Final installment of my re-view of the MCU. Definitive rankings (at least how I feel this week) to follow.
Phase one is here
Phase two is here
Captain America: Civil War
The Good: Nothing will (or has been able to thus far) top the seventeen-minute brawl in the middle of the movie for being the greatest super-powered action in any film. As with the previous film, there’s a large amount of consequence involved in the story and it reverberates throughout the rest of the films in phase three. The introductions of both Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland, instantly the best big-screen Spidey) are huge and perfectly-executed events that don’t distract from the rest of the movie. And despite all the action going on around him, and the importance of Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan), this still feels like a Captain America (Chris Evans) movie. The dynamic between Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the Winter Soldier/Bucky is perfect, and even without much narrative thrust, the film still gives strong moments to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), Vision (Paul Bettany) and Hawkeye (Clint Barton).
The Bad: With an exhaustive plot to create division in the Avengers, Baron Zemo’s (Daniel Bruhl) diabolical plan is way more intricate than necessary for being a macguffin only needed to get everyone fighting. There’s also not enough Natasha/Black Widow.
Overall: Exploring the fundamental rift between Tony and Steve was a seed that has been growing since their first interaction in the first Avengers. The set-up here feels entirely natural, and feels emotionally resonant for a comic-book movie. And that battle sequence is still the highlight of the MCU.
The Good: Despite his shaky accent and making him feel more like a super-powered Doctor House than anything, Benedict Cumberbatch is a welcome addition to the MCU. Visually, the film has an interesting style, the battle scenes on an Inception-like playground are a lot of fun. The seeds laid for a potential sequel suggest some more interesting things at play. Controversary of her casting aside, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One is a great actor elevating a weak part. Mads Mikkelson is always a great bad guy. Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, and Chiwetel Ejiofor provide solid support.
The Bad: The whole thing is kind of dull. Another origin movie that spends too much time on how our guy becomes the hero, and not enough of him being the hero. And another Marvel movie where the main character is fighting the dark version of himself.
Overall: An okay, if rather mediocre installment. It opens up a new door in the MCU, that of magic and super powers not explained by science. Some neat visual storytelling that hint at a stronger outing for any (as yet unscheduled) sequel.
Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
The Good: I don’t know if I want children, but I definitely want a baby Groot. From the opening dance number to finale bomb defusion, the tiny tree creature wins the movie. The rest of the Guardians, including new addition Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and not quite member Yondu (Michael Rooker) have great moments. Though resolved too easily, the dynamic between “sisters” Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) has great heft. Kurt Russel as the new father to main Guardian Star-Lord (always-charming Chris Pratt) makes for a typically Guardians-style antagonist.
The Bad: That sisters resolution. Splitting the team up for too much of the movie. The final brawl is a bit too heavy with bad CGI. As much fun as the original was, the heaviness in this one doesn’t feel entirely earned. The motivations for the villainy are pure nonsense.
Overall: I think this fares better in hindsight than it did at the time. There are a lot of characters to balance and they all feel necessary. Even Drax (Dave Bautista) gets a wide emotional range, especially in his interactions with Mantis. Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) remains one of the best MCU characters.
The Good: Tom Holland is a refreshing bit of joy and whimsy in a universe that has been edging towards the dour. His Peter Parker/Spider-Man is so effortlessly charming and the perfect balance between the awkward Parker and the over-confident Spidey, something neither Tobey Maguire nor Andrew Garfield could pull off. Michael Douglas’ Vulture is one of the better MCU villains, with clear motivations that make sense performed by an actor capable of grounding the fantastic with the normal. Supporting characters played by Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Donald Glover, Zendaya and Laura Harrier are all great. And even though it felt like a bit of a shoehorn shoving Iron Man in the film, the dynamic between his father figure to the orphaned Spidey has a great power to it. Also, one of the funnier MCU outings.
The Bad: Getting Tyne Daly to do a superhero movie and giving her nothing to do. Some of the mentoring from Tony seems needlessly cruel. Not enough Spidey swinging on things.
Overall: A great movie that shows how important the Marvel machine is to its major characters. Even though the first two of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies were good and great, they still don’t feel as completely whole as this one (the Garfield movies were just awful). Despite aging him back to high school, it was great that we didn’t have to relive the death of another Uncle Ben.
