Culture

Which of the 5 Avengers Prequels Is the Best?

The movie I have waited my entire life to see arrives in all its IMAX and 3D glory this week. My desire for this movie to happen echoes in the declaration of its director, Joss Whedon, who said at ComicCon, “I have had a dream, all my life, and it was not this good!

The Avengers is the culmination of years of planning by the folks behind Marvel’s modern movie successes. It is what Robert Downey, Jr. said it is: the most ambitious movie I’ve ever seen.

What makes this movie so fantastic is how they have been able to build up with five different movies, each essentially a prequel to this one. And then they were able to bring the original actors — with the exception of Ed Norton or Eric Bana for the Hulk — and put them all in one epic.

Each of those movies stood on their own feet as blockbusters, but some were better than others. Which was the best? Why was one not as good as the others?

Great questions. Let’s find out. Starting with the movie that was, ironically, the weakest of the five:

The Incredible Hulk

This is the second installment of the Hulk, building off of the awful Ang Lee version without even acknowledging it.

The one thing I hear about this movie is how great Ed Norton is as Bruce Banner.

Sorry. I’m just not seeing it.

In fact, I think Norton’s performance is overshadowed by Tim Roth’s. When you watch the trailer, it reminds you just how well Roth embodied the attitude of Emil Blonsky, a confidence that mutates into arrogance before devolving into an unrestrained lust for power.

Roth’s performance allows you to accept that the flawed super-soldier formula not only amplified Blonsky physically, but mentally. The arrogance and recklessness are boosted, leading him to eventually force Sam Sterns to give him the power the Hulk has and, incidentally, creating yet another Hulk villain in Sterns. That was well done and possibly sets up the premise for the next Hulk movie.

Bottom line: Roth acted circles around the others in this film.

And I’ve already talked about my thoughts on General Thunderbolt Ross.

The scenes with the Hulk look amazing and the action sequences are some of the best ever in a comic book movie. The movie also does a great job in humanizing the Hulk, showing that he isn’t just a mindless monster, but can act out of love and concern for others.

Overall, the movie is a great way to further the character without actually rebooting him, and by itself was a great adaption of the comic to film. But it’s just not as good as the other films that help bring <em>The Avengers</em> to life.

Iron Man 2

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siQgD9qOhRs

Robert Downey, Jr. returns as genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist Anthony Stark and he was every bit as good as the first time. In this movie, Mickey Rourke brilliantly plays the villain Ivan Vanko, an amalgam of two classic Iron Man villains.

In the comics, Anton Vanko created the Crimson Dynamo armor for the Soviet Union and was tasked with destroying Iron Man. Over the years many different pilots wore variations of the Crimson Dynamo armor.

The other villain is Whiplash, who had never been a Vanko. Originally a brilliant scientist working for Stark, he felt unrecognized for his work. So, like any rational person, he created an electrified bullwhip weapon that could rip through almost any metal and went to work for organized crime.

The movie takes these two and mashes them into one, and not for the better. Were Rourke to play the original Anton Vanko, employed by the current Russian government to create a Russian version of the Iron Man armor, aka the Crimson Dynamo, and motivated by the same need to redeem his father’s name, it would have been a much better adaptation of the comic.

Same if he were to play Mark Scarlotti, the original Whiplash, and be a disgruntled employee who turns to a life of crime.

For the fanboy, it was difficult to see the mashup. At the end, I was thinking, “Oh, great. They took Whiplash and put him in a super powered suit.”

And what’s with Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer?

Now that I think about it, that casting calamity should have been included here.

I liked the depth the movie brought to the relationship between Tony Stark and his father. Busy fathers can relate to characters like Stark, pulled in a hundred different directions and inadvertently making your kids feel unloved, all while you work to provide a better future for them. I thought Downey did a great job showing how Tony Stark now understood his father for the first time, and began to love him.

Finally, the movie introduces us to the Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson. Her origin couldn’t be farther from the comics, but to the non-fanboy, it works well as a way to introduce her to the films. Was she needed? No. I would’ve preferred the Wasp, but then, I’m picky like that.

As with The Incredible Hulk, this wasn’t a bad movie. I enjoy watching it. It just wasn’t as solid as the next three.

Thor

What a beautiful movie.

The movie did justice to Asgard. They took the comic’s creation and spared nothing to bring it to life.

True, there were some changes from the original. While Odin still casts Thor out of Asgard to teach him humility, he doesn’t take his memory and put him in the body of Donald Blake. But really, there’s no time for that. Thor needed this modification of the history and it worked.

