He Who Walks Behind the Rows

Children of the Corn can only be described as corny. I was expecting another iconic horror experience from Stephen King, but what I got was a bunch of shucks. “Children of the Corn” was originally written as a short story by King. The story is almost like The Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life” if it chose to focus exclusively on creepy kids sending adults to a cornfield. I had no idea King was responsible for the 1984 Children of the Corn, but all of his usual horror hallmarks are there.

Children of the Corn takes place in a rural town full of religious extremists with anti-religious main characters. It’s about as eye-roll inducing as I’ve come to expect. Every adult in town is brutally murdered by their children in a particularly memorable opening. Made more memorable by Isaac staring at the violence in his black folksy hat. Although Isaac seems like a childish false prophet, John Franklin was actually 23 at the time. His youthful look mixed with his grown up experience made Isaac the most stand out part of the movie.

Everything else is really slow and full of corny performances. Peter Horton plays Burt and a pre-Terminator Linda Hamilton plays Vicky. They’re an unfortunate couple that end up stuck in the adultless town. The only good kids are the narrator Job and his unexplainably psychic sister Sarah (another frequent King cliché). Isaac and his right hand Malachi make the children worship some kind of corn god called “He who walks behind the rows.” I understand having a cult following, but there’s no way I’m watching 10 sequels worth of this. Children of the Corn is about as terrifying as corn can be.

Children of the Corn

Isaac views the carnage

Their World is Closer than You Think

The Spiderwick Chronicles invites you to a world unseen. The five part children’s book series was published from 2003-2004. I never heard of the books, but I knew about the movie. Since I watched a lot of Nick growing up, the Nickelodeon movie The Spiderwick Chronicles was heavily marketed on the channel. Even though I’m a big fan of fantastical worlds, the 2008 movie didn’t interest me. I was pleasantly surprised when I decided to give it a chance years later. The Spiderwick Chronicles is a delightful trip though an enchanting world of invisible sprites, goblins, ogeries, boggarts, hobgoblins, trolls, and even the lesser known brownie.

It’s an inventive tale with children as the heroes. The Grace family recently move into the Spiderwick estate. A spooky old house in the middle of nowhere that contains an all important field guide written by Arthur Spiderwick. The family consists of divorced mother Helen, her fencing skilled older daughter Mallory, and the twins Jared & Simon. Although it’s weird hearing child Freddie Highmore speak in an American accent, he is great at distinguishing the very different brothers.

Simon is a pacifist, but Jared is a hotheaded hero who finds the book. The field guide unleashes the fairy world that can only be viewed through a seeing stone. The CGI used for the creatures was my initial turn off, but the crude design works surprisingly well. The Spiderwick Chronicles is a unique adventure to protect the house from an evil ogre who seeks to wield the knowledge from the book. With the help of Thimbletack the house brownie and Hogsqueal the hobgoblin, the family fight back in an intense family friendly way. The Spiderwick Chronicles is best seen by true lovers of fantasy.

The Spiderwick Chronicles

Jared looks into the fairy world

One Ring to Bring Them All and in the Darkness Bind Them

The Return of the King is the final animated adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work. Since Ralph Bakshi was overwhelmed by the response to his incomplete version of The Lord of the Rings, Rankin/Bass jumped at the opportunity to finish it. Sadly, The Return of the King was very much a sequel to The Hobbit (that’s not confusing at all). A Best Picture winner of 11 Academy Awards this is not. Since the TV special was every bit the crudely animated unnecessary musical that The Hobbit was. Scenes from the 1977 film are used along with Orson Bean voicing both Bilbo and Frodo.

The 1980 film actually starts with elderly Bilbo celebrating his birthday after the One Ring was already destroyed. A very annoying minstrel sings the story of Frodo and his nine fingers. We pick up right where The Two Towers ended, but neither Bashki, nor Rankin/Bass depicted Frodo’s encounter with Shelob. Instead Frodo is already kidnapped by overly cartoony orcs. Leaving a fairly dignified Sam to come to Frodo’s aid. It really feels like a Hobbit sequel based on how much attention is given to the hobbits in comparison to everyone else.

Despite the title, Aragorn is barely in the movie to return as the king of Gondor. Legolas and Gimli are surprisingly never seen. Arwen is still absent, but at least Eowyn gets her female empowerment moment. The Battle of Minas Tirith is vaguely intense with Gandalf, Pippin, and eventually Merry fighting off orcs. It’s just Frodo and Sam avoiding Sauron’s eye atop Mount Doom that takes up most of the 1 hour & 38 minute runtime. The green Gollum from The Hobbit attacks Frodo, but his accidental destruction of the Ring is due to clumsiness. Frodo then departs to the Grey Havens in an ending with almost no weight to any of it. The Return of the King tries its best, but thankfully Peter Jackson came along to make the story a masterpiece.

The Return of the King

Frodo uses the power of the Ring

One Ring to Find Them

The Lord of the Rings is the animated precursor to the acclaimed live-action trilogy. Ralph Bakshi is a unique animator known for his crude hard R or X rated adult cartoons of the 70’s. He’s the last director you’d expect to make a faithful adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s beloved fantasy novels. Then again, Peter Jackson also got his start in lewd excessively R rated shlock. Jackson was actually introduced to The Lord of the Rings through Bakshi’s 1978 movie. They said it couldn’t be done, so Bakshi decided the dense trilogy was best told in animation. Really bizarre and trippy animation that he’s most known for. At least it was better than an adaptation starring the Beatles. The Lord of the Rings was actually the first animated movie to make extensive use of rotoscoping. Meaning live-action performers were traced over to make large scale battles like the mines of Moria or Helms Deep easier to animate. I actually do remember seeing the movie after The Fellowship of the Ring came out, but I blocked most of it from my memory. The animation inconsistencies and different approach to key moments didn’t feel right to me.

The Lord of the Rings feels long with its 2 hour & 15 minute runtime, but that’s because it adapts The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. Lack of The Return of the King finishing the story seriously enraged fans and casual moviegoers. The movie isn’t totally without merit, but it’s hard to appreciate something that was severely overshadowed by a far better work. The Lord of the Rings begins with the backstory of the One Ring told with live-action silhouettes. If you’re as extremely familiar with the story like I am, than the rest of the movie will be easy to follow. The hobbit Bilbo of the Shire leaves the Ring with Frodo who’s much more prepared to make the perilous journey. Gandalf is a dignified wizard with a long flowing beard, but Sam is a dufus. Merry and Pippin are pretty interchangeable. Aragorn has the commanding voice of John Hurt, but is vaguely Native American looking. Elves like Legolas and Elrond strangely don’t have pointy ears.

More strange is the fact that Legolas is one of the only non-C-3PO roles Anthony Daniels has ever had. Gimli is a rather large dwarf and Boromir looks like a viking. The most confusing decision was occasionally renaming Saruman, Aruman. Since some idiot thought Sauron sounded too similar to Saruman. The Fellowship plays out about the same just with much more stylized rotoscoped Ringwraiths and orcs. Along with the complete absence of Arwin and no lines for Eowyn. Galadriel is the only woman who speaks as the beautiful but mysterious elf. Despite the PG rating, the violence can get pretty bloody. The Two Towers seems far more rushed with a cartoony Treebeard having one scene, Théoden having little development apart from being fed lies by Wormtongue, and Gollum needing only a few scenes to make an impression. His look is pretty close to the Jackson version, but we never see Gollum take the hobbits to Shelob. Then post-battle ending narration makes it clear that this was only Part 1 of the epic journey. Something Bashki foolishly didn’t include in the theatrical version. The Lord of the Rings may lack the sophistication of grand live-action films, but its experimental approach is worth a curious viewing.

The Lord of the Rings

The hobbits hide from a Ringwraith

The Greatest Adventure

The Hobbit is the first on screen foray into the world of Middle-earth. Long before Peter Jackson brought J. R. R. Tolkien’s work to life, Rankin/Bass of Christmas special fame created their own animated TV special in 1977. My brother remembers seeing the movie, but my memory is practically non-existent. The Hobbit is a simple adventure just as the book intended. Not bloated into three overly long 2 hour movies. Although Rankin/Bass created the special, the very crude animation was done in Japan. By the company that would become Studio Ghibli no less.

