The Shelf Is Half Full

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Archive for the category “Marvel Cinematic Universe”

The Top Twelve – Superhero Movies

This list is just my own person favorites and not intended to be a scientific or definitive list. I don’t expect my opinions to be shared by everyone, but at least that should make this a refreshing read, right?

X2

#12. X2: X-Men United (2003)

Not enough credit is given to Bryan Singer’s X-Men films these days. I think the poor quality of X-Men 3 (2006) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) as well as the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made people forget that before X-Men released to positive reviews in 2000, superhero movies were pretty much a joke. The Batman franchise was dead and buried thanks to Batman and Robin (1998) and the most successful comic book franchise was Blade. Anyway, the first film was good but the second one was even better. Wolverine’s origins were explored, the tension between humans and mutants took center stage, Nightcrawler was a worthy addition to the cast, and everyone from Mystique to Pyro got meaningful character development. Twelve years later this film still stands as one of the best ensemble superhero movies and arguably the blueprint for The Avengers movies.

Superman

#11. Superman (1978)

The first modern superhero film is still one of the best. The movie told us that we would believe a man would fly, and thanks to the cutting edge special effects, it’s still easy to believe Superman can fly almost four decades later. But more importantly, thanks to Christopher Reeve we believed that Superman could act; his portrayal of the Man of Steel was so different from his portrayal as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent that it was easy to believe nobody could make the connection. To me this is the standard for everything that was to come; it’s also so much better than Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013) that it isn’t even funny.

Spidey

#10. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Yesterday I wrote about how awesome Doctor Octopus was in this film and how the movie raised the bar for action in the genre. But there is plenty more to love about Sam Raimi’s second Spider-Man movie. The characters are older and more complex. Peter feels more of the toll that being Spider-Man takes on his personal life, which is probably the most important dynamic of the character in the comics. Harry Osborn really comes into his own in this film as well. While the franchise took a nose dive after this, this is still a high point and I feel is the film that should be most closely modeled when Marvel brings Peter Parker into their cinematic universe.

Ultron

#9. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

The most recent addition to this list, Age of Ultron is a worthy follow up to the most successful superhero movie of all time and another hit in Marvel’s recent flurry of creative successes. The all-star casts returns and by this point could play the characters in their sleep. Jeremy Renner’s increased role as Hawkeye arguably makes him the breakout star of the movie, but everyone has their moments. The Maximoff Twins worked better than I could have hoped and the Vision ended up as one of the best parts of the movie instead of the straw that broke the camel’s back. Ultron was also a strong antagonist who entertained me in ways I didn’t expect. While not as good as the first one, it’s still a great time at the movies.

Logan

#8. The Wolverine (2013)

Hugh Jackman has been playing Wolverine for about fifteen years at this point, but for my money, it’s this film where he gave his greatest performance as the character. I love this movie because it is a great character study and a solid action film and doesn’t try to be more than that. I also enjoy the film for helping wipe away the bad memory of Logan’s first solo film, and for not trying to insult me for being a comic book fan like other movies from 2013. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet I highly recommend it.

CA.0417.ironman

#7. Iron Man (2008)

I remember going to the theaters to see this movie and not having overly high expectations. As difficult as it may be to imagine now, Tony Stark was hardly a pop culture icon. I knew of him mostly because I played War of the Gems on Super Nintendo. By the time the movie was over I was in love with Iron Man and even more in love with Robert Downey, Jr. Turns out I wasn’t the only one; this movie helped launch Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and made Robert a high profile star once again. And it still holds up as one of the most fun comic movies out there, and is far better than its sequels.

Lights

#6. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I remember when Marvel announced that they were doing this movie shortly after the release of The Avengers and thinking that they may have gone in over their heads a bit. Sure, Iron Man and Thor weren’t exactly cultural icons but the Guardians of the Galaxy were obscure even by comic book standards. I expected this to bomb hard, but that is why Kevin Feige is a millionaire and I am writing about his movies. Guardians of the Galaxy was irreverent, innovative and glorious entertainment, introducing audiences to a slew of new characters that almost all comic book fans have come to adore. Including myself. This movie is fantastic and arguably the best launch of a franchise ever.

Batman

#5. Batman Begins (2005)

Then again, this is a pretty good argument too. While I have gained a certain appreciation for the 1989 Tim Burton film Batman, especially Michael Keaton’s performance as the caped crusader, I have to say that on the whole those movies fell flat for me. And let’s not even talk about the Joel Schumacher films. But Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the character in movies was the breath of fresh air that the character needed, the most serious dramatic film based on a comic book to date. This told the origin and training of Batman so well that I don’t think it ever needs to be addressed again.

Future

#4. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

It was a long and bumpy road, but the third Bryan Singer directed X-Men film was more than worth the wait. Featuring a story that was loosely based on one of the best stories in the X-Men’s history, this film brings together the cast of the original series with the younger cast from X-Men: First Class (2011) to stellar results. In many ways this is my favorite comic book movie, because it felt like a reward for sticking with the series even after it burned me as a viewer more than a couple of times. Unfortunately, being a movie that runs on time travel, there are some serious logic problems that sometimes distract from the experience, but other than the film is a blast. Especially when Pietro is involved.

Avengers

#3. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Here’s a bright idea; take a World War II soldier, a Norse God, Frankenstein’s monster, a female James Bond, a male Katniss Everdeen, and a man in a flying robot suit and make a movie. This should have been a disaster, but Marvel’s careful world building mixed with talented actors mixed with Joss Whedon’s writing and directing somehow formed the perfect mixture for what may be the best comic book movie ever. It’s a miracle that this film works as well as it does. Which is spectacularly. I think I saw this movie around five times in theaters and was never bored, and I still like to throw it in when I have nothing better to do. One of the best popcorn flicks ever put together.

Joker

#2. The Dark Knight (2008)

Batman Begins was a great… beginning, but it turned out to be a mere appetizer for the most critically acclaimed film based on a comic book ever. The Dark Knight is more of a serious crime thriller than escapist popcorn fun, though it does have its moments. However, this was one of the first movies to take the heroes and villains seriously and show that they actually can be symbols with greater meaning. Even if it did beat those points into the ground. Still, it’s got a ton of great performances and an Oscar-winning Heath Ledger as The Joker, one of the all time great antagonists in cinema; not just comic book movies, but movies in general. It’s a remarkable piece of film making, and it just happens to involve a guy in a bat mask.

Scuffle

#1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

If one takes the comic book escapism of The Avengers and blends it with the real world seriousness of The Dark Knight, you get the conspiracy thriller action film called Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I was a huge fan of the first Captain America film but the sequel was an improvement in every single way. Chris Evans is brilliant as Steve Rogers, there’s a strong supporting cast and a genuinely compelling plot. The action scenes are gorgeously choreographed and feature a lot of practical stunt work, and the film even brings in political concepts from the real world to discuss them. It’s my favorite comic book movie and I think it’ll be a while before anything challenges it.

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The Top 50 Marvel Cinematic Universe Moments – #10-1

Finally, I’ve reached the ten greatest moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies (in my completely subjective opinion). If you haven’t had a chance to the first forty moments, you can easily read them in the links provided here:

With that out of the way, it’s time to get started on the absolute best of the best. And once again, SPOILERS!

Coulson

#10. The Death of Phil Coulson (The Avengers)

Agent Phil Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D. was introduced to us in 2008’s Iron Man as the likable spokesman for the organization. Clark Gregg returned to the role for Iron Man 2 and Thor, and was a good addition each time, helping to tie the universe together when the narrative was still struggling to be cohesive. While he was always portrayed as a man with authority that tended to be politely ignored, new layers were added to the character in The Avengers; Pepper Potts mentioned a cellist who he had been dating and the usually reserved professional became a giddy fanboy around his hero Captain America. When Loki killed Phil Coulson, I have to admit that I was almost surprised how much it affected me; I liked the character, but I realized in that moment that I’d taken him for granted a bit. The death of Phil helped to bring The Avengers together as a team, so it definitely is one of the key moments of the film. However, I do feel like this whole scene is cheapened somewhat by Coulson’s return from the dead in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But for that one moment, Loki may as well have stabbed all of us in the heart. The fact that Phil still managed to fire off some sharp quips and an impressive gunshot made the moment even more awesome.

