Ready? Strap in.
Blade (1998) - B
The earliest Marvel movie that I've seen, to my knowledge, is also one of their most stylish and eye-popping - and one of their most bloody, of course, being a vampire movie. Perhaps not the most memorable story, but the set pieces alone make this worth a watch.
|Hope to see Marvel reboot him soon -|
and do him just as much justice as this movie.
X-Men (2000) - B
Another one of the big groundbreakers of superhero film, X-Men, combining always-timely social commentary with stellar acting, helped start a franchise that's had its ups and downs. This one was more on the former end of the scale, naturally.
|The pre-9/11 days.|
Blade II (2002) - C
I don't remember much of this one, other than Norman Reedus was in it, and Guillermo Del Toro directed. It's not a bad movie on its own, I don't think, but unless you're a fan of either Reedus or Del Toro (or both - my friend Speedy just raised her hand), maybe steer clear.
|I'll stop here with this series.|
I've heard nothing good about Trinity.
Spider-Man (2002) - B+
Spidey's since become my favorite hero of all, but back when we only had Tobey Maguire in the title role and Sam Raimi directing, I didn't connect so well with him. That said, though, the first of Raimi's trilogy is undeniably a fun little movie, made of equal parts cheesy awesome (the visual style hasn't aged well, but it was always cartoony anyway) and large ham (Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin - dear God.)
|Also, Danny Elfman made the music.|
Your opinion is invalid.
X2 (2003) - C
"X-Men United?" Sounds interesting enough. But I mostly remember this one for the Trailer Joke Decay of the team getting into that blue Mazda RX-8 in every single TV spot. The movie itself is long and pretty confusing (even more so, I think, than the series' later time-travel stories), so I don't quite understand all the acclaim this one gets. The actors' performances, though, are the movie's real saving grace.
"...maybe next time."
Spider-Man 2 (2004) - A-
Though not perfect, Raimi's second Spidey movie is far and away the best. Largely doing away with the cheesiness of its predecessor, this more serious sequel is pretty much exactly what the doctor (Octopus) ordered. And Maguire never performed better as Ol' Webhead than in that one scene on the el train (you know which one.)
|"So hold on loosely, and don't let go..."|
Sorry. I couldn't resist.
Fantastic Four (2005) - C
The first time I saw this movie, I was in bed with a broken leg, and the pain was enough to distract me so much that I stopped watching and put on a video game instead. I did eventually get around to seeing what I hadn't seen already, but what I saw, while well-acted and well-visualized (and, in hindsight, far better than what came along in the reboot), wasn't the proper Fantastic Four movie the world's been waiting so long for.
|"Whoa, you're hot!"|
"Thank you, so are you!"
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006): D+
The most expensive movie ever at the time of its release, and it showed in its immense cast and incredible special effects. (Signature scene: the moving of the Golden Gate Bridge.) Unfortunately, the movie itself proved too crowded and convoluted, leaving next to no breathing room. Perhaps it's for the best that, thanks to the series' later time-travel plots, this one's been retconned out of existence.
|Welcome to Alcatraz, everyone.|
Spider-Man 3 (2007) - C
Like The Last Stand, this movie, the one that saw an end to Raimi's time in the director's chair for Sony's Spider-Man franchise, was extremely expensive and crowded with tons of characters. It wasn't as much of a hot mess as the internet will have you believe, though. Sure, the writing was iffy, trying and often failing to balance the campy tone of the first movie and the darker second, but the stories (especially that of Sandman) were still compulsively watchable. Spider-Man 3's real disappointment, however, was visual, between the infamous "emo hair" Peter and the dodgy CGI (though Sandman, again, was excellent.) At least watch it once, then after that bittersweet ending (perhaps the most so of any Spider-Man movie), thank God Andrew Garfield came along five years later.
|The real reason this movie's so hated: |
Venom. He wasn't done justice.
