Here’s the third and final part of my countdown of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe films to date. In and attempt to mimic The Hobbit film franchise, I was initially going to make one post, then later two, but the script became too bloated and wordy for two, so I decided to go with three. Unlike The Hobbit trilogy, I won’t make 3 billion dollars as a result of my poor editing.
6. Black Panther (2018)
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Box Office (To Date): $278 Million (Domestic) $491 Million (Worldwide)
Released last weekend, Black Panther had a lot of hype surrounding it. And when I say it had a lot of hype, it felt like Star Wars levels of hype. Reviews were amazing, everyone was talking about it, and you couldn’t turn on a TV or computer without seeing a reference to Black Panther. Unlike The Last Jedi, I feel like Black Panther was a superb standalone film that also fit into the greater lore of the established universe. Black Panther is a third feather in the cap of Director Ryan Coogler, who previously created Fruitvale Station and Creed – as a result he’s currently batting a thousand for me.
I’m at a point with Black Panther where the dust hasn’t settled. The film is very fresh in my mind and the questions that are posed to viewers are still rattling around in my mind daily. It’s been a week and I have consumed a lot of entertainment since, but I keep thinking back to Black Panther.
One of the most appealing aspects of Black Panther would have to be the strong supporting cast. Danai Gurira as royal bodyguard Okoye, Letitia Wright as younger sister and scientist savant Shuri, and Lupita Nyong’o as complicated love-interest Nakia are a contingent of feminine strength that hasn’t been shown onscreen so prominently in an action or comic book film. While I am not one to praise work on diversity alone, I do feel that Black Panther is praiseworthy for it’s ability to present these strong minority characters with wide-ranging appeal.
Michael B. Jordan rises from the ashes of the Human Torch (like Chris Evans before him) and gives the most empathetic performance from a Marvel villain to date as Killmonger. Chadwick Boseman conveys a calm and regal demeanor that has yet to be seen in the MCU. At this point, I have stopped questioning Marvel films, but if you take a step back and look – it’s astonishing what this film is accomplishing, and I wouldn’t have thought it a possibility a decade ago.
Bonus Trivia: The Black Panther character predates the political Black Panther Party, despite common misconception. Black Panther was renamed Black Leopard in Fantastic Four #119 to avoid political connection. Readers and creators both resisted the change and the Black Leopard moniker only lasted for one issue.
5. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Box Office: $334 Million (Domestic) $880 Million (Worldwide)
Thank you Kevin Feige for your persistence in bringing Spider-Man to to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For those of you who don’t know, Spider-Man films have been licensed to Sony since 1999. In this time, Sony produced five Spider-Man films in two batches with no continuity to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. And man did Sony really start to suck the fun out of the Spider-Man. Amazing Spider-Man 2 is, in my opinion, the biggest letdown of a comic book movie ever. Sony execs had absolutely cuckoo ideas about future Spider-Man installments, too. (Like Jonah Hill as Sandman and Jared Leto as Felicia Hardy). The current deal gives Marvel Studios full creative control over Spider-Man – with box office returns going to Sony and merchandising going to Marvel. The partnership has already resulted in an excellent supporting role for Marvel’s most important character in Captain America: Civil War and probably the best Spider-Man film to date in Spider-Man: Homecoming. (Yes, even better than Spider-Man 2)
Perhaps what appeals to me most in Spider-Man: Homecoming is Peter Parker’s relationship with Tony Stark. While some have knocked Iron Man’s inclusion in the film as taking away from a character who can easily carry a film on his own, I think that the parallels between Parker and Stark were worth exploring, and were well-conceived. The relationship with Iron Man also immediately ties Spider-Man in to the larger story around him. Tony is no parent, nor is he a mentor, but he undoubtedly has a connection to Parker and seeks to take him under his wing. I can relate to Peter Parker in his quest to impress his surrogate father, as I remember trying everything as a teen to impress and catch the attention of my idols. I also remember the difficulties resulting from trying my hardest and failing to impress those I look up to. The result, in my opinion, is one of the best father-son relationships in film as well as a phenomenal coming of age story.
