The Thor franchise may be the most unbalanced in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), home to what is perhaps the worst film in the whole MCU (Thor: The Dark World) as well as one of the stronger and more distinctive origin stories. Counting those two films and the Avengers movies, Thor: Ragnarok would be the fifth appearance of the God of Lightning, at it was entirely possible that the character and the particular comedic tone surrounding him would start to feel a little stale. Fortunately, we have Taika Waititi – a visionary comedic filmmaker perfectly at home playing in the MCU’s ever-expanding sandbox.
Though he has only a pair of independent films to his name, director Jon Watts (Clown, Cop Car) sure knows his way around a friendly neighborhood Spider-man. The product of a team-up between Sony and Marvel Studios, Spider-man: Homecoming places the iconic webslinger in high school. This choice dictates many aspects of the film, from the story and characters all the way down to the sense of humor and the overarching themes of growing into one’s responsibilities. At the very least, it certainly establishes Watts’s version of Spider-man as different, which is absolutely crucial given that this is the third iteration of Peter Parker in the last 15 years.
Guardians of the Galaxy was always the most overtly comedic franchise in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and Vol. 2 follows in those footsteps. Most films in the MCU employ humor, but none are governed by the success of references, call-backs, meta-humor, and jokes quite like Guardians. As a result, one’s appreciation for this sequel is going to be heavily dependent on whether or not these attempts at humor land. If you feel like some of the jokes are a little forced, are over-reliant on pop culture reference, or attempt to recreate similar gags from the original, then you’re going to find Vol. 2 a little derivative and strained. Otherwise, you’ll have a good time.
For a film meant to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) into the novel territory of alternate dimensions and mind-bending magic, Doctor Strange sure does play it safe. Though many of the visuals are fascinating, some are overly show-offy, like an elaborate ornament on an otherwise bland facade. The acting talent and the performances that they deliver are impressive, but they are relied upon to prop up a flimsy story that inadequately introduces us to this new facet of the MCU. Similarly, most of the characters are unbalanced, uneven, and inconsistent – as though the filmmakers were afraid of allowing Dr. Strange to be too much of an asshole. Finally, aside from an innovative and interesting climactic sequence, the plot is about as by-the-numbers as one can imagine. Overall, this is the disquieting flaw of Doctor Strange: the eye-popping visuals are in direct aesthetic conflict with the safeness of the narrative and thematic choices. The result is a reasonable entry into the MCU, but a film which isn’t appreciably better than the average origin story.
As the thirteenth entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and first of Phase Three, Captain America: Civil War is full of crowd-pleasing moments, but it fails to deliver on these on a thematic level. Its neutered narrative pulls more punches than its heroes, the villain is more unnecessary and forgettable than the average Marvel fare, and a potentially powerful story line is treated with all the nuance of a Political Science 101 class. As a comic book action film, it certainly manages to entertain, but it falls far short of any aspirations to be something more than the latest summer popcorn flick.
Every new entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe has multiple obstacles to overcome. First, and most importantly, the film must fit into the rest of the MCU in a way that feels genuine and earned. Also, it must be careful not to retread old ideas and instead offer us something fresh. The latest offering, Ant-Man, ably navigates these potential pitfalls and presents a deftly told story full of humor and emotion that rivals some of the best moments in all of the MCU. All told, this is probably the funniest Marvel movie to date, with its most direct competition being last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Further, the theme of living up to the expectations of one’s family is probably the most human and relatable that we’ve seen. That being said, Ant-Man is not afraid to kick some serious ass and present some truly ground-breaking special effects-fueled action sequences in service of its greater story. That these scenes and effects are in service of telling a nuanced heist story instead of a grandiose world-saving kind of story is just one of the many strengths of Ant-Man, but the film is far from flawless.