Iron Man (2008) - A
The start of a new era - the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe - and what better way to start than with Robert Downey, Jr. being the first Marvel star to really own his role like none before him? Not to mention the way this movie, in the end, subtracted the idea of secret identities - just one of many ways this movie was the next big groundbreaker.
|Your daily reminder that AC/DC rules.|
The Incredible Hulk (2008) - D
The weakest link of the MCU's first phase, this reboot of the not-so-beloved 2003 Hulk movie (I've not seen that one, and as for this one, I'm not entirely sure whether or not this one's a reboot or a sequel or what) is largely forgettable and mostly standalone, especially now that Mark Ruffalo's replaced (and outdone) Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. For MCU completists only; all others need not apply.
|Even Tim Roth couldn't help this one.|
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) - F
Hard to believe this one was co-written by David Benioff of Game of Thrones fame. So were there supposed to be more of these Origins movies, or was this always planned as the first in a series of Wolverine spinoffs? Either way, this movie was laden with a plodding, dull script (how did Benioff go from this to GoT?), a distractingly dreary soundtrack, and bargain-bin special effects, proving to be the franchise's nadir (though thankfully, the prequels would help salvage it.)
|And they sewed Deadpool's mouth shut.|
How very dare you, Fox?!
Iron Man 2 (2010) - B+
A little bit darker than its predecessor, but with Jon Favreau still at the helm, there's plenty of high-octane AC/DC-soundtracked fun (and of course Robert Downey, Jr., being Tony Stark, Cracked's oddly convincing arguments that he's an Objectivist in this movie be damned) to go around. Though the movie does get hamstrung by a shockingly quick resolution to the "terminally ill Stark" subplot and by Whiplash, whose electric tentacle things look a tad too CG and whose Russian is, according to my junior-year English teacher (a native speaker), butchered to hell and back, it's also quite important for really helping set up The Avengers.
|Let us not forget, though, Black Widow,|
this movie's real gift to the world.
Thor (2011) - C+
The only really irritating thing about this movie is that it gets a lot more MCU importance than it might deserve, especially since its villain is also the primary villain in The Avengers. For giving us more of Agent Phil Coulson, and also Hawkeye, and Natalie Portman, the human side of this movie is a great one - though the characters are offset by the heavily Dutch-angled camera and overly stark cinematography (though at least it's a little less yellow than most desert settings.) As for the Asgardians, they kick ass with the best of them, and under Kenneth Branagh's direction, there's just the right amount of Shakespearean melodrama (I'm looking at you, Hiddleston and Hemsworth!) to keep things interesting.
|Thor's first taste of coffee, though...|
X-Men: First Class (2011) - B+
Ahh, now this is much more like it. After the disaster that was Origins: Wolverine, taking the X-Men franchise back in time to the sixties for a new series of prequels (I think it was originally meant as a trilogy, but there's already talk of a fourth one) was the shot in the arm the series needed. Recasting some of the more iconic roles with younger, but no less talented, actors was a major help, as was Matthew Vaughn's stylish direction.
|And the biggest help of all:|
This movie has Wolverine's best scene.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) - A
The first movie to give us Chris Evans as the Star-Spangled Man With A Plan, as well as the first to show us Hayley Atwell as one of Marvel's brightest shining stars, Agent Peggy Carter, and - most importantly - the first in the most dynamic, most ever-changing, most consistently top-notch subseries of the MCU.
The world's most feared Frisbee.
The Avengers (2012) - A+
Prior to this movie, all of Joss Whedon's previous work had been either on TV, online, or, in the case of Serenity, a low-to-mid-budget sci-fi actioner - in other words, all cult classics. His signature style, however, translated very well to this bombastic blockbuster - Marvel probably didn't realize they needed his gifts of wit and whimsy, and his command over viewers' heartstrings, until they saw his creation, The Avengers, perhaps the single most influential genre movie of the last five years - not only influential on future phases of the MCU, but on anything that could remotely rival it (DC's Suicide Squad being another good example, for instance.)
|The dictionary definition of "geekgasm."|
Now and forever.
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) - A
Everyone loves The Avengers, but as great as that one is, my favorite movie of 2012 was something a little smaller, and decidedly more personal. No more Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man - Andrew Garfield's performance, painting Peter as a charming but offbeat (and brooding, but not to excess) loner not only matches the character's more modern comic depictions (Maguire, I think, channeled classic 60s or 70s Spidey more), but also makes him infinitely more relatable. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy only helps, being the brainy, strong-willed lady love every great hero needs (and a much better MJ than Kirsten Dunst's MJ.) Visually, the movie dips its toe into Nolanesque grittiness, but counteracts it by being, in places, even more shiny and slick than the MCU's usual Apple-influenced touch-screen aesthetic. And in terms of story, while not part of the MCU, it's clear, looking at this movie and its sequel, that Sony had plans for a complex, beautifully-fleshed-out new franchise going on. If only they hadn't gotten so trigger-happy later...
|"You seriously think I'm a cop?|
Cop, in a skintight red and blue suit?"
