For this week’s Top Pick, I decided to name my favorite science fiction movie. As it happens, I can explore a number of my criteria in determining such.
People sometimes ask, “Star Wars or Star Trek?” And I have to answer, “Are we pretending Episodes One, Two, and Three did not happen?” Because if we take both franchises in their entirety, I don’t really prefer one or the other. The original trilogy rocks, but adding in the other three takes it down a notch.
I thought perhaps, Stargate SG-1, but not only is that a TV show, it also suffers from its connection to Atlantis (good show, but not my favorite) and, ugh, Universe. Yeah, we really did not need or want “Battlestargate Galactica,” thank you very much.
Perhaps The Matrix, but not only have I not seen the two-part sequel, but I understand they would not be my favorites anyway. The Riddick series comes to mind, but Chronicles of Riddick took a more fantastical approach to the sci-fi story, which turned me off a bit (though Alexa Davalos certainly didn’t!) and I haven’t seen the third one yet. Transformers was good, at least the first one, but now they’ve produced three sub-par sequels, and being outnumbered three-to-one is too much even for Optimus Prime. Pacific Rim had a premise that was cool, but a little too big (seriously, why invest everything in half a dozen suits when you can obviously produce ten thousand smaller versions, make humans like the ants that kill everything in their path?), The Fifth Element was a little too ridiculous (in no small part due to the annoying black guy who screamed everything), Serenity, though a strong contender, didn’t quite hit the right notes with Inara, Book, and Haven (River slaughtering the Reavers was epic!), even Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t fit as my “favorite” sci-fi movie (though it’s really freaking awesome!) as something so recent feel like a flash-in-the-pan favorite. Certainly I like each of these films, and they rank among my favorites, but “my favorite” is something which should not be easily nudged out of its spot at the top.
So what can top each and every one of these?
Nothing less than the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Yes, I know, it’s kind of cheating, naming an entire franchise instead of a single movie (this would not have stopped me with Star Wars, mind you), particularly one so large (and growing) and diverse as the MCU. Not only are the films all unique, but it’s branched out into television shows, Netflix series, miniseries, and shorts. It’s also not what I typically think of when I think sci-fi, but it really is. It has ancient powers, futuristic technology, superpowers, aliens, secret agents, super serums, interstellar conflicts, and more. But, really, there is not one of these movies I do not love, and not one reasonable circumstance (unless it’s an emergency, which is not a reasonable circumstance) where I would say “no” to a marathon of them. All of them.
And perhaps this is just me still on a high from all the MCU news lately, but everything this franchise has produced and promises to produce in the future, all together, just puts me in a perpetual geek-out mode. It hits all my buttons just right. I love it.
Iron Man introduced us to the concept of the MCU, with a hedonistic billionaire with a streak of mad science in his blood, who endures a traumatic experience, fights his way out, and returns home transformed. Incredible Hulk brings in a genius with major anger control issues as a fugitive from the U.S. Military, pitting him against a malicious giant (though it was weak in terms of character development… the villain developed more than the hero). Iron Man 2 took us back to the first guy, who made a cameo in Incredible Hulk, much like Nick Fury made a cameo in his first movie, and showed us that his power is exacting a terrible price from him: it’s killing him. He gave up for awhile, but then he found inspiration in a message from his long-deceased father, and rose again, just in time to stop a madman with pilfered tech on par with his own.
Thor was the movie where things started coming together, via the presence of Agent Phil Coulson and, though we didn’t know it, the introduction of Loki. Much like Iron Man, Thor needed a humbling to become more than just a strong man with a big hammer. Through his journey, he transformed from “a vain, selfish, cruel boy” to a humble, selfless, merciful man. A hero.
Captain America: The First Avenger showed us a man who was Thor and Tony Stark’s opposite: he always had the mettle of a hero, being clever, brave, and compassionate, but he lacked everything else, everything physical, which is what we too often, erroneously, think of when we think of heroes, particularly in wartime. His mentor made the right choice, for having been so small before, he understood the value of his power as a tool to serve others. And he paid a very high price for his heroism.
Then, the Big One: Avengers! This was the culmination of Marvel’s grand experiment! Herein lay the future, one way or the other. Bringing together these characters from various distinct films to confront a single enemy, namely Loki and his alien army, was a risk, and one which paid off. It is now proven that the audience can and will follow a variety of films and savor the ride when everyone comes together. The game has been changed, both in the continuity of the MCU and in real life!
That is something I take great enjoyment in seeing happen in my lifetime!
Of course, I also take a certain short-sighted, sadistic pleasure in watching brainless copycats (DC trying to mimic something great in order to keep in line with what they think their audience is shallow enough to like as much as the original they are copycatting. I mention short-sighted because, really, the production of anything sub-par is a tragedy. But I digress.
Iron Man 3 rounded out his trilogy with a sci-fi battle between a knight in shining armor and a fire-breathing dragon over the fate of a princess. Not only did this resonate with us, but we saw Tony Stark complete the transformation begun in his first movie, and it was the first time in this franchise we saw a hero and villain whose superpowers did not flow from the same source.
Thor: The Dark World brought back our hammer-wielding thunder-god back to his human lady love, tore at our hearts with the death of his mother, tickled our love for Loki, and fully introduced the concept of the Infinity Stones, including the Tesserract and the Aether as two of a total of six.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier provided a political commentary, revamped the Captain’s branch of the franchise, introduced Falcon, and utterly transformed the MCU with the fall of SHIELD, all while gripping us with the stories of the Captain, Black Widow, and Nick Fury in their struggles.
Finally, Guardians of the Galaxy took us to the stars, applying the Infinity Stone concept introduced in Thor: Dark World while telling us about all of these people who have been terribly victimized by the interstellar society around them. The villain is no exception, yet while he seeks to inflict destruction in repayment for his suffering, the Guardians and their allies turn around and protect innocent lives, even at cost of their own. I wanted to salute the fallen members of the Nova Corps right then and there in the theater.
And now, as I’ve already commented on, we have so much more to look forward to!
The best part of these films, and this entire franchise, is how personal these stories are. It’s not just the bright lights, the effects, the trembling of the world, it’s the stories, the people, that make us love these movies. This is masterful storytelling.
There is only one exception, just one thing which might dampen my MCU fever, and that is Ant-Man. I’ll go into why that is some other time (say, next July, when I see and review it), but as the MCU currently stands, and what it promises to deliver, simply has me hooked. If they keep going like they have, especially when they step it up to three movies per year instead of two, hey, I will be happy to give them my money for a long time!