The Hobbit simplifies a lot of the original story while remaining very faithful to the book’s British pleasantries. The animation meant keeping it kid friendly with musical songs from the book. Orson Bean voices Bilbo Baggins and John Huston voices Gandalf. If you know The Hobbit, then following the 1 hour & 30 minute story is easy. Bilbo is very quickly sent on an adventure with Gandalf, Thorin, and his Company of Dwarves. When Gandalf disappears we never know where. Their adventure takes many familiar stops in the Shire, Rivendell, Goblin-town, Mirkwood, Lake-town, and their final destination at the Misty Mountain.

Where they hastily battle hungry trolls, fearsome goblins, vicious wargs, and the magnificently eloquent dragon Smaug. Bilbo also has an extended confrontation of riddles with Gollum where he finds the One Ring. Gollum and most of the creatures have a very unique design, but nothing is more strange than their green interpretation of the woodland elves. When Smaug is quickly defeated by the man Bard, the Battle of the Five Armies is mostly implied. Ending with a hint of Lord of the Rings to come. The Hobbit has a crude charm that’s interesting to revisit after seeing three big-budget adaptations.

The Hobbit 1977

Gandalf, Bilbo, and the Company of Dwarves

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes ⭐

The Avengers is my all time favorite Marvel comics superhero movie. As the sixth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Avengers delivered on the promise of a massive crossover. Such a monumental feat was unprecedented. As a lifelong Marvel fan, my anticipation was through the roof. The Avengers were first formed in 1963 by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby. Much like the Justice League, Marvel sought to have their own team of superheroes with individual storylines. So the Avengers assembled with the Invincible Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, the Mighty Thor, Ant-Man, and the Wasp as founding members in The Avengers #1. The roster was ever-changing, but maintained popularity for many decades with all sorts of animated appearances. A live-action movie simply couldn’t be done without solo movies setting up each hero.

It was extremely fortunate that Marvel foolishly selling their rights had no effect on the team’s core members. Producer Kevin Feige was a master craftsmen who ensured Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye would all work in what would turn out to be Phase One of the MCU. Nerd master Joss Whedon was chosen as writer & director and almost every actor was on board for the ensemble. Not even Disney unexpectedly buying the rights to Marvel Studios was enough to make me doubt the risky venture. I was 16 when The Avengers hit theaters. The experience was so indescribable that I saw it once with my family and a second time with a friend. I even endorsed the movie at school just to ensure Marvel’s never before seen billion dollar box-office gross. I knew if any Marvel movie was deserving of being number three on my “Top 10 Favorite Movies” list, it had to be a game changer like The Avengers

11. The Avengers

Avengers assemble

The Avengers assembles Earth’s Mightiest Heroes the same way they were formed in the original Avengers #1. Loki is the supervillain responsible for unintentionally bringing his brother Thor, a gold suited Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Wasp, and even a loose cannon like Hulk together. The team changed immediately when Hank Pym became Giant-Man and Hulk left in Avengers #2. Avengers #3 featured Iron Man in his new red & yellow armor and Avengers #4 finally brought Captain America back as the team’s leader. Hawkeye and Black Widow didn’t join the team until Avengers #16 & #111 respectively. Which is why the movie also takes inspiration from The Ultimates. The Ultimate version of the Avengers from the early 2000’s is where the black version of Nick Fury is responsible for bringing the team together under the guidance of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Avengers begins with the always awesome Marvel logo minus the Studios part. The Paramount Pictures logo remains intact since no one wants to see the Walt Disney logo before a Marvel movie.

Both logos are shown on the all important Tesseract. The blue cosmic cube was the central weapon used by Hydra in World War II. Since Loki obviously didn’t die when he floated off into eternity, the Asgardian is recruited by a mysterious alien simply known as the Other. The Other supplies Loki with a blue mind controlling staff and an army of Chitauri. Rather than utilize a more well known alien race like the Skrulls, Marvel instead went with the lesser known Chitauri introduced in The Ultimates. It made much more sense for the Avengers to face a faceless CGI army. Since Loki isn’t exactly the kind of villain who can be fought by all Avengers at once. S.H.I.E.L.D. makes its most lasting impact by having the first 11 minutes focus on Nick Fury, Maria Hill, and Agent Phil Coulson dealing with the Tesseract at a secure compound.

In the comics, Maria Hill is a short haired agent who frequently comes to blows with her superior. Coulson has always been an original creation meant to be an everyman for S.H.I.E.L.D. As promised from the after-credits scene in Thor, Dr. Erik Selvig is the one working on the Tesseract directly. All of which is being overseen by agent Clint Barton. Despite his first appearance as a sharpshooter in Thor, Hawkeye really makes an impression in The Avengers. Not enough to understand having someone with a bow & arrow on the team, but he proves his worth. Loki is transported through space on the other side of the Tesseract. The Asgardian truly becomes a villain with his sinister smile and ruthlessly killing several agents. In Thor, Loki was much more regal and fueled by jealousy. In The Avengers, Loki is more like a pirate who seeks to rule Earth instead of Asgard. Loki mind controls both Selvig and Barton in order to enact his master plan to release the Chitauri on the world. As Nick Fury calls in the war, The Avengers logo dramatically appears on-screen alongside a heroic theme by Alan Silvestri.

Like any other movie crossover, it’s beyond awesome to see so many different iconic characters interact for the first time. The Avengers is a perfect balancing act that gives each hero a proper reintroduction before letting them act off each other. After introducing herself in Iron Man 2, Black Widow is first seen in an ingenious sequence where Natasha Romanoff is tied to a chair in a sexy dress speaking Russian to her enemy captives. Her highly acrobatic scissor kicking take down more than qualifies her amongst monsters and magic. Like the comics, Black Widow and Hawkeye are former villains with a strong non-romantic bond. Romanoff is tasked with bringing in Bruce Banner due to the Tesseract giving off a gamma radiation signature. After The Incredible Hulk, Banner remained in hiding in different parts of the world. Using his science to help people while avoiding incidents as the Hulk. Banner is on edge, but he reluctantly agrees when Romanoff persuades him.

Nick Fury answers to the World Security Council. A shadowy monitor of board room members that go against Fury’s plans for the Avengers Initiative. After Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers was unfrozen in modern day New York. All it takes is several swings on a punching bag to show Steve’s pain of losing everyone he’s ever known. Of course Rogers deals with being a man out of time, but it’s never done to an extreme. The after-credits scene from The First Avenger is shown when Nick Fury personally delivers the mission to Cap. After Iron Man & Iron Man 2, Tony Stark has made an effort to rebrand Stark Industries. He continues to wear his Mark VI armor when refitting his New York Stark Tower with clean energy. Pepper Potts is the only MCU girlfriend present since she’s just too important in Tony’s life. Coulson personally arrives to recruit Stark with all the information he needs to know about his teammates. Coulson also fanboys over Captain America and even worked on his snappy new costume.

Everyone meets on an aircraft carrier that turns out to be the famous S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier complete with Quinjets. It’s there that agents are finally dressed in comic accurate blue uniforms. Loki’s mind controlled team is in need of iridium in Germany, so they ruthlessly break in to steal it. After forcing a crowd to kneel with an eloquent speech about subjugation, Captain America heroically drops in to save the day. Cap’s one on one fight with Loki is highly athletic, but it ends when Iron Man flies in to the tune of “Shoot to Thrill.” It’s then that polar opposites Captain America and Iron Man finally come to together. Their victory is short lived with the dramatic arrival of Thor summoning lightning & thunder. After Thor, the Bifröst was destroyed and Thor was stranded on Asgard. The only explanation is Odin using dark magic to bring Thor to Earth in order to secure his brother.

Thor and Loki’s sibling rivalry reaches a standstill when the brothers have words with each other. It’s just humorously interrupted by Stark. It’s an unspoken rule that superheroes have to fight when they first meet each other. Thor vs. Iron Man is a delightful display of magic vs. science that matches the power of a metal suit with the might of a literal god. The Marvel trinity successfully come together when Cap intervenes and Thor’s hammer is no match for Cap’s shield. Loki is imprisoned on the Helicarrier in a high tech cell meant for the Hulk. The main theme of The Avengers is setting aside differences and learning to work together as a team. The Avengers assemble on the Helicarrier just to be torn apart by Fury’s Phase 2 plans to make weapons from the Tesseract in order to face greater threats.