Iron Man 3 (2013) - B-
The darkest Iron Man movie yet presents us with a Tony Stark who shows signs of PTSD following the events of The Avengers, and as he unravels psychologically, he starts considering the possibility that maybe he shouldn't be a superhero anymore. Of course, this is Marvel - superheroes don't just retire. It's always darkest before the dawn, as they say. Again, here's a movie that gets a ton of internet hate that it doesn't deserve (even the infamous plot twist around the Mandarin's identity, which helped remove some of the character's racist overtones from his earlier depictions.) It's only a new beginning for Marvel, after all - Phase Two of the MCU.
|For that fancy cliffside house,|
someone's gonna get a hefty repair bill.
The Wolverine (2013) - C+
Logan goes to Japan in this spinoff, which, like First Class, really helped salvage the X-Men franchise after the abysmal Origins movie of 2009. Although not as good as the X-Men prequels released immediately before and after it (mostly due to some bad CGI work damaging the action scenes), The Wolverine remains a nicely diverting little time sink - and, with its mid-credits scene setting up Days of Future Past, there's a good little bit of payoff in the end.
|Fun fact: this one had a screenwriter|
from Live Free or Die Hard.
Agents of SHIELD (2013-present) - A-
Brought to us with much hype by Joss Whedon, the flagship series of Marvel on ABC got off to a bit of a rocky start, relying heavily on procedural case-of-the-week episodes while very slowly building up its myth arc. By the end of Season 1, though, the series began incorporating plot threads from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, after which nothing would ever be the same again - as one character was outed as a traitor, and more soon came in to assist the cause of Agent Phil Coulson, back from the dead, and his talented associates. Season 2 focused brilliantly on the reconstruction of SHIELD and the introduction of Inhumans (the closest thing to the X-Men the MCU can have as long as Fox still owns the X-Men film and TV rights), and Season 3...well, that was when the show really shot into the stratosphere, especially in its intense second half, and especially-especially the white-knuckle "Fallen Agent" storyline, which (hard though it was to watch for Daisy Johnson fans like me) absolutely demanded to be seen - and tweeted - live. Next week, Season 4 premieres, promising a spin into the supernatural with an all-new MCU version of Ghost Rider. Bring it on.
|"Welcome to Level 7.|
Sorry, that corner was really dark;
I couldn't help myself.
I think there's a bulb out..."
|I see what you're doing there, Ward.|
|Coulson's the official star, but as of now,|
it's Daisy Johnson's show.
|This could be the final season...but if so,|
they're going out with a bang.
Thor: The Dark World (2013) - D
Humor helps keep this movie from completely collapsing into incurable mediocrity at times, but it's, sadly, about the only factor that does. No longer Branagh's piece of supernatural Shakespeare, The Dark World (which was kind of a bad choice for being the first MCU movie not distributed by another studio) is a limp, generic sequel that proves to be the weak link of the MCU's second phase, with little to no impact on later installments (other than maybe the upcoming trilogy conclusion, Ragnarok - and also Guardians, because its post-credits scene introduces the Collector.) Let's just say that if your movie's Agents of SHIELD tie-in episode (from the early days of the first season too, before the show really hit its stride) is more memorable and enjoyable than the movie itself, you're doing something wrong.
|I bet this movie is why we won't get|
Natalie Portman in Ragnarok. Shame.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) - A
Starting a tradition for Cap's movies to do something completely different each time, The Winter Soldier has our Star-Spangled Fish Out Of Temporal Water confront a deadly conspiracy decades in the making - HYDRA having spent years infiltrating the government at every level, including SHIELD, and now bringing a Cold War-era one-man army out of mothballs to help bring their deadly plans to subjugate America, and all of Western civilization, to fruition. Together with Black Widow and Falcon, Cap's got his hands full putting an end to this threat - but even after the movie's over, HYDRA's still out there, which is what Agents of SHIELD continued to deal with until well into its third season. This is the real peak of the MCU's second phase, the biggest game-changer yet.
