Welcome back to VS! where Brett White and I pit things we love (and sometimes hate) against one another. Sometimes they’ll be funny, sometimes they’ll be serious but we’ll always try to make it fun. If you missed it last week, check out our first ever VS!, a very serious examination of the many costumes of our collective favorite superheroine Rogue. It was preeeeety fun. You should read it.
As you can probably gather by the title of this piece, we’re going to be pitting all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (heretofore MCU) films against one another. Before we even get started, let’s be clear: we pretty much love these films and love living in a world where there are this many mostly good superhero movies by one studio, but let’s also be real, they’re not all created equal. Let the opinion bullets fly (â„¢ and Â© Brett White for that one, guys).
Oh yeah, here be spoilers, kids.
Kelly Thompson: Obviously we’re doing these in order of release and so we begin at the beginning (a very good place to start… is this not the place for “Sound of Music” jokes?). “Iron Man” (2008)... where all our collective superhero doors were blown off.
Brett White: We’re also flashing back to a time before I really had a solid opinion or cared about any Marvel character outside of the X-Men! I read almost exclusively X-Men comics from 1993 until around this time and all of my Iron Man knowledge came from trading cards and “Onslaught” crossover issues. Also, and I’m just realizing this, I started my career in comics — working for “Wizard” — in 2008 just a few months before “Iron Man.”
Kelly: Oh wow, that’s sort of fascinating. For me, this is still probably going to make my top five. It’s even more impressive in retrospect for being the first, and we have it to thank for basically everything that has come since then. We’ve got a resonant but accessible story, a perfect bit of casting (well, a few perfect bits of casting) and just something we really hadn’t seen before done so well. And though the female role is basically a girlfriend/damsel role, Pepper is really well done for a small part and the film doesn’t actually damsel her, which is a relief because that’s what those roles are usually there for.
Brett: Agreed. Like a lot of superhero movie fans, I get tired of seeing origin stories repeatedly; this was an origin that I was invested in and, when Iron Man flies for the first time, I remember being so moved by it in the theater. It was exhilarating.
Kelly: Totally. There was something a little bit subversive the movie overall (probably thanks to it both being Tony Stark who is himself a bit subversive and the way that Downey chose to play him) and that subversiveness gave IM a modern and relatable feeling the way a lot of other superhero films hadn’t necessarily managed prior to this point in time. Batman always sells because he’s Batman (and I think that’s mostly true of Superman, too) but who gives a flying crap about Iron Man… turns out everyone, if you make a great movie.
Brett: I think this movie barely cracks my top five solely because of personal preference; there are MCU characters that I just like more, for whatever reason. And, this one’s missing a real solid villain, for me.
Kelly: Isn’t it kind of amazing that it works even without a solid villain though? And half the time the villain is sort of Stark Industries itself, which is, again, kinda cool and subversive. Onward! Aw, man, poor “Incredible Hulk” (2008). Such a miss while everything about Iron Man was so spectacular. Hulk had the 2003 Ang Lee “Hulk” working against it, but I don’t think it would have mattered. It just didn’t work for a lot of reasons and despite Edward Norton being a fine actor who clearly dug the role. It also loses points for me for a really basic girlfriend damsel role for Liv Tyler, too. Really unimaginative. This is probably gonna be my #11. Sorry Hulk. No smash.
Brett: This is the Marvel movie everyone forgets is a Marvel movie. I thought it was fine. Spoiler alert: I don’t dislike any of the Marvel movies. None of them are “Transformers” — my personal measurement for dreck. I do genuinely like Liv Tyler, maybe because of “Empire Records” reasons, and I would flip right out if we ever got her as Red She-Hulk in anything.
Kelly: OMG. I also secretly love “Empire Records” — we are basically alone in this, Brett. You know this, right? Okay, next up… “Iron Man 2” (2011). Notable of course for introducing Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow — I believe our collective favorite MCU superhero, yes?
