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The Entirely Arbitrary Ranking of All 12 Marvel Studios Movies

No matter what people on the internet might tell you, it’s pretty damn hard to rank movies. There’s several million ‘definitive rankings’ of everything from McDonalds menu items (cheers BuzzFeed) to Call of Duty games – and every single time, there will be people who either wholeheartedly disagree, or just wish #32 and #33 were swapped around. However, I’m going to try anyway. With Ant-Man now in cinemas, and the number of movies produced by behemoth Marvel Studios now twelve, this is my attempt to arbitrarily shuffle all those movies into an order of worst to best. Remember kids, this ranking means literally nothing, and is probably wrong. Hey, I’ll probably change my mind tomorrow, but here the ranks are anyway:

12. The Incredible Hulk The-Incredible-Hulk-HD-Wallpaper

To be fair to Hulk, there’s not an awful lot of difference between the bottom two here. To be less fair to Hulk, The Incredible Hulk is really not very good. This was an early effort from Marvel, and it shows – the villain, Abomination, is disposable and only really exists as something for Hulk to punch really hard in the face. Edward Norton, great in Birdman, looks bored out of his mind half the time, with a fairly insipid performance that doesn’t match up to Mark Ruffalo’s hugely superior successor – and there’s a couple of gratuitous sequel hooks that will never be resolved. There’s decent stuff here, such as an attempt to explore the innately relatable idea of being uncomfortable in your own skin, but The Incredible Hulk pretty much deserves its spot as a near-exile from canon.

11. Iron Man 2

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The tasteless and strangely textured filling of the Iron Man trilogy sandwich (beat that for a metaphor), Iron Man 2 is well known as the movie that’s barely confident enough to present its own story, with set-up for The Avengers crammed to bursting in an already overstuffed movie. That’s partially true, even if some of that set-up is a lot of fun on its own – but the actual story of the movie is pretty bad too. Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash is quite frankly weird, and the movie is far too scared of meaningfully exploring Stark’s alcoholism in depth. Add in yet another finale with Iron Man fighting more damn suits, and you have a sequel that’s sporadically engaging with great action and a reliably charismatic lead performance from Robert Downey Jr, but generally throwaway.

10. Thor: The Dark World

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At release, I probably wouldn’t have put The Dark World this low down. Unlike the mostly bad bottom two, there’s a lot of good stuff here – Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is entertaining as ever (with a fun double act with Chris Hemsworth’s Thor), and the final act is often inspired in its own crazy way. However, after Marvel delivered a doozy of a Captain America sequel a few months later, The Dark World couldn’t help but pale in comparison. The villain’s plot is nonsense, the Aether is a boring MacGuffin with an unnecessary amount of backstory, and most of Thor’s Earth-bound supporting cast are about as entertaining to watch as a colonoscopy (look, I wanted to be edgy). It’s the movie that proved that Thor is the most boring Avenger, and doesn’t exactly inspire hope for the upcoming sequel in 2017.

9. Thor

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That whooshing sound you just heard was the passing of a threshold. Yep, we’re done with the ‘bad’ MCU movies – and, fittingly for a family-friendly superhero franchise, there’s a sharp line between the good and bad movies here. So if eighth seems harsh for Thor, it’s simply because Marvel Studios have a damn good track record. Indeed, Thor is a solid enough movie – Loki is still the MCU’s best movie villain, and it’s a fun expansion of the universe into the colourful alien world of Asgard. However, there’s issues here, such as the dull romance between Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster and Thor, and a small scope that’s less quaint, and more overly cautious than anything, which restricts the stakes and reduces the tension in the final act. Also, there’s not enough Idris Elba, which is a minor crime against humanity.

8. Captain America: The First Avenger

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Next year’s third and presumably final Captain America movie, Civil War, is due to be one of the MCU’s most ambitious movies so far, with a gargantuan cast that’s anchored by the titular superhero, a sign of how huge the character is nowadays. Compared to that, Cap’s origin story is a pretty humble little indie movie – but that doesn’t mean that The First Avenger is by any means bad – like Thor, it’s a solid origin story that introduces an engaging lead character, but packs in plenty of flaws and doesn’t innovate a awful lot within the genre The period setting helps give the movie a fresh and entirely different feel from other, modern-day movies, helping to set aside a movie that’s generic in its plotting from the pack. Chris Evans is an eternally likeable presence as Captain America and Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter is Marvel’s strongest and most nuanced female character so far (and, if you haven’t seen it, Agent Carter definitely deserves a watch), anchoring an above-average set of characters.  Yep, Red Skull is a terrible villain, and the plot is often by-the-numbers, but there’s heart and emotion to The First Avenger that help to put it above most of Marvel’s origin stories so far.

