Four Great Marvel Movie Audio Commentaries

Marvel has been a giant machine conquering the global box-office ever since they kicked down Hollywood's door a decade ago with Iron Man. In less than 10 years, Marvel President Kevin Feige and all involved made the Marvel logo mean something to audiences everywhere. It's quite an extraordinary feat, one that couldn't have been pulled off without the long, long list of great talent they've hired. That talent also produces some fun audio commentaries.

Marvel's finest movies, like this weekend's Black Panther, have struck a balance between art and commerce, and that's a running theme throughout the commentaries for Marvel's movies: trying to make a popcorn movie with taste, substance, and above all, character. There's very little talk of special effects, as most of the conversations revolve around character, but maybe that's not surprising since the Disney-owned studio has always maintained the characters are the stars of these movies. Years of work went into getting these superheroes right, which you can hear all about in some of the Marvel commentaries recommended below.

Ant-Man (Featuring Director Peyton Reed and Paul Rudd)

Why Listen: First and foremost, to hear Reed's splendid Michael Douglas impersonation. It's an iconic voice that gets plenty of attention from Reed and Rudd, both for its powerful effect and how it improves the movie. Douglas' voice does make exposition go down awfully smooth. The rest of the pair's conversation is equally jokey and informative and packed with info about Rudd and Adam McKay's script revisions, pointing out references to the Ant-Man comics, and details that could easily go unnoticed, like the ants on Hank Pym's cufflinks. Along with the chuckles, this commentary features priceless knowledge about carpenter ants and bullet ants.

What's Said: There around 1,500-1,600 visual effects shots in Ant-Man. Almost every one of them was a challenge when it came to getting the scale right, according to Reed:

Every single shot of Ant-Man whether he's running or jumping or flying an Ant, how big he was in the frame and issues of scale and size was always an issue on all these shots. A regular medium shot of Ant-Man, in general, was not very good because it felt like, "Oh, he's regular size now." These really close close-ups were effective to see where he is psychologically. When he's smaller in frame, it feels much more satisfying than these snap zooms to really show the scale. Imagine being a cameraman and trying to shoot Ant-Man and trying to get the focus right and him in frame would be next to impossible, so we had fun with that idea too.

A Day on the Job: Reed, who was a van driver on Bull Durham, calls the day Marvel legend Stan Lee paid a visit to the set an "amazing day." Lee shared a rather cool piece of info about the miniature hero with Rudd:

One of the great thrills was spending an hour speaking with Stan Lee. Stan Lee was very excited about this movie, and in his mind, we were finally going to see Ant-Man as he always imagined Ant-Man. He said in the comics it was never really drawn to scale as he imagined it, because you couldn't in a comic panel and you can do things in film you can't do in the comic.

Trivia: When Luis (Michael Peña) picks up Lang at prison, Reed wanted him holding his iPhone above his head playing "In Your Eyes," but despite Marvel's deep pockets, the song was too expensive.

Doctor Strange (Featuring Scott Derrickson)

Why Listen: Towards the end of Derrickson's track, he apologizes to his old High School English teacher for his infrequent use "umm," but after a breathless and densely packed two hours, he has little to apologize for. It's a thoughtful track about how the filmmaker put as much thought into the character of Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) as he did into the world of the supernatural. Derrickson's love for the flawed psychedelic hero and his history is genuine and infectious. It's great to hear how the filmmaker's own life and interests – his relationships, taste in books and music – influenced Doctor Strange. The track not only extensively covers the experience of making a Marvel movie – "Can't have an ego and be a good filmmaker at this level" – but how to make a movie of this scale personal as well.

What's Said: Unlike some directors, Derrickson is more than comfortable discussing criticisms both fair (whitewashing the Ancient One) and unfair (Inception comparisons). According to the Sinister director, there's no issue in standing on the shoulders of other movies:

When a lot of people would see stuff like this [big second act action scene] in the trailers, they'd claim we were ripping off Inception. I want to run toward that comment and say we weren't ripping it off; I was certainly drawing on it. I thought Inception was one of the most visually interesting movies of the last six or seven years, but it was seven years ago it came out. I felt it was the tip of an interesting visual effects iceberg, and I wanted to go crazy with spacial manipulation. We looked at [M.C.] Escher and German expressionism and all these different things and really went hog wild to build upon what Chris Nolan started in Inception, in the same way I guess Chris Nolan was building on On Her Majesty's Secret Service for the climactic snow fight at the end. That's what we filmmakers do: we borrow from other sources and from each other, but hopefully, it's just standing on the shoulders of that movie rather than ripping it off or repeating it.

A Day on the Job: The director's favorite scene is the final moment between Strange and The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), which was better than he expected even though he knew it was significant. The final result reminds him of a conversation he once had with James Cameron:

I remember meeting James Cameron on the set of Avatar when he was shooting. I went down to the set to talk to him about the cameras; he was showing filmmakers the 3D and motion-capture technology and how it all worked. He took a lot of time with me. I was really interested in the technology and asking a lot of questions, and he was taking the time answering those questions. I remember him saying one of the lessons he learned in doing The Abyss was he had focused on the big giant visual-effects sequences, and what he was surprised by was the best scene in the movie was two people in an air tank. That's why when went to make Titanic, as he put it, by the time the iceberg hit the ship most movies had ended, because he was doing so much character development. It all gets back to characters.

