Divided We Fall

Captain America: Civil War is a massive crossover on a personal level. As the thirteenth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: Civil War needed to tear the Avengers apart. Avengers: Age of Ultron arguably did it first, but Civil War is the only movie that succeeded. Civil War is based on the ambitious 2006 storyline of the same name. I honestly never thought I’d see the comic adapted into a movie, but Marvel movies were very prominent 10 years after its release. The Russo Brothers were thankfully brought back as directors after their success with The Winter Soldier. After jokingly calling it Captain America: Serpent Society, I was very excited to learn Civil War was the official title.

So excited that I read the entire drastically different storyline in preparation. Unlike the comic, the movie needed to adjust to the superheroes we’ve already seen in the MCU, while at the same time introducing new fan favorite heroes. This is still very much a Captain America movie despite fans calling it Avengers 2.5. The Captain America trilogy is very unique for featuring a 40’s war picture, 70’s style political thriller, and Avengers level conflict. Yet they somehow manage to complete Cap’s journey in a satisfying way. The game changing nature of Civil War was enough to make it the beginning of the equally ambitious Phase Three. A Phase that no longer cared if casual moviegoers saw the MCU movies that came before it. Everything about Civil War was a Marvel fans dream come true…

27. Captain America Civil War

Team Cap

Captain America: Civil War seems like a no-brainer, but its existence was far from guaranteed. The original storyline involved almost the entire Marvel Universe. Civil War was created by edgy graphic novel writer Mark Millar. After the New Warriors inadvertently cause the deaths of hundreds of civilians, Congress passes the Superhuman Registration Act. Forcing superheroes to unmask and work alongside the government like a police force. Iron Man is pro-registration and Captain America is anti-registration. Meanwhile, Doctor Strange wants no part in the conflict, the Fantastic Four are divided, and Spider-Man is somewhere in the middle. Both Captain America and Iron Man form their own teams that end up fighting in a devastating civil war. Obviously involving all of these heroes would’ve been impossible. So producer Kevin Feige was sure to have Civil War make sense as part of the MCU. Lack of secret identities meant a few minor alterations to the registration act, but Iron Man’s presence was a must.

Otherwise, a few other Captain America movies were considered just in case. Including the Madbomb storyline where Cap is forced to fight several brainwashed civilians. That storyline was actually recycled for the ongoing Agent Carter. At the same time, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was becoming less important to the impact of the movies. On the Netflix side, Jessica Jones became a hit and Daredevil was in its second season with a similar premise that pitted Daredevil against the Punisher. 2016 was practically the year of heroes vs. heroes, because Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was also released a few months earlier. Civil War was the bigger success thanks to Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. having plenty of time to turn their respective heroes into already well developed characters. Making their falling out more devastating than anything seen in the MCU before. Despite his contract ending, Downey Jr. was thankfully on board to return as Tony Stark. Though it’s not exactly Iron Man 4 either, since Stark doesn’t suit up as Iron Man until the third act where most of the conflict is in response to events from The Winter Soldier. Which is why Steve Rogers is still the lead in his own movie. The first trailer reflected that by mostly focusing on Cap.

The pre-credits scene delves deeper into the Winter Soldier’s time as a brainwashed assassin for Hydra. Turns out all anyone has to do is say the words longing, rusted, seventeen, daybreak, furnace, nine, benign, homecoming, one, and freight car in a Russian booklet. The year 1991 is shown in a title graphic that takes up most of the screen. Since this is a globetrotting adventure, we end up seeing a lot of those. In present day Lagos, the new version of the Avengers is currently on a mission to prevent the spread of a deadly biological weapon. Much like Arnim Zola, it’s the best time for Brock Rumlow to appear in his comic accurate Crossbones costume. Which is more advanced with mechanical fist weapons. Say what you will about Age of Ultron, but at least it managed to increase the amount of superheroes necessary for a story like this. Captain America, Black Widow, Falcon, and Scarlet Witch are all trying to stop Rumlow, but Vision and War Machine are strangely absent. The opening is an excellent display of everyone’s power and enhanced tech.

Everything goes wrong when Wanda launches Rumlow into a building after he sets off a suicide bomb. Although Frank Grillo is barely in the movie, Rumlow’s disfigured face and information on Bucky does leave a lasting impression. Plus his demise is similar to the inciting incident from the comics. The destroyed Lagos building unfortunately contained Wakandans on a humanitarian mission. After minor foreshadowing in Age of Ultron, the incident is finally enough to bring Wakanda to the forefront. With S.H.I.E.L.D. and the World Security Council no longer around, the United Nations passes the Sokovia Accords. Unlike the comic, the accords will force the Avengers to act as a Government organization that only takes action when the UN deems it necessary. I don’t think anyone was expecting William Hurt to return 8 years after the practically forgotten The Incredible Hulk. Yet former General, current Secretary Thunderbolt Ross is just right for the job of announcing the accords. He illustrates his point by showing footage of all the locations destroyed in the wake of every Avengers victory. Including New York from The Avengers, Washington D.C. from The Winter Soldier, Sokovia from Age of Ultron, and Lagos from a few scenes ago.

Although action will always be the biggest highlight, Civil War is just as engaging for its deeper political discussions. The team is sharply divided with everyone having a mostly valid reason for either being for or against the accords. Thor and Hulk obviously aren’t around since they’re busy making Thor: Ragnarok (plus the fight would be over in seconds). After Age of Ultron, Captain America stuck around the Avengers Compound to train the new recruits. At the same time, he’s been focused on following any lead he can to find Bucky. Steve’s personal life factors in when Peggy sadly passes away. It’s only at her funeral that Steve finally discovers Sharon Carter is Peggy’s niece. Although it could never be as deep as the comics, Steve & Sharon do form a bound that could lead to a romantic relationship. Emily VanCamp has a bit more importance as Sharon begins to go behind the CIA’s back with any intel she has. For some reason she was marketed as being part of Team Cap, but I think that was just to hide who was really on the team. Cap wears one of his best costumes yet. It’s similar to his Age of Ultron suit with a bit of his S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform thrown in.