Their heated argument is interrupted by Loki’s mind controlled forces unleashing the Hulk the way he planned. This Hulk out is much more emotional for Banner as he unwittingly attacks Black Widow. Although it does lead to a long awaited fight between the strongest Avengers Thor and Hulk. The attack keeps Stark and Cap busy with Helicarrier repair, but Natasha sees some action by fighting her mind controlled best friend Clint. Loki crosses the line by killing Coulson as he tries to attack with a weapon made from the Destroyer. With Thor sent hurtling down to Earth, Hulk jumping out of the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, and the rest of the team affected by Coulson’s death, it’s finally enough to properly assemble the Avengers. Now that you know the story, this is why it’s my all time favorite Marvel superhero movie…

12. The Avengers

Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor reach a standstill

The Avengers is one the most comic book accurate superhero movies I’ve ever seen. I accept changes that are made for the sake of a cinematic adaptation, but a Marvel or DC movie will always win points for sticking to the source material that I grew up with. The Avengers was a far cry from fellow superhero team up movie X-Men. Fox was only concerned with introducing the Mutants in a way that felt believable. By 2012, audiences were more than willing to accept a team of superheroes with colorful costumes and a sense of humor. We have Joss Whedon to thank for turning The Avengers into more than just an action-packed big screen spectacle. Whedon has a long history of appreciation in geek culture. With TV hits such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly. Despite only ever directing Serenity, hiring Joss Whedon to direct was a stroke of genius. He understands superheroes better than most and his unique Buffy style of writing was perfectly suited for the already comedic MCU. My theater erupted with laughter on several occasions thanks to the hilarious banter. None of it would’ve worked if the cast wasn’t already endearing to the audience.

As I said in my Iron Man review, my brother and I were completely clueless about the intended Marvel Cinematic Universe until The Incredible Hulk featured a Tony Stark cameo. Suddenly I was on the edge of my seat waiting for each additional actor to be cast in Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. I was definitely way more excited than my friends who were only casual fans that didn’t constantly stay up to date on sites like comicbookmovie.com. I was still a little confused about whether or not Tony Stark would appear due to him not qualifying at the end of Iron Man 2. Turns out the consultant thing was just to explain his meeting with General Ross that made it seem like he was putting the team together to fight the Hulk. After three separate appearances, Robert Downey Jr. was Iron Man. He was definitely the biggest crowd pleaser with his continued snarky charisma. Hence placing Iron Man at the center of The Avengers poster. Stark is a bit more serious with running his company, but his jokes and nicknames are perfectly suited for the rest of his team. Putting Gwyneth Paltrow in the movie was Downey Jr.’s idea since Tony & Pepper are now a loving couple.

Stark Tower is a crucial building in the comics that places the movie squarely in New York City. The primary location for almost every Marvel superhero. Although I was hopeful, Edward Norton didn’t reprise his role as Bruce Banner since he was either too difficult to work with or unwilling to commit to one character. So Norton was transformed into Mark Ruffalo instead. I wasn’t too familiar with the actor, but Ruffalo’s reserved approach quickly made him the Hulk I waited years to see. Scarlett Johansson gives her best possible performance as sole female member Black Widow. Johansson simultaneously pulls off Romanoff’s mysterious nature, seductive appearance, expert fighting skills, and even honors her routes by speaking Russian. Her best scene after the the interrogation is easily her deceptive talk with Loki. Jeremy Renner was quickly becoming a rising star, but he’s somehow the least comedic character despite Hawkeye being a jokester in the comics. We don’t really get to know him much due to his mind control.

Chris Evans was well liked, but Captain America didn’t become an instant favorite after The First Avenger was released. I was still more than happy to see Captain America lead the team the way he was supposed to. Instead of Tony leading the team because he was more popular. Evans is at his best as an old fashioned man trying to adapt to the modern age. Most of his best comedic bits are subtle jabs at him being from the 40’s. Chris Hemsworth was mostly a favorite amongst female fans since Thor was also a modest success that audiences were still trying to understand. This is actually my second favorite version of Thor, because Hemsworth really feels like a powerful God of Thunder. He’s also pretty funny without all the jokes being at the expense of his Asgardian ways. Tom Hiddleston was simply born to play Loki. Whedon was wise to really play into Thor and Loki’s glorious Shakespearean dialogue. Hiddleston gained tremendous popularity with his mischievous charm. Loki will always be a delightfully sinister villain no matter how likeable he is.

The Avengers has more action than most superhero movies, but you’re never bored thanks to all the team interactions. Tony gets along with Banner thanks to both of them being scientists, but the Iron Man and Captain America rivalry has always existed in the comics. Since Cap fights for others and Stark mostly fights for himself as a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. Thor challenges Stark’s world view, but their fight is purely circumstantial. Since Vibranium can absorb lightning, Cap and Thor (the two Chris’s) get along better as fellow warriors. Thor and Hulk are naturally placed in combat thanks to the never ending debate of who’s stronger. Romanoff has good chemistry with Rogers due to Evans and Johansson already knowing each other from past movies. Banner actually has a surprising amount of scenes with Romanoff since he needs someone to appeal to his humanity. But it’s Romanoff’s friendship with Barton that feels the most natural since you can feel their shared history.

Since he always appears in everything, Samuel L. Jackson was wise to claim the role of Nick Fury. Jackson sees way more action than before and gives Fury his commanding mysterious presence as S.H.I.E.L.D. director. Every Avenger has some level of respect for Fury, but they don’t fully trust him. Joss Whedon tends to reuse actors, so Cobie Smulders increased her on-screen presence as a comic accurate Maria Hill. Alexis Denisof plays the Other and Ashley Johnson has lingering appearances as a waitress. Supporting casts are kept to a minimum apart from Pepper, Selvig, and J.A.R.V.I.S. Jane Foster’s absence is explained with her being at a secure location and any Captain America characters are briefly seen in an obscured flashback. Despite being original, Clark Gregg was so likable as Phil Coulson that Joss Whedon’s need to kill off important characters felt earned.

Loki manages to make enemies of each of the Avengers. Thor wants Loki to answer to their father back on Asgard, Steve wants to end another war started by the Tesseract, Natasha feels compromised by Loki laying out her violent history, Clint wants revenge for being mind controlled, Banner is angry that Loki unleashed the Hulk, Tony is most upset about Phil’s death, and the fact that Loki is using Stark Tower to bring the Chitauri. The climax is one of the most exciting extended fight scenes in superhero movie history. It starts when all the Avengers suit up in some of their best costumes yet. The Mark VI armor was already seen in Iron Man 2, but it’s replaced in a wonderful scene where Tony threatens Loki and his staff fails to get through his arc reactor. The Mark VII armor returns to the classic circular arc reactor with a weaponized red, gold, & silver rocket pack that assembles onto Tony mid-air.

Thor looks his absolute best with far better long blonde hair and a sleeveless look during his forest fight. I’m not crazy about his capeless look on the Helicarrier, but I do love his mostly unaltered final battle appearance. Loki has his best possible look complete with trademark bended horns. Black Widow is always stunning in her skintight catsuit complete with widow’s bite and her short red hair that works for what’s essentially a war film. I don’t like that Hawkeye isn’t wearing a fully purple costume, but I understand the grounded spy look. The Captain America costume has divided fans since the beginning. On one hand, I understand people thinking the skintight primary red, white, and blue outfit looks cheesy. On the other hand, I was happy to see Cap in a comic accurate costume. The most unexpected member of the team ended up being the Incredible Hulk. Harry Dean Stanton gives Banner clothes that he rips out of on the battlefield. I honestly never thought I’d see the enormous green rage monster fighting alongside superheroes on the big screen. Marvel did just that by giving Banner complete control in one of the most badass Hulk outs of all time.

The CGI is so incredible that The Avengers was nominated for Best Visual Effects. Since Norton was no longer Banner, the Hulk bares a lot more of Ruffalo’s features. His Hulk looks like it was ripped straight out of the comics with realistically green skin and giant muscles that were motion captured by Ruffalo. The Chitauri are given a more unique alien look consisting of flying chariots and giant battle serpents. The moment with the Avengers assembling in a circular shot is so epic that the aspect ratio had to be increased just to contain it. The Battle of New York is what superhero movies are all about. It’s a fight full of fanservice that shows each hero doing what they do best. Cap gives the game plan and throws his mighty shield at any Chitauri he encounters. Stark uses every weapon in his Iron Man suit to take down the biggest threats. Thor beats down Loki, throws his hammer, and unleashes his full power over lightning & thunder. Hulk smashes everything in his path and gets the biggest laugh by tossing around Loki like a ragdoll. He is a “Puny god” after all.