Trivia: It was Derrickson's idea for Stan Lee to be laughing while reading "Doors of Perception" on a bus, but James Gunn shot it along with three other Lee cameos from the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 set.

Iron Man 3 (Featuring Shane Black and Drew Pearce)

Why Listen: While listening to this track, I forgot I was supposed to be working and taking notes. The Kiss Kiss Bang Bang commentary is one of the funniest commentaries I've heard, and the same goes for this track. Any fan of Black's sense of humor can hear plenty more of it in his commentaries. Making the track even more of a joy is that he's speaking with his equally funny Iron Man 3 co-writer Drew Pearce. They go through all the ins and outs of constructing Iron Man 3's story, the revisions, and scenes and lines cut from an assembly cut that ran 3 hours and 15 minutes long. With honesty and some laugh-out-loud moments, Black and Pearce cover a lot of the nuances involved in making a satisfying blockbuster with a bit more underneath the hood than most popcorn movies.

What's Said: While Tony Stark is a man with everything, Black gave him little to fight with except his wits in most of Iron Man 3. The movie has a refreshingly grounded approach to superhero action with its lead always struggling and mostly scraping by. According to Pearce, Black has a unique way of imagining his always playful set pieces:

Shane told me when he imagines action sequences – and Shane sometimes dreams action sequences – in order to feel the most empathy for the people involved, he'll imagine his dogs instead of humans, which is an idea I really like. If you think about the air force one sequence with dogs, it makes it incredibly poignant and sad.

Black later adds:

I have such a love-hate with action in films. It's considered important to get to the action, but it's important to make a unique movie.

More of What's Said: There's not a whole lot of day to day talk about what happened on the set since Pearce and Black mostly focus on storytelling and striving to make escapist entertainment with substance. They wanted to aim higher, as John McTiernan did on Die Hard:

One of my favorite directors, John McTiernan, had called me while he was doing Die Hard and had the script in front of him. He said to me, "I just want to run something by you. I think this is the Odysseus myth, Die Hard." I'm like, "Ok, come again." He goes, "Well, if you think about it, the King has kidnapped and taken the Queen while Odysseus was off on a journey. He returns home to find his kingdom compromised, his love stolen, and he has to fight to reclaim from the King that which was his." You totally read that triangle between Hans Gruber, Bruce, and the wife. At the end when he falls, it's because he releases the symbol of prestige, that watch, and says, "I'm a plodder and I'm a real guy, and you're just a poser and a rich a**hole." He releases him, he falls, and he reclaims his wife. It really is the Odysseus myth.

Trivia: The documentary Senna inspired the image of Pepper Potts holding the cracked Iron Man helmet to her head.

Thor (Featuring Kenneth Branagh)

Why Listen: The most eloquent commentary of the bunch comes from Sir Kenneth Branagh, who's done wonders with the English language on the screen and stage. Even when he's talking about Comic-Con or Chris Hemsworth's frame, he does so with panache. Some of the finest of directors fall trap to explaining what's happening on screen in their commentary tracks, but when Branagh does it, it's still music to the ears. When he discusses the Foo Fighters, it's only further proof Branagh would've made for a helluva radio show host if, you know, all his award-winning acting, writing, and directing didn't pan out.

What's Said: Branagh's track unsurprisingly features the most actor talk. He goes beyond the typical "oh that actor's great" praise as well, and instead explains the subtleties of the work on display. Branagh frequently shares info about how he tends to work with actors these days:

When you put these two together [Anthony Hopkins and Tom Hiddleston] to do something like this [dramatic scene], I think you are blessed. Tony Hopkins, this was his first day on set, his first scene. I decided I would experiment with something I had been experimenting with as an actor myself, which was to start the day, in a scene like this, by shooting the close-ups first. Normally, you'd start with a wide shot and then you'd move slowly in and might get the close-up after lunch or in the middle of the afternoon. Whatever time we got him on set in the morning, Tony was doing the close-ups for this scene. He was incredibly generous to young Tom, who was incredibly patient and did his close-ups much later in the day or the next day.

A Day on the Job: Branagh's track is about as funny as the ones for Ant-Man and Iron Man 3. He has a sharp wit and a spot-on Chris Hemsworth impersonation he unleashes when Thor is shirtless – a moment, as I recall, heavily featured in TV spots:

This work evidenced by Chris Hemsworth's torso was the product of his six-nine months of very intensive work in the gym. I thought that I might risk saying that I had his head pasted on my body here for this sequence, but I feared you wouldn't believe me, so I guess I'm going to have to tell you it was him. I remember a few days before we shot this saying, rather embarrassingly, "Hey Chris, I want to do this shot. It seems important to me we reveal Thor in this way. Do you mind taking your shirt off?" To which he replied: "[Australian Accent] Do I mind? I've been doing this for nine months, mate, of course I'm going to get my shirt off." I'm glad he did because it's produced gasps in early screenings. We needed Thor to look like a God, and Chris Hemsworth does.

Trivia: Thursday is named after Thor. In Old English, Thursday means Thor's day.