Iron Man 3

The exciting conclusion to the Iron Man trilogy!

…Which is mostly just Tony Stark on a road trip in his sweatpants.

Image result for iron man 3

Iron Man 3
Director: Shane Black
Writers: Shane Black and Drew Pearce
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr.
Music By: Brian Tyler
Released: 2013

The events of The Avengers–specifically, his own close brush with death-by-wormhole–have left their mark on Tony Stark. He can’t sleep, he’s having anxiety attacks, and he’s coping in his usual healthy way: by ignoring his longsuffering girlfriend and spending way too much time doing dangerous things with metal suits. The hero business comes calling again, though, when an attack by a terrorist known as the Mandarin hits a little too close to home. Tony goes on a quest for vengeance, with a side of protecting Pepper Potts, but it turns out the real reward is the friends he makes along the way.

Out of all the Marvel movies so far, this is the one that improved the most for me on the re-watch. I remember being massively disappointed by it when it first came out, but in hindsight, I think that was mainly due to false advertising. The trailers made me think I’d be getting a dark, intense action thriller with a creepy terrorist as the villain. So when I instead got an introspective road trip comedy about Tony fighting his inner demons (again), it felt like a let-down. Watching it again, though, I found a lot to love.

Related image
Just bros bein’ bros.

First of all, once I came to terms with the fact that it’s meant to be a comedy, I had to admit it’s a pretty good one. It’s got a ton of great one-liners and memorable quips (“It’s a giant bunny, relax about it!” “Well, I panicked, but then I handled it;” “I just stole a poncho from a wooden Indian;” etc.). It also has my favourite evil henchman moment in any movie ever: There’s a scene about a third of the way through where Tony blasts a few goons in the baddie’s lair, and the remaining one throws his hands up and says, “Honestly, I hate working here. They are so weird.” And Tony lets him go. I need more evil henchmen like that one in my life.

It also has some heartwarming moments that show real growth for Tony, especially in his relationships with the two loves of his life: Pepper and the suits. Sure, Pepper is still kind of a useless damsel in distress, which is unfortunate, but at least in this movie, Tony learns to put her interests ahead of his own once in a while. He also learns that he can still be a hero even without his tech. (In theory, anyway; in practice, he’ll still need the suits for every single superhero adventure in the MCU.) It’s not a lot of growth, but it sure beats re-hashing the same lessons he learned in the first movie, like Iron Man 2 did.

Image result for iron man 3
He should probably get a different therapist, though.

And although this movie is fairly light on action as superhero movies go, it manages to have a pretty spectacular climax that showcases the power and variety of Stark tech better than any previous film. It also lets Rhodey get a few good scenes in. Even Pepper gets to do a few cool things…okay, maybe one.

Of course, none  of that changes the fact that it’s heavily weighed down by its villain. Normally a bland Marvel villain would be nothing to write home about, but in this case, the movie spends over half its runtime trying to convince us the villain was going to be really intimidating for once. But then there’s a twist that reveals…nope, he’s just another cartoon who wants to take over the world for vague reasons. The twist is funny in its execution, but harmful in its effects…especially for fans of the comics, where the Mandarin was an iconic nemesis for Iron Man, albeit one with troublingly racist overtones.

Image result for iron man 3 mandarin
“You’llll neverrrr seeeee me coming.”

Something I notice about a lot of Phase 2 Marvel movies is that they have a feeling of being held back. There’s an outline of a great, original idea, but it’s diminished somehow, twisted to fit into the same formula that Phase 1 followed. In this movie, I think it would have been fantastic if the Mandarin really was the creepy terrorist with a vendetta against the U.S. that he appeared to be in the beginning. It would have given the story a chance to do some real political commentary, which would have been a first for Marvel at the time. It also would have been nice to delve deeper into Tony’s struggles with wormhole-related PTSD. It’s portrayed well enough in the first part of the movie, but it doesn’t have much real impact on the plot, and it’s “solved” in a pretty glib way at the end. It’s like the filmmakers (or the studio behind them) were too squeamish to tackle anything that felt too much like a real-world problem.

Still, Robert Downey Jr. continues to be awesome in this movie, and this time he’s backed up by a fair number of good side characters. In addition to Rhodey, there’s also the inventor kid with whom he forms a “connection,” and as unfortunate as the twist is, it allows one of the villains to become quite…memorable for comedy reasons. JARVIS also feels more like a real character in this movie than he ever did before, trading snark with Tony like a pro and even going through a bit of an arc himself.

Image result for iron man 3 jarvis
“Sir, I think I need to sleep now…”

Overall, Iron Man 3 is a good movie, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I just don’t think it’s quite as good as it could have been. Maybe if it was made just a little later in Marvel’s development, it could have made my top five or six films in the franchise. But as it is, I’ll have to rank it below the first movie, as well as quite a few others.

