Saturday, December 21, 2013

#654. Ranking the first half-decade of Avengers films

I'm a DC guy.  Always have been, suspect I always will be.  But I like superheroes, and I love them in movies, and most of the superhero movies since 2008 have featured Marvel characters, and most prominently as part of the ambitious Avengers cycle.  Technically it began in the noncanonical Hulk from 2003, the Ang Lee comic-book-as-art-project effort that starred Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, and Nick Nolte, thematically so similar to the later films that it might as well be included.  It may arguably still be my favorite.  I mean, wasn't Nolte just born to be a tortured soul in a superhero movie?  The likes of him have never been matched.

The official entries began in 2008, with Iron Man and Incredible Hulk (a quasi-sequel to the 2003 film).  And then they kept coming, and they keep coming.  None of them has to my mind even approached the sheer brilliance of Batman Begins, say, which itself is not nearly as awe-inspiring as The Dark Knight.  But they've been entertaining, easily the best movies ever based on Marvel characters (though X2 will always be the highwater mark for some, and the original Sam Raimi Spider-Mans 1 & 2).  When you strike such instant gold as Robert Downey, Jr. pulling the Johnny Depp/Jack Sparrow synergy with Tony Stark, a character who had no cultural relevance at all until 2008, you've done something very, very right.

So here's how I rank the first eight in the cycle:


  1. Iron Man 2 (2010) For most fans, this was actually one of the more disappointing efforts, but for me it's the one that best understands Downey, Jr.'s Stark and manages a complete and satisfying film around him, contrasted nicely with Sam Rockwell (who is always awesome) as Stark's exact opposite.  Toss in Mickey Rourke (who is also always awesome), Scarlett Johansson's debut as Black Widow, John Slattery as Howard Stark (making technology more essential to Iron Man than simply being a superhero basically in order to survive), Gwyneth Paltrow (who's always awesome), and Don Cheadle (who's always awesome!), and it's the best ensemble for any Avengers movie to date.  And this one's not at all afraid to make a statement about the nature of the superhero in terms of the public, or government, either.  Through and through a solid effort.
  2. The Avengers (2012) I've been all over the map on this one, but finally, I've come to determine it to be what everyone else on the planet has decided, that it's just plain great entertainment.  The gang's all here, and the best villain of the cycle, Tom Hiddleston's Loki, manages to steal the show.  More and more, I've decided that the proper attitude toward this one, even if there's no real weight behind any of it, is what's not to love?
  3. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) The straightest version of a superhero movie Marvel has managed to do, and actually manages to capture pretty much the whole history of the genre in a single film.  Impressive.
  4. Thor: The Dark World (2013) The most recent release, I found this to be a vast improvement over its Norse predecessor.  Anthony Hopkins, for one, seems to have been inspired (and the inspiration came directly from his Alexander performance as the aged Ptolemy, which is not a bad thing to evoke, considering that's my all-time favorite movie).  It plays like a cross between Hellboy and Lord of the Rings.  Loki actually doesn't have a terribly strong showing in this one, but that's okay.  This movie has Kat Dennings, in the single greatest comedic performance in a superhero movie to date, with a game Natalie Portman attempting to keep up with her.  Thor is busy being as straight a superhero as you can get, but manages to hold his own with Loki for the first time.
  5. Iron Man (2008) The first half of this one sets the perfect tone and is probably as good as anything else in the cycle.  The second half, not so much, about as generic as anything else in the cycle.
  6. Thor (2011) For the sheer dynamite of Loki's debut, it's better than it actually is, which is about as mediocre as you can get.
  7. Iron Man 3 (2013) A disappointment after everything that came before it, not terrible but also almost instantly completely pointless.  Its one thrill is Ben Kingsley's unexpected reclaiming of his own cinematic persona from Daniel Day-Lewis, who's raided it at least twice (seriously, There Will Be Blood).
  8. The Incredible Hulk (2008) I love Edward Norton, but there was nothing he could do to salvage this entirely generic affair.
How will next year's Captain America: The Winter Soldier compare?  (All signs point to "very favorably.")  Will Guardians of the Galaxy be considered related enough to the cycle to be relevant in the discussion?  What about 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron?  Will Paul Rudd be able to make Ant-Man vastly different from the thematically similar and routinely disappointing Hulk efforts?  And why was Benicio del Toro so laughably channeling the Schumacher Batman era as the Collector, anyway?  And when will we reach Thanos?  And will it be worth it???

10 comments:

Pat Dilloway said...

You would like Iron Man 2 most. Though it and Captain America did probably do the most to set up the Avengers movie.

I don't know why they can't ever find a good adversary for the Hulk.

Tony Laplume said...

Because his worst adversary is Bruce Banner.

DAVID WALSTON said...

My favorite is Captain America. I love the way it set him up as a scrawny guy who wants nothing but to fight the bully. Then to put that same personality in the super soldier was great.

Tony Laplume said...

David, I love that too, but I still wonder why the message has to be that you've got to have that body to have that effect.

Remembering Grace said...

I swear I'm not coming back until I catch up on my movies...This is the worst time ever to be behind, with all the good stuff that's out there. Thanks for the rankings :)

Tony Laplume said...

Then it's a good thing I'll be posting my forecast for next year's movies on another blog!

Maurice Mitchell said...

Well-done list Tony. It's tough to rank the Marvel films, but you've gotten pretty close. I'd rank Avengers higher though, but I know you didn't care for it.

Tony Laplume said...

I honestly thought about doing that, Maurice, but I like the second Iron Man a lot.

MOCK! said...

I grew up a Marvel guy but loved DC's multiple universes...All-Star Squadron was a "must" for me. These days I'm not buying ANY titles from either..."Fables" and "Saga" are the only two books on my pull list.

That being said, I love the Marvel movie universe. My top 3 ranking would be:

1. Avengers
2. Captain America: The First Avenger
3. Thor: The Dark World

Tony Laplume said...

Saga is a great book to read, definitely!

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