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A Definitive Ranking of Marvel’s Movies

Nowadays the mantra seems to go, “If you’ve seen ’em, rank ’em.” And me being the non-boat-rocking critic that I am, I’ve decided it pertinent to rank all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies what with Guardians of the Galaxy releasing wide today and all. As is with all lists, this numbered collection is infallible and completely definitive. Although other people may seek to disagree with the rankings laid out below, scientifically any contention is wrong. You know, because opinion is objective and I’m always right.

I’m sure everyone’s cooked up with own list, either on paper or in their minds, and mine will incite fire to spew from your eyes and burn a hole in the screen but this is how I have to break down the Marvel movies. I’m chiefly taking into consideration my enjoyment of any of the below films but am also considering the relative importance of each in the grand scheme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and their impact on film in general. So ready your hunting knives, because here I go… Read More

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Out in Theaters: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

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In 1977, George Lucas gifted the world Star Wars. Neither studio execs nor film critics could have ever predicted the momentous cultural phenomenon that Lucas’ strange little space opera transmogrified into; how it would touch every corner of the globe to the tune of billions upon billions of dollars; how it would leave an inimitable legacy for people to talk about from Boston to Beirut, Maine to Myanmar; how it would, quite simply, become one of the most important movies to ever be made. Everyone has seen Star Wars and if they haven’t, there’s a 97% chance it’s because they were born blind. Culturally, it’s a behemoth. Socially, it’s a must-know. Taste-wise, you like it or you’re a POS. It is the hive mind dictator itself; the all-encompassing King Shit. I’ve owned Star Wars toys since I could walk because who hasn’t?

Even now, almost forty years later, the prevailing zeitgeist within the science fiction community – from books to movies, TV shows to comic books – is populated by Star Wars‘ DNA, nearly to the point of pollution. Even when Lord Neckfat himself tried to capture lighting in a bottle again by making those junk jettisons that are the prequels, he forgot that his magnus opus was never about the special effects. Consider that Star Wars was for all intents and purposes a space samurai movie that shoed in equal parts Eastern philosophy and glo-stick swords. So what if the effects don’t hold up? We’re still dealing with giant slug gangsters and unforgettable cantina tunes and little green dudes who knew the force. And this is why we’ve witnessed such vehement backlash against Lucas’ irreparable re-tweaks, his ‘special ed’-itions: they take us out of the feeling of his dusty, late 1970s sci-fi sprawl. And it was always all about the feeling. And the feeling was good.

And like that untouchable trilogy, Guardians of the Galaxy may be poorly acted (Chris Pratt aside) but I’ll be damned if it’s not the closely thing we’ve ever got to that 1977 original masterwork. It’s wonky, weird, wild, completely cartoonish and fun as fuck. It’s Star Wars Revisisted. Its space crawl is Chris Pratt dancing to 70s top forty songs. It’s got an emperic baddie lording over all on Hologram Skype. It’s everything that Harrison Ford has every done melted down into one. It’s even got a Chewbacca. There’s quirk overflowing from every end, and enough tips of the hat to Star Wars to make even Sam Elliot nervous. I’m already Indiana Jonesing to revisit it because it feels good and frankly, I’m hooked on a feeling.

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Unlike the pantheon that is the MMU, cross-pollination with the outside Marvel Universe is kept to a minimum (with no mention of Tony Stark, Steven Rogers, or that big green head-case). Guardians of the Galaxy is able to stand on its own two feet and for it, I’m willing to stand on mine and applaud. After all, it was this ceaseless commercialization that cheapened the massively over-rated Captain America 2; the same sludge that made Iron Man 2 such a nightmare. Rather than lean on the platform of a larger universe, Guardians creates its own, expanding on the worlds that Marvel’s created naturally and with a sense of lively misadventure largely missing from its more club-footed counterparts.

In this regard, Guardians just might be Marvel’s crowning achievement. It’s pure unadulterated fun, made magical by hundreds of millions of dollars in top-of-the-line computer animation and made lovable by its plenitude of quirk and its narrow-yet-mammoth scope. The guardians may be set to save the entire galaxy but there’s an intimacy that’s lacking in similarly-sized superhero blockbusters. And did I mention how weird it is?

