Critic & Son – MCU Edition
I’m writing this on the morning of July 2. By now, we should have been a couple of months deep into the summer movie season. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t miss it. Facts are facts, though. We’ve got one heck of a nasty virus wreaking havoc on the country, and one of the casualties is the modern movie-going experience. At this point, the only way I’d set foot in a theater is if I could be enclosed in a human-sized hamster ball.
What is a summer movie, anyway? Well, it’s complicated.* Jaws is the first summer blockbuster, proving to studios that audiences would flock to theaters instead of camping, swimming, or melting in the heat. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone ruled summer for a while, then they were pushed aside by Will Smith. For a while there, studios couldn’t figure out how to make good summer movies at all.**
These days, a summer movie is a Marvel movie. In the past, we’ve talked about how the Marvel Cinematic Universe has earned gargantuan profits and a smattering of critical acclaim. The MCU is important. For me, the MCU has become a tradition. When The Avengers opened in 2012, my wife and I decided that our son Liam was old enough to see a movie theatrically. From there, we never missed a film.
Those movies laid the groundwork for Liam’s cinematic education. While The Dark Knight currently occupies his number one spot, and while he’s entering the world of dramas,*** the MCU was always there first. We might not be able to see a film theatrically that begins with the iconic Marvel fanfare, but we can always appreciate the MCU itself. That’s why it’s high time that Liam and I share with you our Top Five picks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Tim’s #5 – Thor: Ragnarok: A movie about space Vikings shouldn’t work, and it takes a deft hand to make nonsense like that soar. Kenneth Branagh’s Thor feels about 65 percent successful, while Alan Taylor’s Thor: The Dark World nearly killed the franchise dead. To course-correct, Taika Waititi was brought in, and course-correct he did! Ragnarok gives us zany comedy, gladiatorial combat featuring a certain Green Goliath, and huge changes to the character and world of Thor that went in a creative new direction.
- Liam’s #5 – Spider-Man: Homecoming: Spider-Man is one of the biggest superhero names, and it took three attempts for it to be done correctly. It is a stellar realization of what Spider-Man would really be like in our world, and it depicts him in a way that not many films depict their protagonists. He’s naive, inexperienced, and willing to sacrifice himself for all of us. Truly the best millennial in the world.
- Tim’s #4 – Iron Man: During 1998, Marvel Comics was a tarnished brand. So much so that when Sony Pictures inquired about the film rights to Spider-Man for $10 million, they were offered the rights to nearly every other Marvel character for another $15 million. Sony passed. Hard. Who would ever want to see a movie about Ant-Man or Black Panther? In 2008, the idea of a blockbuster about a second-tier Marvel character starring a recovering drug addict was a massive risk. Yet Iron Man pushed Robert Downey Jr. into the highest levels of stardom, showed that a superhero movie could be grounded without being unnecessarily dark, and served as a proof of concept for a new cinematic franchise.
- Liam’s #4 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier: In an era where superhero movies are all sky-beams and end of the world stakes, Winter Soldier mixes it up. They are able to tell a compelling political thriller with espionage elements and still include those end of the world stakes. Easily one of the most compelling MCU movies yet.
- Tim’s #3 – Avengers: Endgame: What’s that faint sucking sound? Oh, that’s the sound of The Rise of Skywalker failing to stick the landing! Nobody ever said endings were easy, yet Avengers: Endgame sure makes it look easy. It delivers an honest-to-Thanos epic, time-travel shenanigans, mostly consistent character work, and wraps up a cliffhanger, the Avengers franchise, and the entirety of the MCU. At the same time.
- Liam’s #3 – Black Panther: A superhero movie with a full black cast, stellar action, and a villain who is totally right. It made every member of the supporting cast feel impactful, while our lead still feels important to the plot. To top the cake of perfection, it has a villain who makes the hero question their own morals and ends up changing the society of Wakanda for the better.
- Tim’s #2 – Black Panther: You know what there’s a lot of in the MCU? Quippy white guys. The MCU came to the conclusion that a diversity of perspectives was long overdue,**** and 2018 brought us Black Panther. A Black-led cast and crew opened up the world of Wakanda with a distinctive Afrofuturistic flavor. Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger was a villain with an excellent point. Director Ryan Coogler brings all the lavish details together and shows us that power can corrupt, and power can also cleanse.
- Liam’s #2 – Ant-Man: In arguably the smallest MCU film, Ant-Man shows that a character with nothing going for him can be better than the first two Thor films. The trailers weren’t great, and the character in the comics isn’t even likable, yet somehow this movie works. Without Paul Rudd, and the rest of the cast, this movie would fall flat on its face. With them, it’s one of the best MCU movies to date.
- Tim’s #1 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier: A movie about a superpatriotic guy throwing his indestructible shield at other people’s faces is fun. When you take that patriotic guy and change the world around him and his perspectives, then you have something special. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo deliver action with a Jason-Bourne-esque flair, drop Cap into a conspiracy that would be right at home in the 1970s, and explore what happens when a super-soldier wonders if his country is truly worth fighting for.
- Liam’s #1 – Avengers: Endgame: The de facto end of the MCU, or at least this era of the MCU. Endgame is the perfect superhero movie. Action, humor, and just a dash of character death and depression. It’s smart, creative, and was finally able to make sense of time travel in a way that doesn’t cause massive problems with the rest of the Marvel universe. The only Avengers movie better than the first Avengers, and it deserves all of the praise it gets and then some.
* The Star Wars movies, despite the first film opening on May 25, 1977, aren’t summer movies. They’re Christmas movies.
** I direct your attention to Transformers, Battlefield Earth, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and The Adventures of Pluto Nash.
*** He loved Ford v. Ferrari and was captivated by The Shawshank Redemption.
**** Yet a female-led MCU film didn’t happen until 2019’s Captain Marvel.