Spider-Man: No Way Home Review

Spider-Man: No Way Home movie posterSynopsis
With his identity as Spider-Man revealed to the public, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) asks Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help to make the world forget his secret identity. But when the spell goes wrong, villains from other universes arrive, causing problems for Peter and his friends.

Review
Before I get into my review, I just want to say how great it felt to be back in a packed theater! The energy and excitement is unlike anything I have felt since Avengers: Endgame. With things slowly opening up again, I’m glad that I was able to experience Spider-Man: No Way Home with a full, eager crowd. I truly missed this.

The Spider-Man films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) are some of my favorites in the entire franchise. Part of this is because Tom Holland is my favorite actor who as played Spider-Man. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield both portray parts of Peter and Spider-Man to various success but to me, Holland is the actor who out of the three captures the character of both Peter and Spider-Man. And of course, Holland does not fail to deliver in his third outing as the titular character. On top of his performance as Peter / Spider-Man, his chemistry with the cast around him is top notch. Not only with Zendaya and Jacob Batalon, but with the villains opposite him. I can honestly say that this is my favorite performance from Holland in the MCU so far. I know that the relationship between Marvel Studios and Sony around the character is a bit rocky at the moment but I hope they are able to work through those and deliver more Holland-led Spider-Man films. Because to take that away would be nothing short of theft.

And speaking of the villains, the returning villains practically steal the show, despite the high praise I just gave the heroes. Alfred Molina, Willem Defoe, and Jamie Foxx were all superb. Molina and Defoe gave fantastic performances in their respective films and only do better here, which I didn’t think was possible! While The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had several problems, Foxx’s performance was not one of them (although it didn’t help either). Here, Foxx gives his character of Electro the performance that such an iconic member of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery deserves.

Being the third Spider-Man film of the MCU, Spider-Man: No Way Home properly raises the stakes and excitement levels than what came before. I constantly found myself tensing up or holding my breath throughout the movie. It balances these high-intensity scenes with the character-building and slower scenes well. Unlike Eternals, despite being one of the longest films in the franchise, it certainly doesn’t feel like it.

After Spider-Man: Far From Home, one of my biggest wants from the MCU Spider-Man franchise was a proper New York City Spider-Man film. Spidey swinging through the skyscrapers of NYC is so iconic and is not something we have truly yet to experience in the MCU. While No Way Home took place in NYC, not much is seen of the city itself. Another gripe I had previously, probably since Spider-Man: Homecoming, is that Peter’s gadgets mostly came from Tony Stark (aka Iron Man). Peter Parker is a genius inventor himself, so to see him have much of his equipment handed to him felt like it took away a lot of those skills from his character. However, where the story leaves Peter at the end appears to open the door to address both of those should another MCU Spider-Man film happen. I’m not going to say any more on the matter but if another film happens, it looks like I will finally get the NYC-set Spider-Man film I would love to see again with Peter’s engineering skills on full display.

I thought Spider-Man: No Way Home was GREAT 😀 Simply put, it is a love letter to Spider-Man’s cinematic history. It pays homage to those characters and actors that came before, fulfilling arcs from both the MCU Spider-Man films, as well as characters from the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb Spider-Man films. And all the while giving us something unique and a story unlike anything before. I will admit that some of the most memorable and cheer-worthy moments of this movie come from a viewer’s history with, and understanding of, past Spider-Man movies. I’d be interested to hear someone’s opinion who isn’t as familiar with the pre-MCU Spider-Man films. Nonetheless, there is a lot here to enjoy, even if you haven’t seen the pre-MCU Spider-Man films and serves as a great end to the “Home” trilogy. Holland has really come into the role of Peter Parker and Spider-Man and I hope that we will get to see him put on the web shooters again.

Trivia
Tom Holland helped to save this movie from cancellation by forcing renegotiations between Sony and Disney. Under the terms of the new deal, not only does Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) still take place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but Spider-Man can also appear in future MCU movies, as well as Sony’s own Spider-Man franchise. (via IMDb)

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Jon Watts – Director
Chris McKenna – Writer
Erik Sommer – Writer

Tom Holland – Peter Parker / Spider-Man
Zendaya – MJ
Jacob Batalon – Ned Leeds
Benedict Cumberbatch – Doctor Strange
Jon Favreau – Happy Hogan
Marisa Tomei – May Parker
Alfred Milina – Dr. Otto Octavius / Doc Ock
Willem Dafoe – Norman Osborn / Green Goblin
Jamie Foxx – Max Dillon / Electro
Rhys Ifan – Dr. Curt Connors / The Lizard
Thomas Haden Church – Flint Marko / Sandman
Benedict Wong – Wong
Tony Revolori – Flash Thompson
Angourie Rice – Betty Brant
JK Simmons – J. Jonah Jameson

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Review

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings movie posterSynopsis
Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is heir to the villainous Ten Rings organization, an inheritance he does not want. After escaping and hiding for several years, Shang-Chi faces the Ten Rings again to stop his father (Tony Leung), the leader of the ancient organization, from unleashing an evil that could destroy the world.

Review
After the epic scale of Avengers: Endgame, it is a nice change of pace to come back to stories that are smaller and more personal. Black Widow might have been the first film released in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but chronologically, it was before Avengers: Infinity War. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first film in the future proper of the MCU. And in the same vein of Phase One’s Iron Man, it takes place on a small scale and very personal level but opens the door for a much larger future.