Brett: I have a glass display case in my office, the top shelf of which is loaded with seven MCU Black Widow toys and a Kris Anka sketch of Nat from “Winter Soldier.” Describing things in my office as a way to prove my fandom is a recurring bit here at VS!, apparently.
Kelly: You just have a cooler office than I do and you like to flaunt it. We get it. Honestly, while there are a lot of problems with “Iron Man 2” — it’s sort of, I dunno… too big for its britches? — like it tries to do too much and as a result doesn’t do much of it successfully? But Black Widow is pretty well handled overall. Except for the really dumb curly hair, which feels tragically unfashionable, and un-Widow, she’s well set up.
Brett: There’s behind the scenes footage of Johansson trying on the costume for the first time and she has long, straight hair pulled back in a ponytail — and it looks great! Way better than what they went with. I remember being a bit angry about ScarJo’s casting initially, because I thought it was evidence of Hollywood continually casting impossibly young people in everything (she was 25 when she did “Iron Man 2”). So I was rightfully blown away by her fight scene at the end of the movie. I was giddy. It was a revelation.
Kelly: I think I was always on board with the ScarJo casting but she ended up being so much more than I ever imagined she could be. They intro her as the sexy little thing in “IM2,” and she leans into it nicely — like it’s clearly a joke on everyone, because she’s just going about the business of being a badass while everyone else is caught with their jaws on the floor. Annnnd I just spent the entirety of my turn talking about Black Widow and didn’t mention Tony Stark once. Um. Back on message! I love the development of Pepper and Tony here, it feels like a really natural evolution and they are simply magic together on screen, so more of them together is always good. And um… I really like when his briefcase turns into the Iron Man suit… I remember being blown away by that at the time… of course a mere three years later and that looks like child’s play thanks to the suits in “Iron Man 3!” Â Oh! And War Machine. Terrence Howard is replaced by Don Cheadle in this one as Rhodey. I know I’m probably odd man out on this one, but I actually prefer Cheadle. I thought Howard was a good Rhodey, but if forced to choose I just find Cheadle more charismatic overall. I don’t think I’d argue that Cheadle’s Rhodey is actually better just that I enjoy Cheadle more than Howard? Logic has no place here. Leave me alone!
Brett: We do not VS! here — Cheadle is infinitely better than Howard. He feels more like Downey’s equal, in terms of charisma and swagger, which is something that really takes effect in his later appearances. Let me get real controversial here and say that Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke are easily two of my absolute favorite Marvel movie villains. They are ridiculous, over the top, way too much — but I find them endlessly entertaining. I also love that Whiplash isn’t wearing a costume — that’s just what Mickey Rourke looked like that year.
Kelly: [Laughs] “That’s just what Mickey Rourke looked like that year.” You win again, Brett. That’s perfection. Â Okay, “Thor” (2011). I have two words for you. CHRIS. HEMSWORTH.
Brett: Even I, with my quirky taste in men, can agree that Hemsworth is the Hemsworthiest of the Hemsworths.
Kelly: I try so hard to make us VS! but our opinions are so equally good that we can’t manage to disagree! Wait, here are some more words about Chris Hemsworth’s Hemsworthiness! The man was born to play Thor. He’s all charisma and abs and hair and it’s just ridiculous. I wouldn’t have thought anyone could embody a character more naturally than Downey did for Stark and then Hemsworth showed up and I was like, “Well, that’s what you get for thinking you know things, Kelly!”
Brett: Yep, Thor always seemed tough for me to fancast before Hemsworth, and he’s just great at playing hearty bravado and noble vulnerability.
Kelly: The mythology on this one is kind of annoying — I find my eyes glazing over as it digs into it — but the approach to this overall was solid and about as simplified as you could make it.
Brett: This was the biggest risk at the time! We all had no idea how Marvel would introduce the concept of Asgardians into a mythology so far populated by a bunch of Iron Man suits and Edward Norton. I think they sold it well — casting a bunch of Shakespearean actors helped.
