Like many, Infinity War sent me back on a Marvel movies watching spree. Since this behemoth set of movies stretches back to 2008, it had been several years since I saw some of the original outings, and I wanted to be reminded of what the building blocks for these franchises looked like.
Phase three of Marvel’s epic universe is getting ready to wrap-up after the next Avengers film, and the movies still continue to be a success in the box office, especially after Infinity War smashed so many records, making Disney even more of a media juggernaut. With Blank Panther having done so well too, and Captain Marvel on the horizon and riding off of Infinity War’s buzz, there doesn’t appear to be any slowing down.
With Ant-Man and the Wasp officially rounding the films up to a nice even twenty, I felt it was time to rank them. I haven’t done this since there were only ten of them, and my thoughts have certainly changed on some since last time, so let’s see where the cards fall after a fresh watching.
20. Thor: The Dark World
The weakest of Marvel’s outings in my opinion, this is the film that makes me wonder if the universe might be spread a bit too thin. It took a risk taking so much time in space, but felt hollow, even though there were nine whole realms to tease and ignore.
Thor’s second adventure seems too centered around simply introducing another Infinity Stone, and even the characters don’t appear that interested. It is painfully obvious with Jane Foster, but maybe even more so with their paper-thin villain. Christopher Eccleston, the actor who played him, was quoted as saying that Thor: The Dark World was like, “a gun in your mouth.” If nothing else, this film was a small wake-up call that taught Marvel to reevaluate their approach and not get too complacent or sloppy.
19. Iron Man 2
I know this was a hard follow-up film, but that doesn’t help its rank to me because of the sheer wasted potential. Good characters, good acting, and tech upgrades, but the classic Iron Man arc has a lot of other elements pushed in and the things that truly work in Iron Man 2 aren’t given much time.
Seeing War Machine fight finally is great, even if the big battle is brief. Whiplash was a cool villain, played by the right person, but needed more time on screen. Justin Hammer is played perfectly, but his character was so similar to the previous villain that it felt like a rehash. Audiences were finally introduced to Black Widow, but she was mostly used for looking good and beating ass, save a few parts. The whole subplot with Tony’s heart and the stuff in DC could have been cut or balanced out better for it to mean something. The stories and characters just clash in several different ways with no room to breathe, and this movie was rushed, having a year less time to work on than the previous one—which shows.
18. Iron Man 3
Better than the second installment, I loved most of the action scenes and felt it had some classic Tony Stark moments, even if the writing didn’t always make the most sense. His PTSD at the beginning as an after-effect of Avengers was neat to see, but the character development really stops there, since most of the ending is undone by the second team-up movie.
I’m not huge on the stuff with the kid, but it could have been so much worse and didn’t go on too long after the purpose was served. Guy Pearce does a great job, but just isn’t as cool as the bad guy fans thought they were getting. I personally liked the twist with The Mandarin, especially after the reveal that there might still be a real one out there, but I get why some were upset. Iron Man 3 tries hard but only nails about half of what it sets out to do. Fun, but unnecessary.
17. The Incredible Hulk
Hulk is a hard character to write for, and due to some lingering legal issues, he isn’t given many standalone films, so this one may be the best out of that bunch by default. I was a fan of the old television show though and thought this second feature length outing tried really hard to capture so much of the character, and Edward Norton plays the role well, making the audience feel for the character.
The opening credits of The Incredible Hulk hash out Banner’s origins expertly, getting through what could have been a lot of clutter. I hate there was never a follow-up with The Leader after doing that whole side plot, and the movie feels unsure about its pacing and what to do with the action scenes—not dull, but lacking. When that big fight at the end does finally hit, it isn’t satisfying, and both characters just look a bit off.
So many were worried about how this movie was going to come out, as potentially one of the hardest Marvel properties to get across to unfamiliar audiences, but it did work. I give a ton of that credit to Kenneth Branagh, a talented director who saw the beauty of Asgard and the Shakespearean family drama, while making the characters truly feel like gods. Thor is an incredible visual masterpiece, showing off an amazing world that feels like an alien Olympus.
