[SPOILERS FOR THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE AHEAD]
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU as I will refer to it from here on) is massive. 22 movies, 12 shows (with 25 seasons in total, one of which is airing currently), 5 one shots, and one video series. This will just be about the movies. In part because I haven’t even seen all of the shows, much less every season.
This year I went through the lengthy (but fun!) process of rewatching each of the films in the MCU in chronological order. Even though movies are fairly fresh in my mind, most of the ranking is still just a guess. Even the worst that the MCU has to offer is still pretty good. My ranking would most likely change if I were to rewatch all the movies in a year and write another post. Give another year it would likely have changed even more (not even counting new movies).
So without further ado, here’s the list.
23. The Incredible Hulk
I feel bad putting this one at the bottom. A couple years ago this was right in the middle of my MCU ranking. Of course the movie roster has grown a ton since then, but that still wouldn’t put it at the bottom. The thing is, I like this movie. I’m glad that there’s a Hulk movie in the MCU, because the character deserves it. Despite people saying that it’s out of place, it actually fits very well with the rest of early Phase 1, which has a noticeably different feel from the other phases. Edward Norton’s even a good Bruce Banner, and the Hulk’s characterization is well done.
My biggest problem with The Incredible Hulk would have to be that it has the worst CGI of any of the MCU’s movies. Phase 1’s CGI has aged well for the most part. The best example of this would be Iron Man. Although not 100% CGI all of the time, it’s obvious that special effects were employed in bringing his suit to life. And it looks amazing. Of course making a human-like figure would be significantly more difficult, so the Hulk’s weird look is understandable. But, place this Hulk next to the Hulk from even the Hulk of The Avengers and he just looks bad.
And while The Incredible Hulk does fit in tonally with the rest of early Phase 1, the film as a whole has enough differences to alienate it somewhat from the rest of the MCU. Still, The Incredible Hulk is a good movie, and a worthy addition to the MCU (as they all are).
22. Thor: The Dark World
When I first saw it back in 2013, The Dark World was my favorite of the two Thor films. It’s greater amount of Loki and humor set it above Thor. Upon rewatching it and comparing, the differences became less extreme. It does have more humor, or at least a more humorous feel to it; and Thor and Loki’s banter was fun as always. Next to Ragnarok, the humor felt minuscule in comparison and less well executed. As for Loki having a bigger part, I feel that I confused screen presence with actual screen-time. While more entertaining, he hardly showed up until halfway through. Overall, this movie has plenty of good, but it also has it’s fair share of meh. I realize that putting Incredible Hulk and The Dark World at the bottom of the list is expected, but they just don’t stack up to the rest.
21. Iron Man 2
I’m going to continue what has so far been a less than novel ranking with what is widely considered one of if not the worst of the MCU’s lineup. Since its release there have been no shortage of people ready to criticize this movie. Instead, I’ll talk about what was good about this movie: Sam Rockwell.
When I think about the best villains in the MCU, a lot of the time I forget Iron Man 2 even exists. While Whiplash is the film’s supervillain, he isn’t the only villain in the movie. The real villain is the man, the myth, the legend: Justin Hammer, who deserves a spot right alongside Thanos and Killgrave in the lineup of greatest MCU villains of all time. Even though he’s supposed to be the cheap knockoff of Tony Stark, part of me wishes that the entire movie was about him. In fact, he deserves his own trilogy. Now that I think about it, he’s not just one of the best MCU villains, he’s one of the best MCU characters. Period. Right up there with Meik, Korg, and Turk Barrett. Forget Tony Stark, Justin Hammer has more charm and charisma in his glasses than Tony Stark does in his entire body. The dude should be the next Thanos-style big bad. I have no doubt that he could make Thanos look like Trevor Slattery if given the chance.
20. Avengers: Age of Ultron
I feel like I’m in the majority when I say that I walked out of this movie incredibly disappointed. After the stellar first Avenger movie I didn’t really expect Marvel Studios to top it, and to be honest I was prepared for disappointment; but I don’t think I expected to be that disappointed. My opinion of this movie has shot up a bit recently. I’ve come to appreciate it as a fun Avengers story that introduced Scarlet Witch into the MCU. But even that was done less that spectacularly. Her appearance in Endgame has me excited, her scenes in Age of Ultron had me cringing at the accent. I get that part of the Maximoff twins’ backstory is that they’re from a town in eastern Europe, but oof.
There are more problems with this movie than Scarlett Witch’s accent though. When I watched The Avengers, I laughed throughout. The humor was one of the many things that made that movie great. Age of Ultron tries to do the same. It’s not very effective. I think it took me halfway through the movie to stop squirming in my seat from Cap’s “Language” comment.