|Although whoever photoshopped Nat|
into overly-skinny oblivion ought to be
strung up by their short and curlies.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) - A+
By now, just about everyone who reads this blog - or any of my books - knows that The Amazing Spider-Man series are my favorite movies, and this one, Number Two, is my favorite movie of all time. Not only does this stem from its complex (but still comprehensible) multiple plots, but also from Garfield and Stone's preternaturally good chemistry as my OTP Peter and Gwen, the hyperdynamic visuals (only Avatar and Inception, and possibly Doctor Strange too, rival how mind-blowing this movie is to watch, especially in 3D), the hidden background details that take multiple viewings to pick up on, and an arachnid-worthy delicate, but perfect, balance between panic-inducing action, gut-busting humor, and weapons-grade feels. Most of the complaints about this movie basically amount to a feeling, similar to Spider-Man 3, of too many cooks in the kitchen - although I disagree, because this movie did a much better job of handling its multiple villains and their compelling story threads. (In any case, I'm more concerned about that issue afflicting Spider-Man: Homecoming, because that one's got no less than six (!!!) credited screenwriters.)
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is criminally underappreciated, but its secret influences can be seen if you look hard enough - from the secret subway car lab in Person of Interest to Supergirl villain Livewire, and of course my own writing. I was working on the first draft of Red Rain when this movie hit theaters, and I noted a lot of parallels with what I'd already written (Electro, for instance, is Red Rain's main villain with a different elemental nightmare of a superpower) - and also packed later scenes with references to this movie and its predecessor, including to this movie's soul-crushing climax and to the concept of an artificially-engineered chosen one (easy to incorporate as a subtle parody of YA literary tropes.) Essentially, everything I write is a much-needed love letter to this mercilessly-shortened section of the franchise, which really should have been part of the MCU from the get-go.
|If Marc Webb could direct a Red Rain|
movie with half the panache of this one...
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) - A-
Putting Bryan Singer back in the director's chair helped the X-Men series reach a new peak, acting as a sequel not only to First Class, but also to the original trilogy. It's a real apocalypse out there (even before the Apocalypse movie, which I haven't seen yet), and the only way to stop it is to send Wolverine (of course) back in time to the 70s to stop the development of the mutant-killing Sentinels. My dad, upon hearing the plot for this movie, thought they were ripping off Terminator - turns out the original "Days of Future Past" comic storyline predates Terminator by three years! The only thing that I didn't like about this movie was Evan Peters' Quicksilver - powerful he may be, and he makes a disproportionate impact for his limited screen time, but Aaron Johnson's version of the character in Age of Ultron is better-acted in my eyes. But with the time travel having hit the reset button on the more controversial parts on the franchise (up to that time), the X-Men could continue with a much more clean slate going forward.
|Another example of complex done right.|
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) - A+
Hard to believe Volume One of this now-storied space opera was expected to be the first real MCU flop...erm, not quite. Irreverent as hell, soundtrack-driven to the point where James Gunn has convinced me that "writing to the music" is the right way to go, and detached enough from the larger MCU to make it highly accessible to newcomers, no other MCU movie, not even The Avengers, feels as much like a labor of love as this one.
|"12 percent of a plan..."|
Good enough for me, Star-Lord. ;)
Big Hero 6 (2014) - A+
Like Guardians, this excellent addition to the Disney Animated Canon is loosely (very loosely, actually) adapted from a super-obscure Marvel comic. Like Guardians, it was an unexpected smash hit, gobbling up well over $600 million internationally at the box office. Like The Amazing Spider-Man movies, though, this movie is not only pitch-perfect in its depiction of a lonely teenage genius, but also goes all-out in both the action-comedy and the dealing-with-the-loss-of-a-loved-one departments. (There's a reason why Big Hero 6 and Amazing Spider-Man 2 are my platinum standards for fictional feels.) My friend Speedy relates all too well to Hiro Hamada, and you know what? So do I. This movie came out at a dark time in my life, but seeing it in theaters helped me feel a lot better, and more capable of moving forward.
|The best animated movie ever.|
Don't let anyone tell you different.
Agent Carter (2015-16) - A
Filling in on ABC's Tuesday night schedule while Agents of SHIELD was on hiatus during its second and third seasons, Agent Carter gave us more Hayley Atwell in the plucky, underappreciated title role - though to describe her as such does her a great disservice. More super than any of the modern-day agents on its parent series, Peggy Carter will not, cannot, and does not stop until the day is saved, arses are kicked, and names are taken. Whether she's working in New York to clear Howard Stark's name or in LA to find out who's using experimental tech to create a bigger, badder weapon than the A-bomb, you want Carter on the case. No question. Sadly, low ratings led to Agent Carter getting cancelled by ABC after two seasons, but I'm still holding out hope for further cameos, whether on Agents of SHIELD (even though that one could get cancelled too, God forbid) or in movie prologues like that of Ant-Man.