Not too long ago, I went through the entire series of Kim’s Convenience, where Simu Liu plays the character of Jung Kim. It’s jarring to see him transition from a comedy role to an action role; I imagine it is the same feeling fans of The Office felt when they saw John Krasinski first play Jack Ryan. Anyway, Liu performed the action parts just as well as he did the comedy parts. His star power is quickly on the rise and I can’t wait to see more of him in the MCU.

As much as I like comedy, one thing that MCU films have had difficulty with is finding a good balance between humor and seriousness. Thor: Ragnarok is one example of an offender of this. However, Shang-Chi was able to balance these aspects much better than many of its predecessors. It helped that rather than have every character be the comedy relief, that role mostly fell on the shoulders of Awkwafina. Awkwafina as Shang-Chi’s friend (not love interest) Katy helped balance the film well. She had her comedic moments but they weren’t overbearing and never took away from the more sincere or somber moments. I hope future MCU films take note of this character and how to handle comedy in superhero films going forward.

Many comic fans did not like the Mandarin’s portrayl in Iron Man 3. I’m not a die-hard fan of the character of Iron Man so I enjoyed the character twist in that film. I especially like the follow up one-shot, Long Live the King, which follows Trevor Slattery after the events of Iron Man 3, which teased the appearance of the real Mandarin. Slattery, played by Ben Kingsley, is an entertaining character that Kingsley completely morphs into and always gets a laugh out of me. I was ecstatic to see him incorporated into the story in this film, especially after the previously mentioned tease at the end of Long Live the King. Kingsley once again plays the character to perfection and created some of the best laughs of the movie.

Way back in my State of the MCU Address, I stated that I wanted Shang-Chi to embrace its character’s roots and fully embrace the martial arts action side of things. And in that regard, this film did not disappoint. Every set piece was exciting and packed with exhilarating action sequences. It really channeled the Kung Fu roots of the character and let loose.

Like I said before, I’m not overly attached to the Mandarin character, and that also applies to his iconic ten rings. However, one thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was the way the titular objects were portrayed in this movie. In the comics, I like to equate the rings to the infinity stones, albeit much less powerful, where each ring grants the wearer a unique ability. When combined and used together, the user is granted enormous power. But in this film, they became more physical in nature, not granting any special powers, other than not aging and physical power. I can understand the change, it might have taken up too much extra time explaining the rings’ powers or trying to find ways to incorporate the rings’ powers into the story, so the change might be benefial to the story, but it is disappointing to see the potential of the rings overlooked.

I thought Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was GOOD 🙂 Phase 4 of the MCU has provided a fresh start while building inside what came before and this film has taken full advantage of that. It’s self-contained but offers a path into something greater going forward. The action is top-notch and the comedy is one of the best in the franchise in a long time. While it doesn’t quite make it to the top echelons of the MCU, it is an adventure that is well worth the time.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Destin Daniel Cretton – Director / Screenplay / Story
Dave Callaham – Screenplay / Story
Andrew Lanham – Screenplay

Simu Liu – Shaun / Shang-Chi
Awkwafina – Katy
Tony Leung – Xu Wenwu
Meng’er Zhang – Xialing
Ben Kingsley – Trevor Slattery
Fala Chen – Li
Michelle Yeoh – Ying Nan
Yuen Wah – Master Guang Bo
Florian Munteanu – Razor Fist
Jayden Zhang – Young Shang-Chi
Elodie Fong – Young Xialing
Arnold Sun – Teen Shang-Chi

Spider-Man: Far From Home Review

Spider-Man: Far From Home movie posterSynopsis
While on a vacation to Europe, Peter (Tom Holland) is recruited by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to help combat “elementals” alongside the mysterious new hero Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Review
This review contains spoilers for the end of Avenger: Endgame.

Spider-Man: Far From Home closes out the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU’s) Infinity Saga, the large, overarching narrative Marvel Studios has been telling since Iron Man. In a way, Spider-Man was the perfect character to close out Phase 3. For years, he was (and probably still is) Marvel comic’s flagship character, much like Iron Man was for the MCU. Spider-Man is also now the only character beside Iron Man to have two solo movies in the same phase. But most importantly, Peter Parker became an adoptive son to Tony Stark. No other character is more suited to reflect on what it means to not have Tony around than Peter.

I thought Spider-Man: Homecoming did a good job of integrating Tony Stark into the story; he was present but didn’t take over the story. However, his presence could still be felt in the peripheral, just out of sight. Even in his own movie, Peter still felt like he was in Tony’s shadow. Peter didn’t make his suit or all of the gadgets it contained, Tony did. Even when Peter messed up on the ferry, endangering civilian lives, Tony was there to fix it. Now with Tony gone, Peter has the opportunity to step out on his own. Tony’s presence is still felt in this film but a different way than in Spider-Man: Homecoming: Peter is shadowed by Tony’s legacy.

This movie focuses on Spider-Man’s interference with Peter’s personal life more than Spider-Man: Homecoming did. Peter trying to find this balance between the two was one of the strength’s of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy and has been lacking in the Spider-Man films since. Constantly throughout the film, Peter is put in situations that forces him to choose between pursuing a relationship with MJ (Zendaya) or his responsibility as Spider-Man. These moments along with his reflections of living up to Tony’s legacy grow Peter’s character in leaps and bounds, creating some of the best emotional character moments since Spider-Man 2. For the sequel Spider-Man: Back Home (100% guess on that title), Peter can finally step into his own role instead of working under Tony’s shadow.