Kelly: Shakespeare rarely lets you down! Natalie Portman is basically wasted on the thankless vanilla role of Jane Foster. I’d honestly just rather have Kat Dennings’ Darcy as the love interest… but then I’m sure she wouldn’t be allowed to be as funny, so that would defeat the purpose.
Brett: I love Jane Foster. It might be more because of the meme that popped up surrounding her, about her just wanting Science all the time — but that’s a meme I love. In general, most of the Marvel love interests have these really engaging personal lives and relationships that the movies tend to show, so I love that Foster gets to have characters like Darcy and Selvig support her. I do think Portman gets a lot more fun stuff to do in “Dark World,” though.
Kelly: [Laughs] If that meme version of Jane Foster had been in the movie maybe I would have liked it more. Oh! We should also mention Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Again, perfect casting is perfect! We should probably really talk about how amazing Marvel Studios has been at casting overall… but let’s wait until “Captain America!”
Brett: Right, because Dum Dum Dugan is in that movie!
Kelly: One-track mind Brett White, folks!
Kelly: “Captain America” (2011). So, this one is actually going to be really low on my list in the final analysis. I know people love it, but I find it really disconnected — it feels like two separate movies jammed together (and the second one given total short shrift). However, again, Chris Evans is a perfect Steve Rogers and this movie also gave us Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter… so that’s amazing.
Brett: I think I place this one at ten on my list, just ahead of “Hulk,” and it’s exactly for those reasons. The first chunk of it, Steve’s origin and his interactions with Hayley Atwell (lordy Hayley Atwell was such a get for Marvel), are fantastic.
Kelly: Origin stories are not my favorite — one of the reasons that “Iron Man” and “Thor” appeal to me more than “CA” I think is because even though they are technically origin stories they feel less like origin stories. We meet Stark prior to him becoming Iron Man sure, but he’s still a fully grown adult and he is already oh so very Tony, so it feels more natural than “here is how it all began” and with Thor we join him in crisis, which really works as an entry point. I’m not arguing that “CA” should have skipped over his origin, they probably had to tell it and they do a fine job with it, but it just doesn’t get my heart going you know? And as mentioned I find the effects on scrawny Steve to be really distracting — every scene with him like that I’m taken right out of it and am hyper aware I’m watching a special effects movie.
Brett: Glimpse into my brain: I rarely get “taken out of movies,” or if I do, I naturally never treat that as a negative. I don’t know why that is! I think sometimes I enjoy having a dialogue with myself about the movie while I’m watching the movie? Listen, there’s a reason I’m not a critic.
Kelly: Listen, the most interesting part of that response is not that “this is why I’m not a critic” it’s that you super enjoy having a dialogue with yourself! Love it. So, I get why they wanted (and needed) to get Steve to his “death” so we could bring him into modern times (which works like gangbusters) but the last 40 minutes of the film or whatever it is — all the Howling Commandos stuff feels like a different and very rushed film.
Brett:Â I gloss over a bit when the movie becomes a montage of cool action moments, which sucks because, you know, dreamboat hunkasaurus Dum Dum Dugan is there! Neal McDonough was actually my Captain America fancast years before the MCU started, but I prefer him in any role that makes him bulk up and grow a mustache.
Kelly: He does make a perfect Dugan. A huge part of the charm to me about Steve Rogers is that he’s unstuck in time. He’s a stranger in a strange land almost and it’s part of what makes him so unique in the world. His goodness, and boy scout-y-ness, and old-fashioned nature and “missing years” play so well in a modern context (and are magic with more modern and shades of grey characters like Black Widow) that Steve in his own time is… dull. I get that they had to show it all but period Steve just bores me. We lose what’s exceptional about him (that’s not superpowers).
Brett: This is overall a fun movie, and maybe the first example of Marvel playing with a genre — retro action/adventure — outside of superheroes. On the flip side, we have Red Skull, the live-action execution of which is so much more captivating in theory than in execution.