7. Iron Man 3 

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Repeat after me: the problem with Iron Man 3 was not the Mandarin twist. Tony Stark’s third outing is often derided by hardcore fans for a midway bait-and-switch that revealed that Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin (a major foe in the comics) was a baffled actor named Trevor Slattery, hired as a front for the real villain, but that’s certainly not a problem for me. In fact, the Mandarin twist is a subversive stroke of genius in this writer’s opinion – a risky, unique idea that goes somewhere that other superhero movies wouldn’t dare to do by having a little fun with the very building blocks of a superhero movie. The rest of Iron Man 3 is solid, with a fun buddy-cop dynamic between Tony Stark and friend James Rhodes aka War Machine, an admirable attempt to explore the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and a couple of stunning set-pieces, but it never really rises to the irreverence and uniqueness of that halfway twist. In fact, the Mandarin twist forces the movie to wheel out a replacement for Kingsley’s hugely engaging ‘Mandarin’ in the form of Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian – unfortunately, Killian is a really boring bad guy, who lacks the charisma and unnerving nature of the fake Mandarin, so the second half ends up feeling a little underpowered as a result. Despite that, Iron Man 3 is a strong capper to Tony Stark’s solo adventures, delivering a payoff to Stark’s arc (Starc?) across the three movies that promised to upend the character of Tony Stark by chucking away all his suits.

Okay, that one didn’t pan out, with Tony back in the superhero game in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but Iron Man 3 still works despite Age of Ultron entirely ignoring it.

6. Ant-Man

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The newest addition to this list – so new that it wasn’t even here when I first posted this article. Considering the tumultuous behind the scenes antics that ended up with original director Edgar Wright kicked off the project, it’s damn surprising that Ant-Man has sneaked into the top half. Truth be told, I wish I could put this movie even higher, due to the admirable intent to send up some of Marvel’s own tired cliches such as the apocalyptic third act and flip the switch back to the smaller-scale origin stories of Phase 1.

Alas (I’m not pretentious, I swear), sixth will have to do. Ant-Man is pinned back from reaching greatness by some surprising issues – the first act, despite its strong focus on character building and drama, is far too slow-moving and deliberate for what is Marvel’s most family-friendly movie in quite a few years. For at least the first 45 minutes, Ant-Man steadfastly refuses to kick into top gear – and while that doesn’t mean the first act is irredeemably tedious nonsense, it does mean that the jaunty and enjoyable remainder of the movie jars with the generally quiet and often serious first hour or so. There’s also a couple of examples of sub-standard writing – the training sequences skip happily from major moments of conflict to overtly comedic fight scenes, and that means that Ant-Man never truly gets a proper handle on its tone until midway through the second act.

But yep, those are grumbles, and Ant-Man is endearing enough to make it easy to forgive some of the flaws. And, on the bright side, there’s plenty more good than bad. Paul Rudd is an extremely likeable lead – Rudd’s Scott Lang is made easy to root for partially by the compact and nimble storytelling that efficiently establishes reasons to feel sympathy for Lang, but also by Rudd’s grounded, deadpan performance. Scott Lang is essentially just an ordinary guy, and Rudd conveys that nicely by delivering a performance that’s far more understated and subtle than the more on-the-nose performances from the likes of Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr. After the introductions are over with, Ant-Man moves like lightning, with a near-flawless third act that delivers smart and innovative action that takes great advantages of Ant-Man’s shrinking abilities by setting fight scenes in extremely atypical locations, a handful of genius visual gags, and an emotionally satisfying resolution to Lang’s family drama. As mentioned above, some of the visuals of the shrunken world are superb, culminating in a visually stunning, clever sequence that mixes Interstellar with an overdose of LSD (honestly).

Most of all, though, Ant-Man succeeds by keeping the scope personal and the stakes small – it’s easy to get engaged in Lang and Hank Pym’s conflicts with their family when the movie keeps the scope confined to some areas of San Francisco, and sets the third act in suburbia rather than all across a crumbling city. It’s not a vintage effort from Marvel, but it doesn’t even need to be.

