Thursday, March 4, 2021

Binge-ing and Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Inspired by the Binge-Mode podcast and the need to watch stuff while I treadmill away the food that I stress-baked and stress-ate during this pandemic, I recently watched nearly all of the MCU movies.  I skipped a few that I had seen recently, and I didn't have access to the Hulk movies.  The hosts of Binge-Mode ranked their faves, and theirs were a bit different than mine.  And, yes, the rankings changed after re-watching and also listening to the podcasts.  So, below, I rank the movies and indicate the best/worst parts of each.  

A few tendencies will be obvious: most of the sequels to the individual heroes are not good with the Cap/Spidey exceptions.  Thor 2, Iron Man 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 all fell short of their predecessors.  GG 2 might be the only clunker of Phase 3, as all the rest of the movies in the last round were either good or very good, depending on how one feels about Doctor Strange.  Most of the team-ups are good although one of the most essential--Ultron--is not.  I have a hard time adjudicating the Cap films since they are all pretty terrific.  I ding Civil War a bit just because, well, I hate what Tony is doing here, and it is so inconsistent with everything else he does.  But it was handy for my Civ-Mil of the MCU chapter (coming to a university press near year!).  On to the rankings:

  1. Avengers:  Best: It has one of the best chill moments in the entire series as the heroes gather and Tony tells Cap to call it.  The Puny God bit made me laugh so hard I didn't hear Hulk say it.  Everyone gets a great moment or more than onet.  Nearly every cross-over in the comics has our heroes fighting so Thor vs Iron-Man vs Cap was perfect. Lots of great memes such as "I get that reference" and "I am always angry."  Indeed, this movie might deserve #1 status for making Hulk work--that was an amazing and risky reclamation project. Oh, and heaps of principal-agent stuff that was handy for both my blog and my chapter.  And Loki makes for an excellent villain.  Worst: tainted by Joss Whedon and his behavior that we now know.  Besides Iron Man, this is the most essential movie.  If it fails, there is no phase 3.  Think of how Disney reacted to Solo. Ultimately, it has the most scenes that are memorable and fun.
  2. Black Panther: It has the most interesting politics of any of the movies (despite, alas, monarchy) with Killmonger representing a particular point of view of how to respond to oppression and persecution, T'Challa's father having a second view, and T'Challa himself evolving into a third.  The women in this movie are just kickass and interesting, smart, tough, and funny.  The production design is amazing.  Best: Casino fight with hair as a weapon.  I love M'Baku's smartassness. Chadwick Boseman was just so terrific.  Worst: why can’t BP chase down the dudes who stole Klaue?  He was much more determined in chasing Bucky and in chasing Klaue the first time.  
  3. Spider-man Homecoming: Hey, it's Spidey!  Tom Holland really is the perfect Spidey--he looks young enough, he has the body control skills, he conveys the insecurity and uncertainty of the new superhero.  And the movie does not make us see the bite or Ben die.  I dare DC to not retell Batman's origin story.  The characters around Spidey are also terrific, with a completely different take on MJ, a great pal who knows in Ned, one of the best villains via Michael Keaton's Vulture (Spidey has the best villains), and the rest of the class.  And finally an age-appropriate Aunt May.  Best: Spidey learning from his suit--instant kill mode! The Washington monument scene, Spidey getting up from under the warehouse rubble, the scene on the way to the dance with such a menacing performance by Keaton. The Cap instructional videos (hey, is this guy a war criminal?), The best end credit scene: WTF? Worst: As Binge-mode notes, Peter can not make it more obvious that he is Spider-man, especially in DC.  He also recklessly endangers everyone with the alien tech. 