However, I simply hate that the story shoehorned in the parts on Earth and had a somewhat rushed ending with a lackluster fight. The story also didn’t need the love interest, even if there are a few moments with genuine, fun chemistry between the two. Thor made me empathize with a character I had never appreciated in the comics, and was the first step to showing that the MCU was determined to make all of this work, while also introducing Hawkeye.
This is a fun, smaller scale (pun intended) heist movie in the MCU, which already sounds like a great idea, but it is also one that I thought some of the jokes helped make the film breathe more and show some character. It does feel weak in a couple of spots, an awkward pacing for the first half, and a bad villain tries to have a presence and be menacing, but comes across as yet another copy of the hero with a cool costume and no personality of his own.
I think Ant-Man turned out to be good fun, but some think that had the issues with the original director not occurred, it could have been a lot more—which is quite possible, but wouldn’t have tied in to everything else. With some solid acting—especially Michael Douglas—and incredibly fun action scenes though, what fans got was a strong beginning for an interesting set of characters in a lighthearted adventure.
14. Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The First Avenger is an important origin, with the title touting its significance. It’s also another tough one that needed to be handled carefully, and some readers were worried he would be a bit too hokey for the screen. This film is a little slow at first, and I still think him being that skinny looks weird, but the time period is nailed and it feels like an important journey.
The adventure picks up quick, after he’s used as a cog in the propaganda machine —similar to why the comics started— and it is great to see the shield fly and Cap punch terror, even if some aspects here looked cheap. Hugo Weaving seemed cool playing Red Skull, even if he was a bit bland as a failed version of Steve Rogers, but it was traditional and felt right somehow. This movie also introduces us to the awesome that is Peggy Carter, the future Winter Soldier, and I loved seeing young Howard Stark.
13. Ant-Man and the Wasp
It’s the most recent movie in the franchise, so I’m sure it’ll take more time for me to fully process this one, but I definitely think it is a better sequel, a good follow-up that went a slightly different direction and tried to give the fans more of what they wanted. The breakout aspect is of course in the title, Evangeline Lilly rocking it as Wasp, and a villain that feels motivated while not sharing the same power set as the heroes with Ghost. She’s more of an antagonist, having her own goals, and her phasing abilities combined with the shrinking and growing make for some good fight scenes.
The good parts of those encounters were mostly shown in the previews, but again, Ant-Man and the Wasp is still more fun like last time. Paul Rudd is great of course, and the stuff with his daughter Cassie worked. Everyone is written well, like Walton Goggins as a secondary villain, doing his normal role expertly, and we needed more Michelle Pfeiffer, while maybe a tad less Michael Peña? He wasn’t bad, but not all of the jokes landed well to me, though one or two really made me laugh. The quantum realm was some brief fun, but the movie stayed focused and on track once the plot kicked in.
12. Thor: Raganarok
Hands down the best Thor movie, even if I’m still a bit confused about how it works. It is so different from the previous two while feeling like one of the most important parts of the lore. This is Ragnarok, what should be a depressing story with feelings of futility, while the comedy shines the most, making this an unyielding juxtaposition. I wanted it to be more serious in some places, as the movie needed just a little more from the story, but the other elements make up for that.
Thor: Ragnarok has this cool 80s feel, so colorful and odd, while being far away in space as this fun adventure, capturing a lot of what made Guardians of the Galaxy stand out the first time around. Hemsworth really shines here as the title character, Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster and Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie are welcome additions, while the big character developments come from the Hulk, which is a nice surprise.
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
This sits as one of the more interesting movies on the list, because every time I watch Avengers: Age of Ultron, I find it gets worse or better the more times I see it. There were some big shoes to fill after the Avengers’ first outing, and Ultron seemed like a great next step, combined with a few other neat ideas. The movie is really disjointed at parts, feeling like a cluster of moments that had to meet certain rehashed expectations, while having serious good moments like the downtime at Hawkeye’s house. It works, but always seems like something is missing, even if it has some intriguing character moments.