5. Iron Man iron-man-downey-jr

The one that started it all – the movie that made every subsequent movie on this list besides The Incredible Hulk (kinda fitting, really) a success. It’s high on this list, but here’s an edgy opinion for you: Iron Man is overrated. The actual plot is thoroughly undercooked, the third act isn’t that good, and Iron Monger is a forgettable and uninspired villain. With that edgy opinion out of the way, let’s talk about why Iron Man is snugly nestled in the top half and listed as the best Iron Man movie. Robert Downey Jr is frankly awesome as Tony Stark, bringing a pitch-perfect performance to the role of the arrogant yet vulnerable superhero. He’s such an entertaining presence that the scenes with him testing out the Iron Man suit with only a robot dummy to act with are some of the best of the movie, and no-one in the cast can really match up to him as a result. The ‘origin’ parts of the movie are superb, including a compellingly gritty set of scenes in an Afghanistan cave, culminating in a punch-the-air moment of catharsis when Tony suits up, kills his captors and flies away from the explosion. And, even during the weaker third act, it’s a breezy and fun movie that scores sky-high in terms of entertainment value, with a tongue-in-cheek ending that demolishes the perception that superheroes need secret identities. Tony Stark doesn’t play by the rules, and the offbeat, irreverent tone of Iron Man reflects that nicely.

4. Avengers: Age of Ultron avengersultronclip

Age of Ultron, as it turns out, was a bit of a Marmite movie. Some loved it for its deeper exploration of characters, heightened stakes and stronger plot, and some hated it for being a tangled mess of too many cooks (characters), jumbled character arcs and generic action scenes. Some saw it as outright sexist and bigoted on the part of Joss Whedon. All interpretations are wrong, except mine.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a little bit of everything I mentioned above. It’s stronger than the first movie in so many ways – the story is considerably stronger than the threadbare plot of the first Avengers, and there’s a tighter focus on characters, with every main Avenger possessing a relatively detailed character arc and motivations (the visions, in particular, are an ambitious way to sketch out every character’s inner fears and hopes within a few minutes). The final act is a triumphant up-yours to Man of Steel‘s Innocent Civilian Slaughter Power Hour by focusing on rescuing civilians, and the new additions generally work, especially Paul Bettany’s Vision (introduced with the best visual gag the MCU has ever pulled off) and Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, and Ultron is a worthy successor to Loki due to the Age of Ultron‘s strong linking of the character’s motivations to the central themes and character arcs of the movie.

But yep, there’s flaws aplenty. Structurally, Age of Ultron is a mess – Thor’s Infinity Stone subplot is sparse in terms of dramatic or story value and feels utterly out of place, not every character arc reaches a satisfying conclusion and there’s simply not room to give attention to Quicksilver before he’s killed off in a death that’s presented as a tragic moment. There’s detours to set up characters for Black Panther, set up for the next solo outings of Thor and Captain America and significant groundwork laid towards the eventual showdown with Thanos and his Infinity Gauntlet in the two-part Infinity War, but none of these feel truly organic, as if they’ve been awkwardly shoved into an already formed movie. Age of Ultron shows the strains of world-building like no other movie in the MCU, and it’s a concerning sign that Phase 3 movies like Civil War could end up collapsing entirely under the weight of the set-up needed for future movies.

It’s a mess, but the intent behind Age of Ultron is clearly impressive – it generally accomplishes its lofty ambitions, and does some really unexpected and interesting things with well-worn characters. It could have done with a rewrite, but what we got almost matches up to the first movie in terms of entertainment value, and surpasses it in terms of character development and thematic depth.

3. The Avengers

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Avengers movies are like buses. You wait half the post for one, and then two come along at once. This was my undisputed champion until last year came around, and I’m sure that this movie is at or near the top of nearly every one of these lists (and believe me, there are a lot – what, did you think I had an original idea for a blog post?).

The Avengers was a turning point for the MCU in terms of box office and cultural significance, and it’s easy to see why. It’s less ambitious than its sequel, but that means it doesn’t overreach itself – there’s very little that The Avengers does badly, even if certain aspects are weaker than they are in Age of Ultron. Where The Avengers succeeds is in the comic-book thrill of seeing these heroes team up for the first time – there had been plenty of methodical and careful build-up in the solo movies, so this movie was allowed to let loose and just be a blast on its own terms. The script is genuinely witty, the dynamics between the heroes are diverse and intriguing, and there’s plenty of strong emotion in scenes such as Coulson’s death (thankfully, he’s alive and kicking nowadays, thanks alien blood!) – the road towards the heroes assembling in the first act may be a little rocky in its tediousness, but once the heroes get together, The Avengers never ceases to be top-tier entertainment.

