Legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese recently gave us his two-cents on the comic book film genre, namely on Marvel films. Needless to say, the man was less than impressed with the genre, explaining how he could never really get into them. To him, they never truly touched him on a psychological or emotional level. Scorsese even went so far as to question their legitimacy to cinematic canon. He freaking called them “theme park rides”! Say what you want about the man but he’s got some big balls to be calling out this billion-dollar industry. And while I certainly respect the man, I would have to kindly disagree with him. If you could indulge me for a moment, I would like to personally address Mr Scorsese. Listen, Martin, I get it you know. Sometimes these damn Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films can feel like the same rehashed knock-off after the other but my man, that isn’t always the case.
I know you’re sceptical, and I get it, but there is a whole world of Marvel films out there that we believe have engaged viewers on a cerebral and emotional levels. So we made a list of MCU films we think you should watch (If you haven’t already). C’mon bubala, give it a shot and hey if you don’t like it, we’ll take you to dinner. What d’ya say?
1. Iron Man (2008)
Before the mass destruction of public property and big-budget, CG battles became the new norm, there was Jon Favreau’s Iron Man. A film that thoughtfully tackled the issue of the military-industrial complex and its intersection with capitalism, epitomized in Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. A billionaire tech and weapons mogul who rules an empire that profits off the sales of military contracts and weapons, regardless of their affiliation. A morally dubious captain of the industry making money off the backs of human suffering? Sounds a little like The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort, doesn’t it Mr Scorsese? The difference here, however, is that Stark repents of his corporate greed when he is confronted with the horrors he has wrought upon the world. A sobering epiphany that demands an outrageous call to arms to defend the weak and innocent.
Far from being one of those cheap 180° character turns we get in most schlocky romantic comedies or cheap superhero films, Stark’s redemption arc feels earned. He isn’t so much an idealistic boy scout than he is a radicalized crusader for good. Nonetheless, we still see him struggle with his ego and shame as he dons his new suit of armour. If you’re worried about the film’s obnoxious MCU-brand of bathos loaded humour and juvenile gags, I can honestly say that there’s none of it here.
Most of the comedic moments are grounded in the realm of banter and Stark’s experimentation, it never sends the plot into a screeching halt to generate chuckles. Watching Iron Man is like going out on a great first date. It’s funny, exciting and occasionally insightful but it leaves you wanting for more after…only to realize she’s a complete dullard later on. Stay away from Iron Man 2.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Would you believe me if I told you that there was a whole comic book film dealing with child abandonment, daddy issues and family dynamics, that wasn’t made by Pixar? 2017 was a surprisingly heartfelt year for the MCU, seeing that all of its films were, in one way or another, character-driven narratives. Spider-Man: Homecoming dealt with Peter’s journey to becoming a hero and Ragnarok has Thor learning to step out of his father’s shadow and past. That being said, we have a real soft spot for the year’s helter-skelter sci-fi film/ familial dramedy that is Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The film is far more emotionally resonant than it has any right to be. Director James Gunn moves away from the setup-and-sequel mode of the MCU to simply tell a story about dealing with trauma and loss.
All the quirky and hilarious dysfunctions we’ve seen in the previous instalment evolve pass the banal traits that colour our otherwise generic group of anti-heroes. Rocket confronts his dehumanizing history as a lab experiment, Gamorra and Nebula reconcile as victims of collective trauma at the hands of Thanos, and Peter fights his deity deadbeat dad. I guess there’s a whole plotline about him having to save the universe or whatever but that’s hardly the point of the film. If you’re looking to laugh, cry and feel again in a comic book film, then you should definitely give Vol.2 a view.
3. Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)
Look I wouldn’t go so far as to call Captain America: Winter Soldier the next Taxi Driver or any such sacrilege of the sort. What I will say though is that the Russo brothers have managed to craft a film that at the very least discusses the effects of war on the mind of soldiers and their inability to adapt to civilian life in an engaging and captivating manner. A modern-day spy thriller along the lines of The Manchurian Candidate.
The films sees ex-World War 2 soldier Steve Rogers join up with S.H.I.E.L.D. to take on global threats. He’s a man out of time, searching desperately for anything familiar to cling on to. In this case, he finds it in fighting the good fight. Unfortunately, the world is not as black and white as the Captain wishes it to be. Soon the man finds himself wrapped in a conspiracy that goes as far back as the Cold War as a secret terror organization threatens the nation from within. Worse of all, an old friend returns, twisted and bent to do the will of the enemy. This new season has no place for idealist.
Winter Soldier‘s rivetting action setpieces are matched by the heavy themes the film juggles without ever dipping too deeply into the realm of deconstruction. We’ll save that for Mr Villeneuve. Nonetheless, there’s a real gravitas to be found here. Beyond the spy thriller elements of the film, there’s an honest and touching story of a man who refuses to give up on the past and his friend, because that’s all he has left. And hey if you like Winter Soldier, wait till you get a load of the next one!
4. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The saga continues! Captain America: Civil War on the surface can seem like a bit of a gimmick. Teams of superheroes separated into some arbitrary popularity contest between #TeamCap and #TeamIronMan to see which coloured tights will swing across the flag pole. I certainly felt that way coming into Civil War but I have got to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. While Civil War does bank on its hype of having a superhero throwdown, it serves as a means to an end, in lieu of it being an end onto itself.
Since the end of Winter Soldier, Captain America is still a believer in the old American Way of foreign intervention in the name of freedom. This flies against the views of Tony Stark aka Iron Man who believes that superheroes need to be part of a regulated government body. So already, there’s a fascinating debate between Captain America’s libertarianism and Iron Man’s big-government view that fuels the plot. What really sets Civil War in a league of its own is arguably the villain of the film: Helmut Zemo.
The victim of the Avengers’ reckless ambition that cost him his home and the lives of his family. The son of a fallen nation seeking to return the favour to his oppressors. It takes a lot of guts to paint a terrorist in a sympathetic light and a lot of tact to keep the film from romanticizing him. Terrorism, foreign intervention, soldiers with PTSD, never thought you’d see this in a cape-and-cowl kids film, aye Martin?
5. Black Panther (2018)
Believe or not Mr Scorsese, this isn’t a docudrama about Bobby Seale or the 60’s revolutionary political Black Panthers Party. That being said, I can promise you that it’s still a very interesting film. A story about internal politics, revenge, family and racial pride. All set in the gorgeous backdrop the Afro-futuristic nation of Wakanda. The film has already made history as being the first black comic book film to enter into mainstream consciousness but we know it takes more than political clout to pull you in.
The film follows the story of a young Wakandan prince, T’Challa taking up his father’s throne and the “family business” of being the nation’s protector, the Black Panther. Along his quest to avenge the death of his father in Civil War, T’Challa will encounter a new threat to his rule. A challenger in the form of his cousin, N’Jadaka aka Erik Killmonger. The soul of a nation hangs in the balance as T’Challa must confront his hatred and rage manifested in the form of Killmonger. This shall be a war that tears families apart and defines the fate of a whole people.
Much like the rest of the films on this list, Black Panther manages to find a great balance between the high drama and personal relationships. The internal politics of a nation juxtaposed with the messiness of family. And while everyone gives commendable performances, a true standout here has got to be Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger. There’s so much depth to his character. The way his life in poverty and resentment fuels his rage against the white man and his own people. Black Panther is undoubtedly one of the greatest films the MCU has to offer and worthy a first and second watch.