  1. The Avengers
  2. Captain America: The First Avenger
  3. Thor
  4. Iron Man
  5. Iron Man 3
  6. Iron Man 2
  7. The Incredible Hulk

Marvel TV

Starting in Phase 2, Marvel Studios started to branch out from the big screen and add a few TV shows to their Cinematic Universe. Now there are quite a few of them out there, with five new ones rolling out just last year.  I’m not going to do a full review for all the Marvel TV shows, firstly because that’s too large a time commitment even for me, and secondly because there are quite a few I haven’t seen. They’re spread out across so many different streaming platforms that it would cost me something like $50 a month just to get access to them all. Right now, my budget pretty much limits me to what’s on Netflix.

However, I would like to say a few words about the shows I have seen. Overall, they’re much less consistent than the movie universe, ranging in quality from terrible to absolute masterpieces. They also range widely in terms of how closely they follow the movies’ timeline. Some of the shows, particularly Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., are profoundly affected by the events of the movies, while others, like The Punisher, seem to have little to no connection with the rest of the MCU. Unfortunately, all of them have been completely ignored by the movies so far, so I can’t say any one of them is a “must-see” in order to understand the MCU. A few, though, are must-sees for other reasons.

Here they are, ranked from worst to best:

7. Iron Fist

Image result for iron fist

Yeah, I’m not a fan of this one. Mainly because it’s a martial arts show in which the main character clearly does not know martial arts, and all the fights are lame. Also, the main character’s origin story involves punching a dragon, yet we never see so much as a glimpse of said dragon onscreen. The way I see it, if a dragon is involved in your story in any way, you are duty-bound to portray that dragon onscreen. Some stuff in the show is well done–I particularly enjoyed the Meacham family drama–but it tended to be stuff that didn’t have anything to do with Danny Rand (the Immortal Iron Fist, Protector of K’un-L’un, Sworn Enemy of the Hand), or his main plot. For my full thoughts, see my review.

6. The Defenders

Image result for the defenders

This was the show that brought all of the Marvel/Netflix heroes together, and I think it should have been a lot better than it was. Not that it was terrible, but I found it poorly paced (like most of the Netflix shows), and without a big enough threat to justify such a team-up. It was a lot of fun to see all four heroes getting together, though, and coming right off the huge disappointment that was Iron Fist, I was willing to give it a bit of a pass. Again, see my review for more.

5. Luke Cage

Image result for luke cage

This show offers a compelling, six-episode miniseries about a very likable hero going up against a couple of menacing, but somewhat sympathetic villains in order to protect the neighborhood he loves. Unfortunately, it lasts for 13 episodes. Along the way, the interesting villains get replaced by an annoying cartoon and way, way too much time is spent on trivial subplots and dull conversations. But at least it’s got some great music. More details in my review.

4. Jessica Jones

Image result for jessica jones

Here’s one I’ve never gotten a chance to review before. I haven’t seen Season 2 yet, but Season 1 is a well-written, wonderfully acted story about a bitter, alcoholic private eye with super strength trying to bring down the psycho who ruined her life before he ruins more lives. It’s full of great characters, good action, and solid commentary on real-life issues that never devolves into preachiness. But it’s also…just so darn depressing. Part of that is a pacing issue. In order to fill out 13 hours of runtime, the show has to keep coming up with ways for the villain, Killgrave, to stay ahead of the heroes until the end. And because he’s by far the most irredeemably evil villain in the MCU, and one of the most powerful, that means most of the show ends up being about him doing terrible things to people. That gets old after a while. Also, like with Luke Cage, the show spends a little more time than I’d like on irrelevant subplots. Still, it’s hard not to enjoy Krysten Ritter’s brilliant performance as the lead character, and her sarcasm and gallows humour does lighten the mood a bit. And David Tennant is, if anything, a little too good in his role as the villain. I plan to do a proper review of Season 2 once I get a chance to watch it.

3. The Punisher

Image result for the punisher

Like most of the other Netflix shows, this one suffers from unnecessarily slow pacing and too many subplots. But it’s also a thoughtful look into the mind of a man broken by war and violence, and a rare revenge story that doesn’t glorify vengeance for its own sake. The acting is stellar and the action is brutal. I can’t say I enjoyed every minute of it, but I found watching it to be a surprisingly emotional and thought-provoking experience. See my review for more.

2. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Image result for agents of shield

Out of the ones I’ve seen, this is the Marvel show with the strongest connection to the movie universe. Starting just after the events of The Avengers, it follows the adventures of Agent Phil Coulson (yes, he’s alive) and a crack team of SHIELD agents as they seek to protect the human race against superpowered threats and shut down rival organizations like Hydra. It got off to a slow start, but its quality went up like a rocket halfway through Season 1, after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and hasn’t really come down since. It’s just a very fun show, full of spy-vs.-spy intrigue, heartfelt character growth, and some quite decent superhero action. I’m not a huge fan of Skye (her actress is usually less than impressive), but all the other characters on the team are great, particularly Fitzsimmons and Coulson himself. You gotta love a show where a middle-aged dad figure with a receding hairline gets to be a super-cool secret agent. And with the problems that have plagued the Netflix shows lately, you have to love a show that can keep things fast-paced and interesting for 22 episodes per season. I think there’s a reason this is the longest-lasting Marvel show so far.

