Directed by Jon Favreau
Did anybody else think it was an absolutely terrible idea to give this franchise to Jon Favreau? Don't get me wrong, because the guy got it started damn well. The first 90 minutes of this film are characteristic of the great film everybody believes it to be. The Stark character is very intriguingly placed in our world, and his purview is stated firmly as a go-between of military power and moral integrity. He's an idealist, but one that fits pretty firmly into a certain mindset that is closed off. He never questioned things, until his convoy was attacked, murdered, and him taken into captivity. That's where we see a dynamic shift in the character, and while Favreau may not be so interested in it, Robert Downey Jr. relishes it.
It's enough to have a chance for pure fun when Downey Jr. is concerned, and his natural comic timing hits best with the screw-the-script-we-have-an-outline-let's-improv-it mentality that the film takes on. The rest of the cast doesn't quite keep up, specifically Terrence Howard. He was no great loss, to be entirely honest. Gwyneth Paltrow, however, is rather adaptable to it. But all intriguing juggling of technology and morality work, until the Iron Monger moves in. As soon as the plot builds up the requisite villain, it loses its way. It simply doesn't know how to finish, and it ends up mindlessly action-oriented. No plot. No full-circle resolution to the arcs. It simply doesn't work, and that's what stops it from being Marvel's tops.
"The Incredible Hulk"
Directed by Louis Letterier
How many times do we have to take a stab at the Hulk in order to figure out where he properly belongs? Does nobody know how to do this right? It seems so simple and obvious, and damn invigorating, but instead every director has shown an adverse spin on the character. Ang Lee used the film to push forward familial problems. Suffice it to say, that's not what the Hulk is about. Now Louis Letterier takes on the reins, with hopes of amping up the action value, which he quite honestly does. There's a lot more interesting action in this one, but really none of it involves the Hulk. The most exciting part of the film is Bruce Banner running across the favella in attempts to escape the military.
The Hulk moments are nice, but... well, there's simply nothing too it. In retrospect, this film reminds me a great deal of Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion", in that it treats the Hulk like a disease, or an infection just waiting to be cured. It's fine if the characters treat it that way, but the film has to be about something more, and it never really is. The promise of Abomination only pays off in terms of simple visuals, as the character really has nothing to him. The actors are quite good, with the exception of Liv Tyler, who is just bland and boring. But, there is never once anything special or proactive about the film, especially in psychological terms. If they get into the psychology of it, they might start to have something.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
I'll be damned if last summer didn't actually find the best way into this Marvel universe they've been setting up. All previous ventures seemed to ring rather mechanical, no pun intended in relation to "Iron Man". The more I revisit Kenneth Branagh's introduction of "Thor" and the world of Asgard, the more fantastically enjoyable it seems. There's this huge debate over how evil Loki is, and he's not evil. He is another idealist, selfishly compelled a bit, sure, but with the better intentions of the realm at his disposal. His "schemes" are all quite fantastic and genius in their implementation. He keeps his brother from wasting the throne on destructive and arrogant compulsions by keeping him in exile.
And yes, he did lead Jotuns into Asgard at the beginning, but as a prank. The act of a child, and he uses that act later to get in good with them, trick them into Asgard, and then find reason to destroy Jotunheim. He does all this to remove any trace of the past he finds disgusting. The film is as much about his negative revelations as it is about Thor's positive ones. As much as these brothers fight, Thor does mourn for his brother in the end. Their conflict isn't over, and it will continue to much greater strife in "The Avengers", but my god this was a strong debut of that familial dynamic. Both of these characters are ones I want to see grow in future installments.