On top of that this movie has a hideous color palate. The Avengers did a fantastic job of showing the heroes in all their bright, comic-book glory. Infinity War’s scenes out in space were beautiful. Vormir is fantastically imagined, and Titan gave the feel of a planet whose glory days are far behind it. Age of Ultron was just.. blah. I know not every movie, not even every superhero movie, needs to be as colorful as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Endgame’s final battle wasn’t the brightest, but it didn’t look like somebody slapped a color filter on it and called it a day. Endgame’s climax looked cloudy, dark, shadowed by the smoke from Thanos’ missile barrage. It was LotR-esque, in a way, while Age of Ultron just looked like crap. I wasn’t intending to go on about this movie’s colors so much, but whatever.
There are still good parts to Age of Ultron though. One that sticks out being Hulk vs the Hulkbuster. However I don’t feel like I could rant on about it as much as the stuff I don’t like. So, I’ll just move on.
Thor has come a long way, but even from the start he was a fairly fun character. Somewhat bland, sure, but fun. That actually sums up the whole movie. The film’s space scenes are well done. Asgard is the MCU’s first foray into space. The extraterrestrial city looks better in this installment than it did in those that followed. Even though the cinematography gets a lot of flak for the constant dutch-tilts, I enjoy it and the unique feel it gives the movie. The Jotunheim fight is also quite a bit better than I remembered, showcasing Thor’s powers better than all his other appearances pre-Ragnarok.
But then his powers are taken away and he falls to earth. The earth scenes aren’t bad, they just have a little too much of a certain somebody. I’m looking forward to Jane Foster as Thor; but not because of her characters history. It’s because of how well Kevin Feige, Chris Hemsworth, and Taika Waititi turned the franchise around. Jane is one of those characters that come to mind when thinking of characters that drug a movie down. The film as a whole isn’t great; Thor himself is probably the most disappointing part now that we’ve seen how great he can be, but Jane is the concrete block that drags “Thor” down to the “pretty good” portion of the list.
18. Captain Marvel
After Black Panther and Spider-Man: Homecoming’s unconventional first films, Captain Marvel took the MCU back to it’s classic origin story style. In more ways than one, Captain Marvel feels more like a phase 1 movie than one from phase 3. This makes sense seeing as chronologically it was set right between Captain America: The First Avenger and Iron Man. The desert setting adds to that feel, giving the movie a similar look at times to Iron Man and Thor.
Captain Marvel’s setting consistently mirrors the first Thor movie. It starts off in space, most of the middle is on earth, and then ends in space. Also like Thor, the hero spends most of the time with limited powers.
The character of Captain Marvel also mirrors Thor. If Doctor Strange is the new Tony Stark, then Carol Danvers is the new Thor (or is that Jane?). The only difference is that Tony Stark was always an interesting character. When Stephen Strange has similar character traits, they’re traits that have been shown to be pleasing to viewers in the past. That isn’t to say that Carol is a bad character, just that she skews to the bland side at times. Before the film I was excited for Carol to be the MCU’s “mascot”, of sorts. Her name is Captain Marvel, after all. But I was also worried that they would take a great actress and waste her in what looked like it might turn out to be a fairly middle of the road superhero movie. In the end, I walked out of the movie theater feeling less hyped for Endgame than when I walked in. I’ll grant that she has more personality than Thor did, but you wouldn’t know by watching this film that Brie Larson is an oscar winning actress. Let me use this as an opportunity to plug Room, the movie that won Brie Larson best actress. It’s great, she’s great, and it’s well worth a watch.
Music wise, this movie doesn’t do the greatest job of using songs from the period. I wasn’t even alive in the 90’s and it felt forced. A radio playing Nirvana in the middle of Carol’s meeting with the supreme whatever? Really? I get it, they want to appeal to people who grew up during that time; but couldn’t they have done it in a way that felt like going through a checklist?
Along with its problems, Captain Marvel delivered the long awaited introduction of the Skrulls, while also continuing the MCU’s tradition of making the Kree look like the space’s race of super-douches. The Skrulls are interesting, fun, and well-designed. The costume design for the entire movie is up there with the MCU’s best. Carol’s costume continues Marvel’s tradition of comic book accuracy, being one of the most accurate in the entire MCU.
17. Black Panther
Black Panther had a fantastic introduction in Civil War. He was grim, intimidating, and had a satisfying character arc in a movie filled with characters. Then his movie came out, and I just wanted more of him from Civil War. Black Panther stays true to his character, but the movie surrounding him seems to fit him much less than the more bleak one in Civil War.
In the villain department, Black Panther keeps with the recent MCU trend of having memorable antagonists in their films… up until the point where he puts on the crappy cgi suit that just so happens to look almost exactly like the hero’s. I don’t like the purple lights that they put on Black Panther’s suit in this one, but I get why they did it. If they didn’t, telling the different panthers apart would have been tedious. I just don’t think they had to do it. Why not give Kilmonger his own costume? Earlier in the film they even made a point of showing him taking a cool looking mask from a museum. They could have used that, or something else. I don’t know, I’m not a costume designer. Marvel Studios certainly isn’t short of costume designs though. I don’t know how many alternate Spider-Man suit designs I’ve seen. Surely they could have done better for Kilmonger.
