Marvel Studios’ films…a look back


This fanfare is almost as affecting as the 20th Century Fox one before a Star Wars film used to be.

There was a run there, from the release of Toy Story in the mid-1990s through to about 2010, when the genius animation studio Pixar simply could not make a mediocre film.

Alas, the deal it made with longtime collaborator Disney has seemingly drained Pixar of some of its old magic toward The Mouse’s own animated masterpieces in recent years.

Anyway, I bring up that Pixar run because in this blogger’s opinion, Marvel Studios seems similarly incapable of making a bad film. With eight years and a full baker’s dozen films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s not a stinker in the lot.

Iron Man [2008]

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It was a bold gambit: After years of seeing its properties either mishandled [see about half the entires in the X-Men and Spider-Man movie franchises and all the attempts at the Fantastic Four] or, more importantly, profited upon by other studios careful not to share too much of those profits, Marvel Entertainment took a risk on a B-level character knowing that the failure of this film would cost its rights to a founding Avenger.

It worked out, though. Unlike outside studios, the nascent Marvel movie machine could exercise much tighter fidelity to the source material than most film directors were interested in doing. That attention to the spirit and letter of the comics brought a much greater realization of the comics to film than had ever before been attempted, and the fans rewarded the studio for it.

I had been highly skeptical of the film and the risk Marvel was taking at first. But when I saw the trailer about a month out from its early May release, I openly mused, “…I should buy stock in Marvel, right now.” Unfortunately, I didn’t have the funds.


The Incredible Hulk [2008]


The fledgling studio accompanied “Iron Man” with this film in June, an attempt to reclaim its own character from the uneven Ang Lee picture “The Hulk” from 2003. Like “Iron Man,” it was a risk that could have cost Marvel a venerable character. But it was also successful, though nowhere near as much a critical or commercial one as its predecessor.


Iron Man 2 [2010]


Hard to believe nowadays, when there’s a new Marvel Studios flick about every six months, but it was a long two years to wait for more Iron Man. Also a commercial success, the critical and audience reception for this one was more muted.


Thor [2011]


This was the first big test: Would Marvel be able to adequately meld this magical, mythologically based superhero into its heretofore science-grounded universe? With the help of a solid script, game performances from the exceptionally well-cast actors and the direction of Kenneth Branagh, the answer was a resounding “yes.”


Captain America: The First Avenger [2011]


Previous attempts at bringing Captain America to film tried to pull him into the modern day. This one did it right, by starting — and keeping — the story in World War II and making a superhero period piece. The end result is both charming and pedestrian all at once.


Marvel’s Avengers [2012]


Director Joss Whedon brought his considerable wit to bear and made this ensemble piece one of the hugest hits ever and cementing the superhero genre into the film canon pretty much for good.


Iron Man 3 [2013]


The first followup to Avengers, this seeming final film in the Iron Man franchise was also a big hit, but audience reception was mixed as it was the first Marvel Studios film to sharply diverge from the comics’ approach to the characters.


Thor: The Dark World [2013]


Opinions split on Thor’s sequel as well. Some, like myself, absolutely love this movie. Others have some bones to pick with it.


Captain America: The Winter Soldier [2014]


Released in the not-so-peak-season of late March, this was something of a surprise hit and is considered by many to be the finest film in the MCU to date.


Guardians of the Galaxy [2014]


Equally surprising was the late-summer debut of a new MCU film chock-full of all-new characters with no apparent connection to any of the previous heroes — and it was still well-received anyway.


Avengers: Age of Ultron [2015]


Most surprising of all, though, was the stumble in quality for Joss Whedon’s sophomore — and final — effort in the Marvel Studios system. Though a humongous success financially and generally enjoyed by critics and audiences alike, the Avengers sequel remains widely considered a step down from its predecessor.



Ant-Man [2015]


If any film looked likely to stumble on its concept alone, Ant-Man seemed the one to do it. Lacking any real connection to previous Marvel films, it would need to be just about perfect to work. Based on its success, it apparently worked.


Captain America: Civil War [2016]


Coming off as an unofficial “Avengers 2.5,” this third Cap film promised the same character overload that threatened to overwhelm “Age of Ultron” — as well as a retread of the in-team in-fighting that was so prevalent in that earlier film. But the talented Russo brothers brought the same solid ability used in “Captain America: Winter Soldier” to deliver another critically acclaimed success.


Next post, I’ll give my personal ranking of the 13 films, complete with signature moments from each.




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