The third act is everything that’s hated nowadays – a destructive battle that levels New York – yet it succeeds where others have failed by acting as a culmination of the tensions between the group. Age of Ultron had several individual character arcs, which were messier to sort out, yet The Avengers only really has a group arc as the team learn to work together, and it comes to a head beautifully with the hugely satisfying assembly of the team, and yet another gem of a visual gag with Hulk smashing Loki into the ground in a moment that’s both hugely cathartic and really damn funny. This movie spawned a hell of a lot of cinematic universes (including, weirdly, Universal’s monsters) in an attempt to one-up Marvel – but no-one’s really matched up to the payoff that’s given here.

Two left, then. It’s easy to figure out what movies will make up the top two, but obviously the #1 movie will be revealed by virtue of it not being at #2. You don’t care? Oh, okay then. Here’s the movie that just missed out on the top spot.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy L to R: Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) Ph: Film Frame ©Marvel 2014

You may know the story here. Like The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy was a huge movie for Marvel, proving that even C-list characters can make a small fortune if adapted into a movie, and emboldening them to announce a five-year slate of movies including several new franchises just a few months after. I’ve reviewed Guardians before on this blog, but it’s worth re-iterating how shockingly good this movie was. It’s by far the most fun – James Gunn’s script packs in the witty humour of Whedon’s Avengers scripts, but with a clever streak of self-referential humour that’s proved to be the template for how to sell these obscure characters; by inviting the audience’s sense of trepidation about these weird characters, and warmly assuring them that Marvel think they’re a bit silly too. Everyone’s in on the joke, so everyone wins.

Guardians also creates a handful of genuinely iconic personalities – Groot, the talking tree with a limited vocabulary, becomes the most sympathetic and likeable character in the movie through just facial expressions and different intonations of ‘I am Groot’, Rocket Raccoon is a lovably weird psychopath with a subtle, understated sense of deep vulnerability underneath the snarky humour, Star Lord is an engaging lead that you root for from the start despite his slightly skewed moral sensibilities thanks to Chris Pratt’s (praise him) powerhouse performance and Drax is a surprisingly hilarious character thanks to the juxtaposition between his brutality in battle and his innocent, childlike demeanour.  Admittedly, there’s a few reasons why Guardians missed out on the top spot. The plot is skeletal, plagued by the same troubles that pulled The Dark World down to the lower end of this list – the central MacGuffin is boring, the movie never provides an engaging villainous counterpart to the heroes with either Ronan the Accuser or Nebula and unfortunately, Guardians doesn’t quite hit the target with its female lead, Gamora – Zoe Saldana is entertaining enough, but the character is underwritten and overshadowed.

Still, there’s a hell of a lot to like about Guardians, from the well-rounded character development to the quirky and unique visuals and the clever use of 70s pop hits on the soundtrack, and it’s fair to say that it’s a movie that blew everyone away when it came along, and set quite frankly unreasonable expectations for cultural significance, critical reception and box office that Ant-Man, as well as it’s doing, just couldn’t match up to. However, there was one movie that managed to top even Guardians. Guess what it is? Yep, it’s the movie that I haven’t mentioned yet! Get that for a shocker!

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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The king of the hill, the cream of the crop, the top of this overly long and entirely unnecessary list. The Winter Soldier is actually a strange movie for me to pick as the pinnacle of Marvel Studios’ movies so far, as it’s one of the movies that feels the least like a traditional Marvel movie in the MCU. It’s not as dark as DC’s movies, but it’s further in that direction than normal – and it’s this different tone that helps to make The Winter Soldier as good as it is. For a good chunk of this movie, there’s a thick sense of paranoia and a feeling that the stakes really are high – the choice to give this movie a ‘political thriller’ feel means that there’s far more unpredictability than usual as the traitors creep out from the wreck of the seeming paragon of virtue that was SHIELD.

The actual story is far stronger than Guardians, with several properly surprising twists and a hugely relevant, grounded theme of the dangers of surveillance and modern drone warfare. It’s a movie that resonates with real life, which is pretty damn unusual for a franchise that stays on the side of the fantastic more often than not – but a little variety, in this case, pays dividends and shapes The Winter Soldier into a distinctive yet essential part of the MCU. The twist that SHIELD has been infiltrated by HYDRA is the sort of plot development that creators of interconnected universes should aspire to – a twist that works as both a major development for the movie itself and the cinematic universe as a whole. The Winter Soldier possesses major repercussions for the entire franchise, ensuring that this is an absolutely essential mythology episode that uses the advantages of a cinematic universe to become far more than just a second movie for Captain America; despite only starring two Avengers, The Winter Soldier matters every bit as much to the MCU as a whole as either Avengers movie.