Black Panther contains one of the best directed fight scenes in the entire MCU. The club fight seems like something you’d see watching Daredevil (which I love) on Netflix,. The final fight might have even been good if there hadn’t been more layers of CGI than there are layers of makeup on an Instagram model.
16. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Most MCU fans have this at or near the top of their list. My opinion of it was fairly noncommittal on my initial viewing of it. Since then my appreciation for Captain America has grown considerably, so when I rewatched this movie, I thought maybe I’d see what all the people who love The Winter Soldier had seen. I didn’t. It has thrilling fight scenes, an interesting plot, and good character development for Captain America, but lacks the interconnectedness of Civil War or the heart of The First Avenger. For me, The Winter Soldier lies right in that spot between disappointing and memorable that the next movie on my list occupies.
15. Ant-Man and The Wasp
I wasn’t thrilled with Ant-Man and the Wasp when it came out. It’s certainly not as good as Ant-man, but rewatching it, I found it to contain a lot of what made Ant-man so good.
Ant-Man and the Wasp follows in the footsteps of Ant-Man in using the versatility of the Pym particles to its advantage. From the giant Pez dispenser, to Luis driving a hot wheels car, to Scott becoming the size of a toddler, the movie finds fun ways to incorporate Hank’s technology into the film.
As the title suggests, we also finally get to see The Wasp and Ant-Man suited up and fighting together. Even if it’s not the pair I know from the comics, it’s nice for them to get their time in the spotlight.
Finally, I have to mention that even though they only gave Luis one monologue, they certainly made it count. Somehow I think this one even topped those from Ant-Man.
Disney Cruise Line’s Marvel Day at Sea
14. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Spider-Man: Far From Home is the only movie in the MCU that I’ve seen only once. Because of that, my ranking might not be as exact as the others (as if a lot of these could even be called exact). Far From Home is the first film on this list that really shouldn’t be this low. Marvel has outdone themselves with Phase 3, and it’s pushed good movies like FFH back further than they should have to be.
Far From Home bookended the Infinity Saga, serving as an epilogue to Endgame as well as an extended sendoff to Iron Man. As of my writing this, how well it will serve as a continuation of Iron Man (or even Spider-Man)’s story is up in the air; leaving it in an awkward spot continuity wise. Either way it lands, on its own, Spider-Man: Far From Home is a good Spider-Man movie. In some way it succeeds more at that than it’s predecessor, Spider-Man: Homecoming; in others I was less pleased.
My biggest problem with Far From Home is one of its most distinctive aspects, so much so that they put it in the title. New York City is as ingrained in Spider-Man’s character as Gotham is in Batman’s. There are others -a ridiculous amount really- of New York based superheroes, but none quite so much as Spider-Man (except maybe Daredevil, and he’s more Hell’s Kitchen specific). Don’t get me wrong. I’m very glad that he left the boroughs for some jaunts to Germany and Space, but in those cases he was a side character to the Avengers. On his own, a Spider-Man out of NYC just doesn’t feel quite like Spider-Man. For a comic-book or two it’s fine, and for a sixth of fifth movie a change of pace would probably be welcome. This was only his second solo movie, and so the decision felt to me as a bit too new of a direction.
On the flip-side, the Spider-Man in Far From Home seems more like Spider-Man than that of Homecoming. Homecoming skipped the tediousness of an origin story successfully, but with that it also lost the impact of Uncle Ben’s death of Peter’s life. In FFH, Iron Man takes Uncle Ben’s place as the lost mentor/father figure, bringing a much needed dose of grief into Peter’s life. It also did away with the unnecessary and frankly irritating gadgets that Peter had for much of the previous film. In addition to this, the
Spider-Sense Peter Tingle is carried over from Infinity War and explored thoroughly, leading to a fantastic payoff. Possibly the most important aspect that Far From Home tweaked was Peter’s personal feelings about being Spider-Man. Peter in Far From Home goes through a familiar reluctance to be a hero, having to choose between being Spider-Man and having a semi-normal life. It’s that conflict that is one of the most core aspects of his character. The Spidey of Homecoming was itching to prove himself, but in Far From Home he just wanted a break.
One thing that this movie did right that I don’t think will get a lot of mentions is the how it handled Ned’s new relationship with Betty Brandt. It wasn’t a huge moment, and you might not really get what I’m referring to. The scene I’m talking about is where Ned comes up and apologizes to Peter for spending less time with him and Peter just shrugs it off.. That might seem like a small thing, but in so many movies one or both characters would have acted like turds and there would have been a new conflict to eat up the screen time. Seeing a situation like that handled with understanding is refreshing.
Another way that Far From Home succeeded was in making MJ not an idiot. I don’t know if you watched the Spider-Man: The Animated Series show from the 90’s, but in that show, as well as the Raimi movies, MJ has a relationship with both Peter and Spider-Man without ever putting two and two together. Even better, at times in The Animated Series Spider-Man and Peter Parker both have a girlfriend, because making your title hero a whore was totally cool for a children’s show apparently. In FFH the coincidence of Spider-Man/ Night Monkey showing up everywhere the class goes isn’t just ignored, and leads MJ to discover the truth about Peter.