  4. Thor Ragnarok: It really is delightful, just an amazing resurrection from the previous Thor movies, realizing that Chris H can be funny.  This is the one that could easily move up again on re-watching--just a blast. Best: Friend from work, the play that Loki as Odin has to celebrate Loki's life and death.  Best use of Led Zeppelin.  Great Hulk and Bruce in this.  Jeff Goldblum is wonderfully strange.  Thor's sidekicks among the gladiators are just great.  Worst: Um, lots of death here.  Ragnarok is kind of like the disaster movie where everyone celebrates surviving but the average Asgardian is dead.
  5. Winter Soldier: It is pretty much tied with First Avenger but the elevator scene puts it over the top.  And this one could also rank higher.  The intrigue, the action, the Cap and Nat teamup, Bucky/WS as a good match up for Cap all work.  Best: elevator scene, of course; Fury vs. Hydra to get the movie going, the opening attack on the ship is a lot of fun, introduction of Sam "on your left" that pays off in Endgame so well.  Cobie Smulders gets some good scenes.  And, yes, a great Cap speech at the climax.  Worst: Really, in a candy machine, Cap?  Hmm, not too many weak parts, so I might have to move this up.   
  6. Captain America: The First Avenger Best: Great montages, great bad guy, Peggy, so much Tommy Lee Jones, lots of Nazis killed.  Worst: Not sure there are any bad parts.  Again, one of the movies that is hard to rate.  
  7. Ant-Man.  It is simply a heap of fun. The train sequence alone makes me giddy.  The stakes are, appropriately small.  And, damn it if Paul Rudd isn't just so charming.  Best: briefcase fight, aforementioned train sequence, Michael Pena's story telling, Hank Pym being a relentless dick.   
  8. Avengers: Endgame.  They really were able to bring it all together.  Amazing that the first three phases ended in this--it paid off all of the stuff building along the way.  Just an incredible accomplishment.  Best: best discussion of time travel via pop culture references ever, baby Paul Rudd, "on your left," Spidey and the female heros sequence, Cap's chill moments--his time heist speech, the hammer, Avengers Assemble; Cap's fight with Cap, Thor's time with Frigga (this series needed more Rene Russo); Professor Hulk in the diner.    Worst:  Not enough info sharing before the time heist by Nebula, nobody is killed by direct hit by Thanos's bombardment, really?  The average Asgardian is still dead.
  9. Guardians of the Galaxy.  More fun.  Realizing Groot and Rocket was quite the challenge, and now they are two of the best characters in the MCU.  So much space stuff that just works.  Best: the dance off, the soundtrack, Groot dealing out death despite being so sweet and innocent, the Indiana Jones start, John C. Reilly discussing how Starlord is not a complete dick (or something to that effect), Gamora getting sucked into Quill's universe, Drax taking stuff literally, the prison break.  Worst: Not enough Glenn Close, Quill is pretty annoying.
  10. Iron Man. A great start to the MCU. Very good translation of the origin story.  Best: Gwyneth may not remember making this stuff, but she has got great chemistry  Worst: Stane is a lame bad guy.  I love Jeff Bridges, but meh on this bad guy (a perpetual Iron Man problem in these movies). 
  11. Captain Marvel.  A lot packed into this first female superhero movie in the MCU. Carol Danvers nicely represents women being told by men to be like men and to be submissive and how powerful she is once she is herself. Lots of fun with the depiction of the early 1990s, and lots of fun seeing her unleashed.  Best: Flerkin!  Blockbuster, Maria and Monica Rambeau, how Brie Larson really embodies the brashness of the typical fighter pilot, young Nick Fury.  Worst: Not much bad stuff--I don't really buy the critiques, and I could easily rank it higher.  The bad guy, incel Jude Law, is kind of lame ultimately.  The big problem with Captain Marvel is that she is so powerful that most attacks against her seem lame.  
  12. Spidey: Far From Home.  I am a sucker for Spidey.  And I loved young Peter having a six-step plan to woo MJ.  The European trip with the lousy chaperones was delightful.  Peter's struggles about being the next Iron Man made sense on re-watches.  Mysterio was actually much less lame than in the comics.  Best: Peter Tingle! Night Monkey, a nice riff or mocking of the Black suit from the comics maybe, Peter makes his suit in Tony's plane sequence, the kids and Happy fighting off the drones, perhaps two of the very best post-move stingers: the Skrull reveal and the JJJ reveal of Peter's identity. Worst: Peter being too reckless with his secret identity, too willing to give Edith away. 
