Top 10: Marvel Cinematic Universe

With The Avengers: Age of Ultron released two days ago, Antman released in July finishing Phase Two, Benedict Cumberbatch confirmed as Doctor Strange and a whole set of films planned to join the Marvel universe for Phase Three, Superhero movies and Marvel are at it’s peak right now. It gathers new fans all the time and the way Marvel announce new trailers, teasers and characters excites you to the point my 27 year old boyfriend is sat squealing on the sofa at just the most minor thing. But don’t worry, I’m squealing too, equally as excited. And with Age of Ultron now released in the UK, I thought it would be fitting to rank the 10 Marvel Cinematic Universe films released so far in order.

10. Iron Man 3 (2013)

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Sometimes, Marvel takes itself too seriously, and doesn’t quite pull serious off. Iron Man 3 is an example of this.

Since The Avengers and the destruction in New York, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has developed insomnia and post traumatic stress disorder and has lost his charismatic persona. He becomes incredibly reliant on the Iron Man suits that protect him and less reliant and loving to Pepper (Gywneth Paltrow). But Iron Man is forced to wear the suit properly again, to save the people he loves and learn to accept his losses when new enemy the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) attacks his mansion and turns his world upside down.

The trailer had so much potential and I was genuinely excited; Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin looked incredible, Guy Pearce and Rebecca Hall had joined the cast and we were to enter new, unexplored territory, a superhero with PTSD, reminding us that some of the heroes behind the suits are in fact human.

I understand Iron Man 3 is considered as a “marmite” kind of film: people love it or hate it. Unfortunately, I am afraid to say, I am one of the latter. For production values and technicality, Iron Man 3 is better than Iron Man 2, however all the things I was excited for crashed and burned. I rarely feel anger towards a film, but for how much this film disappointed me, for how angry I got in the cinema when THAT ridiculous plot twist was revealed and for how far-fetched the final battle sequence is, this is ranked last. Such potential, but such a shame.

9. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

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The Dark Elves and the gods of Asgard are ancient enemies. The gods discarded the Dark Elves’ ultimate weapon, the Aether, and hid it secretly. Years later, Jane (Natalie Portman) uncovers the Aether and becomes it’s host, forcing Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to protect her from Dark Elf leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who would use her and the weapon to destroy the nine kingdoms including Earth.

The only real memories of this film that stay behind is my University being destroyed, Kat Dennings as Darcy hiding behind cars a lot and some massive alien spacecraft hovering above the Thames. The battle sequences are forgettable, Tom Hiddlestone as Loki and Stellan Skarsgard as Eric Selvig who added so much to the first film are barely seen and I was hoping for more expansion on the first film, to learn more about the Godlike Asgardian realm and the legends that live there. Also, isn’t the Aether supposed to be one of the Infinity Stones? Marvel you introduced the second of six of the most interesting, crucial weapons in the Marvel universe in the most boring way possible and in a mediocre film!

Oh and for the record, Greenwich isn’t 3 stops on the tube from Charing Cross…

8. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

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Scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) seeks a cure for the gamma radiation that contaminated his cells and turned him into The Hulk. Cut off from his true love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and forced to hide from his nemesis, Gen. Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt), Banner soon comes face-to-face with a new threat: a powerful enemy known as The Abomination (Tim Roth).

Not to be confused with Ang Lee’s The Hulk, released 5 years earlier, The Incredible Hulk is the second in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Incredible Hulk was the only Marvel film, for some reason, I wasn’t overly bothered about and had little interest in it. Yet I gave it a chance. But no, sorry, it bored me.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad, but didn’t thrill me either. However, I admired the scenes when Bruce Banner transforms into the Hulk and the final showdown between himself and Abomination is pretty impressive. Other than this though, I found The Incredible Hulk an essential but forgettable addition to the films. But since Mark Ruffalo has replaced Edward Norton and joined the cast as Bruce Banner, it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the Hulk. And we’re still waiting to see if an Incredible Hulk 2 will be announced…

7. Iron Man 2 (2010)

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With the world now aware that he is Iron Man, billionaire inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) faces pressure from all sides to share his technology with the military. He is reluctant to divulge the secrets of his armored suit, fearing the information will fall into the wrong hands. With Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) by his side, Tony must forge new alliances and confront a powerful new enemy.

