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-[Film Reviews]-, Film Analysis [Non-Reviews], Hollywood, NORTH AMERICAN CINEMA

An Overview of Marvel’s ‘Infinity Saga’ (2008-2019)

I do not care for contemporary superhero movie franchises, their fanbases, their audiovisual styles, or the superhero archetype on film in general; I have tired of their overexposure in the popular culture zeitgeist since at least the early 2010s. Like Japanese animation, I’m aware these movements are passionate and have achieved significant mainstream acceptance, having sampled both the good (e.g. The Dark Knight [2008], Logan [2017], etc. with respect to comic films; Akira [1988], Ghost in the Shell (1995), Cowboy Bebop [1998, 2001], Spirited Away [2001], etc. with respect to anime features) to the bad (e.g. Thor [2011], The Amazing Spiderman [2012, 2014], Dragon Ball Z [1989-1996], Pokémon [1997-]… ) more than enough times already, so I have little desire to “expand my horizons” any further. If you seek enthusiastic contemplation of the future of the DC Extended Universe (2013-) or the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU; 2008-2019) in a post-COVID-19 world, this isn’t the blog post or the blog for you. Hell, one of the better things to happen in popular filmmaking since the coronavirus pandemic has been an entire year without an MCU film (2020 also sparked continued talk about the potential death of movie theatres, was the first year since 2000 without a single new release to gross over $600 million, and was dominated by Japanese and Chinese productions rather than North American ones).

But I digress. Just because I don’t often contemplate these franchises in writing doesn’t mean I can avoid referencing their undeniable influence on past and contemporary cinema. The focus of today’s essay is the latter, specifically MCU theatrical films released prior to COVID-19 and the franchise’s expansion on Disney+ (i.e. before Wanda Vision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki [all 2021], et al.), known to fans as The Infinity Saga (2008-2019). Think of this as a follow-up to my initial overview of the MCU in 2014, a kind of meta-review of the franchise’s major theatrical projects. Previous installments for which I have written full reviews are linked here, while all other, often blander installments I neglected to review receive brief summaries and recommendations below:

  • Iron Man (2008) = The scrappy, grounded start of the MCU, best known for its introduction of the series’ most famous, influential character, Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark, as well as the blockbuster debut of one Jon Favreau, has little in common with the rest of its franchise brethren beyond its origin story formula. Its story is essentially two screenplays hybridized into one, an unfortunate staple of mainstream comic book films of the 2000-2010s in which the movie’s first two acts detail its main character’s development into the superpowered title character, then the film transitions to more traditional, predictable action set-pieces against a derivative “villain of the week for its final act. With that in mind, Iron Man is a solid freaking movie with a great range of in-camera and digital FX, memorable action sequences, and respectable pacing despite its “origin story issues.” Favreau’s Marvel prototype also established its parent franchise’s now well known, near perfect lead casting and all around quality acting direction. —> Recommended
  • The Incredible Hulk (2008) = The black sheep of the initial wave of MCU films (i.e. “Phase One” [2008-2012]), Louis Leterrier’s reboot of the unstoppable green superhero, partially conceived with an uncredited screenplay rewrite by star Edward Norton, remains the lowest grossing feature of the MCU despite its numerous similarities to the other, more popular installments of Marvel’s Phase One. The film takes its time and is well directed, but its superficial similarities to the likes of werewolf movies, low box office gross, and Norton’s extended arguments with Marvel over the movie’s final edit led to Marvel and later parent company, Walt Disney, recasting the title character for Mark Ruffalo and forgoing future standalone sequels despite retaining Leterrier’s movie as canon. —> On the Fence
  • Iron Man 2 (2010) = Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment for about $4 billion in 2009, so Iron Man’s first bland sequel was a preview of the numerous, wholly unnecessary standalone features to come in Marvel’s Phase Two (2013-2015) and Three (2015-2019) as the series transitioned from an ambitious, quasi-independent studio startup project to a major Hollywood corporate property. Poorly paced, bloated with forgettable villains and supporting characters, and overwhelmed by superfluous computer generated imagery (CGI), Iron Man 2 was the first in a long line of MCU titles to do little more than spin the franchise’s wheels for generous profit, softball critical reviews, and establish minor throwaway characters (e.g. Scarlett Johannsson’s Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow). —> Not Recommended
  • Thor (2011) = Not Recommended
  • The First Avenger (2011) = The debut of one of the blander yet more sympathetic protagonists of the Marvel Universe, Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers/Captain America, channeled as much old-school Hollywood charm as Walt Disney and franchise producer-maestro Kevin Feige would allow its director, Joe Johnston. Johnston’s career in older FX-heavy films like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), Jumanji (1995), Jurassic Park III (2001), and the period superhero film, The Rocketeer (1991), in particular, should’ve prepared him for a more successful contemporary introduction of Captain America, but the film’s period aesthetic and its lead’s development stall by the third act once the obligatory bloated set-pieces kick in. The MCU’s special FX also hadn’t solidified by this point. —> On the Fence
  • The Avengers (2012) = Recommended
  • Iron Man 3 (2013) = Not Recommended
  • The Dark World (2013) = The bland, unnecessary sequel to the bland, unnecessary first Thor standalone film, The Dark World remains perhaps the most stereotypical MCU feature given its superfluous worldbuilding detail, excessive diegetic exposition, forgettable, interchangeable supporting characters, and yet competent action set-pieces with reference-level CGI. It’s not as amateurish as the first wave of Marvel solo movies, but it’s not much better outside its production values, either. —> Not Recommended
  • The Winter Soldier (2014) = Recommended
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) = Recommended
  • Age of Ultron (2015) = On the Fence
  • Ant-Man (2015) = On the Fence
  • Civil War (2016) = Recommended
  • Doctor Strange (2016) On the Fence
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017) = A calmer, less disordered version of James Gunn’s original live-action adaptation of the little known Marvel Comics ensemble of the same name, this second Guardians film continues the comedic charm of sitcom actor-turned-action-star, Chris Pratt, as well as the deadpan humor of former professional wrestling star, Dave Bautista. The remainder of the cast outside of Gunn-regular Michael Rooker typify the MCU’s characteristic blandness, though I appreciate the film’s color saturation and memorable villain (Kurt Russell), both positive deviations from standard Marvel Formula. —> Recommended
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) = A surprising if not particularly adept superhero blockbuster homage to John Hughes, Disney’s long anticipated reboot of the popular teenaged superhero (the second franchise reset of the character that decade) blended Tom Holland’s boyish charms and high-school drama into the bloated, expansive MCU mythos better than Civil War (Holland’s introduction) and most later MCU standalone films for that matter. I missed the identifiable visual humor and melodrama of Sam Raimi’s 2000s Spider-Man (2002, 2004, 2007), but I appreciate director Jon Watts keeping both the story and action spectacle grounded and avoiding excessive CGI. —> Recommended
  • Ragnorak (2017) = Marvel at last produces a Thor standalone feature I don’t outright dislike, with its memorable neon visuals (the bad color-grading of this franchise had improved by then), Mark Mothersbaugh’s Devo-inspired soundtrack, and buddy cop subplots involving Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Ruffalo’s Hulk. However, this film is a great example of a promising young director (Taika Waititi) trying yet ultimately failing to break free from Feige’s suffocating franchise grip, as Ragnorak’s more interesting plotlines and character moments are sidelined, again and again, for another generic villain-of-the-week (Cate Blanchett). —> On the Fence
  • Black Panther (2018) = Recommended
  • Infinity War (2018) = Highly Recommended
  • Ant-Man & the Wasp (2018) = Perhaps the laziest, least justifiable standalone project of the entire franchise, industry yes-man Peyton Reed follows his forgettable 2015 Ant-Man feature with a series of disconnected subplots, bad comic relief characters, dull villainy, and another bad costar performance from Evangeline Lilly. —> Not Recommended
  • Captain Marvel (2019) = Brie Larson’s first superhero vehicle and a sort of series prequel a la The First Avenger, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s 1990s period-action flick blends the cosmic space opera adventures of James Gun’s Guardians films with the Jason Bourne (2002-2016) and James Bond (1962-) espionage homages of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Winter Soldier. I enjoyed the film’s patient, understated action sequences, air force iconography, and well paced story, despite whatever “controversy” its star generated off-set. —> Recommended
  • Endgame (2019) = Recommended
  • Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019) = I was surprised how bored I was by this given the easygoing charm of Watts’ Homecoming. While I liked the fantastical, almost nightmarish visuals generated by Jake Gyllenhaal’s villain, Far from Home’s story progression (Holland’s high-school class goes on a European field trip; hilarity ensues) is way too repetitive, slow, and based on a romance (Holland and Zendaya) that has zero chemistry. —> Not Recommended

Final Tally: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED = 1/23 films; RECOMMENDED = 10/23 films; ON THE FENCE = 6/23 films; NOT RECOMMENDED = 6/23 films.

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.

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