The HYDRA twist is communicated in a clunky and inorganic way, but the way the movie uses well-known faces such as Sitwell to increase the impact of the twist is both a little cruel and pretty clever – having people we’ve grown to like over a few movies turn out as basically Nazis is a bit of a blow, and that’s exactly the intention. The third act is perhaps a little too simple, discarding political intrigue for explosions and CGI – but there’s still a lot to love in the final act, including a great entrance for Falcon and a final showdown between Captain America and the Winter Soldier that acts as a terrific and emotional callback to the first movie, as well as setting up an intriguing mystery regarding the Winter Soldier’s allegiances for Civil War to solve. The Winter Soldier works as both an entertaining, thought-provoking and often surprising thriller, and as the next step in the development of the MCU – and unlike other movies like Age of Ultron, it rarely trips up trying to accomplish this. It’s one of the strongest superhero movies around, and it’s certainly going to be hard to top.

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DC Takes San Diego: Batman v Superman & Suicide Squad Trailer Thoughts

This last week, have you noticed the internet shattering on several occasions? If you’ve been living under a rock, quick recap: last week saw the annual Comic Con in San Diego; an event where every upcoming major geek movie or TV show under the sun heads to in order to drum up some enthusiasm and help maintain/kickstart publicity. In order to generate said enthusiasm, the studios usually bring along some exclusive footage for the sleep-deprived fans who rock up to the panels. Usually, that exclusive footage stays within the walls of Comic Con, with only footage descriptions for the mere plebs at home.

Thankfully, as someone once said, the times they are a-changing. With Marvel Studios skipping Comic Con this year, rival studio DC had the chance to make Comic Con their own – and they pretty much did, showing off new trailers for their massively anticipated two upcoming movies that’ll hit cinemas in 2016. Only one of them was actually meant to be released online, but both are now on YouTube in HD, so things worked out quite nicely. In the first of my Comic Con posts, I’ll be spouting a few of my overexcited thoughts on these trailers:

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Truth be told, the first trailer for Batman v Superman wasn’t very good. Overly grim, too cryptic to generate excitement and topped off with a layer of pretentiousness, it basically perpetuated the kind of justified perception that DC’s take on superheroes is just too grim and gritty for its own good.

Then, this trailer came out. There’s still the odd pretentious moment (Superman appearing in Congress in full costume will never look remotely cool, sorry), but it’s safe to say that this extended sneak peek, released online immediately after the Comic Con panel, is a goddamn masterpiece of editing. It not only shows off a few, awesome shots of the titular heroes fighting, but displays impeccably how all the disparate elements of this sort-of sequel tie together. It showcases a logical motivation for Batman that’s tied directly to Man of Steel (and goes some way to justifying that movie’s third act Michael Bay homage), peppers in a couple of great shots of Gal Gadot in action as Wonder Woman, and even showcases the clear hook of the DC’s cinematic universe in a single shot; that it’s a universe where most defining moments in the comics have already happened (the brief look at a tattered Robin costume, probably Jason Todd’s, spray painted with a taunting message from the Joker, essentially shows us that there’s already been two Robins before the events of this movie). Even I, cynic about all things DC, almost melted into a puddle of joy after watching this, and was briefly transported to a dimension filled with puppies and unlimited bacon sandwiches. I’m honestly not exaggerating – this genuinely happened, showing just how good this trailer was.

Unfortunately, Man of Steel also released a handful of stunningly good trailers and ended up as an average-at-best take on Superman, so it’s possible that this is just Zack Snyder’s master editing at work, and Dawn of Justice will end up as yet another divisive disappointment. In the moment, however, it’s hard not to get ridiculously excited over a trailer that delivers everything you’d want from a preview of this movie (and then some), without even spoiling much of it.

I’m off to watch this trailer another 30 times now, if that’s alright.

