Leading up to the launch of Avengers: Infinity War on April 27, television and film writer AJ Caulfield, The Young Folks’ Film Editor Allyson Johnson, and The Young Folks’ Television Editor Mae Abdulbaki joined forces for a three-part Marvel series called “Marvel: The Good, The Bad, and The Strange.”
To be bold is to possibly upset, frustrate, or thrill. Strange films aren’t always equated with stubborn visionaries, but so often when it comes to blockbuster fare, when a film just about skims the surface of greatness, alienates fans and/or develops a passionate and devout following, it’s crafted by hands that knew what they wanted and strived to attain that feeling of creative fulfillment, to both good and bad results. In the past year or so Marvel has had one of its best runs thus far with the trio of Spider-Man Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok and (especially) Black Panther. While they didn’t reinvent the Marvel wheel, the talents behind each took great pains in ensuring the wheel ran at a different clip.
While all three are rightfully heralded as some of the best the MCU has to offer (really, truly) it’s the perceived tonally dissonant films that have caught many an eye for the sheer, undeniably infection enthusiasm that went into them. They sung in their finest moments and made mere rumbles in their lesser and while they don’t hit the peaks of some of their fellow films, they deserve more than a mere shrug.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Long been the heart of the MCU, the rise of Chris Evans’s Captain America, aka Steve Rogers, began here in a little heralded period piece that at first glance, sidestepped many of Marvels familiar trappings. Set during WWII as a sickly and thin Rogers volunteers to fight in the war and soon becomes injected with the super serum resulting in, well, Chris Evans, the entirety of the first half is gorgeous to behold. With impeccable costuming, starry eyed romantic leads and a wholesome and earnest leading hero who would sooner jump onto a grenade, diminutive stature of not, to save his fellow soldiers than allow it to detonate.
Where it gets weird and, unfortunately, broad, was with the prevalence of the Red Skull who, even by Marvel’s sub-par standards, is onenote and boring. Everything from Bucky’s rescue to his first demise is rushed, less immediately enthralling as the first half was instantly. With some of the best accompaniment the MCU has ever had along with some top notch performances and stylistic choices, it’s a shame that film fumbled so much of the back of the second and then third acts.
Not that any of this matters, mind you, when you have a sucker punch that was Peggy and Steve’s goodbye, one of the first (and only) times a film from this universe would actually evoke audible sniffling from the audience.
I’ve just got something in my eye is all…
Iron Man 3
I’d argue Iron Man 3 is in the highest tier of Marvel movies. This critics love for Tony Stark and all his many, many flaws runs deep and seeing him have to reckon with his most vulnerable and perceived to be shameful fears and truths, all the while with a purely Shane Black background was something to behold. Despite three large set pieces of staged action, it’s the smallest of all of the MCU films, bringing the source of the films drama as close to the heart as they ever come.
However, this film for all of the love it attracts has many who can’t stand it, thought that the reveal of the Mandarin took too much of a flippant approach and that the ultimate villain was flimsy at best.
They’re right on that one – he was.
It’s a deeply internal film and one that rests so much of its baggage on Robert Downey Jr.’s soldiers and without his steadfast and open performance, it wouldn’t have had the same effect. The ending is rushed and the villain is forgettable and the last fight scene can’t emulate the thrill of the attack on Malibu and aerial rescue, but by allowing Tony to be the mechanic who fixes things that we met in the first Iron Man and building drama around relationships we knew and rooted for was a great tactic to ensure even those expecting more bangs, thrills and frills could be convinced to watch through the end.
Age of Ultron
Full disclosure, Age of Ultron might just be the reason why this column exists in the first place. Upon first viewing, there was no way that Age of Ultron was ever going to live up to the height of The Avengers which so stunningly bridged together worlds and characters in a way we hadn’t seen before in film with moments of triumph that created one of the most immersive theater going experiences I’ve ever sat through.
Ultron was messy, irrevocably so, to the point that it was easier to pick apart individual moments then judge the film as a whole, less a fully defined package but instead the parts of the total sum. We remember the weird jaunt to Hawkeyes surprise farm and Hulk and Black Widows doomed from the start romance that takes up a LARGE part of the film. We remember the party and Tony’s bad dream, Quicksilver’s death and the unnecessary abundance of Hawkeye, as if the studios actually thought we were upset with how little Jeremy Renner was used in the prior film. Judging just those scenes without the context of the bigger picture and the result is annoyingly inconsistent, a film that was too concerned with creating the next big superhero moment instead of trying to tie together a cohesive plot.
But it grows on you and it grows on you a lot. The trip to Hawkeyes home offers a moment of reprieve for battle scarred heroes and grants a moment of quiet so that the ethos of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark are further etched out and greater still hint at what’s to come in Captain America: Civil War. Quicksilver dies as an unnecessary casualty of war and Black Widow and Hulks romance (as sour of a taste moments of it still leave) is given a greater sense of melancholy as these two damaged individuals tried to seek on another out in an increasingly threatening world.
And throughout all of that, there’s the last, soulful scene between to sentient being – not humans – who have a greater grasp on the joys and evils of humanity than the heroes surrounding them.
The imperfections of Age of Ultron are loud and they’re sloppy and rightfully irritating but there’s something special that lies beneath those scars that offer something odd in a series that often relied on cookie cutter storytelling.
Captain America: Civil War
Ostensibly, Captain America: Civil War – the second outing for the Russo Brothers – is more of an Avengers 2.5 film. It carries Cap’s name because of the Bucky storyline and because, truly, in the eyes of the creators, it’s his plight that is the most righteous. However it acts more of an ensemble piece as each character is given significant moments and heroes such as Black Panther and Spider-Man are given defining introductions.
It’s another film where the emotion of the story and the action packed set pieces carry a rather flimy script and lackluster villain who you forget about after watching. The conflict between Tony and Steve and then, Tony verus Steve and Bucky is the emotional thoroughline of the film and the one that sends us through the ringer.
What’s fascinating is what already hasn’t aged well. That tarmac fight scene is epic in theory but in execution is gray, flat and empty. The final confrontation between Tony and Steve when the former learns what happened to his parents? That’s electrifying.
A film where the story was muddled but the ideas and themes were strong, Captain America: Civil War is a remarkable undertaking but needed one more swing through the editing process before becoming something even greater.
Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
It seems almost unfair to label this as anything but strange but while Guardians of the Galaxy introduced us to a bunch of weirdos, the sequel doubled down on making sure the world around them represented their eccentricities. Kurt Russell plays a sexually active sentient planet, the colors are more vibrant and soundtrack more plucky and we’re introduced to Mantis, who is off beat even by Guardians standards.
Unfortunately it’s such a retread of the first that it’s hard to enjoy it for what it purely is but if you’re able to look aside some of the redundancies the joyous nature of the film is so engrossing and infectious that it wouldn’t be too far fetched to place it above your ranking of the original.
I mean, did the first one do this?