Rating the Full Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)

These films set the stage for the Avengers and interplay among all the great heroes.

By Frank Scoblete and Rob Meyerson

5 Stars: ***** Superb in every way

4 Stars: ****  Excellent — maybe some quibbles

3 Stars: ***   Good for a viewing

2 Stars: **     Won’t kill you to watch it with good pop corn

1 Star: *         Might bore you to death

0 Star: 0         Stick pins in your eyes; that is far more fun

So who is this guy Rob Meyerson? He is my guru of science fiction commentaries, comic book commentaries, and movies based on those and books and articles on those that only the elite in those fields can even understand. I thought I was somewhat smart but I am a bug created in a lab by mad scientists and bit by a rabid human to have a degree of intelligence. So we are both giving our opinions of these movies.

So who is Frank Scoblete? Dear reader, you are probably familiar with his genius as a writer-gaming guru with a wry sense of humor but he is so much more. He only thinks I am smart because I have an inkling of how brilliant he is. Also, a great friend.

Iron Man #1 (2008):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: Robert Downey Jr. IS Iron Man. The essence of cool (and snark) and yet he has the little kid wonder at how much fun the iron man suit he created is to own and fly This is epitomized by the scene where he is testing the suits flight capabilities in his lab/supercar garage.  Director John Favreau has a vision of a superhero movie that is as realistic as such a thing could be and yet doesn’t take itself too seriously. I understand that Robert insisted on Gwyneth appearing in all three Iron man movies which makes him a good friend as well as a brilliant actor.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: This started the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a terrific script, direction, special effects and acting. Robert Downey Jr. established himself as Iron Man and his performance has become a standard of excellence in comic book movies. Acting throughout is excellent and Gwyneth Paltrow is a wonderful Pepper Potts.. Not a false step that I can see.

The Incredible Hulk (2008):

Rob: 3.5 stars ***1/2*

Comments: Five stars for the always fascinating to watch Ed Norton but he needed to be surrounded by a better movie. I don’t mind Liv Tyler but who can compete with the deep, complex and fascinating Jennifer Connolly of the original Hulk movie?

Scobe: 4.5 stars ****1/2*

Comments: Ed Norton, the star of this movie and a terrific actor, made a big mistake in dumping this role after filming. Mark Ruffalo took over and the rest is Marvel history. This is an excellent movie with one slight flaw; I was not in love with Liv Tyler’s performance, a little too mechanical. It is extremely hard to make a film about the Hulk because it tends to fall into the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde mode. Nice doctor goes nuts at times. Otherwise one great film.

Iron Man #2 (2010):

Rob: 4 stars ****

Comments: Robert Downey, Jr. is STILL Iron Man.  Another excellent performance from Mickey Rourke, back on screen after his boxing “career.” Cold and even colder when he lets slip how much fun he is having being evil.  Sam Rockwell should not be overlooked asw the ultra-sleazy self-loving billionaire who “thinks” he is in charge.

Scobe: 4 stars ****

Comments: Another strong film, another winner, just a cut below the first Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury (in his small moments) give enjoyable performances. One person I should single out is Jon Favreau who has become the ultimate comic-book movie director. He also has small roles in many of the Marvel films. This film figured out how to be funny as well as spectacular thanks to writer Justin Theroux.

Thor (2011):

Rob: 4.5 stars ****1/2*

Comments: Kenneth Branagh recognized the mythic Shakespearean Operatic aspects of Thor and assembles a film that delivers.  Tom Hiddleston is brilliant as the villain who believes (maybe correctly) that he is the hero of the tale. Hiddleston gleefully tricks and pans his “brother” Thor. Chris Hemsworth suffers Loki’s torment as best he can and the square jaw-d hero type adds a wry sense of almost admiration about how good his “brother” Loki is at being bad.  The always exquisite Natalie Portman adds humor as the clearly brilliant scientist who is fascinated by being/in love with the god fell-to-earth Thor. More Thor!