Ultron has weird writing for his character’s motivations, which can be argued away as him being an AI, but it wasn’t as smooth as Loki’s attempt to take over the world. James Spader’s performance however is top notch. This also introduces some cool characters that are still making an impact in the later movies.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The first volume was a great unexpected movie, but the unfortunate side effect was how high the bar had been set. I knew that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 would still be fun, no matter what they did, but I was so worried about diving into Star Lord’s lineage. The characters and their individual development turned out to be the strongest part of the writing though, as the actual adventure felt big, but somewhat contained to personal developments, and the crew was much stronger.
I love Kurt Russell, but had no idea how he would perform as such an enigma from the far reaches of Marvel’s universe, and I was glad to see that Ego had so much presence. The movie was certainly missing some things from the first one, lacking in many scenes, just slow in others. I honestly didn’t like a good bit of the humor, especially Pac-Man (whom I usually like) and the stuff with Baby Groot.
9. Doctor Strange
This is another origin story done quite well, a beginning we don’t get to see often, and a property with tons of potential for future stories. Doctor Strange does have its problems, like how some of the humor overrides serious moments that needed to breathe, and a lot of interesting stuff is teased but never answered, which I hope we see later on.
Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius was wasted in some ways, as he played the part well and there was so much more to do with him, but at least Dormmamu was pretty cool. The rest of the cast does a great job, with some solid acting and emotional moments, even if Cumberbatch’s accent is still odd to me. The true strength of the film is its stunning visuals and creative fights, where the colors come alive and each battle feels truly magical. Those are reasons enough to re-watch the movie, but I also think it had a creative ending; not a knock-down, drag-out fight, and I loved that—even if it was heavily foreshadowed.
8. Spider-Man: Homecoming
It was incredible to see such a fun and energetic take on one of my favorite characters. I love all of the Spider-Man films for one reason or another, but this one felt fresh and repurposed to benefit the character. Spider-Man 2 might be the better movie, but this iteration had a ton of great moments and fit in so well with the MCU, while still managing to tweak their formula in a positive way.
Spider-Man: Homecoming’s acting is good in almost every part, especially with a lot of new younger actors, and Tom Holland truly embodies Peter Parker for a lot of people. Michael Keaton as the villain is a standout though, not only because he has an understandable motivation and can be threatening when he has to, but fans finally got to see The Vulture for the first time on screen in his full glory. The humor and dialogue in this movie also round it out as something just good and fun, a movie in this universe I can watch over and over again.
7. Iron Man
The movie that started it all, and in some ways, the hardest and best step was the first. Most don’t know that the Iron Man comics were not doing well when this film was being worked on, so it was a gamble in that sense as well, but they were starting with a clean slate, setting their vision for the whole MCU. Aside from that though, I found it to be the best origin story in these films, and at the time was one of the better comic book movies released. It captured so much of what made the books interesting and got fans excited for more movies and reading the comics as well.
Some like Iron Man for introducing Coulson, but no one can deny that first end credits scene with Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, hinting at The Avengers. Robert Downey Jr. had turned his life around and gave Tony Stark a true presence, as we watched him change from carefree playboy to hero. Jeff Bridges did well as the villain also, but as we have become accustomed to, he wasn’t utilized as well as he could have been. Re-watching this made me realize it truly is one of my favorites and that final scene of him revealing who he was to the press had me wanting more right away.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy was another big gamble for Marvel, using a cast of characters that a lot of people had no clue about, especially when that group has had multiple iterations in the comics. It’s an ensemble hero film, but where none of the crew had their own origin movie to help build backstory or create anticipation. It worked though, not only as an unexpected hit, but a franchise that MCU fans know quite well now.
Pratt rocks it as Star Lord, Gamora and Nebula are great, but mostly everyone fell in love with Groot and Rocket. It’s an incredibly fun and humorous movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which almost works in every regard. There are some scenes that falter, but the biggest failure is Ronan, a bad guy that deserved to be more than just a looming figure. Also, some people didn’t like that dance-off ending, but I thought it fit the character. In a time where new Star Wars films hadn’t come out yet, Guardians of the Galaxy filled that space adventure void. It also took a list of some amazing songs and made a fantastic soundtrack that I listened to for weeks after seeing the film.