Even though MJ is Michelle and not Mary Jane, she still tops any iteration of the character that I’ve seen. Nothing against Kirsten Dunst, she was great in Fargo and probably plenty of other things. I don’t know, I haven’t seen her in much. But in Spider-Man, her character was insufferable. It’s not just her that’s bad; the whole relationship is hella cheesy. Raimi’s movies overall are very stylistically different, and this is one way where the MCU’s version comes out on top.
But where Far From Home really shines is in its villain. Like with Michael Keaton and the Vulture, Marvel Studios took a great actor and actually didn’t waste him. It’s not only that Jake Gyllenhaal plays an unstable huckster with a perfect mixture of menace and fun. Mysterio’s speech at the bar justified this film as the end to the Infinity Saga instead of Endgame, taking us all the way back to Iron Man’s “IN A CAVE… WITH A BOX OF SCRAPS” scene. And in case you didn’t know, the guy that Jeff Bridges was yelling at was none other than Peter Billingsley.
It’s fitting that a movie where the villain’s superpower is special effects has some great SFX itself. As great as Doctor Strange’s visuals were, the scene where Spider-Man was trapped in Mysterio’s illusions might be the best in the MCU. Until that train slammed into Spider-man, I wasn’t sure what was real and what was an illusion.
Finally, that first post credit scene was fantastic. The other one was good too, but as far as moving the plot of the MCU forward, Far From Home‘s identity reveal is one of the most indispensable of them all… unless he gets pulled from the MCU. I give major props to Marvel Studios for casting the same actor to play J.Jonah Jameson as did in a completely separate universe.
13. Doctor Strange
The MCU first journeyed into the mystical with Doctor Strange, eschewing Scarlet Witch’s more sci-fi brand of magic for the kind that comic book readers are used to.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays a Doctor Strange that isn’t the sorcerer supreme, or even really that good of a sorcerer. Oddly, Cumberbatch lost his deep English voice for a decidedly less mystical sounding American accent. I get that he’s originally an American character, but why cast Benedict Cumberbatch and have him drop his accent? The Hobbit movies were pretty bad, but at least they made use of his voice.
The movie’s horrible wasting of Benedict Cumberbatch’s natural voice aside, Doctor Strange looks fantastic. I can just imagine somebody at Marvel saying, “You know that one scene in Inception where the street folds up? Let’s do that with the whole movie”. And it works. The film takes spacial-bending (or whatever it’s called) and pumps it up to eleven. And while that’s good, the time-bending in Hong Kong might even be better: noodles hanging in the air mid-toss, people falling backwards out of a pile of rubble, buildings rebuilding themselves. The scene uses time-bending in an interesting way, which leads to what might be Doctor Strange‘s biggest strength.
I was, at the time, against time travel being introduced in any form to the MCU. I liked “Days of Future” past, but that franchise(R.I.P.)’s timeline is so messy that one of the XCU’s own characters lampoons it. The time travel in Doctor Strange is minimal and well executed. Location-based time-travel is brilliantly demonstrated in the scene of Doctor Strange reconstructing an apple; and the film as a whole does time-travel in an interesting way without breaking continuity.
Back to the visuals, the ending with Dormammu is colorful in a way that reminds me of Guardians of the Galaxy; but even better is Doctor Strange’s inter-dimensional roller-coaster ride. Fun, creepy, and amazing looking all ini one, the scene stands out as possibly the movie’s best.
Like with Spider-Man: Far From Home, I feel odd putting this movie so low. It’s a very good MCU film, and I’ve always liked it, but Marvel has outdone themselves since it’s release. The ranking of Doctor Strange is a testament to how good the MCU is as a whole.
12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Even if it doesn’t live up to the first, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 still has a lot of good in it. The humor of the first is there, and much of it lands, although quite a bit feels forced. GotG 2 contains one of the most forced and unfitting jokes in the entire MCU: the scene where Nebula tells Sean Gunn’s character her tragic backstory, only to have it capped by the most lazy joke ever to be conceived. That scene alone lowered the MCU’s comedy quality significantly. With the amount of jokes in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, there is still more than enough to make up for it. Drax is used to his full comedic potential. Mantis and Baby Groot both add their share of funny moments to the mix.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 also took the fun visuals of the first and amped it up. The second MCU film since the notoriously monotone looking Captain America: Civil War, it was a welcome change of pace.
Probably the best thing to me about this movie is its opening credit sequence: the long take dance scene set to ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky. It’s like James Gunn reached into my subconscious in an attempt make the most pleasing scene possible just for me.
11: Iron Man
Iron Man’s best scene shows how well sticking to the comics can work. Tony suits up, you see glowing eyes, some disoriented fighting, and then he walks out of the cave and you get the first clear view of Iron Man in the MCU. As an intro the the MCU’s first hero, it’s fantastic. As the introduction to the hero, it’s perfect Even if the movie reaches its peak with that scene, the whole movie is good; and that peak was all the MCU needed. Iron Man hooked audiences. He kept them hooked through a hit and miss Phase 1. That was how well Marvel Studios pulled this movie off.
