With the Avengers: Age of Ultron tearing up the box office, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has never been in a better spot. No superhero fatigue to be found here as the MCU keeps rolling along with superhero after superhero film. With that said, now would be a great time to look back at both Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the MCU and where each film fits in the universe. So here is the best and the worst that Marvel has had to offer us over the past 7 years.
20. Thor: The Dark World
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, in my opinion, has had no bad film to its name but the one that comes the closest to crossing that line is Thor’s entertaining yet lazy second installment. The Dark World is at its best when Asgard is the locale but when the action is brought back to earth, the film falters with silly comic relief and a sloppy finale. Tom Hiddleston is still fantastic in his third turn as Loki and Chris Hemsworth still resonates as the God of Thunder.
19. The Incredible Hulk
This is the red headed stepchild of the MCU. Mostly forgotten about now as Age of Ultron rolls out, the second film in the MCU is an entertaining thriller even if it doesn’t amount to much in the MCU bigger picture. Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner isn’t as well rounded as Ruffalo’s but he is serviceable nonetheless with the actor giving an emotional turn with virtually no help from the supporting cast. The Incredible Hulk has enough thrilling action and global jet setting to barely keep it above superhero mediocrity and the bottom of the MCU barrel.
Edger Wright’s departure and the final product that is Ant-Man is Marvel at its worst. Not to say that Ant-Man isn’t a “good” movie but the creative voice that could of made the character’s awkwardness its strength was thrown out for a more cliche superhero approach. Instead of forcing the MCU to allow such a unique character to fit into to the larger universe, Ant-Man is more concerned with making a character that can fit into the MCU. A generic plot, villain, and supporting characters (excluding Pena who is the highlight of the movie) doesn’t help a dude who controls Ants stick out in the MCU but Paul Rudd is fantastic and there is enough charisma and humor to make for an entertaining two hours. On a side note: Michael Douglas should usually add value to a production, not here though.
17. Dr. Stange
Dr. Strange works a lot like Ant Man. It is Marvel taking a really unique character and unleashing some those unique traits in a feature length film while still serving up the same old origin story tale. All is not bad though as Dr. Strange’s visuals, world, and unbelievable cast help to make the film a success and keeps the movie watchable even when it starts to lose momentum. This and the fact that Benedict is perfect as Steven Strange (Marvel really does nail their castings) but it is disappointing to watch such a crazy superhero be brought to screen in a such a generic way. It is almost as if the screenplay writers were checking off all boxes on the origin story check list. Hopefully since we have met Dr. Strange, the next film will be able to bring something new and exciting to the table.
16. Ant-Man and The Wasp
Just like the first film in the Ant-Man series, Ant-Man and The Wasp makes a really unique character fit into a very normal superhero film. That is unfortunate because Paul Rudd is great in the film and The Wasp is a welcomed female addition to the MCU but the story never goes anywhere unexpected or interesting. Ultimately this is very much a competent sequel to the first film and a little bit of a let down after the great Black Panther and Infinity War. There are some highlights though with some great action (especially The Wasp) and a cast that is way to talented to be apart of a just good enough sequel.
15. Iron Man 3
Shane Black was really an inspired choice to take the rains of the Iron Man franchise. Black’s final product doesn’t live up to expectations but Iron Man 3 is a solid addition to the franchise. Robert Downey Jr. gives one of his best performances as Iron Man in a film that scales down the action and sees our hero using his wits more than his high-powered suit. Some weak villains and the occasional misstep (plot wise) are what keep Iron Man 3 from becoming something more but it is an entertaining part of the MCU nevertheless.
14. Iron Man 2
Just like Iron Man 3, the second installment in the series doesn’t live up to the Iron Man film that came before it but this is one of the more underrated films in the MCU. Iron Man 2 may not be as influential as its predecessor but it is a satisfying follow up to the original with some great action and the patented Iron Man comic relief. Even with a clunky story that doesn’t make much sense and some underdeveloped villains, IM2 works better than it aught to and occasionally reaches the heights of the original.
13. The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Age of Ultron is a flawed sequel to the excellent The Avengers. Learning nothing from The Dark Knight Rises, Age of Ultron is filled with plot holes and shotty logic but once you get past all that you will find Joss Whedon delivering a fairly good second installment into The Avengers series. Filled to the brim with action and tons of characters, surprisingly the film is able to balance this all along with one of the better villains in the MCU. James Spader plays Ultron brilliantly as the villain’s ultimate plan this time is pretty dumb but his personality makes up for it. Whedon had the task of following up one of the most beloved and successful films of all-time and he does pretty well here even if he played things way on the safe side. There are a ton of things to nit pick or hate in Age of Ultron but there is also so much to enjoy as the world’s greatest heroes assemble again.
Thor may not stand as one of the best films in the MCU but it maybe one of the MCU’s greatest achievements. A Norse God with a huge hammer that can summon giant thunderstorms didn’t look to translate well on screen but Kenneth Branagh was a creative choice to direct the God of Thunder. He is able to pull off the fantasy/science fiction tone with a surprisingly well casted ensemble. Thor has just enough humor, heart, and highflying fantasy action to make it one of the MCU’s biggest surprises.