Thanks to the Russo’s direction, Cap is still a confident fighter with precision shield throwing. Most of which can be seen in the shaky cam Lagos fight. Steve sides against the accords, because he still believes in freedom. Chris Evans gets better and better with every passing performance. Not to mention his even more ripped physique as shown when he literally holds onto a helicopter. Despite blowing up his suits in Iron Man 3, Tony Stark continued building them. Along the way making the mistake of creating Ultron. Turns out it was enough to cause a temporary breakup between Tony & Pepper. Gwyneth Paltrow’s absence was actually beneficial since this is probably the most serious Tony has ever been. He still quips, but Robert Downey Jr. managed to readjust Stark without him seeming like the villain. Stark is first seen looking a lot like Chaplin in Marvel’s second major attempt at digital de-aging. What appears to be a flashback of young Tony saying goodbye to his parents before their death is actually Stark using a holographic simulation called B.A.R.F. (remember that!). Tony gives MIT a generous donation, but he’s still confronted by Miriam Sharpe. Just like the comic, Sharpe blames the Avengers for the death of her son who was in Sokovia. Although it is confusing that she’s played by Alfre Woodard who also appears in Luke Cage.

Stark sides with the accords, because all of his guilt makes it the only answer for him. Tony is mostly seen in business settings, but he does have F.R.I.D.A.Y. built into his glasses and carries a repulsor device for emergencies. The Mark XLVI armor he later dons is a lot sleeker with the usual red & gold coloring and lights meant to resemble the Bleeding Edge armor from the comics. It’s the most convincing armor for a movie as grounded as this. Since Civil War isn’t technically an ensemble piece, the rest of the team is given varying amounts of screen time. As the black best friend of his team’s leader, Rhodey strongly supports the accords due to his time spent in the military. Don Cheadle is equally serious as Rhodey takes on a more active role in rounding up those who go against the accords. The War Machine Mark III armor has subtle differences, but the only new feature is what appears to be a crowd control stick. As the other black best friend of his team’s leader, Sam opposes the accords mostly out of loyalty to Cap. Anthony Mackie is just as lighthearted as he was before. We’ve already seen the new Falcon suit in action during Ant-Man, but now his wings are a lot more tactical. My personal favorite feature is Redwing, which is a drone instead of a psychically linked falcon.

The two strongest members of the team also happen to be the most complex. Vision sides with the accords in a logical way that he feels will be beneficial for the team. Paul Bettany makes Vision much more unique with classy sweaters that he wears in his down time, but the same costume since that’s technically part of him. Just like the Mind Stone that he doesn’t totally understand. Wanda is in the unfortunate position of being responsible for the people killed in Lagos. She’s neither for or against the accords, but in the end she does side with Cap. Early promotional material left her out of Team Cap, possibly due to her complicated use in the MCU. Scarlet Witch is still partly owned by Fox afterall. Wanda slowly becomes more and more powerful with her telekinesis being the main power that she demonstrates. Her costume is just as busty, but not exactly the same as the one seen at the end of Age of Ultron. She mostly wears an all-red trench coat with magical flare. Despite being from 2 different worlds, Wanda & Vision quickly became my favorite couple in the MCU. Their inexplicable pairing may seem out of nowhere, but it’s actually very comic book accurate. They bond over their unusual powers as Vision tries to cook chicken paprikash for Wanda. Although their love is only hinted at since Vision is also trying to keep Wanda from leaving.

Black Widow shocks everyone by siding with Stark and supporting the accords. Although I think it’s just to have a female member on each team, Natasha’s explanation does sort of make sense. She wants to keep the Avengers together, so her heart sides with Cap, but her head tells her that oversight may be a good idea. Scarlett Johansson is now sporting long stylish red hair and continues to play up Romanoff’s mystery nature. Her catsuit is fairly similar, but her widow’s bite is given a bit more attention. Most of Black Widow’s screen time is actually with her fellow black superhero Black Panther. King T’Chaka of Wakanda is the first to voice his support for the accords, but his son is only around for moral support. Despite the scale of Civil War, the first black superhero in Marvel comics makes his long awaited debut. Chadwick Boseman was the first major casting announcement when he was chosen to play the future King T’Challa. Boseman was flawless casting since he understood how important the African character was. T’Challa is regal, but humble. He makes mistakes, but you respect his authority. This is my favorite portrayal of Black Panther since his arc perfectly fits the story, but it will always be bittersweet after Boseman sadly passed away. John Kani helped Boseman develop the Wakandan language and the costume department was put in the unique position of developing parts of Wakanda before the solo film was even released.

T’Challa sides with Team Stark out of revenge after a life changing attack in Vienna that claims King T’Chaka’s life. Although the Winter Soldier is framed for the attack, the true villain is Helmut Zemo. Don’t expect a purple mask or the Baron moniker just yet. Zemo is an ordinary former member of Sokovian intelligence who lost his family in the fight against Ultron. Although I’d prefer Captain America’s last major villain to be closer to his comic counterpart, it does make sense to have a behind the scenes threat. Zemo’s complex plan plays out throughout the movie with him finding Bucky’s mind controlling booklet, framing him for the bombing, and forcing the Avengers to track him down. Daniel Brühl is subtle, but effective for a mostly underused antagonist. With Sharon’s help, Cap & Falcon go against the accords by tracking Bucky to Bucharest. Sebastian Stan now plays a cross between Bucky and the Winter Soldier. He’s weary with some flashes of the man he once was. As Steve tries to reason with his friend, the authorities break in. Leading to an intense close quarters fight in an apartment where Bucky makes a run for it. As he jumps onto a rooftop, he’s quickly greeted by Black Panther in an awesome claws out fight. The Black Panther suit is highly detailed with hand woven Vibranium fabrics that hint at Wakanda even more.