Kelly: “The Avengers” (2012). Oooh boy. This movie made kid me and adult me so very very happy it’s ridiculous. Joss Whedon made this thing work like I never imagined.
Brett: Full disclosure: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” convinced me that TV was a medium I could work in and set me on a path that forever altered the course of my life, so bias, thy name is Me.
Kelly: Oh, yeah. I’m super in the tank for Whedon. I dedicated both my novels to him/his characters, so there’s no doubt. We should call this the “Joss Whedon Hour,” I guess. So, most of all, for me, it’s the jokes. I mean sure, they did a great job of juggling the huge cast, the effects were great, the fight scenes were incredible, and the story resonated emotionally, but the jokes! The jokes and sense of fun are what made me love these characters and this film… the sheer JOY of superheroes evident in every frame. It revels in its superhero-ness. And my heart soars when the team really comes together as one — the small bits of bickering and fighting (not usually my favorite thing when heroes waste time fighting with one another) really pay off in the teamwork.
Brett: I saw this movie with a solid dozen of my closest friends — most of which are just casually aware of comic culture — and a theater packed with other midnight showing, opening night die-hards. This experience was electric and satisfying for that very reason: the jokes. The characters are all so enjoyable; I would watch two hours of them just hanging out in a S.H.I.E.L.D. library or Nick Fury’s apartment or an Asgardian magic shop.
Kelly: In fairness, I would probably prefer to see a movie with them all just hanging out. I think the only thing I Â don’tlike about this film is the beginning. I know we need some of the setup, with S.H.I.E.L.D. and our “magical item that everything hinges on” but it’s overly long. For my money, instead of a big action set piece that should have been a little scene and then cut right to Black Widow being a hilarious badass. It’s also, for people who are not already “in” for a movie like this, a really boring and confusing beginning (evidence: I tried to get my brother to watch it and he was bored to tears with the first 10+ minutes and gave up, despite promises of a forthcoming Scarlett Johansson). Boo.
Brett: I love the flow of the movie. I actually don’t think there’s one thing I would change about it! Plus the opening gives us the sole action sequence Maria Hill has gotten to be part of onscreen — backwards driving! And come on, that big moment when “Avengers” blasts onto the screen for the first time, it’s like being giddily punched in the face by pure happiness. “Avengers” as a film was mind-blowing in that it exceeded my expectations and actually went further than I thought a movie could. Most films would end ten minutes into the Battle of New York — but that’s when Loki says, “Send the rest.” This is a film that leaves very few, “I really wish they would have…” and “Why didn’t they…” statements to be said, in my opinion.
Kelly: I agree with you on everything but the opening. I want it trimmed by at least half! Finally a VS! (sorta). So, “Iron Man 3” (2013). You and I have never talked about “IM3” before, but I’m in the minority (maybe?) in loving this one.
Brett: See, this is why the Internet is so fascinating to me, because in my social media feeds, I’m in the minority of people that just think it’s okay! So many people I know placed this above “Avengers” when it came out. Which actually surprised me because the big group of people I went with were all real confused by this movie when we left the theater.
Kelly: Huh, I feel like most people I know don’t like it at all. Then again I have no friends/no superhero friends IRL. So, for me it’s got some problems — a bit overblown — and like most of these films could lose at least one action set piece — but it’s got this crazy feminist ending that I sort of can’t believe anyone let Shane Black get away with and I will forever love it for that ending. I mean, sure, he officially damsels Pepper, but then he un-damsels her in the biggest way possible by having Tony tragically (and just so emotionally! that scene when he misses her hand! Gah!) fail to save her and then she comes back with badass superpowers and literally defeats the Big Bad by using both Tony and the Big Bad’s stupid “boy” weapons against themselves. It’s awesome. I will forever love it for this reason alone.
Brett: That was a great moment! I think my general “it’s just okay” feelings come from me unjustly holding it up to “Avengers” since it immediately followed it, and my total unfamiliarity with Shane Black. Kelly, so many people freaked out at me about Shane Black making a Shane Black movie and I looked at them with a blank stare. This, I admit!
Kelly: I like Shane Black as a director but if you watch “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “IM3” too close together you might start to feel all side-eye about both movies and Black generally! That said, the scene where Tony saves all the people falling from Air Force One… that is a truly great superhero moment… it’s the kind of thing that many overblown superhero movies forget as they get bigger and bigger. That’s (other than Pepper being amazing) my favorite scene in the whole movie and it cost a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of that final big set piece. I mean, I know something (logic? Hollywood suits? I don’t know?) has told these movies that they need the big set pieces, but still, those scenes (including this one) often miss the heart of superheroes, which the Air Force One scene so gets. Bonus points for Rhodey getting to do more stuff in this one and Ben Kingsley being hilarious. I know people are split on the whole Mandarin thing but I thought it was a super smart way to address a potentially racist and dated character and give a modern context that made sense.
Brett: The Mandarin reveal was delightful times a thousand for all of those exact reasons. Plus it can be used as a quick test to determine What Kind Of Comic Fan Are You — someone that’s cool with changes if they’re done well and for a purpose, or the kind that spirals into rage fits over things like facial hair discrepancies.
Kelly: Oh! And even more bonus points for use of a kid in the movie but keeping it light and funny instead of cloying and “after school special-ish.”
Brett: That kid worried me so much! I thought we were getting a “Phantom Menace” Anakin that would ride Iron Man like a podracer while shouting commercial-ready catch phrases. It didn’t happen — although now I’m interested in the idea of someone modifying an Iron Man suit for the Boonta Eve Classic. I’m astonished that I knew that specific.
Kelly: I’m ashamed for you that you managed that specific (but not really, it was pretty impressive). “Thor: The Dark World” (2013). So this one is not so good for me. While Hemsworth is still great, and Hiddleston, and we get more Sif, which is never bad, this really gets complicated and weighted down by mythology much more than the first.
Brett: And I love this one more than the first one! I’m not generally a fantasy guy, either, but I think I respond to these two movies so well because I find them really funny.
Kelly: Hmm. Maybe I need to watch it again because I don’t remember it as being funny at all… but I think we have similar senses of humor. Gonna have to give this one another try I guess.
Brett: I mean, I laughed out loud at the throwaway moment of Darcy yelling “Mewmew!” as Mjolnir flew past mid-battle. Every time. This might be a me thing.
Kelly: I’m with you that Darcy is hilarious… just not liking this movie more! I felt like they tried to give Portman something to do with Jane but it’s just kind of boring and a bit forced — like I hate that whole bit when she punches him and says “that’s for New York” — like that feels really false to me and trying to “be cool” and just feeling tone deaf and not landing. So yeah, for me, despite some strong bits here and there, this one is definitely a miss. I guess it’s becoming more and more obvious that I’m a fan of “stranger in a strange world” and that charm (and the jokes born of those situations) will get me through other stuff I don’t love as much — it’s why I respond so much to Thor on Earth and Cap unstuck from time. Those things make them and the way they see things unique and I dig it.
Brett: Oh see, but for me, this movie gives us both Jane Foster in Asgard — and her geeking out about science and being way more into expanding her knowledge — and Thor in London. I think this movie fleshes out both Darcy and Jane in great ways — and it also led to Portman starting a women in STEM charity! Plus this movie has one of my favorite third act battles; Thor and Malekith fighting through all those time and space portals all over the Nine Realms was so satisfying to me, and mostly avoided the Big Thing Crashes Into Big Thing climax we’ve gotten over and over again. Overall, I think I just like the massive supporting cast in Thor more than the ones featured in all three “Iron Man” movies and the first “Captain America.” I would gladly watch a movie with just the Science Team and the Warriors Three & Friends.