I am someone who doesn’t actually mind Iron Man 2 for some of it. Mickey Rourke as Whiplash is a decent villain too, but the final showdown with him, Iron Man and War Machine doesn’t do Whiplash justice; it is too short, has no excitement, climax or adrenaline and just falls flat into nothing. It can’t be helped either that Don Cheadle replaced Terence Howard as “Rhodey”, but I don’t think he suits the role and I felt Iron Man 2 lost some of it’s heart from this. Yet Iron Man 2 is a film that sets up for what’s to come, with the introduction of Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

6. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

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It’s 1941 and Steve Rogers wants to join the US military and do his part, but is rejected because of his small and weak stature. Finally, Steve gets his chance when he is accepted into an experimental programme that turns him into a supersoldier called Captain America. Joining forces with Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Captain America leads the fight against the Nazi-backed HYDRA organisation lead by Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).

Being set in the 40s and less modern times, Captain America could almost be considered as a breath of fresh air in the Marvel franchise. It’s a welcome change of scenery from all the big sky scrapers, fancy technical computers and blinking lights, instead focusing on World War II and the production design is excellent. Captain America isn’t the best Marvel film by a long way, I actually found it average, and it would have been further down the list if it weren’t for the introduction of HYDRA and brilliant cast members such as Hugov Weaving as Red Skull, Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Chester Phillips and Toby Jones as Amim Zola.

5. Thor (2011)

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As the son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), king of the Norse gods, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) will soon inherit the throne of Asgard from his aging father. However, on the day that he is to be crowned, Thor reacts with brutality when the gods’ enemies, the Frost Giants, enter the palace in violation of their treaty. As punishment, Odin banishes Thor to Earth where he meet Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Dr Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and Darcy (Kat Dennings). While Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s brother, plots mischief in Asgard, Thor, now stripped of his powers, faces his greatest threat.

Thor introduced us to the ancient Asgardian realm, new prominent characters and the iconic God of Thunder himself and his hammer Mjolnir. One of my favourite scenes from this movie is the amazement I felt at witnessing the Bifrost being used, the gateway between Asgard and Earth, protected by Heimdall (Idris Elba). I am really interested in Ancient history, myths, legends and Gods and Goddesses, so being taken to Asgard and learning more about those who live there actually thrilled me, and I thought it was really excellently done; the set pieces and special effects are superior. Although, I stay true to my word in saying that Thor has the most awkward kiss scene I have ever watched (between Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman).

4. Iron Man (2008)

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A billionaire industrialist and genius inventor, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), is conducting weapons tests overseas, but terrorists kidnap him to force him to build a devastating weapon. Instead, he builds an armoured suit and upends his captors. Returning to America, Stark refines the suit and uses it to combat crime and terrorism, including enemy Iron Monger (Jeff Bridges).

As the first of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it really set the bar high for what was to come: many heroes, many villains, many action sequences, a few romances and just all round awesomeness.

They may replace many actors in this series, but someone they can’t replace without losing the heart and soul of the Marvel franchise is Robert Downey Jr. Tony Stark, our lead hero is someone we’ve rarely encountered in cinema. Yes, he’s a lot like Bruce Wayne with his gadgets and playboy image, but Tony Stark is not the handsome strong jawed muscular physical hero we are used to seeing. Instead he is self-absorbed, snarky, cocky but smart and hilarious too, claiming the best lines, and Downey Jr.’s comic timing is perfect. However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that Iron Man is a fantastic movie.

3. The Avengers (2012)

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When Thor’s evil brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), gains access to the unlimited power of the energy cube called the Tesseract, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), director of S.H.I.E.L.D., initiates a superhero recruitment effort to defeat the unprecedented threat to Earth. Joining Fury’s “dream team” are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

The Avengers was the film we saw all the characters we’ve met so far come together and fight together, in a major budget blockbuster that attracted huge audiences and so many new fans. It’s cast is immense and it’s production values insane; we witness a worm hole to another realm cover New York, and it’s city be demolished by Chitauri monsters that escape from it. The Avengers marks the end to Marvel’s Phase One, and with that, the chosen film to begin introducing the Infinity Stones starting with the Tesseract (space stone). I adore The Avengers, and I don’t know of a single person who dislikes it: it’s epic, gripping and funny too, with Robert Downey Jr. getting the best lines and providing the comic relief, but the Hulk brings up the rear and, surprisingly, got the biggest laugh in the cinema.

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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Who says sequels aren’t better than the originals? Cap 2 is one of very few exceptions to the rule and Winter Soldier very nearly made number 1 on this list.

Steve Rogers or Captain America (Chris Evans) is still adjusting to everyday modern life, but an attack on S.H.I.E.L.D means he, Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and new ally, the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) must try and expose a conspiracy that places the whole world at risk. However, along the way, they come up against a new but surprise enemy: The Winter Soldier.

Part of the reason this film was so successful is because it has similarities to The Dark Knight, and it will be the closest the Marvel franchise will get to this. Another reason is because the moments that stick in mind are the original action sequences, and the new characters: Falcon and the Winter Soldier are both fascinating, they fill a void that the first Captain America couldn’t fill and are truly welcome to join this ever growing and changing cast. Any die hard fans will surely get excited too after noticing the clever foreshadowing for things to come with Captain America and The Winter Soldier. Serious Marvel at it’s ultimate best, more like this please!

1. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Although The Winter Soldier was incredible, the newest of the bunch, Guardians of the Galaxy has earned my top spot on this list. A film about a group of misfits and criminals who group together to become the galaxy’s unlikely saviours really charmed me and I adored it.

Space adventurer Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), ruthless assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), genetically enhanced raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and… a humanoid tree named Groot (Vin Diesel) are forced to join forces to stop Ronan (Lee Pace), a powerful villain, who is to unleash a powerful cosmic force capable of destroying planet after planet.

With an all star cast, hilarious characters, awesome battle sequences and many influences from Star Wars, for me, Guardians is the most charismatic and the most fun of the whole franchise. And let’s not forget it’s awesome soundtrack! Rocket and Groot too are my favourite characters introduced so far, with unrecognisable Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel playing them. Groot seems to be the perfect role for Diesel, who doesn’t have to do much and who’s only lines are “I am Groot”, yet perhaps he’s giving the performance of his life here? And who knew wrestler Dave Bautista had such excellent comic timing that rivals that of a comedian and who embraces Drax’s character, making him both touching and admirable as well.

Thanos becomes more prominent too and with the infinity stones beginning to be explained by the Collector and the appearance of the Orb which is the third infinity stone (power stone), behind the laughs, Guardians of the Galaxy is in fact one of the most important additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It was a film that just astonished and delighted me so much and it still does now. “We are Groot.”

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What do you guys think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Marvel and this list, so feel free to comment below or tweet me at @MarthaShaw17.

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Top 10: Middle Earth Moments

The three films that make up The Lord of the Rings trilogy are the best, most captivating, most impressive films I have ever seen. They are massively responsible for sparking my passion for film and are one of cinema’s greatest, ground-breaking accomplishments: Wonderful story, unique characters, love-able heroes, detestable villains, terrifying battle scenes, heart wrenching music, magnificent acting, 17 Academy Awards and a breathtaking New Zealand as Middle Earth. The trilogy is the closest to perfect I have had the pleasure to watch. With the last Hobbit film, The Battle of the Five Armies, bringing the Peter Jackson/Tolkien era to a close, I decided to do a Top 10 of my favourite moments from the 6 film franchise that is adored by myself and so many. Enjoy! (Spoilers warning!)

10. The Ents Attack Isengard– The Two Towers

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Not the most fierce or brave looking creatures, the Ents seem to be the most unlikely to join in with the fight. But secretly, they are courageous and spirited. The Ents storm Isengard with a vengeance, lead by Treebeard with Merry and Pippin on his branches, and leave their mark. The reason this is number 10, is because the rallying of the Ents shows that even the most odd, forgotten underdogs of Middle Earth will make a stand against evil. It’s quite metaphorical and heart warming.

9. Meeting the Dwarf Company – An Unexpected Journey

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When the first Hobbit film was released in 2012, Middle Earth lovers would have only met one dwarf so far: Gimli. However, The Hobbit is very much about the Dwarves and so An Unexpected Journey allowed you to meet all 13 of them.. All at once.. crammed into a Hobbit hole. An intimate experience indeed, I was intrigued to learn more and to visualise them on a big screen. And they were splendid! Lead by Thorin Oakenshield, they are a collective, but all 13 have their own quirks, colour, weapons and style of fighting. They are merry, funny, musical, proud and strong, and are brought to life by Peter Jackson and actors brilliantly. My favourites of the company include Thorin (the wonderful Richard Armitage), Balin (Ken Stott), Dwalin (Graham McTavish), Bofur (James Nesbitt) and Oin (John Callen).

8. Lighting the Beacons – The Return of the King

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This montage begins with the audience’s eyes opening to the fact Pippin isn’t just the foolish clown of the Fellowship, but actually a courageous little Hobbit. With stunning visuals, an uplifting, exciting soundtrack to accompany it and the fires lighting high in the mountains, low on the ground and in the dead of night, travelling across Middle Earth; what can I say? “Gondor calls for aid” and this scene deserves to be in here.

7. Gollum and Bilbo’s Riddles in the Dark – An Unexpected Journey

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The highlight from the first Hobbit film, without a doubt is this scene between our hero and protagonist Bilbo Baggins (the perfectly cast Martin Freeman) and our old friend from The Lord of the Rings, Gollum (Andy Serkis). Gollum is unpredictable, and Bilbo learns that quickly, humouring him with a game of riddles to wager for his life. Andy Serkis’ return is a welcome relief from the chaos that ensues in An Unexpected Journey and to watch Martin Freeman take a minute out of the madness to really sink his teeth in and act as Bilbo is a revelation.