The effects in this movie are better than much of those in phase 3, although in fairness it wasn’t near as heavy with the VFX as Thor: Ragnarok or Black Panther were, for example. Iron Man’s suit design sets the stage for the MCU’s costumes throughout its twelve years of filmmaking. His suits are accurate (maybe not Mark II, but the others), sleek, and classic. Iron Man has had a lot of good suits in the MCU, but Mark III holds a special place with me.
Robert Downey Jr. makes the character of Tony Stark. As great as Iron Man’s suit design is, it’s mostly the actor inside the suit that make Iron Man hold up so well. From the start, you know that Tony Stark is different from the Superman or Spider-Man class of hero. He maintains the perfect balance between jerky and likable. The result is a classic character that got the MCU off to the start that it needed.
10. Captain America: The First Avenger
I didn’t always have the most positive view of this movie, the biggest reason being Captain America himself. He’s cheesy, always tries to do the right thing, and doesn’t have that fun douchey arrogance factor. How could he stack up to Iron Man?
Since its release seven years ago, I’ve come around on Captain America, or rather I’ve come around on Steve Rogers. Because that’s what this movie excels at: making the hero the regular guy rather than the alter ego. Other movies have done this very well, but The First Avenger is at the top of its field among the films of the MCU. The scene of pre-serum Steve jumping onto the grenade is a highlight of the movie. Steve Rogers’ relentless heroism continues throughout the entire film, as well as the MCU as a whole.
The movie also has the distinction of being the first MCU film to have a sad ending. With the amount of time that has passed since Captain America’s comic debut, it was really inevitable. In the original Avengers comic book, Steve Rogers was unfrozen in the 60’s, twenty years after becoming Captain America. The MCU pumps that up to 70 years; for obvious reasons, but with sadder effects. Steve is brought into the real world, ready for the big exciting team-up, but the man-out-of-time aspect of his character stays with him until the end.
What could have been one of the first (if not the first) film in the MCU eventually landed right at the tail end of Phase 2. Originally set to be directed by Edgar Wright, Ant-Man took it’s time in getting made, with Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and The Worlds End all releasing before Ant-Man shrunk his way onto the big screen. In the end, Edgar Wright dropped out; but you can still see some of his touch in the final product.
Possibly the most striking example of this is in Louis’s monologues, which I think most people can agree are the high-points of the movie. There’s certainly a bit of Shaun of the Dead in this and this.
While I’m disappointed that we likely will never get a Janet and Hank centered film in the MCU, the character of Scott Lang fits in well amongst the fun cast of characters that fill the MCU. Ant-Man lands firmly amongst the best that the MCU has to offer.
8. Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 seems to be either well liked or somewhat shunned depending on a person’s view of the Mandarin twist. While I think the Mandarin storyline would have been awesome, I see why they didn’t go with it. Something like that needs to be built up rather than dropped all at once. Maybe it doesn’t need Infinity War levels of build up; but I feel that if the only mention of the ten rings prior to Iron Man 3 was the terrorist group from Iron Man being literally called “the ten rings”, the Mandarin storyline might not have gone so well. Thankfully, we will get to see the ten rings in, you guessed it, Shang Chi and Legend of the Ten Rings, albeit without Iron Man.
Even though the Mandarin was really Trevor Slattery, Trevor Slattery is awesome. He’s such a ridiculous character, and Ben Kingsley plays the part perfectly. Admittedly, Aldrich Killian is less than spectacular, but Trevor more than makes up for it.
One other thing that I especially like about this movie is that they managed to not make the, “kid tags along with the main character” part of the movie insufferable. One thing that turned me off of the show MacGyver was the insistence on having a new kid each episode, which inevitably lead to some heartwarming moment. Iron Man 3 is surprisingly devoid of such nonsense. From their first scene together, Tony is rude and abrasive to Harley. In their last scene together, he’s exactly the same. Rather than having Harley tag along for the rest of the movie, leading up to the obligatory sad and touching goodbye, Tony drives off leaving him in the snow. I don’t mean to say that I have a problem with every movie or show where a kid and adult go on an adventure together (UP being a perfect example where it’s done right); just that I’ve seen it done poorly enough times for Iron Man 3 to have been a welcome change of pace.
As a followup to The Avengers and a continuation of Tony Stark’s story, Iron Man 3 excels. Some say that Iron Man 3 had little bearing on the MCU at all, likely mainly referring to the end of the movie, which was admittedly confusing at the time. The effects on the MCU are admittedly more subtle in this than in Civil War, but they’re there nonetheless. The Tony Stark in Iron Man 3 is a very different one to that of Iron Man 2. He’s the same jokester, but a more somber, more thoughtful person than the abrasive jerk audiences were used to. Iron Man 3 serves to show the effects that the climax of The Avengers had on him, building to to Age of Ultron and then ultimately all the way to Civil War and Endgame.