Kelly: You are right that Jane is technically just as “stranger in a strange land” I wonder why it didn’t land for me? Hmmm. Now, I am interested in a Warriors Three (and/or a Science Bros. movie). Okay, so… “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014). Who the crap knew?!?! I mean, I always knew I was going to see it because of Black Widow, but who on earth could have guessed that this would emerge as one of the best, if not the best of the MCU films.
Brett: Plus it’s directed by guys that worked on sitcoms, and “Arrested Development” is genius but, you know, the action scenes on that show are much more slap and chicken impression-based.
Kelly: Exactly! A smaller, tighter cast while other casts balloon to huge numbers. A smart script that doesn’t over-reach and feels really modern and smart and also based on some great comic stories, and some truly excellent sequences and character work. “WS” is not just one of the best superhero movies but it’s an exceptional action movie too, which isn’t always true. Black Widow steals every damn scene she’s in, Cap is so great as the good guy fish out of water, Nick Fury has incredible gravitas as their leader, Falcon gets an awesome and well-deserved introduction, Winter Soldier is a legit terrifying threat, and even Maria Hill gets a fun scene (after being mostly wasted in “Avengers”). Great stuff all around. And bonus points for better diversity than most of these films despite a smaller cast. This may be my number one… I’m still deciding!
Brett: Black Widow kicks so much ass in this film — for example, if Winter Soldier didn’t invest in bullet proof goggles, she would have killed him with the first round of shots she fired at him. I loved their fight too, with her one-move-to-stop-them-all that disarms him and gets her around his neck in a millisecond. She’s so efficient in this movie that you don’t even notice it — which is kinda perfect for her, and also enhanced by the GIF age we live in. Like the scene wherein the Winter Soldier fires into the roof of their car and Nat — in seconds — saves both Cap and Falcon from getting sniped. It moves so fast, but it’s a testament to just how get shit done Black Widow is and I just love it.
Kelly: Yes, so much. All of this. I’m a big fan of the fighting style they’ve developed for Nat, with her just throwing herself around, using her entire body to fight, which makes sense and looks hella cool. But they really double down on that in “WS” by showing her still doing that but also using her body in the same way but with Steve in a teamwork way — throwing herself into his arms while they run, flinging herself into the front seat of the car with him — it really suggests a great trust and teamwork that is honestly one of my favorite parts of the film.
Brett: This passage made me choke up a little because I’m that invested in their partnership as depicted in this movie.
Kelly: Me too. And while I didn’t need it to get romantic between them — in fact I kind of like the idea that they can just be friends and teammates — but I have to say Nat and Bruce as romantic couple in “Age of Ultron” didn’t work for me, perhaps in part because less time was spent on it than her relationship with either Clint or Steve. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves I guess…?
Brett: That being said, I’m kinda okay if we spend a lot more time developing real friendships for Black Widow and leave the romance either rushed or not there at all.
Kelly: Me too, which takes us to our next up… “Black Widow” (2014)… Oh wait… that MOVIE DOESN’T FREAKING EXIST… FOR NO REASON THAT ANYONE SEEMS TO UNDERSTAND. Mad forever about this, guys. Mad forever.
Brett: I’m obsessed with the idea of editing all of Black Widow’s appearances in four — four — movies into one film. I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense arc/plot-wise, I just want all of her ass-kicking in one place.
Kelly: Would buy, Brett. Would buy.
Kelly: Ahem. Okay, “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014). Taking almost everyone by surprise the movie nobody thought anyone would understand, super challenging and ultimately really successful. Overall so much fun, and again, perfect casting with Chris Pratt. They nicely hit the comedy plus superhero angle and it works like gangbusters. Excellent use of music and nostalgia in general. There’s such a great embracing of the epic-ness and space aspects here.
Brett: I adore this movie. I’m a little obsessed with using pop music in movies to evoke a feel; superhero movies almost never do it. For that reason, the “Guardians” soundtrack worked for me on every level. I don’t know, honestly, if any Marvel moment feels more perfect to me than the team’s nonchalant strut to “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways.
