Phase Two of the MCU: Alright Films and One Masterpiece

Ten days away from the release of Black Widow and we are in the midst of a rewatch to prepare for a discussion with members from the Minnesota Comic Exchange. Now, let’s rank Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

6) Thor: The Dark World (2013) Directed by Alan Taylor

Disney, Marvel Studios

This may be the weakest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that being said its very enjoyable. The chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston creates some great moments in this film. Also it was nice to spend more time in Asgard with Jane Foster having to be saved. Thor: The Dark World is funnier than I remember and with the films that came afterwards, the film has redeemable moments like Loki shape shifting into Captain America will always be funny.

Why is this at the bottom of the list? Two reasons, the first being the terrible characterization of Malekith and the Dark elves. To be the villains of a superhero film, you need to be memorable and even just watching Thor: The Dark World I cannot recall any great moments from Malekith. The second reason is Jane Foster. I love Natalie Portman as Jane Foster and look forward to her coming back for Thor: Love and Thunder but feel like this film played too much into the damsel in distress trope.

5) Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) Directed by Joss Whedon

Disney, Marvel Studios

This film should be higher on this list, but it may be the most troublesome film of the whole MCU. Let’s focus on the positives before diving into why this is my least liked Avengers film. The introduction of Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Vision are all highlights in this film, with both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany crafting memorable performances as Scarlet Witch and Vision. Age of Ultron gave Jeremy Renner an opportunity to shine as Clint Barton/Hawkeye, which redeems the character after The Avengers. Also James Spader is great voicing the homicidal artificial intelligence Ultron and a great tease of Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue.

The worst part of this film is how Natasha is treated in this film. Looking at the films that followed this and even another film in phase two, Natasha looks weak in this film opposed to the badass that we know her as. The very awkward relationship between Natasha and Bruce is hard to watch at moments, luckily two talented actors were able to deliver the lines with emotion, otherwise it could had killed the film. The climax of the film could have been better as well, despite the awesome image of Sokovia floating in the sky, Ultron ends up looking weak.

4) Iron Man 3 (2013) Directed by Shane Black

Disney, Marvel Studios, Paramount Studios

This movie is a lot better than I remembered even despite the Mandarin twist. I mean we got to see Ben Kingsley act as a villain and a comedic role in the same movie. This is a very well acted film that feels like the Lethal Weapon of the MCU, which would make sense with Shane Black directing it. Harley Kenner is a nice additional to the MCU as he was created for this film and provided a glimpse of the mentorship role Tony would take on in later films.

If this was the finale to Iron Man’s story, it would have been higher on the list but it feels like this film is just there to complete a trilogy of films for Iron Man. Guy Pearce is alright as Aldrich Killian, taking a backseat to Kingsley’s Mandarin and with the twist of being the villain of the story is a little disappointing. Besides that though, this film is fun with some awesome moments.

3) Ant-Man (2015) Directed by Peyton Reed

Disney, Marvel Studios

Fun and funny, are two words that can perfectly describe this pint sized film. It’s a film that should not work because how could a film that is based on Ant-Man work? Well a script featuring Edgar Wright and directed by Peyton Reed makes the character work and does it extremely well. A perfectly casted film with Paul Rudd being great as Scott Lang, Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, and Evangeline Lily as Hope Van Dyne. But the best part of this film is Michael Pena as Luis, who becomes a fan favorite within seconds of being on screen.

Its a film that features a very weak villain in Darren Cross/Yellowjacket (a very cliche performance by Corey Stoll). When Cassie saids “It’s so ugly, I love it.” that perfectly captures this film, it is not perfect but damn is it fun. Great teases with the mid credit scene and the Falcon cameo.

2) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) Directed by James Gunn

Disney, Marvel Studios

Much like Ant-Man, this film should not work and it became one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Great special effects, action, characters with amazing humor. This film has it all with a star making performance by Dave Bautista, who steals the film from more seasoned actors as Drax The Destroyer. The only negative thing about this film is the weak villain in Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), which doesn’t impact the story one bit as watching this film, the coming together as a team is more important.

While rewatching this, I forgot how emotional the start of the film was. It is very much like that of Up or Bambi with the death of Peter’s mom. Chris Pratt was born to play the role of Peter Quill/Star-Lord. James Gunn’s vision of Guardians of the Galaxy is so hard not to love, its one of the best films of Phase two with one of the best soundtracks in any superhero film.

1)Captain America: Winter Solider (2014) Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo

Disney, Marvel Studios

This may be the greatest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not only in Phase Two. This film is just perfect with every character having moments and legendary actor, Robert Redford, in an evil role. Sebastian Stan is great as the Winter Soldier, so much so that I remember the first time watching this, I did not realize that he was the same actor from Captain America: The First Avenger. A marvel film that has zero negatives, just a great film.

Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/The Falcon is a great introduction to the character and the film teases the partnership and chemistry between Sam and Steve. The hand to hand combat makes the action feel real and it is hard to take your eyes off the screen. Despite the film having a political espionage feel to it, the film has great comedy moments with Natasha and Steve. Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Solider makes Phase Two a lot more enjoyable than Phase One.