King Loki

#9. Loki On Asgard’s Throne (Thor: The Dark World)

The sequel to Thor was definitely a movie that got better as it went along, and it carried that momentum right until the very end. The final scene sees the God of Thunder talking to his father Odin, relinquishing his right to Asgard’s throne. He claims that he would rather be a good man than a great king, which is a fantastic moment for the character. But once Thor leaves the room, the film ends in the best possible way as Odin is shown to be Loki in disguise. One of the best things about this scene (and a few others building up to it) is Anthony Hopkins’ delivery; he manages to be wholly convincing as Odin the first time the audience watches, but on subsequent viewings we can see Loki’s motives in Anthony’s actions. Marvel has done a lot of cliffhanger endings but none quite as sweet as this one. It’s satisfying to see Loki finally achieve his goal, and it will be interesting to see where the character goes from here… and how Thor will react when he finds out.

Winter Soldier

#8. The Winter Soldier is Unmasked (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

While I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier immediately, I have to admit that I was kind of surprised by how little the titular villain was in the film. But subsequent (and frequent) viewings have made me realize that this isn’t really a detriment. All of his appearances mean something and he comes across as very threatening, and while comic book enthusiasts knew who the Winter Soldier was, I know that the general public was still caught off guard when Bucky Barnes was revealed to be the man in the mask. This event is placed at just the right time in the movie; just when Steve and company think they have all the answers, the good Captain is thrown for another loop right in the middle of an intense fight. The reactions from the two is so perfectly done that it doesn’t matter that I knew who the Winter Soldier was; I still felt that emotion and the scene was one of the best in the movie.

Stark

#7. Iron Man is Born (Iron Man)

Considering that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has Norse gods and talking raccons, it’s almost hard to believe how gritty and down to earth the first thirty act of Iron Man was. Tony Stark is attacked by terrorists while showcasing his Jericho missiles to the army in Iraq, and is forced by the leader of the terrorists to build one of the missiles for their use. To complicate matters Tony has shrapnel trying to dig its way into his heart and the only thing saving him is a magnet hooked up to a car battery. In the absolute worse situation possible, the man born to privilege uses all of his wits, limited resources and the help of a kind man named Yinsen to escape, The scene is genuinely gripping and raw, and Robert Downey is able to show Tony’s character growth exceptionally well. By the time the miniaturized arc reactor is in his chest and the Mark I armor is complete, most of us were already hooked and ready to get into the movie. It was a great scene that started the Marvel Cinematic Universe off on the right foot.

Convicts

#6. Escape From the Kyln (Guardians of the Galaxy)

If Guardians of the Galaxy has one major flaw, it’s that the most thrilling action scene takes place in the middle of the film, not at the end. This scene is amazing; Rocket goes through a plan to escape from the prison and is shown to be essential to the team with his skill set; he’s smart, good with technology and thinks in a way most people wouldn’t. The scene also showcases Groot at both his funniest and most terrifying and has possibly the best line in the movie when Drax explains how nothing goes over his head. It’s chaotic, but there’s a narrative that makes it easy to follow; everyone has something to do and then they all come together. This is the movie in a nutshell; fun, hilarious, action packed and filled with unique and quirky characters. Once this scene was over, any trace of skepticism I had was gone and I was fully invested in the movie.

Angry

#5. “I’m Always Angry” (The Avengers)

With all due respect to Bill Bixby, Eric Bana and Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo is the definitive Bruce Banner in my opinion. From his first moment on screen we could tell there was something special about this performance. Bruce isn’t a terrified man running away from his problems; he’s come to an uneasy peace about the situation he’s in. Nobody can threaten him because “the other guy” is the most powerful and terrifying force on the planet. He’s got a dark sense of humor and well justified paranoia, but one can also see the good man who wants to use his brilliant mind to save the world. Still, it was kind of hard to pinpoint what exactly about the performance made it so different from other people. Then we got the best line in any Marvel movie ever, Bruce chose to become the Hulk, and everything clicked. This moment was amazing and it still gives me chills every time I watch this movie.

Monster

#4. Loki Confronts Odin (Thor)

Thor is one of my least favorite MCU films, but it has one of my absolute favorite moments. In a film that often fails to create genuine emotion, this confrontation is so raw and tragic that it rips your heart out with a spoon. This was Tom Hiddleston’s coming out party as an actor as he was able to portray intense sadness and anger without going over the top, and Anthony Hopkins rises to the occasion on the other end. The sense of self-loathing and betrayal Tom puts into lines like “I am the monster that parents tell their children about at night,” and “No matter how much you claim to love me, you could never have a frost giant sitting on the throne of Asgard,” are bone chilling. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has made me cheer and laugh many times, but this is the only moment that makes me tear up every time I watch it. Consequently, it’s the reason this film edges out Iron Man 3 for me.

Dire Straits

#3. The Helicarrier Attack (The Avengers)

One typically doesn’t equate the term “action scene” with the term “character development”, but a well thought out action scene can actually become a defining moment for a character. The Helicarrier attack at the end of The Avengers’ second act is a perfect example of this and I will argue that it’s probably unappreciated by many. It’s an example of extreme dire straits, and in those moments people tend to reveal who they really are. Nick Fury is a leader; he calls the shots and makes sure that everybody is on task. Bruce Banner sadly becomes a monster, but it allows Thor to be a protector, the one who fights giants. Tony Stark is a mechanic; he immediately starts repairing the machine. Steve Rogers is a soldier who goes where he is needed most, and Natasha is the assassin who is able to track and shut down the man behind the attack; the mind controlled Hawkeye. Every hero is at their most pure here, and that in a nutshell is what makes The Avengers work; amazing action featuring compelling characters we can get behind.

Zola

#2. “A Beautiful Parasite” (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

This is one of Marvel’s most brilliant moves; every comic book fanboy who went to see The Winter Soldier thought they were safe because they knew they twist. The Winter Soldier was Bucky Barnes. We all expected that. So Marvel managed to catch us off guard with this gut punch of a revelation that absolutely nobody saw coming. The return of Arnim Zola was cool enough, but when he tells us that Hydra has secretly survived inside of S.H.I.E.L.D. for over seventy years, it was absolutely mind blowing and one of the coolest moments possibly. It’s the kind of twist that’s more satisfying without any foreshadowing, and it also sent a clear message. Big moments won’t just happen in The Avengers films. The film universe is not playing by the same rules as the comics. And the organization whose presence has been a factor or been referenced in every Marvel film was not what we thought it was. The very foundation of the MCU was shook to its core.

Avengers

#1. The Battle of New York (The Avengers)

It really couldn’t be anything else. Honestly if I were to separate the finale of The Avengers into different moments I could probably fill up the top ten spots using only the last half hour of this movie. But I chose to throw it all together, only giving one moment a separate entry. Everything in here is so great. Tony Stark threatening Loki sets the stage beautifully, the alien invasion is an amazing spectacle, Thor using lightning to zap several Chitauri grunts at once is immensely satisfying, and then Bruce Banner shows up, turns into the Hulk and stops a leviathan dead in it’s tracks with one punch. And that’s just a warm up. The tracking shot where all of the Avengers are in a circle is iconic, Captain America’s natural progression into field commander is brilliantly played, Hulk smashing stuff is truly incredible, and Hawkeye gets to show off and prove it was a good idea to include him in the movie. Everybody gets individual moments to shine, but the most impressive visual is an ingenius tracking shot that follows Iron Man as he flies by Black Widow, blasts his repulsors off of Cap’s shield to take out aliens and flies by Hawkeye as he shoots an enemy down at point black range. Then it continues to follow an arrow shot by Clint and seamlessly transfers to Hulk and Thor wreak havoc on top of a leviathan before bringing it down. This ends in Hulk punching Thor out of frame in what should be the most hilarious use of slapstick comedy ever… but it isn’t.

