Monthly Archives: June 2018

Ranking the MCU

mcu

One of the things that struck me when I revisited this blog was just how much of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) had come and gone in the past 5 years. It is still surprising to me that they keep churning out more movies, and that most of them are really pretty good. Back in January, we started a full rewatch in order to be ready for Infinity War when it came out in May, and it was fun to revisit and catch up with the characters I have (mostly) come to love. Since it would be a lot of work to go back and talk more specifically about all the films since I last blogged, I’m going to offer up my ranking of the MCU. Obviously such a list is highly personal  –  nobody’s are going to look exactly alike. I’ll give some justification for my choices, but of course you are welcome to disagree. I’d love to hear your take; I could talk about these guys all the time.

1. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) : It was no small feat when Joss Whedon pulled all the big guns together and produced a fun blockbuster with enough heart and character development to go around. I personally believe much of the continued success of the entire universe is owed to that first group outing. Some of the others may have more strengths, but this was the moment we knew it was gonna work.
2. Black Panther (2018) : Much was riding on Black Panther, and it delivered. Not only was it historic in its production, but it’s just a damn good movie – that also happens to be a superhero flick. It has some of the best characterizations and EASILY represents the best treatment of female characters in the entire universe so far. (Dear Captain Marvel, please be awesome.)
3. Thor: Ragnarok (2017) : The characterization took some time to gel, but finally someone realized the astonishing truth: Chris Hemsworth is really, really funny. Add in the godlike powers of Cate Blanchett, continue to develop the Thor/Loki relationship (best in the MCU) and you’ve got a winner.
4. Iron Man (2008) : Sine qua non. Had Robert Downey, Jr. not created the genius playboy with a heart of gold, none of us would be here. Sure, the third act is really weak and Jeff Bridges kicked off the trend of wasting major talent on one-off villains, but Iron Man set the tone and remains a singular achievement in a field littered with them.
5. Avengers: Infinity War (2018): It might still be too soon to talk about this movie, but once again, Marvel took a zillion characters and somehow gave all of them their due in a monster undertaking. The usual criticisms are in play here ( shaky pacing, under-served female characters) and for some of us the emotional punch is tempered by our understanding of the film industry, but you’ve got to give credit to the successful culmination of a long-term project like this.
6. Iron Man 3 (2013) : If you haven’t seen Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, I suppose you won’t agree with this. But I love that movie and Shane Black did it again with Iron Man 3. Tony Stark is my favorite character and he’s had the best arc of all – I loved rewatching these movies and realizing what a good character he is and has always been. Taking him out of the suit for this installment reminded us all of what a great and charismatic talent RDJ is, and that Tony Stark’s greatest weapon has always been his mind.

7. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) : The second time around I realized that the first Cap installment really did an impressive job of stretching the time period covered by the MCU. The technology used to make Chris Evans look like a 90-pound weakling is still kind of weird, but the intro to Steve Rogers is perfect in laying out exactly who he is and how important Captain America is to the world.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) : Nobody knew what to make of GotG. “There’s a tree, and a raccoon. How can this possibly be good?” Turns out it was crazy (and good!) fun, and gave audiences something they hadn’t seen before. Even if you don’t love some of the individual characters (I am NOT a Peter Quill fan) you still have to root for the team.
9. Captain America: Civil War (2016) : Here we come to perhaps my least-popular decision. I really disliked Civil War. It’s as good a movie as any of the rest of them, but for me personally, the decisions made by Cap are incredibly problematic and ultimately the movie seemed like a bunch of grown white men beating each other up instead of acknowledging their feelings and taking responsibility for their actions. Notable primarily as our (awesome) introduction to T’Challa, for whom I swoon.
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) : Another one I might need to apologize for, but y’all, I thought Winter Soldier was booooring. The pacing is SO slow and as much as I think Black Widow is the unsung hero of the team, you can only get so far on banter. People like to refer to this as a great Cold War spy thriller and to them, I respectfully suggest watching The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and then getting back to me.
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) : I personally enjoyed this one but I can acknowledge that it’s not as great as the first Avengers. I didn’t have a problem with the Nat/Bruce pairing (it’s been telegraphed all along), was thrilled to see Paul Bettany in the flesh finally, and my biggest gripe is that I really wanted more of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver. 

12. Thor (2011) : I have enjoyed all of the Thor movies, but then I am a literature nerd with a taste for Shakespeare. In rewatching these, it became clear that the high-flying heroism never sat particularly well with Hemsworth, but the visuals were stunning and Kenneth Branagh did a good job of moving along an origin story with lots of details.
13. Ant-Man (2015) : Crammed in amongst all the heavy-hitters, Ant-Man is a surprisingly enjoyable little action flick. The cast is fantastic and the structure is standard but well-executed. I am actually really excited for Ant-Man & the Wasp, which opens in a couple of weeks.
14. Spiderman: Homecoming (2017) : Another unpopular decision. I have a friend who gets mad at me for this, but I was pretty much just whelmed by the newest iteration of Spidey. I don’t see why we needed YET ANOTHER one, first of all, and while Tom Holland is a fun presence, I thought the movie itself was very predictable.
15. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) : There are things I loved about this movie, but overall when I watched it again it felt a little forgettable.  The ‘twist’ on a villain was fun, but the movie started to drag after a bit. Great emotional content, and I definitely hope to see Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha return at some point.
16. Doctor Strange (2016) : Most of these movies follow a formula, and their success tends to be relative to how well they navigate within that formula. Doctor Strange benefits from being able to use a lot of great visual effects, but the characters weren’t well-developed (or felt like retreads) and I didn’t personally feel that Benedict Cumberbatch gave me a character I could root for. He was much better as a supporting player in Ragnarok and Infinity War.
17. Thor 2: The Dark World (2013) : The second Thor installment might be the most egregious example of a wasted villain. Not only was Christopher Eccleston unrecognizable, he didn’t have anything to do. As was previously mentioned, Hemsworth does better with less serious dialogue. The Dark World just wasn’t very fun.
18. Iron Man 2 (2010) :  Sophomore slump? On paper this one ought to have been good but somehow it never seemed to find its footing. I am extremely #TeamCheadle so I was happy with the new Rhodes, and we got our introduction to Black Widow, but other than that … meh. Sam Rockwell deserved better.
19. The Incredible Hulk (2008) : Poor Hulk. It’s so disappointing that they couldn’t get the character right until Mark Ruffalo came along. Edward Norton seemed like good casting, but he didn’t find the balance or the sympathy in the character. The effects were not good, and for me personally, this movie had a much different feel that made it an awkward fit for the overall universe. I almost wish we could go back and have a Ruffalo stand-alone, but it definitely feels like that ship has sailed, and he might be better in a supporting role as well. 