Guardians, more than anything that I can think of in the past decade, celebrates said strangeness like it’s a Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco. It’s not dark, it’s not gritty, it’s not “an untold origin.” It’s double-filtered, locally sourced, FDA-certified organic mirth. An anthropomorphized tree and a shit-talking, gun-firing, whiskey-slugging raccoon aren’t even the weirdest elements of this symphony of strange. I mean James Gunn isn’t known for being reigned in so you better believe there’s plenty of weird to go around.

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Michael Rooker (because who better?) is dyed blue and rocks a glowing metallic mohawk. His signature weapon is a magic arrow that zips around when he whistles. Gunn even let Dave Batista try to act. Sure he fails desperately but it’s not like Mark Hamill was ever a shining beacon of thespian promise. But seriously, Batista is a talent vacuum. The guy couldn’t act his way out of a First Grade Thanksgiving play.

As for the story, it starts on Earth with Peter Quill (Pratt). His death-bed occupying mother reaches out for his hand and he runs away, too frightened to face the reality of his mother’s demise. Cue a looking up at the stars bit as the heavens open up, a beam shoots down and little Quill is sucked up into a space ship. Alright, alright, alright.

Twenty years later and Quill’s an outlaw ravager, scavenging planets for goods to pawn. When his sights are set on a mysterious orb, a series of mishaps land him under the gun with a sizable bounty on his head. This is all a MacGuffin to assemble the eponymous Guardians as they all come together looking to score on Quill’s asking price.

This ragtag collection includes Groot (Vin Diesel), the walking, not-so-much-talking tree; Rocket (Bradley Cooper who sounds nothing like Bradley Cooper), a gun-toting, vest-wearing, expletive-yelling raccoon; Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a mean, green, alien-fighting machine; and Drax the Destroyer (Batista), a simple-minded, scarification-covered thug with a dead family. They’re as rag-taggy as the Millennium Falcon’s passengers, as disjointed as the Fellowship of the Ring. Some characters are better than others – I could do without Batista’s Drax ever opening his mouth and Saldana is surprisingly flat – but that’s par for the course.

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The whole tree/raccoon angle though works wonderfully, their odd relationship giving weight to what could otherwise feel distant or simply strange. Continuing with my ploy to mainstream Star Wars analogies, Groot is very much the Chewie of the equation. His only utterances consisting of “I am Groot”, he offers little to a conversation other than a sympathetic expression or some much needed shrub violence. It’d be smart to avoid playing him in a round of Dejarik. Rocket, like Han Solo before him, is the only one who understand Groot, a bit that Gunn returns to whenever he needs to conjure up a chuckle or two. It’s weird but dammit, it works.

And for how much we fawn over Groot and his pet raccoon, our relationship with Quill isn’t one that neatly fits a description. There’s a distance we feel to him and his wise-cracking ways, but it’s a distance by design. Born of the general distrust of the world around him, he’s an alien that just happens to be human. Him being an abducted orphan and all, you sympathize with his armor of sharp witticisms, you sneer with him at a galaxy that’s too tidy and needs to be knocked down a couple pegs; you’re ok with him being a butterfingered outlaw.

Chris Pratt’s sarcastic banter is a weapon that he wields like a lightsaber. His each and every retort earns a snicker and Pratt has earned the right to play dumb and bumbling and yet oddly charming, a combination he wears perfectly here. From our first encounter with him, he’s a goon of an explorer, a whiff of an adventurer. He wants to be called Star Lord but he just hasn’t earned the handle (his ongoing relationship with said handle goes on to be one of the film’s many highlights.)

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Guardians, in all rights, is about the creation of a mythology. It’s about carving out your stake in the world. It’s about grabbing a whip and a fedora and making the name Indiana Jones mean something. It’s about calling yourself Star Lord and not being satisfied until everyone else calls you that too. Darth Vader didn’t become the most feared name in the galaxy overnight. You gotta hone that shit (*hangs head that this was NOT what the prequel trilogy was about*).

Unlike previous Marvel movies, Guardians doesn’t rely on a cliffhanger; it’s not a sleek, flawless package; it’s not busy setting the table for what’s next; it’s not just another commercial for the inevitable team-up with Iron Man and Thor and Hulk and Black Widow and Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver and Captain America and The Winter Solider and Falcon and War Machine (er, Iron Patriot?). It’s a well-balanced breakfast in itself: it’s properly buttered toast and scrambled eggs and orange juice and a little bit of Dave Batista trying to act all served up with a smile.

For once, you won’t demand “But where are the other guys?!” Gunn’s triumph is happy to exist in its own little universe and for it, trumps Marvel’s other heroes. In 1977, George Lucas gifted the world Star Wars. In 2014, James Gunn gifted the world Guardians of the Galaxy, in all its strange glory.