No, that distinction goes to the confrontation (if one generously feels like calling it that) between Hulk and Loki. Loki tries to talk the Hulk down and claims that he is a god, and Hulk picks him by his legs and treats him like a ragdoll in what is quite possibly the greatest thing humans have ever accomplished. I can’t think of any film moment in recent memory that made so many people so happy. It’s a fantastic capstone to the most amazing finale in comic book movie history. This is what comic fans have been waiting for, not just since Iron Man came out, but since X-Men came out and dare I say since Superman came out. It is truly magical and I don’t think that once in a lifetime feeling will ever be truly duplicated.

The Top 50 Marvel Cinematic Universe Moments – #20-11

I’ve crossed the halfway point on this list, so I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the bulk of it so far. Now we are down to some of the very best the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer. Many of these were considered for inclusion in the top ten but lacked that one special factor to put them over the top.

So, to recap:

  • The list is completely subjective and based on my opinion; the moments were selected for being notably action packed and fun, or for their emotional resonance, character development and impact on the MCU.
  • Only the ten theatrical Marvel Cinematic Universe movies were considered, not television shows or Netflix series.
  • Spoilers!

Brilliant Escape

#20. A Brilliant Escape (Thor: The Dark World)

The second Thor movie was a notable improvement over its predecessor, but it was still merely “okay” for the first half of it or so. However, once Malekith and his dark elves invade Asgard in an attack that ends in the death of Freyja the film starts to pick up considerably. Freyja is the wife of Odin, mother of Thor and adoptive mother of Loki, so we know that Malekith is pretty much screwed if Thor can ever get his hands on him. But in order to do that he needs Loki’s help because Odin thinks it’s wiser to stay in Asgard and await another attack. This results in one of the creatively structured scenes in the MCU as Thor, Heimdall, Sif and the Warriors Three sit a table going over their plan in dialogue while we see them executing their plan in real time. The real draw here is seeing Thor and Loki back together to play off of each other, and that is tremendous. From Loki’s hysterical Captain America impersonation to the threats to kill Loki from everyone, and from their banter as Thor drives a dark elf ship on a destructive chase scene to the final twist, this scene is just pure fun. Something the Thor movies could use a little more of.

Rocket

#19. A Raccoon Makes Me Cry (Guardians of the Galaxy)

Knowing that Rocket Raccoon was going to be in Guardians of the Galaxy was probably the main reason for my skepticism going in. I knew the character existed and had a cult following, but I always kind of put him in the same category as Howard the Duck. Who also showed up in this movie. Go figure. I just didn’t expect to be able to take him seriously, although the casting of Bradley Cooper as Rocket’s voice was a good sign in my opinion. As expected, Rocket was tremendously funny as comic relief, but what I didn’t expect was that Marvel would be able to make him look capable and add a tragic element to the character that makes him feel real. The scene where Rocket and Drax get drunk in a Knowhere bar and Rocket finally explodes over people calling him vermin really stuck with me. The genetic experimentation that led to Rocket’s existence was not glossed over and is instead referenced as a horrifying event that makes us realize he’s the most broken member of the team. He ends up becoming the heart of the film and I can’t imagine it without him.

Steve Rogers

#18. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Super Soldier (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Since the MCU is comprised of Norse gods, men in flying metal suits, aliens in space and giant green rage monsters it is no real surprise that most of the big action scenes throughout the movies are digital effects. While I have a great deal of respect for the hard work and artistry that goes into making a convincing computer generated image, I will always maintain that if an effect can be done practically, then it should be. Fighting that involves people and actual stunts will always feel more real because it is real and that allows us to connect with it a more human level. This is what makes the opening action sequence of The Winter Soldier so riveting; we see Captain America dive into the ocean, climb onto a ship and take down a small army of mercenaries in a scene that is almost all practical stunts. It gives the film a unique identity right away and feels more like a James Bond film than a superhero epic, which in this case is a good thing. This scene is so perfect that they managed to make Batroc the Leaper into an awesome adversary. Not easy.

Avenger Initiative

#17. The Avenger Initiative (Iron Man)

It’s less than a minute, but the post-credits scene of Iron Man may be the single most important moment in MCU. While dedicated comic book nerds knew that Marvel Studios had been planning to make a cohesive universe with characters crossing over, the general movie going public was in the dark. I remember going into Iron Man with no expectations only to fall in love with it. But then I got to this scene and was blown away by what Marvel was planning. Samuel L. Jackson is always great, and I liked seeing Nick Fury, but the prospect of seeing Captain America, Hawkeye and other Avengers characters on the big screen got me excited. There’s an argument that this moment should be higher, but it really is just a teaser, Marvel making a promise we had no clue if they could deliver on.

Tucci

#16. A Good Man (Captain America: The First Avenger)

Stanley Tucci is an actor that I have consistently enjoyed in almost every role he’s been in, and I was very happy to see him in Captain America: The First Avenger. As Dr. Abraham Erskine, Tucci serves as a mentor figure to Steve Rogers, giving him the small, sickly man an opportunity to prove his worth. They have two major scenes together where Erskine shows that he is more interested in Steve’s character than his physical attributes, and the second scene is one of my favorites. He explains what his super soldier formula can do and the effect that it had on Johann Schmidt, while also telling Steve that what makes him the best candidate is really simple; he’s a good man. This scene did a lot to sell me on Rogers character and why he would be chosen to be Captain America. And I really wish we could have gotten more time with Erskine. I still miss him.

Ronan

#15. The Guardians Unite Against Ronan (Guardians of the Galaxy)

Ronan the Accuser, played by Lee Pace, is a Kree fanatic and the main antagonist of Guardians of the Galaxy. In a movie that is filled with goofball moments he is one character that is played straight, if a bit theatrical, and for the most part it works. He has a cool look, some good fight scenes and just enough character development that he doesn’t feel hollow as a bad guy. But he’s still mostly just there to chase after the Power Gem to further that ongoing story and to give our heroes someone to unite against and defeat. The finale of the movie sees Peter Quill, Drax, Gamora and Rocket all work together and literally join hands to share the Infinity Stone’s power and defeat Ronan. It manages to look cool and also is satisfying as an emotional level. These characters were damaged loners in a way the Avengers never were, so watching them become friends and almost a family was a special moment.

Red Skull

#14. The Red Skull Revealed (Captain America: The First Avenger)

The First Avenger is a movie with two main characters on opposite ends of the spectrum, affected by the same super soldier serum but in completely different ways. We connect with Steve Rogers because he is a weak man who never gives up and has an inherit toughness and nobility to him that makes him Captain America even before the serum is injected. So it makes sense that a similar approach worked so well for the character of Johann Schmidt. Having a recognizable star like Hugo Weaving play the character was a smart decision; Hugo knows how to play characters that have a heavy dose of theatricality without losing the audience. But what was especially excellent was the way the film carefully laid out clues to the ghastly appearance of Red Skull, letting us know there was something off but not just throwing it out there. This smart foreshadowing, along with the brilliant makeup and just the right amount of digital effects allow us to believe that Red Skull truly looks like this monster. The film could have easily fallen off a cliff at this point but it instead triumphs.

