Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Ranking of All MCU "Infinity Saga" Films (Part I)

I'm sure that you've come across rankings of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films before.  My personal problem with those that I have encountered is that they tend to be pretty uniform, regardless of which website is publishing it.  In other words they seem to be based largely on public consensus and IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes scores as opposed to the writer's own opinion.  And yes, some MCU flicks are universally terrible, while others undeniably good.  But let's just say that this particular ranking is truly from my heart, not an attempt to  make friendly with advertisers or pacify the viewing audience.
 

Also, since this is the Black Arts Review, I will make an attempt to identify and critique the main Black character(s) from each of these films.  Keep in mind that I haven't seem some of these movies in years.  But I do believe I have watched every MCU Infinity Saga flick at least once.  So I'll do my best based on memories of each one, as some of them you couldn't even pay me to watch again anyway.  And with that being said let's start at the very bottom of the barrel, which would be...

 


#23 - THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)

The first Thor movie was one of the most surprisingly-good films the MCU ever put out.  But by Odin's beard, was the second installment whack AF.  In fact it was shockingly-corny considering that the main cast members which made the first part so interesting all returned.  Yes, Thor: The Dark World featured some impressive special effects, as big-budget scifi films tend to do.  But perhaps the makers of the flick were banking too much on visuals as opposed to, say, presenting an interesting and easy-to-follow storyline.

MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: HEIMDALL (IDRIS ELBA)

I don't necessarily remember seeing Heimdall in this movie but know by all means that he had to be in there.  It may have even been, to my limited remembrance, one of the best portrayals of the character in the MCU thus far.  But all of that gets lost behind the overall awfulness of the flick.  And just to note, Idris Elba isn't overly fond of the movie either.

 

#22 - CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)

Out of all the movies on this list, Captain Marvel is arguably the most-disappointing due to the sheer potential of the character.  Currently she's supposed to be the most-powerful hero in the MCU; she's intergalactic by nature, and her powers are colorful.  So if nothing else, this movie was supposed to have some ill special effects.  And it did have its moments, albeit painfully few and far between.  Moreover it seems that in this particular case, the critical and public response have agreed that the movie wasn't all that, even though I have come across quite a few articles arguing the contrary.


MAIN BLACK CHARACTERS: NICK FURY (SAMUEL L. JACKSON)


MARIA RAMBEAU (LASHANA LYNCH)

This is perhaps the only entry on this entire list that has two main Black characters.  Nick Fury may have enjoyed more screen time than Maria Rambeau, but by the middle of the flick they were both all over the place.  And whereas they didn't portray gangsters or prostitutes or anything negative, their characters still fulfilled another Hollywood stereotype, that of the Black engineer/scientist/computer genius.
 

21 - GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. II (2017)

This may be the first controversial ranking of this list, as Guardians of the Galaxy 2 enjoys a positive rating amongst critics and even moreso as far as fans are concerned. But for me personally, watching it was painful.  They totally bastardized Ego, one of the most-unique characters Marvel ever created it.  And relatedly, it was a total and complete waste of a Kurt Russell feature.

MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: GAMORA (ZOE SALDANA?)

Genetically speaking Zoe Saldana is by and large Latina, with some Black and even Middle Eastern mixed in.  But the Latino and Black are evident just by looking at her.  So the reason I put a question mark next to her name isn't in regards to her Blackness.  Rather she paints her skin dark green to portray Gamora, more or less in keeping with the character's appearance in the comic books.  Also, there doesn't seem to be anything particularly ethnic about Gamora within the MCU, besides how her mom was depicted, as sort of a Rasta woman, in Infinity War (2018).  But imagine if like Saldana had used her natural skin color in the movies?  That would have probably been more interesting than the green.

 

#20 - SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019)

You know those type of movies where every time you try to watch it you fall asleep?  Well that has been my Far From Home experience.  The special effects, as expected, are top-notch.  But this is a poor follow-up to Avengers: Endgame (2018).  And that's saying a lot, considering that Endgame wasn't that good either.  But I would presume Marvel hasted its release to capitalize on Endgame.  And in that regard the movie succeeded, as it had a box office take exceeding $1 billion big ones.

MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: MJ (ZENDAYA)

Like Guardians of the Galaxy, the Spider-Man series is another case of the MCU using a non-White female lead.  In this case that would be Zendaya, who takes on the role of Michelle Jones.