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: Kenneth Branagh was the best Hamlet I ever saw. Kenneth Branagh was the best director of that very same Hamlet. Thor, written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne, stars Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Natalie PortmanTom Hiddleston as his mischievous and sometimes evil brother Loki, Anthony Hopkins and Stellan Skarsgard. It was directed by Branagh and it is a masterpiece that takes place on Asgard, home of the Norse gods, and then on the planet of the Frost Giants. And when Thor is cast out of his sacred homeland and sent to Earth, we see him learn an important lesson; that leaders must be humble and not filled with hubris. Everything about this movie is superb.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011):

Rob:  4.5 stars ****1/2*

Comments: Tough to bring the ultra-patriotic red, white, and blue suited Captain America to life for a jaded modern audience, but Chris Evans and the character and movie he brings to life and this film does it brilliantly. It creates a story about “the greatest generation” and fills it with vastly larger than life heroes (Bucky Barns and Peggy Carter) filled with the Red Skull and horde of Nazi scientists that just beg to be defeated.  The ending (Borrowed form Stairway to Heaven with David Niven) sets up the rest of the series with Cap crashing and freezing.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: Another superb movie. Takes place during World War II with the creation of the first superhero. From the characters to the actors who play them I give full applause. It is a movie where you really do get into the heads of people who seem so real. Chris Evans takes the role of the Captain and is beautiful to behold. He is a young man who wants to fight against the Nazis but he is too weak and sickly to be accepted into the service. Then he gets a chance. Wow!

The Avengers (2012):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: Five-star movie but I prefer single superhero tales. I can deal with one hero with powers but when the book (or, in this case, the movie) is filled with them I want to know when I am getting my own powers (and suit).  Always great to see Joss Whedon involvement but in the alternate universe I want to visit, instead of MCU movies he got to deliver at least five years of Firefly and the full five years of Dollhouse he was planning). Tom Hiddleston is less a prankster and more of the super-human evil foe that is more than a match for all of the avengers until they act like the team they need to be.  No offense to Eric Bana and Ed Norton but I prefer Mark Ruffalo’s embarrassed-more-than-afraid of his alter-persona Hulk.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: Bring it on. Usually with so many heroes in a movie (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye) you’d think the execution would be cumbersome. Not so. This is an edge of your seat thriller where they fight a horrible alien threat initiated by the evil Loki. They also fight each other at times. Introduces Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk. His performance surpasses Ed Norton’s in sensitivity and strength. A must see movie!

Iron Man #3 (2013):

Rob: 3.5 stars ***1/2*

Comments: No villain, no movie. Tony stark is in a struggle with himself but that is the Marvel superhero’s trademark. I had to google IMDB and Wikipedia to refresh my memory ow who the villain was and I’m still not sure.  I am planning to watch this movie again. Maybe.

Scobe: 3.5 stars ***1/2*

Comments: Somewhat depressing as Tony Stark is recovering from the war against Loki. Does set up the future angst of the character. Movie has some great moments but at times it seems a little forced.

Thor: The Dark World (2013):

Rob: 4 stars ****

Comments: Same great cast. So much movie, so many writers but the film falls a little short. Still, seeing Thor and Loki team up was thrilling.

Scobe: 3.5 stars ***1/2*

Comments: This movie seems a little strained at times but does have one of the greatest hero-versus-villain fights at the end.

Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014):

Rob: 4 stars ****

Comments: Bucky Barnes as a rescued amnesiac anti-hero with a robot arm is an excellent conceit. Chris Evans does a great job handling the conflict between  the need to defeat the villain with his piece with memory of his friendship with the young Bucky Barnes and guilt over Bucky’s death.  Cap’s difficulties dealing with the modern world and dealing with the Winter Soldier who is only Bucky in small part makes the story compelling.

Scobe: 4 stars ****

Comments: Bucky Barnes returns but he isn’t the hero of the first film. He has been ruined by Hydra. Captain America must try to save him. Things don’t go exactly to plan.