Assembly

#13. Some Assembly Required (The Avengers)

The Avengers has a large cast but four main heroes, and introduces them to us in four very well done introductions that tell the audience all they need to know about the characters if they haven’t seen previous films. I originally was going to include them all separately, but instead decided that the common theme is enough justification to throw them together as one big moment so that I can put the focus on other films. Natasha Romanoff is introduced in a perfect scenario where we get to see her work as a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative interrogating Russian criminals without them even realizing it. The scene does more with the character of Natasha than the entirety of Iron Man 2 and removed the doubts of many who didn’t think she could work with the stars of the movie. Fans had similar concerns about Bruce Banner; Edward Norton was not returning to the role and we instead got Mark Ruffalo; one conversation between Bruce and Natasha was enough to show us that the creative team had a good grasp on how to write the character and that Mark was far and away the best person to play Bruce. Captain America’s introduction sees him demolish a punching bag and establishes him as the pure good guy in a dirty world by having him talk to Nick Fury; the conviction Steve has when telling Fury that S.H.I.E.L.D. should have left the Tesseract in the ocean is particularly impressive. And Tony Stark is in a refreshingly new scenario; in a happy relationship with Pepper Potts. Gwyneth and Robert’s on-screen chemistry is always brilliant and having her in this introduction made the movie better, and added a new element to Tony; he’s not just fighting for himself, but for Pepper as well.

Thanos

#12. Thanos Threatens Ronan (Guardians of the Galaxy)

The Mad Titan wasn’t heavily advertised as being part of Guardians of the Galaxy, but his one scene very nearly stole the show for a lot of fans. While we’d gotten a very vague cameo at the end of The Avengers, this was our first look at a fully realized Thanos, complete with Josh Brolin’s voice work. The scene is very smartly constructed. We start with Ronan talking to The Other, Thanos’ right-hand man who was able to intimidate Loki in The Avengers. Ronan then kills The Other, so we know he’s a big threat if he can so effortlessly dispose of a guy who scares Loki. And then we very nearly see Ronan cower as Thanos threatens to bathe the stars with his blood. Thanos has a ton of presence and without even stepping away from his throne has cast a shadow that looms large over the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Debate

#11. Freedom vs. Fear (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) 

The Winter Soldier is an action movie and a conspiracy thriller, but it also dabbles into the realm of politics, which was a fitting but still shocking decision. What’s perhaps more surprising than the decision to involve political concerns in the film was that the Russo brothers did it so well. This scene allows both Nick Fury and Steve Rogers to explain their points about the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers and whether it is right or wrong to neutralize potential threats before they become real threats. More importantly, the dialogue doesn’t openly support or condemn either side; it simply presents the information in a way that allows us to understand where both characters are coming from and to make our own decision. When written well, a good conversation between two characters can be just as thrilling as the best action scene, and this is my personal favorite in the entire MCU. It solidified Captain America as my favorite Avenger and is one of the first scenes I point to when arguing that superhero films do not have to sacrifice intelligence and relevance in order to be a good time at the movies.

The Top 50 Marvel Cinematic Universe Moments – #30-21

It’s time for part three of this epic countdown. We are out of the “good but flawed” territory and down to the moments that made Marvel’s movies really good. I do feel the need to remind everyone that this list is very spoiler-heavy, so if you haven’t had a chance to watch all the movies you may want to do that before reading this list.

Which, again, is completely subjective and only represents my opinion.

Star Lord

#30. Indiana Jones With A Mix-Tape (Guardians of the Galaxy)

More than any other Marvel movie, Guardians of the Galaxy had to immediately establish an identity for itself that would make it stand out among everything else out there. The movie didn’t have the advantage of a big name comic book character or movie star to headline it; it was a space opera with mostly untested stars based on an obscure Marvel property. That can be a tough sell. Fortunately, the first major scene in this film did a lot to give Guardians its own identity. While my title for this moment is somewhat tongue in cheek, Guardians is a movie that wears its influences on its sleeve; this is movie that is fun and thrilling and irreverent and nostalgic. It feels more like Star WarsIndiana JonesBack to the Future and The Princess Bride than most superhero movies. From the opening credits scene with Star Lord dancing to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” to the dashing escape scene to the introduction of the Orb of Power (The Power Gem), this opening scene is fantastic and sets the tone gloriously.

Mjolnir

#29. Thor Is Not Worthy (Thor)

Thor was a film that struggled with its identity a bit. It plays things a little too safe by mostly adhering to traditional superhero tropes with a bit of Norse mythology thrown in for flavoring, when it probably should have been more of a high fantasy epic. Another difficult aspect is that the character of Thor is a spoiled brat when we are introduced to him and other than the fact that he is the title character and is really good looking, it’s difficult to find something genuinely likable about him. However, there is one scene in the movie where the character of Thor is really done perfectly and earns our sympathy. Thor goes on an impressive rampage through a S.H.I.E.L.D. installation on a mission to retrieve Mjolnir and return home to Asgard. When he finally gets there, he finds that he is unable to lift the hammer because he is unworthy. This is where Chris Hemsworth’s acting abilities are first truly showcased; he realizes that he’s lost all of his power and cannot go home and there is nothing he can do about it. It humbles the character and makes him human; once we can relate to Thor on that level, we are able to relate with him as a god later on. And we also get Hawkeye’s debut as a cameo character, so that’s another good thing.

Peggy Carter

#28. A Tragic Reunion (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Captain America can sometimes be a tough character to relate to; he’s an “aw shucks” boy scout type of hero with a perfect moral center, with true conviction in his values that rarely lead to genuine moral mistakes. One of the reasons The Winter Soldier works so well is that it takes this character and throws him in an environment where that kind of idealism is not practical and everyone around him has compromised in some way. It’s a new world, a dirtier, uglier world, and Steve isn’t sure how to adjust to it. But perhaps no other scene drives this point home harder than the scene where Steve visits Peggy Carter in the hospital. While there is a sadness in seeing how she has aged and Steve has not, there’s still a certain level of happiness in seeing these two lovebirds meet again. But when Peggy’s memory fails her we get a true sense that every thing important in Steve’s life is lost. This is heartbreaking, but it also helps set the stage for Steve to relentlessly pursue both new friendships and to recover one that he’s lost.

Brothers

#27. The Sons of Odin (The Avengers)

The Avengers is a film with the unenviable task of introducing a group of characters that all have fairly complex histories in a very short amount of time while still furthering a plot. It has to do this both for new audiences who have never seen the other movies and for devout fans who have seen them all. It can’t be too complicated or it loses the new crowd and it can’t be too repetitive or it bores the ones who’ve seen it all. Thor isn’t introduced until over a half-hour into the film when we’ve already received a lot of exposition already, so it’s all quite remarkable that this particular scene works well on all of these fronts. I have told people that all they really need to see before The Avengers is the first Iron Man and Captain America movies because this one scene does such a good job of telling us everything we need to know about who Thor and Loki are and what their relationship is. While it is a summation of the plot of Thor, there is also a lot of emotion in the argument and we get plenty of insight into their characters; Thor has grown into a much more sympathetic and likable hero and Loki has descended into a madness that even the bond between brothers cannot repair.

Weapon

#26. “The Weapon You Only Have to Fire Once” (Iron Man)

I have always enjoyed this scene. It made me laugh when I saw this movie in theaters and completely sold me on both Tony Stark as a character and Robert Downey, Jr. in the role. He’s charismatic, he’s patriotic, he’s funny, but there’s also the underlying danger of the fact that this is a rich, arrogant man who profits selling deadly weapons to the army. The first Iron Man film does a great job of showing us who Tony Stark was before he becomes Iron Man and it all culminates in this one glorious moment. What I have only recently realized is that this scene heavily foreshadows the entire narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When one strips away the superhero elements and the fun and just looks at the MCU from a narrative perspective, one realizes that it is essentially a story about an arms race. The villains are looking for weapons powerful enough to take over the world and the heroes are looking for weapons strong enough to counter that threat. Iron Man films are all about who has the most powerful weapon, Hulk is a living weapon that wants to be used by everyone except for Bruce Banner, and the Tesseract and other Infinity Stones are literally “the weapon you only have to fire once”. Whether it was intentional or just a happy coincidence, this one scene planted the idea for the whole narrative thread of the MCU.