And brilliant casting: everyone from Chris Hemsworth as Thor to Tom Hiddleston as Loki not only fit the bill, but acted the part. And Anthony Hopkins as Odin? Inspired.

Also, note how closely they kept to the comic with The Destroyer. Here’s a side-by-side comparison:

A menacing weapon of mass destruction.

The action slows down in the middle, but it was necessary to build the relationship between Thor and Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster (that’s the key to Thor regaining his power). I don’t think the lack of action detracts from the picture.

There were really only two things I could say about this movie that are not positive. First, it introduces us to a new character in SHIELD agent Clint Barton, referred to only as “Barton.” This is a wild departure from the comic book origin of the character, who actually started out as an Iron Man villain. It seemed like they were trying to force a character they wanted in The Avengers into the story, but I suppose to someone unfamiliar with the comics, it makes sense.

I didn’t like it. I would have preferred Hawkeye wasn’t used. Why not find a way to introduce Henry Pym instead? At least he was one of the original Avengers and would look epic fighting Loki’s army in New York City as Giant Man.

The other problem I had was the fact that Volstagg wasn’t towering over the other members of the Warriors Three. I know, a minor point that only fanboys would notice. But we noticed.

A fantastic movie that took us closer to The Avengers, and left the door open for future Thor sequels, which are being worked on now.

Captain America: The First Avenger

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-J3HfllvXWE

Like Thor, this was just a beautiful film. No expense was spared in creating a World War II setting for the movie, from the pre-Super-Soldier Steve Rogers to the fighting with Red Skull in the final battle.

Chris Evans, hot off his role as the Human Torch in the botched Fantastic Four movies, takes the role of Steve Rogers and owns it. A little CGI is needed to make him small and wimpy, but it is seemless. Evans plays Steve Rogers, bringing to life a man who is noble, brave and humble, only wanting to help his country. Given the opportunity to take the Super-Soldier formula, Rogers steps up and becomes Captain America.

The story was basically true to the comic, except for a few points which don’t really take anything away from the overall movie. First, Bucky Barnes was more than just a friend to Captain America in the comics. He was his teenage sidekick, trained by the military and assigned to help Captain America. Even by the most liberal suspensions of disbelief, this would be hard to swallow. The change was necessary.

The second change, and one that bothered me more, was the lack of adamantium in Cap’s shield. Howard Stark presents him different options for a shield when Cap finds one he likes. He asks what it’s made of and Stark resonds, “Vibranium. Stronger than steel and a third the weight.”

How hard would it have been to say, “A mixture of vibranium and adamantium. Vibranium will absorb the impact of a hit and adamantium is the strongest metal know to man.” There was really no reason to leave Marvel’s signature metal out of the film.

It’s a minor point, but it bothered me.

The rest of the film is fantastic. The costume for Captain America is very realistic and true to the comic. I know, in the comic the uniform is chain mail or scale mail. Leather was a more realistic option.

Hugo Weaving’s portrayal of the Red Skull was spot on.

There’s very little not to like about this movie. And the ending took us to The Avengers.

But first we need to talk about…

Iron Man

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pk1CUak3WJM

This is the best Marvel comic book movie ever.

The movie took the comic and brought it to today. Rather than being captured in Southeast Asia, Tony Stark is kidnapped in the Middle East and forced to create a weapon for a terrorist leader. Instead, Stark works with a fellow prisoner to build a rough suit of high-tech armor for his escape.

I loved two things about this. First, they didn’t blow off this part of the origin story. They spent time here, showing the relationship between Tony and Ho Yinsen, the man who helped make the armor.

Second was how true to the book they made the armor look. Another side by side is necessary to appreciate it:

As I wrote before, casting Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Start was one one of the best decisions ever made in comic book movie history. He plays the role masterfully.

And I think because of him, Iron Man is one of the more popular comic book movies. The character is cool, but Downey brings so much cool factor with him, it adds to the attraction of the film.

Overall, the movie shows how flippant Stark is about matters of no importance to him, and how matters that once were trivial become center stage. It creates a motivation for a selfish, egocentric billionaire playboy to become an armored super-hero who risks his life to help the helpless.

Throw a little AC/DC in the soundtrack and you have the coolest super-hero ever, making it possible to spend millions on future comic book movies, ultimately leading up to May 4th and the U.S. opening of The Avengers.

All of the movies were enjoyable and stand by themselves. But like The Avengers director Joss Whedon said at ComicCon, this team is more than the sum of the parts.

I know you disagree with me, so just say: Which movie was your favorite? Which did you like least? And what did I get wrong? Let me know in the comments.