnight showings) to grip America and theaters around the world. Two Marvel movies made a combined $593 million domestically and were just shy of making $1.5 billion worldwide last year (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy). The last Avengers movie made more than that worldwide in 2012, raking in $1,518,594,910! That is giant pile of money!
Once you have recovered from the staggering amount of countries Disney/Marvel could buy with what they have made on only three of their 10 movies ($3+ billion), we can move on to talking about the quality of the movies. Not everyone is going to agree on which movie is the best one, since most of you are going to have a favorite superhero or moment or something that firmly entrenches it as your favorite. However, I submit there is definitely and upper tier (roughly 5 to 6 of the movies) and a lower tier of Marvel movies. With that being said, and with no further explanation as to avoid incriminating myself even more when I get to my Top 3, let’s dive right in and discuss the best of the bunch before AoU cements itself a spot (wishful thinking?).
5) Captain America: The First Avenger
Why It’s Good:
I’m not sure why everyone is so down on this movie. It is a very well told origin story on par with Cap’s main antagonist/buddy, Iron Man, and Evans does a spectacular job embodying this iconic character. Joe Johnston and the creative team get this late 60’s action/adventure vibe that befits a World War II drama of the era when Captain America was in the midst of his Silver Age revival under the direction of Stan Lee and and Jack Kirby. It is incredibly relevant as it takes sets up Cap’s past and mixes it with more current issues of terrorism, patriotism, and a commitment to the ideals of our country. What I liked most is what they are getting right about Captain America, himself. Gone is any attempt to “dark knight” the hero, *cough* Man of Steel, and Evans displays the sincerity and conviction of who Captain America really is; a true American Hero.
Why It’s NOt #1:
The goofy CGI used to make Evans appear puny and an underwhelming 96 pound waif. It’s really distracting and I breathed a sigh of relief when they inject him with the serum and Evans no longer looks so goofy. Also, the whole HYDRA thing is kind of a snoozer. I know it sets up a lot of the elements that make The Winter Soldier so great, but they could have done away with some of those elements. Lastly, although I like what Evans does with Cap, he is a little plastic in this movie. It might be more a testament to Johnston’s directing, since Whedon and the Russo’s get much more out of him, but it could also be Evans was just getting wet behind the ears as a leading man.
4) Iron Man
Why It’s Good:
The one that started it all and launched the MCU off on a spectacular and dazzling start. Thanks to the advancements of CGI, Iron Man, as a superhero, could finally be realized as he was meant to be realized. He was my favorite character in the old Marvel arcade games, but I never thought he would be the defining starting point for a score of Marvel movies. A lot of the movie and the character owe a debt of gratitude to Robert Downey Jr., who seemed to be born to play this role. He had started his comeback and coming to his own as Tony Stark when he co-starred in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Zodiac, but it was this role that today has him as one of the most recognized stars in the world and an all-around cool guy. The action is superb, the writing is precision wit with moments of silly fun, and has a surprising amount of pathos for a super hero movie, retrospective to 2008. Stark is not a big burly superhero, but a playboy who awakens from his greedy stupor to fight against the very things he used to facilitate. He’s brazen, sarcastic, intelligent, and sophisticated, but he has had an awakening that informs his new life as Iron Man.
Why It’s Not #1:
There is really not a lot in this movie that prevents it from being #1, it’s only because the movies above it are that much better. Jeff Bridges is OK as Obadiah, so I guess if you have to fault the movie for something, it is probably that. Also, the movie does suffer a little bit from direction drift, as Favreau is not the greatest director. Downing Jr. is so strong in this movie that many of the faults of the movie are covered by this perfect role.
3) The Avengers
Why It’s Good:
It is not often that six lead characters can all be stuffed into a movie and it still works. The Avengers brings all the Marvel superheroes together and their chemistry and banter is top notch. Leave a community of egos to Joss Whedon and he will work some amazing magic. Whedon, by far, is what makes this movie what it is. Without the nimble and fun dialogue to pace the movie, it would have been seen as one giant action sequence to the next and really have felt a lot more like Transformers. But there is pathos, especially between Black Widow and The Hulk, as well as Cap and Stark, and the movie has a brain while not losing the fun. You genuinely feel the emotional turn when Coulson dies at the hands of Loki, and that pain and sudden turn in emotions sets up the final third and brings the heroes together. An incredible achievement that made superhero team ups seem fresh and exciting!