6. Annie Lennox and Howard Shore’s Into the West – The Return of the King

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The soundtrack that accompanies The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit combined is truly mesmerising, iconic and one of the best. Howard Shore is responsible for the music and for giving us an emotional breakdown come the end of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and particularly by this song. Into the West is sung and co-written by Annie Lennox, and it is beautiful and poignant. When the wonderfully crafted credits roll, marking the end to the trilogy, it is accompanied by Into the West. Just sit, listen, absorb the credits, music, the lyrics and the voice of Annie Lennox.

5. The Mines of Moria and the Balrog – The Fellowship of the Ring

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The moment in Balin’s tomb and Boromir (Sean Bean) makes the realisation “they have a cave troll”, the scenes in Moria get bigger, darker and more frightening. Moria gives you and the little Hobbits a glimmer of what they are up against on their journey, and gives the chance to see how the newly formed Fellowship adjust to each other and work as a team. As they flee from an unknown creature, the famous scene commences with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) standing on the bridge between the rest of the Fellowship and the now revealed huge, computer generated achievement, Balrog of Morgorth. Iconic and emotional, Gandalf shouts the famous line “you shall not pass” and breaks the bridge, before falling into the darkness with the Balrog. It’s memorable and upsetting, as the clearly respected and loved leader of their company is lost in able to protect the rest. It is the last of Gandalf the Grey, but who says he can’t steal another colour and come back to life eh? (Spoilers…)

4. Gollum vs. Smeagol Monologue – The Two Towers

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Andy Serkis not only acts but channels antagonist Gollum and Smeagol to life. Very much like Jekyll and Hyde, Gollum is the evil, ring obsessed side to Gollum’s former self, the innocent Smeagol (who is or was a Hobbit too). Often we witness both personalities battling each other. But there marks a moment in The Two Towers when we first fully discover this duel personality and this moment makes number 4 on my list. I believe Andy Serkis should have been Oscar nominated for Gollum/Smeagol as this scene is one of the best acted scenes in the entire 6 film franchise.

3. Smaug the Dragon – The Desolation of Smaug

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I’ll admit, I was disappointed by The Hobbit films. But, by far the stand out moment from the trilogy was Smaug the Dragon. It put my faith back into the films and showed me that Peter Jackson was still the master of magical creatures; he still knew how to treat an iconic moment and make it unforgettable on a cinema screen. Smaug is such an achievement! Majestically voiced by the amazing Benedict Cumberbatch (who also did motion capture movements for Smaug), Smaug is incredible and incredibly huge, nearly reaching the high ceilings of Erebor. The conversation between himself and Bilbo matched that from the book and had you on the edge of your seat. Real effort went in to perfecting him and Smaug indeed is given the best lines including the infamous: “I am fire. I am death.”

2. The Charge of the Rohirrim at Pelennor Fields – The Return of the King

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If I said the horn of Rohan during the Battle of Pelennor Fields to any The Lord of the Rings fanatic, I expect a gasp, a nod and maybe even a tear. Just kidding. As the Battle for Gondor, men and the city of Minas Tirith continues, the soldiers believe the fight is lost and they have been deserted by Rohan. However, when all of a sudden the horn of Rohan rings out, hope is not lost. Over the hill comes the army on horseback, the Rohirrim, lead by King Theoden (the brilliant Bernard Hill), who gives his best lines to date, his rousing speech that convinces even you at home to join the charge into the evil forces that ruthlessly seeks to destroy the world of men. Accompanied by Howard Shore’s, once again, marvellous soundtrack that crescendos throughout, the Battle of Pelennor Fields without fail sends a shiver down my spine and a tear to my eye. This is what cinema is all about.

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1. The Battle of Helms Deep – The Two Towers

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Peter Jackson is renowned and brilliant at filming and constructing battle sequences, it is indeed his forte, which is why my number 1 and 2 are both battle sequences. The Battle over Helms Deep beats Pelennor Fields to number 1 though because of its underdog story and because it’s breathtaking. Watching 10,000 armoured, tenacious, cruel Uruk-Hai storm the Hornburg and attack the men of Rohan defending it- and of course Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and the Elves too- is a defining memory and image that stays with you. The scenes you witness are violent, hostile and quite scary, and the narrative is gripping, told through the different battle waves: ladders, crossbows, higher ladders, battle ram and the explosion. From the first patter of rain on their armour to the final charge of the Rohirrim, this is one thrilling, epic battle that marks my favourite moment in the whole of the 6 films.

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What do you guys think? Did I miss out one of your favourites? Feel free to comment and let me know!

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