This contains spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War.
Spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War follow.
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.
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”?
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.