First up on my Marvel Blog-a-thon project are “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk,” the first two films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Interestingly, these are the only two MCU movies I didn’t watch in theaters (I guess I was late arriving to the party) 😉 and also the films at the top and bottom of my original ranking of favorite Marvel films. Did my thoughts on these films change after watching them again?
Iron Man (2008)
“Iron Man” has long been not just my favorite MCU film, but my favorite superhero film in general. It’s a perfect example of the winning Marvel formula: humor, heart and plenty of action. It’s just a fun, quality summer blockbuster. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but at the same time it isn’t too silly.
Although originally Robert Downey Jr. may have seemed like an unusual choice to head this franchise, he turned out to be the perfect fit as Iron Man/Tony Stark. He’s smart and snarky, and he cares more than he pretends to. Deep down, he recognizes some of the emptiness in his hard-partying, irresponsible lifestyle, but he still ignores the potential he’s wasting. His kidnapping by terrorists and narrow escape, thanks to the selfless sacrifice of a fellow prisoner, serves as a wake-up call, and he builds the Iron Man suit to right some of the wrongs he’s created.
Some films aren’t as good the second time you watch them, but “Iron Man” still seems fun every time I watch it. It’s got a great beginning, kicking off with Humvees driving through the desert to “Back in Black” from what’s become Iron Man’s signature band AC/DC, to my all-time favorite superhero ending, where Tony Stark ignores his assigned, already-prepared statement at a press conference and announces that “I am Iron Man.” I also like Robert Downey Jr.’s chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
“The Incredible Hulk” doesn’t get quite as much praise as some of the other Marvel films. While I have enjoyed all the Marvel films and think there are some good features about each movie, this isn’t the strongest in the MCU franchise. As I watched it again, I tried to pinpoint exactly why I didn’t like it as much as the other MCU movies.
I think Edward Norton does a good job as Bruce Banner/the Hulk in this film. It’s a haunted performance, and also a somewhat tragic one, because unlike Iron Man, Thor or Captain America, Banner’s life arguably gets worse after becoming a superhero. His power — turning into a giant green monster every time he gets angry — forces him to live in isolation to avoid accidentally hurting the people he cares about. Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo in the Avengers films, and I think Ruffalo also plays the role well. Edward Norton was, I think, a better choice for the solo film, but Mark Ruffalo has better chemistry with the Avengers group as a whole, especially Robert Downey Jr., than Norton would have.
I also liked that the film handles the origin story in a creative way, breezing through the creation of Hulk during a montage in the opening credits. While the film doesn’t take full advantage of the time freed up by this storytelling technique, it was nice to see film makers try something different. I also liked the villain choice. Marvel is sometimes criticized for its underdeveloped or generic villains, but I thought it was interesting the “bad guys” were two men who didn’t start out trying to be evil: Banner’s girlfriend’s father, a U.S. general, and a British marine who is injected with strength-enhancing serum.
In the end, I think the Hulk tends to rate lower in Marvel fans’ rankings because it doesn’t have quite the same amount of Marvel magic as some of the other films. In this movie, it feels like Marvel is still setting up the tone and deciding what direction it wants to take these films. The Hulk movie doesn’t have as much humor as the other MCU films, and the humor that is in the script feels a bit forced. The script and film felt like they needed a little more time in development.
That being said, I think I was a little tough on “The Incredible Hulk” in my original ranking, and I think it will move up at least one spot on the revised list. Up next, “Iron Man 2” and “Thor”! I’d also love to hear your thoughts on these films, and what you think about the MCU as a whole.