Report Card - Marvel Cinematic Universe (Phase 2 + Civil War)
On 'Report Card' I choose a director or film franchise; usually one that has released a movie recently and grade them on an "A+" to "F" scale. All of the film grades will be averaged for one final score. It should be noted that this is my opinion and it's just for fun. If you agree or disagree, please comment below and I would love to have a conversation.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Shane Black's Iron Man 3 is a film that wasn't exactly praised when it first came out due to the whole Mandarin switcheroo plot device. Once I separated myself from the hype and the following disappointment of not getting to see the Mandarin, I realized that this is actually a very clever and fun film. I loved the idea of stripping Downey Jr. of all of his comforts and forcing him to rebuild, which helped peel back the layers of his character and give Tony Stark even more depth. I didn't particularly care for Aldrich Killian, mainly because his character is presented in a very cliche way and you never quite take him seriously. Despite having an over-the-top finale, this film's action sequences are creative and fun, especially the plane crash rescue and the destruction of Stark's Penthouse. Overall, Iron Man 3 is a lot of fun and while not as good as the first Iron Man, it is way better than Iron Man 2.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
I love Marvel Studios, but they don't seem to get what makes Thor so cool. While I really liked the first movie, it still treated Thor like he was a bit of a joke. This is something studios do when they know something is goofy in concept, so they try to make audiences accept it through humor. Thor: The Dark World is basically a comedic action film with a couple of attempts at dramatic moments here and there. I do find the movie entertaining and all of the performances, save for Natalie Portman's, are still great. I just want to see the badass God of Thunder the way he's meant to be seen. This film also has maybe the most forgettable villain yet in the form of Malekith. Still, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki are a great on-screen pair and make the film worth watching.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I actually like the first Captain America film slightly better than this one. Before you all start throwing tomatoes at me, just know that I actually hold these films on basically the same level and really the main thing that tips the scale ever so slightly towards The First Avenger is the fact that the first film is a period piece and that you get to know the scrawny little Steve Rogers before he was morphed into a super soldier.
Despite my infatuation for the first film, I really couldn't have asked for a better sequel. Captain America: The Winter Soldier delivers on just about every level. I love that it's an espionage thriller revolving heavily around deep conspiracies. The outing of S.H.I.E.L.D. as Hydra was shocking and a work of pure genius. You also have the hand it to the Russo Bros., the people at Marvel and Chris Evans; they actually managed to make Steve Rogers into a compelling character with interesting motivations. Sebastian Stan absolutely brings it as the Winter Soldier and delivers some of the most thrilling, gritty fight scenes I've seen yet in a theatrical Marvel film. Simply put, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the best superhero movie sequels ever put to film.
Guardian's of the Galaxy (2014)
I don't think anybody expected this to be as successful as it was. Thanks to an amazing and unique marketing campaign and a movie that actually delivers on its promises, Guardians of the Galaxy became one of the biggest films of 2014. I have a few very small quibbles with the film, but overall, I very much enjoyed it and it's easily one of my favorite Marvel Studio endeavors. Who would have thought that Chris Pratt could be such a great fit for Peter Quill? Who would have guessed that a gun-toting, bad-mouthing raccoon could be the highlight of a superhero film? And who knew it would be a good idea to have a walking, talking tree be the heart of the film? James Gunn. Now I just can't wait for the sequel and Vol. 2 of that killer soundtrack.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Though not quite as great as the first Avengers, I felt that its sequel, Age of Ultron, carried the torch just fine. Sure, Ultron isn't a very compelling villain, but Joss Whedon managed to balance even more heroes this time around it somehow didn't fall apart. That's a minor miracle, guys.
There are some jaw-dropping action sequences on display here that, taken alone, are worth paying for. The opening tracking shot during the raid on the Hydra base is applause-worthy, as is the Hulkbuster fight. I also love the Hawkeye backstory and the time the Avengers spend hiding out at his cabin, it was a nice reprieve that you don't see in most big-budget films of this nature. Finally, the Sakovia fight and that amazing revolving-door shot that shows every Avenger doing their part to stave off hundreds of Ultron bots is quite a spectacle to behold. There are definitely problems, mostly in the from of table-setting for future films, but it didn't bother me enough to take me out of the experience.
Despite all of the director drama surrounding this project, it actually turned out to be pretty great. Paul Rudd is a perfect choice for Scott Lang, and you pretty much fall in love with him instantly, even though he is technically a criminal. The effects on display are also great; I loved the perspectives they achieved when he shrunk down, especially in the scene where Ant-man and Yellowjacket are fighting inside a briefcase. One of Ant-man's best qualities is that it's a smaller film, and it's nice to be reminded that there doesn't always have to be an end-of-the-world scenario for a movie to be entertaining.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
With the massive cast featured in this film, it's easy to want to call it an Avengers film, and I wouldn't argue with you. That said, what differentiates this from your typical Avengers film is that Steve Rogers is undeniably the central character and he gets the main story arch. While this isn't exactly the same story we saw in the comics, it's just amazing that a film like this exists and is actually good. Marvel took their time with this, and for that, it was a satisfying experience that delivered in spades.
There are so many great moments in this film. My favorite would have to be the drool-worthy airport sequence (I know, how original). I do have my issues with the film though. I loved seeing Ant-man go big, but I wished we could have seen the development of those powers in an Ant-man sequel first. Also, while I loved Black Panther and Spider-man, they seemed a bit shoe-horned in at times and they might also have benefited more from having each of their solo outings before this film rather than after. Finally, the villain is cool, but let's face it, his plan is too complicated to make much logical sense. All of these issues aside though, it's just astounding that this film was able to come together in the way that it did. There are so many things that could have gone wrong, but the Russo bros. managed to pull it off.
Phase 2 of the Marvel's Cinematic Universe (plus Civil War), while not quite as great as Phase 1, is still an amazing achievement in film-making. Though Thor: The Dark World was an obvious weak point, every other film excelled in providing a satisfying superhero experience. Overall, both Phase 1 and 2 stand together on about the same level. The only thing that I would say undercuts the later movies is the overuse of CG, which was not quite as prevalent in Phase 1. Still, even without the help of Captain America: Civil War, which is technically Phase 3's first film, this still would have been a high-ranking bunch of films and it's safe to say all of these Marvel properties are still in very capable hands.
If you missed the report card for phase 1, click here. Also, if you enjoy this series, I've done previous report cards for directors James Wan and Todd Phillips.