MCU Films, Ranked (Updated May 2018)

I wanted to give my quick thoughts as to what the best Marvel Cinematic Universe (“MCU”) movies are. Please note that the list below is in worst-to-first order. Sorry, Thor. Feel free to disagree or tell me how wrong I am in the comments! Continue reading

Why I’m Worried About Ant-Man

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I’m an unabashed fan of the Marvel movies, or what’s commonly known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I loved the original “Iron Man,” and I remember sitting in the theater in 2008 being captivated by Robert Downey Jr.’s total and complete embodiment of Tony Stark. While I was less taken with “The Incredible Hulk” and “Thor,” I thought “Captain America” was fantastic, and when I heard that Marvel was planning on bringing all of those heroes together for “The Avengers,” I was thrilled. Marvel took characters that were not household names the way Superman, Batman or Wolverine were, and made them into global megastars. When “The Avengers” set the box-office record for biggest opening weekend ever, it was a referendum both on the success of Marvel’s insight and its marketing machine.

“The Avengers” marked the end of Marvel’s “Phase One,” and its “Phase Two” slate, on the whole, has performed well, both critically and at the box-office*. “Iron Man 3” might be the best entry of the series, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is the best Marvel movie they’ve made, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” took Chris Pratt and a talking raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper and made an entertaining, profitable movie out of them.

*The less said about “Thor: The Dark World,” the better.

Marvel’s movies, to date, have an astounding box-office performance. The worst performing movie, “The Incredible Hulk,” made $134 million in 2008, and since the release of “The Avengers,” no Marvel movie has grossed less than $200 million, with “Guardians” bringing in over $330 million, “Iron Man 3″‘s total haul nearing $410 million and this summer’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” approaching $445 million. (Note: these are just domestic totals.) The average Marvel movie makes $309 million, and while that number is substantially aided by both “Avengers” films, that speaks to Marvel’s ability to deliver what mass audiences want to see.

Which leads me to my concerns with “Ant-Man,” the first movie of Marvel’s “Phase Three.”  While I said that I was an unabashed fan of Marvel, I’m an even bigger fan of Paul Rudd. I loved him in “Clueless,” think he’s the best part of the very funny “Wet Hot American Summer,” and has been invigorated by his frequent collaborations with both Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) and David Wain (“Wet Hot,” “Wanderlust,” “Role Models,” “They Came Together.”) Here are just a few of my favorite Paul Rudd scenes, but believe me, there could have been dozens more added:

(This next one’s not safe for work…don’t watch, Mom and Dad!)

It’s impossible not to like Paul Rudd. It is. If I could watch one roving reporter all day, it’d be Brian Fantana. If I could choose one heir to a candy fortune to hang out with, it’d be Bobby Newport. But you know who may not like Paul Rudd as much as I do (and I hate to even say this)? Moviegoers.

Look at Paul Rudd’s box office resume. His highest-grossing movie is “Monsters Vs. Aliens,” a forgettable animated movie where he played the fifth lead. After that is “Knocked Up,” (third at best on the call sheet), “Anchorman 2” (arguably second banana), “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (again, arguably second banana), and “Anchorman” (ditto). The highest-grossing movie of his career where you could call Rudd the lead is “Dinner for Schmucks,” and I don’t think I’ve ever heard the sentences, “You know what movie I loved? ‘Dinner for Schmucks.'” said out loud. “Dinner for Schmucks,” “I Love You, Man,” “Role Models,” and “This is 40” all grossed between $67 million and $73 million; that seems to be the range of a typical, Paul Rudd-led vehicle, at its best. I love Paul Rudd. Everyone I talk to seems to love Paul Rudd. But so far, moviegoing audiences don’t love Paul Rudd. I imagine this is how I might deal with various movies of mine underperforming at the box office:

Now, of course, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and even Robert Downey Jr. weren’t all box-office kings before the Marvel machine got ahold of them. And Chris Pratt, who has just had the best 16+ months ever, as far as box office is concerned, wasn’t printing money for studios before “The Lego Movie,” “Guardians” and “Jurassic World.” But Paul Rudd’s been around for twenty years now; if he were going to be a huge box office success story, wouldn’t it have already happened?

