Split Decision: Avengers By Any Other Name

Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!

This week’s question:

In honor of this week’s Avengers: Infinity War, what is your favorite performance by an Avenger in a non-Marvel film? (Example: Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker)

Bonus question: What is your favorite movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

As Mouse in Devil in a Blue Dress, Don Cheadle’s performance fixed him on my radar, and because of that, I’ll watch him in anything. (And to prove it, I’ve seen After the Sunset, which may be his worst screen role).

Second place goes to Robert Downey Jr. in Less Than Zero, a great performance in a less than perfect film.
Bonus: Captain America: The First Avenger Gary M. Kramer

One of my favorite characters in my all time favorite movie just so happens to be an Avenger. Buck Swope is his name, and even though he makes his money in the adult film industry, his real dream is to open his very own stereo equipment store. Don Cheadle aka Lt. Col James Rhodes aka Rhodey aka Iron Patriot aka War Machine plays Swope with such incredible empathy that his plight resonates most amongst the large ensemble cast of Boogie Nights

Throughout the film he struggles with image, constantly trying to rebrand himself in the latest fashion, often to very goofy effect. But by the end he lands on the best image of all: himself. It’s a sad journey, one which sees him facing social and financial obstacles brought on through no fault of his own. It seems that no matter what image he chooses, he’s still both an adult film star and a black man — two designations that never fail to manifest adversity when trying to “go legit.” It’s when tragedy and blind luck cross paths with his tenacity that Swope ultimately finds success, and it’s Cheadle’s stellar performance which keeps his character’s arc alive in such a densely packed movie.
My fav MCU entry? Iron Man 3. Why? Because my love for Shane Black runs deeper than my love for most things.Dan Scully

It’s a Don Cheadle love-fest here and rightly so. My pick is for his heartbreaking performance as hotelier Paul Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda. The tears were flowing like rain water in this one. Cheadle does an amazing job balancing the sanity of a man who is driven to protect his family, as well as his guests, all while maintaining the high standards of the foreign hotel he is running. Meanwhile, hell is descending on him from all sides.

I do want to make a special shout out to Anthony Mackie and his performance in Pain & Gain which, to this day, remains the only Michael Bay movie I truly love. See it.

Favorite Marvel movie? Guardians Vol. 2 probably, but also Winter Soldier. Also the first Thor movie. It really doesn’t get enough credit.  — Jill Malcolm

I’m bucking the rules here a bit and choosing someone who isn’t an Avenger. However, she exists in the same universe. Does that count? Putting my foot down and saying yes, yes it does. I’m referring here to Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts.

I’ve never had a problem with Gwyneth Paltrow. In fact, I’ve always liked her a lot. Do I think she’s the greatest actress of all time? No, of course not. And she should have never won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love. But can you hold that against her? We’re talking about an academy that gave an Oscar to JLaw over the late, great Emmanuelle Riva. Well, apparently I’m deep in the minority here, as somehow Paltrow has been crowned Hollywood’s most hated celebrity. This makes zero sense. You’re telling me you hate her more than Tobey Maguire or Bill Cosby (no link necessary)? Yikes.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that I not only really like Paltrow as Pepper Potts in the MCU, but she is also in one of my favorite movies ever. Shallow Hal. Wouldn’t that be a fun twist? No, the movie I’m referring to is The Talented Mr. Ripley, the 1999 adaptation of the 1955 novel of the same name. The book was also adapted in 1960, which brought us the beautiful Purple Noon. Paltrow plays Marge, the ostensibly stoic fiancée of Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law). Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) attaches himself to the couple, whom he so admires for their culture, money, looks, and laissez-faire approach to life, and will stop at nothing to try to live the same exact lifestyle. Matt Damon gives possibly his career-best performance, and Paltrow is spot on as Marge. Demure and beautiful, but when tragedy begins to surface, her fragile state of existence slowly begins to reveal itself. Although I also love Paltrow as the formidable Margot Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Ripley is just on a whole different level for me. Tense and beautiful, this film is filled with excellent performances, Paltrow being no exception to that.

My favorite MCU entry is probably Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)! It’s hilarious, supremely enjoyable, and has the best soundtrack ever. What’s not to love?Catherine Haas

There are some good options here, but my pick has to go to Robert Downey Jr. inTropic Thunder.  He somehow accomplished the impossible— a meta performance commenting on Downey’s own troubled past, that also skewers Hollywood’s obsession with method acting, in a Ben Stiller comedy, in blackface. In 2008. I never thought a blackface performance would even exist, let alone be acceptable, and definitely not be funny, in modern times, but RDJ somehow crafted a character that is so offensively ridiculous in concept that it is miraculously innoculated of its sting and utterly hilarious in execution.  I mean… Downey was nominated for a freaking Oscar for this role; it’s that stand-out.  If it has been a while since you’ve seen Tropic Thunder, I urge you to revisit it, and then check out the outtakes to see how committed he was on-set in order to pull this off.  He even stayed in-character for the DVD commentary, harkening back to a line from the film.  If you forgot about Downey’s chops outside of Tony Stark, Tropic Thunder is a perfect example of how gifted this guy is.

