I haven’t actually watched all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Films in a while. I revisit my favorites when the mood strikes, but otherwise I haven’t really gone back in a way that’s comprehensive. But given it is the 10th anniversary of Iron Man and Avengers: Infinity War is coming out at the end of April, it seemed like an ideal time to reflect.
I’ll be going chronologically, and covering at least two films per entry, since there are eighteen of them in all. Previous installments are here. This entry covers Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy.
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (dir. Anthony and Joe Russo, 2014)
Unlike the other members of the Avengers, Captain America has only one member of the supporting characters from his first film still around in the present day, and Peggy Carter is very well advanced in age (Hayley Atwell reprises her role under CGI “makeup”). So a sequel leans on the participation of existing characters Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), as well as adding new supporting characters. But this film is also very much about Captain America (Chris Evans) figuring out his place in modern times. He may be aware of the internet, but who is Steve Rogers in 2014?
One of the best choices that Markus and McFeely made was in casting Anthony Mackie as the Falcon. While I generally love when the filmmakers bring in the more colorful aspects of the comics, the traditional red and white spandex the Falcon usually wears might have been a bit much. But costuming aside, making Sam Wilson a veteran, and using that to build common ground with Captain America in a situation when Steve Rogers can’t trust anyone is maybe the most satisfying change they’ve made from the comics. After this film, Falcon has been a solid supporting player, but I would love to see more of him and Steve interacting with other veterans.
Winter Soldier was Marvel’s first attempt to bring in the influence of other film genres, with this film drawing inspiration from 70s political thrillers. It’s a great choice, and the Russo brothers are wonderful mimics of the form. This film has a gritty, bluish look to it, and occasionally feels like it is being filmed in Washington, DC. And the decision to dismantle SHIELD by revealing it had been infiltrated by Hydra from the start is a bold one that really pays off dramatically, even if it adds a million questions to everything that’s been happening since 1945.
The action mostly works, and the quick-cutting here feels more stylistic than it does in the Russo’s Civil War. The opening scene on the boat is probably the most genuinely thrilling, but I might be biased because of how much I love Batroc the Leaper (they even put him in subtle purple and gold like his comics costume).
This is the Marvel film I would recommend for people who aren’t sold on superheroes, because it does push at the outline of the genre even if it doesn’t break them completely.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy (dir. James Gunn, 2014)
In the nearly 4 years since release, I’ve come to truly love this film. It is ridiculously rewatchable, and is the only film released after Star Wars that captures the sheer speed of that film (Force Awakens comes close). Yes, it opens with a flashback, like nearly all of these films, but once we get to Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) dancing his way across an alien planet, the film hooks you, and each scene leads to the other. It’s aggressively linear, only crosscutting to set up Ronan (Lee Pace), which are the only times the pacing seems to drag. A lot of that has to do with the fact that this might be the best script to ever come out of Marvel.
Nicole Perlman shares writing credit with Gunn, and spent years immersing herself in the comics. She is one to watch, also having a credit on Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic, Captain Marvel, and Detective Pikachu, all coming by the end of next year. Not only does it move the action forward, but it manages to introduce five main characters (plus Karen Gillen’s Nebula) and give each of them their own distinct personalities, motivations, and arc. That is incredible! The casting helps (who knew Dave Bautista would be so funny?), but the bones of it are in the script.
And how it brings them together, a band of self-described “losers” (because they have all suffered great loss) all seeking an emotional connection while remaining resentful of the universe that created them. They’re all so incredibly damaged, but they risk their lives because they don’t see how anyone else is going to do it.
At the center of it all is Rocket Raccoon. He is the character that typifies the film, clearly showing how much he cares about others while vehemently denying it. He is a great looking CGI character (the only time Marvel rivals the newer Planet of the Apes films) and Bradley Cooper gives the performance of his career in bringing this trash panda to life. There’s a moment in the prison where Peter sees the scars on his back, and when he gets drunk on Knowhere that is the true heart of the film, bringing the maximum amount of depth and humanity to this talking raccoon.
The more I watch it, the more the flaws I perceived wear away (and this does an excellent job setting things up for Vol. 2). Ayyyyyy-ayyyiii-ayyyymm…hooked on this feeling.
Overall ranking after this viewing:
- The Avengers
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- Captain America: The Winter Solider
- Iron Man
- Thor: The Dark World
- Iron Man 3
- Iron Man 2
- The Incredible Hulk
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.