With Avengers: Endgame gloriously bringing to a close the twenty-two film interconnected multiverse, I thought it may be fun to pick my favourite films of the superhero releases. Of course, that won’t be the end of the Marvel/Disney money-making behemoth but we can take a breath for a moment.
In keeping with Thanos’ modus operandi I have chosen half of the films in release date order. At the end I pick — under pain of death — my favourite THREE! My favourite three are based on impact on release, entertainment value, quality of story, direction and writing etc. Plus, they are films I could watch again and again. Although, to be honest I can watch most of them again as they are all such fun and easy viewing.
If you would like to read my review of Avengers: Endgame – then you can find it HERE.
MY TOP ELEVEN MARVEL UNIVERSE FILMS (IN ORDER OF RELEASE)
IRON MAN (2008)
AVENGERS: ASSEMBLE (2012)
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)
BLACK PANTHER (2018)
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)
AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)
MY TOP THREE MARVEL UNIVERSE FILMS (BY PAIN OF DEATH)
Screenplay: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Based on The Avengers by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Starring: Robert Downey Jnr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin and many, many more.
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cinematography: Trent Opaloch
Edited by: Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt
Production Company: Marvel Studios
**RELATIVELY SPOILER FREE REVIEW**
So, we are finally here; assembled and ready to experience the last battle in this particular phase of Marvel films. Twenty-two movies released over an eleven year period now culminate in the adroitly named: Avengers: Endgame. While they may have all the money in the multiverse backing their superhero endeavours, Marvel deserve much credit for releasing so many great films within the eleven year cycle. Yes, of course many have followed a tried and tested genre formula, however, their legion of production staff, producers, directors, writers and actors did whatever it took to entertain the public.
This final film was set up perfectly by what preceded. I mean, the dust had not even settled at the end of Infinity War, and I, along with many others, were agog at the crushing defeat suffered by our heroes and Earth, at the click of Thanos’ finger and thumb. Thanos had achieved the impossible and obtained the six soul stones and eradicated fifty per cent of the population. This tragic genocide included many of the Avengers we had grown to root for and Endgame begins where its predecessor finished. Here we find a depleted and dejected Avengers team on Earth and a barely surviving Tony Stark in space facing the abyss. Collectively they are hurting, grieving and feeling vengeful.
The sombre and angry tone to the opening of the film was something I was drawn to. Emotionally it made sense to, within the first hour, colour the film with a slower, mournful pace and darker mood. This is encapsulated in the character of Hawkeye, who is using his special set of skills for destructive and nihilistic purposes. Similarly, Thor is twisted into a self-pitying anti-god; and this plays out with both surprise and humour. Of course, the remaining Avengers are not going to lie down for three hours in a reflective study of sorrow. Because, they want their friends and the population of Earth back; and they will do whatever it takes to achieve this goal.
The middle part of the film is where the narrative really gathers pace. Once Stark, Bruce Banner and Scott Lang/Ant Man discover a means with which to somehow alter the tragic events, we are thrown into many imaginative and entertaining set-pieces. I was so pleased Paul Rudd was back as Ant-Man in a key role. He is such a likeable and funny actor who always brings sharp comedy timing and warmth to his roles. Further, like Lang, Karen Gillen as Nebula, while seemingly a secondary character, plays an important role in Endgame. In more ways than one Nebula becomes a vital cog in the intricate and multi-stranded plotting.
The various Avengers including the aforementioned and: Black Widow, Captain America, War Machine and Rocket etc. all splinter to different places in order to achieve their mission. Here the film really finds a perfect pace and stride, delivering a series of brilliant action scenes. Indeed, Endgame is full of brilliant cross-cutting call-backs to the previous Marvel films; presenting a multitude of ‘Easter Egg’ or inter-textual moments.
Safe to say the action unfurls rapidly but the writers also have the confidence to slow the pace and allow several key emotional moments for certain characters. But, mostly there is action and fighting and humour and just so many memorable moments of a light and dark tone. My personal favourite was during Captain America’s mission; this plot strand just sang and hit so many high notes.