Kelly: About the only way this falls down for me is that the Gamora part is very weak in comparison and it sort of gets more pronounced every time I watch it. Her abilities are really inconsistent — sometimes badass, sometimes damsel — and because she’s the only lady (another mistake that I would like to think “GoG” had learned from by watching the other nine films in the MCU) they play her as the most honorable character — and I get that impulse, but it doesn’t feel very Gamora and it leaves her feeling like “the boring one.” Gamora should be anything but the boring one.
Brett: I do agree with all those points, although I will say that I love that the movie included both Marvel’s first big screen female villain (Karen Gillan’s Nebula, whose scenery-chewing and bile-spitting I find so awesome) and gave the film a lot of clout by casting Glenn Close as Nova Prime. I will also say that, as stereotypical as this may be for white male Marvel fans like myself, I can’t deny Star-Lord. I mean, I can’t deny him because Chris Pratt, but I also feel so much of his pain and find him so captivating and endearing — but I could also write a thousand words about how he’s problematic and indicative of a larger trend in fiction to glorify promiscuous menchilds… menchildren? Plural of manchild. Still… he’s Han Solo, and so much of Star-Lord and “Guardians” in general touches on all of the “Star Wars” feels I developed when I was six. and I love that his fighting technique is “just shoot at it and throw your arms at it and maybe it will fall over.” Also: dance-off.
Kelly: Yeah, Pratt is another example of this perfect casting that Marvel does so well. And I agree, the white male lead here could have been a much bigger/more annoying issue than it is, instead, thanks to Pratt and some really humorous writing it just feels fun instead. It’s a great example of hitting tone correctly even with some potentially problematic pitfalls (say that ten times!). Bonus points for both dance off and me wanting Baby Groot to be real more than almost anything on earth. I also love the success of “GoG” because it’s my perfect argument for why “Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.” should be on the MCU slate — “GoG” with an R-rating and more diversity, plus Broccoli Men, Drop Bears, and Fing Fang Foom in giant purple pants… Bring it.
Brett: Anything to give us the big screen Monica Rambeau (Nicole Beharie?) we all deserve.
Kelly: I was always partial to Naomie Harris myself, but we’re seeing a lot of interesting Black actresses of late I think that would be awesome Monicas. Bring it! Okay, so, the latest but maybe not the greatest, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015). Nobody wanted this to be their #1 more than I did, but the end result to me is it’s just overstuffed. I like a lot of things that are in there, but there’s just too much of everything, and so nobody wins. I think, for me, the problem is that while I love action movies (I am a massive fan of “Mad Max: Fury Road” which barely has dialogue there’s so much action) at this point I’m more invested in the characters than the idea of them punching stuff, so this was too many characters and way too many action scenes, every time I was getting into a scene and enjoying myself we’d have to cut away to another 20-minute action scene, it just felt relentless… not in a good way.
Brett: I totally agree that it’s overstuffed, but none of that stuff bothered me. At this point I should just get a T-shirt made that says “none of that stuff bothered me.” You could easily cut out the entire Vision plotline and all of the Thor/”Guardians” larger mythos tie-in stuff. You could probably even lose Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, to be honest — but I really liked having those three new characters in the film. I felt a bit like I was on the Nickelodeon Super Toy Run in this movie; so many things I love and want and I get to have all of them right now at once!
Kelly: Well, don’t get me wrong, I want all those things/characters (Vision, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch especially) too, but the price may be too high. That said, you might be able to introduce those characters if you weren’t also trying to introduce the Infinity Gauntlet concept, and the entire nation of Wakanda, and everything else that’s jammed in here with the kitchen sink. I think as a result of way too much stuff/too little time some of the beats just didn’t land for me. There were some good jokes, but not as many as before (or they didn’t land as well at least, and the Prima Nocta bit was seriously bad form, especially in a movie so dominated by men — most people didn’t get that joke and those that did didn’t seem to find it funny, I know I didn’t).
Brett: People are so mad about this and I have no idea what this is. I’ll leave it up to Google to answer this for me.