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GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Trailer Rockets Online

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If you ever wanted to see Andy Dwyer, the Hulk’s little sister, StarFox (er, StarCoon?), and a teenage Treebeard team up to wage a battle of galactic proportions, then you might want to check out the first trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy that released earlier tonight.

Marvel’s latest brand integration venture is based on a comic series written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning that first ran in 2008. Guardians of the Galaxy follows a team of five outcasts as they find themselves accidentally caught in a cosmos-bending conflict after stealing a powerful orb from some evil maestro named Ronan the Accuser.

Coming off recent successes in The Lego Movie and Spike Jonze’s Her, Chris Pratt plays Peter Quill (the self-titled “Space-Lord”), a drunkard American thief who doesn’t seem to take anything seriously. He’s joined by Zoe Saldana in green body-paint, Bradley Cooper voicing a space raccoon, WWE fighter Dave Bautista, and Vin Diesel, who plays an extraterrestrial plant monster (colloquially known as a “tree”).

If those names weren’t enough to catch your interest, then maybe John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Karen Gillan and Benicio Del Toro acting in supporting roles will. Even Lee Pace joins in as the story’s villain, continuing his recent trend of distempered characters.

Judging from the trailer, Guardians of the Galaxy has potential for some good laughs and jackassery. James Gunn directs what looks to be a crass, CGI-filled romp that will at least hold your attention until Avengers: Age of Ultron releases next year.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTZ2Tp9yXyM

Guardians of The Galaxy is directed by James Gunn and stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Karen Gillan, Benicio Del Toro and Lee Pace. It’ll start maings boatloads of money starting August 1, 2014.

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30 Most Anticipated Films of 2014 (20-11)

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For those of you who missed yesterday’s segment on my Most Anticipated Movies of 2014 (30-21), check it out in full by clicking the link. Otherwise, take a look at slots 20-11 for some upcoming movies you definitely want to be aware of.

20. Dom Hemingway

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Mixed reviews saw this film out of the gates at TIFF but I have confidence that what may turned many off about Dom Hemingway will work wonders for me. A violent crime caper with Jude Law playing a machismo, coked-up safe cracker, Dom Hemingway has been called a “second cousin to Nicolas Winding-Refn‘s Bronson” [RoS] a film I tremendously enjoyed. I love an interesting protagonist and Law’s Hemingway certainly seems like a character who’ll grab your attention and won’t let it go until the movie finishes. Hopefully, I’ll be on the side of the supporters when this one lands.

Dom will likely only arrive in a small number of theaters when it hits on April 4.

19. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a staggeringly successful revival of the 60’s sci-fi pop franchise and although it had some serious issues (pretty much all of the human characters were lacking), Andy Serkis and the WETA digital team knocked it out of the park. Gone were the hackneyed makeup jobs and inherent silliness found in later installments and Apes all of a sudden had a purpose again. This sequel sees the return of Serkis and features a whole new cast of human actors including the always reliable Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Since the events of the first film, all out war has broken loose so it’ll be interesting to see things going ape shit against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic human race. 

I’m guessing this one will be my birthday movie with a July 11 release date.

18. X-Men: Days of Future Past

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Since before superhero movies were even a thing, Fox has known they had something on their hands with the X-Men movie property and although not everything from the franchise has been great, their track record so far has been largely in the green, both financially and critically. So while just another X-Men movie might not quite be enough to really amp up the anticipation levels, the idea of combining the original cast of the first trilogy with the cast of X-Men: First Class, a film I adored, is enough to get my blood boiling. Just seeing that post credits scene of The Wolverine was enough to get me amped and I’m really hoping this is the superhero movie of the year.

May 24th will unveil whether X-Men is truly looking toward the future or has run out of steam.

17. Exodus

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This won’t be the only biblical epic on the list (hint, hint) which means this, depending on how you look at it, will either be a good or bad year for Christians at the cinema. Exodus isn’t quite garnishing the same controversy that its biblical counterpart is at the moment but the fact that we have Ridley Scott behind the camera really means that anything goes. Scott has definitely been on a strange path of late and though many have laid claims that he’s become too out there with films like Prometheus and The Counselor, I’m very much interested in his recent career and find almost as compelling as his inauspicious beginnings. The always terrific Christian Bale will portray Moses (a strange choice physically but hell, is there anyone out there better than Bale?) as he leads Jewish slaves from Egypt.