Advertisements

Review: Ocean’s 8 (2018)

When I came back to the blog recently, it was interesting for me to note that my last post (five years ago) had been about women in movies. These days “women in movies” is a hot topic. Women are coming forward about sexism and sexual harassment in Hollywood, pay disparities are being highlighted (and sometimes corrected), more women are being put behind the camera, and so on. Obviously things have a long way to go before we can declare Hollywood (or anywhere) a truly equitable industry, but the conversations are important in and of themselves. On-screen, too, there’s been movement toward female-led ensemble casts, from Bridesmaids to a Ghostbusters reboot, and now, Ocean’s 8.

I’m not going to go into the premise too much. The original Ocean’s 11 (1960) was a Rat Pack vehicle set in Vegas. The updated Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and its sequels featured an all-star cast led by George Clooney engaging in heists and shenanigans. Nothing too fancy, just solid entertainment. Ocean’s 8 finds us following a complex plan concocted by Danny Ocean (Clooney)’s little sister Debbie (Sandra Bullock) to steal a 6-pound diamond necklace off the neck of a starlet (Anne Hathaway) at the Met Gala. Naturally, she invites a gang of friends along to assist, hijinks ensue, we get a few twists along the way… Nothing too fancy, just solid entertainment. With an all-star, all-FEMALE cast!

Ocean’s 8 is a fun, entertaining movie. The cast (including Cate Blanchett, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, and Awkwafina) boasts an absurd amount of talent, and everyone delivers. While the script is not quite as zingy as one might like, there are still plenty of great moments and inside jokes. The formula follows that of the earlier Ocean’s movies with a few winks and nods to fans, including cameos by two of the original gang. There are also a number of fun details for fans of both the fashion and film industries; Anna Wintour being interrupted watching a Roger Federer match, Katie Holmes & Zac Posen seated together at the Gala, the requisite cameos of famous Gala attendees, Sandra Bullock getting to employ her fluency in German. And of course, everyone is wearing fabulous clothes (I personally would very much like to have Blanchett’s entire wardrobe). The movie ticks off all the boxes you’d expect from a summer blockbuster, but with a little something extra.

While there may be complaints like “Why do the girls have to rob the Met Gala?” and “How does Sandra Bullock’s hair look so great in prison?”, the movie is really very aware of itself and the different world its characters occupy by virtue of their sex. Anne Hathaway has been rightfully acknowledged as a stand-out for her slyly funny take on a seemingly stereotypically ditzy, self-obsessed starlet. She’s more than she seems, of course, and Hathaway’s portrayal is clearly designed to acknowledge that as an actress, she herself has been viewed through the lens she’s portraying. Bullock delivers a great line at one point about how she wants the team to be women because women are so often ignored, and that’s what is needed for the plan to work. And there’s no love interest! There’s an oily ex (Richard Armitage) in need of comeuppance, but his place in the proceedings is that of a pawn, rather than a prize to be won.

It is often the case that movies with women need to be doubly good to be successful,  and that they are often more harshly criticized when they fail to live up to the standards set by a more conventional (male-dominated) film. When we think about true equality in movies, what we’re really talking about is the ability for women to star in a mediocre film that is nonetheless successful and is viewed as a working formula. Too much time has likely been spent comparing Ocean’s 8 to Ocean’s Eleven, which doesn’t help anyone. But, if we insist on thinking about it in those terms, it is perhaps not as good as Eleven, but is much better than Twelve –  which means, if we can hope that Hollywood will be consistent in how they bankroll projects –  I look forward to seeing Ocean’s 9 in theaters sometime in the next couple of years.

oceans2

Sarah Paulson, Sandra Bullock, Rihanna in Ocean’s 8 (2018)

 

Is This Thing On?

After a mini-rant about Justice League (they just don’t love their characters enough) this afternoon, a friend looked at me and said “You should’ve been a film critic,” and I said “Well…” and started thinking about my old friend, this blog. I still love the movie business and talk about it all the time, and while I don’t watch as many movies as I once did, I’d like to get back into a more regular habit of it. Thus, we’re back? Maybe? No promises.

My last post here was in 2013. It seems like an awful lot has happened in the world of movies since then, for sure. That ought to mean that I could find plenty to chat about, if I put my mind to it. The Marvel Cinematic Universe! New Star Wars movies! Strides in film representation! The #MeToo era, additions and subtractions to favorites lists, new things to love and complain about. I even try to watch a little television these days (I will talk to you about Legion all. day. long.)

So like I said, no promises. I’m planning to catch Ocean’s 8 this weekend so maybe we’ll start there. Or, if there’s something in particular you actually want my two cents’ worth on, give me a shout! My Top Five list needs updating, so stay tuned and we’ll see what transpires.

eight

Look at all these fabulous women. Can’t wait!