Suicide Squad

Okay, maybe that HD, official release you see above wasn’t meant to happen, and was only begrudgingly coughed up by Warner Bros after a widespread leak of a bootleg version. But hey, here we are. As hinted at above, I’m not a huge fan of DC’s ‘grim and gritty’ aesthetic – it barely fits some characters (such as Superman, the classic hero who in this universe snaps necks and causes horrendous destruction), but the darker tone makes complete sense for Suicide Squad, a movie where the closest thing to a hero is probably Deadshot, a contract killer (and it just gets more evil from there), preventing some of the tonal problems that bugged Man of Steel from cropping up again.

It’s not all dark, however – part of this trailer’s appeal is just how bat-shit crazy it all looks. There’s thugs in panda and low-rent Batman costumes, a couple of good looks at Killer Croc (your garden variety guy with a skin disease that makes him look like a crocodile), and a generally twisted aesthetic that encouragingly points towards director David Ayer having a good lock on how to adapt this deeply screwed-up team of psychos and their equally screwed-up antagonists. After all, this is a mainstream movie that will probably be easily accessible to kids (courtesy of that good old lucrative PG-13 rating), yet proudly boasts ‘suicide’ in the name – this ain’t your regular superhero movie, so it warrants a vastly different tone and aesthetic to the usual fare; from the looks of this trailer, it seems as if we’re getting that in spades.

And of course, there’s the two trump cards – the Joker and Harley Quinn, otherwise known as the world’s strangest couple (I’d say ‘power couple’, but power couples don’t aren’t usually founded on torture, from experience). Smartly, the Suicide Squad trailer recognises both the popularity of the characters and the general opinion on the takes on the characters that this movie serves up. Harley, a hugely popular comics character, is glimpsed early and often (Margot Robbie seems to have the ‘hyperactive psycho’ thing down), which makes complete sense due to this being the first live-action portrayal of the character (and therefore there’s the need to show off how the character will actually work in live action to bring people on-side), whereas the Joker, the world’s most famous supervillain, is saved for the trailer’s final moments for maximum impact, showing off just enough of Jared Leto’s new take on Mister J to excite people, but not enough for people who are understandably still hung up on Heath Ledger’s genius take on the villain to pass full judgement (I mean, they’re still judging him, but at least DC tried). It’s a pretty clever use of the characters, and should serve as the template for how to use them when the marketing actually kicks in. For what it’s worth, Leto’s Joker looks pretty encouraging from this brief glimpse – he looks properly imposing up close, boasts an utterly strange (for the Joker, strange = great) laugh and keeps just enough of Heath Ledger’s Joker voice to ensure a slight sense of familiarity.

I can’t think of much to nitpick – it’s a properly good trailer, and possibly my favourite of this year’s Comic Con.

It’s also 13 months off, but details.

I’ll be holding off on opinions on the Deadpool trailer until that gets an official HD release in a few weeks’ time – but I’ll be doing another one of these on the Walking Dead Fear the Walking Dead trailers soon. You lucky things. I really am spoiling you.

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Fantastic Four: Electric Boogaloo

As has been trumpeted on the internet since last autumn, a lot of superhero movies are coming out within the next few years. Most are from Marvel and DC’s dual attempts to either develop or create a massive interconnected universe, with just a few outliers from Fox, who own the rights to a handful of Marvel properties – and most, despite some early criticism (hey, this is the internet, where everything and its mother is divisive), are generally anticipated for a multitude of reasons. However, there’s one movie that’s been met with apathy at best and scorn at worst from the announcement – Fox’s reboot of Fantastic Four, erasing the godawful mid-2000s duo of movies from continuity and testing out a grittier, more scientific approach. This hasn’t abated even with publicity in full swing – so why, exactly, is Fantastic Four being slated so much? Is this torrent of hatred really necessary? Why is the Thing naked (sorry, got a little side-tracked)?

First, here’s the reasons why people are a little sceptical:

It’s a reboot

Reboots, in a way, are great. They provide a way for studios to wipe an unsuccessful take on a story from existence and start afresh, complete with new knowledge of what not to do this time. Theoretically, reboots are a way to rectify past mistakes and recognise what works about a franchise – but, essentially, it never works like that. Reboots are generally hated, and that’s mainly because they’re perhaps the biggest indicator of Hollywood’s perceived lack of creativity. They’re seen generally as re-packaged and reheated versions of a bankable concept, eliminating the need for creativity by relying on good ol’ brand recognition to power the box office. Because of this, reboots nowadays are done a little more creatively. In the case of Batman and Spider-Man, two of the most famous superheroes of all, both have wrapped up (in Spidey’s case, forcefully) a generally standalone series in its own continuity, and both are being rebooted in 2016. However, the hook for the reboots of these characters is that they’re now part of a larger universe, and will both be introduced in a major team-up event (Batman v Superman and Civil War) before solo movies- Ben Affleck’s Batman and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man are essentially riding off the excitement generated by these superheroes interacting with other heroes for the first time off-screen, giving these relatively quick re-castings an instant and useful advantage over a basic, standalone reboot (and hey, there’s a weird coincidence that I realised while typing this).

