OOOE's Charity Movie Marathon: MCU Phase 1
BEWARE SPOILERS FOR PRETTY MUCH EVERY MARVEL FILM UP TO AND INCLUDING INFINITY WAR. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Welcome to Out Of Our Element's first charity movie marathon! For our first marathon we are tackled the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starting with Iron Man making our way through the first 19 films all the way to Avengers: Infinity War! It'll take around 40 hours to do (starting things off with an easy one), but we have faith that your support will keep us going.
We are attempting this is support of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, or the NSPCC. You can donate to this fantastic cause via justgiving.com/fundraising/outofourelement
We will be live blogging each film as we watch them. We won't have a great deal of time to edit out posts so please forgive any spelling/grammatical errors.
Iron Man (2008)
Films in: 1
A franchise is born Arguably the most important film in the Marvel franchise, the cinematic universe we know today would never have happened if not for the success of this film. Not only does it introduce us to a new world of superheroes, it kickstarts a new brand; Iron Man establishes the MCU's overarching style which is present in all its successors regardless of their genre; it constructs an organic balance of action, emotion and humour which maintains the MCU's tone; themes are introduced within its first 30 minutes which define the later philosophy of this sprawling franchise - namely, the responsibility which comes with power and influence.
Pepper Potts and Tony Stark have such fantastic chemistry in this film - you can sense the tension almost immediately from their first scene together. Later, this relationship is further confirmed and explored as Potts reluctantly reaches into Stark's chest to change his failing Arc Reactor. It is a bizarrely intimate scene, one which displays their closeness, and the trust which Stark places in his colleague and friend. The complexity of their relationship is again examined as they dance at the annual charity ball. One strength of this film in particular is its ability to show a lot in a short space of time.
We get to see quite a few different iterations of the Iron Man suit over the course of the Marvel films. This film is full of sweet little references to the comics. We get the original grey Iron Man suit from Tony Stark's introduction in the comic: Tales of Suspense (released way back in 1963). We get a nice little easter egg of his gold suit from some of the early comics, and finally we get the classic red and gold Iron Man suit that we all know and love. All of which look fantastic in this film.
Marvel have historically had difficulties with producing complex and interesting villains. Despite this, the MCU did start of strong. Removing our obvious bias towards Jeff Bridges, we think that his Obadiah Stane, Stark's mentor-turn-adversary, is perhaps one of the better written villains in the franchise.
Ollie: His villainy is drip fed to us, added layer by layer. There is an element of mystery and betrayal, themes which are completely overlooked or neglected with later films, particularly those rooted in fantasy. This keeps Iron Man relatively grounded as a human story. Iron Man obviously benefits from being the first in the franchise; it was able to introduce a low-powered villain who would be a worthy opponent for a fledgling superhero - later films, with more powerful leads, did not have this advantage, and so have struggled to develop bad-guys with any real depth.
Mike: We see a lot of sides to Obadiah over the course of the film. He is a friend and mentor of sorts to Tony Stark, a cunning and manipulative businessman, and a complete power-crazed maniac. Good stuff! He has some actual depth to his character, something that is definitely missing in a lot of other MCU villains.
Villain Rating: 7/10
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Films in: 2
A miss follows a hit?
Ollie: The second MCU film is the film that everyone forgets is in the MCU - some accidentally, others deliberately. It introduced us to the mean, green, fighting machine, Hulk, one of the most recognisable of Marvel heroes and one who has had an on screen presence stretching back into the 1970s. As such, Bruce Banner's origin story is quickly addressed in a series a brief, wordless flashbacks which run alongside the opening credits. This opening is decidedly lame and cheesy, and sets the tone for the rest of film, leading many to regard The Incredible Hulk as the runt of the MCU litter. Its comparison to Iron Man is astounding, both in terms of its script and its special effects. It is incredible to think that the MCU's first two films were made in the same year.
Mike: Everyone forgets about this film, bless it. The weird flashback/montage/Instagram story of The Hulk's origin story is a strange way to open a film, but I do think this film has some pretty great scenes in it. Namely, the scene towards the start where we first see The Hulk in action in the factory. The fight scene at the university is pretty darn great too!
A mixed bag
The Incredible Hulk does provide us with some good set pieces. Our first look at Banner's alter-ego is surrendered slowly, giving the warehouse scene a real creepy edge. His near capture by General Ross at the university 50 minutes in demonstrates some real inventiveness which helps to counteract some of the more laughable special effects. These scenes luckily only somewhat rely on extensive CGI. Some questionable logic and sticky science plagues the film from start to finish.