Captain America

#25. Captain America Is Born (Captain America: The First Avenger)

If you’ve been reading this list continuously you have probably noticed a very high number of moments from the two Captain America movies. This makes sense as Steve Rogers has certainly evolved into my personal favorite Avenger and so a lot of his scenes just resonate more with me than the moments of other heroes. I remember going into this movie wondering how much they were going to keep to the classic origin of Captain America and was pleasantly surprised at how effective it was. Steve is incredibly sympathetic for the first third of the movie and we see what a noble person he is long before he becomes a superhero. This all makes the ultimate payoff where Steve is transformed into a super soldier extremely satisfying, and quietly hilarious when Peggy Carter has difficulty trying not to touch Steve’s new body. The film is also smart by immediately transitioning into an action scene where Steve’s new abilities are shown off.

Groot

#24. “We Are Groot” (Guardians of the Galaxy)

I am probably going to get some flack for rating this scene this low, but I’m going to say it; this moment was a cliche emotional sacrifice and it’s something the MCU has overused. So it really didn’t affect me that much. But it did work, and I want to talk about the fact that it somehow miraculously worked. Groot is a character that I did not expect to click with audiences. He’s a walking tree who says one line over and over again: “I am Groot.”. That is all he says. And yet somehow the animation manages to convey what an innocent and loving presence he is and make us feel for this tree. And Vin Diesel’s voice work is proof that it doesn’t so much matter what is said as long as we understand the intent behind what is said. Groot is awesome. Groot is one of the best things about this movie and I never would have expected that. So, yes, this scene is great because it absolutely should not have worked and yet works perfectly.

Loki

#23. The “Death” of Loki (Thor: The Dark World)

Remember what I said about spoilers? This moment is a double spoiler so if you have not seen this movie please move on to the next moment. Loki is a very interesting character; he went from being a sympathetic but somewhat weak villain in Thor to a charismatic, greatly entertaining megalomaniac villain in The Avengers, managing to be a foil for six heroes and still coming out looking more sympathetic than all of them. That’s unique and it’s made Loki one of the great cinematic characters of all time, in my opinion. The fans have embraced Loki so much that it greatly affected the narrative arc of this film and largely sold audiences on it. The prospect of seeing Thor and Loki work together against a common ally was too tantalizing to miss. Little did we expect that we would have our hearts skewered when Loki was killed saving his brother. Loki is one of the very few villains that could have pulled off a noble sacrifice death and make us care about it, and the effect it has on Thor elevates the scene even more. While the Thor films have their issues, the arc between these two brothers is sublime.

Fury

#22. Fury in Jeopardy (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

The Winter Soldier is a conspiracy film at its core. This makes it vastly different from other Marvel films because we spend the first hour or so not really knowing who the bad guys are. It’s quite different from the villains that are introduced early and loudly declare their clear goal. In order to make that work, the film makers have to create an atmosphere of tension. One of the more subtle ways this is accomplished is in Nick Fury’s arc; he is vulnerable and concerned. This man has always been calm and in control, and even in the utter chaos of The Avengers still came across as being steady as a rock. Winter Soldier is the first time we truly see Nick Fury lost and afraid and that unsettles us. It’s all well founded because Nick Fury is attacked in his car, setting off one of the most inventive, well-shot and engaging car chase scenes in recent cinema. And it’s all capped off with the first appearance of the Winter Soldier; a definite highlight of the film.

Chess Match

#21. Black Widow Outwits the God of Mischief (The Avengers)

One of the great things about The Avengers is that the main villain has only interacted with one of the heroes beforehand, so the bulk of the characters don’t really know how to handle him. He also manages to have a unique dynamic with pretty much everyone. He and Tony share an arrogant and theatrical attitude; they want to be seen doing whatever they are doing. Nick Fury is a master manipulator just like Loki, but he is fighting for the side of good. He views The Hulk as a beast and plans to use him to fight everyone else, which eventually backfires spectacularly. He is the polar opposite of Captain America with absolutely nothing in common, which makes their exchanges great, and he mind controls Hawkeye to set up a personal vendetta. This is all great, but my favorite dynamic is the one he has with Black Widow. They only have one key moment, but it’s my favorite quiet scene in the film. Loki and Natasha are both manipulators and seducers who know how to get what they want by pretending to be weak and waiting for the opportune moment. She manages to outwit Loki and get the information she needs from him, but not before he cuts through her bravado and damages her emotionally. It’s an excellent moment for both and really established Natasha as a great character.

The Top 50 Marvel Cinematic Universe Moments – #40-31

Before you read this post, if you haven’t checked out #50-41, I strongly suggest doing so. Other than that, I just want to give a few brief reminders that this list A) only involves the ten theatrical Marvel Cinematic Universe films, and B) is completely subjective and not meant to be a definitive or objective list. It’s a collection of the moments that made me happy to watch this universe unfold.

Captain America: The First Avenger

#40. Not Meant For Ordinary Men (Captain America: The First Avenger)

The first substantial scene in Captain America: The First Avenger may seem like an odd choice for this list at first. It’s an introduction to Johann Schmidt (a memorable performance from Hugo Weaving) and to the Tesseract, the all powerful weapon of both this film and The Avengers. Okay, so Thor had a brief scene after the credits, but this was where we got a sense of what the cube was and where it came from. And this is the important thing. Up until this point, the MCU had struggled to create a sense of real connection. Iron Man 2 felt awkward with it’s references, but this was the first time an important element from one film affected another. Norse Mythology is established as being real in the MCU in the first Thor film, which allows this scene to feel connected to that movie. It was the first time that Marvel real got it right when it came to presenting their movies as feeling like one giant story.

Trouble Sleeping

#39. Trouble Sleeping (Iron Man 3)

One of the few story elements that I really enjoyed in Iron Man 3 was Tony Stark’s post traumatic stress after the events of The Avengers. While for us fanboys that battle was pretty much the greatest moment ever, in the universe itself it’s a truly horrible moment with a lot of consequences. For Tony Stark, it’s a wake-up call that his Iron Man suit isn’t the answer to everything. He can keep peace on Earth, but what about the greater cosmic forces at play? In this movie we see him creating suit after suit after suit because he feels unsafe and anxious to the point of paranoia. This point really hits home when the Mark 43 armor attacks Pepper Potts in her sleep because Tony is calling out for it. It is here that we see how big of a problem Tony’s anxiety can be for the people he loves and nicely sets up the idea that he could be desperate enough to create Ultron in the new Avengers film.

Blonsky

#38. Emil Blonsky: Crack Addict (The Incredible Hulk)

Emil Blonsky is my favorite character in The Incredible Hulk and is the main reason I keep coming back to it despite it’s flaws. Tim Roth is a treasure with a unique charisma that elevates any role he’s in, and this is no exception. Blonsky is the complete opposite of Bruce Banner; Bruce gets ultimate power in an accident and wants to get rid of it, while Blonsky pursues that some power relentlessly because he can never have enough of it. Watching the transformation from mercenary to super soldier to monster is the true delight in this flick and makes Abomination one of my favorite villains in the MCU. My favorite scene in particular is when he stares into a mirror, looking like he’s going through heroine withdrawal before his spinal column starts trying to push through his skin. It’s great stuff.