11. Captain America: The First Avenger
Joe Johnston, much like Kenneth Branagh, was just the choice to bring one of Marvel’s most famous heroes to the silver screen. Johnston styles CA as a period piece with Cap facing off against Nazi Germany. This is a great origin story for the first Avenger as it follows Steve Rogers’s humble beginnings to becoming one of the world’s most legendary heroes. Chris Evans is the perfect fit as Steve Rogers as he puts quite a bit of personality into a borderline “dull” character. The Cap begins in what is one of the most unique superhero films around and the perfect lead in to The Avengers.
10. Thor Ragnarok
I don’t think Marvel has made a more inspired directing choice (that actually worked out) than they did here by giving Taika Waititi the rains of the Thor series. Even if Ragnarok can feel like it indulges in the comedy a bit too much, this is one of the most enjoyable Marvel films around and it is because Waititi puts together the best GOTG film that doesn’t contain the GOTG members. The fun and adventure is there and it breathes new life for the character as we move forward to the MCUs endgame for Phase 4. Thor is given more personality and isn’t hindered by his Shakespeare type character tropes as Chris Hemsworth plays the character with a new sort of confidence. I loved how the hammer is gone in the beginning and we are left with a character searching for a new sort of identity. That identity is found at the right moment as we remember that Thor is the “God of Thunder”. The cast is awesome and I loved how Thor is given his own type of Avengers team to lead. The jokes come at you fast and that will upset some but for someone who isn’t a loyal Thor fan, this is a welcome change for a character that was starting to feel like the lesser of the heroes in the MCU.
9. Avengers Infinity War
Infinity War was exactly what it needed to be. That doesn’t make it a great film or one of the best films in the MCU but it does make it one of the most entertaining films to come out of this franchise. Almost all our heroes are here (beside an Ant-Man and a Hawkeye) as this film doesn’t waste time throwing them in the crosshairs of one of Marvels best villains. Thanos is truly the star here (with Iron Man, Thor, and Dr. Strange getting the most screen time behind him) with him having one of the few character arcs in the film. This was a wise choice as he is less of a cruel villain than he is a man with convictions that can’t be broken or reasoned with. His scenes are great with Brolin giving the best performance of the cast. With most great villains, Thanos makes you feel for him even if we can’t agree with his moral compass. The rest of the characters are thrown into great dynamics (I loved the scenes between Dr. Strange and Iron Man) and interesting situations (Gamora’s scenes are both heartbreaking and vital to the plot). Even if it the film relies on so much from other MCU movies, it doesn’t bog down the film with needless exposition. Yes, the film maybe has too many characters and the balancing act doesn’t favor some characters but overall the Russo brothers deliver one (mostly) great balancing act that wouldn’t’ be possible without the 18 films before it. This film is a payoff for all us loyal MCU fans who don’t need to be reintroduced to the ensemble. And then there is the ending which was an interesting choice to say the least. Even though it will be reversed it does give the next film a chance to fix one of this films issues, too many characters. I have never seen a franchise film end in such a downer and its impact can be heard from the audience with both a sense of confusion and shock.
Infinity War doesn’t represent the best of the MCU but it doesn’t need too. It isn’t as good as Winter Solider, GOTG, or even the original Iron Man but it just might be the MCU film I revisit the most over time. As I said before, this film is exactly what it needed to be and that is an epic and entertaining story of all the characters we have come to love battling a threat way out of their league.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
This is a great sequel to one of Marvel’s biggest homeruns to date, Vol. 2 serves up a fun adventure with characters we know and love as well as new members to the famous galactic team. Surprisingly this sequel doesn’t try to jam to much into its story as it focuses on Peter’s father and his plan for the galaxy and his son. This father and son story becomes surprisingly touching towards the end as the film explores what it means to be real father. What is so great about the first film is that it builds an interesting world apart from the rest of the MCU and the second builds upon that world while still being a self contain story. These are all characters we love and care about and the success of this series is that we don’t need an inevitable team up with the rest of the MCU. If Gunn keeps making films like this, I don’t care if the Guardians ever make it to earth and meet up with the Avengers. Nothing earth shattering or new from this sequel just a great continuation of the charisma and confidence of its predecessor.
7. The Avengers
The pinnacle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe still has to be Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. The main reason why The Avengers works is two fold: first Marvel did things right by introducing their four stars in separate movies and second Joss Whedon was able to harness all the different tones and characters into 140 minutes of nerd nirvana. Whedon delivers a script that gives just about everyone his or her due while keeping the film from feeling overcrowded. Loki takes his seat as the best of Marvel’s villains as Tom Hiddleston continues to give a complicated and intense performance. Loki and the Avengers square off in multiple battles and each one out does the other with the battle for New York becoming one of the best action scenes in any superhero film. Seeing The Avengers assemble at the end is what everyone came for and it doesn’t disappoint as the worlds greatest juggling act does the team justice. The Avengers is Marvel’s pride and Joy because it shows off how quality, over time, can lead you to something unprecedented and quite extraordinary.