Fantastic Four doesn’t have that hook. Besides a possible future crossover with X-Men (which has barely been hinted to), the new reboot is entirely standalone, meaning that despite all the tweaks to the origin story, the 2015 Fantastic Four and the 2005 Fantastic Four basically have the same premise (complete with the same villain). That means general audiences have to be convinced to watch a slightly different take on the same story – and in a world where most superhero movies share a continuity of some sort, that’s kind of a hard pill to swallow. It means the movie is just ‘the Fantastic Four’s origin, again’ – and as we saw with the Amazing Spider-Man movies, people don’t tend to like that.

Dark und gritty

‘DARKNESS! CONTINUED DARKNESS! CURTAINS DRAWN!’ That’s admittedly a paraphrase from the awesome Lego Movie, but the point still stands – darkness in superhero movies can occasionally be a little silly. There’s a reason why the Marvel Cinematic Universe is popular – it offers a light-hearted, breezy superhero universe that seems aware of its own ridiculousness, and can therefore fully embrace wacky concepts with a knowing wink. Darkness can work, if the character fits, such as in The Dark Knight trilogy and the Daredevil show, but if a dark tone is applied to the wrong character it creates all sorts of problems.

Fantastic Four is a movie where a rock monster is a central protagonist, with a guy who can bend his limbs as another lead. It’s fun, and silly, and therefore sounds like a movie that could do with a light-ish tone (I’m aware that’s been done, horrendously, but the point still stands). This movie’s purported dark and gritty tone jars horrendously with the wacky, heightened powers the Four have, making this attempt to change up the breezier tone of the older movies look like a hasty, ill-advised way to flee as far as possible from the shadow of those abject failures, arbitrarily blaming the tone for the weak quality rather than say, the story, acting or effects. Even worse, while DC are carving an entire universe out of the dark and gritty aesthetic, the time when gritty realism was the flavour of the moment has passed. It’s been three years since the last Batman movie, and even properties like Arrow that were made to capitalise on this craze have considerably lightened up (the show now features regular appearances from the Flash). Take Bond for instance – Skyfall was heavily influenced by the Nolan Batman movies, with a darker colour palette and tighter focus on characters, but the forthcoming instalment looks to essentially be a return of sorts to the crazy stunts and evil villains of the older movies. It’s not completely out of fashion (see: DC’s massive upcoming slate of dark-und-gritty movies), but this dark and gritty reboot seems to be coming a couple of years late, when the appetite for dark superheroes has considerably declined, actually becoming something of a joke to some people (hence the genius portrayal of Batman in the aforementioned The LEGO Movie).

Schizophrenic marketing

Kicking off the all-important marketing campaign in February, Fox basically had two choices to try and generate some enthusiasm – either to fully commit to the dark tone the makers had talked up, actually displaying nicely how a dark Fantastic Four movie could work with some intriguing-looking drama, or to flip the switch and win back the crowd by cherry-picking all the light-hearted scenes and money shots in order to essentially masquerade as a Marvel Studios movie. Either could have worked, if one actual option had been picked.

Fox have chosen both.

Kicking off with two intriguingly grim and portentous trailers, complete with mild body horror and cryptic voiceovers, the marketing campaign seemed to be committing to option one. Not everyone liked it, but it did entice me a little more by promising a properly fresh outlook on the Fantastic Four, and seemed to be delivering on the promises made by the makers. Here’s the first teaser, which was probably the strongest indicator that Fantastic Four‘s marketing campaign was going to go real dark:

Consequences. Risk. Responsibility. People crying. Portentous warnings. I wasn’t blown away by this first teaser, due to the overly grim and moody tone, but it certainly seemed to match up with the previous comments made by the director about ‘body horror’ and the idea that gaining powers could be kinda nasty. Avengers it wasn’t, and that’s probably the appeal of this trailer – it looked more character-focused than the equally grim Batman v Superman trailer, and much less pretentious, meaning that it felt at least vaguely original. The following trailer pretty much followed up on that, mixing in a few gags here and there to lighten up the tone a little, but keeping to the central idea that superpowers can be a painful burden, and keeping the tone still generally on the dark side. It seemed as if Fox had a handle on their tone, knew their stuff, and could eventually sell this movie as a mix of new ideas and familiar, marketable concepts.