I’ve said in other reviews and in podcasts that in a market saturated with superhero films, superhero films cannot be traditional superhero films. They have to do something different or be something different and Spider-Man: Far From Home does just that. Given that Peter is still in high school, this movie is a superhero film wrapped in a teen drama, which is perfect. Peter is a teenager trying to find his way through courting MJ. He’s awkward, not perfect, and trying to find his place in the world. You know, typical teen stuff. Peter just happens to be a superhero. This is the kind of film the superhero genre needs to stay fresh.

One of the best things about Spider-Man: Homecoming was the cast. Tom Holland, Jacob Batalon, Zendaya, and Michael Keaton were all wonderful in their parts. We can add another well-cast member to that list: Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio was everything I could have hoped for from the character. His Quentin Beck was much more charismatic than his comic book counterpart but just as petty and resourceful. Gyllenhaal also had fantastic chemistry with Tom Holland, making their scenes together entertaining.

I thought Spider-Man: Far From Home was GREAT 😀 Peter has taken the steps to get out of Tony’s shadow and is set up for a Spider-Man movie properly about Spider-Man in the inevitable sequel. This series continues its outstanding casting choices adding Jake Gyllenhaal to the list. I am extremely excited for the future of my favorite wall-crawler.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Jon Watts – Director
Chris McKenna – Writer
Michael Giacchino – Composer

Tom Holland – Peter Parker / Spider-Man
Zendaya – MJ
Jacob Batalon – Ned Leeds
Samuel L. Jackson – Nick Fury
Cobie Smulders – Maria Hill
Marisa Tomei – May Parker
Jon Favreau – Happy Hogan
Jake Gyllenhaal – Quentin Beck / Mysterio
Tony Revolori – Flash Thompson
Angourie Rice – Betty Brant
Remy Hii – Brad Davis
Martin Starr – Mr. Harrington
JB Smoove – Mr. Dell
Numan Acar – Dimitri
Dawn Michelle King – EDITH (voice)


There’s still time to join this year’s Christmas in July Blogathon! Entries are due at the end of this week. To find out more, check out the post here.

Avengers: Endgame Review

Avengers: Endgame movie posterSynopsis
After Thanos (Josh Brolin) successfully eliminated half of all life in the universe, the Avengers search for a way to defeat Thanos and undo his actions.

Review
And I thought Avengers: Infinity War was an event! Avengers: Endgame blows Infinity War out of the water in terms of spectacle and scope, which is saying a lot. Where Infinity War was the beginning of the end of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) era (now dubbed the “Infinity Saga”), Endgame is the finite end of the era. Whether you’ve been with these characters since Iron Man in 2008 or jumped in somewhere along the way, if you’ve spent any time with these characters and formed connections to them, you will more than likely find this a gratifying conclusion to the tapestry woven over the last eleven years.

If you somehow have stayed away from the MCU until this point, this is not the time to jump in. From specific moments or plot points from previous films, the story is seeped in the history of the MCU. We are given reminders along the way of why we have fallen for and cheered for these characters over the years. If you have no idea of who the characters are, their story arcs and growth, or what they are talking about, the subtleties will probably be lost on you, and will potentially ruin those moments for you if you do decide to revisit the other films later on.

You might think that with a three hour run time this film would drag on. If you thought that, you’d be wrong. This film is three hours long but it never feels that way. Not once did I think “when will this end?” The pacing never felt too rushed or too slow. When movies run as long as Endgame does, you might think there are scenes that could be removed but every scene plays a part and serves a purpose. The entire three hours is needed to make the story feel complete. Also, each act feels unique, helping mitigate issues of repetitiveness.

The films of the MCU have been hit or miss in terms of balancing their signature humor with more dramatic moments. Endgame manages to balance the two more than most other films in the MCU. If you like the humor then there will be plenty for you to laugh at. The quips come fast and loose as you have come to expect from these films. However, when the drama needs to take front and center, it does. In other movies in the franchise, humor can undermine the quieter, intimate moments. While there are a few moments that feel weakened by an abrupt joke, for the most part, the dramatic moments are given the room they need to have the emotional impact they deserve.

Every movie in this franchise has been character driven to some extent but Endgame might be the most character driven film of them all. The entire first act is spent following the remaining Avengers and seeing how Thanos’ victory has affected them. Even during the second act when the film picks up momentum, there are still plenty of instances when the action steps back and lets the characters drive the story forward. The full three hour run time is used to satisfy those who want to see big action pieces as well as those who want the nuanced scenes as well.

As someone who sees Marvel and Star Wars films opening weekend (if not opening night), I have seen some pretty enthusiastic crowds. Yet I have never been apart of a more energetic crowd than the one I was watching this movie with. In the final act, we get the battle between the heroes and the villains that we have been waiting for. This battle is the definition of epic. It is up there with the the Battle for Helmes Deep in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers or the Battle on Planet Doom from Ready Player One. This battle is filled with so many “hell, yeah!” moments that had everyone whooping and cheering and throwing their fists in the air. It’s events like these that makes me so happy to be a part of these fandoms.

I thought Avengers: Endgame was GREAT 😀 While I would love to go into more details, I want to stay away from spoilers on the off-chance you haven’t seen it yet. I applauded Avengers: Infinity War for its ability to bring together plot threads laid down over the previous ten years. Now, Avengers: Endgame should be applauded for its ability to give those threads a satisfying and fitting conclusion. There are a lot of emotions to be felt, particularly if you’ve kept up with the MCU since the beginning. Marvel Studios has been a Hollywood pioneer in world- and franchise-building and Avengers: Endgame is a magnificent payoff to what they have been creating all these years. Although there is still a future in the MCU, this chapter has come to a close with the biggest bang possible.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Anthony Russo – Director
Joe Russo – Director
Christopher Markus – Writer
Stephen McFeely – Writer
Alan Silvestri – Composer

Starring literally everyone

State of the MCU (Full)

Hello, friends!