As for my other thoughts on Homecoming, I enjoyed the video diary that Parker kept, introducing his backstory, as opposed to a third Spider-Man origin story in 15 years. I also thought that Michael Keaton as the ‘villain who hates heroes trope’ is done well and fits the greater narrative of the MCU. And finally, the Spider-Man: Homecoming original score by Michael Giacchino is the best of the MCU and one of the more underrated scores in recent years.
Bonus Trivia: Much like Cameron Crowe in preparation for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Tom Holland went undercover at a New York high school in order to prepare for Homecoming. Holland went incognito at The Bronx High School of Science, a highly specialized STEM school. Most of the material went completely over his head. Holland kept his cover through an entire schedule, going from differential equations to linear algebra.
4. Iron Man (2008)
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Box Office: $318 Million (Domestic) $585 Million (Worldwide)
Iron Man is the granddaddy and cornerstone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was a breakout hit, and Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark is a match made in heaven. I am perhaps in the minority who prefer Iron Man to The Dark Knight, also released in 2008. This film, while it has always been lauded, has experienced something of a Return of the Jedi effect in that with time people nitpick the details and find ways to put down what is truly a great film.
Robert Downey, Jr., in a stroke of excellence, took a weapons manufacturer and out of touch playboy billionaire and made him a truly likeable and relatable on-screen character. Downey’s Iron Man is iconic, and it all starts here. Credit should be due to Downey for creating so much of the character’s on-screen persona, as many lines in Iron Man were ad-libbed by him, as the script was bare-bones even during shooting. To date, Robert Downey, Jr. has appeared in 8 films of the 18 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and is set to appear in Avengers films being released this year and the next.
What would I knock from Iron Man? Terrence Howard. While everything worked out on-screen, Howard was apparently a nightmare on set despite getting paid more for Iron Man than lead actors Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, and even Robert Downey, Jr.. Don Cheadle is a superior actor and is far superior in the role of Colonel Rhodes. It’s a shame he wasn’t there from the beginning.
Iron Man holds up. After ten years, it remarkably somehow doesn’t feel dated. It has the best closing lines not just to a comic book film but to a film in general. Also, it features the most shocking post-credits scene as no one was expecting Samuel L. Jackson to pop up as Nick Fury.
Bonus Trivia: During a scene in Tony Stark’s home, antagonist Obadiah Stane plays a work by Antonio Salieri on piano. Salieri is commonly portrayed as being the less-talented and jealous rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Box Office: $333 Million (Domestic) $773 Million (Worldwide)
In this countdown, I have talked about surprises. I wasn’t expecting the casting Paul Rudd as lead in Ant-Man to work, nor was I expecting anything out of Doctor Strange (2016). The biggest surprise, and the last one on this list, is how fantastic Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) turned out to be. I wasn’t just skeptical, I was outright convinced that this movie was going to be dumb after seeing the trailer. I asked myself questions like, ‘Marvel is making a movie about these nobodies?’ ‘The Ooga-Chaka song, really?’ ‘A talking raccoon?’ – I have never been so wrong about a film before watching it.
Star-Lord is this generation’s Han Solo and Guardians of the Galaxy is this generation’s Star Wars. Chris Pratt is also, in my opinion, the iconic ‘box office’ actor of this generation – much like Harrison Ford in past. Guardians of the Galaxy was his breakout leading role. Between Pratt’s leading charisma and his chemistry with the ever-enthralling sci-fi champion Zoe Saldana, and strong performances from the rest of the film’s protagonists, Marvel created what I considered to be arguably the best space-fantasy movie outside of the Star Wars original trilogy.
There is so much to love about Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s an excellent misfit movie. All of the characters experience growth. It has one of the best film soundtracks. It was self-aware and lighthearted. Most importantly – Guardians of the Galaxy was the first wildly-successful fantasy super-hero film as opposed to one grounded in reality. It was something completely different and better in many ways than any comic book film before it.
What could I knock on Guardians of the Galaxy? The obvious is that Ronan the Enforcer is a bit of a one trick pony and is a relatively weak villain, especially when compared to the more recent Marvel outings. Oh, and they made Karen Gillan shave off her hair.