The second best action scene is a car and motorcycle chase where Black Panther chases Bucky as Cap closely follows. Only ending when War Machine arrives and T’Challa reveals himself. Steve, Sam, and T’Challa are all taken into custody at the Joint Counter Terrorism Center lead by Everett Ross played by Martin Freeman. All of Steve and Tony’s past arguments reach their tipping point when they have a heated debate over signing the accords. But all that will have to wait when Zemo manages to get close to Bucky and unleash the Winter Soldier with his 10 trigger words. Bucky ends up fighting Steve, Sam, Natasha, Sharon, T’Challa, and Tony before trying to flee in a helicopter. When Cap stops him, Steve & Sam manage to clear Bucky’s head long enough to learn about a team of Winter Soldiers that Zemo may be searching for. The Ant-Man post-credits scene is finally shown when Sam suggests enlisting more help. Natasha and Tony similarly enlist more help to take Cap in without interference. Natasha enlists T’Challa’s help after a confrontation with Ayo of the yet to be seen Dora Milaje. Tony also has someone very familiar in mind. I practically screamed as soon as Queens appeared on screen. I knew that meant Spider-Man finally arrived in the MCU.

After the disappointment of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony finally came to their spider-senses and allowed Disney to use the famous superhero. Yet his inclusion never feels last minute since everyone already knows who he is. Peter Parker is once again a teenager living with Aunt May, but his accident already happened 6 months ago. Although I was skeptical, Tom Holland is Spider-Man. He embodies Spidey’s lighthearted optimism, constant talking during fights, and nails every iconic position. Tony somehow manages to find Peter through YouTube videos of Spider-Man wearing a homemade costume. He’s first seen with Aunt May played by the surprisingly attractive Marisa Tomei. Ironic considering the history she has with Downey Jr. Tony and Peter form an unlikely father/son bond as the latter recruits the former. Peter manages to keep his genius intellect since he makes his webbing and web shooters himself. Mr. Stark is mostly responsible for upgrading his suit. Sharon drops off Cap’s shield and Sam’s wingpack at the airport where they also share a kiss. Although the Falcon and the Winter Soldier don’t like each other, they are equally supportive of Steve.

Hawkeye comes out of retirement to side with Cap mostly due to his obligation to help Wanda. Thus, Jeremy Renner is a bit more lighthearted with a decent archery costume to fight in. Clint holds off Vision, but Wanda is the only one powerful enough to subdue him. The last member of the team is also the funniest. Paul Rudd manages to be major comic relief as Scott Lang has his first team up with the Avengers. He doesn’t have much personal say other than his experience as a former criminal. What follows is fan service of the highest order. The greatest scene in the movie and a major highlight of the MCU is the airport battle. Every superhero has time to shine, starting with Spider-Man making his grand entrance. The second trailer also made me scream as soon as I saw his classic comic accurate Steve Ditko costume with expressive eyes and everything. Spider-Man taking Cap’s shield was his official introduction into the MCU. A shrunken Ant-Man reclaims the shield and reveals his new costume in the process. The only primary difference is a slightly modified helmet. Ant-Man and Spider-Man were both omitted from most promotional material for obvious reasons.

Each team member has a personal connection to at least one respective member. Captain America & Iron Man are the feuding team leaders, Falcon & War Machine are their black best friends, Hawkeye & Black Widow are close spy friends, Scarlet Witch & Vision are the powerful heroes with a close bond, Ant-Man & Spider-Man are the joke heavy bugs, and Black Panther wants revenge against the Winter Soldier. The extended fight has far too many epic moments to name everything. Spider-Man using his strength, climbing up the walls, and webbing up Sam & Bucky is a dream come true. More satisfying is Spider-Man’s fight with Cap that ends with them bonding over being fellow New Yorkers. Black Panther scratches his way through Cap and Bucky, but saying he doesn’t care about Clint’s name embodies his character the best. Black Widow is forced to fight Hawkeye, but they agree to stay friends. Ant-Man being shot from Hawkeye’s arrow is a comic book image I never expected to see on the big screen, but its inclusion was extremely satisfying. Wanda is especially powerful in the fight as she moves anything in her way. Vision arrives late to cause even more damage by phasing through objects and destroying things with his head beam. War Machine mostly tries to defuse the situation, but he gets some quips in.

Ant-Man shrinking to fight his opponents is awesome, but finally becoming Giant-Man is the biggest cheer worthy moment. It’s only Spider-Man webbing up Giant-Man Empire Strikes Back style that takes him down. Cap & Bucky manage to escape thanks to Natasha having a change of heart and slowing T’Challa down. The fight takes a dramatic turn when Vision accidentally shoots down Rhodey, leaving him paralyzed from the waste down. Although the fall should’ve killed him, the accident is enough to make it personal for Tony. Evidence of Zemo’s plan is leaked to Stark as he tries to get information from the Raft. A prison from the comics that houses superpowered individuals. Clint finally refers to Stark as a “futurist,” Scott mentions Hank Pym, but Tony has no clue who he is, and Sam is slow to give out information. Cap & Bucky fly to the original Hydra base where Black Panther follows in his private Wakandan jet. Tony also follows close behind in his plane that suits him up mid-flight. Cap & Stark agree to a truce in order to get some answers from Zemo. Turns out the other Winter Soldiers were a red herring that Zemo killed unceremoniously.