Ollie: Tim Roth is a welcome addition to any film franchise, and despite his presence in The Incredible Hulk being hampered by some poor dialogue, he submits a good performance as Emil Blonsky/Abomination, an angry soldier hungry to return to his youth. His motivations are typically human - much like Obadiah Stane’s were in Iron Man - and his development into abomination is straightforward, uncomplicated and believable.
Mike: He’s a big old monster man. Tim Roth’s arc as Emil Blonsky is fairly straightforward - ageing military man is frustrated that he’s getting old, is given a chance to become stronger, turns into a power-crazed maniac. Hmm.
Villain Rating: 4/10
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Films in: 3
Iron Man returns 2 years later. After his extremely brief late-in-the-game cameo in The Incredible Hulk, Tony Stark returns to our screens in Iron Man 2 and the wheels of the MCU really begin to speed up. Obviously recognising the growing success and potential of the franchise, the brains behind it begin to expand and build the world with which we are so familiar now, welcoming Black Widow, War Machine and Nick Fury to the Marvel roster.
How the mighty fall Ollie: Tony Stark is one of the most successfully developed characters within the franchise, and Iron Man 2 is a huge part of his story. Robert Downey Jr has been given plenty of screen time during his time in the MCU and he has used it to great effect, developing a complex character who is endlessly likeable but irritating. His cockiness is amplified in Iron Man 2; his arrogance during his senate hearing, his commandeering of an F1 race-car, these things raise Tony up to a new height, and the story acts as a suitable vehicle for his return to Earth. Also given more attention is his relationship with Potts, which begins to resemble a couple more and more with each of their scenes - most notably with an 'argument' during the film's earlier scenes which feels hilariously natural.
Mike: It's often seen as one of the weaker films in the MCU, but I actually quite like this film. It's taken a while but this film really grew on me. Tony Stark is perhaps the most complex character out of all of the Avengers, and this film does a great deal to develop his character. His flaws, the conflict within him, his desire for world peace, and the amount of pressure he puts on himself. The foundations of what his character will become in future films. We also get the introduction of two more Avengers: The badass Black Widow, and the heavily armed War Machine. Black Widow's fight choreography is brilliant in every film, she has such a visceral and fluid fighting style, and it's always entertaining to watch.
Ollie: The MCU characters are not the only things that benefit from some growth in Iron Man 2. The Iron Man branch of the MCU obviously has a huge focus on technology, and the film does not allow for any stagnation. Much like in real life, everything is developing an changing, technologies becoming slicker, faster and more complex and interesting with every film.
Mike: We get a new arc reactor, we get a new Iron Man suit (obviously), and we get the introduction of War Machine! I really love the chunky War Machine suit, it's such a bulky design compared to Stark's slimline suit.
Ollie: The MCU continues to boast big names for its villains, with Mickey Rourke going up against Tony Stark in Iron Man 2. Again, we have a human story, this time one or revenge, always a bankable concept. However, while our heroes character benefits from some real development, Iron Man 2 presents a more two-dimensional villain - Whiplash. Rourke’s Russian muscled intellectual is wonderfully unhinged and menacing, and is obviously in charge of every scene he is in. He suffers from a lack of depth, but the simplicity of his story manages to keep him grounded.
Mike: I quite like Whiplash to be honest. He’s a good intellectual match for Tony, he knows the tech and he has a strong motivation to go after Stark. That being said, the final battle between him, Iron Man, and War Machine is a bit lack lustre and is far too similar to the fight from the first Iron Man film. He’s just another guy in a big metal suit.
Villain Rating: 5/10
Films in: 4
A step into the unknown
Ollie: The MCU takes a step away from sci-fi and into fantasy with its fourth outing, Thor. It is a big step for the world-building of the MCU, our exposure being previously limited to Earth-bound conflicts. Our trip into Asgard is unfamiliar territory, but it draws on familiar themes, themes which have been established in the first three films. Namely, the responsibility which comes with great power. Thor's arrogance mimics that of Tony Stark's, but surpasses it, and his debut film takes the form of a real moral lesson in which he learns the value of humility and self-sacrifice. He has one of the best character arcs after Tony Stark; his attitude in Thor is practically unrecognisable compared to the one-eyed Thor we have today.
Mike: Thor, the first Thor! It's alright from what I can remember? It's been a while since I've seen this one. We get the introduction of everyone's favourite villain/antihero, Loki, as well as the most useful Avenger, Hawkeye (bless). There's a healthy chunk of narrated exposition at the start to introduce the fantasy realms within the Marvel universe. Also, our first hint that Infinity War is somewhere in the distance, the Tesseract (which contains the Space stone).