1. Daredevil

Image result for daredevil netflix

I’ll be honest: I mostly started this list so I could talk about this show. Until very recently, Daredevil was my favourite product of the MCU, period. Part of my problem with the other Netflix shows is that I’m constantly tempted to compare them with this one, which came first and has yet to be equaled in sheer awesomeness. Its fight scenes are some of the most intense, well-choreographed, and brutally realistic that I’ve come across in any medium. Its dialogue is just as intense and high-stakes as the action, with hardly a single throwaway line that doesn’t reveal something vital to a character or a piece of the plot. The acting is incredible across the board, but Charlie Cox as the lead, Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, and Jon Bernthal in his debut as the Punisher still manage to stand out from the pack. But the show’s true strength is in its characters. Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, is my favourite Marvel superhero because he’s the most complicated. A lawyer by day, vigilante by night, and Catholic all the time, he constantly struggles with the morality of what he’s doing, trying to fight off his own darker impulses even as he fights the many natural and supernatural baddies that threaten Hell’s Kitchen. The show also makes the bold choice of giving some of its villains the same amount of character development as the hero, showing that even the most villainous of people can have some virtues, too. Even side characters like Foggy Nelson and Karen Page have a lot of layers to them, and go through some major changes over the course of the series. Granted, the show’s quality took a bit of a dip in Season 2, mostly thanks to an annoying love triangle, but I’m still happy to rewatch it whenever I get a chance. Here’s hoping Season 3 will keep the good times going instead of following the other Netflix shows’ downward trend.

And yes, if I ever get a chance to watch Agent Carter, Inhumans, Runaways, or Cloak and Dagger, I’ll be sure to review them. But for now, these are my rankings for Marvel TV.

Seriously, if you haven’t seen Daredevil yet, go watch it now.

The Avengers

The movies that make up Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, by themselves, might not have been all that special to me. I enjoy most of them, but even when they were first coming out, I wouldn’t have listed any of them in my top three favourite superhero movies, and with the way the superhero industry has exploded since 2008, I certainly wouldn’t now. They’re all entertaining romps with a little bit of heart, and…that’s pretty much it.

This is the movie that made them special.

Image result for the avengers movie

The Avengers
Director and Writer: Joss Whedon
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson
Music By: Alan Silvestri
Released: 2012

(This is also the point at which it becomes impossible to talk about MCU movies without spoiling some things about their predecessors, so…spoiler warning if you’re not caught up.)

After an ominous monologue from one alien to another unseen alien, we open with the Tesseract, a powerful object retrieved by SHIELD in Captain America: The First Avenger, creating a portal in an underground base. Out pops Loki, looking a bit the worse for wear after falling to his presumed death in Thor, but carrying a staff that allows him to mind-control a couple of scientists and SHIELD agents. They help him destroy the base and escape, and given that Loki’s first act on Earth was to announce his plans to conquer it, Director Fury figures now would be a good time to assemble the super-team he’s been hinting at for the last few movies. They’ve all got very different personalities, some are adjusting to major culture shock, some are harbouring dangerous secrets, and some just plain don’t get along, but it’s up to this new team of heroes–Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye–to stop Loki’s plans and save the world. Or, failing that, to avenge it.

Image result for the avengers movie
“Let’s do a headcount here: Your brother, the demigod; a super-soldier, a living legend who kinda lives up to the legend; a man with breath-taking anger management issues; a couple of master assassins…”

I think it would be hard to overstate how much of a milestone The Avengers is, both for the MCU and for superhero movies in general. It was the first major crossover in superhero movies. There had been a few team movies before this, but they usually followed groups of close-knit heroes who were all introduced at the same time, like the X-Men. The Avengers was different: five out of its seven team members had already been established in their own movies (even multiple movies, in Iron Man’s case), and their big team-up would not just be a crowd-pleasing crossover, but a major in-univere event that would advance all their stories. Not being a comic reader at the time the movie came out, I remember being sceptical. Could a hero whose origin was completely based in magic and otherworldly realms, like Thor, work on the same team as a technology-based hero like Iron Man? How could an old-fashioned World War II hero like Captain America work with a high-tech spy agency like Nick Fury’s SHIELD? How would there be time to develop all the characters, including some who hadn’t gotten their own origin stories yet, and still have a comprehensible plot?

Nowadays, with the much-hyped Infinity War advertising a cast of something like 25 different super-people, my doubts seem silly. But I think it’s worth pointing out that, even today, no non-Marvel studio has yet managed to put out a super-team movie as successful as The Avengers.

Image result for the avengers movie hulk

It helps that Marvel picked the right man for the job. Joss Whedon has his weaknesses as a creator (which we’ll probably get into more when I review Age of Ultron), but he generally excels at two things: putting together an effective ensemble cast from characters with wildly different personalities, and writing insanely quotable dialogue.

Both strengths serve him well in this movie. It’s got a disproportionate number of the most iconic lines in the MCU, for starters. “I understood that reference;” “Genius billionaire playboy philanthropist;” “We have a Hulk;” “That’s my secret, Cap: I’m always angry;” etc….they’ve all become deeply ingrained in the vocabulary of even casual Marvel fans. It helps that the actors’ delivery is invariably excellent, but the dialogue as written is basically a perfect storm of Iron Man’s snappiest witticisms, the Shakespearean flavour of Asgard and Cap’s 1940s slang. Both the heroes and villains in this movie are excellent talkers.