WhY It’s Not #1:
The NY action sequence is just totally insane. It is that last portion that feels like the movie takes a turn into being just a crazy action movie and has moved away from what set it up. Also, Johannson’s Black Widow had not really come into her own yet and felt completely out of place among the rest of the bunch. Here are a bunch of superheroes with awesome powers and she fires a pistol…
2) Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Why It’s Good:
The Russo Brothers took over for Johnston and created something so incredibly good. It’s a spy thriller with just a dash of the MCU, comic book action and characters, and dramatic tension. It’s the full realization of what Marvel started in the previous installment of Captain America and we see Evans really be Steve Rogers. He’s loyal, he’s moral, he’s patriotic, he’s not in the least bit jaded, but he has a past and hurt that tempers his American enthusiasm. Captain America has once again become this generation’s Superman, embodying everything we really want in a hero. Add in Black Widow coming into her own and feeling like she really belonged in a movie for once, as well as the great addition of Anthony Mackie as Falcon, this movie paces well and is incredibly enjoyable and actually feels like a thrill ride.
Why It’s Not #1:
The last sequence, oh man, does it get totally crazy! It felt WAY too much like the end of Avengers and gets exploding happy and daring-do insane. Also, Bucky is a pretty weak bad guy who’s story isn’t fully realized, in my opinion, and that takes away from a bit of the bad guy/good guy tension that should have been through the roof when it is a friend vs. friend. Let’s hope they can more skillfully walk that line in Civil War.
1) Guardians of the Galaxy
Why It’s Good:
This movie is far and away my favorite of the Marvel series, but I legitimately believe this to be the best in the series, so far. Boasting an amazing lead in Chris Pratt, he is the second coming of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in Iron Man. The jokes come with quirk and speed, the pop culture references all hitting home, and the soundtrack is absolutely spot on. I’ve argued before that Joss Whedon MUST have had a hand in this movie because this cast of five misfits reminds me so much of Firefly. Every actor; Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and Dave Bautista, kill it as their character and each of them add a layer of charm and pathos to this rag-tag group. Compare that to the deadly seriousness of Ronan, and you have the perfect dichotomy of good and bad, and yet it still feels fresh even though it has all been done before. Lastly, the special effects are absolutely amazing. It’s a shame that it lost out to Interstellar for Best Visual Effects at the Oscars, but I would have even picked Dawn of the Planet of the Apes over both of them. That being said, the effects are one of the real shining stars of this movie.
Why It’s #1:
More than any other Marvel movie, it captures the fun and comedy (both funny and tragic) of the comic book genre. It’s just so much FUN!
Hmmm… FB ate my comment somewhere. The only thing (as a lifetime comic reader of everything from G.I. Joe to the most mature reader VERTIGO titles… I’d swap number 1 and 2. My take on comic books are that they’re a medium, not a genre, so it would be tantamount to saying there’s a “book genre” or “cinema genre”. And thus I’d rank Winter Soldier with the top spot because, in may ways, it’s somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between the GotB romp and the Godfather-heavy dramatic heart of Nolan’s Dark Knight. Those two might represent opposite poles on the comic book movie spectrum and WS falls in the middle for me.
But then, as mentioned, I am a huge comic snob:)
I still think Avengers holds my top spot, if for no other reason than the sheer impressiveness of having that many moving parts work so well when it would have been so easy to let it fall apart. Winter Solider falls to #2 because, like its predecessor, both Cap films not only bring a great comic story to the screen, but they completely nail a genre (historical war fiction or spy/thriller).
All that to say, I think Guardians may be the most fun, but, I agree that WS has a lot from both ends of the spectrum.
Yes, I completely agree. Genre was a poor word choice. The great thing that Marvel has done with their movies is use the medium of comic books to make different genre movies (i.e WS as a spy thriller, Dark Knight as a serious drama, etc.).
Mikey, I would agree that Whedon is pretty much the best thing Marvel has right now, but I really enjoyed the campy, B-movie sensibility of Gunn. It might be a bit presumptuous to call this article “Top 5 Marvel Movies”, and more of my list. But it definitely seems like we have hit on a consensus Top 3. I haven’t had a lot of people arguing that the Iron Man and Thor movies can even enter the same conversation as the last two Marvel movies and The Avengers.