Without throwing a punch, Zemo tears the Avengers apart by showing Tony footage of the Winter Soldier causing Howard & Maria Stark’s car accident and killing them in cold blood. Cap’s knowledge of the incident causes Stark to snap and attempt to kill Bucky. Leading to what is easily the most emotional climax in the MCU. As T’Challa apprehends Zemo, Captain America & the Winter Soldier fight Iron Man. It’s enough to bring back Cap’s catchphrase “I can do this all day.” Iron Man doesn’t win right away since his suit substances heavy damage. He does manage to destroy Bucky’s metal arm, but Cap holds him back by recreating the Civil War comic book cover. The intense fight only ends when Cap uses his shield to take out Stark’s arc reactor. Sadly, Tony reminding him who made the shield is enough to make Steve give it up. In the aftermath, Tony tries to help Rhodey recover in a somber scene turned hilarious when Stan Lee cameos as a FedEx delivery man looking for Tony Stank. The package contains a flip phone and a letter from Steve apologizing to Tony. As well as promising to be there for the next fight. Both post-credits scenes are important for setting up the solo movies of Black Panther and Spider-Man: Homecoming. The mid-credits scene shows Bucky being taken to Wakanda where T’Challa agrees to heal him. The after-credits scene shows Aunt May tending to Peter’s blackeye and Peter looking over his Stark issued web shooters. Captain America: Civil War may mostly be a Cap sequel, but it’s undeniably Marvel at their very best.

28. Captian America Civil War

Team Stark

Preceded by: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

A Song of Dragons and Vikings

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World concludes a perfect trilogy on a triumphant note. The How to Train Your Dragon trilogy is practically the kids version of Lord of the Rings. Not that I didn’t love the latter when I was a kid. DreamWorks Animation really outdid themselves with this franchise. How to Train Your Dragon had a consistent presence from 2010 to 2019. All decade long Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, and select members of the cast remained incredibly faithful to it. Whether it was movies, DreamWorks Dragons, or various specials. More unique is the fact that each movie went from Paramount to 20th Century Fox to their latest distributor Universal Pictures. With the already breathtaking computer animation advancing along the way. My brother and I were ready to finish it, but we weren’t prepared for the impact it would leave on us. One year has past since Hiccup became Berk’s chieftain and Toothless became the dragon alpha. Hiccup is now a fully realized leader who needs a little work coordinating his fellow dragon riding team. The standard narration is worked into the story instead with The Hidden World beginning in the middle of the action.

Hiccup and friends rescue dragons from hunters and take them to the very overpopulated Berk. All the dragons make it impossible for them to stay, but Hiccup is confident in keeping everything the same. Astrid is very much Hiccup’s other half at this point, though they do face minor relationship problems when everyone is pressuring them to get married. Astrid remains the better warrior compared to rest of the team. Every single Viking has a minor subplot in the movie. It’s understandable considering this was the last time we’d see any of them. Snotlout is vying for Valka’s admiration as a leader and developing jealousy for Eret, Son of Eret. Valka essentially replaces Stoick as Hiccup’s parental figure, but Gerard Butler does return for meaningful flashbacks. Eret looks after Stoick’s dragon as promised and earns most of Valka’s admiration. Gobber is still doing his thing as the main confidant to the chieftain. Most of his moments are related to Hobgobbler dragons he sees as a bad omen. Fishlegs has a full beard and cares for his dragon’s baby Gronckle. Ruffnut is no longer anyone’s crush, but Kristen Wiig does get a chance to riff for several minutes straight.

Tuffnut is the most unusual case in the entire movie. Although T.J. Miller voiced the Viking in both movies and the TV show, his multiple controversies prevented him from completing the franchise. I’d say it was a loss, but the lesser known Justin Rupple really captures his voice. Tuffnut is given a surprisingly meaty role as he obsesses over his hair made to look like a Viking beard and tries to impart unwanted wisdom onto Hiccup. In the process, Hiccup discovers a dangerous dragon trap set by the movie’s villain. Unlike Drago Bludvist, Grimmel the Grisly is a more refined threat with the classy and occasionally funny voice of F. Murray Abraham. He’s a dragon trapper responsible for the near extinction of the Night Furies. Near extinction because The Hidden World introduces the female equivalent of a Night Fury affectionately named the Light Fury. Unlike the all black Toothless, the Light Fury is all white with a far more skittish view of Vikings. Grimmel uses his traps and the Light Fury to draw Berk out of their home and into his clutches. Apart from his high dragon body count, Grimmel is especially disturbing for drugging dragons into his submission. Grimmel is like the evil mirror image of Hiccup, making him a far more complex antagonist. As the village finds a new home, Toothless tries to win the Light Fury’s affection in a series of funny animal mating ritual ways.

Although untrusting, Hiccup decides to build Toothless a modified tail fin to fly on his own. I like how they acknowledged the fact that he did this before in the Christmas special I mentioned. The difference is Toothless being more enthusiastic about connecting with the Light Fury. She even teaches him to hone his power to disappear in a burst of lightning. A worried Hiccup flies with Astrid to the titular Hidden World where dragons live free from the rest of the world. Toothless and Hiccup’s paths are so similar that they both end up masters of their own domain. Unfortunately, Grimmel catches up with them and steals all of Berk’s dragons. All seems lost, but one last pep talk from Astrid gives Hiccup the idea to fly onto Grimmel’s ship using flight suits. What follows is an epic battle where everyone reaches their full potential. The climax sees Grimmel’s defeat and Hiccup losing his prosthetic leg in the process. SPOILER ALERT! The only natural conclusion was for Vikings and dragons to go their separate ways. I was expecting it, but I wasn’t prepared to cry as much as I did when Hiccup had to say goodbye to Toothless. Hiccup & Astrid are married in a beautiful proper Viking wedding and several years pass with the couple having a son and daughter. The epilogue sees Hiccup reunite with Toothless and his children as they all go for one final ride (unless you count the Homecoming short that came after it). It’s a shame Disney always won the awards, because How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is everything a conclusion should be.