Although this battle is no place for civilians, the very human Black Widow and Hawkeye prove themselves as vital members of the team. Romanoff launches herself onto a Chitauri chariot and Barton shoots a variety of trick arrows without even looking. Sure I would’ve loved to see Ant-Man and the Wasp as founding members, but that would’ve required a whole other solo movie to accomplish. Things take a turn when the Council orders a nuclear strike on New York that Fury attempts to shoot down. Stark makes the sacrifice play by guiding the missile into the portal and destroying the Chitauri mothership battle droid style. Hulk unexpectedly catches Tony and wakes him up with a roar. They won the battle, but shawarma will have to wait until they all dramatically secure Loki.

The Avengers are both loved and feared by the public in a series of newscasts that include Stan Lee’s clever cameo as a man who thinks superheroes in New York sounds ridiculous. A hopeful Nick Fury closes the movie out in a montage where Thor transports a muzzled Loki back to Asgard, Tony drives off with Bruce, Steve hops on his motorcycle, and Natasha & Clint return to S.H.I.E.L.D. But it’s not completely over when a very crucial mid-credits scene reveals the Other’s master to be the Mad Titan himself, Thanos. I was probably the only 16 year old nerdy enough to know who the grinning purple alien was long before the movie came out. The scene is followed by the much more humorous post-credit scene of the Avengers quietly eating shawarma. The Avengers was so influential that it inspired the Marvel One-Shot Item 47 where a couple rob banks with a Chitauri weapon. A tie-in video game wasn’t released for years, but merchandise sales helped the record breaking billion dollar box-office. With an impressive 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, The Avengers felt like a reward for being a dedicated superhero fan.

13. The Avengers

Loki commands the crowd

Followed by: Avengers: Age of Ultron

The Star Spangled Man

Captain America: The First Avenger brought honor back to Marvel’s greatest symbol of freedom. As the fifth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: The First Avenger explored the history of the MCU in World War II. Captain America is one of the oldest superheroes created before Marvel comics even existed. Joe Simon & Jack Kirby created Captain America in 1942 for Timely comics as a symbol to help the war effort. Hence Cap punching Adolf Hitler on the iconic cover of Captain America Comics #1. Captain America was very popular in the Golden Age, but he was understandably phased out when the war ended. It wasn’t until 1964 that Stan Lee & Jack Kirby made the clever decision to reintroduce Cap in The Avengers #4 as a man out of time.

Apart from film serials, the Silver Age gave Captain America a newfound popularity that extended to some of Marvel’s earliest media appearances. Of course he appeared in several animated shows and some truly terrible live-action movies. After the lousy low budget 1990 Captain America, another movie was thankfully stalled. Rather than foolishly sell their rights, Marvel Studios and producer Kevin Feige decided to make the movie themselves. Cap was the last all important member of the Avengers in need of a solo outing. Period entertainment master Joe Johnston was chosen as director and I couldn’t have been more excited for the film. Captain America was a genuine icon that Marvel and America needed at the time…

9. Captain America The First Avenger

Captain America fights alongside the Howling Commandos

Captain America: The First Avenger was appropriately released in July when I was 16 years old. Being strongly patriotic, I’d been a fan of Captain America for many years. I knew one day Marvel would have to make a serious blockbuster adaptation. No matter how old fashioned or American he was. The subtitle was likely chosen for one of three reasons. The Avengers was only a year away, so The First Avenger made it more clear to non-fans. There was already a movie called Captain America, so the subtitle distinguished it better. Of course the more political reason was the fact that Marvel needed the movie to appeal to the international market, so the choice of title made it seem more universal. Regardless of title, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger were both moderate successes in 2011. Toy shields were everywhere and the video game barely seemed to connect with the movie anymore. The Marvel One-Shot was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer. It’s main goal was showing Agent Phil Coulson as a fighter.

Don’t expect much of S.H.I.E.L.D. in The First Avenger, since almost the entire movie takes place in the 1940’s. The original goal was to get Cap to the present half way through the picture, but how could they pass up the chance to make a period piece. Albeit one with a science fiction edge. After 4 MCU movies worth of build up, Captain America finally appears in all his glory. A lot of American actors were under consideration, but Marvel went with the very unexpected choice of Chris Evans. Apart from his several other comic book movie roles, Evans was most known for playing fellow Marvel superhero Human Torch in Fantastic Four. I was skeptical about the choice, but I slowly realized Evans was more than capable of bringing another Marvel hero to life. The opening features a team of scientists discovering Cap’s shield frozen in ice. Then a 1942 Nazi invasion in Norway drops us right in the middle of World War II. Johnston previously directed The Rocketeer, so he already had plenty of experience with a pulp superhero fighting Nazis.

He just wanted to respect real life soldiers by leaving Hitler off-screen and instead focusing on the fictional terrorist organization Hydra. They’re just clad in black uniforms instead of the comic accurate green & yellow. The Nazi science division is lead by Johann Schmidt. Captain America’s archenemy has always been the Red Skull. So it was necessary for him to be the first antagonist Cap faces. It was a villainous role that only “King of the nerds” Hugo Weaving could pull off. Weaving manages a subtle German accent and gives Schmidt a megalomaniacal obsession with myth. In a direct nod to Thor, Schmidt seeks the blue Tesseract from Odin’s treasure room in Norway. The cosmic cube seen in the after-credit scene becomes a very important McGuffin. Meanwhile in Brooklyn, New York, the skinny Steve Rogers desperately tries to serve his country by enlisting in the Army. The CGI used to digitally reduce Chris Evans is just as remarkable as it was back then.

Steve’s natural weaknesses give him a fighting spirit. He’s just a good man that wants to do the right thing. Even when bullies pick on him, Steve uses a trash can lid as a shield and says “I can do this all day.” Back in the Golden Age, almost every superhero needed a goofy kid sidekick. Captain America’s longtime sidekick has always been Bucky Barnes. Instead of a kid, James Buchanan Barnes is played with confidence by the adult Sebastian Stan. His strong brotherly friendship with Steve has a far more interesting dynamic that way. Before Bucky gets shipped out, they attend a future technology exhibition that’s a clear precursor to the Stark Expo. Right down to Howard Stark presenting a faulty flying car. Dominic Cooper affectively plays a young Howard very similar to his future son Tony Stark. They’re both brilliant inventors who love women. The exhibition also features the intriguing easter egg of original Golden Age Human Torch Jim Hammond. Just don’t expect a Namor the Sub-Mariner cameo.

Steve tries once again to enlist, but his spirit instead captures the attention of Abraham Erskine. The German scientist who gives Steve the serum that turns him into a Super Soldier. Stanley Tucci turns Erskine into a genuine friend for Steve who sees him as the perfect candidate. Erskine was also reluctantly responsible for turning Schmidt into the super strong Red Skull. Schmidt is simply a power hungry villain who wants world domination. He eventually distances himself from Hitler with a “Hail Hydra” salute. Toby Jones plays Schmidt’s Nazi scientist right hand Arnim Zola. Don’t expect a robot body just yet, since Zola is only around to synthesize the Tesseract’s energy to give Hydra high tech laser weapons. Basic training is where we meet the rest of Captain America’s supporting cast. Tommy Lee Jones is the biggest comic relief as snarky war General Chester Phillips. He’s part of the S.H.I.E.L.D. predating Strategic Scientific Reserve that also includes British officer Peggy Carter. Hayley Atwell exploded in popularity as classic beauty, confidant soldier, and love interest Peggy Carter. Cap has had many lady loves over the years, but Steve’s budding romance with Peggy is a major highlight.

Steve continues to prove himself until his procedure with the S.S.R. Howard Stark is of course present as Erskine injects the serum and a pod painfully transforms Steve into a muscular adonis. Like Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans really earned his shirtless scene and a humorous peck touch from Atwell. Erskine is tragically killed by a Hydra spy and the serum is lost when Steve gives chase. The film perfectly translates Captain America’s peak superhuman athleticism. Rather than rot in a lab as the Army’s sole Super Soldier, a promoter turns Captain America into a propaganda symbol. It’s an extremely clever way to pay tribute to the original comics. Steve is dressed in his trademark red, white, and blue spandex complete with original triangular Shield. The fun sequence has Steve selling war bonds with Star-Spangled dancers, performing in war serials, socking a Hitler actor on the jaw, and even releasing his own comic book. All set to the era appropriate original song “Star Spangled Man.”

