Forgive me for saying this, but in the grand scheme of things, I really could not give less of a damn about The Avengers.
Don't take that the wrong way. Those who know me personally, or who've followed my cinephile activity online long enough, know I'm an unrepentant summer movie junkie, often seeing the same spectacle repeatedly, if not out of cathartic satiation (hence my seeing Transformers: Dark of the Moon five times theatrically), then perhaps social convenience or easy entertainment (which is to say, the drive-in). And despite the relative decline in overall popcorn movie quality recent years, I'm still looking forward to the 3D midnight screening for which I possess tickets tomorrow night, mostly because it will in all probability be a worthwhile two-plus hours in good company and source of sufficient watercooler conversation for a week after. Plus, there's Jeremy Renner with a fucking bow and arrow. So, my relative apathy is not so much a disregard of the film or its genre as it is a general reprioritization of values in life. Things like that happen when you get older, watch a parent die, etc. But I digress.
There's a chance, as always, that I will not like the film, in which case, I will be compelled to incur the poorly articulated wrath of a thousand basement-bound fanboys over the coming week. A handful of sterling Buffy episodes aside, the only cultural contact I've had with Joss Whedon has been The Cabin in the Woods, a film that was better written than directed but all the same a smug slog that offended this died-in-the-wool horror fan (or, as the Rotten Tomatoes trolls would describe me, a pretentious douche who should fuck off) with its superficial references and one-sided genre deconstruction. So, before the zombies come crawling out of the woodwork to inform me that I only like slow, boring movies, and thus am not allowed to have an opinion on the matter, here are my favorite (and least favorite) films based on Marvel characters. DC and company would complicate things tenfold, so no Batman or Hellboy appearances will be found below, as much as they would otherwise hold their own.
Blind spots: Daredevil, Elektra, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Punisher: War Zone and Howard the Duck.
1. Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, '04). A nearly perfect film, and I use that four letter word deliberately, as I consider even popcorn cinema to be its own kind of art form as ripe for greatness as any genre. Pity that only a handful of filmmakers have realized this to date. I was tempted to group all three of Raimi's films together, as I like them all (including the lumpy, overstuffed third entry) and consider them to be greater in whole than in part, but this first sequel is the true gem. I'm hopeful for The Amazing Spider-Man (my man Andrew Garfield, my love Emma Stone!), but I'll always nurse a grudge that we'll never get to see the events of Spider-Man 4. Like too many of my favorite series, the lack of final resolution ultimately adds to the beauty.
2. Hulk (Ang Lee, '03). Easily the most controversial of my beloved. The superhero film is frequently defined by its absurdities, and Lee's film simultaneously eschews and embraces those trends by taking the genesis story of an "enormous green rage monster" into meatier psychological territory, utilizing all manner of stylistic devices (some stunning, others misguided), suggesting an artist clawing at the very fabric of his canvas. The inherent silliness is overshadowed, even justified, by the brooding earnestness. Marvel has made good films since, but it's doubtful we'll ever again see such creative audacity on this kind of scale.
3. Blade II (Guillermo Del Toro, '02). The modernized vampire held little appeal for me before this positively trippin' sequel, proof positive that a CGI-laden extravaganza could hold its own with its analogue predecessors (why, yes, I do consider this a better film than the 1931 Dracula). Pity the series took a nosedive with the moronic Trinity, but concerning Del Toro's work in the superhero department, it was a sign of even greater things to come.
4. Iron Man (Jon Favreau, '08). After Iron Man 2 and Cowboys & Aliens, I'm beginning to suspect that the success of this film was by and large and accident. If so, what an accident! Favreau's style - if it can be called such - is pretty nondescript, so it's all the better that he handed the proceedings over to his performers. Robert Downey, Jr.'s true comeback took place the year before, in Zodiac, but it remains wonderful that he found his time to shine here.
5. Captain American (Joe Johnson, '11). This irony-free, tastefully patriotic (which is to say, not nationalistic) origin story struck me as well-made, but ultimately musty, when I first saw it. Hindsight and a second viewing have corrected that. There's still plenty of room for improvement, such as plausibility issues during an infiltration scene and Hugo Weaving's makeup, but this is a model example for mainstream filmmakers who hope to entertain their audiences without insulting their brain cells.
Honorable Mentions: Spider-Man, X2: X-Men United, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Spider-Man 3
1. Wolverine (Gavin Hood, '09). Just fucking embarrassing.
2. Fantastic Four (Tim Story, '05). The same. Only less so.
3. Thor (Kenneth Branagh, '11). I get it, I really do. You directed Henry V, and Hamlet. So to direct this thing for a paycheck, sure, who would give a shit? But you could have pretended at the very least.
4. The Punisher (Jonathan Hensleigh, '04). As if John Travolta hadn't already wasted the stamina his career got from Pulp Fiction...
5. Iron Man 2 (Jon Favreau, '09). Amongst the many offenses herein, none was greater than the near-total waste of Mickey Rourke.