MCU Retrospective, #1-3: Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2
In this weekly series, Film Yap writer Andrew Carr revisits each installment of the decade-long Marvel Cinematic Universe. Once a week, Andrew will review one film in the series, in the order in which they were originally released. Additionally, after each viewing he will reevaluate his previously held opinion of the film, giving each one a new score out of 5 Yaps. All 18 films (plus “Avengers: Infinity War,” upon release) will be compiled into one definitive ranking. Each entry in the “MCU Retrospective” series will include a short review of the given film for the week, as well as a historical recap about the film’s initial conception and release.
A new entry in the “MCU Retrospective” series will be posted every Sunday from now until the weekend prior to the release of “Avengers: Infinity War” on May 5.
Hello. I am sorry.
I’d like to start this off by apologizing: this article series is three weeks behind. I had been doing this weekly viewing series on my own, just for fun, but it didn’t occur to me to publish it until this weekend. From here on out, you can expect one entry (covering only one movie each, not three) every Sunday from now until Infinity War. I promise!
Anyway, my reasoning behind this series comes from a couple of places:
1.) I am a big Marvel fan. Well, a comic book fan in general, but Marvel has always been my main squeeze. I’ve really enjoyed how Marvel Studios has handled their characters on screen, and I wanted to share that love with the world.
2.) The Marvel Cinematic Universe is long. Soon to be 19 movies long (18 in February with Black Panther, then 19 with Infinity War), the MCU is the longest interconnected film series in history. Of course, not all of them directly connect in their individual narratives, but they all exist in one fictional world, and the events in each movie can and frequently do affect the events in another. On top of that, the series has been going for a decade. That’s a long time to remember what each film was like! I’m hoping that my reviews—and my brief meta-history recaps—will help jog your memory back for each installment.
3.) This is a good jumping on point! Maybe you’re behind on the MCU, or you have only seen the “big hits”, like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, and you’re trying to decide which ones might be worth your watch between now and May 4. My goal is to help provide a bit of a recommendation as to which ones I think deserve your time (I mean, let’s be honest, I think you should watch all of them; but maybe these reviews will help you be a little more picky).
Above all, I just love spurring up discussion. If I’m talking about my opinions on these movies, maybe you’ll start talking about them, and maybe you’ll get your friends talking, and we’ll all be able to enjoy a nice round of conversation about the state of the MCU, and we’ll be all the more in the mood for another Avengers smackdown when Infinity War comes around.
Anyway, the way this is going to work is that I am going to give a brief little rundown about what was going on over at Marvel Studios when each of these films released. Once we’re all bored from history class, I’ll move on to the cool part with the colorful stars and the pretty pictures and the nasty opinions. After all that, you’ll see I’m putting all the MCU films into an overall ranking, one entry at a time. By the end of all this, you’ll get to see which ones fare well, and which ones bring up the rear.
So, with this first entry, I’m going to catch us up with a triple feature. We’ll start with the first three films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man 2!
Released in 2008 in an attempt to launch a connective series of comic book films, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk make up what I call “Marvel’s first steps.” In 2008, Marvel Studios was far from the mega-studio we know today—you know, the one that now dominates the box office for multiple consecutive weekends, 2-3 times per year, and has the only consistently successful and widely loved “cinematic universe” in Hollywood? Yeah, that one.
In fact, it’s hard to believe that when those first two films were released, an Avengers movie was hardly a sure thing. The newly resurrected Marvel Studios was tasked with making a couple of blockbusters to compete with the Marvel-licensed films that Sony Pictures and Fox had already released throughout the 2000s (all of which featured more popular Marvel Comics characters than the ones Marvel Studios had access to, mind you). The Samuel L. Jackson cameo at the end of Iron Man, in which he name-drops “the Avenger Initiative,” seemed like a very well-thought-out strategy for franchise-building at the time. However, it has since been said, by Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, to have been little more than wishful thinking at the time—a “wouldn’t THAT be cool” moment to treat the fans. Marvel was simply hoping that Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk would be successful enough to warrant continued expansion in other films.