I’m so excited to finally bring you something I have been wanting to do since I started this blog. When I started Drew’s Movie Reviews back in 2013, I had this idea for a yearly feature to examine the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). In the article, I would go over the good and the bad from that year, update my MCU film rankings and look towards the future films and what I hoped to see from them. Jump ahead six years and, uh, well, I have a lot of catching up to do!

There are several parts to my first State of the MCU address. First I will talk about the good of the MCU, followed by the bad. Then I will give my rankings of the current 21 films. Afterwich, I will give my thoughts on the future of the MCU and offer some closing thoughts. You can use the links below to jump to a specific section of the address.

Table of contents
The Good
The Bad
Rankings
Looking Forward
Film Focus: State of the MCU Episode
Closing Thoughts

The Good

Casting

For as much as the MCU has gotten correct, their casting has easily been what they have gotten most correct. Right off the bat, Marvel Studios cast Robert Downey Jr. to play Tony Stark in Iron Man to kick off their little cinematic experiment. From there, they made great casting choice after great casting choice. Actors like Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Pratt, and many others have come to be synonymous with the characters they portray, often getting the compliment that no other actor or actress can be seen as a better fit. Since 2001, three actors have played Peter Parker/Spider-Man. As a huge Spider-Man fan myself, Tom Holland is my favorite of the three. He perfectly captures the humor the character is known for in the comics, bringing in the best parts of the Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield iterations while creating his own unique version of the character.

Most of the MCU’s villains don’t stick around very long but several of the actors playing them are just as superbly cast as the heroes. Sam Rockwell, Tom Hiddleston, James Spader, Jeff Goldblum, Michael B. Jordan, and Josh Brolin, along with several others, have given memorable performances.

Even castings I wasn’t sure were about ended up being impeccable choices. For instance, when Paul Rudd was announced as Ant-Man, I didn’t think that was the best fit. But Marvel Studios played to his strengths and proved me wrong. After that, Marvel Studios had my full trust in their castings.

Directors

Besides great actors, Marvel Studios have placed their films in the hands of many capable directors, many of which hadn’t directed a big-budget blockbuster before. Again, starting at the beginning, Jon Favreau kicked off the more grounded universe to great praise. Throughout the rest of Phase One, each director put their own spin and flavor on the characters, culminating in arguable the most influential director of the MCU: Joss Whedon. Continuing into Phase Two, these early directors still had some freedoms restricted by Marvel Studios oversight, causing some friction between Marvel Studios and the directors, such as the aforementioned Whedon, who has been quoted saying working for Marvel Studios was exhausting, or Edgar Wright, who departed Ant-Man due to creative differences with the studio and was replaced by Peyton Reed. However, as time progressed, Marvel Studios began giving the directors more freedom to implement their creative visions in their films. This flexibility has brought us unique movies like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Black Panther, and Thor: Ragnarok. Marvel Studios eventually figured out that the best way to make the best movies is to let the directors make their movie their way.

Clear, connected universe

One of the most important things when developing a franchise is creating a sense of cohesion and connectivity between the films in the franchise. Starting as early as The Incredible Hulk, Marvel Studios was throwing in references and easter eggs towards other heroes, characters and events of other films. Even a simple call-out like a picture of Bruce Banner in Peter’s classroom alongside other pictures of famous scientists make the world feel small, despite the expansiveness of the franchise. One of the cool things about the comics universe is that heroes show up in other heroes’ books and there are crossovers and references to events. The MCU has taken this template and shifted it from print to film, creating one of the most unique experiences in cinema.

Kevin Fiege

When creating a franchise of the scope the MCU has, it is imperative that there is a person or a group in charge of maintaining an overview of the franchise. Kevin Fiege has been Marvel Studios’ not-so-secret weapon in crafting the MCU, overviewing things like what’s coming up, how it connects to what’s already been established, and an overall cohesion between the films and in the franchise as a whole. Personally, errors in story continuity is one of my pet peeves of film. While there are a few continuity errors (“Eight Year Later” anyone?), for the most part, there are few discrepancies in the MCU timeline. A lot of this has come from one person (Fiege) overseeing the story. So you might say that without Fiege, the MCU very well could be a mess like the X-Men timeline. Or maybe not. Who knows. All I can say for sure is Fiege has been instrumental in the success of the universe building in the MCU.

Build up to Thanos and Avengers: Infinity War

Nick Fury showing up at the end credits scene of Iron Man filled fanboys and fangirls with excitement once they realized what Marvel was trying to accomplish. However, what really sent them into a frenzy was when Thanos made an appearance during the mid-credits scene in The Avengers. It was clear that The Avengers was just a stepping stone in Marvel’s larger plan. While many assumed Thanos was going to be the villain in the second Avengers movie, Marvel had a different idea. Instead, they spent the time to build anticipation for his arrival.

Thanos was given a minor role in Guardians of the Galaxy to sell how feared he was across the universe, followed by a final stinger at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron to get people excited for the infinity gauntlet. Then not much was seen of him until Avengers: Infinity War, really letting the anticipation simmer. But Marvel didn’t stop working towards Infinity War. Knowing that the infinity stones would be a part of Thanos’ story, Marvel spent Phase Two and Phase Three setting up and explaining these objects and their power, working as plot devices in many of their films.

