Guardians of the Galaxy

Having almost conquered the super-hero action genre (their only real competition being Fox’s X-men movies), Marvel now have their sights on the sci-fi space opera. If this first attempt is any indication, they may be slated for similar success. Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t quite the strongest of their movies (that goes to The Avengers and The Winter Soldier), but it’s up there with the original Iron Man as second-best, and may be the most outright fun of the whole bunch.

The prerequisite sci-fi action and effects are in full effect. The action is shot too closely to truly admire but is entertaining; the effects are generally realistic enough to suspend disbelief while still showcasing plenty of cosmic razzle dazzle, and on at least one occasion are genuinely beautiful. Where the film shines, though, is its script. Writer-director James Gunn keeps the character interaction just serious enough to care about the proceedings while lighthearted enough to have fun, and shows a talent for realizing exactly what moments might come off as cliche and making them into something clever and amusing instead.

As Glenn Close (one among a surprisingly accomplished cast) mentions, it’s a bit like the original Star Wars in its ragtag group of characters and its lighthearted sense of adventure… but with the quirkiness of The Fifth Element – and more humor than either movie – mixed in.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

It’s safe to say The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has the biggest explosions of the series. Huge, colorful explosions complete with streaking bolts of electricity. If that’s what you look for in a film then you won’t walk away disappointed.

The web-slinging action is mostly the same as we’ve seen in the previous four movies. That’s not such a bad thing, but there’s really nothing new to it except for more frequent slow motion, which detracts from the very thing that makes Spider-Man action exciting in the first place, the lightning-quick speed. (It also allows more time to notice that it’s almost all computer-generated.)

Jamie Foxx’s talents are wasted on a two-dimensional, almost imbecilic character, while the casting of Paul Giamatti as an utterly mindless thug with a bad Russian accent reinforces the notion of a studio having money to spend for all the wrong reasons. As has often been mentioned, there’s too much story twined together for a single movie, but more problematic is that it just isn’t told very well, with rushed developments and plot holes so plainly obvious that it’s clear the story was nothing of a priority.

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were the anchor of the reboot’s first episode, and they remain this sequel’s one saving grace. Garfield mixes strength, vulnerability and teenage quirkiness well (even at 30), and Stone is nearly impossible not to like. But while the first movie showed the two’s relationship develop, here it’s a simple back-and-forth between “I love you but we can’t stay together” and “I love you so let’s stay together anyway”. Both actors do well with what they’re given, but the dialog often has a soap-opera-like expository tone without the nuance of real conversation.

Despite the numerous flaws I was content to write this one off as another mediocre Spider-Man movie to follow the previous one, until in a vain attempt to turn the franchise into a villain-heavy Avengers-killer they hastily destroyed the one good thing about the series, moments later returning to big-budget action as if nothing happened.

Astute viewers may notice the product placements for Sony’s Trinitron and Vaio lines in the film. It seems symbolic that both are dead or dying brands.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Minute for minute the best Marvel movie yet. At its best it’s right up there with Iron Man 1 and The Avengers, but while Iron Man faltered a bit at the end and The Avengers required some amount of indulgence, this one is rock solid from start to finish and even a comic book cynic could enjoy it. The pacing is perfect, the action has a bit of everything and is seriously impressive, and there’s hardly a line of cheesy dialog to be heard.

If you had to nitpick you could say the grand scheme doesn’t live up to the intrigue that precedes it (granted there’s a lot of early intrigue) and, well, the makeup artist goes overboard on Chris Evans in a couple scenes. Yeah, that’s the worst of it. As far as action movies go it’s about as good as it gets.

Iron Man 3

As far as comic-book movie second sequels go, this is the most solidly built to date. That said, the plot takes some extremely questionable turns, the small attempts at new character development add little, and the bad guy is the least memorable of the trilogy, as are his henchmen. (Certainly there are some good action sequences, but seeing Iron Man battle incandescent street thugs just isn’t the same as seeing him bust some metal.)

Less silly than the second Iron Man but at the same time less fun, and well short of that almost perfect mix of drama, spectacle and Tony Stark attitude in the first. The next time around they need to shake things up.

Thor

Chris Hemsworth’s biceps deserve their own starring credit in this movie. Holy cow.

As for the film itself, if I were still a comic-book-reading 11-year-old it probably would have been the coolest thing ever, what with soaring superheroes, lightning explosions, fire rays, and ice spears. Blame it partly on adulthood and partly on sub-par effects, but the action looked a little silly instead. Everything else is actually pretty good – the acting is decent, the story moves briskly and there are a couple of really good self-deprecating laughs.

Iron Man 2

A notch below the first movie (there’s a bit more cheese this time around), but the characters still carry weight and both the action and even the drama get pretty intense at times. Most of the action scenes are more about visual splendor than actual combat, but they sure are pretty to look at (especially the bit of Japanese’esque scenery around the end). Three sounds good to me.

Iron Man

The best comic book movie to come out in several years, and perhaps the best opening episode of the whole lot. The story is nicely grounded in reality while not taking itself too seriously, with a sharp performance by Robert Downey Jr. keeping things lively throughout. And damn that suit is cool. Some bad guy monologuing at the end is a bit of a damper, but everything else is gold… and hot-rod red.