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Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe

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What is the best Marvel movie?

When Avengers: Endgame arrived, it marked the culmination of 11 years and 22 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

Lucky for fans, Marvel isn’t slowing down, continuing to produce more and more movies to add to their cannon. And with the release of each new installment, we try and answer that perpetual question: which of the Marvel Studios movies is the best? Here are all the Marvel films ranked from favorite to least favorite, as judged by our wonderful staff. Enjoy!

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Iron Man 2

23. Iron Man 2 (2010)

With superhero movies, more often than not the second film tends to be the best of the series. The reason is simple: having dispensed with the obligatory origin tale, the filmmakers can now weave a more compelling narrative. One only needs to look at Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight, and Captain America: Winter Solider as just a few examples to back this claim. Unfortunately, Iron Man 2 does not fit in that camp, and is in no way as good nor better than its predecessor.

That’s not to say the second installment of the Marvel comic-turned-movie-hero’s adventures isn’t worth seeing, because it is. As in the first Iron Man, the main attraction here isn’t the plot, but Robert Downey Jr., who once again owns the film with his innate charisma and ability to deliver cutting lines of dialogue with pitch-perfect timing. In fact, he’s so good that despite the appearance of both Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell (two fine actors in their own right), the best scenes are those that revolve around Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow (as Stark’s resistant assistant, Pepper Potts), or those that revolve around just Downey himself. That isn’t to say that the villains aren’t memorable, because they are; Rockwell’s Justin Hammer proves the ideal adversary, and Rourke’s Russian physicist Ivan Vanko does pump new blood into the franchise. But without Downey, Iron Man 2 would be just another run-of-the-mill summer blockbuster.

If anything, Iron Man 2 further proves what I’ve been saying for ten years: the casting of Robert Downey Jr. might just be the best casting choice in the history of Hollywood blockbusters, and without him the Marvel cinematic universe may not be as popular as it is today. (Ricky D)

Thor

22. Thor (2011)

When it comes to the Thor series, most people would agree that the third time’s the charm, but the original Thor still has a few things going for it. Kenneth Branagh brings a Shakespearean feel to the Asgaard portions, and Sir Anthony Hopkins as Odin is an example of perfect casting. Most importantly, Thor introduced the world to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, Marvel’s only decent villain. Bad guys have always been the MCU’s Achilles heel, to the point where Civil War abandoned them altogether and just had the heroes fight each other. Loki has always been the one exception. More than just something for Thor to punch, Loki is a villain with pathos. Sure, he’s a jerk — but he’s a relatable jerk. Who among us hasn’t lashed out at a parent or a more popular sibling?

Now onto the bad: Thor is also our first on-screen introduction to Hawkeye, the most useless Avenger of all. Thor himself is also just not that interesting of a character — at least without the other Avengers to bounce off of (Hawkeye not included). Thor presents the mighty thunder god as an easy-to-manipulate, quick-to-anger, spoiled little prince who won’t hesitate to throw a temper tantrum when he doesn’t get his way. Chris Hemsworth’s initial portrayal of Thor is stiff and light years away from the easy-going joker he plays in Thor: Ragnarok. The fish-out-of-water parts of Thor that take place on earth are nowhere near as interesting as the royal intrigue going on in Asgard, and exist only to introduce Thor to SHIELD and potential love interest Jane Foster. Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth don’t have a ton of chemistry, and their budding romance feels shoehorned in. Thor would have benefited from a structure similar to Captain America: The First Avenger — set the whole story in Asgaard and save Thor’s arrival on Earth until the very end. Instead, we got a film that keeps switching from an engaging location to one that’s just… blah.

Thor is not a bad movie; it’s not even the worst Marvel movie (hey Iron Man 2, how’s it going?) but it’s not a good movie either, and it’s certainly not essential. If you’re trying to catch up on the MCU, you can skip right from Captain America to Avengers and not miss a beat. However, if you’re a completionist than by all means give Thor a watch. Just be prepared to focus most of your attention on his brother. (Zachary Zagranis)

Ranking the Marvel Movies

21. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Sometimes good things do come in small packages.

