In case you didn’t see it earlier today, here’s the Captain America: Civil War trailer.
1. I don’t want to jinx it, but I don’t think I saw any hint of the usual Marvel-mandated Climactic Giant City-Threatening Sky-Battle. Could they be stretching their creative wings? Could there be a Climactic Giant Beach-Resort-Threatening Sea Battle?!
2. The previous Captain America was by far one of the strongest entries in the unstoppable cinematic juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the Russo brothers are returning to their shared directing sofa for this one (as well as Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely penning the script again).
So, consider me officially Quite Excited.
The elephant — the absolutely humongous, titanic elephant — in the room is the aforementioned Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which has become in essence a subcategory of cinema all by itself. Judging Marvel movies by the standards applied to other cinema isn’t fair. They operate in their own little(!) parallel universe — a strange flat-share dimension that consists of a depressingly rigid and all-encompassing corporate agenda co-inhabiting with a genuinely impressive roster of talent. Really, if Marvel didn’t make it a habit of hiring people like the Russo brothers, or Joss Whedon, or James Gunn to helm their movies — as well as the largely uniformly stellar cast to star in them — then their oppressive overlord gloom would just be too much to take. As it is, the rays of sunshine that burst through are enough to carry them through. For now.
As it stands then, Captain America: Civil War is our hand-holding guide through the door that opens onto Marvel’s Phase III, so let’s take a moment to look back, reflect, and — most importantly, of course — rank the last eight years of Feige and co’s production line.
12. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Disclaimer: I fell asleep during this movie’s opening 20 minutes. But then again, I wasn’t drunk, hungover, or at all tired, so — yeah, into last place it goes.
11. Iron Man 2 (2010)
It has Sam Rockwell, dancing! And yet it still somehow manages to be an incoherent, drunken babble of a movie.
10. Thor (2011).
Amusing, Thor-out-of-water elements aside (‘Another!’), this really is somewhat of a garbage-fire movie. It felt exciting at the time to see Hemsworth embody Thor so well, and Idris Elba and Tom Hiddleston are flawless as Heimdall and Loki, respectively, but Asgard looks plastic and terrible, the Earth segments are largely banal, and apart from introducing Loki there really is nothing memorable at all about this Phase I instalment.
Ruffalo and his perfection have made us forget, but Ed Norton did a pretty damn good job of being Banner. The melancholy and isolation that need to be present in any Hulk movie are here, and - despite the just plain bad decision to tie Banner’s transformations to his pulse as well as his rage - the whole thing just about hangs together well enough, despite what it felt like at the time. It’s the opposite of Thor.
8. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
A nice enough, Sunday hangover sorta movie, spinning its wheels and spending a lot of energy (sometimes in meta ways) on myth-building; but Chris Evans stepping perfectly into Steve Rogers’ shoes, as well as Hugo Weaving giving a better Red Skull than the script allows for, elevate this to an above average entry.
7. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
A disappointment, and perhaps the best illustration of the pitfalls of the studio/auteur dynamic at play at Citadel Marvel. The moments where Whedon’s clever and character-driven dialogue is allowed to shine are by far the film’s best moments. The rest creaks at the seams, struggling to hold the ever-increasing load on its shoulders.
6. Ant-Man (2015)
Illustrating why often the best superhero movies are the ones that don’t focus on the superheroing, Ant-Man is a fun, visually inventive, small-scale heist flick which is enabled by its superhero elements, but tries not to be defined by it. It’s not a great movie by any measure, but when it’s not painfully shoehorning in the larger elements of the MCU, it chugs along well enough. Also Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas.
5. Iron Man (2008)
The one that kicked it all off. It seems ridiculous to look back to 2008 and see a Marvel movie as anything other than a surefire hit, but that was the reality of Iron Man and its starting-without-a-completed-screenplay shoot. The movie is essentially all fire and kinetic energy, propelled along by its star’s cosmic-sized charisma and well done action sequences, and it’s still a lot of fun to watch today. The characters (almost) all make sense, and even the origin story that takes up a decent chunk of the running time is pretty fun to watch.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
When Marvel announced they’d be making a big budget tentpole release based on a comic that most people had never heard of, the audacity and swagger-wave travelled round the earth twice. And when it turned out to be this much sheer fun, a round of applause was necessary. The giant pot of money it brought home was probably also welcome. Marvel’s victory lap round DC has some bad moments — Lee Pace’s baddy is so forgettable so as to be almost not-there; the Thanos stitching is far too visible; and the Climactic Giant City-Threatening Sky-Battle really starts to wear out its welcome here — but you can’t argue against Drax and his fast reflexes.
3. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Shane Black takes the helm and delivers one of the best entries in the entire MCU. Like Ant-Man above, Iron Man 3 is the best when it sheds its superhero trappings and sends Tony Stark on a spy-style side quest. There’s an accomplished rhythm to the whole thing, which shouldn’t come as a surprise seeing as Black co-wrote as well as directed; and though there are significant weak points — hello, over-long final battle — they don’t detract too much from the big picture.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Winter Soldier is the closest that Marvel movies come to being good outside of the Marvel movie constraints. The casting of Robert Redford hints at its ambitions to follow in the footsteps of the great American conspiracy movies of the 1970’s - and, considering that there’s men and women in spandex blowing stuff up and a man with a super strength metal arm, it performs admirably. A thick layer of paranoia lies over the proceedings, and a healthy scepticism towards government surveillance gives it more depth than most comic book movies. There’s an emotional depth too, with Captain America’s man out of time existence being mined successfully, both politically and personally. Even an entry as strong as this isn’t immune from the Marvel Malady, however, as it of course all goes explodey-bye in the sky in the finale, but other than that the action is handled confidently, and shot elegantly.
1. The Avengers (2012)
Joss Whedon performs a miracle, marshalling all the power at his disposal to take a group of outsized, superpowered cartoons, and making them human. Assembling the Avengers was never going to work unless it was done with a deep understanding of what makes these heroes tick — and what threatens to undo them, as individuals and as a unit. Whedon was the only person for the job. He somehow fully fleshes them all out; brings them together, explodes them apart; and then in the face of total adversity brings them together again. And then takes them to Shawarma. Yes, the movie has a Climactic Giant City-Threatening Sky-Battle, but this is one that works. Splitting the team up into those that can be airborne, and those that are more grounded, Whedon juggles their roles and responsibilities, and dances the chaos along with perfect timing and weight. I’ve said his name three times already, and for good reason — this is as much of a Whedon movie, as a Marvel movie, and it’s damn near perfect.