Overall, Iron Man 3 is just plain fun. From its Christmas theme to Trevor, Harley, and Tony, this movie has plenty of good to outweigh the somewhat disappointing twist.
7. Spider-Man: Homecoming
It’s still odd to me that there can be an iteration of Spider-Man that started as a minor character in somebody else’s movie. Weird as it is, it works. That isn’t the only thing about “Spider-Man: Homecoming” that works though.
Tom Holland manages the balance of Spider-Man and Peter Parker in a way that the previous two versions of him didn’t. That’s not to say I don’t love the Raimi Spider-Man, only that when it comes to comic accuracy the more dour Spider-Man of that trilogy comes up short.
Probably an even bigger victory for this movie was the tone. Spider-Man is one of the most fun characters in the comics, but his stories aren’t always the most lighthearted. Marvel could have easily gone a much sillier route, and while that works for the Guardians, it wouldn’t have for Spider-Man. This movie found a balance between humor and seriousness better than perhaps any of the other MCU films.
6. Captain America: Civil War
Successfully introducing Marvel’s most popular character, possibly the most popular superhero period, in somebody else’s movie is one a feat by itself. Introducing a second important hero in it is another. Having the largest number at the time of Marvel superheroes in one movie is crazy. And doing all of this while also having a satisfying, compelling story for the main character makes Captain America: Civil War an impressive accomplishment.
I think most fans were ready to have Spider-Man be a part of the MCU, so when the trailer showing him dropped, hype spread like wildfire on the internet. While he’s a fun addition, more important to the movie’s story was Black Panther, whose appearance was set up by the Wakanda name drop in Age of Ultron. Black Panther’s story arc was so good in Civil War that I can only hope that in the future Marvel Studios is able to recapture what was done with him in this film.
Civil War also manages to somewhat redeem the disappointment that was Age of Ultron. What was a waste of time is transformed into a sort of midway point in the MCU, transitioning from the world of The Avengers to that of Civil War.
But most importantly, Civil War is a great Steve Rogers story. His relationship with the government, Bucky, and the Avengers all are explored and given satisfying conclusions (for the first two) or serve as an interesting buildup to the next two Avengers films.
One of the things that I especially like about Civil War is how it handles the central subject of superheroes fighting one another. Both sides have good points to make, but even so Captain America manages to seem more or less the hero… until the end, at least. What makes Zemo such a successful villain is that in trying to destroy the Avengers, he made Captain America and Iron Man both the villain in the end.
Still Team Cap though, don’t @ me.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy
I wonder how many people know who the Guardians of the Galaxy were before this movie? I actually had some knowledge of who they were due to a cartoon. Based on the trailers thought that Guardians of the Galaxy looked good, but little did I expect just how good it would be. From comedic timing, to the visuals, to the memorable soundtrack, the movie is all around great. Marvel took the space setting and made something genuinely unique. I’m not saying the movie is the pinnacle of originality, just that it mixed sci-fi and Marvel and came out with just the right amount of the two.
The soundtrack is one of the many things that set this apart from the rest of the MCU at the time, and in a way still sets the GotG franchise apart. While several non-guardians MCU films use music to their advantage, none makes it a part of itself like GotG does. Captain Marvel tries, but it ultimately comes off as poorly executed nostalgia farming. From Hooked on a Feeling to Moonage Daydream to Come and Get Your Love, James Gunn used music to give GotG a unique feel and create a connection to the character of Peter Quill. The music his mom gave him is a part of his character from the first scene (the one when he was young, not the title sequence that’s commonly referred to as the opening scene).
Guardians of the Galaxy has some amazing side characters as well, the most striking example being Rocket Raccoon. Marvel Studios managed to make a talking Raccoon something more than just a random sci-fi oddity.
GotG also boasts some of the best cinematography in the MCU, which elevates the fantastic special effects. Two of the main characters are fully CGI, and a large amount of the backgrounds at that. Visually and as a whole, Guardians is one of the best.
4. Thor: Ragnarok
Comedy has become one of the staples of the MCU. Almost every movie has plenty of jokes sprinkled throughout. Most times they land, other times they’re like the one in GotG Vol. 2 that was just straight up terrible. Thor: Ragnarok might be the only one where every single joke lands. This movie continues what Guardians of the Galaxy started and goes full comedy, only stopping for the occasional death or fight scene, and not necessarily even then.
Before I go into the many things that I love about Ragnarok, I’ll get the main thing I don’t out of the way. This movie introduces a lot of great new characters. Valkyrie, Grandmaster, Korg, and Miek all help to make this the best “Thor” movie by far in the side-character department. That’s not even taking into account the ones that had been introduced before (Loki and Hulk). Somehow though, goth Cate Blanchett just didn’t work. It seems like Hela would be a great villain, and she does have some good moments, but for the most part, her character is just boring cliche after boring cliche. Even cliches can sometimes be used in an interesting way. Not this time. And honestly, this line has to be one of if not the most weirdly delivered in the entire MCU.
