Marvel’s Greatest Hits & Misses

Avengers Assemble is out this week and it’s a triumph – the best Marvel film so far. In fact Marvel have done a pretty good job in brining their comic book properties to the big screen. Not always, it’s easier to remember hte triumphs than the failures.

But with that in mind, let’s take at look at some of Marvel’s other successes… and failures…



Iron Man (2008)

We need an actor who can portray self-righteous arrogance while still being likable and not unbearable….hmmm…tough call.  Oh wait, no it’s not.  Step forward Robert Downey Jr. perfectly cast as everyone’s favourite billionaire playboy philanthropist.   Boasting an excellent AC/DC soundtrack, and some seriously sexy gadgetry, Iron Man was sleek, funny and most importantly fun.

Thor (2011)

April 2011 saw the arrival of the hammer-wielding, blond-barnetted son of Asgard, Thor.  With its campy aesthetic and huge sets (not to mention Thor’s preposterous haircut and bulging biceps), this could easily have been the gateway to the cheese dimension.  Fortunately, Kenneth Branagh infused Thor with a godly amount of fun and some hilarious fish out of water comedy and a convincingly delicious villain in Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The trouble with a lot of superhero movies is it’s hard to explain a ridiculous costume off the page.  Captain America looks cool in print, but dress up like that in real life and people will either assume you’re a madman or a complete geek – not exactly inspiring when it comes to fighting crime.

Captain America neatly side-stepped this by giving him a deliberately camp “patriotic” stance – a poster boy for selling bonds during the war.  Add in a superb villain in  Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull (doing his best Werner Herzog impression), a stunning turn by Hayley Atwell and a hilarious dance number and you’ve got a winner.

X2: X-Men United (2003)

While X-Men didn’t really get my pulse racing – the miscasting of Anna Pacquin as Rogue and Halle Berry as Storm caused me to raise a serious eyebrow, as did it’s ludicrous conclusion when Wolverine’s healed wounds reopened which made absolutely no sense at all – X2 was a game changer.

Set pieces which included Alan Cumming’s Nightcrawler’s teleporting assault on the President, Magneto’s superbly executed escape from his plastic prison and Wolverine’s rage in the Xavier institute are some of the finest comic book moments ever filmed.  But it’s not all action spectacular – there’s plenty of character development too – engaging on a level that many fans of casual cinema might find surprising in a summer blockbuster.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Tobey Maguire has never sat that well with me as Peter Parker – too drippy, too emo, too wrapped up in his own securities.  Where’s the wise-cracking?  Peter Parker’s not a dweeb!  Anyway, Spider-Man was pretty decent (absolutely hideous product placement aside) but Spider-Man 2 is when it really got into its stride (let’s ignore the fact that Spider-Man 3 should be swatted and fed to the dog).

With a convincing villain – Alfred Molina’s robotically enhanced Doctor Octopus rather than Point Break reject The Green Goblin – a conflicted hero and some fantastic set pieces (a subway fight scene is a doozy), Spider-Man 2 is easily the best film in the Spidey franchise. Forthcoming reboot The Amazing Spider-Man has a lot of work to do.


Unfortunately, it can’t all be roses in the Marvel Universe.  As great as the above films were, Marvel have also put some real stinkers out there…

Ghost Rider 2 (2012)

The first one was bad, but successful enough to warrant another outing.  Exactly how it’s possible to make a motorcycle-riding skeleton that’s literally on fire lame is one of the world’s greatest mysteries.  Starring Nicholas Cage as the titular possessed stunt rider, Ghost Rider 2 was perversely boring and boasted special effects that make a carnival ghost-house seem cutting edge.

With a dull villain (Ciaran Hinds doing his best deep-sea angler fish impression), a rubbish henchman who looked like a Scooby-Doo bad guy and terrible cameo performances from Idris Elba (much better as Heimdal in Thor) and Christopher Lambert, and a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance from Anthony Head, it’s a cinematic crime.

X-Men Origins – Wolverine (2009)

Wolverine is one of Marvel’s flagship characters.  A cigar-chomping antihero, he’s been the mainstay of the Marvel franchise for years.  He deserves his own movie but what he doesn’t deserve is the treatment that he got at the hands of director Gavin Hood and team.

Granted there’s a great opening montage with Logan and brother Sabretooth trudging through history, but the rest is unappealing mulch – an unsatisfying villain, a disappointing cameo from Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds – who would go on to disgrace himself in DC property The Green Lantern) and a wasted appearance from Gambit (Taylor Kitch – now doing rather well with John Carter and Battleship).

Elektra (2005)

A spin-off from Daredevil – which narrowly escaped being on this list itself – Elektra was a mostly inert superhero flick starring Jennifer Garner.  While she proved that she certainly has the physical chops to play a superhero, she was let down by a witless script and forgettable fight scenes which seems rehashed from earlier movies.  Nothing to recommend here apart from Garner’s impressible physical attributes.

Nick Fury: Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1998)

As hard as it to believe, once upon a time, Marvel’s Nicky Fury was The Hoff.  To his credit he actually does quite a passable Kurt Russell impression.  It’s a TV Movie and the production value shows, coming off as a cross between a bad A-Team episode and the set of Thunderbirds. It unbelievably hammy (“You comic book coward!”) but that’s to be expected.

It’s worth taking a look at though as it’s about as far away from the cool of Samuel L Jackson’s modern day reimagining as it’s possible to get and actually manages to pre-empt the tagline for Jason Statham’s Crank: High Voltage (“He was dead but he got better”) by a whole 11 years.

The Punisher (1989) (2004) (2008)

Marvel have tried and failed three times to get The Punisher right.  Known for being one of the most enduring (not to mention violent) of Marvel’s properties, he’s inspired fan boys to write endless screeds about how he’d beat up pretty much every comic book character ever created.  Sadly, Frank Castle still hasn’t gotten the film he deserves.

The first was Dolph Lundgren’s 1989 effort which bore always no resemblance to the comics and was disgraced with some of the worst acting ever committed to celluloid.

Marginally better was 2004’s Punisher starring Thomas Jane (who would later crop up as a member of the Vegan Police in Scott Pilgrim) – a sort of throwback to the old-fashioned action thrillers of the 1970s – pure pulp.

Then came 2008’s Punisher: War Zone which certainly earned stripes in the brutality stakes – just not in plot, dialogue or action.  While 2004’s effort was a 70s throwback, this felt more like a 1980s re-visitation and is probably the closest to the Marvel comic character. Still…not great…

Marvel now have the rights to Punisher again and stated two years ago that they “hope to bring him into the fray shortly”.  Personally, I think the time has probably passed.

Follow Jez Sands on Twitter.