Aether

#37. Thor vs. Malekith (Thor: The Dark World)

Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith is an underdeveloped personality, but in terms of providing an imposing villain he was a definite step up for Marvel movies. One of the smartest decisions in this film was keeping Malekith and Thor separated for the bulk of the movie. They have a brief interaction where Thor scars his face with a lightning bolt after Malekith has Thor’s mother killed, but they never come to blows because Thor is preoccupied with destroying the Aether or fighting Malekith’s allies. So when we get to the climax, it feels fresh and there’s enough damage on both ends to make us really believe they hate each other. And with the Aether powering him up, he’s a believable threat to Thor as well. Their confrontation was one of the best in any Marvel film, and really stands out because of the portals that makes the fight literally span worlds.

Oh Crap

#36. Pepper Potts: Extremis-Powered Action Girl (Iron Man 3)

Pepper Potts was always one of the best characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, played by Gwyneth Paltrow and always keeping pace with Robert Downey, Jr’s Tony Stark. Their chemistry has been a highlight of all of the Iron Man films. In the bounds of normal reality, her intelligence, self reliance and refusal to take crap from even Tony Stark make her a strong character without being overstated. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t immensely satisfying when she gets a power boost from Extremis in Iron Man 3 and beats the living daylights out of Aldritch Killian in the film’s final act. It allows the strength of her character to be showcased in a way that’s more traditionally “Marvel” as opposed to a grounded reality.

Black and White

#35. “What Do You Want Me To Be?” (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

One of the smartest choices in The Winter Soldier is the addition of Natasha Romanoff to the story. Black Widow is a character that helps highlight the conspiracy thriller nature of the film; the movie is a web of secrets and so is Nat, so this is a character that establishes the tone. But the real brilliance here is that even though Steve Rogers and Natasha have worked together as Avengers, they have totally different ideologies that conflict with one another. Steve comes from a simpler time and doesn’t believe in compromising for the sake of good, while Natasha is a product of the modern political climate and has no problem bending the rules for the greater good. Over the course of this film they learn to trust each other and begin to affect each other; Steve learns how to handle the modern world better and Natasha becomes more of an idealist who realizes where she stands. This is all signs that Steve’s response to that question has merit. “How about a friend?” The Winter Soldier has strong themes of friendship throughout and this is one of the best examples.

Bots

#34. Iron Man and War Machine vs. Whiplash (Iron Man 2) 

Colonel James Rhodes has been an important part of all three Iron Man films, and Don Cheadle was a definite upgrade from Terrence Howard. While the first film hinted at Rhodes being in a suit, the second film delivered on the premise. Tony and James come to blows when Rhodes takes the Mark II Armor, but the real highlight is in the finale when we get to see them fighting together. The War Machine amor stands out from Tony’s as a heavier, more military style suit. The scene where two best friends mow down Hammer drones despite a tactical awful location is riveting and the follow up suit with Anton Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is a satisfyingly explosive conclusion to the movie.

Cap

#33. A Man Standing Above Everyone Else (The Avengers)

The Avengers is a movie that’s pretty much made of awesome moments; it’s essentially the climactic chapter of a six-film story, after all. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki returns and is used to magnificent effect, and I feel really came into his own in this scene in Germany. Commanding everyone to kneel before him and giving a grand speech about how humans crave subjugation really made him a grander villain that he was in Thor and helped us believe he could be a threat to all of the Avengers. I think the scene probably works best because Joss Whedon’s atheist and humanist beliefs allowed him to write the religious undertones of this speech in a way that really got under our skin. And the scene takes a new turn when perhaps the perfect contrast to Loki arrives in the form of Steve Rogers. He reminds of his World War II history and challenges Loki despite being severely outmatched. It’s a great moment featuring two characters that honestly have no business being in the same film together.

Excessive

#32. The Hulk vs. The Abomination (The Incredible Hulk)

I struggled with the placement of this fight on this list, but I always knew it would be on here. I feel like later fight scenes (even the Malekith vs. Thor fight I placed earlier on this list) were done better, but there’s an extra meta layer to this one that deserves to be acknowledged. This fight is an apology to fans who were disappointed with the 2003 Hulk film and it’s lack of a decent villain fight. This movie delivered it in spades; the clash between Hulk and Abomination was epic and had a lot of force and weight behind it, and some impressive creativity. Hulk doesn’t just smash Blonsky with his fists for ten minutes, he makes uses of his surroundings and fights intelligently, something that I do have to admit is missing from Hulk in The Avengers. There’s also a perfect moment where Hulk says his iconic “HULK SMASH!” line for the first time on the big screen. However, I do feel this fight was a little excessive, both in length and in the brutality department. It’s an imperfect gift but it was heartfelt and therefore I still greatly appreciate it.

I am Iron Man

#31. “I Am Iron Man” (Iron Man)

The secret identity has been a major trope of pretty much every superhero comic and especially in movie adaptations. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and Daredevil all had dual lives, and it would have been very easy for Marvel to do this with Iron Man. After all, Tony kept his identity a secret in the comics for decades. Instead, the first film in the MCU ends on an emphatic statement where Tony says that he is Iron Man. While this may seem trivial, it sets a precedent. There is no duality to the big screen heroes of the MCU; they are who they are. Tony Stark and the suit are one. We all know that Bruce transforms into the Hulk, Steve Rogers is a living legend who everybody knows, and Thor is… well, Thor. This movie changed the game by letting us fans know that we could see a lot of conventions done away with. And it’s just a great line on its own merit.

The Top 50 Marvel Cinematic Universe Moments – #50-41

When I chose to start writing this blog, this was a project that I had planned out well in advance as a celebration of the first ten films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and to countdown to The Avengers: Age of UltronAmerican release in the theaters on May 1st. So, starting today and ending on Friday, I will be writing about ten moments from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that made me happy to go to the movies.

So, first off, it should be fairly obvious that this list contains a lot of spoilers and if you have not seen some of these films you may wish to skip over moments from them. Each moment will have the movie it is from next to it in parenthesis. I also chose to limit this countdown only to the movies; I haven’t watched enough Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Agent Carter to accurately consider them, and in fairness to those I chose not to rank moments from Daredevil either.

Lastly, this list is completely subjective and 100% my opinion. These are the moments that entertained me, the ones that made me cheer, laugh, cry and fall in love with the characters of this universe. From the epic action scenes to the conversations that thrilled us in another way to the outright silly moments, these are the 50 greatest moments from the Marvel Studios films.

Frost Giants

#50. Escape From Jotunheim (Thor)

In an optimal world, this scene would rank a little higher. It’s got Thor and Loki working together and leading a band of warriors into Jotunheim, world of the Frost Giants. There’s a huge battle and an enormous beast that Thor kills in memorable fashion, and it’s proceeded by a rather good monologue from Lauffey where he describes Thor as “a boy trying to prove himself a man.” But the reason it always falls short for me is the lighting. Jotunheim is very darkly lit and has a limited color palette, so very little stands out visually. It’s a scene that could have been better with more well thought out cinematography. However, it’s still an important moment as it showcases the bratty, foolish Thor that we need to be introduced to before he becomes a great hero.

StarSpangledMan

#49. The Star-Spangled Man With A Plan (Captain America: The First Avenger) 

I would have to imagine that this is probably a divisive choice, as it was definitely the silliest scene in the Marvel Cinematic Universe when this film was released. Personally I found it hilarious and a plausible way to get the ball rolling on what is a very cartoonish character. In the context of the film, Captain America is a marketing ploy designed to make children happy and to encourage their parents to sell war bonds. It establishes what the persona is supposed to be and revels in it, but then the film gives a serious case of mood whiplash by transitioning to a deathly serious scene where Steve Rogers visits troops in Germany. Cap’s gimmick has been a goldmine for humor in later films and I think it works well because of this moment here.

