The Best and Worst of Marvel Cinema

After reviewing Thor: The Dark World, I felt it might be a great idea to look back over nearly three decades of Marvel-based movie action. Starting with Howard the Duck way back in 1986 (I know, I still can’t believe that was Marvel), through to the present-day bombardment of sequels, prequels and spin-offs that have inundated the cinemas in recent years. Not that this is a bad thing. I enjoy nearly all the attempts at capturing our favourite heroes, if only for their originality and invention. I also believe that despite all the negativity that surrounds the use of CGI in 21st century cinema, comic book adaptations proudly display the benefits of this technology and show some true creativity by blending live action with graphics in a way that can tingle the senses and leave you hungry for more.

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As you can probably tell by now I am a big fan of this well established, yet still young, genre that has taken hold of this generation. It has such a grip in fact, that the next few years are already mapped out with comic-book entries for the cinema goer in a way never seen before. This can either leave a bitter taste of predictability in your mouth, or have you gnawing at your nails in anticipation.

Although Marvel films have given us some great moments over the years, with over thirty movies in total there were bound to be some absolute stinkers, hanging on to the coat-tails of the Marvel name like a beggar on Wall Street. In fact, Marvel movies range from the pretty disastrous to the well-loved and respected. I therefore thought I would run down a few of each, just to jog the memory banks and get some of you salivating for the upcoming releases:

The Best: Iron Man (2008)

Rotten rating: 93%

Directed by Joan Favreau / Starring Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges

iron-man-downey-jr

A film that catapulted Robert Downey Jr’s career and transformed the public’s perception of him as a talented supporting actor, to infectious and likeable lead, almost overnight. Although there is no doubt the film would not be the same without the wit and quick delivery of Tony Stark, self-proclaimed genius, billionaire, playboy and philanthropist all rolled in to one, credit must be also given to Favreau’s ability to never allow the film to falter, delivering relentless twists and turns that are a joy to watch. This film has become a template for Marvel origin stories and proves that the perfect recipe can often come from the least expected places.

The Worst: Ghost Rider (2007)

Rotten rating: 26%

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson / Starring Nicholas Cage and Eva Mendes

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You know a film is bad when Nicholas Cage is arguably the best thing about it, and probably makes it about watchable. Ok, so that is slightly harsh on Cage, but at the same time Ghost Rider stands out as a wasted opportunity to bring to life one of comic books’ most revered characters. A bad-ass skull in constant flames, riding an even more bad-ass motorbike, what could possible go wrong? Try wooden dialogue, predictable plot-lines and almost no character development, that’s what. Ghost Rider proves that using CGI correctly has become a modern art form in film-making and it fails in every way to deliver.

The Best: Thor (2011)

Rotten rating: 77%

Directed by Kenneth Branagh / Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Natalie Portman

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I have watched this film more times than any other Marvel movie, despite it being clearly inferior to several of its counterparts. Why? Because I have never seen a cast enjoy their fictional roles so freely and colourfully as the array of talent on display in Thor. From the stalwart Anthony Hopkins, owning the stage and bellowing theatrically at his sons, to the extremely gifted young duo of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, locked in a ancient struggle for power and glory. As a viewer, the earth-bound scenes, laden with comedy, cuteness and conspiracy are interlaced so creatively with the action, theatre and magic of the Asgaard scenes it is almost painful to watch. This film has everything a Marvel movie needs, including Natalie Portman.

The Worst: Dare Devil (2003)

Rotten rating: 45%

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson / Starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner and Colin Farrell

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Before the disappointing Ghost Rider, and the even more disappointing Elektra, Mark Steven Johnson made his name as the unreliable Marvel-movie-maker when he dressed up Ben Affleck in a red suit and turned him into Dare Devil. Not only does this film let down the fans, but it is also the main reason behind the mounting scepticism surrounding Affleck’s appointment as the new Batman in the upcoming DC instalment. It is unambitious, littered with continuity errors and is instantly forgettable. One can only hope Affleck does a better job at playing the hero with a different director at the helm.

The Best: Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Rotten rating: 92%

Directed by Joss Whedon / Starring Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johnasson

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Some franchise instalments, especially sequels of any kind, often fall victim to their own success and unwisely clutter the film by introducing too many main characters or supporting actors. But in this Marvellous assemble, most background and origin stories have already been established through the respective previous films. This meant that Whedon was able to allow the characters to clash heads and rub their already inflated egos against each other to make some of the funniest and tensest moments in Marvel movie history. Each character injects the screen with their own unique values, beliefs and motives, making it pivotal to the film that their cohesion succeeds. This itself makes the film great. But throw in some of the best action sequences ever involving our Marvel heroes and you have a movie that without doubt has raised the bar on what is possible in the comic-book genre.

The Worst: Howard the Duck (1986)

Rotten rating: 15%

Directed by Willard Huyck / Starring Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones and Tim Robbins

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Perhaps if more people had noticed that George Lucas was executive producer on this film, or in fact had anything to do with it, then maybe we would have seen those infamous Star Wars prequels coming. Howard the Duck, although in some perverse way enjoyable, lacks any real direction and instead reverts to diving into the deep end of the sleaze pool with crass jokes and regular exposure of female flesh (which probably explains why most men remember this film more fondly than they should). Although based on a Marvel comic, the film makes very little effort to create a real hero, and instead we are treated to a string of typical eighties comedy tropes. Howard the Duck succeeds so well at being poor, it almost deserves some credit.

The Best: X-Men: First Class (2011)

Rotten rating: 87%

Directed by Matthew Vaughn / Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fasssbender and Kevin Bacon

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It was always going to take some very talented individuals to better the original casting of Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen as Charles Xavier and Magneto. Thankfully, McAvoy and Fassbender go beyond just stealing the show, they make the film what it is. Fassbender especially, strikes a surprisingly emotive tone to the Magneto persona that really makes his saga-defining motives understandable and translatable. Although the film has a sprinkling of cheese, montages and super-hero clichés, it never stops surprising and has some of the best action sequences in any X-Men film. Not only did this film re-invigorate the franchise, but it also put some much needed meat on the bones of the already established heroes and villains of the X-Men franchise.

The Worst: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Rotten rating: 38%

Directed by Gavin Hood / Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber and Danny Huston

X-Men Origins Wolverine movie image Hugh Jackman

Although X-Men Origins: Wolverine has its moments, there is something very uncool about this film. From the predictable plot-lines and nauseatingly repetitive fights, through to the “walking away from an explosion whilst looking angry” shot, which is unforgivably unoriginal in the scheme of things. Jackman and Schreiber cannot be blamed however, as they both undoubtedly give their all to portray the fierce rivalry that defined the origin of this most iconic of heroes. I actually quite enjoyed the final fight sequence with the engineered superhero villain and much of the acting is top notch. But unlike the other X-Men films, this film lacks any real drama, intensity or supporting cast, and instead falls flat on its face scene after scene.

Honourable mentions

The Best:

 Iron Man 3 (2013), Blade (1998), Spiderman 2 (2004), X2 (2003), The IncredibleHulk (2008), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The Worst:

 Iron Man (2010), The Amazing Spiderman (2012), Fantastic Four (2005), BladeTrinity (2004). Hulk (2003)

If you liked this, check out my Best and Worst of DC Cinema!

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