Clearly, their dreams came true. And that success spawned a sequel to Iron Man in 2010. The sequel would go on to make gonzo box office money, riding the wave of newly minted Iron Man fans, but would falter in critical response in comparison to its predecessor. Nevertheless, money talks, and the franchise would forge onward, as the building blocks for an Avengers film grew more apparent with each installment.
1. IRON MAN (2008)
Marvel Studios got off to a great start with this one. It’s no wonder the franchise succeeded after they opened with Robert Downey, Jr. doing his best Robert Downey Jr. impression. Add to that razor-sharp writing and unexpectedly good direction from Jon Favreau (whose most notable directing credit had previously been Elf), and you have a stunningly slick and charming origin story that bested any of the other origin films of the 2000s, and is still one of the best.
It gets a little messy in the third act, in which the main villain becomes a bigger, grayer Iron Man, but up to that point, and then again at the end, it’s hard to find anything to complain about. I had forgotten just how utterly perfect the film’s first act is; it just might be the best-executed superhero origin in film.
2. THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)
This one was a better watch than I remembered. Perhaps it paled in comparison to Marvel Studios’ lead-off, and that’s why it’s gotten so little love, but it’s really not a bad film, especially when you consider the gold standard for “good” superhero movies at the time was Fox’s X-Men trilogy. Oof.
Hulk’s characters may not get the writing they deserve this time around, nor any particularly impressive acting, but it’s a solid example of a plot-driven blockbuster, as opposed to one that is character-driven (which is typically my preference). The action is fun and dynamic; I still love seeing Tim Roth’s diminutive frame leaping around the angry green giant (not to mention that brutal kick to the chest he takes). It’s not necessarily what I would call memorable, save for a few moments, but it’s a fairly clean and concise on-the-run action thriller that ends with a great monster beat-down in the streets.
The Incredible Hulk is still one of the MCU’s weakest films, but I see that as more of a testament to how good the MCU is, rather than to how bad this movie is. I think it’s actually moved itself up from its position as my least favorite MCU film.
3. IRON MAN 2 (2010)
This is another one that I think gets a little more crap than deserved, maybe just because it doesn’t get enough credit for what it does right, despite its obvious flaws.
It had a tall order to follow one of the best superhero origin films of all time, and in many ways it disappoints as a follow-up; the plot is at times too convenient, and at others, too convoluted. It also puts the suspension of disbelief under a lot of stress by having Tony LITERALLY INVENT A NEW ELEMENT IN HIS BASEMENT; a new element theoretically discovered but never truly created by his father Howard in the ’70s, which not only provides limitless energy (convenient), but also cures Tony of his blood poisoning due to the palladium core of his previous ARC reactor (even more convenient). The movie is a bit ridiculous, even for a superhero film.
That said, it has fantastic action sequences—showing off new suits and weapons for Iron Man and his new counterpart, War Machine—as well as more of the trademark wit from the first film, and a pitch-perfect (and underrated) Sam Rockwell playing foil to Tony Stark as weapons-developing rival Justin Hammer. It’s still a really fun movie, even if it doesn’t feel as tightly wound and believable as its predecessor.
This is, again, one of Marvel’s weaker movies, but upon re-watch, it’s hard to imagine why people look back on it so poorly. I would honestly rather watch this again than, say, Guardians Vol. 2 or Thor: The Dark World. Well, we’ll see when I get to those… but I had a really good time with Iron Man 2.
The MCU Ranking!
Every week, I’ll be taking each entry covered for that week and placing it in an ongoing ranking, which will eventually include all 19 films. Fortunately, since we’re starting with three at once, we have a little more to compare against. Below is my current ranking of the MCU, including the first three:
1. Iron Man
2. Iron Man 2
3. The Incredible Hulk