6. Captain America: Civil War
Captain America Civil War takes such a gimmicky premise (superhero vs. superhero) and makes it into one of most entertaining and deepest films in the MCU. Working better as an Avenger film rather than a Cap story (although Cap is defiantly the main character), Civil War is jammed packed with story that, after the pieces are set, takes off with a glorious airport battle and an emotional Captain America/Winter Solider vs. Iron Man showdown. Like I said before, the film has a lot going on and it has its fair share of characters but it is the movies that have lead up to it that gives so much of the drama weight. The viewer’s relationship with the characters makes this less about punches being thrown and more about exploring thoughts on relationships, vengeance, and oversight. The plot is also strong and does a great job of building conflict that reasonable feels like it would lead to our heroes resorting to violence. Civil War is such a great VS. movie because it wants to be so much more than just a VS. movie. Batman v. Superman showed us how bad this type of film can be while Civil War shows us the opposite when you look to be more than just a flashy premise.
5. Black Panther
Let me get this out of the way, I hate the CGi in the Black Panther. When the King puts on the suit he looks like he is in a video game cut scene. It took me out of the film especially in the climax. Other than that I cannot say enough about how great this film is. Black Panther has some great world building and some themes that are challenging and controversial. Those themes are not only timely but beautifully realized on screen with one of the best screenplays of any Marvel film. Then there is Michael B. Jordan who is right up there with Loki as the class of the Marvel villains. So many great villains aren’t pure evil but misguided or twisted by wrongs that have been done to them. Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is not only relatable but also demands a certain amount of empathy while still being ruthless. This is a wonderful ensemble piece with a story and world worth returning too even if the film could have benefited from more practical effects.
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America has been seen by many as a sort of hooky character through out the years. Over patriotic and just a plain goody two shoes, Captain America is a pretty dull character on the surface. The MCU has done a lot to change that perception with the solid First Avenger and The Avengers but The Winter Soldier not only validates Steve Rodgers as a fully realized character, it makes him one of the most interesting heroes in the MCU. This is the equivalent to DC’s The Dark Knight with a smart and gritty script, an incredible cast, and a status quo ending plot twist, this is what every MCU film should be like. Chris Evans is still perfectly cast as Steve Rodgers as he has to lose some of the naivety that has pledged him by being frozen for 60+ years. After we saw New York invaded by Aliens, it was nice to see a more grounded film for the Cap. Winter Soldier uses that more grounded reality to focuses on the characters and their respected arcs. This is a more versatile marvel film without losing the characteristics that has made the MCUs films what they are; the Cap fits in just right in the 21st Century.
3. Iron Man
The first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is also one of the best. Iron Man was never a household name and for Marvel to build their church upon the B character was a risky move to say the least. Jon Favreau was the first right choice but it was the brilliant casting of Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark that helped cement Iron Man as one of the world’s biggest heroes. I hate to say it (cause I love Bale as Bruce Wayne) but Downey gives the best performance of anyone playing a superhero. Downey is known for his humor when playing Stark but he is able to turn off the antics when the film needs him to for some more dramatic moments. The film not only builds up a new character from scratch but also a new world, a world that follows some of the superhero mainstays while abandoning others. As much as I love The Dark Knight trilogy and its ultra realism, Iron Man is one of the few films to capture the pacing and overall excitement of reading a comic book. Marvel had a vision of becoming more than the superhero status quo and an alternative to dark and gritty affairs, they set out to make marvel comic films. Films that had new ideas, extraordinary heroes and villains, and adventures that would reach all corners of the universe, Iron Man is everything Marvel is on their best day.
2. Spider-Man: Homecoming
The MCU was just what your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man needed. With some inspiring casting (Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man by far) and a solid reboot script, Homecoming has everything you want from a Spider-Man film while also setting it apart with a more grounded story that lets you get to know the characters instead of being caught up in the spectacle. I can’t say enough about the casting which is perfect as Michael Keaton is a solid main villain and all of the supporting cast shines in their own right. But all of this pails in comparison to Tom Holland who is brilliant here as Peter Parker. He is both witty, immature, and heroic here as Peter has to deal with the desire to be so much more than your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Homecoming is just a solid Spider-Man and superhero film. It doesn’t break new ground nor does it thrill as much as some of the great superhero films of old but it sustains a fun and energetic pace throughout. Not only that but it is a very emotionally gratifying story that benefits, instead of relying on, connections to the bigger MCU universe. This is what Marvel should do with all their film properties, fit the MCU into film instead of fitting the film into the MCU.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
This film shouldn’t have worked. It is filled with no name characters and doesn’t have any strong connections to the other films in the MCU. Yep, Guardians was Marvel’s biggest risk and if not in the right hands it wouldn’t have paid off but James Gunn directs a film oozing with charisma. The first film unconnected to The Avenger series, Guardians is a breath of fresh air for the MCU as it explores some new territory. The cast is perfect with some nice voiceover work from Bradley Cooper and Chris Pratt feeling pretty comfortable in the lead role as Star Lord. The main thing is that Guardians is all about the adventure as the film is a mix between Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and The Avengers. It sets up multiple worlds and introduces the audience to the galaxy’s biggest group of misfits with a style and flare that will make this film a cult (or just a down right) classic in the years to come.