Top 10 Ongoing Comics of 2020

Last blog entry was the most Pessimistic you will ever see from us, we strive to keep this a very optimistic portion of the comic community. So today we want to celebrate the best of 2020, yes believe it or not 2020 was not all gloom and doom. Some great comics came out in 2020 and here we will name our top ten ongoing comic books from the year despite delays and cancellations due to the pandemic.

A quick disclaimer before diving into the list, we have not read every comic book released this year. For example an obvious omission from the list is Chip Zdarsky’s Daredevil, a series that we regretfully have not read yet. If by chance Zdarsky and team read this, we have bought the first two volumes of the series to read at least, also thank you for checking us out.

10) Star Wars: Darth Vader by Greg Pak and Raffaele Ienco

We are so excited to add a Star Wars comic to this list, both the main title and Darth Vader have been constantly good this year. At times I find myself losing interests in the middle of a Star Wars story but Darth Vader has become a comic that I find myself excited to read. Greg Pak’s script adds new layers into a character that we are already familiar with. It’s not only Pak’s writing that provides growth in the character but Raffaele Ienco’s artwork extends that growth. We already know that Darth Vader is a badass character but Ienco’s artwork, shows us how badass the character can be. It’s a great team that creates an action packed character study and that’s why this is this the best ongoing Star Wars comic right now. 2021 looks bright for Star Wars comics with the continuation of Darth Vader and the main title, as well as the introduction of the High Republic (also, Doctor Aphra, she deserves some love too)

9) Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

After reading the first 4 trades of Monstress, it was hard to not get lost in the world-building that Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda create. Sana’s artwork alone is so engrossing and beautiful. It’s a mix of fantasy meeting steam-punk in a world of discovery for Maika, the main character and going along with her journey and continuing story. Nora has been trying to get Kyle to read it, hopefully eventually, but there is still time to get caught up as the sixth arc is starting in the new year.

8) Once & Future by Kieron Gillen an Dan Mora

Dan Mora’s artwork is a beauty to stare at. Yes, stare at. Kieron Gillen crafts a fun horror fantasy joy ride. Every Wednesday that this book is scheduled to come out, it is among the first we read. The main characters of ex-monster hunter Bridgette and her grandson Duncan have this dynamite relationship that we cannot help but love. This is certainly a comic series that we could see turned into a television series.

7) Thor by Donny Cates and Nic Klien

Much like 2019, 2020 was dominated by Donny Cates. Spoiler alert, we will have one more series by Cates on this list. Thor by Jason Aaron is a run that we plan on reading eventually, as it is a hole that we need to fill, but this run by Donny Cates and Nic Klien has been one of the best series by Marvel this year. Between the Black Winter storyline and the current story arc with Donald Blake, the series is never boring and always a pleasure to read. If you lack knowledge or background in Thor lore, you won’t feel lost and that makes this a great read. Cannot wait to see 2021 has in store for Donny Cates and Thor.

6) Aquaman by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Various artists

WHY???? Why did this amazing story have to come to an end? We are not sad over the ending, it was a beautiful ending. We are sad that the most recent issue was the final issue of a well-written and stunning artwork throughout. Definitely a must-read series.

5) Seven Secrets by Tom Taylor and Daniele di Nicuolo

We did not expect to love this series, but Tom Taylor had a killer year with all of his books. Seven Secrets has the feeling of a new age James Bond blended with an anime feeling. Throughout the first five issues, Seven Secrets is filled with twist and turns and we itch for more each time the issue ends.

4) Something is Killing The Children by James Tynion IV and Werther Dell’edera

James Tynion IV continues to bring the heat in his creater-own series. Neither of us expected this to be so engrossing. From the first issue, the artwork and story pulled us in and left us wanting more. What really is killing these children? The mystery behind it all is so well laid out, and Erica’s character continues to be mysterious and revealing each issue. Definitely a series we would recommend to anyone, even if they don’t read or like horror comics.

3) Killadelphia by Rodney Barnes and Jason Shawn Alexander

Amazing!!! That’s the best way to describe this great horror vampire series that mixes current issues and historical figures. Jason Shawn Alexander produces some of the best artwork in 2020.

2) Venom by Donny Cates and various artists

Truth be told, #2 an #1 on this list are the same from last year if we were to rank series. Donny Cates has been the main writer for Marvel in 2020 with Thor and Venom. The King in Black storyline is currently going on bringing back the amazing Ryan Stegman, who continue to produce greatness together in a comic. But, that being said, Venom continued to be great when Stegman was not doing the artwork. Seriously never thought Venom would be among the best comics.

1) Bitter Root by David F Walker, Chuck Brown and Sanford Greene

Best ongoing series has to be Bitter Root. It’s one of those series that each issue just stays with you days after reading, from the social commentary to the insane artwork from Sandford Greene. Not many things can be entertaining and provide you with knowledge, yet Bitter Root does that with ease. Cannot wait to see what the future of Bitter Root consists of and if 2020 is any indication, it will be hard to replace Bitter Root as the #1 book in 2021. Also, we were able to meet Sandford Greene at C2E2 (the only big con this year) and he was the nicest and friendliest person we’ve met.

After naming these ten great ongoing series, here are a few that we think could be among the best in 2021.

Iron Man by Christopher Cantwell and Cafu

Crossover by Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw

Stillwater by Chip Zdarsky and Roman K Perez

The Department of Truth by James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds