We’ve already explored where to watch the stars of Marvel movies on Netflix from 2008’s Iron Man to 2012’s The Avengers. Now we’re picking up where we left off, starting with Iron Man 3 on up through the latest release, Age of Ultron.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s recent slate looks a lot like its earlier material in terms of heroes, but it got a big shakeup with its directors, and that’s our main focus this time around (with a couple exceptions). If the directing choices sometimes seemed odd in the first phase, Kevin Feige got downright cocky with the next round, actively seeking out the least-expected names and getting massive box-office numbers from their films. In the last two years, Marvel basically confirmed that it was to blockbusters what Moneyball was to baseball.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Shane Black, Last Action Hero (1993)
Shane Black didn’t direct Last Action Hero—that credit goes to John McTiernan—but he did write it, and he’s always been known more for his writing than his directing, anyway, with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (not streaming) being his only directorial work before Iron Man 3 (which co-starred Downey Jr., who insisted Black directed IM3 and got what he wanted, because he’s friggin’ Iron Man).
But, as Edgar Wright could probably tell you, “director” on a Marvel film isn’t quite the same as it is elsewhere, and if you’ve only got one directing credit under your belt (albeit for a fantastic film), but you have Black’s intelligence, you don’t need five blockbusters on your résumé to helm a Marvel flick—you’ll have plenty of people around to help keep things on the rails while you concentrate on keeping the tone straight.
Enough about directing, though—Black wrote both IM3 and Last Action Hero, and he wrote the shit out of them. After basically forming the mold for the modern buddy cop genre with Lethal Weapon, he deconstructed and beat that genre over the head with a baseball bat with Last Action Hero.
With the exception of Monster Squad, buddy cop films that starred a white/black cop duo were all he’d penned when he wrote Hero, and while they were awesome, Hero was him diving straight into his own influences and talents to look at what made him tick—and to poke some fun at that stuff before he got stuck doing the same schtick for his entire career.
Sometimes, when an artist is bored, setting out to make a farce is a freeing exercise that can morph into being some of their best and most memorable work. (Many believe that Beethoven composed his Fifth Symphony as a lark, to prove how stupid and easy music composition had become, and look at how we view that one today.)
This movie needs more attention in general, as it’s quintessential as both a McTiernan and a Black film. It has all of Black’s signature wit and all of McTiernan’s take-no-prisoners action, and it doesn’t hurt that most of that action takes place in a satirical film-within-a-film, which lets the Die Hard director go completely apeshit and over-the-top (read: fun) with it.
By the last 20 minutes, it may feel as if it’s running a little long—but then those 20 minutes get so satirical and meta, and the final climax so beautifully bookends the film’s opening, that running a tad long can be forgiven. For both writer and director, Last Action Hero is a masterpiece.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Alan Taylor, Mad Men (2007–2008)
It was certainly his work on Game of Thrones that landed Alan Taylor the Dark World gig, but that’s HBO, and we all know that an HBO series streaming on Netflix is about as likely as Spider-Man ending up in the MCU. (Cue wailing, gnashing of teeth from Six Feet Under fans.)
So while Mad Men isn’t the perfect example of Taylor’s pre-Dark World work that landed him the gig, it is currently streaming, and his work on the show was nonetheless significant: He directed the pilot, after all, which was the episode that secured us all as lifelong Mad Men viewers. He also directed the second episode, as well as the 12th episodes of both seasons 1 and 2, which were pretty damn important episodes.
Aside from Mad Men and Game of Thrones, Taylor only had three features under his belt, the last of which was a decade before Dark World, but take a look at some of the man’s other television directing credits: Oz, The West Wing, Six Feet Under, Sex and the City, Deadwood, Lost, Rome, The Sopranos, Nurse Jackie, Bored to Death, and Boardwalk Empire… That’s an impressive list of shows, and it’s not even all-inclusive. As you could theoretically view the MCU as existing in a cinema-quality episodic format, it’s no wonder that Feige took such a liking to Taylor’s résumé.
He likely won’t be back, though: Like many directors who have worked with Marvel, he clashed with the studio and was eventually locked out of the editing room, with some reshoots on the film done without his approval.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Anthony and Joe Russo, Arrested Development (2003–it’ll never die)
Like Taylor, the Russo Brothers had the bulk of their pre-Marvel directorial work done on television, with the exceptions being Welcome to Collinwood and You, Me and Dupree—so we can probably assume that it wasn’t their feature work that landed them on the massively budgeted, action-packed Winter Soldier.
As far as television goes, Joe’s Community episode “A Fistful of Paintballs” would alone justify giving the duo an action film (collectively, they directed 30-odd other episodes of the show, including the pilot). They both directed the pilot for Arrested Development, and collectively directed a total of 14 episodes of the show (which fans know all included some sort of wacky action in them, as is tradition for most of Development’s insane climaxes).
The Russos and their lack of big-budget action experience were considered to be one of Feige’s biggest risks in MCU history, but it paid off. Many people rate Winter Soldier as their favorite Marvel film (with the best action), and their work was such a huge hit, with both fans and the studio, that they’ll now be taking over as the MCU’s Godfathers, now that Age of Ultron has been released and Whedon has stepped down.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Chris Pratt, Parks and Recreation (2009–2015)
At the start of Parks and Recreation, Pratt’s Andy was planned to be a short-lived character. (To be even more accurate, the whole show was planned to be short-lived; the entire conceit of “the pit” that Andy eventually fell into was a metaphor for the show solely existing to fill a “pit” in NBC’s lineup.) But by the end of the season, everybody loved Pratt and Andy a lot, so the writers worked out a way to keep him around for the unexpected renewal for the show’s second season.
It says a lot about your charisma when your character is written to be a one-season, asshole boyfriend, and you end up being liked so much that you’re shoehorned into the rest of the series’ run.
Maybe Pratt’s casting as a superhero was a little more predictable after his role in Zero Dark Thirty proved that he could slim down and put on some muscle, but that role didn’t prove that he was leading man material, and Feige was casting him as the leading man in a film that was all-but-sure to be Marvel’s very first under-performer. People thought the Guardians property was simply too weird, and that both the property and Pratt were too unknown, for the film to be a massive success at the box office.
They were wrong, though. It was one of the biggest hits of the summer, and now the naysayers are having to get behind Ant-Man as the next target of their cynicism.
James Gunn, Super (2011)
Guardians was already a huge risk, being a property that many were shocked was making it to the big screen before, say, a Hulk solo film, and casting Pratt as the lead added even more to the risk. So why not go all-out and pick James Gunn to write and direct the thing?
I’ve loved James Gunn since he wrote Tromeo and Juliet, wrote/directed Slither, and penned the Dawn of the Dead remake (his name was the only thing that got me into theaters, and it remains the only great script that director Zack Syder has, unfortunately, ever gotten to work from).
Super is amazing, but it was overlooked when it was released because a) it had a budget of around $2.5 million, and b) it was overshadowed by the far-bigger Kick-Ass being released at the same time, which dealt with the similar idea of a normal person becoming a superhero.
Kick-Ass is great, and I love director Matthew Vaughn, but I’d rather watch Super any day of the week. It’s far, far darker than Kick-Ass, with Rainn Wilson playing a character that is a legitimately unstable and frightening person (although Ellen Page’s character is right up there with him). But as dark as it goes, when the story wraps up (with Wilson’s narration), you’re hit hard in your feels. Gunn can balance darkness and empathy extremely well, and he was a great fit for bringing the four anti-heroes of Guardians onto the big screen—and also into moviegoers’ hearts. (Cliche? Maybe, but you know damn well that Groot lives in your heart now.)
The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
See The Avengers in the first half of this series (the same principal heroes + the same director = it’s being skipped here). To make up for the lack of an entry here, you can read about all the backlash over the film, and the speculation that it made Whedon quit Twitter.
Backlash or not, this was always going to be Whedon’s swan song as the MCU’s Godfather, and I’d like to say “thanks for looking after the films, Whedon.” I’m sad to see him go, but I’m just as excited to see the Russo Brothers take up the position; they’ve had a hand in approximately 20 percent of my favorite things to ever be onscreen, so I can’t wait to see how they handle the future of the MCU.
Screengrab via Parks and Recreation/YouTube