Before Iron Man, Captain America, Guardians of Galaxy, Ant-Man or the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel wasn't always the mighty powerhouse at the box office that it is today. Before the Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, Marvel wasn't really having much luck in the movie department with a lot of dumb and very low-budget projects. However, with every miss that Marvel has made, they have made a much larger hit. Let's compare some of Marvel's hits and misses.
Hit - Spider-Man 2
Sam Raimi's 2004 film stands tall as most fan's favorite Spider-Man film. Not only was the film a major upgrade in storytelling and special effects from the first movie but it also showed that being a superhero isn't all it's cracked up to be. Spider-Man 2 portrayed that being Spider-Man is not only a tiring experience but it can also get in the way of your social life, your romantic life, your job and your education. Not only that but the citizens of New York still look at Spider-Man as a threat due to the smear campaign by the Daily Bugle's Editor in Chief, J. Jonah Jameson. The movie showed every difficult obstacle that Spider-Man had to conquer in order to be the hero that everyone knows him as.
Tobey Maguire was great in the film as the hardened superhero but it's really the performance of Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus that takes home the gold. He properly portrayed the brilliant scientist who suffered a major loss and saw only his accomplishments as a way to cope. Sure the tentacle arms sort of controlling his mind was a little lame but it still kind of worked in the story. The acting was great, the action was great and the story was something that most superhero films wouldn't tackle in their own movies, that definitely makes this a Marvel hit.
Miss - Amazing Spider-Man 2
Now, before I rip into this movie I have to admit that I really enjoyed the first Amazing Spider-Man. Andrew Garfield was a nice surprise in the titular role, Martin Sheen and Sally Field were great in the roles of Uncle Ben and May Parker, the relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy was adorable and I loved the new spin on the origins of the Spider-Man story. The fact that Spider-Man never found his uncle's killer and abandoned his search for him because he wasn't using his powers responsibly, was a great spin on an old origin story. Now with the praise out of the way, Amazing Spider-Man 2 is just awful in almost every single way. I've noticed that whenever Sony tries to cram more than one villain into their movies, they bomb big time.
Every single villain in the movie just does not work. Jaime Foxx is a great actor and has done some great work but he was just terrible in role of Electro. The whole origin of Electro was also done too quickly and didn't make a whole lot of sense as to why he suddenly hates Spider-Man. The whole Green Goblin storyline seemed stuffed in as Harry Osborn was never mentioned in the previous film and the addition of... *sigh*... the Goblin disease that plagues the Osborn family and kills Norman Osborn (Spider-Man's arch-freaking-nemesis) after a few minutes of screen time. Even though Paul Giamatti was clearly having fun mugging to the camera and going all out goofy, the whopping few minutes of screen time for the Rhino was completely pointless and could have easily been taken out of the story.
However, the biggest sin that this movie committed in my opinion was the death of Gwen Stacy. The death of Gwen Stacy was a pivotal and incredibly sad moment in Spider-Man's character lineage where the love of his life was accidentally killed by his own hands. When Green Goblin discovered Spider-Man's identity, he kidnapped Gwen Stacy and threw her off a bridge. When Spider-Man tried catch her by webbing her legs, the sudden stop in the fall broke her neck and she was dead by the time Spider-Man pulled her up. This movie decided to cram in the character of Green Goblin in the last few minutes of the movie and make Gwen Stacy's death basically a footnote. Also, it wasn't Spider-Man who accidentally killed her, it was Green Goblin when he threw her down a clock tower and Spider-Man didn't save her in time.
The death of Gwen Stacy is probably the most iconic moment in Spider-Man comics and the fact that this movie doesn't want to do it justice makes this a definite miss for Marvel.
Hit - Captain America: The First Avenger
For some reason a lot of people seem to think that first Captain America movie is not very good and also very boring. I never understood this because the film gave moviegoers a great origin story from an old-school story, the introduction of Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, a good explanation about the silly costume and one of the better villains in the MCU. The special effects are also something to really marvel at because the computer generated effects on Chris Evans's body at the beginning of the film was done flawlessly. Chris Evans was, of course, great in the role of Captain America and has quickly become one of Marvel's best casting choices next to Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man.