While not the biggest MCU movie, Ant-Man and the Wasp improves on the first Ant-Man in nearly every way possible while also adding a timely new twist. Compared to Avengers: Infinity War, which came out a month earlier, Ant-Man and the Wasp doesn’t have the same emotional investment but regardless, it’s a refreshing comedic detour that gets by on the cast’s easygoing chemistry. Nobody dies in this movie and the stakes are not quite as high as other MCU films, but Ant-Man and the Wasp avoids the biggest problem with most MCU films by creating a standalone story that doesn’t rely on guest appearances by other superheroes. In other words, anyone can watch this film without having seen any of the other twenty two films in the MCU and still understand what’s going on and more importantly, enjoy it for what it is. Kudos to director, Peyton Reed (who also made the first Ant-Man) for wonderfully blending comedy, action and a ton of personality – and personality goes a long way in these Hollywood blockbusters that for the most part, more often than not, feel way too similar. (Ricky D)

Thor 2

20. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Call me crazy, but Thor: The Dark World is a seriously underrated film. It may not be the finest movie to come from the Marvel brand, but The Dark World offers plenty of the humor, great world building, high-stakes action, and one of the better villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet.

For my money, Thor: The Dark World is if anything, better than the original — a looser, sillier and more violent hybrid of science fiction and fantasy. Written by the fantasy vets Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the second installment escapes the oppressive duty of franchise building and expands on both the titular character and his homeworld, Asgard. Replacing Kenneth Branagh in the director’s chair, TV-trained Alan Taylor (Game Of Thrones) adapts more gracefully to the Marvel house style; for once, the action is clean and coherently staged, and Taylor brings some of the gravity and grandeur to this universe.

That said, the movie’s most valuable asset may be Tom Hiddleston, reprising the role of Thor’s deliciously malevolent adoptive brother, Loki. He’s the only person onscreen with truly complicated motives, and Hiddleston reveals new depths to the character. Forget the fairy-tale romance between Jane and the God of Thunder — the real emotional center of the Thor series is, and always has been, the sibling rivalry. (Ricky D)

Incredible Hulk Movie

19. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

It feels like blasphemy to think that Marvel never knew what it was doing, but in its infancy in 2008, that was exactly the fear with the first post-Iron Man piece of the Avengers. The Incredible Hulk was the reboot, releasing five years after Ang Lee’s iteration was panned by comic book aficionados. Acting as something of a stealth sequel, director Louis Leterrier’s version compresses the origin to a single main title sequence before finding Bruce Banner on the run in South America. As played by Edward Norton, this Banner is part Bill Bixby TV version, and part every other milquetoast Norton character. He uses a heart rate monitor to prevent his adrenaline from spiking and unleashing the beast, a departure from years of Marvel lore (and an affectation quickly dropped in the ensuing sequels). Once back in the States, Banner must face the nefarious General Ross, continue his pining for Ross’s daughter, Betty, and go big-toe-to-big-toe with Emil Blonsky aka The Abomination.

What results is a mash of chase thriller, Frankenstein love story, and laughable CGI throwdown that neither thrills nor satisfies. In a way, Incredible Hulk is the green-headed stepchild of the MCU, torn between what the franchise would become and what it had been for years (think of all the Marvel movies that aren’t good Spider-Mans or X-Mens). Norton brings none of the wry humor of Mark Ruffalo or the convincing anguish of Eric Bana. In fact, every cast member seems like a downgrade from the previous Ang Lee version: Liv Tyler < Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt < Sam Elliot, Tim Roth < Nick Nolte. By the time we get to the smashing, it’s as safe and perfunctory as Hulk’s purple little shorts. Say what you will about the 2003 Hulk, but it swung for the pop art fences. The Incredible Hulk is a placeholder in a franchise that would soon value formula above all, but a winning formula nonetheless. (Shane Ramirez)

Ranking the Marvel Movies

18. Captain Marvel (2019)

It’s a shame that the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe led by a female superhero isn’t better. The truth is, Captain Marvel, coming only a year after the fantastic Black Panther, is a disappointment and a film that shares more in common with the generic comic book movies of yesteryear than its modern-day contemporaries.

The good news, however, is that Captain Marvel is still a good movie thanks to the charisma and presence of actress Brie Larson, who is by far the best reason to see the movie. Larson is perfectly cast in the lead role and strikes the perfect balance between humour, self-doubt, bravery, and arrogance – not to mention her no-nonsense military persona is a welcome contrast to the more flamboyant idiosyncrasies of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man.

Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel deserved a better movie but at least the movie gets by because of its humor, strong central character and nostalgic Nineties vibe. It also helps that Captain Marvel features a great performance by Samuel L. Jackson, who hams it up gloriously as a digitally de-aged Nick Fury, and a remarkable super cat named Goose to further ram home the Top Gun nostalgia. Let’s just hope that the sequel will be far more interested in fleshing out its titular heroine than it is in filling in the blanks of the MCU. (Ricky D)

ant-man-marvel-movies-ranked-best-worst-gallery

17. Ant-Man (2015)

As far as Marvel Cinematic Universe success stories go, Ant-Man is at the top of the list. Marvel began work on the tiny-sized hero way back in 2006 with Edgar Wright attached to direct. After a falling out due to creative differences, Peyton Reed stepped in and gave life to Hank Pym and Scott Lang in San Francisco. Ant-Man as a story is a Phase 2 adventure that works on the outer rim of the MCU similar to Guardians of the Galaxy — it’s a film that introduces audiences to a character that’s relatively new to the comic book scene, and increases the genre diversity of Marvel. Ant-Man is a heist film that is closer to the ground in the MCU than ever before, with its own added visual flair to match.

Scott Lang is a likeable character that falls in line with some of the other Marvel Universes lovable idiots, and the film does a great job of showcasing that — from the debate to why he’s even there in the first place when our future Wasp, Hope Van Dyne, is clearly more prepared and equipped to stop Darren Cross to the hilarious learning curve when he eventually dons the Ant-Man suit. Ant-Man’s visuals and the world gets a lot better when Scott shrinks down to ant-size (and even smaller when in the Quantum Realm), and there’s something to be said about a film that gives the audience an emotional reaction to an ant dying. From the insane suitcase and Thomas, the Tank Engine fights to the connections to the larger Marvel Universe, Ant-Man is a film that stands comfortably as one of the more unique Marvel properties. The film set out as an action-comedy that’s about a superheroic heist, and it paid off in spades because at the heart it’s about a Dad trying to do right by his family. (Terrence Sage)

Avengers-age-of-ultron-thor-37941972-500-225

16. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Avengers: Age of Ultron is tonally and visually very similar to the first Avengers film (no surprise there, with director Joss Whedon helming both), but after the giddy delight of watching the team eat shawarma together amidst New York rubble, the heads at Marvel had to work a little harder to maintain the magic of simply seeing our heroes on screen at the same time. It used to be enough to watch Captain America and Tony Stark size each other up and trade barbs, but Age of Ultron needed to go a step beyond its predecessor to add depth and tension to character relationships, and it doesn’t always meet the mark.

Released a year after genre-bending game changers like Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ultron plays it safe in most regards. The cast is only getting stronger with new additions like Elizabeth Olsen and a full-bodied Paul Bettany, but that means less screen time for each character as the stage continues to fill. It doesn’t help that they aren’t given much to work with in ways of unique material.

James Spader voices Ultron, the main villain who turns against Tony in an almost Frankenstein-esque manner. Spader is a wonderful voice actor and brings a lot of energy to the film, but his broad threats of another apocalyptic doom don’t exactly set him apart from most Marvel villains. Natasha and Bruce start to develop a tentative connection that humanizes both of them in new ways, but their relationship is left dangling before it can really begin. Strangely enough, Thor spends most of his time away from the main action, pursuing knowledge about the Infinity Stones, a shoehorned arc that acts as both an afterthought of Thor: The Dark World and a prologue to Thor: Ragnarok.

Age of Ultron is still fun and even delightful when it slows down and allows the cast to interact, both in battle and out of it. The best scene of the film takes place with the heroes as they drink and laugh, trying to lift Thor’s hammer. In this ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is nice to just take a breath every once in a while. All that said, even with a reliable cast and tight cinematic action sequences, Age of Ultron is little more than a solid stepping stone between Phases Two and Three. (Meghan Cook)

ranking the Marvel movies

15. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Spider-Man: Far From Home, the 23rd installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is surprisingly uncomplicated, especially for a tale that wrestles with the aftermath of Thanos’ snap. The screenplay (credited to Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers) deals with the reality of Parker, a 16-year-old kid from Queens who is still navigating high school life post-“blip,” and what it means to be a superhero while trying to balance an ordinary teenage life. Compared to many of the other Marvel films, Far From Home keeps things relatively simple as Peter Parker (once again played wonderfully by Brit wunderkind Tom Holland) is still a high-school kid, and his summer plans involve a class trip that rips through Europe and a shot to romance his high school sweetheart MJ (Zendaya) — and maybe, just maybe, steal a kiss atop the Eiffel Tower.

