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Marvel Cinematic Universe raises the stakes in first two phases

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(Courtesy of Marvel)

(Courtesy of Marvel)

Editor’s Note: The following article is part one of a two-part feature on the phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This article contains spoilers for the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

We can all agree that the best Marvel movie to date is “Iron Man,” can’t we? Personally, I don’t find it at all surprising that the very first Marvel Cinematic Universe film is also the best. For one thing, Marvel was taking a real risk at the time by kick-starting their cinematic universe with Tony Stark, a relatively unknown character. For another, they were taking a chance casting Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role – he hadn’t starred in a successful blockbuster since his downward spiral in the 1990s. Luckily, they had hired an imaginative, ambitious and capable director in Jon Favreau. Favreau had a great vision for the film, and he insisted that Downey was the right choice for the role. This proved to be a smart move. Downey gave a fantastic performance with just the right ratio of humor to pathos. The movie turned out great and made a ton of money at the box office.

Unfortunately, though, it seems like Kevin Feige and the people at Marvel have decided they’ll never take another risk again, with one or two possible exceptions. Let’s take a look at Marvel’s Phase One (entitled “Avengers Assembled”). Whereas they casted a dynamic and intriguing lead in “Iron Man,” Marvel cast three extremely bland, generically handsome white guys in “Thor,” “Captain America” and to a certain extent, “The Incredible Hulk.” Marvel also hired three essentially characterless directors to helm these movies. As a result, “Thor,” “Captain America” and “Hulk” were tedious, badly written and had absurdly high stakes, unlike “Iron Man,” which had intriguing secondary characters, humorous dialogue and relatable, human stakes. I leave “Iron Man 2” off of this list because, despite no question that it was a much safer movie for Marvel to make than the original, I actually enjoyed that film.

The one thing that they did get right in this batch of films was casting Tom Hiddleston as Loki, the villain of “Thor.” He became an immediate fan favorite and broke out as the only redeeming quality in “Thor.” Because the people at Marvel had given up on risk-taking at this point, they decided to take Loki, newly established as their most popular character, and make him the villain in the Phase One culmination movie, “The Avengers.” “The Avengers,” directed by TV veteran Joss Whedon, ended with a gigantic climax sequence where Loki’s never-before-mentioned huge army of flying alien-robots destroyed New York.

At this point, I could no longer connect with anything that was happening in these movies. The stakes were just way too high and not relatable on any level. Moreover, I really didn’t like “The Avengers” very much. From its boring opening sequence to its quipping dialogue to its meaningless climax, it felt very much like a bad episode of a Joss Whedon TV show.

Now on to Phase Two. For “Iron Man 3,” Jon Favreau stepped down as director and the reigns were handed over to Shane Black. As a result, the movie was a weak shadow of the first two installments, and ended up a mishmash of nonsense with no discernable narrative or plot. The first act of the movie wasn’t half bad, to be honest. Ben Kingsley played The Mandarin, a threatening villain not unlike terrorists we’ve seen in the real world. Then, halfway through the film, it is revealed that Kingsley’s character is just a fool being manipulated by another character played by Guy Pearce, who is just about as bland as it gets. Not to mention he can breathe fire. It’s all downhill from there. The “Thor” sequel was even worse than the original, and the “Captain America” sequel, while not terrible, was convoluted and gimmicky.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” seemed at first to be an anomaly for Marvel. Director James Gunn adapted it from an obscure comic book and cast the terrific Chris Pratt in the lead role. Ultimately though, “Guardians” followed the “Avengers” formula – the group chases down some nondescript rare artifact while an extremely unremarkable villain (Lee Pace), whose motivations are vague at best, tries to recover it so he can use it to destroy the world.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron,” again directed by Whedon, is guaranteed to destroy at the box office, but is unlikely to rise above the first Avengers movie in terms of quality. The next Marvel movie on the schedule, “Ant-Man,” is an important one. It had real potential for a while when the great English director Edgar Wright was attached, but once he dropped out due to creative differences, most of that potential disappeared. However, because of the unexpected casting of Paul Rudd and the fact that “Anchorman” director Adam McKay was brought in to rewrite the script, “Ant-Man” could still rise above the pack. While it couldn’t possibly be as good as if Wright was directing, there is some hope that it could at least be an interesting variation on the standard Marvel movie.

Eli Fine can be reached at [email protected]

4 Comments

4 Responses to “Marvel Cinematic Universe raises the stakes in first two phases”

  1. John Kloess on November 13th, 2014 9:47 am

    I don’t like Iron Man, not nearly as much as Captain America.

  2. The Beaver on November 13th, 2014 1:10 pm

    This article sounds like a message board comment from someone who really doesn’t enjoy these marvel movies. Strange person to write an article on this subject in my opinion.

  3. kid stone on November 15th, 2014 3:57 pm

    This article made no sense to me. The author needs to check his facts. One that stuck out to me was that Loki was brought back for Avengers because the studio felt safe with him? No Loki most likely planned from well before Thor came out. In the comics it was Loki who originally brought the Avengers together in the first place. Also I don’t understand how you can say basically every one of their movies has sucked. Look at the box office returns and the critics reviews they’re all pretty great. Lastly and most importantly look at the fan response. People love these movies so much that other studios are copying the layout entirely (Fox, DC, Sony) yes marvel takes a chance with all their movies especially Iron Man and GotG but the first thing they have in mind is quality and that’s why people go to see em

  4. Joe Kreel on December 10th, 2014 6:13 am

    This article sounded like a troll went off because he felt as if the Marvel movies didn’t go as he wanted them to. Or he prefers DC. Either way, the writer has many points that are not factual. He is entitled to his opinion that Iron-Man was the best Marvel movie, but that’s not correct on a stastistical level. It is one of the best, but as reviews and box office suggest, it’s not THE best. To date, that would have to be The Winter Soldier or Guardians. Iron-Man 2 is deemed as one of the worst. If not, THE worst. Thor and Hulk are also both weak, but enjoyable regardless. Captain America had a great director, not sure where he thought Joe Johnston is characterless. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki was also not the break out character in Thor, but rather his popularity rose in the Avengers. And as another comment or stated, he was also originally planned to be the main villain in the Avengers from the get go, as he was in the original comics. The Chitauri are also not random, they’re the main villains in the first volume of the Ultimates-the ultimate universe’s version of Avengers. Iron-Man 3 was also very enjoyable, the only complaint was the Mandarin twist-which served no purpose and was a complete disservice to both characters. The fact that Killian breathes fire shouldn’t even be a concern though, as these movies are based off of comics. The writer seemed as if these movies are suppose to be taken seriously. Although the writer is correct on the fact that the villains are bland and have no true motivations and always end up with the same goals, he is wrong about Marvel not taking risks, (isn’t that what the article was about in the first place…?) Marvel has attached rather obscure directors for their phase 2 movies, and Iron-Man 3 did in fact have that twist. No chances taken? I think not!

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