Guardians of the Galaxy #1 (2014):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments:  So much fun. You don’t have to bank on known heroes to make a great movie, apparently. Groot! We need more Vin Diesel in anything but Fast and Furious cars.  So much personality in one word.  Bradley Cooper’s anthropomorphized Rocket is a hoot.  So much fun to see the heroes get thrown together and function was a group despite widely varied and frequently combative personalities.  For me the Guardians are a team in ways that the Avenger in any of the three movies are not.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: My first thought was that this would be an idiotic movie. I was wrong. It is terrific. How can a talking racoon and a sentient tree be super heroes? Just watch this treasure and find out.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015):

Rob: 2.5 stars **1/2*

Comments: Not my cup of tea. Starts too slow and then gets two frenetic. James Spader is an awesome actor elsewhere but this is a misstep with the cold computer/robot that is a no-personality being. A.I is logical but does not make a thrilling movie for me.  As noted above I am not a team-up fan.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: Another great one! Tony Stark and Bruce Banner create an artificial intelligence being and, of course, it goes nuts, much like the computer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. We meet a couple of new Avengers. It’s rollicking and fun all the way from start to finish.

Ant-Man (2015):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: Just a great action-adventure comedy.  Mark Rudd’s sometimes befuddled ex con-heroic-anti-hero-hero is flawless. Michael Douglas is wonderful as the mad-scientist. Evangeline Lilly is wonderful but under-used, which was remedied in the sequel Ant man and the Wasp. Michael Pena’s first-rate sidekick warranted an expanded role in the sequel which he was given.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: I had no idea this movie would be so amazingly good. Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and a host of great supporting actors and a script that just keeps on coming at you. Special effects with those ants blew me away. Total entrainment.

Captain America: Civil War (2016):

Rob: 2.5 stars **1/2*

Comments: Again, not my cup of tea.  As stated previously, I prefer individual superhero stories, not team-ups.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: This should actually be Avengers #3. It is the battle of the superheroes. Wow! We meet the Black Panther in this film and we learn that the government isn’t too happy with vigilantes, even the good ones. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

Doctor Strange (2016):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: Acting powerhouse Benedict Cumberbatch can carry a film on his more-than-capable shoulders but I am glad he doesn’t have to. (Make a point to see Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes with Martin Freemen as Dr. Watson in Sherlock).  Tilda Swinton’s ancient master of magic is the perfect teacher/hero/villain. Librarian Benedict Wong does great things with a “small” part (See The Martian” and Wong as headmaster of The Deadly Class). I remember the comic for its psychedelic artwork which was effectively replaced by a film with its own complex and cohesive style. Cumberbatch strides through this CGI magic-world like a fish swims in the ocean; it is his environment.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: What do you get when you hire one of the best actors in the world to play Doctor Strange? You get Benedict Cumberbatch and another superb Marvel movie. Dr. Strange is the master of the mystic arts but a fighter from beginning to end. The script is first rate as are the special effects. Each actor shines!

Guardians of the Galaxy #2 (2017):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: See original review above.

Scobe: 4 stars ****

Comments: Another winner! Join the Guardians as they introduce us to everything!

Spider-Man Homecoming (2017):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: No MCU without Toby McGuire’s angst-ridden super Spider-Man but Tom Holland is the sarcastic teen-aged superhero thrust into a superhero role against his will which is closer to Spidey from the comics.  Marisa Tomei is as great an Aunt May as Sally Fields was previously in The Amazing Spider-Man.  Batman/Birdman/villain Michael Keaton brings complexity and humanity to whatever hero/villain he plays. (how could the “fans” have been upset when he was cast as Batman?). This film is a standout.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: Tobey Maguire was a great Spider-Man but Tom Holland has created an even better one. This actor has leavened Spider-Man with energy and drive, not just as Spider-Man but as Peter Parker. Aunt May is the beautiful Marisa Tomei. The humor of the movie adds to it greatness and Michael Keaton is a great villain. Even the teenage love works. Kudos on a wonderful movie. Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man makes a visit or two and he is, as always, great in the role. This movie will hold up on numerous viewings. Strap yourself in!

Thor: Ragnarok (2017):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: This film is a standout!

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: This is a movie with everything. Great humor, great fighting, great story and a new version of the evolving Hulk. You’ll laugh and cringe and watch some interesting events that include Asgard’s destruction.

Black Panther (2018):

Rob:  5 stars *****

Comments: Great movie. We are given a complete, credible and cohesive world filled with complex fascinating characters to care about and a great story. When this world goes back to a semblance of normalcy, I would rather go to a movie theater to see this Black Panther movie again rather than anyone else in the role. The series of villains are each distinct and appropriately villainous and that is part of the fun.