Actual soldiers don’t like Cap much and Steve draws himself as a performing monkey. A nod to his comic routes as an artist. Steve learns about Bucky’s MIA unit and has Peggy and Howard fly him to their location. Now dressed in a brown jacket and tin helmet from one of his dancers. Cap becomes a genuine hero by infiltrating the Hydra base and saving a ragtag group of soldiers that will become the famous Howling Commandos. The most well known member being Neal McDonough as the mustachioed bowler hat wearing Dum Dum Dugan. The rest of the team consists of the African American Gabe Jones, Asian Jim Morita, British James Montgomery Falsworth, and French Jacques Dernier. The First Avenger is surprisingly international for an American film. Steve also saves Bucky, who seems to have been experimented on. As the base explodes, Captain America and Red Skull have their first confrontation that ends in Schmidt peeling off his face to finally reveal the red skull underneath. Makeup and CGI turn the Red Skull into a menacing figure who’s not too scary for the kids.

The rescue earns Cap the respect he deserves and he ditches one of his promotional appearances. One attended by Stan Lee’s cameo as an elderly general. Steve recruits the Howling Commandos to be part of his unit and Bucky happily agrees to be his partner. Peggy also shows up in a stunning dress to offer Steve a dance, but it’s ruined when Natalie Dormer comes onto him. Steve gets his official costume from Stark, along with a circular shield made out of pure vibration absorbent Vibranium. The signature weapon was achieved through lightweight metal and CGI whenever Captain America throws his mighty shield. All of those who have chose to oppose his shield must yield when Steve suits up in his military appropriate costume. The suit is blue padding with a helmet made to look like a mask, red suspenders, brown gloves, boots, wings painted on the side, and his trademark star logo. He also carries a gun since this is war. Though he’s lead to the fight and the duel is due, the red & the white & the blue will come through in a montage of Captain America and his troops dispatching several Hydra soldiers.

Much to the annoyance of the Red Skull who ultimately plans to destroy the United States with his technology. The action makes great use of planes, trains, automobiles, and motorcycles. Cap and Bucky gain a major advantage by capturing Dr. Zola on a high speed train. Unfortunately, it’s at the expense of Bucky as the soldier falls to his apparent death in the winter setting. After a pep talk from Peggy, Captain America rides into the Hydra base on a swell tactical motorcycle. Something he often uses in the comics or that terrible 70’s TV movie. Hydra soldiers capture Steve and Schmidt despises his Super Soldier status. As the rest of the soldiers metaphorically cut off the heads of Hydra, Cap continues to pursue the Red Skull when he boards a plane. General Phillips and Peggy give Steve a lift in Schmidt’s Nazi automobile. Peggy fortunately plants a genuinely sweet kiss on Steve before he meets his destiny.

The plane contains manned missiles headed to the U.S. Cap takes care of most of the missiles, but still needs to engage in a final fight with Red Skull. The battle of good vs. evil ends when the Red Skull is suddenly transported through the Tesseract to who knows where. We all knew it was coming, but I still wasn’t expecting Steve’s icy farewell to Peggy to be so emotional. Victory is declared and Captain America is remembered as a hero. Then Steve wakes up in a suspicious 1940’s hospital room. His suspicion is proven right when he finds himself in the middle of 2011 Time Square. In the comics, the timeframe of Cap being unfrozen is from the 40’s to the 60’s. The modern day movies see Cap wake up more than 70 years in the future. None other than Nick Fury breaks the news to Steve, but all he can think about is his date with Peggy. Nick Fury also appears with Steve in the after-credits scene which is literally a trailer for The Avengers. Something that was seriously awesome the first time I saw it. The rest of Captain America: The First Avenger is every bit the exciting war picture heroes are made for.

10. Captain America The First Avenger

Captain America faces the Red Skull

Followed by: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The God of Thunder

Thor is the valiant big screen introduction to the mighty God of Thunder. As the fourth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor needed to establish the cosmic side of the universe. Out of all the Marvel superheroes, Thor was perhaps the trickiest to get right. Unlike his fellow Avengers, Thor’s origin extends further than comic book pages. Created in 1962 by editor Stan Lee, writer Larry Lieber, and artist Jack Kirby, Stan Lee’s goal was to make the strongest hero he could. Rather than explore the more well known Greek or Roman gods, they chose Norse mythology. Thor is the powerful Norse god of thunder who wields the hammer Mjölnir. Journey into Mystery #83 introduced Thor with a colorful Kirby-esque superhero look.

My mom has actually been a huge fan of Thor ever since she was a kid (ironic considering her connection to Adventures in Babysitting). My brother and I similarly knew about the God of Thunder long before seeing him in theaters. Apart from animated appearances and a cheesy live-action debut, a Thor movie took decades to materialize. Marvel foolishly sold their rights before thankfully keeping Thor with Marvel Studios. Many directors were considered, but the reigns eventually went to the capable hands of Shakespearean actor turned director Kenneth Branagh. Producer Kevin Feige put more effort into connecting the MCU and making Thor’s magical world make sense in their scientific one. By 2011, I was 15 and very excited to see such a grandiose tale…

7. Thor

Thor enters his coronation

Thor was a production I followed very closely. I was hopeful that Marvel would find a way to make him popular with incoming fans. Although I didn’t play the video game or have any merchandise, I did eventually see the Marvel One-Shot that came with the Blu-ray. They were shorts that used to be the earliest example of MCU expansion. The Consultant was a One-Shot where Agent Phil Coulson and Agent Jasper Sitwell did their best to explain Tony Stark’s confusing cameo at the end of The Incredible Hulk. The after-credit scenes actually place Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor in the same time frame. Like Iron Man, Thor begins in the middle of the story with a group of New Mexico scientists discovering Thor fall from the clouds. Finding the right Thor couldn’t have been an easy process, but they made the right choice with 25 year old Australian newcomer Chris Hemsworth. Hemsworth managed to pull off the commanding presence of a god and the youthful might of one of the strongest Marvel superheroes of all time.

Although Robert Downey Jr. did get in shape for Iron Man, it’s really Chris Hemsworth that put on a dramatic amount of muscle for Thor. He was tall, handsome, and wore Thor’s signature long blonde hair well. But I do think they could’ve done better with his shoulder length hair and beard. Thor didn’t just introduce the God of Thunder, it needed to pull off the Nine Realms of Yggdrasil and the most important gods of Norse mythology that exist in Thor’s vast supporting cast. You couldn’t ask for a better Odin than Sir Anthony Hopkins. He gives the eye patch wearing All-father his regal authority and a hot blooded temperament that comes out in angry outbursts. Odin narrates the history of Asgard as far back as Norway 965 AD. Asgardians are worshiped like gods by the viking people, but the film does its best to ground them with the explanation that they’re more like extra dimensional beings. They also make the wise decision not to have Asgardians speak with Shakespearean dialect. Instead they speak with distinct old English fantasy accents. CGI imagines Asgard as a glossy kingdom of pure gold with viking flourishes, but a distinctly alien feel.

I was so pleased to see Thor introduced in his most classic form. Thor has always had a chestplate with four discs, a flowing red cape, and wristbands. The chainmail around his arms were a later addition in the comics, but his traditional winged helmet is only worn briefly at his coronation. The costume designs do a great job at fitting the old in with the new Marvel style. Thor is most distinguished by his hammer Mjolnir. A mighty mallet forged from a dying star that grants Thor the awesome power of flight and the ability to control thunder and lightning. After a 5 year acting hiatus, Rene Russo returns to play caring mother and Queen of Asgard Frigga. Jamie Alexander increased her screen presence by playing the lovely warrior Lady Sif. She’s Thor’s longtime Asgardian love interest, but it’s only hinted at in the movie. The Warriors Three are brought to life with pre-Prince Charming Joshua Dallas as Fandral the Dashing, Japanese man of few words Tadanobu Asano as Hogun the Grim, and former Punisher Ray Stevenson as the hearty Volstagg. Idris Elba brings a bit of mystery to the all-seeing gatekeeper Heimdall. I didn’t care that he was black since they’re not supposed to be true vikings anyway.