Kelly: Prima Nocta is the right of “nobles” to have sexual rights to brides on their wedding night… I think primarily intended as a way to “breed out” a race… I don’t know if it’s actually a historical fact, it might be as much myth as anything else. I mean, I learned about it in “Braveheart” of all places. But it’s pretty bad form to make a rape joke in this film in my opinion. Anyway, since jokes were what so endeared the first one to me, this one fell pretty flat. I’ll also admit that like I was talking about in “WS” and “IM3,” I tend to prefer action scenes that are a little smaller and personal, that have more meaning. Action by way of scalpel, not sledgehammer maybe? So to me, Tony saving the Air Force One folks, Steve in the elevator, the street fight with Steve, Nat, and Sam, etc., those make me hum… those are what superhero movies should be about… and “AoU” didn’t really have any of those. Like I could feel them trying for that, the goal was definitely there — save people, do good — but everything was just so… big and there was no time for the smaller stuff I love.
Brett: But I also kinda think that’s what “Avengers” movies are for — at least the way I see the larger MCU. This movie, more so than any before it, feels like a real event comic in movie form. I actually love the third act battle almost as much as the first “Avengers'” third act battle, almost specifically because there are so many heroic saves and hero moments. I do think the Seoul mission with Cap, Widow and Clint fulfills the smaller battle quota, though; I love how much of an efficient bad ass Natasha is in that scene, single handedly saving proto-Vision in a way that is specific to her training.
Kelly: Yeah, I mean you’re not wrong, but I guess my dislike of “event movies” and “event comics” for that matter is showing. I still feel like Avengers managed some of those small moments that I liked and AoU did not. And to come back around to it, since I brought it up before, though I don’t have any major problems with it in theory, the Nat and Bruce relationship did not land for me, neither did Clint and his wife whose name I of course can’t remember (how could I? There’s like a million named characters here).
Brett: Let’s just assume she’s Lindsay Weir, all grown up.
Kelly: [Laughs] Good call! So… that’s all of them. Eleven movies and still so many more to come… it’s kind of insane. What’s your final list look like, Brett? Who takes the top spot?
Brett: It gets so hard after the top four for me, because those four are relatively clear and the rest are mostly just off by centimeters. Entries 5 through 10 change all the time. This is also, of course, a favorites list and not a best list; I can recognize how a lot of these movies are objectively better films, but I can’t — and for the purposes of VS! won’t — divorce my brain from the experiences and memories and smiles I have surrounding some of these movies. So duh, I know “Iron Man 3” is better than “Iron Man 2,” but I don’t personally like it more. I’d rather re-watch Hammer than Killian, forever.
11. Incredible Hulk
10. Captain America: The First Avenger
09. Iron Man 3
07. Iron Man 2
06. Thor: The Dark World
05. Iron Man
04. Avengers: Age of Ultron
03. Guardians of the Galaxy
02. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
01. Marvel’s the Avengers
Kelly: You know, I locked mine in before looking at yours and even though we didn’t VS! too much, I’m really surprised by how similar our lists are overall. The fact that our top two and bottom two are exactly the same really surprises me.
11. The Incredible Hulk
10. Captain America: The First Avenger
09. Thor: The Dark World
08. Iron Man 2
06. Avengers: Age of Ultron
05. Guardians of the Galaxy
04. Iron Man 3
03. Iron Man
02. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
01. Marvel’s The Avengers
Kelly: All right, kids. Don’t forget to vote on your favorite MCU film in the poll and join us next time when we tackle the super serious subject matter of ranking all the “Batman” films (That’s right, all of them).
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He makes videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the sketch comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).
Kelly Thompson is the author of the novels “The Girl Who Would be King” and “Storykiller.” She’s also the writer of IDW’s “Jem and the Holograms,” the Graphic Novel “Heart in a Box,” and co-writer of Marvel’s “Captain Marvel & the Carol Corps.” You can find Kelly all over the place, but twitter is easiest: @79semifinalist
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