34. How to Train Your Dragon The Hidden World

Hiccup reunites with Toothless

Preceded by: How to Train Your Dragon 2

The Wrath of Drago Bludvist

How to Train Your Dragon 2 kept the train going with an equally breathtaking sequel. In the time since the first film’s success, How to Train Your Dragon became DreamWorks Animation’s next big franchise. The studio’s distributor also shifted from Paramount to 20th Century Fox. There was a charming Christmas special called Gift of the Night Fury and a well made Cartoon Network series called DreamWorks Dragons starring a lot of the movie’s original voice cast. Including stars as big as Jay Baruchel and America Ferrera. Although the series was great, I couldn’t commit to every episode. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is especially unique for actually allowing its character’s to mature. 5 years have past since Hiccup trained Toothless and sparked peace between Vikings and dragons. The time jump meant major redesigns to every individual character thanks to DreamWorks’ new state of the art “scalable multicore processing” animation technology. The computer animation is so lifelike that humans have visible scars, imperfections, and looser skin that shows fat and muscle. Half the time it seems like they’re showing off with how realistic it looks. My brother and I were in awe seeing it on the big screen.

Hiccup is a lot more confident with several gadgets attached to his dragon riding suit. Along with his fancier prosthetic leg, he has a prototype wing suit and a nifty lightsaber-like flame sword. Brachel is just as nasal, but the darker story gives him more opportunity to be dramatic in his quest to change dragon perception. Astrid is more feminine and less tomboyish with Ferrera being given a much larger presence. Hiccup & Astrid are very much in love as they’re now betrothed. They’re loving banter and support for one another is so rare in an animated movie. The rest of Hiccup’s comedian voiced Viking friends are similarly given more to do. Tuffnut is still comic relief, but his twin sister Ruffnut is surprisingly turned into the object of affection for Snotlout and Fishlegs. Dragons are very much the focus of Berk as they compete in Dragon Racing competitions (learn more in the short Dawn of the Dragon Racers). Everyone’s dragon now has a name that originated from the Christmas special and TV series. Astrid has Stormfly, Fishlegs has Meatlug, Snotlout has Hookfang, and Ruffnut & Tuffnut have Barf & Belch.

Meanwhile, Hiccup continues to bond with Toothless even more as they go exploring the furthest reaches of Scandinavia. It’s there that we see so many unique and colorful dragons that have or haven’t been seen before in other media. In order to deepen the sequel, Hiccup’s father Stoick trusts his son to become the village chieftain. Gerard Butler fills Stoick with even greater depth thanks to his newfound appreciation for dragons. Specifically his intense Rumblehorn dragon Skullcrusher. Gobber is just as big a comic relief with Craig Ferguson subtly implying he’s gay in a blink and you’ll miss it exchange. Three new Vikings are added to increase the stakes and challenge everything we thought we knew about dragons. The first is dashing dragon hunter Eret, Son of Eret voiced by Jon Snow himself Kit Harington. Understandable considering the Game of Thrones level scale the sequel is given. He’s a redeemable antagonist that Ruffnut develops an obsessive crush on. Eret is working for the trilogies first human villain Drago Bludvist (subtle). Djimon Hounsou lends his dynamic voice to the malicious dragonskin cloaked madman with a personal need to conquer the world using an army of dragons. His scheme is thwarted by Astrid and company as Hiccup has an unexpected reunion with his mother.

After being hinted at a few times, versatile actress Cate Blanchett voices Hiccup’s mother Valka. Turns out she cared about making peace with dragons just as much as her son. Although it sort of makes her a bad mother for staying away, her love for her son is clear. Her Stormcutter dragon is named Cloudjumper and she uses her dragon knowledge to unlock secrets even Toothless wasn’t aware of. Stoick surprises everyone by fully embracing Valka’s return and singing a spirited Viking love song with her. SPOILER ALERT! It was all to make Stoick’s death even more gut wrenching. Drago controls the dragons with a giant arctic alpha Bewilderbeast that kills Valka’s Bewilderbeast in an epic battle. Despite being a kids movie, they actually have a hypnotized Toothless be the one who kills Stoick. Hiccup tragically shoos Toothless away as they have a proper Viking funeral. They fly back to Berk using baby dragons and the climax consists of Hiccup trying to get his friend back. It’s a sweet and awesome moment as Hiccup embraces his role as chieftain and Toothless embraces his role as alpha by defeating Drago and his Bewilderbeast. Hiccup & Astrid kiss and peace between dragons and Vikings is once again restored to Berk. How to Train Your Dragon 2 sadly lost to Disney again, but it’s no less an impressive feat that soars even higher.

27. How to Train Your Dragon 2

Toothless shows Hiccup his back spikes

Preceded by: How to Train Your Dragon & Followed by: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Secrets of the Night Fury

How to Train Your Dragon is DreamWorks Animation’s magnum opus. The studio sure came a long way since their early days of competing with Disney and spouting pop culture. Especially considering Monsters vs. Aliens was the movie right before this one. How to Train Your Dragon is similar to Over the Hedge in how they breathed new life into a lesser known children’s property. The same DreamWorks producer who discovered the latter also pitched the former. How to Train Your Dragon is based on a series of children’s books written by Cressida Cowell. Her books are imaginative, silly fun, but they’re completely different compared to the movie we ended up with.