Image result for the avengers movie captain america argument
“Big man in a suit of armour; take that away, what are you?”

As a results, the best parts are the scenes where all the different heroes are chilling on the helicarrier, just getting to know each other. It’s fun to see Tony Stark and Bruce Banner bond over mad science, Agent Coulson’s fangirl moments over Captain America, and the newly-introduced bond between Black Widow and Hawkeye. And of course, the epic rivalry between Iron Man and Captain America, which is really at the heart of all the Avengers team-up movies, gets its start here. It makes a lot of sense: an irreverent playboy who’s constantly upgrading his technology and likes the fame and fortune that come with superheroing would naturally butt heads with old-fashioned Steve Rogers, who isn’t used to computers yet and still thinks like a soldier. Their conflict will eventually lead to serious trouble for the team, but in this movie it just leads to growth for both of them. Tony learns the value of self-sacrifice and gets over some of his lingering pride. Steve begins to learn he can’t always trust the people giving him orders. They form an unlikely (and uneasy) friendship that will shape much of the MCU from here on out.

Of course, the action scenes are fun, too–particularly the climax in New York City. Although it would be overshadowed by later films, that sequence is still a fantastic example of teamwork on display in a fight scene.

Image result for the avengers movie thor
Even if they end up punching each other off-screen occasionally.

I do have a few complaints about the movie. One is that it downgrades Loki from a clever schemer with complicated motives to a moustache-twirling cartoon villain. Tom Hiddleston’s performance is still fun to watch, but he’s not nearly as interesting here as he was in Thor. And the Chitauri invasion, while perfectly fine when this movie came out, feels generic now that so many other comic book movies have centred on heroes battling faceless armies of disposable freaks for the big finale.

It’s also a shame that Hawkeye spends most of this movie brainwashed, because I feel he got the short end of the stick when it comes to characterisation for the Avengers. We don’t really learn anything about him in this movie, other than the tiniest glimpse of his history with Black Widow and the fact that he has a dry sense of humour. Combine that with his total lack of superpowers, and he doesn’t really seem like he deserves to be playing on the same team as, say, Thor.

Image result for the avengers movie
But I bet he can eat as much shawarma as the best of them.

Overall, though, I still love this movie, and it’s definitely the crown jewel of Phase 1.

  1. The Avengers
  2. Thor
  3. Captain America: The First Avenger
  4. Iron Man
  5. Iron Man 2
  6. The Incredible Hulk

Captain America: The First Avenger

Almost done with Phase 1! I could do this all day.

Image result for captain america the first avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger
Director: Joe Johnston
Writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving
Music By: Alan Silvestri
Released: July 2011

This movie starts with a team of  SHIELD scientists discovering a futuristic-looking aircraft in the Arctic, and finding a different kind of shield inside it–just to get rid of any suspense as to how the movie was going to end. About 70 years in the past, Steve Rogers is a scrawny little man with a medical condition for every letter of the alphabet who desperately wants to fight in World War II. He finally gets his chance when he’s selected to be the guinea pig for a super-soldier serum the U.S. military wants to use on its soldiers. About 200 pounds of muscle later, he finds himself on the front lines…of a propaganda campaign to sell war bonds. Despite taking a star-spangled detour, Captain America eventually finds himself on a real battlefield, where he has to fight an insane Nazi officer who got super-soldiered the same way he did, but with worse side effects.

When I first heard this movie was coming out, I remember thinking that it sounded like a terrible idea. Everything I knew about Captain America came from that classic World War Ii-era comic book cover where he’s punching Hitler in the face while decked out in red, white, and blue. Even in my youth, when I still had an ounce or two of patriotism in my blood, that seemed a little on the nose. But fortunately, this movie is very self-aware when it comes to its main character’s origin as World War II propaganda. One of the best scenes (not only in this movie, but in all of Marvel’s Phase 1) is the montage showing Steve’s career onstage, accompanied by a hugely cheesy, over-the-top patriotic musical number. It basks in the silliness…but it also shows little kids cheering when Cap punches fake Hitler in the face, and soldiers overseas reading Captain America comics, just to drive home how effective that kind of propaganda can actually be.

Image result for captain america the first avenger star spangled man
“So who’s ready to help me sock ol’ Adolf on the jaw?”

The rest of the movie is a classic underdog superhero origin. Steve is a weak, skinny guy who constantly gets beat up by bullies, until he’s suddenly granted the power to protect other people from bullies. It’s very effective, mainly because the movie spends the first half hour or so letting us get to know pre-steroid Steve: a physical weakling who doesn’t know how to be afraid of bullies no matter how many times they beat him up, but is desperately afraid of not living up to his own ideals of heroism. He’s so obviously a hero even before he gets turned into a super-soldier, which just makes his transformation that much more exciting. As Dr. Erskine says before giving him the serum, “A weak man knows the value of strength.”