Even in criticizing this movie I managed to spend half the paragraph talking about how good its side characters are, and they are good. Korg is my favorite character in the MCU now; I’m not even joking. Taika Waititi doesn’t only bring his comedic style to this movie in his directing, he also does it by lending his voice to Korg; and the MCU is so much better off for it.
Another character in this movie that deserves a special mention is Hulk. Hulk had hardly been done dirty in the past, but it could hardly be said that he had much of a character. Even in The Incredible Hulk, he had, what? two lines? In Ragnarok, Hulk actually seems like the one I’ve read in so many comics. He was never the most talkative, but almost always did more than grunt a word or two. It’s not just hulk who was improved here; it’s Bruce Banner too.
But neither of them can compare to what was the greatest upgrade that any character has gotten so far in the MCU. Thor doesn’t just majorly level-up in the coolness department. He also starting having more actual character. From what I’ve gathered, this seems like the first time that Chris Hemsworth was actually allowed to act in any great capacity. Boy does it show. Thor went from being a pretty cool guy who was just kinda there to one that I’m excited every time he’s on screen.
3. Avengers: Endgame
Whewwwww. This movie is a lot. The film goes from an epilogue to Infinity War, to a fairly straightforward opening, to what’s basically a greatest hits (..and The Dark World) album of the MCU, to an ending that’s craziness might only be topped by Infinity War.
First, the epilogue portion. Endgame manages to have Iron Man get back to earth, the Avengers reunite, then go to Space, then kill Thanos all in the first half of the first act. And if you didn’t think things were hopeless enough after Infinity War’s ending, you’re in for a treat. I don’t know exactly what I expected going into Endgame, but Thanos being beheaded certainly wasn’t it.
It’s a fitting end to Thanos’s character. Thanos, the Real Thanos, won in the end, and he won because he was too weirdly noble to keep the stones. The beheading scene also serves to set up the full extent of the impact Thor’s failure had on him. Even though his character becomes somewhat of a joke for the rest of the film, Thor still has one of the most compelling stories throughout the movie.
And then Alan Silvestri works his magic, the screen blurs, and Five Years Later happened. Even though those three words sort of screwed over the shows, creatively it was a great move. Many people expected everything to be reset to before the snap, with nothing really changing except for maybe one or two character deaths. Instead we got an outlaw Hawkeye (Ronin), fat Thor, a teenage Cassie Lang, and Iron Man’s daughter. These changes help convey how different things in the MCU are on top of the Last Of Us-looking buildings.
I’m also really glad that two of the MVPs of the MCU, Miek and Korg, were brought back. If only Goose and Justin Hammer were there too. Their combined awesomeness would have made the final battle look like a kid playing with action figures.
Another thing this movie does really well is use music. I don’t mean the score, which is good in its own right, but the soundtrack. Even though songs aren’t used to the extent of GotG 1 or 2, Endgame uses music to their advantage. The Supersonic Rocketship scene is one of my favorite song uses in the MCU.
The third part of the movie is the time-heist, which is one of those things that sounds ridiculous but just works. Like I said, it’s like a MCU greatest hits collection: a hilarious new perspective on the fantastic Guardians of the Galaxy title scene, more of the 2012 Avengers (and most importantly 2012 Hulk), another trip to Vormir. Even though Thor: The Dark World couldn’t exactly be called one of the MCU’s greatest hits, Thor and Rocket’s adventure to Asgard is great in its own right, with Thor reaffirming his worthiness to the tune of Come and Get Your Love.
Then there’s the characters that the time heist brought back, whether for the short or long term. Gamora and Loki get their chances to return to the MCU without wiping away the impact of their deaths in the last Avengers movie. The Ancient One gets a cameo, showing what the sorcerers were doing during the alien attack on New York. Then there’s Thanos. Infinity War is often said to be Thanos’s movie. He thinks he’s a hero, and you can see how he thinks so in his twisted way. The Thanos in Endgame is an entirely different character. Endgame needed a Thanos who is unequivocally the villain, and so what did Marvel do? They killed the “good” Thanos and replaced him with a pre-character development version from the time of Guardians of the Galaxy. The respect he earned for the Avengers in Infinity War: gone. The personal struggles he went through to get the stones in Infinity War: gone. Endgame makes Thanos a more traditional villain without assassinating his character, and they did it in a bizarre way that worked fantastically.
The time heist is capped by a death scene that stops it from being just a fun trip down memory lane, and also somehow made me care about Black Widow, who completed her transformation into an actually good character. The scene managed to use the same setting and same concept from Infinity War, which came out a year before, and do it effectively enough to not seem repetitive, while making me sad about the death of a character that I would have been happy about dying had it happened not long ago.
