This week sees the release of Captain America: Civil War, the other big superhero punch-up of 2016. But as Steve Rogers and Tony Stark come to blows over the ethics of being a costumed hero, we at ORWAV are fighting our own battle: just what is the best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) so far?
Phil: Right then, chaps, let’s have a nice clean debate – nothing below the utility belt. As always we begin with our opening statements. Who would like to be the first to tell us which is their pick for the best Marvel movie?
Bertie: The best MCU movie (so far) is The Incredible Hulk. Joking – no one thinks that. My choice is Iron Man, the film where it all began. It’s got it all – character development, a relevant message on the modern world, a credible villain, cool tech, and RDJ showing once again that he is The Dude. As strong openings to a series go, this has to be up there. Imagine if this had gone the same way as The Incredible Hulk, or worse, Hulk. The Jericho missile is one of the coolest displays of firepower in a series which heavily depends on the explosive factor, and it made engineering look cool. So much of it is RDJ in R&D, yet we can’t not watch!
Jack: There is more character work packed into that one Jericho missile scene than in pretty much the entirety of the current DC movies. A great introduction to the MCU for sure.
Andrew: My pick is Ant-Man, for the pure gamble that Kevin Feige has evidently taken in planning out the second stage of the MCU. Guardians of the Galaxy was a bit of a gamble to start it off, but as it was so unattached from the rest of the MCU, it would have been pretty easy to wave off as not mattering or being unconnected if it failed. But Ant-Man was a massive risk. I personally feel that it paid off, and it showed the finesse that the Marvel/Disney machine has in being able to create great movies, even with massive obstacles to overcome (such as Edgar Wright leaving).
Bertie: You’re absolutely right about Guardians, to the extent that I actually forgot it was in the MCU when we were asked to pick our film. And about the gamble. There are a lot of them in the MCU – actually Iron Man too – but Ant-Man pulled it off even with the Wright-off.
Jack: Given that we’ve got an argument already for the opening MCU film, I feel it’s pretty fitting that I’m arguing for its biggest culmination to date – Avengers: Age of Ultron. It gets compared unfavourably to Avengers, but I’d argue that it’s a more consistently excellent film that manages to juggle an enormous amount of important characters and give each of them at least one scene in which to shine. And Ultron is easily one of Marvel’s best villains, really menacing in both a creepy and a ‘powerful enough to destroy the world’ sense. I watched it for the fourth time today to prep for the debate, and each and every scene with Paul Bettany’s Vision is still just joyous.
Phil: Let’s start by talking about something that you’ve all mentioned in a sense – the insane experiment that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. All of your picks are arguably integral parts in the grand experiment of crossing over multiple films: Iron Man has that amazing end credits scene with the introduction of Nick Fury, Age of Ultron is the culmination of Phase 2 and Ant-Man does a lot of work setting up what will come in Phase 3.
Jack: Ant-Man felt a lot like an epilogue. It was a small and refreshing palate cleanser after the grandiosity of Phase 2. Like the ending of a sitcom episode with a great standalone joke.
Andrew: I think it was pretty smart to serve Ant-Man at the end of Phase 2, but if it had underperformed, we probably would have never heard of it again. It would have been brushed over after the hype of Ultron and lost in the clamour of Civil War. It’s a C-list football match bookended by two Division One games.
Bertie: That seems a bit pessimistic. Ant-Man and the Wasp may not have existed had the first failed, but I think they’d stick by Rudd and their vision enough to keep him in the ensembles. Even if only to kill him off.
Phil: So would it be fair to say that the best Marvel films are the ones that remember they’re serving a much greater narrative?
Bertie: I think the MCU is staunchly a universe, not a set of standalones. So yes, I’d agree that the strands are important, although I wouldn’t put either Avengers movie on top of my list.
Jack: I’m not sure. I’d happily argue for GotG being the best MCU film (it, Winter Soldier, and Age of Ultron make up a solid top three for me).