This is what makes the first half of this movie so good: lots of great character moments, a very sympathetic hero, and a strong supporting cast. Tommy Lee Jones is great as the Colonel, Stanley Tucci creates a wonderful mentor figure in Dr. Erskine, and Peggy Carter is the first female character in the MCU who is allowed to act like an actual human being. And even though the script doesn’t give him much to work with in the way of character motivations, Hugo Weaving still manages to make the evil Red Skull entertaining. Steve’s friendship with Bucky, his burgeoning crush on Peggy, and his desire to become the all-American hero he plays on stage make for a little more than an hour of compelling drama.

Image result for captain america the first avenger
…Is it good or bad that I find both these two equally intimidating?

Unfortunately, the movie kind of falls apart in the second half. It tries to introduce a load of new side characters–the Howling Commandos–and turn Steve’s story into a quest to defeat Red Skull and his Hydra army. But there isn’t enough time to get to know the Howling Commandos, and most of their quest is covered in a montage. A pretty lame montage, at that. Captain America never even comes off as a particularly good fighter, post-steroids. If I were judging by this movie alone, I’d think he wasn’t that much stronger than the average non-super soldier. To top it off, the manner in which Steve gets put on ice feels contrived. I think he (and his supporting cast, many of whom never appear in the MCU again) deserved a little better.

I firmly believe that character development is more important than action, even in a superhero movie, but you can’t really have a superhero movie with no good action scenes. And that’s pretty much what we get here. The character stuff is all great, when enough time is allotted to it, but the action is silly at best and boring at worst. Overall, it makes for a somewhat underwhelming experience.

Image result for captain america the first avenger
Which is a shame, because shooting Nazis is among the finest of superhero traditions.

My other problem with this movie didn’t actually bother me the first time I saw it, but I think it’s had a negative effect on other parts of the Marvel universe. The problem is this: we never actually find out what Hydra’s beliefs are, or what they hope to accomplish after taking over the world. We know they started out as Nazis (thus the evil bit), but they obviously don’t buy into the whole “Aryan perfection” piece of Nazism, and they don’t seem particularly nationalistic. Later movies and TV shows try to turn Hydra into a more complex and modern threat, complete with fanatical “true believers” and cynical folks who just use Hydra beliefs as a means to power, but since the film that introduced them never gave us a clear picture of what those beliefs were, all those attempts were doomed to fall a little flat.

Despite its faults, though, I have to say that I really enjoy this movie. Since it was a first introduction to Captain America for me and most of the average movie-going population, I’m ultimately glad it erred on the side of too much character development rather than too much action. For such an old-fashioned hero to work in the modern world, he needed a solid foundation of principles and human motivations to start out with. And that’s what we got in The First Avenger. Every internal and external conflict Steve Rogers faces in the MCU can be traced back to where he started in this movie: a skinny kid from Brooklyn who wanted to fight bullies. This is where we first see his devotion to American ideals like freedom, individuality, and Nazi punching; his sometimes-problematic stubbornness; his fear of losing a teammate on his watch; and a host of other character traits that will end up driving the plots of later movies.

Image result for captain america the first avenger skinny steve
“Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”

As flawed as The First Avenger is, it’s possibly the most essential Phase 1 movie to watch if you want to understand the rest of the MCU–with the exception of Iron Man, of course. Captain America will remain one of the most important characters for the rest of the franchise, and this is the movie that made me like him. He’s brave, tough, determined, and he cares about the little guy. In other words, he’s just the kind of old-fashioned hero I like.

It was tough for me to choose between this movie and Thor, but on the strength of its first half alone, I think Captain America’s first outing is just a tiny bit more worthy.

  1. Captain America: The First Avenger
  2. Thor
  3. Iron Man
  4. Iron Man 2
  5. The Incredible Hulk



Time for some Shakespeare in the park!

Image result for thor movie

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston
Music By: Patrick Doyle
Released: 2011

Thor, god of thunder, is a prince in the mystical realm of Asgard, where the world is flat and the bridges are rainbow. He’s all set to become king of this land, but after his coronation is ruined by some thieving Frost Giants from the realm of Jotunheim, he defies his father Odin’s orders and attacks them, starting a war. For his arrogance, Odin takes away Thor’s power, along with his magic hammer, Mjolnir, and banishes him to New Mexico, where he bumps into a team of scientists studying wormholes. With the help of a conveniently hot astrophysicist, he must learn how to be a good king in time to stop his brother Loki from taking over and becoming a spectacularly bad one.

Apart from The Avengers, this is probably the Phase 1 Marvel movie I’ve rewatched the most. Mostly because of its gorgeous depiction of Asgard. I’ll never forget the first shot in which this flat, disc-like planet with its huge towers and rainbow bridge is revealed. t’s a lovely mix of futuristic cityscape and medieval palace. IThen we get introduced to the Frost Giants, the all-seeing Heimdall, Thor’s lightning powers, Loki’s duplication tricks, etc., and for a fantasy-loving person like me, it doesn’t get much better than that. There’s a real sense of awe and wonder in this film that I hadn’t seen before in a superhero movie. It helps that it’s also the first Marvel movie with a really memorable soundtrack. The Asgardian theme is still one of the better pieces of music in the MCU, in my opinion.

I wish I could credit my love of Norse mythology to J.R.R. Tolkien’s influence, but I think this movie really had more to do with it.