What an incredible payoff. The initial push for the MCU’s big project was a risk and a little over four years of movie preparations, and it is kind of amazing it all came together so well. This is the first team-up for some of Marvel’s big names, and it was all worth it for that iconic moment in the damaged streets of New York as they stood back-to-back. That moment is usually one of the first thoughts to cross my mind when I consider these movies as a whole.
I was skeptical about Loki as the villain at first, worried that it wasn’t enough, but he was perfect. Not only did the god of mischief made a faceless army work, but he’s still considered one of the best villains they’ve put on screen. Joss Whedon has to be given a lot of credit here for making such an ensemble film—which even included side characters from some of the other movies—feel tight, well-thought-out, and like everyone shined individually as well as a team. I love that they fought at first, because that happens so much in the comics. They feel like individuals with personal goals and egos. Avengers is a long movie that doesn’t feel it, and I immediately wanted to watch it again, especially after that first Thanos tease.
4. Captain America: Civil War
Such a big movie with so many characters and plots involved, which is why many jokingly call it Avengers 2.5. This film also introduced fans to Black Panther, while a deal with Sony let us see a new and improved Spider-Man. Both of them were great and the returning characters had a lot to do, as there is a ton crammed into this world-trotting adventure.
The relationship between Captain America and Bucky is important, as well as the separation from Iron Man. They did so much better with balancing the sides in this version versus the comics too. There was a great villain here, Zemo, and he played a small part but it felt like something different, intelligent and calculating. His plan shook up the status quo, and has left lingering ripples through the rest of the movies. Captain America: Civil War is a serious film that deals with the fallout of what happens to the rest of the world when superheroes fight, which leads to one of the more memorable and fun fight scenes in the MCU. The battle at the airport pulled out all of the stops and left many happy.
3. Black Panther
This was an incredible experience that felt like a peek into another world here on Earth with a brilliant pallet of colors and intriguing scenery, even if some of the CGI didn’t do the visuals justice in a few spots. Black Panther has a fun story, one that is a little unexpected in the first act, and still managed to keep my attention in the predictable parts.
It has a nearly-sympathetic villain with a great presence in Eric Killmonger, a set of fleshed-out side characters that all feel important, and established the new King of the Marvel universe while making me excited to revisit Wakanda soon. The film also boasts one of my favorite soundtracks out of the entire MCU, and that is one of the reasons I’ve re-watched it so much. Black Panther has made his presence known for sure now, and I find myself wanting to read more of his comics too.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
What is possibly the greatest direct sequel in the MCU, fans were ready to see how Captain America adapted to the modern world, and what adventures he could get into post-Avengers. This movie feels like more than that though, a spy thriller first with political intrigue while keeping the comic book elements alive and popularizing the phrase, “hail Hydra.”
Captain America: The Winter Soldier has layers, new character depth, building off of the first film and making the main characters face a lot of issues after saving the world, and ending with the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. This introduces us to a cool new hero, Falcon, while bringing back an old face and putting a mask on it, with the badass Winter Soldier being half myth, half Terminator. Black Widow and Nick Fury are also back in the mix doing their espionage thing, and everyone looks lethal. The action scenes are intense and excellently done, coupled with some good writing, making this entry seem important. Many of the MCU movies feel like they are good because of what they add to the whole, but this was one of the first ones I realized could stand on its own.
1. Avengers: Infinity War
It feels weird putting this at the top, still being so new and fresh, but it is deserved. This event had a multiple year build-up across several different movies, and it all paid off without feeling too forced. Ever since his tease at the end of the first Avengers film, I have been ready for Thanos, who turned out to be a much better villain than I thought he would be. There are so many characters in the movie, all of whom were balanced well and did not feel like they were wasted, with a few personal character development moments on top of that. I do understand that it doesn’t play out as well without seeing many of the previous films, but it fit together for the MCU fans in a big way.
This all led to some incredible visuals, fights, and many memorable scenes from characters meeting for the first time to tragic moments in several instances that truly felt ripped from the pages. Avengers: Infinity War is the culmination of a true undertaking and I cannot wait to see how it all ends. Even if the second part fails, this movie will be remembered by most as something spectacular, and I cannot wait to comb through the DVD and all of its extras.