Scobe: 4.5 stars ****1/2*

Comments: This is an excellent movie with one quibble; the villain at the end is just some street punk, albeit with great power, who tackles the Black Panther. Now, the Panther is an almost godlike king of an amazing civilization and he has to fight some guy who should be selling drugs on a street corner. Please, the Black Panther is a Thor-level character of great dimensions and should be opposed by someone of equal stature. The Black Panther needs a Loki! The film has strong roles for a variety of female characters. (The death of Chadwick Boseman, the actor who plays the Black Panther, is a serious blow to the Marvel Universe of fans; me included.)

Avengers Infinity War (2018):

Rob: 4.5 stars ****1/2*

Comments: Time for a trip to the optometrist. There is just too much stuff to follow and it makes me dizzy. This is a fun movie and James Brolin gives us a single villain that stands up to the heroes. Fun movie and I’m glad the sequel came out relatively quickly.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: It’s on. Thanos intends to kill half the intelligent beings in the galaxy to save their civilizations. That’s genocide on an immeasurable scale. But he must first secure the five infinity stones to give him unlimited power. The Avengers in full throttle attempt to stop him. It will wreck your sleep because of the ending. Another superb Marvel movie.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: See Ant-Man above. The same excellent cast with an equally great story that successfully builds on the first movie. Looking forward to #3!

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: What five-star movie is better than another five-star movie? This one is even better than the last Ant-Man movie. Michael Douglas should have gotten a best supporting actor award for his wipe-out performance. Paul Rudd? Amazing. Evangeline Lilly? Wow! and kudos to his sidekicks too!

Captain Marvel (2019):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: The incomparable Brie Larson (The Room) makes this movie a stand out. We are used to seeing ripped and over-muscled male superheroes in every MCU film up to Captain Marvel. It is refreshing to see a lithe Olympic-class gymnast instead of all the beef. Captain Marvel brings constantly intriguing inventive problem-solving skills she learned as an ace fighter pilot to the confusing alternate-world she is thrust into.  Larson is not flashy and instead delves into the subtle complexity of her character. She is always fascinating to watch in every role, especially this one.

Scobe: 3 stars ***

Comments: The first part of the movie is (sorry to say this) quite dull. The lead actress, Brie Larson, does not have the energy of personality to pull off a character who will become the Superwoman of the Marvel Universe. Samuel L. Jackson is great as Nick Fury and the overall concept of the movie is quite compelling. It is a fun watch but not a top-notch Marvel thriller.

Avengers: Endgame (2019):

Rob: 4.5 stars ****1/2*

Comments: Too much of everything for a theatre. The only way to get everything this movie is crammed with is to buy the dvd and spend a week watching it frame-by-frame. That may make economic sense from the producer’s point-of-view but I refuse to do that. Still it’s fun to see every hero in the MCU make an appearance. It’s also fun to the villain vanquished and the universe saved yet again.  The real question is whether killing off heroes will revitalize the MCU

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: Can the Avengers come back from the dead? This movie has it all and a Hulk that you might like or hate. War is hell! Go get that Thanos.

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: great to see Tom Holland back as Spider-Man.  Watching Jake Gyllenhaal team up with Spider-Man as the co-hero Peter Parker needs is almost as much fun SPOILER ALERT-SPOILER ALERT  as it is to see Jake as the gleefully greedy super-villain that makes Spidey’s ultimate last-second triumph all the sweeter.  The best James Bond movies are the ones with complex and interesting villains and that holds true here.  Well written and well-acted.  Glad to see a bigger part for Happy Hogan; maybe he knows the director.  Spider-Man is my favorite superhero. Part of the fun of rock climbing (since I was 16) is getting as close to being Spider-Man as I can without being bitten by a radioactive spider.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: Another superb movie. Spider-Man is in a class of his own and Tom Holland and a great script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers are the reasons for this. Spidey fights great villains and the contests are amazing. The usual cast returns and Spidey’s best friend, Ned Leeds (played beautifully by Jacob Batalon) is a terrific foil for Peter Parker. We want more Spider-Man movies!

 

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