Rather than have Vikings train dragons as a rite of passage, Vikings and dragons are mortal enemies. Seeing the potential in the story, How to Train Your Dragon was given state of the art computer animation and made proper use of the 3D craze that was quickly dominating 2010. I was mildly skeptical about a slightly more serious adventure focused DreamWorks movie, but How to Train Your Dragon is easily the greatest dragon movie ever made. With an impressive 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and multiple award nominations. It was sadly overshadowed by Toy Story 3, but my brother and I knew a game changer when we saw it…

16. How to Train Your Dragon

Hiccup holds back Toothless

How to Train Your Dragon left me speechless as soon as I saw it. Although I didn’t see it in 3D, the immersive computer animation was so incredibly lifelike without losing its kid friendly charm. I love dragons, but I’m kind of indifferent to Vikings. How to Train Your Dragon made me care about both more than I ever thought I would. Vikings are made far more endearing and refer to Norse gods like Thor or Odin. We begin in the 8th to 11th century fictional Scandinavian village Berk. Our hero and sarcastic narrator is the young Viking Hiccup. Unlike the rest of his hard headed warrior people, Hiccup is a scrawny accident prone pacifist with a knack for ingenuity. He’s definitely one of the more layered protagonists in any DreamWorks movie. Hiccup’s nasally voice is appropriately provided by Jay Baruchel. Although generally known for Frat Pack comedies, Baruchel has a surprising amount of range.

In contrast, Hiccup’s crush is the tough no-nonsense tomboy Astrid. She’s equally layered for a DreamWorks love interest. As soon as Ugly Betty ended, America Ferrera was a surprisingly inspired choice to voice Astrid. Hiccup’s young supporting cast is also made up of many fellow Frat Pack comedians that work a lot better than you’d expect. Jonah Hill voices Snotlout similar to the other smug characters he tends to play. He’s over confident and has an unrequited crush on Astrid. McLovin himself Christopher Mintz-Plasse voices the meaty Fishlegs. Unlike the rest of his fellow Vikings, Fishlegs is friendlier to Hiccup and has a nerdy role-playing level obsession with dragons. Ruffnut & Tuffnut are a pair of immature bickering twins voiced by Kristen Wiig and T.J. Miller. Every comedian was allowed to improvise, but Wiig is the only one exaggerating her voice to sound like a teenager. The biggest head scratcher is why do all the young Vikings sound American when every adult has a thick Scottish accent?

Tough Scottish standby Gerard Butler voices the proud battle ready chieftain Stoick the Vast. He also happens to be Hiccup’s father, but their relationship is deeper than most disapproving father archetypes. You really feel Stoick’s struggle with trying to accept his son while at the same time understanding when he’s wrong. Hiccup’s secondary authority figure and Stoick’s best friend is local blacksmith Gobber. Hiccup works as Gobber’s apprentice and the latter is appointed Dragon slaying teacher to all the young Vikings. Scottish TV host Craig Ferguson voices Gobber and keeps up with the rest of the comedians in the movie. But How to Train Your Dragon is so much more than a standard DreamWorks comedy. It’s really about the dragons, and I’ve never seen so many unique interpretations of the fire breathing creatures. It’s almost like Pokémon if every monster was a dragon. There’s the round macelike Gronckle, the spiky birdlike Deadly Nadder, the two headed gas sparking Hideous Zippleback, the small, but ferocious Terrible Terror, and the fire enveloping Monstrous Nightmare that kind of speaks for itself.

Other dragon classifications are briefly seen in the Book of Dragons. Most of those other dragons can be seen in shorts like Legend of the Boneknapper Dragon or the aptly titled Book of Dragons. Every dragon pales in comparison to the mysterious and elusive Night Fury. The story kicks in when Hiccup uses a slingshot firing weapon that he built himself to take down the Night Fury. No one believes him, but Hiccup manges to track down the creature as its tied up. Although he’s desperate to prove himself, Hiccup can’t bring himself to kill the dragon. The Night Fury spares Hiccup, thus beginning one of the most endearing friendships in DreamWorks Animation history. Hiccup simultaneously learns how to slay a dragon from Gobber’s class and study the Night Fury from a distance. They slowly warm up to each other in a brilliant, mostly silent series of encounters where Hiccup feeds the dragon fish, teaches him how to draw, and earns his trust with an iconic touch. Hiccup names the Night Fury Toothless thanks to his adorable retractable teeth. Toothless is a magnificent dragon with wings like a bat and traits similar to a large black cat.

How to Train Your Dragon is all about a boy and his dragon. A lot of humor comes out of their petlike bonding. Their trust is put to the ultimate test when Hiccup notices Toothless’ missing tail fin that’s preventing him from flying away. Hiccup builds a prosthetic tail fin attached to a harness that he uses to ride Toothless. The first successful flight takes full advantage of the breathtaking computer animation. Apart from the heavily stylized Vikings, the Scandinavian landscapes could almost be mistaken for live-action. All of Hiccup’s dragon training turns him into a local celebrity thanks to his inexplicable dragon knowledge. He learns that dragons can’t handle fire on the inside and befriends a Terrible Terror as if it were a puppy. Stoik sails off in search of the dragon nest, but shows his pride in his son when he returns. He gives Hiccup his mother’s breastplate to wear as a Viking helmet, but remains unaware of what his son is really doing. Astrid is suspicious and a little jealous of Hiccup’s skills until she becomes the first one to learn the truth. Toothless doesn’t like Astrid at first, but he softens up when Hiccup takes her for a ride. In the process, Toothless is drawn to the last minute antagonist of the movie.

Despite the message of dragons being misunderstood creatures, the main villain is the hideously titanic monster dragon the Red Death. A queen that’s responsible for the dragons attacking the village for as long as they have. The whole experience brings Hiccup & Astrid closer together with a punch and a kiss. Little did I know they’d become one of my favorite DreamWorks animated couples. Hiccup’s final exam goes horribly wrong when Stoik refuses to let Hiccup teach them not to fear dragons. Toothless comes to the rescue at the expense of getting locked up. Stoik pushes his son away with the purpose of using Toothless to track the dragon nest. Astrid gives Hiccup a pep talk and it gives him the idea to have each of his friends ride their own dragon that reflects their personality.

