Editorials

Ranking Marvel’s Cinematic Universe

Two years ago, heading into Captain America: Civil War, I sat down and made a list ranking my favorite Marvel movies up to that point. Here we are, on the eve of The Avengers: Infinity War and I’ve been busy for the past 2 months doing my homework: rewatching the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe catalog. That means it’s time to do another list, this time with six new movies to add as well as dealing with how my opinion of various movies has changed over the past couple of years. Here we go:

18. Thor: The Dark World

I think there is very little competition for the worst Marvel movie and while it says something about how good Marvel movies have been in general, it also means that Thor: The Dark World stands out. There’s not really anything offensively bad about it, it’s just that basically everything that happens is so uninteresting. You have characters actively being less interesting than the first movie. Most egregious is Odin, who after being lauded as a brilliant, thoughtful ruler in the first Thor ends up making stupid decision after stupid decision, rushing to battle and thinking little of his enemies. You know, exactly the type of thing Odin tried to teach Thor about not being in the first movie.

Chris Hemsworth is already established as Thor which means we don’t get the fun “fish-out-of-water,” instead a brooding, unemotional Thor. There are still flashes of good Thor, mostly when he’s interacting with Loki, but it’s not enough. Natalie Portman does good work but somehow the chemistry between her and Hemsworth doesn’t hit. In fact she has more chemistry with Chris O’Dowd’s random blind date character. The other supporting characters get even less screen time as well, with Stellen Skarsgaard and Kat Dennings gone for half the movie while things focus on Asgard. Lady Sith and the Warriors Three, who were already poorly defined from the original Thor, somehow have even less to do here. However the worst character, by far, has to be Christopher Eccelston’s Malekith. People talk about how bad MCU villains are and Malekith is probably the worst, with poorly defined motivations, unexplained powers and basically nothing to do for the entire movie. The final battle against Malekith is especially bad. The science-y “make wormholes to beat the bad guys” premise is just dumb and Malekith is never imposing or frightening, as you never really get a sense of what he is trying to do or how it will affect the universe besides it just being bad, which really defines the movie as a whole.

17. Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 comes from a time when Marvel was still trying to figure out exactly what it was trying to do. It features the first real push towards the MCU but it’s so incredibly heavy handed, especially when it’s paired with the movie trying to deal with Tony Stark’s emotional problems that are trying to mirror the Demon in a Bottle comic storyline. The other problem comes from Mickey Rourke’s antagonist who just doesn’t work. Anton Vanko isn’t scary or menacing enough to create a proper threat. He’s not charming in the “bad guy you want to root for” kind of way like you get with someone like Loki. Pus the fact that we get yet another “man in a suit” fight is really lame. There are, however, some bright sides to this movie. Sam Rockwell is great as a failed competitor to Tony Stark, Scarlett Johanson makes a good debut as Black Widow and we get a more fleshed out War Machine thanks to the hiring of Don Cheadle.

16. The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk is a perfectly fine movie by all respects. You get a good performance by Edward Norton, who plays Bruce Banner in exactly the way you expect him to be. It does the “no origin story” thing perfectly (way before Spider-Man Homecoming, mind you) and just jumps right into the action with Bruce living away in Brazil, trying to come up with a cure while also working on his control over becoming The Hulk. You get your Favela chase sequence (which I assume is legally required for movies set in Brazil) and some other good scenes of Hulk just being basically invincible. I particularly like the scene on campus where he just tosses around Tim Roth like a rag doll. Even the final fight against Abomination has some decent, albeit fan-servicey moments. I mean he says “Hulk Smash!” how can you not like that?

No really the main problem with The Incredible Hulk isits status as the black sheep of the MCU. While there are some plot connections between the events of this movie and later stuff with The Hulk, like Banner controlling his ability to turn into the Hulk and William Hurt’s reappearance in Civil War, most things are just abandoned to the time when Marvel hadn’t figured everything out yet. Liv Tyler as Banner’s love interest? Gone. Obvious set up for a sequel featuring the Leader? Nope. Edward Norton? Sorry, but no. The Incredible Hulk is a fine film but one that almost feels like it just doesn’t belong with the rest of the MCU.

15. Captain America: The First Avenger

The first Captain America is less a cohesive film and more like several short films, of which only a few are good. You begin with skinny Chris Evans (which while clearly fake still looks pretty good today) taking the journey to becoming Captain America. You have a bunch of great people in the film as Steve Rogers has his body and character tested in boot camp. Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones are great but the stand out is Hayley Atwell, who is both charming and tough. You wrap this part up with Rogers’ transformation and a cool chase through the streets of 1940’s New York. Then you get the bizarre “Captain America as a spokesperson for bonds” that is plain uninteresting.

Luckily it’s not too long before we see Cap back in action again raiding a Hydra base, rescuing soldiers and coming face to face with Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull (who I really like and I hope they come with some comic-booky way to bring back at some point). This part is pretty good but unfortunately about as good as the action gets. After this you get a montage of stuff that looks cool but really just makes you wish they had skipped all of the dancing girls and instead focused on Captain America’s, you know, actual missions. This culminates with the train sequence where Bucky is “killed” which doesn’t land with any gravitas because it all happens so fast. The climax doesn’t really have much to offer and the final confrontation between Captain America and Red Skull is over before it starts. The movie does end well with the the sadness of the lost love between Peggy and Steve and then Steve waking up in current-era America, which makes a perfect lead in to The Avengers.