In the movie though she is not referred to as such but rather the character's initials, MJ.  And of course when traditional fans of Spider-Man hear "MJ" they think of Mary Jane, Spidey's long-time love interest (in the comic books), who is in fact White.  So the presumption would be that Michelle Jones is a bi-racial re-imagining of Mary Jane.  And as with Zoe Saldana, Zendaya also brings a certain flare to the series even though, once again, her character is not presented as being ethnic in any sort of way.

 

#19 - IRON MAN 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3, as to be expected, was very impressive visually.  It also featured one of the most-entertaining and even meaningful interpersonal relationships in the MCU, between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and that little boy (Ty Simpkins).  So it says a lot that it has fallen this far down the list.  What the movie actually suffers from is a convoluted storyline.  In fact it is the most politically-charged MCU film to date.  But unfortunately the execution didn't match the ambition.


MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: DON CHEADLE (RHODEY)

Another interesting part of the film that wasn't mentioned above is the Iron Patriot subplot.  And overall, Don Cheadle's depiction of Rhodey / War Machine, etc. has proven to the most-consistent Black character in the "Infinity Saga".


 

#18 - AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

You know a movie is bad when you're actually happy when one of the heroes gets killed. Failures may be far and few between as far as the MCU is concerned.  But this time around they took one of the coolest powers ever, superspeed - one that also happens to translate well on film - and just, I don't know.  One theory is that they tried to introduce too many characters simultaneously.  And truth be told, at the time I wasn't sold on Scarlet Witch either and had kinda wished that both Maximoff twins perished (though since then, well, WandaVision was the bomb).  Also that scene where Captain America shot the fair one with Ultron was semi-insulting on the audience's intelligence, considering how much power the latter is supposed to possess.


MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: HEIMDALL (IDRIS ELBA)

This film was partially set and filmed in South Africa.  And I remember there being a lot of Black extras but no main Black characters.  According to Wikipedia Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Heimdall and Nick Fury all appeared in the film.  I can remember Heimdall from that unforgettably-WTF scene when Thor was hallucinating (which later accidentally proved to be of some significance).  I also kinda sorta remember Nick Fury on the helicarrier or whatever.  But I don't recall Falcon being in the movie at all, though now that I think about it he may have popped up at the very end.  Indeed, it's been quite a few years since I saw Age of Ultron.  And I have absolutely no intention of watching it ever again unless maybe I'm really intoxicated (i.e. to enjoy the special effects, which are spectacular).
 

#17 - CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)

It feels kinda strange putting the The First Avenger so far down on the list, because out of all of the MCU's series thus far, i.e. trilogies or what have you, overall Captain America has, oddly enough, proven to be the best.  But I'd rather face the Red Skull on the desolate plains of Vormir than to watch this movie again.  But who knows?  Maybe now after Winter Solider and Civil War, etc. re-watching would be more edifying, even though they totally wasted dude from the Matrix.  But for now, the only thing I remember being really cool about this movie is when they made Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) appear mad skinny.  Like that scene where he jumped on the grenade is stuck in my mind forever.

MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: GABE JONES (DEREK LUKE)

I don't remember there really being any Black people in The First Avenger.  But I do know that one of the Howling Commados, as portrayed in the MCU, was Black.  And this character, Gabe Jones, did in fact appear on screen.  This has been his only notable appearance thus far in the MCU, and he was portrayed by an actor from New Jersey named Derek Luke.

 


 #16 - AVENGERS: ENDGAME

It also feels weird putting Endgame down here in the bottom half of the list because, after all, it is the most visually-stunning of all MCU films to date.  However, it also happens to perhaps be the best of the lot to fall asleep to, which is a good thing under some circumstances.  But for the most part when viewers sit down to a movie, they intend to actually do so from beginning to end.  And accomplishing that task as far as Endgame is concerned is a true act of endurance, even for a professional athlete.  Also it was like a slap in the face - at least to me - for Marvel to introduce time travel, alternate timelines and what have you into the MCU.  That's because when it comes to science fiction and comic books especially, doing so is that like the opening a can of worms.  And also, that was like the cheesiest way possible to undo The Snap.

MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: DON CHEADLE (RHODEY)

Don Cheadle has developed into an MCU mainstay.  In fact as of the writing of this post, he is slated to star in an upcoming Marvel / Disney+ series called Armor Wars, which I'm ultra-excited about.  He has become sort of like the MCU's backup Iron Man when Tony Stark himself may not be around.  In fact keeping in mind that the MCU recently introduced a Black Captain America, it wouldn't be totally surprising that a Black Iron Man proper is also soon to follow.

#15 - THE INCREDIBLE HULK

I remember The Incredible Hulk being a pretty-good addition to the early days of the MCU.  The special effects weren't always the best, but it was still exponentially better than the first time Marvel put out a Hulk movie.  Also that scene where the Hulk was fighting against the army was one of the most-memorable in MCU history.