Image result for thor movie 2011
Mind you, I detected a whiff of Tolkien influence in this movie…

Another thing I really love about Thor is the dysfunctional family dynamic going on between Thor, Loki, and Odin. Like most gods in ancient mythologies, they’re all very flawed people with a ton of power and some legitimate reasons to dislike each other. Thor’s too proud, Loki’s too bitter, and Odin is just a terrible dad who expects too much of both of them. I like that the movie’s plot is primarily driven by their personal conflict rather than a villain wanting to destroy the world. Not that Loki doesn’t try to destroy the world (a world, anyway), but at least he’s motivated by family issues rather than doing it just because he’s “evil.”

Which leads me to the other thing that really works in this movie. Loki is a good villain for a number of reasons, starting with Tom Hiddleston’s performance. He really gave his all to this role, so much so that he rather outshone Chris Hemsworth in his own movie. He’s so good at playing a cunning manipulator that he almost has the audience believing his lies–even when we should know better. When I first saw this movie, knowing nothing about Thor beforehand, it took me until about halfway through before I even realised Loki was the villain. Even after we find out what a jerk he is, he’s still sympathetic enough that this movie works as a foundation for the more complicated character arc he gets in later films.

Image result for thor movie 2011 loki
You have to respect a man who wears a hat like that with no shame.

But even a great actor can’t save a badly-written character, so it helps that Loki is written better than most superhero villains. He’s got an understandable, human motive, and he’s extremely clever in pursuing his goals–at least when he doesn’t let emotion get in the way.  Loki’s portrayal varies quite a bit from movie to movie, but with the way he expertly manipulates everyone around him to get what he wants, I think his first appearance is still his most intelligent.

The hero’s journey is also pretty effective here. It’s another twist on the frequent Marvel narrative of an arrogant jerk getting taken down a peg, but it seems to gain potency when it’s a god being forced to learn humility by living among mortals. And unlike Tony Stark, there can be no question that Thor took his lesson in this movie to heart. He may not be the smartest hero ever, but he’s never gone back to being as rash and arrogant as he was at the beginning of his origin story. It’s very satisfying to watch Thor grow from arrogant thug to humble, wise(er) leader, even if his journey isn’t quite as believable as Tony Stark’s.

Image result for thor movie 2011
It involves a heck of a lot more mud wrestling, though!

How he gets there, on the other hand, involves the one thing in this movie that doesn’t work so well. Don’t get me wrong, Thor’s antics in New Mexico are pretty darn amusing…it’s just that they’re so much less interesting than what goes on in Asgard and Jotunheim. And his romance with Jane Foster, while more convincing than some relationships in the MCU (*cough*Bruce and Betty*cough*), is still pretty weak considering it’s supposed to be the main catalyst for his character development. I can believe that a god would learn humility after losing his powers and having to live like a mortal for a while. I’m less inclined to believe that an immortal being would decide that a mortal woman was the love of his life after knowing her for three days, max. If he didn’t look like Chris Hemsworth, I’d be hard pressed to believe Jane would even start caring about him in that short a time.

(Sidenote: I didn’t realise just how bad Phase 1 was at creating good female characters until I caught myself thinking, at this point in the rewatch, that Jane Foster was the most interesting woman in it thus far. I mean…she may be the most generic superhero love interest you could imagine, but at least she isn’t screaming all the time. *Sigh.*)

Image result for thor movie 2011 jane
Ever notice that none of the Marvel characters who have multiple Ph.D’s look old enough to have even one Ph.D?

Kenneth Branagh is mostly known for directing Shakespeare, so it makes sense that the best parts of his superhero movie are the parts that would fit best in a Shakespeare play: Thor and Loki’s brotherly rivalry, epic sword battles, etc. The stuff that takes place on Earth, while ultimately important in setting up SHIELD and some supporting cast members for the next couple Thor movies, drags a little bit in comparison. A part of me wishes this entire movie had been a straight-up fantasy taking place in Asgard and Jotunheim.

But at least now I know we eventually would get a Thor story like that. It just took about six more years.

Image result for thor movie 2011 new mexico
“This film, I like it. Another!”

Overall, I think this movie holds up quite well. Sure, it’s got a couple cheesy slow-mo scenes, the romance is kinda lame, and the Earth stuff isn’t as interesting as it could be, but the characters are fun, the fantasy stuff is super cool, and it introduces a whole new dimension of magic and mayhem to the Marvel universe.

My score for this movie is: Best one so far.

  1. Thor
  2. Iron Man
  3. Iron Man 2
  4. The Incredible Hulk

Iron Man 2

Aaaannndd another movie I skipped up until now. What I’m learning from this movie marathon is that Marvel movies didn’t feel nearly as much like “must-sees” back during Phase 1.

Image result for iron man 2

Iron Man 2
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Justin Theroux
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr.
Music By: John Debney
Released: 2010

It’s six months after the events of the first movie. Iron Man has, somehow, single-handedly brought about world peace, and Tony Stark has gotten even richer and more famous as a result. In the process, he’s returned to his old self-centred, showboating, Pepper-ignoring ways. But this time, it’s because…*gasp* he’s dying! The arc reactor keeping him alive is also poisoning his blood, and if he doesn’t figure out how to make a replacement, his days are numbered. Tony deals with this problem by throwing elaborate parties, goofing off in his suit, race car driving, and both literally and figuratively flipping off the U.S. government when it tries to regulate his tech. Meanwhile, a rival weapons company is out to market its own version of that tech, and Russian scientist with a grudge against Tony is only too happy to help.

First of all, I have to give props to this movie for a few things. It’s always weird when a character switches actors between movies, but the transition from Terrence Howard to Don Cheadle is as smooth as could be expected. Possibly because I just prefer Don Cheadle as Rhodes. Maybe it’s just because I’m more used to him now, but even in this movie he seems to have better chemistry with Robert Downey, Jr. than his predecessor. And I can tell Marvel’s ability to do special effects had already improved greatly from the first movie. RDJ continues to be entertaining (the courtroom scene near the beginning of the movie was a highlight), and I was both surprised and delighted to see Sam Rockwell playing one of the villains. That guy is always a treat.

Image result for iron man 2 justin hammer
“God bless Iron Man. God bless America.”

But man, there are a lot of things in this movie that bugged me.

The first one that struck me is the dialogue. I mentioned in my Iron Man review that one of my favourite things about that movie was the rapid-fire banter between Tony Stark and…well, everyone. Apparently someone at Marvel felt the same way, because that is how every. single. conversation. in this movie plays out. Dialogue between Tony and Pepper, especially, always feels like a contest to see who can talk over the other more. And it’s way too much of a good thing. Rapid-fire wit can be fun (provided it’s witty enough), but once in a while I need characters to slow down and speak a complete sentence or two. Otherwise it just gets annoying.

A bigger problem with Iron Man 2 is that it just feels…unnecessary. Both as a sequel to Iron Man and as a universe-building movie. Sure, Black Widow is introduced here, but she doesn’t do anything other than look pretty and beat up a few random henchmen. Her introduction in The Avengers left a bigger impression with much less screentime. Nick Fury spends a lot of time in this movie testing Tony to see if he’s ready for the Avengers Initiative…only for his decision to be rendered pretty much moot by The Avengers. This movie lets us know that SHIELD is investigating Thor’s hammer…but it doesn’t tell us anything about it that isn’t covered in Thor itself a year later. Ideally, I feel every movie in a cinematic universe should be an important piece of a bigger puzzle, so that they can be more fully appreciated together than separately. Despite how much of its runtime is spent on setting up other parts of the Marvel universe, you could easily leave this movie out of the larger MCU puzzle, as I did up until now, without losing much of importance.

Image result for iron man 2 black widow
I’m not sure which is more impractical for fighting bad guys…the hair or the pose.

But I wouldn’t mind that very much if this movie included any interesting changes for Tony Stark. It doesn’t. Even after all his character development in the first movie, Tony continues to allow his pride and self-centredness to screw up his life, and he doesn’t seem to learn as much from it this time. Sure, he learns to appreciate his friends a little more by the end, but he doesn’t face any consequences for acting like a jerk toward them up until that point. In fact, his jerkiness ultimately works to his benefit, because Rhodey probably wouldn’t have become War Machine without it. (Sidenote: I didn’t know War Machine’s origin before seeing this movie, so I was disappointed to no end when I found out he originally put on the suit just to break up a rowdy party. Lamest. Origin story. Ever.) And even that little bit of character development was done already–and better–in the first movie. Iron Man moved Tony’s character forward at the speed of his suit’s thrusters. Iron Man 2 seems content to let him run in place.

Also, I’m going to try not to whine too much about Marvel having lame villains in every review, because it’s just one of those things you had to accept about these movies up until recently, but I was really struck in this one by how much potential was wasted in the main villain. Vanko was set up as a smart antagonist with a legitimate reason to be mad at Tony. He even had a father whose legacy he was trying to carry on, to mirror Tony’s issues with his own father’s legacy. That could have led to some interesting conflict, maybe even some soul-searching on Tony’s part. But nope, they have a grand total of one conversation in this movie, and it’s not all that interesting. The rest of their conflict consists of punching and electro-whipping.

Image result for iron man 2 ivan vanko
Also, he looks ridiculous.

All that being said, I do appreciate how this movie delved a bit deeper into Tony’s relationship with his father. The portrayal of Howard Stark as a brilliant, but distant, genius who cared more about work than family explains a lot about who Tony Stark is and why he does what he does. And the scene where he learns that his father actually did care about him…well, as cheesy as it is, the emotions that moment set up are still paying off in Marvel movies to this day.

Overall, I’d put this movie solidly in the “okay” range. It didn’t blow me away, and I didn’t hate it; it was just harmless entertainment, easily forgotten after two hours.

Image result for iron man 2
At least we got this adorable little moment.

My score: Worse than its predecessor, but better than The Incredible Hulk. At least the CGI in this movie looked somewhat believable.

  1. Iron Man
  2. Iron Man 2
  3. The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk

This is one of the few Marvel movies that I actually hadn’t seen before this year. Turns out, it’s not that incredible.