Bonus Trivia: Polyglot Vin Diesel recorded his lines (line?) for Groot in fifteen languages for Guardians of the Galaxy. (Ten of the language recordings were done for the home release) He reportedly said “I am Groot” over a thousand times in recording.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Box Office: $260 Million (Domestic) $714 Million (Worldwide)
If James Bond and Marvel had a baby, it would be Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Where Captain America: The First Avenger was a alternate past-reality with little bearing on the present, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a grim tale of government conspiracy primed for modern audiences. It was Winter Soldier, and not The Avengers or the first Captain America film where Chris Evans as Captain America is fully realized. It was Winter Soldier that made Captain America relevant. It was Winter Soldier that showed Captain America as an unyielding hero and not a blind patriot in a time where being an anti-hero is the norm. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, while being the most mature film in the Marvel catalog, still manages to show a hero in a time of cynicism.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a film I was lucky enough to visit the set of while in Cleveland, Ohio. I knew I was near the shooting location, but I sort of stumbled upon it when I strangely saw signs for the DC Metro all around me. While I didn’t witness the filming, it was fun to see one city transformed into another and later watch that in film.
What’s wrong with Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Nothing. I still can’t find anything to knock to this date. It is a perfectly-balanced film with both character and plot development. We get to see Nick Fury and Black Widow at their finest and most faithful adaptation from the comics. Oh, and isn’t it refreshing when a male and female lead don’t fall in love for once? Anthony Mackie, who has been awesome in so many films for such a long time, gets screen prominence and importance as Falcon. And we see Sebastian Stan go from a relatively minor supporting role in the first film to becoming an out-of-time hero akin to Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator.
Bonus Trivia: Despite guns being frequently used by many characters throughout Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers doesn’t once use or even touch a gun during the entire film.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. (2017)
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Box Office: $390 Million (Domestic) $864 Million (Worldwide)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is truly the perfect sequel. Everything that is good about the first film is turned up to eleven here. It’s so good that it even serves to make the first film better, as events serve to provide explanation to the actions of Yondu and Nebula in the first. The protagonists all grow, both independently of one another and together, and new characters are unique and fitting to the universe.
Michael Rooker, as Yondu, gives probably the most surprising and best smaller supporting performance in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His scene with Rocket and Groot as they seek vengeance after the Ravager mutiny is possibly the most entertaining ninety seconds in a spectacle film to date. Yondu’s relationship with Peter is touching, and stays with you well after watching. He’s also very quotable.
Kurt Russell, as Ego, provides an immediate improvement over the last film’s villain, Ronan The Accuser. While Ego’s motives are always in question and he is clearly a villain, Russell’s charm and screen presence have you almost believing his every line of dialogue.
Gamora’s badassery is on another level in this film, from the opening sequence to her wielding a gun the size of a tank in her showdown with Nebula. In GotG 2, she lives up to her comic book title ‘The Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe”. Gamora’s ruthlessness and Nebula’s pestilent nature are explained. The troubled relationship between Gamora and Nebula leave show no heroes, and leave you feeling pity for both.
The soundtrack, in my opinion, is the best mixtape collection of songs for a film to date, and is even better than the first in my opinion, as the tracks more accurately reflect the space fantasy feel of the Guardians and the Southern-Cosmic culture of the Ravagers. Director James Gunn somehow managed to outdo Star-Lord’s opening scene from the first film with Baby Groot dancing around aimlessly while the team is facing intergalactic threat.
All-in-all it’s fun, and any flaws that it may have are so minimal in comparison to overall allure of the film. It inspired me to read all of the Guardians of the Galaxy comics (my favorite is Abnett and Lanning’s run), and really dive into a new franchise with excitement for the first time in years.
Bonus Trivia: There are some impressive facts regarding CGI in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.. The computer generated opening scene took nearly two years to render. Ego, The Living Planet, consists of one trillion polygons, and is the largest visual effect ever made.
Thank you for reading. This was more of an undertaking than I expected in the beginning, but it was fun to do. Leave your comments if you like and tell me how wrong I am if you want. I can’t say when I’ll return, but I am sure I’ll get the itch to write more again soon.