|Glamorous and dangerous.|
|West Coast, look out.|
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) - A-
Once again, this movie proves how much the darkest corners of the internet can rage over anything. A definite, though slight, come-down from its predecessor, the only real flaws of Joss Whedon's final Marvel effort that I can see are its occasional over-reliance on CGI and its way of throwing too much crap to the wall and seeing what sticks. But hey, it's Whedon, so the quotable wit and sucker-punch action are absolutely not lacking - and, so far, it's the only movie in which we've seen Aaron Johnson's excellent Quicksilver, the best speedster that didn't come from The Flash. I'm thinking he's the Whedon Author Avatar for this one (three guesses why), which is precisely why he's so endearing, even if he starts out working against the good guys. And on the bad guys' side? James Spader's delightfully over-the-top motion-capture performance as Ultron makes him the most classically unforgettable villain in MCU history.
|Stark. Does this look like |
"peace in our time" to you?
Ant-Man (2015) - A
Following in the footsteps of Guardians, Ant-Man delivers a lighthearted, smaller-scale (literally!), and mostly standalone diversion from the rest of the MCU - not to mention a rare glimpse at superheroic Marvel happenings on the West Coast as opposed to the East. (As a Bay Area resident, this movie, being set in San Francisco, would've been required viewing for me anyway.) Also like Guardians, it was expected to be a flop, owing largely to its somewhat troubled production (Edgar Wright having quit as director, and Joss Whedon having seriously praised his original script before other writers got their hands on it) and its relative obscurity in the Marvel canon. But while not a billion-dollar earner like one of the Avengers movies (or the third entries for both Iron Man and Captain America), Ant-Man deservedly earned enough money to warrant Marvel rearranging their Phase Three schedule to include a sequel.
|"Hi, I'm Scott!"|
Fantastic Four (2015) - F
I saw this one on opening day with my sister and cousins, and by the time the negative reviews poured in, it was too late to change our plans. At the time, we agreed to generously grade it a C at best, but over time, I've come to realize how much it was really an F, for "fiasco." The actors tried their best, but the behind-the-scenes battles between the producers and director Josh Trank ruined what could have been a great (if far grittier than its source material) superhero movie. Not only was the movie a visual disaster, but the body horror came across as Trank trying too hard for grimdark, and I'm pretty sure Simon Kinberg et al. didn't write the screenplay as erratically paced as the final product turned out to be. Many people complain that the more recent X-Men movies, as well as The Amazing Spider-Man, were written as empty cash grabs so other studios could keep those film rights out of Marvel's hands, but this one's a very blatant case. If only someone at Fox could have smelled the train wreck coming and gotten the studio to cut their losses...well, hopefully now the rights will revert back to Marvel and they'll finally get FF right.
|Such a talented cast, wasted. :(|
Deadpool (2016) - A+
Oh fuck yes! Fox may have horribly screwed up with Fantastic Four, but at least they (or, at least, Kinberg Genre) were smart enough to keep that one separate from the X-Men franchise. Not separate, though, is this wild and crazy tale of the Merc With A Mouth, with Ryan Reynolds finally getting the chance to play him properly. Just try and stop him from breaking balls, skulls, and the fourth wall with hilariously reckless abandon. Go on. I dare you.
|#ManCrushMonday: Ryan Reynolds.|
Captain America: Civil War (2016) - A
These days, the original Civil War comic storyline has gone down in infamy for its reliance on contrived conflict and its overly political nature. By making this movie more personal for Cap and the rest of the Avengers, and making the machinations responsible for their conflict personal for its understated villain Zemo, Captain America: Civil War proves a superior adaptation, especially when the viewer is drawn in (by viral marketing, of course) and asked to choose a side. (#TeamCap, of course. "The safest hands are still our own.") And, of course, this movie has the added bonus of introducing a number of new characters for Phase Three, from the incredibly nuanced Black Panther to Tom Holland taking over from Andrew Garfield (who I still maintain is the best one) as Spider-Man, presenting an all-new, excited-fanboy incarnation of the web-slinger. Yes, all the Marvel movies are setting up for what comes next at this point...but keeping the excitement building is the right way to go, I think.
|Still waiting for them to unite again.|
As you can see, I'm not done fanboying anytime soon.
Till next time, Pinecones...