The Avengers: I haven’t seen The Avengers. But lots of other people have and can tell you why it’s a transcendent bit of comic book cinema or just another symptom of who-cares fanboyism signifying nothing. I will say that Marvel’s decision to hire an actual writer-director (!) with a clear sensibility and point of view (!!) for their mega-franchise might almost count as brave, at least in the penny-pinching, corporate-minded culture of the comics company turned mini-studio turned Disney subsidiary. Herewith, then, I shall rank the “real” Marvel movies so far, which is essentially the Marvel middle-class: higher quality entries like the best X-Men and Spider-Man movies, as well as disappointments like Daredevil and X-Men: The Last Stand, were stamped with the Marvel logo but made outside the company’s direct purview.
1. Iron Man 2: OK, this is at least 25% for spite, because it’s weird that Iron Man got great reviews and Iron Man 2 is considered something of a disappointment. It’s certainly a bumpier ride than the first movie, with all of that bullshit about SHIELD and Agent Coulson that will supposedly pay huge dividends (by which I mean: vague nods of recognition for the uninitiated with decent memories) in the Avengers movie, but if you look at Iron Man 2 as a strange, somewhat rambling series of performance-oriented dialogue scenes (with, bonus, cooler action sequences than the first movie), it kind of rules. It’s got the Downey-Gwyneth byplay from the first movie, with bonus byplay at every turn, between a preening, hilarious Sam Rockwell (a rival arms dealer) and Downey; between Downey and a glowering Sam Jackson; between Rockwell and fellow bad guy Mickey Rourke; and between Scarlett Johansson and that catsuit (and also Downey and Jackson). Basically, it’s freewheeling actors’ jamboree with some superhero fights.
2. Iron Man: Also, the bad guy in the first movie is Jeff Bridges, the coolness of which allows people to kinda forget about Jeff Bridges not actually being that cool in the movie. Still, the first Iron Man is a satisfying origin story with little in the way of Downey’s hilarious performance and nicely tart repartee with Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s just a little weird that some people apparently consider this on par with the best Spider-Man or X-Men movies (FYI, if this was an all-Marvel-superhero-movies-ever list, the top five would be entirely Spider-Man and X-Men).
3. Captain America: The First Avenger: I kind of wanted to rank this one above the first Iron Man, too, but the way it montages over some awesome Captain America WWII, Neal McDonough-inclusive adventures in service of rushing the movie to catch up with future Avengers storylines is pretty lame. Apart from that, it actually integrates the SHIELD material better than any of the other franchise-builders, and has that old-timey Joe Johnston snap, a rare case of Marvel journeyman-mongering fitting the material perfectly. Chris Evans’s Cap may be the hero I’m most looking forward to seeing again this summer.
4. Thor: Thor, by contrast, has the weakest integration of Marvel continuity, including a pointless-ish Hawkeye cameo clearly inserted from an entirely separate shoot like he’s Usher at the prom in She’s All That. The movie itself is actually a bit better than I was expecting it to be around this time last year; Chris Hemsworth is charming, as is Natalie Portman; the Marvel-made movies generally lack for truly fantastic action sequences, so I suppose it makes sense that the dorky rom-com portion of Thor is some of its best material. An enjoyable movie I have no desire to see again.
5. The Incredible Hulk: The now non-canon (although, not all that incompatible with the plot of this movie, if you want to pretend up some continuity) Ang Lee Hulk is way better than this watchable but utterly pedestrian waste of Edward Norton and company. A skinny, brainy, easy-to-anger Norton is pretty excellent casting, but probably would’ve been better-served by Lee’s psychology-n-poetry double major than the director of Transporter 2 (and lord knows I love Transporter 2; it has better action sequences, actually, than this Hulk movie!). Mark Ruffalo becomes the third Hulk in the past ten years in The Avengers; maybe the character works better as a utility than the main program.
Basically, The Avengers should hit number one on this list in a walk, even if it’s no X-Men: First Class. But stranger fuck-ups have happened before (did I mention X-Men: The Last Stand? Six times a year, you say? OK then).
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Hold up, I didn’t realize that the movie where Maggie Smith complains about Indian food is coming out this weekend! Cancel your geek-out plans: Maggie Smith has distaste for a foreign culture! Actually, this movie is basically The Avengers for the elderly: Maggie Smith! Judi Dench! Bill Nighy! Tom Wilkinson! TOGETHER IN A SINGLE FILM! If the art-house theater in Scarsdale still existed, I’d be staying the fuck away from it this weekend! It’s the Times Square of creaky movies about old people being irascible and learning life lessons.