Now, I know we don’t usually discuss fine cinema here at Soul In Stereo, but this weekend, let’s make an exception.
Today, Avengers: Age of Ultron hits U.S. theaters, which aims to continue Marvel Studio’s unprecedented run of fantastic superhero films. Superheroes have had a long tradition in hip-hop — Ghostface Killah, one of the game’s best storytellers, has been masquerading as Tony Stark for years:
It’s no wonder the hip-hop community embraces these films, especially when they’re this good.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken 10 individual films to mold a larger, expansive narrative. That cohesion links all the films together — each is unique but they’re still a package deal. The wit, humor and character-building tie seamlessly into each other. When one film succeeds, they all do.
And trust me, nearly all these films succeed.
Before Ultron threatens to kill us all, let’s revisit at the 10 films that fall under the MCU banner, raking them from worst to best.
While not a bad movie per-se, our first jaunt into Asgard doesn’t hold up to Marvel’s lofty standards. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston’s portrayals of super-jock Thor and scheming sorcerer Loki are magnificent, but the lightweight plot doesn’t give them much to do. Bet you don’t even remember the climatic final battle against the CGI TINFOIL WARRIOR. Ugh. It’s a good intro for Thor and his space-viking brethren, but not much else.
Hulk is one of those properties that’s tough to translate on screen, especially when Bruce Banner spends every waking moment trying to suppress the title character. While most Hulk films have been abominations (see what I did there?) Norton does a solid job of portraying the burdens of the downtrodden Banner. It’s too bad the supporting characters are so underdeveloped.
One of the biggest criticisms of the MCU films is that they feel like placeholders for bigger films. That’s definitely evident here, arguably the most forgettable of all the MCU films so far. Despite that, there’s a lot to love, thanks to Robert Downey Jr.’s effortless portrayal of Tony Stark. Justin Hammer and Whiplash might not be highly-regarded villains but they wind up being great intellectual and physical threats, respectively. Yeah, it feels more like a launch pad for the Avengers team-up than a standalone film, but there’s lot to love.
The sequel to the original Thor built upon the promise of the original film. We get a decent nemesis in Malekith, fan-favorite Loki becomes an anti-hero (for a little while, anyway) and Earth actually faces a serious threat this time, thanks to the Kool-Aid-like Plot Device of Doom known as the Aether. There are enough twists, turns and crashing buildings to captivate audiences and give Thor a chance to shine on his own.
THE IRON MAN 3 HATE CAMPAIGN MUST END. I get it fanboys, I was just as annoyed when Ben Kingsley’s brilliant portrayal of the Mandarin was turned into cheap comic relief. It was also pretty annoying that Tony Stark spent most of the film outside of his iconic armor. And when he did don the armor, half the time it broke apart like 30-year-old Legos. But beyond those quips, Iron Man 3 was a highly entertaining piece of summer escapism, with Tony learning to embrace the man outside the armor. It didn’t stick closely to its comic roots, but it’s undeniably fun.
My expectations weren’t set very high for the first Cap film. I worried the World War 2-era back story would cause the story to drag and, quite frankly, squeaky-clean Steve Rogers certainly isn’t my favorite superhero. But the film works extremely well, thanks to Chris Evans’ spot-on portrayal of Cap. He’s unwaveringly noble without descending into parody. The film uses its 1940s nostalgia to craft a fulfilling story that bridges eras – in the end, it became one enjoyable experiences in the MCU so far.
The one that started it all. Give Robert Downey Jr. props for taking what was essentially a C-list superhero to the mainstream. At this point, Iron Man is just a tier below Batman and Superman, and it’s thanks to this film. Iron Man succeeded because it defied the usual superhero genre tropes – it didn’t take itself too seriously, it didn’t get overly creative with its source material, it just relied on lighthearted atmosphere, stellar character development and magnificent effects to tell its story. It set the blueprint for the entire MCU.
The coolest thing about the MCU – and the thing that has contributed to its longevity – is that all the films have a different feel. Thor brings the fantasy elements, Iron Man is all about sci-fi, and the upcoming Ant-Man flick seems to have the feel of a heist film. Cap 2 is just as unique – it’s like a Bond film souped up with super-solider serum. It scales back on the CGI stuff to make it feel more authentic and is driven by a high-energy plot filled with constant twists. And the titular Winter Solider is one of the best adversaries we’ve seen in the MCU thus far.
The Avengers proved to be the Voltron of MCU – separately, the main cast is pretty cool, but their real power is in their unity. On the surface, the storyline isn’t groundbreaking (save the world from the aliens!) but it’s the ensemble cast that really makes this special. What could have easily wound up as a bunch actors clawing for screen time gels into a super-sized buddy-cop flick. Except the cops have lasers and enchanted hammers n’ stuff. The Avengers wasn’t just the culmination of years of film storylines, it became the pinnacle for superhero films.
Until last year…
When I asked my wife if she’d accompany me to see this film, she scoffed. She said she had no desire to see a “talking raccoon” that “looks stupid.” Yet after we watched the film, she spent the rest of the evening quoting the stupid raccoon. That dumb ol’ raccoon and his raggedy band of miscreants recaptured all that made space operas like Star Wars so much fun — it was action packed, loaded with memorable characters and bursting with heart. Best of all, the self-referential humor always kept the flick very down-to-earth, even when the crew was blasting baddies in space. Sure, it wasn’t a perfect film — as per most MCU films, main villain Ronan was underdeveloped — but the Guardians captured the suspense and magic of comics like no other movie before it.
Which movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe are your favorites? Share ’em below.