There’s nothing surprising about the setup, nor the first big twist involving the high-profile addition of Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio, but Far From Home ends up being one of the more entertaining and satisfying installments in Marvel’s never-ending story cycle, thanks to a tautly constructed narrative and the talent of director Jon Watts, who keep things moving while always maintaining the light, amusing tone that made the first film such a success. (Ricky D)

guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-teaser-rocket-raccoon-baby-groot-2a

14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Can a movie starring a CGI raccoon make a grown adult cry? If that movie is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 the answer is an emphatic yes. One of the few MCU films to feel like it wasn’t birthed by a committee, Guardians 2 checks all the right boxes for a summer blockbuster while still being an earnest exploration of family dynamics — dysfunctional and otherwise.

Guardians Vol. 2 begins with a gonzo opening sequence that finds the team alternating between throwing down with a giant space-worm and taking time out to co-parent a reincarnated Groot. ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” plays over the whole shebang, and though it’s not the first song that comes to mind when one thinks “big action set piece,” it’s the perfect tune for an anthropomorphic sapling to dance to. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is full of inspired song choices, proving once again that James Gunn is a master of soundtrack cultivation. The dude has a preternatural gift for picking the right song at the right moment. If you don’t shed a tear when Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” plays over Yondu’s funeral, you might be a robot.

At the heart of the film is Peter Quill’s relationships with both his biological father, Ego, and his surrogate guardian, Yondu Udonta. The former wants Peter to carry on his legacy, and the latter just wants Peter to know that he really cares about him. When Yondu tells Peter “He may have been your father, boy, but he wasn’t your daddy. I’m sorry I didn’t do none of it right. I’m damn lucky you’re my boy,” it punches you right in the heart. It may be a cliche, but it’s a cliche that works. When you add in Gamora’s issues with her sister, Nebula, and Rocket’s issues with…well, everyone else, it becomes clear that James Gunn wanted GOTG Vol.2  to have a level of emotional depth and sincerity missing from most other Marvel movies.

Anyone who knows Gunn knows he wouldn’t make Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 all dour moments and deep revelations; there are jokes too. In fact, Guardians 2 ranks right up there with the original Guardians and Thor: Ragnarok as one of the funniest films in the entire Marvel canon. The scene where Yondu and Rocket try to get Groot to bring them Yondu’s fin only to wind up receiving a severed toe (among other random items) is full of absurdist hilarity. Rocket’s translation of Groot’s rant about how much he hates hats is priceless. Unlike Thor: Ragnarok however, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2  doesn’t undercut its dramatic scenes with non-stop gags. It’s not afraid to breathe during emotional moments.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is the rare sequel that’s smaller and more intimate than the original, and the rare MCU flick that focuses more on character development than laying the groundwork for future Marvel films. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a $200 million dollar comic book movie full of real emotion and heart. Can a movie starring a CGI raccoon make a grown adult cry? You’re frickin’ right it can. (Zachary Zagranis)

Doctor Strange Movie

13. Doctor Strange (2016)

You could make an argument for why Doctor Strange does nothing new. It follows almost beat-for-beat the pre-established formula showcased by the countless Marvel films that came before it. Yet you could also make the argument that Doctor Strange is fantastic because it follows the successful and lovable structure that has helped the MCU succeed so extraordinarily.

There is so much that is familiar. Give us an eccentric and wealthy individual, brimming with confidence and lacking humility. After a life-changing event, this character is rocked to their core, unable to continue living in the manner they did before. They seek a new answer and begin training whatever ability they are destined to master. Eventually, they excel past all those around them, face a homicidal adversary, and get greenlit for a sequel. I could be talking about Iron Man, Captain America or Ant-Man, so you can see why unlike Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy, or Iron Man 3, Doctor Strange is a generic MCU origin story. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good. We’ve come to expect these films, and religiously tune in knowing full well that a sequel or team-up movie is where this character will really shine.

Perhaps Strange will get the Ragnarok or Civil War treatment, but for now, he’ll have to settle with a familiar-but-incredibly-well-polished origin story. It isn’t a fantastic piece of cinema in isolation, but if you’re invested in Marvel’s expansive cinematic universe, it’s a necessary and enjoyable inclusion. (Chris Bowring)

Thanos

12. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

The third Avengers movie and the 19th entry into the ongoing series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) seems made specifically to tie all the loose knots, connect all the dots, and make lots and lots of money. It does all that and so much more!