The other, major concern that I have for “Ant-Man” is the fact that it’s had the most troubled production of any of the major Marvel movies. Usually, a director is hired, Marvel OKs the script (to make sure that there are no inconsistencies, and to make sure that each movie intertwines with the rest of the cinematic universe to build to future movies), and months or years later, a gigantic blockbuster is released. This has been a proven formula, even with material as quirky as “Guardians.” But “Ant-Man”? “Ant-Man” has been in trouble for a while now. This Vulture article spells it out pretty well, but the most important thing is to realize is that this is the first Marvel movie where the director (who also wrote the script) was fired off the project. And this is after the movie languished for the better part of eight years in development hell.

So…what does it all mean? Not much, although I wouldn’t be shocked if Ant-Man is the first Marvel movie not to cross $100 million (which I think the studio would see as a major disappointment). You have a star who people seem to love, but who don’t rush to see his movies. You have a movie that’s been rewritten on the fly, with a troubled production for years. And there also may be a sense of superhero fatigue. This summer already had an “Avengers” movie; there will be a new “Fantastic Four” in August, then “Batman vs. Superman” next year and “Captain America 3: Civil War” soon to follow.

And yet…if there’s one studio that can pull a rabbit out of its hat, defying conventional wisdom, it’s Marvel. And I think if there’s one actor who has the temerity to prove me wrong, while at the same time not caring whatsoever about his prior box office fortunes, it’s Paul Rudd. After all, when life hands you lemons…

Spider-Man falls into Marvel’s Web of Heroes

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I was really excited at the news that Captain America 3 was going to be loosely based on the Civil War storyline, given that I like the idea of these larger-than-life superheroes getting into conflict. I thought Captain America 2 was fantastic, especially for its ability to be a taut spy thriller. (It’s the most “Three Days of the Condor” of a movie that Marvel has ever made.) The idea that Captain America 3 will involve Iron Man and Captain America disagreeing about domestic registration of superheroes (and potentially come to blows over this disagreement) makes me psyched – it’s the friction of the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, but with stakes other than “We have to save the world by capturing this MacGuffin.”

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So today’s news, that Spider-Man is officially joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, warms my heart. I love Spidey. Even the terrible movies (Sam Raimi’s third, the second Marc Webb effort from last summer) have always had some redeeming qualities (Topher Grace’s Venom or Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, for instance). And the good one’s (especially 2004’s “Spider-Man 2”) transitioned the character from the comics to the screen in a way I didn’t think would be possible. So I am thrilled at the chance for Spidey to rub shoulders with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and maybe even Groot.

I’m also very happy that this means Sony may abandon plans for the Sinister Six movies they had discussed. We didn’t need six stand-alone movies about Spider-Man taking on various villians. We didn’t need an Aunt May spin-off. We didn’t need any more than the five Spider-Man movies that we’ve already gotten. And we certainly don’t need to see Peter witness Uncle Ben’s death for a third time (on screen). No, a Spider-Man who’s been doing his job (fighting crime, swinging on webs, doing whatever a spider can, etc.) rather than another iteration of the petulant and angst-ridden Peter Parker would be a nice change of a pace: a fully-formed, adult Spider-Man, capable of trading barbs with the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

While I do feel bad for Andrew Garfield (I think he did an admirable job given the sub-par scripts he was handed), some fresh blood in a franchise that, as of last summer, had lost serious momentum is a cause for celebration. Although, Marvel, I do hope that you heed the words of Uncle Ben: with great power comes great responsibility. You have stoked fans’ hopes: please don’t disappoint.

Now if only Marvel could also get back the rights to Wolverine…

Best TV, 2014 Edition

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Well, it’s that time of year. I’m hesitant to do a traditional Top 10 list, if only because there may not be ten shows that I loved, or there may be more, and, as I’ve said before, it’s my blog and I’ll make the rules. So without being beholden to numbers, let’s dive in to the television that I enjoyed the most in 2014. Note: some of these will be individual episodes or moments from a show, and some will be the show’s entire season. I’m sure you’ll figure it out as I go along. Continue reading

Summer Movies I Want to See

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In exactly eight days, I’ll be sitting in a movie theater watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier. With that, it’ll in (in my mind) officially be summer movie season. (Not sure the weather in NYC will agree with my categorization of “summer,” but that’s a discussion for a different blog). You’ll note this is pretty sequel-heavy, but that’s the industry today.

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Random thought on Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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I recently re-watched the original Captain America, and one thing stuck out at me. [Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t seen it.]

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