Unfortunately, they went and followed these trailers up with this:

Even leaving aside the godawful song in the trailers, that’s some pretty confused marketing – and this isn’t a one off either, with over half of the currently released TV spots looking generally like this one. The fact that these TV spots, presenting a fun and and MCU-like version of the movie, jar horrendously with the previous trailers while using pretty much the same footage, sends off mixed messages that point to the studio being deeply confused at how to market this movie. The fact that the reused footage of the main four getting to use their powers is supposed to take on an entirely different meaning in these TV spots (from ‘tormented young people grappling with horrible conditions and learning to harness them’ to ‘irritatingly smug young people having great fun with their neat powers’) makes things worse, ensuring that this course correction feels lazy on top of really misinformed and kind of panicky.

Rights

This is kind of an extension of an earlier point, but it’s specific enough to warrant even more ranting! Brief history lesson (please get your textbooks out): a while back, when things weren’t so good for the comic book movie genre, Marvel sold off all their rights to their superheroes to various companies – Spider-Man ended up at Sony for instance, with Fox nabbing a bunch of characters including the X-Men and Fantastic Four. As Marvel attempted to launch their own studio, they bought back a bunch of these rights to make their own movies. As well as buying (and in a weird, anomalous case, striking a deal with Sony in order to reboot Spider-Man in the MCU), Marvel have almost been gifted back a few characters by what’s known as rights reversion. I’m not exactly an expert, but the gist is that if a studio does nothing with a character for a while, the rights pop back to Marvel for freebies. This is what happened with Daredevil – after a supposedly dreadful movie in the early 2000s, Fox faffed around with a reboot long enough for the rights to revert to Marvel in 2012, who have since used the character in a properly great Netflix show.

The reason for this history lesson is simple; having failed back in 2007 with the sequel, Rise of the Silver Surfer, Fox haven’t done anything with the Fantastic Four since, despite pushing ahead with several truckloads of X-Men movies, including X-Men Origins: Wolverine (hahahaha). I’m not sure what the specific time without use is needed for the rights to revert, but Fantastic Four was probably reasonably close to heading back to the MCU. However, now Fox have made this movie, the rights are theirs for several more years. That’s where the controversy lies – this reboot is often seen as a transparent way to hold onto the rights and prevent Fantastic Four heading back to Marvel. There’s probably an element of truth in this, as well as a slightly purer-hearted reason involving Josh Trank’s vision for the characters, it’s undoubtedly a little cynical. With even Spider-Man in the MCU now, outliers aren’t popular- and with the X-Men movies still popular, Fantastic Four is basically the punching bag. A bunch of people want these characters back at Marvel, and with this movie’s very existence stopping that, it’s enough to induce a metric shit-ton of nerdrage.

Backstage throwdowns

To top off this not-so-perfect storm of negative factors, reports emerged a few months back that director Josh Trank was acting a little erratic on set, trashing a rented house given to him by the production crew and generally acting in a way a director of a mega-budget tentpole movie should not. These reports have been denied, and it’s hard to imagine things were really that bad on set (it’s likely things were blown hugely out of proportion by reports), but Trank’s sudden departure from the Star Wars Anthology spin-off movie he’d signed up for doesn’t exactly bode well. Then again, that could be entirely unconnected – who knows? Either way, good ol’ confirmation bias has struck again, with Trank’s alleged behaviour being seen as an indicator that the movie could potentially end up being a bit of a mess. Put it this way: true or not, no movie with this much negative buzz needs a report that the set was a mess.

The Thing is not wearing any shorts

Seriously, it’s gross. Children could be scarred for life. There’s nothing down there, but that’s not the point.

Conclusion

Fantastic Four is a movie that seems to be a few years behind the times. It’s a straight reboot, seems unconnected to any universe, boasts a darker and gritty aesthetic and moves away from the traditional portrayal of characters in the comics – there’s little reason to believe that it will be bad, but it’s certainly a bit of a relic in this increasingly interconnected market. It’s got a solid cast, and an intriguing concept at its heart, but there’s no doubt that Fantastic Four has one hell of a hill to climb to even reach the same level of praise as most superhero movies nowadays.

And then, of course, there’s the naked Thing, which needs sorting out fast.