Image result for the incredible hulk

The Incredible Hulk
Director: Louis Leterrier
Writer: Zak Penn
Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler
Music By: Craig Armstrong
Released 2008

Bruce Banner is a scientist who gained the ability to turn into a giant green rage monster during a super soldier experiment gone wrong. He’s on the run from General Ross, the guy in charge of that experiment, who wants to weaponise the giant green rage monster. Bruce just wants to find a cure for his…er…condition, but it turns out his only hope for finding one will take him closer to danger. Fortunately for him, it also takes him closer to his one true love, General Ross’s daughter. Unfortunately for him, the general has hired an adrenaline junkie warrior who’s obsessed with beating the Hulk to help bring him in. Hulk smashing ensues.

This was a bit of a weird one for me. In some ways, it doesn’t really feel like part of the Marvel universe. Not only is the Hulk played by a different actor than in his later appearances, but his story doesn’t even come close to the usual Marvel origin story formula, the tone is much more serious than usual for Marvel, and the end credits stinger comes before the end credits! (Which means I watched all those credits for nothing. Thanks a lot, movie.) Then there are all the little loose ends this movie just leaves hanging out there. What ever happened with the doctor guy who seemed to be set up as a possible future villain? For that matter, what happened to this movie’s actual villain? Why is Betty Ross never mentioned again ever? (Besides the obvious reason, which I’ll get into.) And why does it take so long for General Ross to appear again in the franchise if he was aware of superheroes like the Hulk right from the get-go?

Image result for the incredible hulk movie
A little-known side effect of gamma ray poisoning is that it eventually turns you into Mark Ruffalo.

Of course, all those things can probably be chalked up to this being an early entry in the MCU, before the studio really nailed down what it was all going to look like. If I’d seen this in theatres in 2008, I certainly wouldn’t have cared about any of that. So let’s get into the stuff I would have cared about.

I was actually surprised by how much I liked parts of this movie. Part of the reason I hadn’t seen it before was because nobody ever seems to talk about it much, so I just sort of assumed it was terrible. But there is some creative storytelling here. I like how the Hulk’s origin story is told during the opening credits, with no dialogue. It’s quick and effective, and it saves the movie from having to spend a lot of time on something the audience has probably seen before. The soundtrack is quite lovely at times, too.

Most surprising of all, my favourite part of this movie ended up being General Ross. He has a nice, Captain Ahab-esque character arc following his obsession with the Hulk, and I ended up relating to him more than any of the other characters. The moment when he realises he’s gone too far was the only emotional beat in the movie that really connected with me.  I’d even say he was the MCU’s first decent villain–if he counts as a villain, which is debatable. A lot of this is thanks to William Hurt, who really sells the role, especially in the scenes with minimal dialogue. But with one glaring exception (see below), the acting is pretty solid all around in this movie, so I think some credit has to also go to the way his scenes are written and directed.

Image result for the incredible hulk movie ross
Pictured: the exact moment the idea for the Sokovia Accords was born.

But there are two big problems that, for me, really weigh this movie down. One is that its special effects have not aged well at all. Hulk and especially the villainous Abomination look like cartoons. Bad, ugly cartoons with awkward movements. And that’s a big problem for an action movie whose fight scenes are almost entirely reliant on these CGI creatures. As a result, the only really effective action scene in this movie is the one near the beginning, where the Hulk is hidden in the shadows most of the time. That was properly tense and scary, and it showed me a glimpse of what it might be like if Marvel ever tried to make the Hulk a monstrous being instead of just big, dumb muscle. But as soon as he showed his face, the effect was ruined. And the final fight was just plain silly. There’s a reason the “Hulk Clap” move never caught on, I think.

The other problem with this movie–and this is the one that really angered me–is Liv Tyler. I’m saying this as a huge Lord of the Rings fan who has proudly worn Arwen dresses in the past: Liv Tyler is not a good actress. And when half her lines are just the word “Bruce” in a super breathy voice, it makes her look like an even worse actress. Again, this movie relies on the relationship between Bruce and Betty for 90 percent of its emotional heart…and I just didn’t feel it. Betty barely has a personality beyond loving Bruce and disliking her terrible dad, and her role in the story is mostly to stand there and look pretty so the Hulk has someone to save. I hate to say this, but their “romance” almost makes the one with Black Widow look good. Almost.

Image result for the incredible hulk movie liv tyler
You can tell she’s a well-rounded character by how many wet t-shirt scenes she has in the movie. 

Also, I have a rule of thumb: if your superhero story needs to bring up “hero can’t have sex” as a source of angst, it’s probably not a great superhero story. It might not make sense in-universe, but I’m quite happy this relationship was never spoken of again.

While The Incredible Hulk does have its good moments, ultimately they’re not good enough to make up for its glaring weaknesses. Edward Norton is fine in the main role, but it’s hard not to compare him to Mark Ruffalo, who has really made it his own over the past few years. And while the story has potential, it’s ultimately wasted on a lackluster love story and a goofy CGI slug-fest.

Image result for the incredible hulk movie
I like to think of this movie as the Hulk’s emo phase. 

Still, I’m glad I finally saw it, if only to understand why Bruce didn’t want to go to New York in The Avengers.

My score for this movie: definitely worse than Iron Man.

  1. Iron Man
  2. The Incredible Hulk