And then everything gets completely insane. I could spend even longer writing about all of the ill shit than happens throughout the last 30 or so minutes of this movie, but instead I’ll just make a list. Just imagine while you read this list that somebody were to go back in time to just after Iron Man’s release in 2008 and tell you that that film would lead to all this: Hulk harnesses the infinity stones and snaps; Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America fight Thanos; Captain America wields Mjolnir and proceeds to clap Thanos; Doctor Strange a buttload of portals to bring Black Panther, M’Baku, Wasp, HOWARD THE DUCK, Spider-Man, Scarlet Witch, Bucky, Starlord, Drax, Mantis, Groot, Falcon, Okoye, Valkyrie, and Rescue to stand alongside Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Giant Man, Hulk, Rocket Raccoon, Hawkeye, and War Machine; Captain America says Avengers Assemble, etc.
I could go on, but instead I’ll just highlight the fact that Spider-Man takes the infinity gauntlet from Black Panther, carries it on a pegasus, and then hands it to Captain Marvel. The climax of this movie is crazy, reaching incredible heights comic-book ridiculousness, all ending with Iron Man dying.
Of course there have been been deaths in the MCU before, but in almost every case (in the movies, at least) they either weren’t permanent, or weren’t really characters that anybody cared about to begin with. Black Widow, although dead, is soon getting her own movie set before the events of Endgame. In Iron Man’s case, there have been rumors about Robert Downey jr. retiring as Iron Man for years. Endgame finally pulled that trigger.
But where that was sad, the ending of the movie made me feel emptier than Requiem for a Dream. Captain America’s sendoff was absolutely perfect, and the ending of him and Peggy dancing took the movie is the best wrap-up of his story that I can think of. It’s no wonder that the writers of Endgame wrote all 3 of Captain America’s solo films.
2. The Avengers
I don’t know that I’ve ever been as hyped coming out of a movie theater as I was with The Avengers. Don’t get me wrong, Endgame was fantastic, but the feeling that it left me with was more of a dull emptiness. And of course it makes sense that Endgame wouldn’t have been one hundred percent happy. It does have End in the name. The Avengers on the other hand was just the beginning. It was the first time the MCU really tied together, showing what a cinematic universe could be. Thor vs Hulk, the 360 shot of the Avengers, Hulk’s pounding of Loki. there’s no wonder I was bouncing off the walls the entire night after coming home from the theater. The Avengers is the MCU as it hit its stride.
1. Avengers: Infinity War
From the it’s first scene, Avengers: Infinity War is something special. This movie not only has an amazing villain, but perhaps the best introduction of a villain in the entire MCU (not counting Thanos’s previous cameo appearances). The opening coveys the the feeling of hopeless necessary to build up just how powerful Thanos is, from Thanos dragging Thor around like a rag doll, to Hulk’s defeat at his hands, to Loki’s death. I’m still surprised that Marvel killed off such a beloved character by having his neck slowly crushed with a sickening snap. This is an Avengers movie, not Jessica Jones. Finally, the opening is capped off by Bruce Banner landing in New York, filling in the Silver Surfer’s role from the comics, and announcing that “Thanos is coming”. In short, I love this movie’s opening.
But that’s true for so much of Infinity War. It has more of my favorite MCU scenes than any other. This movie is filled to the brim with memorable bits: Thanos’ ship landing in New York, Spider-Man’s first appearance, SPACE, Scarlet Witch’s Edinburgh scene, Gamora’s flashback, and so many more that this paragraph could just keep going and going.
As many good moments as this movie has, the real test was whether it could all be brought together successfully. I realize that EVERYBODY doesn’t come together until Endgame; but this is still the movie where Spider-Man and Iron Man attempt to pull of Thanos’ gauntlet while Mantis keep’s him sedated and Drax and Doctor Strange hold him down. All this goes on as Thor, Groot, and Rocket land in Wakanda to help out Captain America and his crew. On top of all that, so many characters cross paths and help each other out along the way that it’s difficult to keep it all straight. For example: Thor starts out with Hulk and Loki before meeting the Guardians. The Guardians then split up, two going with Thor, the rest going to Knowhere. There they meet Thanos, and split up again. Gamora with Thanos, and the rest on to meet Iron Man. All of this interweaving of character paths opens the movie up to incredible opportunities for fun interactions, and boy does Infinity War make use of that.
Which brings me to the ending. Like I’ve already mentioned, the MCU has had other endings that weren’t exactly sunshine and rainbows. Captain America’s first film, to a lesser extend his third, and to an even lesser his second each had endings that weren’t entirely uplifting. But none of them had finales quite so hopeless as this one. The choice to end the film with the Avengers’ utter defeat and Thanos sitting down and peacefully enjoying his victory was the best decision made in a film full of great decisions. One thing that’s been said about this movie many times is that it’s really Thanos’ film. So many times in movies the hero has been almost stopped near the end, but for whatever reason made it through to win in the end. In Infinity War, it’s Thanos who manages to make it through to perform his “heroic act”: the snap which has become so infamous since the movie’s release.
Even with the release of Endgame, Infinity War stands out to me as something special. I still haven’t mentioned so much about this movie, but I’ll just say one last thing: all the hype, all the buildup, all the anticipation payed off; and I’m so happy it did.