After seven years of build up of Thanos and the infinity stones, Infinity War had a lot of expectations to fill. Marvel couldn’t afford to drop the ball after building their behemoth franchise for a decade. And in typical Marvel fashion, they delivered on all of those expectations. Infinity War brought together plot threads from literally every previous film. It is a lot to take in but for those that have been waiting since 2012, the payoff was worth it.

Loki, Killmonger, and Thanos

It’s no secret that the MCU has a real villain problem. Most don’t stick around very long and/or lack much character depth, which I will touch on more in-depth later. However, amid the sea of forgettable and lackluster villains, there are several that do manage to stand out.

First, there’s Loki, the trickster god and Thor’s adopted brother. What sets Loki apart from any other villain in the MCU is that he received just as much growth as his brother and every other hero. Over four films (five if you include his brief appearance in Infinity War), we have seen him go from villain, to uncertain ally, to even being a hero in his own right. Of course, it helps that he was portrayed by the talented Tom Hiddleston. Hiddleston brings an element of empathy to Loki, and makes him sound like someone straight from a Shakespearean play. I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone to better portray the trickster.

Next, there’s Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, T’Challa’s half-brother. Unlike Loki, Killmonger was only around for one film. However, that’s all he needed to make his mark as one of the best villains in the MCU (granted it wasn’t a very high bar). Brought to life by the up-and-coming Michael B. Jordan, Killmonger was another empathetic villain. You can understand his point-of-view and how he came to his conclusions, despite how wrong and villainous they are. Once again, perfect casting makes this character go above and beyond what the script could do alone. Jordan, his second outing as a Marvel character, brings a true sense of emotion to Killmonger that oozes off the screen.

Last, but not least, is the big bad of the entire MCU: Thanos. As I said above, Marvel Studios spent seven years building up Thanos before we see him as the antagonist in Infinity War. Once he finally makes contact with our heroes, it was well worth the wait. Thanos wants to save the universe from losing resources due to overpopulation. Like Loki and Killmonger, you can understand what they want but know they are going about it the wrong way. Josh Brolin brings a gravitas to the character that adds to his intimidation factor. Marvel Studios knew they had to deliver one of, if not, their best villain with Thanos so they gave him as much screen time as the heroes in Infinity War. I would argue that Infinity War is Thanos’ story, not the heroes we’ve come to cheer for over the last ten years.

Taking Risks

To start, it was a huge risk on Marvel’s part to even attempt to build such an expansive, interconnected franchise. Shared film universes were nothing new but nothing to the scope of what Marvel Studios was trying to achieve had never been done. The current age of the superhero film was barely a decade in. While there were many hits, there were also many misses. But more than that, the film rights of many of Marvel’s fan-favorite characters, such as Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four, were owned by other movie studios. Instead, they were forced to use some of their other, often less popular characters. Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America are considered Marvel’s trinity but their popularity back in 2008 was nowhere near what it is today, so even making a movie based around those characters was considered a risk.

After getting over the initial hurdle of getting the MCU off the ground, they still didn’t have the rights to all their characters. Remember, the deal with Sony hadn’t been made yet (which was a surprise to probably everyone that it even happened), and Disney buying part of 20th Century Fox was still a pipe dream. Marvel had to reach down into their catalog for characters and franchises to bring to the big screen.

Guardians of the Galaxy was predicted to be Marvel Studios’ first real flop. It was their first movie in space. It had no apparent connection to any of the previous films. One of its main characters was a talking raccoon and another was talking tree. How absurd does that sound? Luckily, director James Gunn thrives in absurdity, and with a fun script, excellent cast, and catchy soundtrack, delivered arguably one of the best films in the MCU.

Ant-Man, the follow-up film to Avengers: Age of Ultron and closer of Phase Two, was deemed to be Marvel Studios’ next first real flop. But once again, through a combination of an interesting script that was comical and reveled in its crazy concept, and a spot on casting of Paul Rudd, Marvel Studios delivered an exciting and entertaining film. Although it didn’t deliver in the box office compared to several other MCU films, it could by no means be considered a dud.

Going into Phase Three, Marvel Studios had proved that they could make any character or concept work because they had the writing, casting, and directing to make it work.

Tone and Formula

In Phase One, still unsure of what would work and what would not in their films, Marvel Studios experimented with different styles and tones with their films. After The Avengers and into Phase Two, they had begun to create a common tone throughout their movies. They also began to all share a sense of humor. I think a lot of this has to do with Robert Downey Jr.’s sarcastic version of Tony Stark and Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. This combination of writing and humor style which most of the films began using has been dubbed the “Marvel Formula.” While it removes some of the individualism from the films, it also works to bring them together, giving the audience an expectation going in, as well as preventing them from going too dark. That’s DC’s territory.

The Bad

Villains

In the good, I talked about Loki, Killmonger, and Thanos. But in 21 movies, those are really the only three villains who stand out. I would also include the Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming on that list as another well-written, well-cast antagonist. Even with the inclusion of the Vulture, that’s not a good record. Most villains don’t make it past a single movie or if they do make an appearance in another film, it usually isn’t for very long. Of course, it doesn’t help when the villains are frequently killed off.

However, just because the villain is only in one movie, doesn’t mean they can’t make an impact. Look at Killmonger. He is killed at the end of Black Panther, and yet he is one of the top three villains in the MCU. These characters aren’t getting the writing they need to be memorable or impactful. I’m not saying that every bad guy needs to be a Loki or Killmonger. Ronin is an exception to me because Guardians of the Galaxy needed to be focused on bringing the titular Guardians together. As a result, there wasn’t the room to develop Ronin as well. They skirted around this by having every guardian have some sort of history with Ronin. His sole purpose was to bring the team together, and in that regard, he did wonderfully.