Captain America: Civil War is what immediately jumps to mind. Recency bias notwithstanding, I was most taken with how the Russo Brothers were able to manifest realistic and understandable bad blood between its main characters out of the story lines we have known and built towards over the years. There are at least 3 bonkers, damn near iconic action sequences, and the movie deftly weaves new character introductions like Black Panther into the story, and moreover, it quickly makes us CARE about them. I also loved that the villain, Daniel Brühl’s Zemo, is just a normal guy bent on understandable revenge rather than another otherworldly vanilla baddie, as ludicrously convoluted as his plot is.  Civil War out-“Batman v Superman”’d Batman v Superman.–Jeff Piotrowski

Elizabeth Olsen in Martha, Marcy May, Marlene. It is one of the better movies of the decade, and Elizabeth Olsen’s performance as a broken-minded cult survivor is the center of it. Not to mention it was the first time that everyone learned there was a third Olsen sister! She has struggled to find good roles since then (Ingrid Goes West was great though), and to be honest her turn as Scarlet Witch has not done her any favors. But she gets a lifetime pass for MMMM, as far as I am concerned.–Andy Elijah

One performance that I continue to ponder, even four years after the film’s initial release, is Scarlett Johansson’s work in Jonathan Glazer’s existential sci-fi film, Under the Skin, in which Scarlett portrays an alien more deserving of the moniker “black widow” than her Marvel persona. Johansson’s performance, mostly silent and built around the recurring task of engaging Earthlings through a routine behavioral pattern (observe, seduce, deceive), is, itself, about the art and mechanics of performance, as this extraterrestrial, having crafted the perfect imitation of human behavior, eventually finds itself mystified by that impulse which informs action and gestures: psychology. Following an epiphanic instance, wherein the concept of empathy manifests and registers, the heretofore hostile visitor spends much of the back-half confronting the human experience head-on, with all its perplexities and cruelty intact. It’s a sublime piece of acting, at once deceptively simple and discreetly elegant.

My runner-up choice would likely be Mark Ruffalo for both Zodiac and You Can Count On Me.

Finally, while I must confess that superhero films and I go together as well as a cat and a mouse, I thoroughly enjoy Tony Stark’s smartassery in Iron Man 3, as well as the zany, hangout vibe of Guardians of the Galaxy. Speaking of which: hey Marvel, where’s our Howard the Duck reboot?–

I remember being blown away by Chris Evans in Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer. I don’t really want to spoil the movie for anyone that might be reading this who hasn’t seen it (and you absolutely should see it as soon as possible) but Evans is tasked with delivering a completely bonkers monologue in the last act that I remember word for word to this day. He is describing an act of survival that is truly shocking and disgusting, and the words themselves would just as easily belong in a schlocky exploitation movie, but Evans imbues them with real weight and emotion that this type of genre movie rarely even attempts let alone achieves. It ends up being an utterly heartbreaking moment in an already bleak movie, but it’s the moment I find unforgettable in both its sheer insanity and its remarkable believability, thanks to Evans.

Bonus: the best MCU entry is Captain America: The Winter Solider. Don’t @ me bro, Cap kicks a man off a boat, literally, and I’ll thank you to understand how important that scene is to me. HE KICKS A MAN. OFF OF A BOAT.
It’s an important cultural milestone.—Garrett Smith

Chris Evans is a hugely underrated actor. Maybe it is because he has played characters in five distinct comic book universes, but he doesn’t get the credit he is due for his versatility and depth he brings to every role. From his note-perfect over-the-top performance as skater-turned-actor Lucas Lee in Scott Pilgrim vs the World to playing the straight man to Anna Faris in the criminally underseen What’s Your Number? he’s clearly great in supporting roles. But Snowpiercer showed that he could anchor a film with just that beautiful face of his. Bong Joon-ho’s film excels at showing rather than telling when it comes to the indignity the lower classes suffer when compared to the rich, and Evans’ character often needs to play it cool rather than show his horror. The face acting here is top notch, and the movie wouldn’t work with a less controlled performance.

The Avengers remains my favorite for the crazy-good technical choices that tell a story that works as well for comic book diehards as it does for new fans.   —Ryan Silberstein

Watching Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder as Kirk Lazarus searching for lines to improvise (because he doesn’t read the script, the script reads him) while playing Sergeant Lincoln Osiris is nuanced acting in a big campy package. Kirk Lazarus’ silly actor bullshit is something I know all too well, but it also makes a very serious point about the celebrities we worship and the madness of “greatness”. The amount of balls it took to pull off such a bizarre, and potentially risky, performance is a skill, but then to be NOMINATED FOR AN OSCAR FOR IT!? It’s the type of beautiful badassery I strive for in my own career. Robert Downey Jr. is the best.

I haven’t seen a Marvel movie since the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Womp. I think my favorite is the original Thor. I love corny shit.Jenna Kuerzi

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.