If you don’t count the continuously absent Balder, then the final key player has to be Loki, God of Mischief. One of the most captivating Marvel supervillains due to his brotherly relationship with his adoptive brother Thor. Marvel struck gold when they found lesser known English actor Tom Hiddleston. Although he auditioned to play Thor, Hiddleston is ridiculously good at showing Loki’s skills of deception, magical power of duplication, and wicked charisma. Thor may ditch his helmet, but Loki thankfully retains his iconic bended horns. Hemsworth and Hiddleston’s believable brotherly banter easily makes Loki one of the better villains the MCU had seen thus far. Thor isn’t a standard origin story. The crown prince of Asgard is already fully formed, but he is brash and arrogant. Something that really comes out when Frost Giants attempt to steal the Casket of Ancient Winters in Odin’s treasure room. A room that contains a very interesting gauntlet. Since there’s no time to explore all Nine Realms, Jotunheim is the second most important realm in the movie.

Thor makes the fool hardy decision to strike back at the Frost Giants with the help of Sif, the Warriors Three, and a reluctant Loki. Heimdall transports the team via Bifröst. The Rainbow Bridge is just a more translucent energy bridge with what looks like an astronomy tower opening up wormholes to other planets. As the opening suggested, the war between Asgard and Jotunheim has left it a frozen wasteland. Frost Giants, including their leader Laufey played by Colm Feore, are all about 9 ft. with blue skin and red eyes. Thor has words with Laufey, but Loki convinces him not to reignite an ancient war. Until an insult unleashes the full power of Thor. It’s really in this first fight that Thor is at his strongest. He throws Mjolnir at his enemies and it comes right back to him. Loki even makes the shocking discovery that he’s unaffected by their icy touch. The rest of their friends engage in battle with a giant Frost beast. After Thor summons a storm and devastates most of Jotunheim, Odin arrives only to realize war is unavoidable.

In the comics, Odin teaches Thor humility by placing him in the body of frail medical doctor Donald Blake. Only regaining his power and memory by striking a cane that transforms him back into the God of Thunder. It was Stan Lee’s way of giving Thor a secret identity. Since that’s not as easy to pull off in a movie, Thor is instead banished by Odin to the mortal realm of Midgard. They still throw in a nod to the comics by having Odin enchant Mjolnir with the words: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of THOR.” We finally reconnect with the opening where Thor is discovered on Earth by Jane Foster. In the comics, Thor’s longtime human love interest has always been medical nurse Jane Foster. Apart from the clever easter egg of having Dr. Donald Blake be Jane’s ex-boyfriend, her entire profession is changed to a scientist. Turning her into an astrophysicist was their logical way of bridging magic with science. The change also meant the addition of original characters Dr. Erik Selvig and intern Darcy Lewis.

Earth is really where the MCU’s signature comedic undertone starts to kick in. Since Thor becomes a “fish out of water” with his ancient godly customs. Breaking a mug, requesting a horse from a pet shop, and downing a cask of ale are some of Thor’s many bits of unintentional humor. Alongside Hemsworth’s obligatory shirtless scene. I was of course very familiar with Natalie Portman at the time. She brings a plucky intelligence to this version of Jane Foster, but her relationship with Thor can only be described as a schoolgirl crush. Since they’re both attractive people after all. Although you can argue that their mutual agreement to explain each others world makes them more believable. Selvig may be original, but Stellan Skarsgård was sure to give him importance with his knowledge of Norse mythology and scientific skepticism. Kat Dennings isn’t totally necessary as Darcy, but she’s too funny not to make an impression. Thor is surprisingly short, but the action does slow down a bit during Thor’s banishment.

Sif and the Warriors Three are busy deciding what to do next and Loki discovers he’s actually a Frost Giant. It seems like a decision made for the movies, but Loki is genuinely an Asgardian-sized Frost Giant in the comics. The truth brings out Loki’s seething jealousy and Odin falls into the coma-like Odinsleep. Allowing Loki to seize the throne and reveal him to be behind the Frost Giants entering Asgard. Clark Gregg is promoted to Nick Fury status by being the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who discovers Thor’s hammer in New Mexico. A bunch of locals try to lift it Excalibur style, including Stan Lee’s cameo as a truck driver. After confiscating her research, Jane drives Thor to Mjolnir which is surrounded by a makeshift S.H.I.E.L.D. compound. The second official action scene is Thor showing off his natural fighting abilities against several highly trained agents. Although not quite as nuanced as Black Widow’s first appearance, the S.H.I.E.L.D. base was the best place to meet Jeremy Renner as bow & arrow sharpshooter Clint Barton aka Hawkeye.

Thor’s confidence is his downfall when he isn’t worthy enough to lift his own hammer. Loki makes it worse by visiting him with the lie that he can never come home. Selvig has Thor released under the name Donald Blake, but a more humble Thor is unsure what to do next. So Sif and the Warriors Three risk treason by coming to his aid. Hemdial is in agreement, but Loki freezes him long enough to sneak Laufey into Asgard. Loki unleashes the very comic book accurate metal energy shooting Destroyer on New Mexico. Sif and the Warriors Three hold off the devastation, but Thor makes the right choice by sacrificing himself to save the town. It’s an epic scene that sees Mjolnir fly back into his hands and finally give Thor his power back. Thor quickly destroys the Destroyer with a tornado and sets off to the Bifröst in order to confront his brother. But not before a very passionate kiss from Jane.

Loki makes the unexpected decision to kill Laufey before he can kill Odin and destroy Jotunheim to prove himself a worthy son. Thor and Loki’s fight is full of family drama and all sorts of tricks. More unexpected is Thor choosing to destroy the Bifröst in order to protect the realms. Odin awakens to save his sons, but Loki “dies” when he floats off into eternity. Ending with Thor stuck in Asgard and hopefully awaiting the chance to see Jane again. The after-credits scene directly ties into The Avengers with Dr. Selvig meeting Nick Fury to study the mysterious cosmic cube that an obviously not dead Loki is also present to witness. Thor has a true sense of majesty with Brangahs direction. The CGI isn’t always flawless, but it is epic in scale. Thor may not have been a game changer, but it is truly a worthy way to give a god humanity.

8. Thor

Thor retrieves Mjolnir from Loki

Followed by: Thor: The Dark World

Demon in a Bottle

Iron Man 2 is a sequel that isn’t quite as polished as the original. As the third installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man 2 was mostly concerned with setting up future installments. After taking a brief break in 2009, a sequel to Iron Man was immediately on the way at Marvel Studios. In a lot of ways, Iron Man 2 feels like the true start to the MCU. Since actor contracts were worked out, Kevin Feige was the sole producer, and 2010 was the beginning of a new decade. I was 14 in 2010, so I started to follow Marvel movie productions a lot closer. I was definitely excited for Iron Man 2 and any reference to The Avengers.

The close production meant director Jon Favreau was still on board, but actor Justin Theroux was strangely chosen as writer. I could tell Iron Man 2 would be a blast the second I saw the action-packed trailer. The sense of fun and Robert Downey Jr.’s dedicated charisma was still present, but I knew something felt off about the sequel. Iron Man 2 utilizes parts of the infamous “Demon in a Bottle” storyline from The Invincible Iron Man #120-128. Tony Stark’s tragic battle with alcoholism is mostly played for laughs due to the family friendly tone. The action is awesome, but it can feel a bit too brief at times. Regardless of approach, Iron Man 2 is still an entertaining follow up that kept us Marvel fans busy…

5. Iron Man 2

Iron Man and War Machine work together

Iron Man 2 came out when I didn’t play the tie-in video games or play with the merchandise as much as I used to. Since I was older, I knew more about the movie going in then I ever have before. I actually knew to stay for the after-credits scenes from here on out. Iron Man 2 picks up right at the end of the first movie with Tony declaring himself as Iron Man to the public. From the perspective of the impoverished Russian Vankos. Iron Man doesn’t have the most well known rogues gallery, but Whiplash seemed like an odd choice as soon I discovered he was the main villain. In the comics, Mark Scarlotti goes by Whiplash or Backlash and simply carries a powerful whip. To make him more dynamic, Whiplash was blended with the more well known Crimson Dynamo to create the original character Ivan Vanko. Son of Anton Vanko who dies after giving his son the knowledge to make his own arc reactor. It’s an interesting choice, but it does work for the sequel’s “sins of the father” theme. Much like Robert Downey Jr, Mickey Rourke was hired in the middle of his own comeback. It was Rourke’s idea to make Ivan a more over-the-top Russian with gold teeth, tattoos, and a bird.