But what really messes up the legacy of this film up more than anything is the fact it features Ed Norton as Bruce Banner, who has since been replaced with Mark Ruffalo.  So it no longer feels like canon, even though it is.  And whereas I've grown to appreciate Ruffalo's portrayal of Banner, I can't help but to salivate fantasizing about Ed Norton retaining the character and interacting with Robert Downey Jr., as Ruffalo did, in movies like The Avengers (2012).  That probably would have been too much for us to bear.

MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: PETER MENSAH (GENERAL JOE GRELLER)

There weren't any memorable Black characters in this film.  According to IMDb, the one that gets top billing is General Joe Greller, who was portrayed by Peter Mensah.  Like I know Peter Mensah but again don't remember him being in the film, since I haven't seen this movie in a minute. But such is understandable considering that he's only afforded 14 seconds of screentime.

 

#14 - BLACK PANTHER (2018)

I know some Black people may view what I'm about to say as sacrilege, but all things considered I actually thought Black Panther was quite whack.  Things that cheesed me off was stuff like the late Chadwick Boseman's flat performance and the killing off Ulyssues Klaue halfway through the film despite he, even according to director Ryan Coogler, being one of the most-entertaining characters therein.  And also, the sh*t was racist.  For instance if someone made a movie 100 years ago with Black dudes half-dressed, holding spears and making ape sounds, the likes of W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey would have probably been doing backflips.  But one good thing I can say is man, do I love Lupita.


MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: BLACK PANTHER (CHADWICK BOSEMAN)

Looking back, I guess Chadwick's aforementioned less-than-inspiring performance had something to do with the fact that he deadass had cancer.  However no one reportedly knew at the time, as he opted to keep the diagnosis a secret.

 

13 - THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

This is another movie that receives what feels like an unfairly-low ranking, as Ragnarok is actually one of the most-rewatchable films in the MCU.  I guess we can say that this marks the official halfway point of this list, i.e. the juncture that separates the bad from the good, with this movie being both good and bad at the same time.  For instance the chemistry between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), adding Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to the mix, made for a special moment in MCU history.  Also the special effects, such as the treatment of Surtur, were amazing.  But then again, the may have done Skurge even worst than they did than they did Kurse in the Dark World.  And only the first half of the movie, which focuses on the relationship between Thor and Hulk, is entertaining.  So it's like only half of the flick is good.

MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: TESSA THOMPSON (VALKYRIE)

Tessa Thompson did her thing and established herself as the first recurring Black (yet also mixed) female character in the MCU, even if the one she portrayed is a bit outlandish.  In fact if I remember correctly Thor pretty much made her the queen of T√łnsberg (aka New Asgard) at the conclusion of Endgame, thus setting her up to perhaps one day headline an MCU film of her own. And the dynamic between she and Chris Hemsworth was so notable that they went on to co-headline Men in Black International in 2019.  But unfortunately, that particular outing proved to be one of the worst big-budget sci-fi comedies of all time.  However as expected, she will be showing up in the forthcoming Thor: Love and Thunder, which is good news.



#12 - IRON MAN (2008)

Iron Man (2008) is supposed to be higher on the list than this, if for no other reason than out of respect, because it's the one that actually started it all. Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of Tony Stark served as the prototype for what proved to be the MCU's main formula for success, which is to actually make the movie interesting even when no superheroes are on the screen (a concept that the DCEU still has yet to grasp).  But this one got knocked down, even lower than Ant Man (2015), once again due to canonical issues, i.e. the actor playing Rhodey, one of the main characters, having been replaced.  Also it features one of the most-forgettable villains in the MCU.

MAIN BLACK CHARACTER: TERRENCE HOWARD (RHODEY)

And that aforementioned actor would be Terrence Howard, one of the best overall performers to ever grace the MCU.  It's almost like he was too pretty to play Rhodey anyway.  To my remembrance, he never actually suited up as War Machine.  But there was that memorable scene when he, a Blackman, was contemplating putting on a gold Iron Man suit, which was pretty cool.  And in terms of him being one of the best actors of the MCU this isn't something I'm just making up, as he was reportedly paid more than even the actual star of the show.  In fact according to Howard he actually got Downey Jr. the job, only to be stabbed in the back when it came time for Robert to likewise stand up for him.

CONCLUSION

It took me a whole lot longer to write this article than I had anticipated.  So there's no telling when I'll get around to completing Part II.  But I will endeavor to do so in the near future.

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