It has been proven that the better the villain, the better the growth of the hero. Some have stated before that hero growth can be seen as another flaw in the MCU. I believe part of that extends from poor villains to challenge them. If the hero is not challenged and forced to look at themselves, how can they improve themselves?

Expansiveness

As awesome as it is to see how connected and interwoven the films of the MCU have become, that expansiveness is also a double-edged sword. It can be daunting for newcomers to the franchise to jump in. Even if they want to follow only one or two of their favorite heroes, that requires more than just that hero’s solo films to be viewed. And if they wanted to watch everything, after the release of Captain Marvel, the total run time of the entire MCU is 45 hours! Once Avengers: Endgame is released, that number will jump to 48 hours. That is a lot of time commitment.

Formula and Tone

As this massive franchise has progressed, Marvel as found a groove and created a clear formula as I discussed before. While this is an efficient way to ensure consistency, it has some downsides. One of the side-effects of following such a blueprint is many of the characters feel similar. For example, Tony Stark, Stephen Strange, and eventually Thor all feel like similar characters. They have a similar sense of humor, they are arrogant, and in the case of Stark and Strange, they are rich assholes. And it also feels like everyone is quick-witted. I was talking to a friend about this shared humor and he made the comment “Every character is ready with a quip and that’s not how everyone talks.” Which is true, not everyone is clever enough to immediately come up with a retort but if you watch anyone from the MCU, you would think the opposite. It’s all right if not everyone can be like Stark or Fury and have a comeback ready. By adding variety in the characters, the films and franchise as a whole become more entertaining because there are different flavors, not the same one over and over.

Each of the movies in the MCU have do a good job of having their own tone. There is no doubt that these films are exciting and full of action and there are even dramatic moments are abundant. However, just behind the veil there is an air of lightheartedness, undermining the feeling that something unexpected or drastic will happen. Not everything has to be serious, but at the same time, stakes help create tension, which in turn makes the film more exhilarating. When you know the hero will walk away unharmed, whether it be physically or emotionally, the tension is undercut.

Lack of Stakes or Shakeups

Over the course of 21 movies, not a whole lot has changed across the landscape of the MCU. You could say that the Hydra revelation in Captain America: The Winter Soldier as franchise-altering repercussions but in the first 10 minutes of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the “last major Hydra stronghold” was captured. The only film between The Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron was Guardians of the Galaxy, which doesn’t even take place on Earth. As huge of a revelation as that was, no time was spent seeing how it affected the world or rest of the heroes. Outside of a quick name-drop in Ant-Man, Hydra was never heard from again and their story was completed in Agents of SHIELD.

One of the biggest shakeups to the franchise was the superhero civil war in Captain America: Civil War. After the film, the heroes had to choose sides: Either register and work with government oversight, or don’t register and be a fugitive. In the comics, this storyline affected the comics for years. In the movies, this barely felt like a blip, outside of a quick comment in Avengers: Infinity War. Unlike in Phase Two, there were several films between this development. However, none of them acknowledged it. Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Thor: Ragnarok existed in their own corners of the MCU universe. Spider-Man: Homecoming mentioned the fight between the superheroes in Germany but made no mention of Peter signing the Sokovia Accords. The only film that seemed to be affected by the events of Civil War is Ant-Man and the Wasp. We knew that with the looming threat of Thanos, the heroes would work together and set aside any issues they might have with each other in order to fight him. So in the end, it had no lasting reverberations on the MCU.

While this isn’t necessarily one of my strongest complaints, it is also fair to point out that no major or major supporting characters have been killed. Scratch that, Loki seems to have finally died after two apparent deaths. Besides him, there hasn’t been an impactful death. Even Coulson came back in the television series Agents of SHIELD. There is a good chance that Avengers: Endgame will change this but at this point in time, no one besides mentors or people just introduced in the film have died, often fueling and pushing the hero to do something or make a resolution. Typical movie fare. If you really want to create a shakeup, kill off an important character and leave them that way.

Poor Connectivity Between Movies and Television Series

Honestly, this is more of a nuisance than an actual negative to me. When the MCU first began, audiences were promised a cinematic universe that felt like the comic books universe. They implied that this included all of their works, whether it be on the big or little screen. However, when Marvel’s television and movie divisions became separate entities under Marvel Entertainment, this promise began to feel hollow. Agents of SHIELD began as a way to follow the effects of the films on the ground. But after a while, it stopped intersecting with the films and began to feel like its own thing. The Netflix series briefly mention the events of The Avengers in the beginning but other than that, have no apparent connection to the larger MCU outside their connection with each other. The Runaways and Cloak and Dagger feel even more segregated. I’m not saying that every character has to make an appearance in every series. I’m saying that the expansive shared universe we were promised does not feel as connected as initially guaranteed.

Rankings

Here is my ranking of the 21 released MCU films.

21) Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World movie poster

20) Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 movie poster

19) Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger movie poster

18) Thor

Thor movie poster

17) The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk movie poster

16) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 movie poster

15) Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron movie poster

14) Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp movie poster

13) Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 movie poster

12) Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel movie poster

11) Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok movie poster

10) Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange movie poster

This film fully embraced the weirdness that comes with magic and the multiverse; It feels truly different than other films on this list. Doctor Strange has a unique place in the Marvel Universe and this is a great introduction to the character and his abilities.

9) Ant-Man

Ant-Man movie poster

Heist films are one of my favorite movie genres so having a heist movie starring a superhero is such a joy. Paul Rudd was an actor whom I didn’t expect to see portraying a superhero but he surprised me and this movie plays to his comedic strengths perfectly.

8) Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War movie poster

Ranked slightly lower than after my initial viewing. Still a great adaptation of one of my favorite Marvel Comics event series. I honestly expected this storyline to be adapted as an Avengers film but seeing as how the Avengers show up, it’s pretty much Avengers 2.5.

7) Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming movie poster

Spidey is my favorite Marvel character and one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. Tom Holland fantastically captures the comic book version of the character, better than Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield. A little disappointed that Harry Osborn was replaced with Ned Leeds, though.

6) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier movie poster

One of the first films in the MCU to offer a twist that genuenly took me by surprise (the Hydra twist, not the Winter Soldier revelation). Black Widow has a significant role that proved right here that she needed her own movie.

5) Black Panther

Black Panther movie poster

Since Black Panther was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, this story was able to jump right in. Killmonger was a challenge for T’Calla, both physically and philosophically, resulting in true growth for the hero.

4) Iron Man

Iron Man movie poster

The one that kicked off the entire MCU and formed the foundation of the “Marvel Formula” but for good reason. This movie acts as a template of how to do a hero origin story right. Add to it the perfect casting of Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man and you have a recipe for success.

3) Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy movie poster

If Iron Man is the template of how to do a solo hero origin story, Guardians of the Galaxy is a template of how to do an ensemble hero origin story. James Gunn adds his signature style and creates an entertaining space epic that has you tapping your foot from beginning to end with the catchy classic rock soundtrack.

2) The Avengers

The Avengers movie poster

This film, lead by Joss Whedon, was the first to prove that Marvel Studios’ vision of a massive shared cinematic universe can work. Whedon perfectly balances all of the characters and gives them their own voice. This is ranked so high because it is a great movie and because of its place in cinema history.

1) Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War movie poster

Avengers: Infinity War is to the MCU what The Avengers is to Phase One. This film brought together ten years of stories and characters and didn’t feel overwhelming. It also gave the MCU its best villain yet in Thanos, whom the MCU had been building up to for years. Thanos was the main character of this story and when he defeated the heroes at the end, his story felt complete. Not many movies are willing to make the villain the main character and actually let him defeat the heroes so handily. A genuine one-of-a-kind film.

Looking Forward

Avengers: Endgame Required Viewing

The next upcoming movie, and whole reason for doing this State of the MCU address now, is Avengers: Endgame. Do you plan on seeing Endgame? Have you somehow gone the last eleven years without watching any of the MCU films? With Endgame coming out in only a couple weeks, do you want to get caught up with the story elements you’ll need but don’t have the time to watch all other previous 21 films? Don’t worry, I’ve come up with what I consider to be required viewing before going into Endgame.

Iron Man

Iron Man movie poster

Kicks off the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. You could get away without watching this and jump straight into The Avengers but you’d be missing out on the genesis of the whole MCU (and a straight up great movie).

The Avengers

The Avengers movie poster

The first team-up and first of the Avengers series. Even if you haven’t seen the characters’ solo films, they all get good character development that you can understand who they are. First teaser of Thanos.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy movie poster

Introduction to the Guardians, who play a significant role in Infinity War. Also explains who Thanos is and what the infinity stones are.

Optional: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Not absolutely required but good to watch if you have the time. Introductions of Wanda and Vision and why Vision has the mind stone. Also good if only to watch all of the Avengers movies. Leads nicely into next movie.

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War

Borderline Avengers movie, shows fallout of events up to this point. Introduces Spider-Man and Black Panther. Gives context to why there is a conflict between the members of the Avengers team.

Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange movie poster

Introduced to Dr. Strange, who has significant role in Infinity War. Introduces multiverse, as well as the time stone and its power.

Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War movie poster

Culmination of every movie up until this point. Directly leads into Endgame.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp movie poster

I’m taking a wild guess on including this one as required viewing. Introduces the quantum realm, which I predict will play into the story of Endgame.

Beyond Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame officially concludes Marvel Studios Phase 3 and have already announced several of the films comprising Phase 4.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spder-Man: Far From Home movie poster

Releases: July 5, 2019

Director: Jon Watts

Quick synopsis: Peter takes a school trip to Europe. While there, he gets wrapped up working with Fury.

Comments: With this being released in July of this year, we know the premise of the film and even having a trailer at this point. I’m excited to see Mysterio as the villain, as well as some form of the Sinister Six. Jake Gyllenhaal is a talented actor so I can’t wait to see what he does as Quentin Beck. Plus, I can always use more Ned.

In trying to distance themselves from the previous two iterations of Spider-Man films, Sony and Marvel Studios showed how Peter would operate not in the city and how accustomed and reliant his style is to using the large skyscrapers to navigate the city. The upcoming sequel is appearing to do the same thing, taking the character out of his element of the big city and put him into an unfamiliar environment. Between these two films, we have yet to see a proper New York City Spider-Man film. While this is funny to see and feels different than the Sam Raimi or Marc Webb series, it lacks an element that makes Spidey Spidey. So for Tom Holland’s third solo Spider-Man film, I would like to see it take place in NYC proper.

Doctor Strange 2

Director: Scott Derrickson

Confirmed actors: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, and Chiwetel Ejiofor

What I want to see: I want this movie to dive deeper its weirdness. Doctor Strange embraced magic and the concept of the multiverse and I want this movie to go into that more. Maybe even seeing or traveling to more of the dimensions. Also, Doctor Strange should demonstrate an improvement in his skills. I just want this movie to be completely bananas.

Black Panther 2

Black Panther imax poster

Director: Ryan Coogler

Confirmed actors: Not confirmed but stated that the main cast of previous Black Panther movie will return… including Michael B. Jordan.

What I want to see: I just want more of Black Panther. Ryan Coogler created an expansive world that is ripe for exploring, both the characters and the world itself. It could maybe go the route of Thor movies where Asgard was introduced in Thor then Thor: The Dark World spent more time on Asgard, showing of the beauty of it. Although not officially confirmed, it sound like Michael B. Jordan will return as Killmonger. I hope that he is actually dead and it is in flashbacks. As great of a villain as he was, the last thing we need is another dead character coming back from the dead.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Director: James Gunn

Confirmed actors: Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, and Elizabeth Debicki

What I want to see: After some controversy, James Gunn is returning to complete his Guardians story he has been weaving since 2014. Like Black Panther 2, I just want more of what we’ve come to expect from the GotG films: Vibrant visuals, throwback soundtrack, and deep characters.

Black Widow

Black WidowDirector: Cate Shortland

Confirmed actors: Florence Pugh, David Harbour, and Rachel Weisz

What I want to see: I hope this movie focuses on Natasha’s past. There have been a few comments in other movies and there was a flashback / dream sequence in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but nothing really explaining her past training, how she got involved in the Red Room, how she defected to SHIELD, and what happened in Budapest. It doesn’t matter whether this movie takes place in the past or utilizes flashbacks to tell us, as long as we finally get to learn more about Black Widow.

The Eternals

The EternalsDirector: Chloe Zhao

Confirmed actors: Angelina Jolie

What I want to see: In the comics, the Eternals are offshoot of humanity. Early humans were experimented on by the Celestials, creating long-living beings who were meant to be protectors of Earth. Their origins are similar to the Inhumans but rather than Kree experimentation, it was the Celestials. Not being super familiar with the characters, I don’t have any specific expectations about this movie. Since they don’t appear too often in the comics, there is a lot of room for flexibility for new interpretations that I’m sure Marvel Studios can create an interesting story for these characters.

Shang-Chi

Director: Destin Daniel Crelton

Confirmed actors: None

What I want to see: The character of Shang-Chi was created in the 1970s to capitalize on the popularity of Kung Fu films and is the Marvel Comics’ resident “Master of Kung Fu.” I want this movie to embrace the character’s roots and be a pure Kung Fu movie, borderline cheesy if need be. This has the potential to be a classic popcorn flick that is just fun, pure and simple.

Film Focus: State of the MCU Episode

I’m excited to announce that with the help of Curt, aka the Hypersonic55, we recorded an episode on his podcast, Film Focus, going over this very subject. And not only was I a guest on the show, Curt let me host the show! Check it out below.

Huge thank you to Curt for letting me take the reins of his show. I had a blast being on the other side of the table. Check out other episodes of Film Focus for more of Curt’s cinematic thoughts and ramblings.

Just a note, we recorded this before I finished writing my article so there is one small discrepancy between the podcast and what I wrote when it comes to my top 5 rankings. No biggie, I just wanted to say something before I get called out for it in the comments.

Closing Thoughts

Over a decade ago, a franchise like the Marvel Cinematic Universe seemed like something out of a nerd’s wildest dream. Marvel Studios chose to reach for the stars and created something unlike anything that has come before or probably will again for a very long time in cinema. There is no doubt that the success of this franchise has changed the Hollywood landscape. Other movie studios have attempted to create their own expansive and connected franchises, often with negative results. None have been able to match the success that Marvel Studios have achieved.

I have seen a shift in the way Hollywood has been making movies since the MCU has proven lucrative. Even when studios aren’t trying create a shared universe, they are still trying to work towards creating a franchise. This approach takes away from the movie at hand, ruining it. Studios shouldn’t try to make a franchise, they should work on one movie at a time, creating the best movie that they can. Then when it does well, expand the story, focusing on the individual story, and telling the best story you can. There’s a Russian proverb that goes “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.” When creating a movie, you can either write for the movie or write for the franchise, it’s difficult to do both. Marvel Studios have found the formula and the rest are trying to play catch up.

For better or for worse, Marvel Studios has changed Hollywood. Forever.


Thank you for reading my State of the MCU address, especially if you made it all the way through! I am so excited that I finally put this together. With Avengers: Endgame looking to make some big changes for the franchise, this felt like the perfect time for the inagural State of the MCU address. I hope to do more of these in the future.

What do you consider good about the MCU? What about the bad? What are your top 5 MCU films? What do you think about the future slate of the MCU?

Until next time, cheers!

State of the MCU Podcast

Hello, friends!

Over the past few days, I have given my State of the MCU address, recapping all aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m excited to announce that with the help of Curt, aka the Hypersonic55, we recorded an episode on his podcast, Film Focus, going over this very subject. And not only was I a guest on the show, Curt let me host the show! Check it out below.

Huge thank you to Curt for letting me take the reins of his show. I had a blast being on the other side of the table. Check out other episodes of Film Focus for more of Curt’s cinematic thoughts and ramblings.

Just a note, we recorded this before I finished writing my article so there is one small discrepancy between the podcast and what I wrote when it comes to my top 5 rankings. No biggie, I just wanted to say something before I get called out for it in the comments.

Until next time, cheers!