The Good: It’s rare that the third movie of a trilogy is the best one, but there’s no competition here. After unlocking the humor of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the movie is a non-stop party (until someone loses an eye). Villain Hela (Cate Blanchett) is justifiably over the top as the goddess of death, and a welcome addition as the first major female antagonist in the MCU. Thor and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) make for a great pairing, as does Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). It more than justifies further adventures of the Asgardians, though they don’t fare well by the end (and beginning of Infinity War). Jeff Goldblum’s quirk is put to good use as the flamboyant Grandmaster. Even Anthony Hopkins gets to have a little fun as Loki disguised as Odin. The bright colors throughout the movie give it a unique visual style. And director Taika Waititi almost walks away with the movie as the voice of Korg. Thompson is amazingly badass as a fallen hero with a bit of a drinking problem.
The Bad: Multiple viewings do lessen the impact of the humor a bit. As funny as it is, there’s not much to the story beyond the stop the bad guy premise. Where’s Sif? And man, the warriors three got a quick sendoff.
Overall: A great movie that shows how a standalone (even a buddy cop version of one) should work. Unleashing Hemsworth’s comedic timing was a long time coming given how uneven he was when he started out as Thor. It does feel like there’s not much left for another solo Thor though.
The Good: Probably the textbook case for a hero’s solo debut. Get the introduction out of the way somewhere else (in this case Civil War), tie him into the MCU tangentially, surround him with great characters and a perfect villain, add some emotional resonance, and collect a billion dollars. Boseman is a superstar that easily carries the film. The supporting cast of female characters (Danai Guirira as Okoye, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Letitia Wright as Shuri) each feel strong enough to carry their own movie. I mean, this might be the most feminist MCU film. Michael B. Jordan’s villainous Erik Killmonger is the best bad guy in the Marvel lexicon (give or take how you feel about Loki), his motivations are clear, sound, and have an emotional weight to them absent most of the others. There are great real-world analogies throughout. And really, Okoye throwing that wig – I could watch on an endless loop.
The Bad: Come on, who thought T’Challa was really dead. The MCU has had entirely too many fakeouts with dead heroes (save for Quicksilver, the only one that seems to have stayed dead). No way M’baku gets that jacked being a vegetarian. The first time a Stan Lee cameo feels really out of place. It gets another ding for having the bad guy, great as he was, be the bad version of the hero going so far as putting him in a cat costume at the end. Not enough Nakia.
Overall: Really, there’s nothing but minor quibbles for a movie nearly perfectly executed. The way it has such a unique identity yet feels completely connected to the MCU at large should be textbook for all new franchises that follow.
Avengers: Infinity War
The Good: It’s wall-to-wall action that has a huge amount of weight to it. Josh Brolin as ultimate bad guy Thanos is great. Combining characters from all over the MCU paid off well with great pairings like Thor and Rocket and Iron Man and Doctor Strange (solidifying that Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark works well against everyone). The battle sequences (of which there are legion) all look gorgeous. A lot of humor for a movie with such heaviness. The Iron Spider! Gamora is actually the emotional center of the movie! Star-Lord’s jealousy over Thor! Okoye and Black Widow’s fight against Proxima Midnight! If you like big battles, there’s a lot here.
The Bad: There’s little else. Sidelining Captain America and Black Widow is unforgivable. The ending carries little emotional weight. The romance between Wanda and Vision is expected to have some depth despite taking place almost entirely off screen. As fun as it is to see so many characters, there really are too many. The sequence with Thor creating his new weapon takes too much time, especially for a movie that gives short shrift to two major characters.
Overall: A great movie for a Marvel fan, but not for a movie fan. It’s all buildup with another year to wait for payoff. Still, it’s action that was made for the big screen. Despite having too many characters to keep track of, they are balanced well. Thanos is a worthy villain for bringing together this many heroes.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
(full review Here)
The Good: The lightness of this is welcome after the heaviness of Infinity War. Lilly is a badass and her fight scenes are the best part of the movie. Rudd’s charm excuses some of the more needless scenes. Michael Pena’s exuberance is always welcome.
The Bad: Really, I can’t get past so much of the story hinging on a badly plotted moment (Scott telling Luis where they were so he could look at some plans) and a badly executed resolution (Janet gaining magical powers in the quantum realm that magically solve everything with magic). I’m glad Scott’s ruse was never figured out, but really there were enough agents to send some to his house when they were dispatched to other locations.
Overall: A fun, if slight entry that deserved to have greater impact. The storytelling issues were glaring and detracted from the overall film.