I am striving hard to avoid spoilers here, so all I can add is that the Marvel production team deserve so much credit for bringing this multi-stranded story home in such a thrilling fashion. I just loved the direction they took it in regard to the temporal, spatial and universal narrative choices. They assembled, pushed and pulled the formula in certain ways which surprised and kept the characters vibrant and fresh. The tonal balance was positive and only ever slightly threatened to slip into parody; mostly with Chris Hemsworth’s depressed rendition of Thor. My only gripe was I felt Brie Larson’s effervescent Captain Marvel was sadly under-used.
Unsurprisingly, the final gigantic battle sequences were expected but still delivered on a massive scale. Thanos is, and was, a mighty enemy and the last war against him and his hordes were full of epic surprise, pulsating action and heartfelt emotion. Undeniably, it was a most spectacular and moving climax. Thus, overall, I am actually shocked at how much I enjoyed a bunch of superheroes made of computer pixels larking about on a big screen. Maybe, however, given the time, money and energy spent over the last eleven years by the filmmakers and audience alike, it was, like Thanos, inevitable!
The Marvel Franchise bus shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, I’m wondering which driver (i.e. director) will be the first to get a puncture and crash their respective bus, because even though we are well past saturation point the successful formula is still sweetly cruising along without the threat of breaking down. Even slightly lesser known heroes such as Dr Strange (2016), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Ant-Man (2015) have all made loads of money, and corny vehicular metaphors aside, surely it is only a matter of time before Marvel’s monopoly on Superhero movie success flails. However, Black Panther (2018) is most certainly NOT the film that causes the decline.
The crafty Marvel producers have kept their products fresh by often changing directors, handing the reins to arguably more quirky, indie-flavoured filmmakers such as: Joss Whedon, James Gunn, Taika Waititi and now Ryan Coogler. Thus, along with the standard heroes-versus-villains-end-of-the-world storylines, massive battle set-pieces and fantastical worlds and characters on show, such directors add an element of humour, characterization and diversity to proceedings.
The Black Panther story spine follows the Marvel formula very closely establishing our hero, T’Challa, in grief following the death of his father (events and characters from Captain America: Civil War (2016) are linked cleverly) returns home to take over as Chief of Wakanda. Despite his heart hanging heavy with sorrow he must face those that challenge his throne in ritual combat. Chadwick Boseman is excellent as T’Challa providing the character a regal poise as well devastating strength in the fantastically orchestrated fight scenes. In some ways though, compared to the other characters, T’Challa is more of the pivot with which the other livelier characters to bounce off. These include: the effervescent Letitia Wright, who portrays the tech genius, Shuri, sister of T’Challa; the fierce warrior Okoye, powerfully brought to life by Walking Dead star Danai Gurira; plus the subtle strength of Lupita Nyong’o as the intelligent and proud Nakia. Other supporting roles are brilliantly realised by: Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Andy Serkis and rising star Daniel Kaluuya.
What is a hero without a villain though? Despite the false flagging of Serkis’ heinous Ulysses Klaue as the primary bad-guy, the true meat of the story is provided in Michael B. Jordan’s angry and vengeful Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens. He not only presents a vicious threat to Wakanda and T’Challa, the writers and Jordan’s performance actually evoke much empathy for his deadly crusade with a multi-faceted characterization and back story. In fact, it’s one of my slight criticisms of the film that Stevens’ story was so strong he should have been introduced much earlier in the first act. However, when he does enter the play the film takes off in a very dramatic direction full of conflict and power.
Ryan Coogler directed the brilliant indie film Fruitvale Station (2013) and followed it up with the impressive genre film Creed (2015) which successfully blew a hurricane of power, pathos and pizazz into the Rocky franchise. Similarly, Coogler and his writing partner Joe Robert Cole have infused the Marvel franchise with an intelligent storyline which covers themes relating to: colonialism, politics, revenge, military might and technological progress versus tribal tradition. It is a rich and vibrant film which successfully marries the futuristic with the historical and rural with industrial. I especially loved the references to the British museum and the infamous colonial “thefts” of ancient relics from Africa and the world over. Overall, Black Panther, while working within a well-trodden formula also pays homage to James Bond films too. Nonetheless, it still represents a fresh voice within the Marvel Universe with a finger on the pulse of African politics and diasporic history too. Finally, above all else it remains an impressive work of entertainment with pulsating set-pieces, cracking car chases, stunning score and bone-crunching bulletproof battles.