  13. Captain America: Civil War.  Really another Avengers movie.  Nice intro of Black Panther and Spidey, very useful for my civ-mil of the MCU paper with the Sokovia Accords.   Best: stairwell battle, car/bike chase, the airport fight has so much good stuff, Cap busting out the folks at the end.  Worst: really hard to see Cap make out with Sharon Carter now that we know that Cap ended up with her aunt.... ew, Tony flipping out at the end.  
  14. Avengers: Infinity War.  Lots of really fun teamups in this, but given the nature of the movie, pretty depressing stuff at times.  Sure, Empire Strike Back had a sour ending, too, but all the failure, including dumb Peter Quill stuff was a bit maddening.  So, a good ride, but not as fun as the ones ahead of it.  Still, as Stane would say, impressive.  Best: Peter using Aliens as inspiration for strategy just as he used Empire Strikes Back in Civil War, the competition for most arrogant man in New York between Strange and Stark, Bruce's inability to summon the Hulk, the chill scene where Cap appears in Scotland, Dumbledore-esque on the other side of the train,    Worst:  Jeez, Vision is taken down easy at the outset; Quill being a dick and undermining the strategy; the average Wakandan is dead but unrecognized as such (really shows that T'Challa's strategy of engagement was not really that good for Wakanda), the downer that half of everyone dies even as we know it is temporary. 
  15. Ant-Man and the Wasp.  I am a sucker for the silliness of this series.  Just fun, fun stuff. 
    Best: the seagulls eating the ants, Walter Goggins being Walter Goggins, the chase scenes work really well, the efforts to fool the FBI are fun, the preview of quarantine lockdown with fun activities for father and daughter, Michelle Pf., how everyone hates Hank; Worst: the Bill Foster trapping of Hank and the rest seems a bit elaborate, very quick to forgive a murderer.
  16. Thor.  Before they realized Chris H was funny.  It was a fine movie, but not as much fun as the preceding ones.  As far as origin stories go, it is ok.  Best: Darcy--Kat Dennings brings so much value to the MCU as Wandavision reminds us; Natalie Portman shows that she can act as if she is in love with a dude in a fantasy movie unlike .... you know; Coulson was a delight.  Worst: the bad guy is fine--Loki--but his henchman robot is blah, not much really happens in this.
  17. Guardians of the Galaxy 2.  Now we start to get into the lame sequels.  It was better on re-watch than I remembered.  Best: the music, baby Groot was both cute and dangerous including the scene where he was supposed to get Yondu's fin Worst: Yondu being a kidnapper of kids and, well, slaughtering his crew.
  18. Doctor Strange.  A fine origin story, but Strange never thrilled me much.  The scenes of NY being folded?  Meh.  Just didn't excite me.  Also, Strange competes with Tony and Hank for being the biggest asshole in the MCU, so rooting for him is not easy.  Best: the so many ways Strange died while bargaining with Dormanu; some of the training stuff, the realization of the astral plane; Wong was fun. Worst: Mordo's turn seemed a bit much, Strange's treatment of his former love. 
  19. Avengers Age of Ultron.  The most essential of the lesser movies, and this one was much less.  A combination of dumb stuff, frustrating stuff, etc. Best: the party scene and the efforts to lift the hammer,  Worst: Pietro's stupid death--what use is superspeed if you can't outrun some bullets, Tony being repeatedly dumb; the endless ending.  
  20. Iron Man 2 or 3.  Hard to figure out which is worse.  Each one had a decent secondary bad guy--Mickey Rourke and Ben Kingsley--and each one had pretty crappy big bads.  I am tired of ranking so I will leave these two here.
  21. Thor Dark World.  Has no redeeming value really except for Darcy.  Worst: Long, boring, lame villain, killing of Frigga.

Where would Wandavision be?  Hmmm... definitely in the top third as I find it to be so very delightful and plays with the tv shows that I enjoyed long ago.  So, best of both worlds.  Once the series ends this week, maybe I can figure out where it fits.  I liked most of the Netflix series, but failed to finish Iron Fist--blergh.  

I can't complain--we have had a heap of Marvel goodness.  Excelsior!

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