Avengers: Infinity War knows what it wants to be, and goes about pursuing that goal with relentless energy. The filmmakers aren’t interested in a stand-alone story — instead, Avengers: Infinity War is an epic crossover with an unwavering devotion to spectacle and action. It’s overstuffed with an all-star cast, beloved characters, and moves with breakneck speed, yet despite the many ingredients to stir into this overflowing pot, the talented team at Marvel Studios have found a way to balance the many moving parts and deliver what is truly an entertaining movie from start to finish.

Infinity War won’t change the hearts of those who say they’re tired of the superhero genre, but it will satisfy the deep-rooted escapist desire most movie-goers expect. Of course, there’s a sense of incompleteness surrounding the ending that will leave some viewers wanting more, but that can soon be dealt with. (Ricky D)

Avengers Endgame

11. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Eleven years after movie-goers were introduced to IronmanAvengers: Endgame, the 22nd entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the fourth movie to bear the Avengers moniker, has concluded the most ambitious cinematic accomplishment to date. Avengers: Endgame is a staggering achievement– a three-hour extravaganza that wraps up an epic story in which the survival of the known universe is at stake thanks to the simple snap of a finger.

It’s no secret that Infinity War was never intended as a stand-alone story, instead, it was meant to be viewed as part one of an epic adventure that would be concluded in Infinity War Part 2 (later re-titled as Endgame). Needless to say, Avengers: Endgame isn’t a movie in the traditional sense; it’s the final chapter in a two-part saga which itself is part of a bigger story, a story, a decade in the making.

Much like the episodic nature of television, Avengers: Endgame is thus better viewed (and reviewed) as an installment. It relies on audiences having consumed a whopping twenty two films with religious zeal and demands that they put in the time of watching and rewatching these movies in order to fully appreciate the meticulous planning by the corporate wigs and talented filmmakers behind the scenes. And much like a series finale of a television series, Avengers: Endgame is for all intents and purposes, a series of big events that puts various storylines to a close. As to whether or not that multi-part storytelling formula works, is a debate for another time – but as it stands, Avengers: Endgame brings Marvel’s unprecedented master plan full circle, and with it, the MCU will never be quite the same. (Ricky D)

PART TWO

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‘Rojo’ Takes Carefully Composed Aim at Argentina’s Murky Past

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Getting off to a creepy and crackling start, Benjamín Nasihtat’s Rojo can’t quite live up to its opening promise while admirably trying to navigate a muddied maze of vague suspicion around a small town in Argentina during the 1970s before the coup. Still, though the story bumps into a few dead ends before finally emerging into some light at the finish, exquisite compositions — punctuated by occasional bursts that mimic the time period’s cinematic style — and a quietly simmering performance from star Darío Grandinetti manage to keep things engaging enough throughout this low-key thriller.

Rojo vacation

After a mysterious opening shot in which an abandoned house in a pleasant neighborhood is calmly looted by various locals, Rojo directs our attention to a cozy, upscale restaurant where respectable lawyer Claudio sits alone, waiting for his wife, courteously acknowledged by other similarly well-off patrons. He draws the ire of another customer, who abrasively chides Claudio for occupying a table when he is not ready to order, thus depriving those who are. Pretending to take the higher road, Claudio gives up his seat, but can’t resist also giving this rude young man a lecture of his own — one that despite its refined vocabulary, smacks of hostile superiority. From there, an altercation ensues that will not only haunt Claudio for the rest of the film, but also stand for a certain societal rot that took over a country.

The sequence is chilling in its callousness, the way in which a person is removed from a restaurant — and a community — with nary a blink of an eye; soon, everyone is back to chattering away, enjoying their meals as if a mere pest had entered and was quickly shooed away. Beneath their civilized faces, however, their are subtle signs of deep unease. Rojo expertly creates a tension here that it will then go on to very slowly dilute, as more and more tangents are given prominence in an attempt to reinforce already clear themes without shedding new light on them.

Rojo locker room

The paranoia and guilt lurking beneath nearly every interaction in Rojo serves to bring attention to the various disappearances that take place and are alluded to throughout the story. That fear of being “disappeared” without a trace is a clear reference to the “los desaparecidos” — political dissidents from the era who either fled the country or were kidnapped and murdered in the wake of a military coup that wanted to silence opposition. The premise that one can suddenly say the wrong thing and summarily be erased from society while everyone looks the other way is an inherently scary one, and that pervading atmosphere goes a long way toward making Rojo highly watchable.