Doctor

#48. “I’m Not That Kind of Doctor” (Iron Man 3)

I am not a fan of Iron Man 3 and you will not see very many moments from the film on this list. Even this is just a tacked on scene at the end of the credits. But this is one of my favorite easter eggs. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner were well established as good friends in The Avengers, and getting to see more of them here was a real treat. Tony tries to use Bruce as a therapist, and Bruce replies that he isn’t that kind of doctor, admitting that he doesn’t have the temperament for it. Little moments like these where we can just enjoy the characters mean as much as the biggest action sequences.

Chains

#47. Little Talks (Thor: The Dark World)

After the events of The Avengers Loki is brought back to Asgard to pay for his crimes, and is sentenced to a very long life in the dungeons by his adoptive father Odin. These two characters have a surprisingly small amount of screen time in the MCU, and I think it’s a testament to the actors and the writers that the broken relationship resonates so strongly. This was a nice bookend after their first major confrontation in the original Thor movie and also showcased that Loki had a bit of a soft spot for his mother. Loki’s line “It’s not that I don’t love your little talks, but… I don’t love them,” is one of my all-time favorites because it starts smarmy and sarcastic but then even Loki realizes it’s too serious to joke about.

Iron Man

#46. First Flight (Iron Man)

Sadly I couldn’t find a good picture of Tony Stark’s first flight in the Mark II Iron Man armor, but I definitely want to talk about the flying in this movie, and the subsequent ones. Flight has been a part of superhero movies since the 1970’s with the Christopher Reeve Superman film, but Iron Man was surprisingly one of very few characters to be shown flying routinely in films. The repulser blasts add an extra visual flair to the image and we get a sense of the science behind how the suit flies, which is a major departure from Superman. Marvel also wisely chose to use close up shots of Tony Stark’s face inside the suit where we get to see Robert Downey, Jr. sell the sensations of what it’s like to fly. It’s a big payoff to several scenes of Tony putting the armor together and it works wonderfully.

Hulk

#45. The Hulk Unleashed (The Incredible Hulk)

2008’s The Incredible Hulk is a fairly unique film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hulk had previously been in a movie directed by Ang Lee that underwhelmed fans of Hulk comics with it’s slow pace and limited action scenes. Marvel promised to deliver a tighter narrative that was perhaps less ambitious than the original movie but certainly better fit the tone comic book fans were looking for. Taking several cues from the Bill Bixby show (and making several amusing references to it in the process),the film smartly underplayed the first appearance of Hulk to whet our appetite. When Bruce finally hulks out in plain view halfway through the film, it’s a deeply satisfying moment and has an extremely fun action scene that follows. While Marvel hadn’t quite perfected Hulk yet, this was a huge step in the right direction.

Misfits

#44. Ragtag Bunch of Misfits (Guardians of the Galaxy) 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is largely defined by the diversity of its heroes. There’s a super soldier, a monster, a Norse God, a brilliant scientist with a suit of flying armor, and a network of secret agents. The fact that everybody is distinct keeps things remarkably fresh. The Guardians of the Galaxy is a big group that almost feels like the B-Movie version of the Avengers. There’s a talking tree and a talking racoon for starters. Then there’s two roughly humanoid aliens, and in the middle of it all is a charismatic leading man that is best described as “Indiana Jones in space”. Four of them have questionable morals and one of them has a three word vocabulary. The fact that this scene of them walking towards us manages to subvert blockbuster expectations while still feeling epic is a tribute to how entertaining and flat out good this movie was. They may be dirty and easy to underestimate, but they are heroes and they are glorious.

Rogers

#43.  “A Rain Check On That Dance” (Captain America: The First Avenger)

The last major scene of the first Captain America film is pretty iconic in Marvel’s canon, but I have to admit that I’ve always felt slightly underwhelmed by it. There’s some good ideas here as Steve Rogers makes a sacrifice to protect the world from Hydra’s bombs, and the dialogue between Steve and Peggy Carter is heartfelt. I think this could have benefited from some tighter editing that didn’t drag so much. It doesn’t help that we know Steve is still going to be alive, so a lot of the drama of his “death” is kind of sucked out of it.

Howard

#42. Howard Stark’s Greatest Creation (Iron Man 2)

Iron Man 2 is a cluttered mess of a film with far too many plots going on at once, but it still has a small handful of moments that manage to stick with the viewer. This scene where Tony is watching old clips of his father while trying to solve the problem with his arc reactor is one of them for me. He eventually finds a hidden video where Howard Stark tells him that Tony will solve the mysteries that Howard was never able to, and ends with him saying that his greatest creation will always be Tony. It’s a very touching moment and one that I think will resonate a lot with both parents and children.

Falcon

#41. “On Your Left” (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is my favorite MCU film to date, and one of the major reasons why can be summed up in the opening scene. We are introduced to Sam Wilson as he jogs through the nation’s capitol city only to constantly be passed by Steve Rogers, who alerts him that he is “on his left”. The actors are able to let this scene be more humorous that it would be on paper, and the moment feels genuine. The conversation they have afterward is one of my favorite bits; these characters have never met and come from totally different eras, but have a common bond as soldiers. The dialogue is very natural and it’s easy to believe these two are clicking instantly. Winter Soldier was the absolute best Marvel film in terms of meaningful conversations and this started it off on the right (or left) foot.

A Bigger Marvel Universe – Black Panther & Captain Marvel

We are inching closer and closer to the climactic chapter of “Phase Two” of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. The Avengers: Age of Ultron is probably the most anticipated cinematic event since the first Avengers film, and it should be a fitting closing chapter to Phase Two and an advertisement for what we can expect in Phase Three. Marvel has recently hit their creative stride, delivering box office smashes with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy which were perhaps their two best films to date. They’ve also been delivering quality on the smaller screen with the excellent Agent Carter show and the Netflix original series Daredevil that may be the best thing they’ve ever done.

Marvel Studios seems to be on top of the world. And while that would make some grow complacent, the defining aspect of the studio has been to always look forward, to always expand, and to take calculated risks. Iron Man and Thor were not cultural icons when Marvel made the decision to use them to kickstart their Cinematic Universe, and Captain America was not exactly cool either before the movies showcased what a likable character he can be. The Avengers was nothing short of a miracle, an incredibly ambitious project that worked despite the odds.

Avengers

Marvel has continued to take risks, taking the extremely obscure Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and making them househould names with one of the most flat-out fun offerings Hollywood has ever given us. A talking tree and raccoon are beloved characters because Marvel is willing to take risks and put effort into it. And Daredevil is another example of this, with Marvel Studios choosing to embrace their adult fans by making a decidedly non-kid friendly show that has stellar character development and created something special. Marvel has also shown the flexibility to work with Sony Entertainment to come to an agreement to introduce Spider-Man into their universe, giving the MCU perhaps Marvel’s most iconic hero.

My point in recapping all of this is to explain that Marvel is not a company that sits on its laurels. It is a company that constantly pushes forward and feels its audience, testing us to see what we want and then delivering. We wanted more complex plots and they gave us The Winter Soldier. We wanted something fresh and we got Guardians. We wanted stronger villains they gave us Wilson Fisk and Ultron. It’s clear they are listening.

Because of this continued growth, it’s no surprise to see Marvel announce several new characters in Phase Three. We are getting Ant-Man (technically the last film in Phase Two but who really cares?) and Doctor Strange, who are certainly more bizarre than most of the heroes we’ve been introduced to so far. But we are also getting Black Panther and Captain Marvel films, and those are the two I want to focus on today.

Black Panther

Black Panther is the masked alter ego of King T’Challa, the ruler of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, one of the major players in the Marvel universe’s economy because of their access to vibranium. The rare metal is most famous for being the material that Captain America’s shield is made of, and is known for it’s ability to absorb almost any impact without breaking. This makes Wakanda a target for many who look to exploit this resource, and Black Panther is the man who has to protect his nation and the world from those threats. He doesn’t have superpowers, but he is one of the best hand-to-hand fighters in Marvel, an expert hunter and brilliant scientist, as well as a charismatic leader.