Astrid gets the Deadly Nadder, Fishlegs gets the Gronckle, Snotlout gets the Monstrous Nightmare, and Ruffnut & Tuffnut get one head of the Hideous Zippleback. The climax sees all of the dragons flee from the nest in fear and the Vikings desperately trying to fight off the Red Death. All seems lost until Hiccup and friends fly to the rescue. Stoik finally sees the error of his ways by saving a drowning Toothless and being genuinely proud of his son. When his friends are overpowered, Hiccup and Toothless defeat the Red Death by using the fire trick they learned earlier. It’s just at the expense of Hiccup’s leg. Giving the duo something in common. Hiccup’s teachings are enough to permanently change Viking/dragon relations by turning Berk into a safe haven for all. The music is perfectly suited for the Norse setting and it ends the movie on an epic note. How to Train Your Dragon is a simple “boy and his dragon” story told with sincerity.

17. How to Train Your Dragon

Hiccup’s friends

Followed by: How to Train Your Dragon 2

I Need a Pump

Pain & Gain is Michael Bay’s unexpected follow up to the Transformers trilogy. Instead of a mindless CGI spectacle, Pain & Gain was a character driven true story about the American dream. Yet my brother went to see it in theaters anyway. Of course the story didn’t stop Bay from loading it with as many explosions, gorgeous women, and A-list action stars as he could get away with. They keep reminding you that it’s based on a true story, but Bay goes for a satirical comedy approach. I suppose it makes sense for a story this unbelievable, but I can’t help but feel like they were insensitive.

Pain & Gain follows the Sun Gym gang crimes of 1995. They were a gang of bodybuilders responsible for kidnapping, extorsion, and murder. Some events may seem exaggerated, but I was surprised by how much of it actually happened. Mark Wahlberg bulked up to play fitness obsessed ex-con Daniel Lugo. His motivational words may inspire some, but that doesn’t make him someone to root for. Anthony Mackie also bulked up to play fellow gang member Adrian “Noel” Doorbal. A violent criminal is made more comical by being an impotent chubby chaser who marries Rebel Wilson’s character.

The naturally pumped up Dwayne Johnson is the most over-the-top since his character Paul Doyle is an amalgamation of multiple gang members. Doyle goes from born again Christian to violent cokehead. The three bodybuilders gain a fortune from Tony Shalhoub’s name changed Victor Kershaw, but they get caught by Ed Helms’ real life detective after they kill two people. This was Bay’s first R rated film since Bad Boys II, so Bar Paly is far more sexually charged as an exotic stripper who joins in on the scheme. The potential of the story is mostly thrown out the window when they include things like a toe being shot off and hands being barbecued outside on a grill. Pain & Gain has Bay’s signature entertainment value, but it walks a fine line.

Pain & Gain

Lugo (center), Doorbal (left), and Doyle (right) walk away from an explosion

Don’t Call Me Angel

Charlie’s Angels (2019) forgot how to have fun. The 2000 film adaptation and subsequent sequel were dated and nonsensical, but at least they understood not to take themselves seriously. A third movie was never made, so a 2011 TV reboot filled the void instead. Charlie’s Angels (2011) was such a failure that it was cancelled after a mere 7 episodes. Eventually Elizabeth Banks turned Charlie’s Angels into a passion project that she personally directed, produced, wrote, and starred in. While the 2000 version was lighthearted fun with the right amount of girl power, the 2019 version favors an agenda over entertainment value.

As a result, Charlie’s Angels (2019) ended up feeling bland with painfully generic action, and virtually no comradery between the Angels. Kristen Stewart is surprisingly the only Angel trying to have fun or be overtly sexy as Sabina. The unknown Ella Balinska is a practically emotionless British fromer spy turned Angel named Jane. Naomi Scott is for some reason playing a newly recruited computer programer who ends up feeling very one note as Elena. She’s a key part of the mission that I’ve completely forgotten by now. The Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey song “Don’t Call Me Angel” about sums up how much they care about the source material.

Without John Forsythe, the replacement Charlie is barely in the movie. Bosley is suddenly a rank with Elizabeth Banks practically becoming the fourth Angel. Djimon Hounsou is also Bosley and they make the confusing decision to have Patrick Stewart play John Bosley. The 70’s series and 2000’s movies are still canon with Stewart photoshopped in David Doyle and Bill Murray’s place. What they end up doing with the character is a complete slap in the face to the original series. It only gets worse from there. The iconic “Good morning, Charlie” line doesn’t even come in until an easy to miss mid-credits scene. Charlie’s Angels (2019) bombed at the box-office for obvious reasons.

3. Charlie's Angels

Charlie’s Angels prepare for action

Reboot of: Charlie’s Angels (2000)

Good Morning, Charlie!

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle revs up the sex appeal, but decreases all logic. Not that the 2000 movie required much brain power. I’m still gonna enjoy beautiful women kicking ass whether it makes sense or not. Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu reunite alongside director McG, Luke Wilson, Matt LeBlanc, Crispin Glover, and John Forsythe in his final vocal performance as Charlie. Since the movies are still technically connected to the 70’s show, Jaclyn Smith cameos as longtime Angel Kelly Garrett. Bill Murray didn’t return as Bosley due to his feud with Lucy Liu. So he’s replaced by Bosley’s brother played by Bernie Mac. Mac tries his best, but he doesn’t bring his A-material.

Full Throttle is still mostly an excuse for physiques defining martial arts action, light investigation, and getting the Angels in perpetually more revealing undercover outfits (still not complaining). Now they’re in bikinis on the beach, performing in a scantily clad burlesque show, and jumping out of an artifact completely naked. Yet the series still somehow maintains a PG-13 rating. The newest mission involves a set of rings containing a list of people in witness protection. Natalie is even more bubbly in a subplot involving her moving in with her boyfriend. They try to recreate her famous underwear dance, but a fun impromptu “Can’t Touch This” dance will have to do.