However, once the general idea is firmly and skillfully established, Rojo seems to have little place else to go with it. A subplot involving selling the house from the prologue is mildly interesting in how it portrays the opportunistic behavior that capitalized on atrocity, but the process eventually fizzles out. American rodeo cowboys pay a visit, alluding to U.S. involvement during the coup, but not much else. A trip to the beach perhaps shows a bit of the pressure that gets to those who have had to turn a blind eye for so long, but little else is garnered outside a stylish depiction of a solar eclipse that washes the screen symbolic red. A teenage romance seems like it’s reaching for something important to say about dominance and jealousy, but can’t come up with more than another disappearance — and of a character who might as well be a nobody regardless, for the few minutes they are on screen.

A missing doctor, a magician’s act, a church confrontation; the power of the vanishings is undermined somewhat by their frequency. But maybe that’s the point — that we all can be desensitized to injustice.

Rojo teens

Still, whether or not one finds meaning, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off such gorgeously composed images as Nasihtat has crafted here. Though its plot often seems to lack focus, Rojo still emits a feeling of pinpoint exactitude through pictures. Nearly every frame is a joy to examine, creating a palpable sense that angles and staging have been meticulously prepared to convey important information key to unlocking the script’s mysteries. Restrained use of zooms and freeze frames also help inject some period style into the proceedings, and can be effectively startling. Holding it all together though is the repressed performance of Darío Grandinetti, who masterfully finds the quiet fear and hypocrisy in a certain kind of ‘upright’ citizen. As the various pressures grow (including from a big-city TV investigator played by Alfredo Castro), will he be able to hold it together?

The payoff is a bit anti-climactic, but Rojo has already been trending that way since the beginning. Nevertheless, it does conclude on a more explicit note, and there is a great visual pleasure to be had from simply watching this story unfold in such sharp, capable filmmaking hands.

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‘Queen of Hearts’ is a Frank and Difficult Look at Sexual Desire

Trine Dyrholm is typically brilliant in Danish film ‘Queen of Hearts’ — playing an older woman embarking on an affair with her stepson.

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Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts starts with a rather banal scene. Anne (Trine Dyrholm) walks through the woods with her dog. Her children are just outside her large, glass-heavy house. She goes inside, where her husband, Peter (Magnus Krepper), says police have called and he has to go. She looks outside at some barren trees, dramatic strings play, and the title credits come on; it’s a seemingly innocuous moment curdled into something far more ominous. 

This opening salvo with something moody and dark hiding within the banality and reliability of a simple family scene (later revealed to be in the future) sums up the Official Danish Best International Film submission Queen of Hearts as a whole. This is a film of bad decisions, loneliness, and creaky moral boundaries, interrogating the mores of modern womanhood against the backdrop of supposed domestic perfection. 

Our protagonist, Anne, is a lawyer who works with children who have been abused. She knows how to talk to young victims of rape and neglect, balancing a firm sense of what’s right with the necessary language to give these children hope. But she has difficulties switching from work to home, unable to give her twin daughters the affection they deserve. One way for anyone to switch off and focus on life outside of work, of course, is to engage in some form of intimacy; yet, her hypocritical, workaholic doctor husband has little time to give her any attention in the bedroom. 

When Peter’s teenage son, Gustav (Gustav Lindh), turns up to stay for the summer, Anne is immediately attracted to his moodiness and sexual swagger. Their slow seduction scenes seem to all come from different movies: porno (he suddenly comes out of the shower in the towel), summer indie drama (a scene in a lake with splashing water and an ecstatic soundtrack), and eventually horror (a writhing, overly staged sex scene in the dark that is extremely shocking in its frankness). 

These shifts in tone reflect the film’s queasy study in shifting sympathies, making Queen of Hearts a modern morality play baked in typically Scandinavian seriousness. Is Anne simply engaging in a harmless affair, rediscovering her long-dormant sexuality? Or is the age difference simply too far? With echoes of both The Hunt (2012) and the women-focused sex-dramas of Lars von Trier, it is sure to provoke a mixture of praise for its brazen female sexual gaze, and eventually disgust for where this gaze finally takes us. 

