Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ranking Marvel Studios' Phase I, II films (Part 2)

Solo films of The Avengers' three powerhouses (Hulk, Iron Man and Thor) are featured in Nos. 11 through 6 in the first part of Cary's Comics Craze's ranking of Marvel Studios' Phase I and II films.

Now comes the elite of the elite -- the Top 5. What makes one film just that much better and more memorable than its predecessor is a fine, minimal line. In fact, in my last installment, I very easily could have moved "Iron Man" up from No. 6 all the way up to No. 4, but there's just something special about these last five that made me think sixth place was OK. (Keep in mind, it's just by hair it's not in the Top 5.) Besides, there's nothing like second-guessing myself. ...

When it comes to the Top 3, it's the same case/conundrum; one could place any of the three in a different order and there would be sound reasons for that particular order.

The Avengers prepare for battle in "Age of Ultron."
CCC's Top 5 Marvel Studios films have the same set-up as the previous installment. With one exception, I have gone just above my four-sentence limit with some of my re-reviews.

As Chris Evans' Captain America doesn't say -- but should have! -- in the first "Avengers" film, as Iron Man leads us to believe he's going to say at one point in "Avengers: Age of Ultron" ("OK Avengers ... time to work") and Cap came THIS close to saying in the closing seconds of "Age of Ultron": Avengers assemble!


Ultron unleashes a blast on Iron Man.
5) "Avengers: Age of Ultron" (May 1, 2015; $990 million -- and counting as of press time!): As I had predicted nearly 10 years ago -- a still a few years before even "Iron Man" was released -- I knew it was inevitable for Earth's Mightiest Heroes to battle Ultron onscreen.

"Age of Ultron" deftly continues storylines, tensions and character interactions from its predecessor, "Iron Man 3" and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" while still whetting our appetites for what's to come in the two-part "The Avengers: Infinity War" films and certainly, next year's "Captain America: Civil War."

Director-writer Joss Whedon showcases the previously underused and overlooked Hawkeye to give the archer more depth and backstory than we ever knew the cinematic version had. He inspires the newest Avengers, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, what it means to be all in on the battlefield.

I understand why fans could argue "Age of Ultron" is too crowded, but there are plenty of great character moments -- just not as many fist-pumping ones that were in the original. Grade: B+

4) "Iron Man 2" (May 7, 2010; $624 million): Tony Stark deals with the excesses of being a worldwide celebrity who recently came out as Iron Man and by the end, comes to terms with his daddy issues.

Iron Man and War Machine team up to take down Whiplash
in the climax of "Iron Man 2."
The history between Robert Downey Jr.'s Stark and Don Cheadle's Lt. Jim "Rhodey" Rhodes is tangible and brings credibility to their friendship. Cheadle is much more believable and appealing than Terrence Howard's take brings and much more gravitas to the role. (Check out this Cheadle-as-Rhodes-inspired op-ed I wrote in 2012 about "Superior superhero casting replacements.")

The Iron Man-War Machine throwdown at Stark's penthouse is one for the ages -- and is great, no matter how many times you've seen it. Sam Rockwell is the right kind of slimy as Stark competitor/Stark wannabe Sam Rockwell. "Iron Man 2" also gave fans the first look at Scarlett Johansson as soon-to-be fan favorite Black Widow, who rocks it in her skintight spy costume -- and luckily has much better hairdos or wigs in subsequent Marvel movies. Amazingly, this cast somehow exceeds the original. Grade: A

3) "Captain America: The First Avenger" (July 22, 2011; $371 million): Even more than the "Thor" films and "Guardians of the Galaxy," "The First Avenger" is Marvel's first true genre film -- the World War II adventure/period piece. My biggest gripe remains there aren't battle sequences featuring Cap and his Howlin' Commandos and it's wrapped up in one montage. (It's a great montage; I just wanted more.)

Captain America's World War II uniform has the utilitarian features of
an actual paratrooper yet sticks to the classic patriotic costume of the comic books.
Even this poster for "Captain America:
The First Avenger" has a vintage feel to it.
Evans makes Steve Rogers as compelling as any character in the Marvel universe -- cinematic or otherwise (which lifelong Capheads like me knew years ago!). The enourmously appealing actor also convinces non-believers and the uneducated that Cap's story is one of the most fascinating in comic book history.

The special effects used to pull of Rogers' diminutive and wimpy pre-Super Soldier Serum body remains impressive -- just as Evans jacked up physique is. Grade:A

2) "Marvel's The Avengers" (May 4, 2012; $1.519 billion): Marvel pulls off a seemingly impossible task: Successfully delivering a superhero ensemble film based on the culmination of previous solo films starring The Avengers' Big Three (Captain America, Iron Man and Thor), yet also sets the stage for its own sequels and more solo flicks.

Whedon delivers a rare treat -- a purely fun film that has something for everyone who might watch "The Avengers" -- fans, diehards, people who very little to nothing about any of the team members, the casual fan and the harshest of critics. It's a slam-dunk popcorn movie that not only holds up on later viewings, but retains the same magic.

Known for crafting ensemble TV projects, Whedon not surprisingly allows each Avenger to shine. But most astonishingly, he makes the Hulk the biggest crowd-pleaser.

Pay attention to the subtleties, as Whedon incorporates and develops those tidbits into "Age of Ultron." There are many reasons I consider "The Avengers" one my cinematic equivalents of comfort food. Grade: A+

1) "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (April 4, 2014; $713 million): "If "The First Avenger" makes you care about Rogers/Cap, "The Winter Soldier" puts an exclamation point on the Star-Spangled Avenger's visionary leadership and why he's a generally good man -- not mention what makes him the ass-kickin' Super Soldier.

The screenplay takes advantage of Evans' long-time friendship with Johansson, which in turns deepens the working relationship of Cap and Black Widow. In fact, "TWS" is just as much as Cap-and-Black Widow movie as it as a Cap-and-The Falcon flick.

This "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" collage appears courtesy of
www.pinkraygun.com.
"The Winter Soldier" doesn't just adapt one of Ed Brubaker's finest Cap stories (a storyline with the same title), it's a throwback to the who-should-I-trust spy thrillers of the 1970s. The title isn't just a reference to the villain; it's a subtle reference to the Cap being a man of time and the resurrection he faced (making him a "winter soldier" as well).

It's no overstatement to equate Sebastian Stan's creepy. silent and deadly efficient Winter Soldier with the late Heath Ledger's Joker. After such a breathless ending, it's no surprise I was more interested in watching the next "Captain America" film than "Avengers: Age of Ultron." "The Winter Soldier" remains thrilling with each viewing. Grade: A+



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