This contains spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War.
Ten years. That should be long enough, right? Ten years should be long enough for everybody working in the world of film criticism (and those hopefuls filling Film Twitter with their hottest of takes) to get used to what Marvel Studios is doing with their Cinematic Universe, right? I mean, there are critics out there whose careers began well after Marvel started laying the groundwork for its universe, so it isn’t like they’re having to adjust to this stuff.
Fan Twitter got upset with Richard Brody’s dismissive New Yorker review of Infinity War (weirdly the review reads like he really liked the movie but doesn’t know how to cop to that fact). As always on Twitter people overreacted, but I think Brody’s review offers a good look at just how hollow the “these movies are ads for other movies” attitude is.
This contains complete spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War, and begins spoiling right from the first sentence.
There will likely be more from me about this movie in the days ahead, but I think that the structure and the form of the film make it hard to write about properly before the sequel is released.
This is your last chance to turn around.
We’re 18 movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with another two to come this year. We’re 123 superhero films deep, according to BoxOfficeMojo (but they don’t have Abar, The First Black Superman on their list, so who knows how many other holes there are. But 123 sounds fine for the purposes of this rereview). And not one of those 18 MCU movies, and not one of those 123 superhero movies have a moment of pure, beautiful, inspiring, chest-tightening, hope-raising heroism as good as the one featured in Captain America: The First Avenger.
And get this: the moment happens before Steve Rogers even turns into Captain America.
This is the thought that kept going through my head while revisiting Thor on this runup to Infinity War. Back in 2011 I hated this movie, thought it was just simply the worst of the worst and a huge, boring misstep for Marvel Studios. Today I look at it and see that it’s a movie developed in a world where comic book movies hadn’t yet entered their modern age, and the film has echoes of a landscape where David Hasselhoff played Nick Fury and where superheroes and their enemies usually had their final battle in a warehouse, or on docks, or on a bridge. Marvel knew how to make more grounded characters like Iron Man or more familiar characters like the Hulk work, but Asgardian gods? Space cities? Magic and high weirdness? They weren’t quite ready to commit just yet. Looking back from the post-Thor: Ragnarok vantage point how can we say anything but “How quaint”?
A wise man once noted that it’s a fine line between clever and stupid. There is also a fine line between fun and irritating, between banter and bickering. Iron Man 2 crosses all of those lines, in the process creating the most egregious misstep in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. Yes, more so than Thor: The Dark World, which for all its problems still has really good chemistry between Thor and Loki. Iron Man 2 loses not only plot coherence and villain quality, it completely throws away the good chemistry between its leads in favor of sniping, unpleasantness and a manic quality that makes it feel like a cocaine movie from the 70s.
Twenty minutes into The Incredible Hulk I thought to myself, ‘Holy shit, is this actually a forgotten masterpiece in Marvel’s Phase One?’ Thirty minutes later I realized that no, this was in fact not the case. But by the time this rewatch was over, I had come to a heretical position – I think I like Ed Norton as Bruce Banner more than Mark Ruffalo.
Look, I’m not running down Ruffalo. I love him, and I love him in the Marvel movies. I love him as Science Bros with Tony Stark and I love him as Charles Grodin in Thor: Ragnarok’s take on Midnight Run. But Ruffalo and Norton approach the role in such different ways that the two Banners feel like different characters, and I do have a preference for one version over the other.
It all started so innocently.
I’m not sure if many of the young fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe today can truly understand the ways in which Iron Man was a surprise. Every indicator was aligned against it at the time. Marvel Studios was a non-entity at the time, and Marvel Comics had only recently found success on the big screen. Ten years ago the DC characters – specifically the decades-spanning iterations of Batman and Superman – were the titans of comic book adaptations. Spider-Man and the X-Men had done well, but they were Marvel’s two biggest properties. Blade had been a surprise success (kicking off the modern age of comic book movies in its own weird way), but few outside hardcore fandom realized he was a Marvel Universe character.
And then a new studio made a movie about a C-list hero starring a washed-up old partyboy… and everything changed.
This review spoils the entirety of season two of Jessica Jones. It’s also almost exclusively about plot/theme, and largely ignores performance, cinematography, etc.
The first season of Jessica Jones is the best work that Marvel TV has done. That’s a low, low bar, but it’s actually an excellent season of television, one that works even without the tyranny of the low expectations of The Defenders. The season had all the elements needed to make magic: a great character who is deeply flawed, a terrific villain played by a perfectly cast actor, and a moral arc that spoke to both character and theme. A little long, as all Netflix shows are, JESSICA JONES nonetheless kicked a tremendous amount of ass.
Season two thus has a higher bar to clear. And it’s doing so without the cushion of a storyline and villain that’s already been hashed out in comic book form; season two’s Big Bad is an invention of the show, more or less. But Jessica Jones’ behind the camera team is up to the task, and once we take into account the Law of Netflix (“Henceforth let it be known that all series shall be, at minimum, two episodes too long and thus introduce a lethargic meandering at some point in the season”), we see that they made a new season that matches up to the first.
So sang Zero Mostel in Fiddler on the Roof, and his cry also echoes across the plains of Wakanda in Black Panther, a movie so rich with complex themes that pulling out one or two of them for discussion is daunting and feels like a disservice to the whole. But the tension between tradition and modernity is one of the driving forces behind the film, and in the space between these two forces is where director Ryan Coogler finds a way to the future.