In a more real world sense, Black Panther was the first high-profile African superhero in comic books, being introduced to readers in the chaotic political climate of the 1960’s when African Americans were fighting for equal rights more vocally than ever before. Similarly, T’Challa is the first black man to headline a movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a huge step in Marvel’s goal of becoming a brand that represents all people. While the MCU has had no shortage of strong African American characters (Nick Fury, Colonel James Rhodes and The Falcon chief among them) and have even given white comic characters like Ben Urich and Heimdall a makeover with black actors, this shows that Marvel is willing to put a person of color in the leading role of a movie that’s designed to appeal to Marvel’s wide audience.

They have the right man for the job, as Chadwick Boseman is a hot young talent who has already proven his ability to play characters of historic importance. He played Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get On Up and did so admirably, but he is also a relatively unproven talent who is likely to become a huge star do to this role. I know that my interest in T’Challa on the big screen increased exponentially with the announcement of Boseman in the role.

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel is the current alias of Carol Danvers, an officer in the United States Airforce who is given superpowers due to alien technology. While she has spent the bulk of her career as Ms. Marvel and is a seasoned veteran of the Avengers in the comic book universe, Carol’s star has never shine brighter than it has in recent years with the name change to Captain Marvel. Marvel’s decision to create a big blockbuster movie starring the character fulfills another need for the universe; a woman in a leading role. With the growing audience including more and more women with every movie, the need for a woman who is given equal treatment and starring on her own merit is a crucial one.

Again, Marvel has done a good job of highlighting female characters and giving them depth and talent. Pepper Potts is a CEO that runs Stark Industries better than Tony Stark ever did, Peggy Carter was a capable military fighter in World War II and Black Widow has been a star player in both The Avengers and The Winter Soldier. Marvel has also given women starring roles in television series; Peggy Carter became the unlikely star of a Marvel mini-series called Agent Carter, and the next Netflix original series will be A.K.A. Jessica Jones. But Captain Marvel will be proof that female characters and actors can be the leads in big budget action films that bring men and women to the theater.

Marvel’s Cinematic Universe continues to grow, and thankfully it is growing in positive directions, with a more diverse cast of heroes given more of a spotlight. If the success of other films are any indication, both Black Panther and Captain Marvel will be huge hits at the box office, breaking new barriers for the superhero genre. And that is a truly Marvelous thing.

Relentlessly Excellent – Marvel’s Daredevil Is Must Watch

In the interest of full disclosure, my headfirst dive into the world of comic books was because of an interest in DC superheroes. I knew who the big Marvel heroes were of course, but they hadn’t managed to captivate me the way that most DC characters had managed to do so. So when I started buying comics in 2011 with DC’s New 52 Relaunch, it was a while before I even considered seeing what the other company had to offer.

There were three comics that caught my eye. The first two were Wolverine and the X-Men and The Uncanny X-Men, which I both picked up because of my childhood love for the characters. The other was a comic that had a lot of buzz after winning the Eisner Award for best comic, and that was Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. My exposure to Daredevil had been somewhat limited but I knew that he was the one Marvel property that had a grounded and more realistic tone. So I decided to give it a shot, and I have to concur with with the fine people who give out the Eisner Award.

Mark Waid’s Daredevil book is nothing short of comic book perfection. It is a mix of the swashbuckling colorful adventures of Daredevil’s early adventures and the gritty, brutal realism of the 1980’s Frank Miller era. The book also features one of the best artists in the business, Chris Samnee. Reading this book immediately established Daredevil as one of my favorites and opened the door for me to try other Marvel characters.

Murdock

Needless to say, I have a lot of sentimental attachment to ol’ Horn-Head. And it really bothered me that most casual comic book fans would only know Matt Murdock and his masked alter-ego from the 2003 film starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner and Michael Clarke Duncan. While far from the worst comic book movie ever made, it is one of the least original, mixing elements of the two most successful comic book movies to that point: Spider-Man and Batman. And while it isn’t entirely off base to summarize D.D. as a mix between those two heroes, neither of those movies were good examples of how to make a quality Daredevil movie.

But like “Battlin'” Jack Murdock, the Daredevil property has shown that it can take a knockout punch and get back to its feet, bloody but not defeated. Marvel was able to get the film rights to the character back after a decade without another Daredevil film. Rather than create a blockbuster movie, Marvel decided to expand their Cinematic Universe in a new way by partnering with Netflix to create a thirteen episode series starring the man character. Once it was announced that the series would be rated TV-MA, it was clear that Marvel was willing to break new ground in order to present Daredevil in the best way possible.

So does the show do Matt Murdock justice?

Dual Identity

The short answer: it absolutely delivers.

Marvel’s Daredevil is a grounded, bloody, and most importantly, character driven masterpiece. Fans of the comic book character will find it difficult to point out what is lacking. In his civilian identity, Matt Murdock is a young lawyer fresh out of college, starting his own law firm with his best friend Foggy Nelson. As a child, Matt rescued an elderly gentleman from being run over by a truck carrying radioactive chemicals, and in the process was blinded when the chemicals got in his eyes. While Matt could no longer see, his other senses were heightened to superhuman levels, making him more aware of his surroundings than he was when he still had his vision.

Matt spends his nights as a vigilante in a black mask, using his superhuman abilities and fighting skills to protect innocents from the criminal element of his hometown, Hell’s Kitchen. A suburb of New York City, Hell’s Kitchen was nearly destroyed in the Chitauri invasion that took place in Marvel’s The Avengers and the most powerful crime lords are making their moves to make the profits of rebuilding the city. Matt’s conflict with two Russian brothers and their human trafficking run soon puts him up against every major criminal in the city, and eventually against the Kingpin of crime, Wilson Fisk.

D'Onofrio

While he started as a Spider-Man villain, Wilson Fisk has been synonymous with Daredevil comics for a long time. They have one of the most personal and heated rivalries in comics and truly despise one another. So it is fitting that the Kingpin character is the main antagonist of this show. Yet even with this long established history, this show manages to tread new ground with a remarkably sympathetic take on the character. Fisk is given as much focus and development as Murdock, and the characters mirror each other throughout the series as they both rise to the top of Hell’s Kitchen.

The show excels in presenting characters who are flawed and complex. Matt is shown to have anger issues and struggles with the decision of whether it’s morally right to kill someone to prevent the suffering they are causing others. This is not just an internal dilemma as Matt’s Catholic faith is given its proper spotlight. On the flip side, Fisk is presented as a very human character who believes that he is trying to help the city. There is also a well-developed romance subplot between Fisk and a woman named Vanessa, an art dealer who believes that he is someone special.

The show stars Charlie Cox as Murdock and Vincent D’Onofrio as Fisk. Both actors embody the characters fully and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the roles. D’Onofrio in particular is nothing short of amazing and has made sure that Wilson Fisk will command as much respect among Marvel fans as big screen baddies Loki, Red Skull and Thanos. But that does not mean that Cox should be overlooked; he perfectly balances Matt’s grief, his dry wit, his moral and religious struggles and ultimately the conviction that makes him a hero.

The Devil and the King

The supporting cast includes Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson, Deborah Ann Woll as murder suspect Karen Page, and Vondie Curtis-Hall as reporter Bill Ulrich. There are also a couple of smaller roles with more famous actors; Rosario Dawson is a nurse named Claire who serves as a potential love interest for Matt, and classic Daredevil villain Leland Owlsley is played by Bob Gunton of The Shawshank Redemption fame.

This is not something you want to miss. If you have Netflix, there is no reason not to watch this show. Daredevil is one of the best products that Marvel Studios has released to date. It does justice to the character and to the hard work of everyone who has made him one of the most interesting characters in comics.

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