However, the performance that really stood out in the film was Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull. Even though Red Skull was a usual one-and-done villain, Hugo Weaving portrayed him perfectly and really gave the role the meat it needed to stand out from the rest of the villain pack. It was fun, action-packed and it gave fans an amazing look into the upcoming Avengers film. I'd call this a hit film.
Miss - Captain America (1990)
What? You mean you didn't know that a Captain America movie was released all the way back in 1990? Well, there was and surprisingly it starred an actor named Matt Salinger who is the son of J.D Salinger, author of the book "The Catcher in the Rye". The funny thing about this movie is that there were actually some pretty famous names involved including Ned Beatty (Network, Deliverance), Darren McGavin (A Christmas Story), Melinda Dillion (A Christmas Story, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Magnolia) and Ronny Cox (Robocop, Deliverance, Total Recall) and even all that couldn't save this cheap ugly mess.
The story is incredibly convoluted, even for a comic book movie, and Matt Salinger as Captain America is surprisingly wooden and really unlikable. In two different scenes, Captain America actually steals a car from two different unsuspecting people. Isn't Captain America supposed to be fighting crime... not causing it? They couldn't even keep Red Skull with a red skull. Do yourself a favor and skip this clear Marvel miss.
Hit - The Incredible Hulk
Most people seem to forget about The Incredible Hulk as one of the phase one movies and I can sort of see why. People mostly know Mark Ruffalo in the role of Bruce Banner now and none of the side characters from the film have made an appearance in the MCU since then. I'm sure non-comic book fans will have already forgotten who General Thunderbolt Ross is by the time Captain America: Civil War opens in theaters. However, regardless of that, The Incredible Hulk is still a very enjoyable and serviceable Hulk movie to introduce the character for the Avengers movie. Edward Norton was great as the titular character and Liv Tyler was very likable in the role of Betty Ross but it was William Hurt who really shined in the role as one of Hulk's archenemies Thunderbolt Ross who constantly hunts Hulk and wants to use him as a weapon.
The film isn't perfect though as Tim Roth is wasted in the movie as a usual boring power-hungry villain, and they wasted another potentially good villain with the tease of Hulk's archnemesis The Leader. But still, the film stands tall as one of Marvel's hits.
Miss - Hulk
Hulk was really never meant to work as superhero film. Ang Lee has done some great work with Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but he was a terrible choice to direct this movie. Not only were the special effects right out of a Pixar animation studio but it was just so freaking boring. Ang Lee is known for directing deep think pieces with a lot of beautiful shots and unfortunately he used that same technique when directing this film about a giant green rage monster who smashes things. Not only that but the scene transitions are just annoying.
It's like Ang Lee told the editors that people won't know that they're watching a comic book movie unless they put in some wacky comical scene transitions. The acting is also very corny, especially from the film's villains Nick Nolte and Josh Lucas. The only saving grace of this film is Sam Elliot as General Ross, he seemed like the only guy who was appropriately cast who looked and acted like his comic counterpart. Unfortunately, he is not enough to save this terrible Marvel miss... Hulk dogs... seriously!?!?!?!
Hit - Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy was real gamble for Marvel Studios because the comics that the characters were based were not very well known among the movie going audiences and it was a very silly concept. A team that comprised of a half human/half alien, a female green assassin, another bruting muscle-head alien, a talking raccoon and a giant talking tree with a limited vocabulary. However, the film work amazingly as it gave us great performances from Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper and even Vin Diesel who only had to say the same three words over and over again. All the characters had great chemistry together with the most memorable and funniest character being the cynical but lovable Rocket Raccoon.
The action was Star Wars quality with big fight scenes and epic space battles. Unfortunately, the villains of the film weren't very interesting but by this time of the Marvel movies we've come to expect that. We also finally got our first full look at Thanos whose been built up since the first Avengers film. Even though it looks like a dumb idea from the outside, you'll see a film about camaraderie and friendship with an awesome soundtrack from the '70s. Make sure you do not miss out on this Marvel hit.
