Countdown to AGE OF ULTRON: The Marvel Cinematic Universe

IRON MAN (2008, Jon Favreau) 74
[ Créé en 1963 par Stan Lee et Jack Kirby, Iron Man se distingue en mettant en scène un protagoniste défini avant tout par ses lacunes, autant physiques que morales. D’abord, le plastron électromagnétique de l’armure hi-tech qui donne ses pouvoirs à Tony Stark n’a pas été conçu pour casser du super-vilain, mais en fait pour lui sauver la vie après que des éclats d’obus se soient logés près de son coeur. Stark n’est par ailleurs pas un jeune homme idéaliste, mais plutôt un fabricant d’armes quadragénaire riche et cynique, qui boit trop et multiplie les conquêtes sexuelles. Tout ceci faisait du casting de Robert Downey Jr. un choix en apparence drôlement judicieux, considérant les frasques passées de l’acteur. Et dès la séquence d’ouverture, alors que Stark lance boutade après boutade, apparemment insouciant du fait qu’il soit assis à l’arrière d’un Humvee blindé traversant une zone dangereuse de l’Afghanistan, cette impression ne fait que se confirmer. Même si on en retirait les scènes d’action, le film vaudrait le détour pour la savoureuse performance de Downey Jr., c’est tout dire! N’allez toutefois pas croire que les moments de bravoure d’Iron Man sont banals. Le réalisateur Jon Favreau (Made, Elf) ne possède peut-être pas le génie d’un Sam Raimi (la trilogie Spider-Man) ou d’un Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins et The Dark Knight, qui prendra l’affiche cet été), mais il fait un boulot efficace derrière la caméra, orchestrant des affrontements super-héroïques souvent époustouflants. À cet égard, soulignons aussi les effets spéciaux conçus par ILM et Stan Winston, qui sont tout simplement irréprochables. Certains pourraient toutefois déplorer la façon dont, comme c’est souvent le cas dans le premier film d’une franchise, Iron Man se termine tout juste quand les choses deviennent vraiment intéressantes. La majeure partie du récit est en effet consacrée à dépeindre l’origine de Tony Stark, la construction et le perfectionnement de son armure et, finalement, sa décision de devenir un super-héros. En d’autres mots, ses exploits les plus extraordinaires sont encore devant lui. Mais, comme nous le mentionnons, ceci n’est pas vraiment un problème car, même lorsqu’il est en train de bidouiller dans son atelier, de bavarder avec ses proches (Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard et Jeff Bridges, dans des rôles unidimensionnels) ou de donner une conférence de presse, Downey Jr. est aussi divertissant que toutes les bagarres et les explosions du monde. ]

THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008, Louis Leterrier) 65
[ As a comic book geek as well as a diehard fan of Edward Norton, I figured it made no sense that I had still not seen this, especially since by all accounts, this was supposed to be less turgid than Ang Lee’s misguided 2003 film. And as a matter fact, right from the opening stretch, before we even get to the first action scene, I was enjoying Norton’s performance, the less heavy-handed storytelling, the Brazilian setting (Bruce Banner is exiled there at the beginning of the movie)… Oh, and “You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry”? That’s already more (intentional) humor than there was in all of Lee’s film! And at the same time, this new movie does manage to convey the tragic nature and pathos of being the Hulk, how it’s affected Banner in general and in regards to his relationship with his girlfriend (Liv Tyler) in particular. Plus, the big set pieces are pretty cool and involve some effectively despicable villains, portrayed by the great William Hurt and Tim Roth. ]

IRON MAN 2 (2010, Jon Favreau) 58
[ review ]

THOR (2011, Kenneth Branagh) 67
[ After “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk”, and before “Captain America” sets the last stone leading to “The Avengers”, here is “Thor”, the newest addition to Marvel’s big screen superhero roster. Part heroic fantasy, part comic-book Shakespeare, part fish-out-of-water comedy, the story revolves around Odin (Anthony Hopkins) banishing his son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to Earth and making him unable to wield his mighty hammer until he’s grown less arrogant and impetuous. Despite muddled action scenes, uneven FX, pointless 3D and an overabundance of Dutch angles, the movie remains entertaining, in large part thanks to the imposing performances by Hemsworth, Hopkins and the rest of the cast. Special mention to the hilarious Kat Dennings, who steals nearly every scene she’s in. ]

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011, Joe Johnston) 85
[ review ]

THE AVENGERS (2012, Joss Whedon)  93
[ review ]

IRON MAN 3 (2013, Shane Black) 62
[ review ]

THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013, Alan Taylor) 65
[ This sequel is mostly set off Earth and is not a fish out of water comedy, for better or worse. It’s an epic fantasy adventure set on Asgard and elsewhere throughout the Nine Realms, dealing with Dark Elves and an ancient power known as the Aether, which also happens to be an Infinity Stone. It’s all pretty awesome and exciting, though it might take itself a bit too seriously. It could use more Kat Dennings, for one! Chris Hemsworth is still great as Thor and it’s fun to see him bring his hammer down on his enemies, but this is not one of Marvel’s best pictures. ]

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014, Anthony & Joe Russo) 88
[ Chris Evans is still perfect as Captain America and he has wonderful chemistry with Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. Meanwhile, the whole plot about SHIELD/Hydra is surprisingly engrossing and, well, surprising, like something out of a 1970s spy thriller. And the Winter Soldier storyline is rather affecting, in addition to leading to some awesome action scenes. Who knew the Russo brothers had such a badass flick in them? ]

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014, James Gunn) 92
[ I first saw the year’s most popular movie at an early private screening and loved it then, but it was when I saw it again at the big Fantasia International Film Festival premiere in a packed house of enthusiastic geeks that I completely fell in love with it. This is close to being my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie so far, give or take “The Avengers”, thanks to witty writing and dynamic direction by James Gunn, the best soundrack of the year and a totally awesome cast of actors having a great time playing some instantly iconic characters: Chris Pratt as the cocky Starlord, Zoe Saldana as the lethal Gamora, Dave Bautista as the humorously humorless Drax, Bradley Cooper as the badass Rocket Raccoon and Vin Diesel as the irresistible Groot. Some people are all about Cannes-approved international cinema or they can’t get enough of middlebrow Oscar-bait biopics. To me, there’s not much that can be as satisfying as a perfectly well-oiled Hollywood blockbuster firing on all cylinders. This is why we go to the movies. ]