Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe begins after the world witnesses a team of superheroes save Earth from a full-blown alien invasion and ends before that team breaks up.
Full explanation of my ranking system is here. Summary: C is average, A/B is recommended, D is badly made, F is something to avoid.
Iron Man 3
This has an exceptionally slow build and is a bit tedious at first. Eventually, there’s some action, but it turns into that shaky-cam kind of stuff, not as bad as a Michael Bay movie, because it’s not continuous, so that’s a plus, I guess.
But the plot? I’m watching it again for the third time, because although I could eventually remember the villain was The Mandarin and there were exploding G.I.s, and one or two twists along the way, and also Stark spends most of the movie not being Iron Man, but the actual plot? I couldn’t remember what the point of all the action was supposed to be. Turns out it’s some overly complicated plan, which must be defeated by blowing up as much stuff as possible!
Still, instead of marking it down for its flaws, I’m marking it up, because the examination of Stark’s PTSD after the alien invasion of the first Avengers movie was pretty well done and actually built on previous movies, instead of being just a dull set-up for future movies. Also, some of the dialogue is hilarious. It’s not vital to watch, but might be enjoyable.
Thor: The Dark World
I know this is considered by many to be the worst of the Thor movies. But on a second watch, I decided it’s better than the first: not as badly lit, not as slow moving at the beginning. The comic relief character from the first movie, Darcy, has better, funnier moments.
It’s still got problems. After about a third of the way in, the plot just becomes a cliché end-of-the-world plot with a “we’ve got to do the thing at the right time while the hero fights the bad guy” ending. The battle scenes in Asgard suffer from what I call a “busy” look, where there’s a whole lot of CGI elements just swirling around in every direction, smashing into things or exploding, making it hard to focus on any one thing or figure out what is going on. This happens in some of the other movies, too, and I have the sneaking suspicion that it’s things like this that cause me to forget huge chunks of some of the duller MCU movies a day or two after I watch them.
Nevertheless, I’d say The Dark World is at least a step above the first Thor movie. If you’re focusing on movies rated B or above, though, you could maybe skip this one if you’re pressed for time.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I did like The Winter Soldier better than I expected, but I couldn’t give it as high a rating as the first Captain America movie. The fight sequences are mostly gymnastics and car crashes rather than standard CGI swarms, but combined with increased use of shaky cam to make the scenes “exciting”, they are just chaotic enough that I sometimes forget what actually happened. I’ve seen it three times now, and I usually can’t remember what happened beyond the central conflict between Cap and the Winter Soldier himself until I watch a few minutes and say “Oh, yeah, this is the one about HYDRA.”
Still, despite this flaw, the plot is compelling enough to keep me interested, although my interests sags in a couple spots. A pretty good movie nonetheless, and probably even more enjoyable for those more into punchy-kicky action thrillers.
Guardians of the Galaxy
I did not know who the Guardians of the Galaxy were. Or rather, I had heard the name before, since I had some comic (Avengers, maybe?) where they had appeared as part of a storyline… except it wasn’t them. It was an older team of space-faring adventurers that used the same name. I remember the Earthman from the team was an astronaut with an atomic-powered heart, and there was an extremely wide guy from a Jovian satelllite, and an alien from Alpha Centauri with a shark fin on his head, and at least one other member I don’t recall.
But this team turned out to be fine. Dialogue is very funny, plot is pretty good, even if it gets muddied in places. Main flaw is that it’s got some of those “busy” moments I’ve been complaining about. Still, it’s definitely recommended.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
You pretty much have to watch Age of Ultron, because this is where the incident in Sokovia occurs that results in the Sokovia Accords, which influences what happens in a couple other movies and shows. I don’t like it a whole lot, and at first was going to give it a rating in the C range, but on a rewatch, I decided it was better than that. And hey, I kind of liked The Vision as a kid, and he’s in this, even if he doesn’t really do that much.
The flaw with Age of Ultron is that whole “busy” factor I keep harping about. Lots of scenes with lots of CGI stuff just flying around everywhere. And of course in this case, it’s deliberate, because the filmmakers decided that if Ultron’s gimmick is that he replicates himself, he should replicate himself A HUGE AMOUNT. The screen should be filled with Ultrons. I think they could have been trimmed back a bit and still leave Ultron as a credible threat.
I know it sounds crazy, but I think Ant-Man is the best film in Phase 2 of the MCU. Yeah, the hero no one seems to care about, who has minimal interaction with the rest of the franchise (none at all, in Phase 2.) And he’s not really fighting crime or invaders here, he’s essentially part of an intellectual property dispute.
And it’s a heist movie. I’m not fond of heist movies at all, but I love this one. First, it’s a really funny movie. It’s got a character that doesn’t seem the same as all the other superheroes; he’s more roguish, not to the same extreme as Starlord, certainly not as arrogant, but he’s not in the superhero biz for the same reasons as others.
Second, the visuals, in particular the fight scenes, are great. Yeah, it gets punchy in places… but this kind of punchy looks completely different from the standard kind of punchy, because of all the rapid changes of scale. The fact that some of the action sequences are happening on a toy train, and the camera pulls back so that we can see what this “climatic” battle really looks like if you’re human sized instead of ant-sized, makes it all the better.
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