Hoping to part the Red Sea and head straight for the Oscars with a December 12 release date.

16. Guardians of The Galaxy

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So while I admitted that I’m fully expecting X-Men: Days of Future Past to be my favorite superhero movie of the year, I can’t deny that I’m very interested in Guardians of the Galaxy. For the first time since Iron Man, it seems that the Marvel folks are stepping outside of their comfort zone. With a talking raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper and a talking tree courtesy of Vin Diesel’s gravely vibrato, this is surely the most risky endeavor Marvel has taken in quite some time and, hopefully, will be a welcome break from the monotony of their core Avengers films. Plus, with James Gunn (Slither, Super) behind the camera, we’re sure to be in store for something unexpected.

Alien superhero gang set to show up in 3D IMAX on August 1.

15. Sabotage

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So you probably didn’t expect an entry starring Arnold Schwarzenegger so high on this list but, in this case, it’s all about director David Ayer. In 2012, Ayer delivered one of the finest and certainly the most unexpected picture of the year with the stunning End of Watch and ever since, I couldn’t wait to see what he cooked up next. Although the name Schwarzenegger has become more of a punchline since his tenure as the Governator, this film which co-stars underdogs Joe ManganielloMireille Enos, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, and Sam Worthington looks to be a revival for the badass that once was. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FeHpSdQSH0c

Bursting down theater doors on April 11.

14. Big Hero 6

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Marvel + Pixar = Big Hero 6. Yes, you heard right, Big Hero 6, although not so well known to the world at large, is a Marvel property being handled by the old big guns over at Pixar. Although Pixar has been on a slumping trajectory of late, the inspired idea to play in the superhero world just sounds like a recipe for success. Pixar already proved that they can do superhero fare with The Incredibles and, with it, have set themselves a high bar. I know it’s been a while since we’ve seen something truly original from Pixar and although this is an already established property, it’s unknown enough for them to have a true hand in creating something innovative and magnificent. They have a sandbox to play in, now let’s just hope they bring their imaginations.

A near holiday release with a November 6 opening.

13. The Raid 2: Berenthal

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The Raid is one of the single most over-the-top ridiculous action movies I have ever seen and yet I loved every single second of it. I watched it in bed and found myself cheering. I mean, come on, when do you do that?! You’re in bed to relax, not jump up and down like a little kid. Well that was the effect The Raid had on me. I felt like a little kid again, watching The Matrix for the first time. Picking up right where the first one left off, The Raid 2 follows the trail of corruption unveiled in the first film. But let’s be honest, these movies aren’t about plot, they’re about bone-breaking action and so long as director Gareth Evans can keep things fresh we’re hopefully in store for another unforgettable action movie. Keep in mind, this is the second film in a planned trilogy so it’ll be interesting to see how much the world does open up and how self-contained the story is.

Debuting at Sundance, The Raid 2 will strikes American theaters on March 28 with nearly 2-and-a-half-hours of action.

12. The Monument’s Men

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Originally slated for a Oscar-qualifying run in 2013, George Clooney‘s The Monument’s Men got pushed due to incomplete post-production work. While the move is enough to make some nervous, the fact that Clooney’s WWII caper has taken the often unforgiving early February slot is hopefully inspired by financial reasons and not suggestive of its lacking quality. But honestly, even a bad Clooney movie is pretty good and from everything we’ve seen from this so far, there is absolutely no reason to think that this is bad. In fact, it looks pretty great. The trailers have showcased the comedy of the thing, which in my opinion is a great step away from the stuffy high-nosery that could have come from a movie focusing on art and Nazis. Backed by Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, and John Goodman, how can this not be a score?

In may not be Oscar season with a February 7 release but could it have what it takes to stick around all year?

11. Transcendence

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Wally Pfister makes his directorial debut with Transcendence, a story about a terminally ill scientist who synches his consciousness with a computer before he dies. Up to this point, Pfister has spent his career as a cinematographer, most notably for The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, and hopefully his time spent with blockbuster guru Christopher Nolan has rubbed off in a serious way. Although I’ve approached anything with Johnny Depp in a lead role with trepidation over the past few years, this looks like it could be a return to form for the wacky actor.

Will land across the nation on April 18.

That’s it for today folks. Check back tomorrow for the Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies of 2014. (Which will actually have 11 films because of my miscalculation. Whoops.)

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