6 months later, Iron Man flies into the Flushing Meadows, New York Stark Expo to the tune of “Shoot to Thrill” by AC/DC. In the movie it’s just Tony jumping out of the plane, but the trailer had the memorable moment of Pepper kissing his helmet before throwing it out of the plane. Like The Incredible Hulk, a lot of scenes are missing from the trailers. The Mark IV armor is mostly for show and bares a similar design to his previous red & gold armor. Iron Man makes a superhero landing and removes his suit in front of a crowd surrounded by sexy Ironette dancers. Tony Stark is currently enjoying his celebrity status as Iron Man and bragging about maintaining peace without making weapons at Stark Industries. The Stark Expo is clearly their take on Disney’s Epcot center right down to Tony’s father Howard Stark representing Walt Disney in his old film reels. Ironic considering Disney had yet to buy Marvel Studios. Since his role is greatly expanded, John Slattery effectively plays the older Howard Stark.

Tony’s persistent heart problems from the comics are replaced by his arc reactor’s palladium core slowly poisoning him. The thought of dying causes Stark to make continually reckless decisions that affect him and his company. Iron Man 2 probably features more celebrity cameos than any other MCU movie. Future superheroes Olivia Munn and Kate Mara both play throwaway characters, real life CEO’s Larry Ellison and Elon Musk both appear, news personalities like Bill O’Reilly appear, and of course Stan Lee cameos as himself being mistaken for Larry King. Stark’s public identity also means the need for boring Government hearings, but at least Downey Jr. and Garry Shandling of all people make it entertaining. The hearing is all about the Government wanting Stark to hand over his Iron Man suits. It’s where we meet the other antagonist Justin Hammer. A rival weapons manufacturer who was originally an elderly Englishman in the comics. Sam Rockwell is always a scene stealer who brings a smug quality to a younger Hammer.

It’s also at this hearing that Terrence Howard transforms into Don Cheadle. Since Howard apparently wanted more money, Rhodey was recast instead. Giving Cheadle the honor of wearing the War Machine armor instead. Cheadle had the difficult job of recapturing Rhodey’s friendship with Tony, but he does a good job considering it was his first appearance. The rest of Iron Man’s supporting cast is similarly given more to do. J.A.R.V.I.S. is the only one who knows about Stark’s palladium poisoning and continues to assist him. Gwyneth Paltrow has much more screen time when Tony impulsively names Pepper Potts CEO of Stark Industries. Tony and Pepper’s will they or won’t they banter is just as good as before. Director Jon Favreau  also gives himself a bigger role as Happy Hogan. He’s mostly around for comic relief and even shows off Happy’s comic accurate boxing abilities. Iron Man 2 was also the best place for the debut of Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow. Appropriate considering Black Widow made her comic book debut in an Iron Man comic.

Although actresses like Emily Blunt were considered, the 24 year old Scarlett Johansson was the best possible choice to play the mysterious Russian spy. Despite the fact that this Black Widow doesn’t have a Russian accent. What she lacks in an accurate accent, Johansson makes up for with wavy red hair, sex appeal, and one of many scissor kicks. She just hides her identity by posing undercover as Stark’s new assistant Natalie Rushman. Eventually Tony and company end up at the Historic Grand Prix in Monaco. Where Stark unfortunately bumps into Hammer and former flame reporter Christine Everhart. Tony makes another rash decision by deciding to drive his own race car in the Grand Prix. The action finally kicks in when Ivan Vanko suddenly shows up to take revenge on Stark. This Whiplash uses a set of deadly electrical whips powered by his own arc reactor. Happy and Pepper very comedically drive into Vanko in order to give Tony his suitcase suit. New armor is the highlight of any Iron Man movie and the awesome red & silver suitcase suit up is no exception. The Mark V armor sustains heavy damage, but Tony quickly puts an end to his mysterious new foe.

Ivan is imprisoned in a Monaco prison where Tony tries to get some answers. Turns out Russian arc reactor co-creator Anton Vanko was screwed over by Howard Stark and became bitter despite also selling secrets on the black market. Vanko is left out of a lot of the action while being recruited by fellow antagonist Justin Hammer. He tasks Vanko with perfecting the armor that he chooses to turn into high tech military drones. Their banter mostly contains a lot of bird talk. As Hammer and Vanko plot against Stark, he makes another reckless decision to get drunk at his birthday party. Although Tony is more of a silly drunk who puts his guests in danger while wearing his Mark IV armor. The only response is for Rhodey to finally don the Iron Man armor the way he does in the comics. Fortunately Tony keeps his Mark I-IV armor set up in his lab. Rhodey is somehow able to suit up in the silver Mark II armor and engage in a fight with his best friend. The Iron Man vs. Iron Man fight should have been more emotional, but they undermine it by playing “It Takes Two.” Things only get serious when the song cuts out and they fire their repulsor rays on eachother. Rhodey takes the armor to the Air Force where Hammer soups it up with a variety of weapons.

All this reckless behavior was finally enough to bring Nick Fury out of the shadows. This was my first time seeing Samuel L. Jackson on the big screen as the famous S.H.I.E.L.D. director. Since I foolishly left the theater before seeing his cameo in the after-credits scene for Iron Man. Although caucasian in the original comics, Jackson took the role due to the Ultimate version being modeled after him. This Nick Fury has his eye patch and black trench coat. His role is mostly talk heavy as he finds Tony atop Randy’s Donuts. Avenger matters are discussed, but Fury’s main concern is bringing Stark back to health. Agent Romanoff finally makes her grand entrance in her iconic catsuit. It was kind of a reunion for Jackson and Johansson in a much better superhero movie. They give Tony a temporary cure, but order him to work on finding a suitable replacement for palladium. Fury deepens S.H.I.E.L.D.’s history with talk of Howard Stark’s involvement in how it was founded. He also appoints Agent Phil Coulson to look after Tony. Clark Gregg earned a bit more screen time and a much more blatant scene with Captain America’s prototype shield.

Through a series of complex and very convoluted scientific mumbo jumbo, Howard left a message for Tony in one of his reels that indicated a new element that Tony maps out using his father’s world of tomorrow model town. Long story short, Tony wrecks his house in order to synthesize the element for his arc reactor. Hammer unveils his military drones at the Stark Expo along with Rhodey in his souped up War Machine armor. It was great to see one of the earliest black superheroes in his bulky weaponized armor. Even better to see Tony arrive in his new armor to team up with his best friend. The Mark VI armor is mostly the same as his other red & gold armor apart from the triangular arc reactor. The night time climax at the Stark Expo is full of awesome moments like all the drones and War Machine attacking Iron Man, Tony saving a kid in an Iron Man mask, and flying through Flushing Meadows in order to destroy them. It’s also at this time that Black Widow shows off her expert fighting skills while Happy fights one guard. Hammer is arrested and Vanko leaves his computer, allowing Romanoff to reprogram the War Machine armor.

The CGI used on the armor is especially impressive in the epic fight where Iron Man and War Machine tear through a horde of drones. Quickly ending when Tony uses a laser to cut through the rest. Vanko finally gets back in the fight when he shows up in a Mark II Whiplash suit with giant electrical whips. Tony and Rhodey use their repulsors on Vanko and he’s killed in a timed explosion that forces Tony to rescue Pepper. Although understandably frustrated by the constant danger, Tony and Pepper finally share their first kiss. Further Avenger stuff is shown at a compound where we see the news report from The Incredible Hulk. Tony is confusingly named a consultant in order to explain his cameo there. Ending with Shandling’s Senator begrudgingly awarding Rhodey and Tony the Medal of Honor. The after-credit scene more seriously sets up the MCU with Coulson finding Thor’s hammer in New Mexico. Iron Man 2 may feel like an extended commercial, but that’s just fine for now.

6. Iron Man 2

Iron Man vs. Whiplash

Preceded by: Iron Man & Followed by: Iron Man 3

Hulk Smash!