Miss - Howard the Duck
Much like Guardians of the Galaxy, Howard the Duck was another big gamble for the studios because it was actually Marvel's very first big budget superhero film... and boy did it bomb. I don't know who thought, with all of the great heroes to choose from, that Howard the Duck would be a good choice to adapt a movie into. Don't get me wrong, Howard the Duck can be an enjoyable comic book character that can offer some humor but compared to Spider-Man, Captain America, Thor and many others, he was a complete unknown to the general public. Not only did the film just not work with such an obscure comic book character but it's also just an incredibly unpleasant movie to watch.
A lot of the characters are very unlikable with a lot of them trying to kill and/or eat Howard because he's simply a talking duck. The film's story was also pretty out there as it didn't even really follow any of the comical stories from the comic books. It's a film about a talking duck who knows Quack-Fu, it's already a silly movie and you might as well go all out with it. Bring in characters like Dracula or Hellcow to make it more intentionally hilarious. This movie also had a pretty decent cast with Lea Thompson (Back to the Future franchise), Jeffery Jones (Beetlejuice, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) and Tim Robbins (Shawshank Redemption, Mystic River) but thankfully each actor found success after what is probably Marvel's biggest film flop and an obvious miss.
Honorable Miss Mentions
1. Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D
I don't think they really meant for this made-for-TV film to be anything really good but just a fun little dumb B-movie to laugh at. It's hard to really hate on anything that stars the king of cheesy acting himself, David Hasselhoff. It's a movie that doesn't disgrace the character of Nick Fury but more parodies him. It's still in no meaning of the word good but it you can still have fun watching it, laughing at it and making fun of it.
2. Ghost Rider and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Both these films just don't work. Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze most certainly doesn't work and I don't know how the first film got an even more crappy sequel. The first film wasn't the worst superhero movie ever but it still had Nicolas Cage who gave a very boring performance (which is strange because he's a big fan of the character) and the dialogue and story were incredibly cheesy for a 2007 superhero film. The second film gave us a much more nutty performance from Cage and the editing was just awful with constant quick cuts and fast forwarding.
It's almost like the editor of the film was on cocaine for duration of the film and incorporated that into his work. I will admit though, the scene where he smashes the devil back to hell at the end of the movie was pretty awesome. However, these movies are still awful but now that the film rights are back with Marvel Studios, maybe we'll get something more true to the comic books.
3. The Punisher (1989), The Punisher (2004) and Punisher: War Zone
It's no secret that all of the Punisher movies have been less than average. You'd think that this would be the easiest Marvel character to portray to the screen as he's just a grounded vigilante who kills low-life criminals and attacks the Mafia. However, a lot of the time the films have trouble portraying Frank Castle as the rage-filled violent killer he really is. Thomas Jane was great in the role and Punisher: Dirty Laundry stands as one of my favorite things period but his film lacked the violent action that made the comic books so great. Punisher: War Zone tried the R-rated route with the character but the whole feel of the movie came off as cheap and kind of silly with an over-the-top performance from the film's villain, Jigsaw.
I must also mention that Jigsaw was not in the Punisher: War Zone comics that the movie was based on. Hopefully Jon Bernthal can finally give us a proper defining Punisher performace.
4. Fantastic Four (1994), Fantastic Four (2005), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Fan4stic
Much like Punisher, Fantastic Four has not had any luck in the movie department. The problem with the early films is that they were slow and featured really dated special effects. Also almost everyone in the 2005 film was shockingly miscast with special mention to Jessica Alba and Julian McMahon... for some reason, they thought that it'd be appropriate for Jessica Alba to show her underwear three times in the movie. The recent reboot of Fantastic Four was absolutely terrible to nobody's surprise as everyone knew that the only reason the movie existed is because FOX needed to keep the movie rights to the characters.
It's too bad too because you can do a lot with Fantastic Four with a lot of epic space battles, other dimensions and so on but the movies range from either too silly or too broody and they both backfire big time. One day everyone... one day Marvel Studios get the rights back and make a good Fantastic Four movie.