Ollie: Thor can fulfil two roles. It works great as a standalone film and you don't need to have great understanding of the wider MCU to appreciate or enjoy it. But also, it ties in great with the franchise, with Coulson and Hawkeye having just the right amount of involvement in the film. It is one step away from the story built by the previous three films, which is exactly as far as it should be.
Ollie: Thor is greedy. It has two main villains, Laufey as initial threat and then Loki is revealed as the wider architect. After three human but relatively low powered bad guys, Thor treats to a more formidable foe, with some far more intimidating abilities. Not only this, but Loki becomes one of the most complex and interesting enemies in the franchise, with a mysterious backstory and a treacherous and manipulative approach to villainy.
Mike: Loki for life. Laufey sucks.
Villain Rating: 8/10
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Films in: 5
Captain America's introduction to the franchise takes us back in time, after a brief introduction set in the present day. Set during World War 2, it takes the franchise into another realm of sorts, and kickstarts a huge piece of world-building which has since been further continued with a TV show.
Ollie: The early MCU films all have possessed a valuable lesson, none more so than The First Avenger. It again draws on the same themes of power and responsibility present in the first 4, but brings a new depth and direction to this. While Iron Man, Hulk and Thor are not strangers to power, Steve Rogers has always been weak in body. But, as the 5th MCU film shows us, power is not always the most vital attribute, and that bravery and compassion are what make a true hero. Rogers has these in spades, but just needed the physical strength to go with it. This is luckily provided in the form of the original Super Soldier Serum.
Mike: This film is pretty good fun. It's also a lot better than I remembered. The action sequences are all pretty cool and we get a solid introduction to Steve Roger's altruistic character. He's a good lad isn't he? We also get to see Agent Peggy Carter in action and kicking ass for the first time. The Howling Commandos also make an appearance which is a nice little treat for old school comic fans (they were Nick Fury's crew back in the day).
Mike: I love Hugo Weaving but Red Skull isn't a particularly compelling villain. He doesn't have much depth to his character other than being evil.
Ollie: The First Avenger provides us perhaps one of the most two-dimensional villains of the franchise. Very little of Johan Schmitt/Red Skull is explained, and his only defining attributes are a thirst for power and a general horribleness. Hugo Weaving does a fantastic job with what he is given, but with limited scope develop or explore this character Red Skull becomes a 'what you see is what you get' bad-guy.
Villain Rating: 3/10
The Avengers (2012)
Films in: 6
This is a big one. The Avengers was the MCU's first attempt to bring all of its previous films together in one massive mash-up of awesome superhero-ness. It was the culmination of a hugely ambitious project which solidified the MCU as one of the most intricate franchises ever produced, and provided us with one of the strongest films of the whole MCU to date.
Ollie: The MCU gets a real grip with what it wants to be with The Avengers. All the best elements from its 5 predecessors are combined to produce a brilliantly fluid and exciting piece of film. It benefits from an interesting and witty script which provides some hugely amusing exchanges, while beginning to build the relationships between the larger than life personalities we had been introduced to over the 4 previous years - relationships which will be the driving force for many of the future films. This script also contributes to the film's perfectly weighted narrative, within which each character is introduced steadily and at the precise moment, and each are afforded the perfect amount of screen-time.
Mike: Ooo I'm excited for this one. We finally get to see the team come together to fight some bad guys! It's hard to believe that this was our first sighting of Thanos! All the way back in 2012. He certainly took his time, didn't he? Mark Ruffalo is simply incredible (ha) as The Hulk. It's not an understatement to say that this film was a huge landmark in modern cinema, and I still get fangirl tingles when I watch this film (that sounds weird).
Villain Assessment Ollie: Loki makes a return as the bad-guy for The Avengers, and seems to relish every second. Tom Hiddleston really gets a chance to let loose with the character here, and gets to deliver some fantastic dialogue throughout. The conflict he feels towards his brother and about his actions is hinted at in The Avengers, and adds to the development of Loki as a complex villain and character in general. However, it's more difficult to take him seriously in this film - his presence Thor in seemed far more sinister, but some comedic moments at his expense (particularly how he is swiftly dispatched by Hulk) mean that he feels like far less of a threat, and perhaps even out of his depth.
Mike: I repeat. Loki for life.
Definitely one of my favourite MCU villains, Loki is by far the most complex villain in the franchise. It's incredibly interesting to see the conflict within him and his development throughout the series as he transforms from jealous brother to an anti-hero of sorts. The villain rating is knocked down a bit on this one purely because of the endless army of drones that our heroes comfortably plow through.
Villain Rating: 7.5/10
And there we go. End of Phase One! We're getting tired but we shall continue! Onto Phase Two! Is that too many exclamation marks?