The Incredible Hulk mostly lives up to its famous adjective. As the second installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Incredible Hulk became the unfortunate black sheep of the franchise. Even though it was finally the Hulk movie fans always wanted. After the confusing failure of Ang Lee’s Hulk, a sequel thankfully failed to materialize. Marvel Studios regained the rights to Hulk, but Universal unfortunately maintained its distribution rights. Although Marvel and producer Kevin Feige claimed to have the MCU mapped out from the beginning, The Incredible Hulk is the biggest argument against that. It’s definitely the moodiest MCU movie with small amounts of humor here and there.

Any reference to the greater Marvel universe is mostly thrown in without much planning. Their goal was doing an homage to the popular 70’s The Incredible Hulk series with influence from later Hulk comics. Fast-paced action director Louis Leterrier thought he was making a 2003 Hulk sequel and the starting point of the 2008 film does sort of have that feel. Hence my confusion when I was 13 years old. All I knew was the trailer where Hulk finally smashes someone of equal or greater strength made it a must see. Despite releasing only a month after Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk still became the lowest grossing MCU film with only a 67% approval on Rotten Tomatoes. The Incredible Hulk is an action-packed reboot that doesn’t deserve its forgotten reputation…

3. The Incredible Hulk

Hulk roars

The Incredible Hulk became another Marvel obsession since I was still young enough to smash things like the Green Goliath. I continued to play the video game and buy the merchandise. Yet my brother and I were still blissfully unaware of the Marvel Cinematic Universe taking shape. We were just in it for the action that they thankfully delivered on. Rather than a 2 hour think piece with way too much Bruce Banner before he transforms, The Incredible Hulk drops you right into the action. Banner’s entire origin story is condensed in an opening credits sequence meant to resemble the 70’s TV show. Complete with gamma radiation machine that he tests on himself. It’s a fine homage, but I am disappointed that we’ll never see the true comic book origin of Doc Bruce Banner belted by gamma rays by accident in a testing field. The opening is also where we see most of the easter eggs. There’s a S.H.I.E.L.D. logo, Nick Fury’s name on a document, blueprints for a Stark Industries weapon, and Rick Jones at least gets a name drop.

After a series of Hulk outs spanning several years, we meet Bruce Banner hiding out in Brazil. Where he watches Bill Bixby on TV. After the underwhelming performance of Eric Bana, Edward Norton became the newest scrawny scientist turned enormous green rage monster. Norton is fully committed to Banner’s tragic struggle to find a cure. Just not committed enough to stick with the character past his first appearance. The most likely reason being his insistence to work on the script. Norton is the kind of actor who needs some semblance of control for what he’s working on. Not sure why he’d agree to a blockbuster film with further appearances down the line. Banner works an unassuming job in a bottling factory and tries to control his anger. Days without incident are tracked on-screen and they include a heart rate monitor so Banner can stay calm. It’s a unique addition, but I do wish it didn’t make Banner’s Hulk outs seem like they’re caused by any form of excitement. As Bruce contacts fellow scientist Mr. Blue through the alias Mr. Green on a primitive computer, the military continues to search for him.

The Incredible Hulk fortunately recasts Hulk’s most prominent supporting characters. William Hurt brings General “Thunderbolt” Ross back to life with a commanding hands on approach to Hulk’s longtime human foe. Ross’ relationship with his daughter Betty is strained thanks to his attempt to take in Banner. Rather than simply use gamma radiation as a cure, the military secretly attempted to restart the Super Soldier program. A direct reference to Captain America that replaces his deleted cameo frozen in ice. Bruce gives away his location when a freak accident leaves his gamma irradiated blood inside one of his factory’s sodas. None other than Stan Lee cameos as a man drinking the soda. The Army tracks Banner’s location and enlists the help of soldier Emil Blonsky. After the sorry excuse for a villain in 2003’s Hulk, Tim Roth became a worthy central antagonist. Rather than a Russian KGB agent, Blonsky is a Russian-born British soldier transferred to the U.S. Army. He’s in it for the hunt and slowly becomes more power hungry when he witnesses the Hulk’s power.

The first Hulk out occurs after an exciting chase through the stacked streets of Brazil. Some bullies from work beat up Bruce and his eyes finally turn green. Hulk is mostly obscured like a monster movie in the factory where the military corners him. The fight is mostly veiled in shadow, but at least Hulk gets to speak (“Leave me alone”) and growl at Blonsky before escaping. As Banner attempts to regain his data from his former lab at Culver University, Blonsky has Ross arrange for him to receive painful doses of Super Soldier formula. Bruce finds his way to the University where he delivers pizzas to gain access to the computers. First he has to get past security guard Lou Ferrigno, but his cameo also extends to voicing the Hulk for the third time. During the visit, Bruce runs into his true love and fellow scientist Betty Ross. As a character with daddy issues, Betty could only be played by Liv Tyler. She’s a passionate love interest and an important companion who’s always been the only one who can calm Hulk down.

Unfortunately, they make the ridiculous decision to have sex unleash the Hulk. Even though passion and anger are two completely different things. A minor problem is Betty dating Leonard Samson before going back to Bruce. Pre-Modern Family Ty Burrell plays the psychiatrist who will probably never become the green haired Doc Samson from the comics. The second Hulk out occurs on the University campus in broad daylight. Something that campus reporters Jack McGee and Jim Wilson film. Banner is smoked out by General Ross and we finally get a clear shot of the incredible Hulk. Hulk is more realistic looking with muted green skin and a muscular linebacker build. The CGI is mostly convincing up close, but it’s a masterpiece compared to “Gumby on steroids” from Ang Lee’s Hulk. Hulk smashes through military Humvees and uses a sculptor as a weapon in an awesome well lit fight.

Blonsky becomes more agile in a second confrontation that puts them on similar footing. Stark sonic cannons subdue the Hulk, but Betty’s screams help him destroy them. Long enough to horribly injure Blonsky with a kick. Betty is nearly killed in an explosion, but Hulk protects her by taking her to a nearby cave. It’s an emotional moment that shows some of Hulk’s humanity. When Bruce turns back, he and Betty hideout with a nod to Bruce’s purple pants from the comics. A Mr. Blue & Mr. Green message is picked up by S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Army tracks them to New York. The final major player is Tim Blake Nelson as Mr. Blue scientist Samuel Sterns. Nelson is a bit goofy for my taste, but you can still see the mad scientist within. Sterns agrees to cure Bruce by inducing the third Hulk out. As the whole painful transformation plays out, Bruce is seemingly cured forever. He discovers Sterns batch of gamma blood, but the military gets to them before they can destroy it.

Blonsky goes behind the Army’s back by demanding Sterns inject him with Banner’s blood. Finally turning him into Hulk’s archenemy Abomination. Although Abomination’s design is a bit different from the comics with a lack of finned ears and the disturbing addition of a protruding skeleton. It’s still an intense look that makes him the enemy Hulk always needed to fight on the big screen. Some gamma blood also drops onto Sterns head, turning him into the Leader we’ll never see. As Abomination wrecks Harlem, Bruce makes the brave decision to aim the Hulk by throwing himself out a plane. The fourth Hulk out is easily the best since it features the epic final fight of Hulk vs. Abomination. Their fight is honestly one of the most brutal monster fights I’ve ever seen. Abomination gains the upper hand, but Hulk retaliates by using a car as boxing gloves. They end up on a rooftop where the General and Betty are put in danger. Hulk uses his thunder clap to save them, but Abomination knocks Hulk out with a chain.

Nothing is more awesome than finally hearing Hulk utter his famous catchphrase “HULK SMASH!!!” and defeating Abomination without killing him. It’s an incredible night time fight that’s admittedly very similar to the Iron Man vs. Iron Monger fight at the end of Iron Man. After saying Betty’s name, Hulk/Bruce Banner goes back into hiding in British Columbia. Losing control again with an unexplained smirk. Rather than have an after-credits scene, General Ross is instead seen drinking in a pre-credits scene. One that contains the unexpected appearance of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark telling Ross about the team they’re putting together. It’s a cool piece of world building that I wish wasn’t spoiled in a TV spot. The Incredible Hulk may lack the joyful tone of the rest of the MCU, but that’s not who Hulk is supposed to be. Bruce is a lonely man who needs a dramatic story. The on-the-run approach at least helps us get more Hulk smashing action a lot faster. As the least referenced film in the MCU, most characters were sadly never seen again, but there’s always hope for the future. The Incredible Hulk is just as incredible as it needs to be.

4. The Incredible Hulk

Hulk vs. Abomination