Alex is smarter, on a break with her actor boyfriend, and interacting with her father played by John Cleese. Dylan has more tomboy qualities and once again has personal involvement with the villain. Like the show, Full Throttle also deals with the question of one of the Angels possibly leaving the team. Hence why Demi Moore plays former Angel Madison Lee, who ends up being the disgruntled villain. The sequel is just as early 2000 with several celebrities making cameos throughout. Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle doesn’t need to be high art when the Angels are having so much fun.

2. Charlie's Angels Full Throttle

Charlie’s Angels prepare for action

Preceded by: Charlie’s Angels (2000)

Good Morning, Angels

Charlie’s Angels has always been about women who kick ass and look good while doing it. The TV series is one of the sexiest, most iconic shows of the 1970’s. It coined the phrase “Jiggle TV,” and launched the career of every Angel on the show. Of course I couldn’t ignore a movie adaptation for long. I just never watched Charlie’s Angels (2000) when I was a kid or teenager. Unlike the multitude of other movies based on old TV shows made at the time, Charlie’s Angels (2000) was a continuation. Since the mysterious Charlie Townsend never changes, but the Angels are always different. So I at least watched the original pilot. The movie has far more stylized martial arts action, blatant double entendres, and the show’s sex appeal dialed way up. All 3 Angels are sexually charged with skimpy undercover outfits and any excuse to show skin (not that I’m complaining).

Charlie’s Angels is just like the show in how it portrays its new set of elite private investigators receiving a mission from Charlie through a speaker. John Forsythe’s voice and the Angels’ “Good morning, Charlie” was enough for me. The Angels are beautiful and have great chemistry thanks to the stars who play them. Cameron Diaz is Natalie Cook, the bubbly blonde Angel. Her hottest and most memorable scene is Natalie dancing in Spider-Man underwear. Drew Barrymore is Dylan Sanders, the alluring red-headed Angel. Her most badass scene is Dylan fighting in a chair. Barrymore was also a producer who chose director McG herself. Lucy Liu is Alex Munday, the tough Asian Angel. Her martial arts experience made the action feel all the more authentic in an over-the-top wire fu way.

Liu just wasn’t a fan of Bosley actor Bill Murray (no wonder she did Kill Bill). Their undercover mission involves a kidnapped software genius played by Sam Rockwell, his business partner played by Kelly Lynch, a cane wielding assailant called the “Thin Man” played by Crispin Glover, and an evil plan that goes straight to Charlie himself. The movie honors the show by keeping Charlie unseen, but benefits from crazier set pieces involving planes, race cars, and helicopters. Charlie’s Angels is very early 2000 with love interests played by Luke Wilson, Matt LeBlanc, and a very unfunny Tom Green. Plus a dated soundtrack that includes the awesome Destiny’s Child anthem “Independent Woman Part 1.” Charlie’s Angels is pure dumb fun in an attractive package.

1. Charlie's Angels

Charlie’s Angels prepare for action

Followed by: Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle

Once More, Without Feeling

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist is clearly the definitive Exorcist prequel. Unfortunately, a horror movie as terrible as Exorcist: The Beginning makes Dominion seem way better than it actually is. The Paul Schrader directed Prequel to the Exorcist may have been released one year later, but it was actually the first movie filmed. The terrible reception of The Beginning encouraged the studio to complete the version they had no faith in. Dominion is much more subtle with a psychological feel that doesn’t rely on obnoxious editing, horror filters, vulgar profanity, and gratuitously grotesque imagery.

Some of those bloody moments are still present, but it’s clear that overt terror wasn’t their intention. As a Christian, the struggle between the pegan villagers and Christian missionaries is about the extent of how uncomfortable I was watching it. The World War II scene is much more logically placed in full at the beginning of the movie. Making Father Lankester Merrin’s crisis of faith feel less arbitrary. Stellan Skarsgård is one of only a few actors who appear in both versions of the prequel.

This version of young missionary Father Francis is given a far bigger role in Merrin’s journey. The love interest is different with a smaller role and even the possessed victim is completely changed to a disabled local boy. The African location is different, the conflict between the British Army and villagers is given more attention, and the final exorcism is almost casual in its portrayal. At least there aren’t any cheap callbacks to the original. Aside from Pazuzu’s face flashing on screen in a cheesy way. Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist is still a bad movie, but at least it’s more competently made.

6. Dominion Prequel to the Exorcist

Father Merrin is confronted by a possessed Cheche

Followed by: The Exorcist

Exploration of Evil

Exorcist: The Beginning is one of two unnecessary prequels to The Exorcist. It seems no Exorcist movie can escape production difficulties, but this is the strangest case yet. Exorcist: The Beginning is actually a retooled version of an already completed prequel called Dominion. I somehow missed hearing about the prequels when I was younger, but I was no less confused when I did learn about them. When the much more psychological Dominion failed to win over the studio, director Renny Harlin shot The Beginning instead.

This version was clearly only made to fulfill the studios need for excessive gore and an ending that desperately tries to recapture the original movie’s possession. It’s a shame, because Stellan Skarsgård looks a lot like a younger Max von Sydow. The Beginning sort of follows the first exorcism performed by Father Lankester Merrin in 1940’s Africa. The archaeological dig was never my favorite part of The Exorcist, so an entire movie centered around one is gonna feel dull regardless.

The main problem is how reliant they are on grotesque and/or upsetting imagery. Something the original film used sparingly. As a Christian, upside down crucifixes made me the most uncomfortable. Just like every single movie in the franchise, Merrin is now the one struggling with his faith. Even though we know he’s gonna become the Exorcist by the end. The weight of his journey is wasted on an over-the-top ending that should’ve been a possessed African boy, but ended up being former Bond girl Izabella Scorupco made to look like Regan MacNeil instead. The unfocused prequel also includes occasional flashbacks in World War II. Exorcist: The Beginning is an unholy mess.

5. Exorcist The Beginning

Possessed Sarah offers herself to Father Merrin

Followed by: The Exorcist