Queen of Hearts

Most of us assume that we are good people, even as we are engaging in less than savoury activities. It may look bad to people on the outside, but we have our reasons. The ever-reliable Trine Dyrholm turns in another mesmerising performance here, balancing her own lack of sexual self-confidence against her outwardly authoritative presence as a lawyer. Even if we cannot agree with what she does, Dyrholm successfully conveys her character’s complexity, making her sympathetic throughout. But just as we can never judge ourselves objectively, we can never know the ultimate effect our actions may have on others, especially in a dynamic such as this, leading to some bitter results. 

Queen of Hearts asks the viewer to never make assumptions, to think outside of clichés, and to really dig deep into the true heart of the matter. Director May el-Toukhy knows she has strong actors and a strong screenplay here, employing minimal tricks to just let them get on and really chew into the material. While unlikely to make it into the final Oscar shortlist, Queen of Hearts deserves a lot of credit for its utter brazenness and steadfast commitment to its difficult premise.

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‘Ford v Ferrari’ Drives Fast with Little Under the Hood

A classic Hollywood drama with fast cars and a stellar Christian Bale performance that feels great despite a lack of emotional substance.

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Ford v Ferrari

Many directors always struggle with producers and other businessmen to retain their vision. What might work most for that vision may not be what focus tests and audiences have proven to enjoy, so the film gets reworked and reworked until it becomes a box office hit, and potentially retains a director’s intent. Ford v Ferrari doesn’t necessarily feel like that — this is a James Mangold film in many regards — but by the end of its story of vision and skill versus marketing and business agendas, Mangold’s latest wrestles with placing trust in an individual against an entire body of suits.

When Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is approached by Ford Motors to create a car fast enough to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (an annual racing event where drivers go all day and night around the same track), he is forced to fight tooth-and-nail to get the best driver for the job: Ken Miles (Christian Bale). Shelby’s fight is singular; he wants to win the Le Mans, and knows that Miles is the only one who can do it. Yet, Ford Motors is still a company with many eyes on them, and employing the hot-headed Miles as a driver could be disastrous. So begins a struggle for Shelby and Miles to have their desires met by a company looking at the bottom line. That struggle — one that underscores every decision made by the characters in the film — is what sits at the core of Ford v Ferrari, and keeps things interesting. Set that aside, however, and the film loses a lot of momentum.

Ford v Ferrari

Still, the racing will grip audiences throughout. The final Le Mans challenge runs for a decent portion of Ford v Ferrari and is engaging throughout, but there are several other races and practices where Mangold’s craftsmanship as a filmmaker shines bright. Miles sits in the driver’s seat of all of these moments, and Bale’s performance is never stronger than when his character has that need for speed. Miles is a passionate driver with pure intentions, and Bale gives him a lot of wit and heart in between huge swings of emotion. It’s a performance that stands tall but doesn’t distract, instead meshing extremely well with the action.

Meanwhile, the other performances are also solid. Matt Damon is very good in the role of Shelby, though his character is quite often reserved because he has to be. When you put him against Bale, however, it’s clear that Shelby pales to the race car driver’s fleshed-out character, as we follow the latter’s family, his rejections and successes, and his pure heart. In the backdrop is a wide array of supporting actors, including Caitriona Balfe as Mollie Miles, Josh Lucas as the thorn in Shelby’s side, Jon Bernthal playing a standard Jon Bernthal role, and Tracy Letts chewing up scenery whenever he can as Henry Ford II. Letts and Lucas in particular give great caricatured performances, planting Ford v Ferrari into a more standard Hollywood drama.

Ford v Ferrari

Largely that’s the problem: Ford v Ferrari is a technical achievement with some incredible craftsmanship and performances that just never feels as great at slow times as it does when it’s moving past 7000 RPMs. It has a need for speed, and the pacing shows that, but it also doesn’t really rise very high above what’s needed to please an audience. Mangold is great at deriving emotional substance out of a subject, but a lot of that in Ford v Ferrari is left on the shoulders of Bale’s performance. Instead, the film focuses heavily on the bureaucratic side of things, and how that hinders talented people from being who they are destined to be. While fun to watch, there isn’t much more that will have Ford v Ferrari lingering with audiences. Instead, this will be a movie that resonates with racing fans and those that struggle against restrictions, keeping general audience satisfied in their big Hollywood dramas for the time being.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 14 as part of our coverage of The Toronto International Film Festival.

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