Andrew: I like the ensemble movies mainly for the little things they bring together. You wouldn’t get scenes like Ant-Man riding Hawkeye’s arrow in Civil War if the films didn’t cross over with each other. Being a comic book geek, those moments mimicking print are what make me happy.
Jack: I am also a big nerd for these universes, which is one of the reasons I love Ultron so much. It’s got that opening, one-shot fight that ends with that splash-page leap from the whole team, and then the circling shot as they fight all of the Ultron-bots.
Andrew: On a side note, what’s your favourite easter egg in a Marvel film?
Jack: The name drop of Stephen Strange in The Winter Soldier.
Bertie: Isn’t there a Wayne Industries satellite or something?
Andrew: *shakes head at Bertie*
Bertie: OK, so my actual pick is the changing list in Winter Soldier – things for Steve to catch up on.
Andrew: Maybe the hidden Roxxon sign in the background of the first Iron Man movie? Those little things make all the movies so great.
Bertie: I think they make them fun, not great. Man cannot live on easter eggs alone. If the rest of the film wasn’t already good we wouldn’t care so much. Like, there’s loads of comic book panel lifts in Hulk and Daredevil (the Affleck one) but we don’t hear about them, do we? Neither of them is a good film, and the fun bits couldn’t save them.
Phil: Let’s move on to another staple of Marvel (or any superhero movie, for that matter) – the villains.
Bertie: Let’s start with Stane – the capitalist with the heart made of stone.
Andrew: They wasted him on one film. He should have been the Earth version of Loki.
Jack: Especially as the Iron Man 2 villains were so forgettable. Another Stane movie would have definitely been preferable. I’d say Ultron is the second best MCU villain, with Loki in the top spot, but Loki has had three films to win us over.
Bertie: Menacing, charismatic, vain, bitter. Less robotic than Ultron. I totally didn’t mean that pun.
Jack: Talking of Hiddleston, I think it’s incredible just how good Marvel’s casts are. I mean, you look at Age of Ultron, and most of the main cast could front, and have fronted, a prestigious Oscar-y film.
Andrew: I want to wait and see where the Ragnarok storyline is taking us, with Loki taking the place of Odin. We’re in for some excitement. But I feel Loki is the best so far, until we get approached by Thanos properly in several films’ time. It’s almost a shame they killed off Hydra so quickly in The Winter Soldier, and then cast it away to the savagery of television. “We don’t want this toy anymore, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can have it now we’re done with it.”
Phil: Andrew, any words on Darren Cross [Corey Stoll’s Ant-Man villain]? Is he anything more than Stane 2.0? Another industrialist intent on weaponising someone else’s remarkable invention…
Andrew: Not particularly. Forgettable, boring villain. Used about as much as the Red Skull and tossed away like the tissue he wipes up that business executive with in the bathroom.
Phil: Nice imagery. So what are our conclusions, folks?
Jack: I’d say that Age of Ultron is essentially a ‘complete’ comic book movie. It has an enormous cast, it’s well-marshaled and written by Joss Whedon, who gets to put his own stamp on the film by playing with our expectations regarding, for instance, what seemed like certain death for Hawkeye. Plenty of really gleeful moments, from Vision picking up Thor’s hammer to the party scene, which I’d have happily watched far more of. And the action is huge in scale, but kept comprehensible and heroic, with the characters going out of their way to save and evacuate civilians.
Bertie: I’ll stick with #TeamIronMan – we had to start somewhere, and it had no risk of getting bogged down in the MCU. We probably never used the phrase MCU until long after that film was out?
Andrew: I think you’ve got my vote Jack. Ant-Man is great, but there are better things about Age of Ultron: the combining of all those heroes, the glory shots, the continuation of the storylines from Phase 2. I still think Ant-Man is a great gamble film, but in this debate of three films, I’ll change to also champion Jack’s choice.