14. Iron Man 3

You can tell right out of the gate that Iron Man 3 has a different director than the previous two films. It has a different tone and pace, somehow even wittier dialog and a purely different type of Robert Downey Jr. It’s a much more personal journey that deals with Tony’s personal demons, both emotional and physical, as in the case of Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian. Compared to the previous films, RDJ spends much more time as Tony Stark than as actual Iron Man. After having his house destroyed and being essentially marooned in the middle of Tennessee, we get to watch Tony piece together the mystery of exploding soldiers as well as going full Macguyver when he has to assault a compound without his suit. His sudden and unexpected sidekick during this section is 12 year old Ty Simpkins, who holds his own against the quick-talking Tony Stark and is a great addition.

Now I know a lot of people dislike Iron Man 3 for what they did to the character of the Mandarin and I agree it’s unfortunate. That being said, though, once you know it’s coming, it’s actually not that big of a deal. Ben Kingsley is pretty great as the bumbling idiot actor and the “big twist” doesn’t have any big negative reaction once you know it’s coming. Plus it gets that character out of the way for the actual final fight, a cool imaginative action set piece with a whole bunch of unique Iron Man suits and them being used in really cool ways that we have never seen before. Plus points to Marvel for not making the bad guy another guy who built his own suit and instead actually going for something original and different for Iron Man to fight. I also really love that Gwyneth Paltrow gets to be a bad ass and save Tony Stark’s life after being mostly used as a damsel in distress in past movies. The biggest disappointment I had after watching Iron Man 3 was just the realization that this was the last standalone Iron Man film we will likely ever get, at least with RDJ inside the suit.

13. Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange, as the title might suggest, is a weird movie. As Marvel’s first foray into full magic, it makes sense that it offers plenty of trippy and mind-bending sequences. You get yet another brilliant casting with Benedict Cumberbatch as the arrogant and rude Stephen Strange, who anchors the entire movie and delivers perfectly, making you believe his transformation from brilliant surgeon to master of the mystical arts. The supporting cast is all around pretty good. Tilda Swinton does a good job opposite Cumberbatch, along with Chiwetel Ejiofor. They both bring a good mix of seriousness and humor to make everything relatable. And while he is mostly solemn, Benedict Wong is great as well. Mads Mikkelsen, who I think is great, unfortunately doesn’t get a ton to do here besides look menacing and spout exposition. Even worse is the treating of Rachel McAdams, who is painfully underutilized.

Doctor Strange has some really cool sequences while also having some dumb parts. I get the whole crazy kaleidoscope visuals is meant to illustrate the mystery of infinite dimensions but it really feels like just a bunch of fluff. When the mind-bending visuals are incorporated into the actions scenes it’s much more effective but even then it’s just a ton of CG and I have a hard time feeling the weight of what’s going on. Still the visual are impressive, although they harken back a bit too much to Inception, which I think did this type of thing better. I do, however, love the end of the movie, both with the rewinding time sequence as it presents an interesting fight unlike anything we’ve seen before. I also love how the big bad guy is defeated not through might but through intelligence, it’s a great take on how Marvel movies usually end up. Doctor Strange seems like it has a lot of great individual pieces but ultimately spends a long time on the “origin story” to a fault. It makes me excited at hopefully seeing a sequel because there are just so many places that you can go with a master of magic.

12. Thor

I have always been a big defender of the original Thor. After rewatching it I still think that Chris Hemsworth is absolute perfect casting. He looks the part of the imposing Thor but also isn’t afraid to look silly, hinting at the beginnings of what eventually becomes Thor Ragnarok. Despite taking the MCU away from Earth for the first time, Thor is really just a simple fish-out-of-water story. The surrounding human characters (Natalie Portman, Kat Denning, Skellen Staarsgard) all do a great job and Thor’s adventures on Earth I still find highly entertaining: the Destroyer fight, Thor attacking the SHIELD base, “I need a horse!” etc. However aside from Loki, who is still the best villain to date in the MCU (and another example of inspired casting), the majority of stuff that happens on Asgard is where the movie drags. Compare the setting up of Asgard to how Wakanda is introduced in Black Panther and it’s just embarassing. Still the movie ends well thanks to Thor and Loki’s final confrontation, which is more exposition and arguing than true battle, which I like.

11. Spider-Man Homecoming

After being introduced in Civil War, Spider-Man does the thing few super heroes have dared to do: skip the origin story and get straight to the good stuff. It’s a welcome move, especially when it comes to Spider-Man, who had a rebooted origin movie not that long ago. However, Homecoming is actually still kind of an origin story. Sure we don’t get see Peter bitten by the spider, no frolicking on rooftops while he figures out his powers and certainly no Uncle Ben death scene. Instead the origin story comes from Peter trying to decide what type of person, and hero, he is going to be. This type of origin story is becoming more and more common lately but it works well here, especially because it gives Sony a great excuse to feature Tony Stark in various scenes as Spider-Man’s mentor. The best thing of Homecoming, though, is just how much they nailed it by casting Tom Holland. He looks the right age for a high-school student and has the scrawny look of the geeky kid while also being believable in his heroics. Moreover they got the personality of Spider-Man perfect, including the quips during fights and actually portraying the “friendly neighborhood” version of Spider-Man with the great section of him just doing random things like stopping a bike thief and giving an old lady directions.

You also have a great supporting cast. Maria Tomei, while maybe odd casting for the usually elderly Aunt May, is great. Michael Keaton is fantastic as Vulture, who shows both great menace and strength while also being relatable. The scene where he talks to Peter in the car is terrifying but also a great display of how he’s not a completely evil person. The real show-stealer is Jacob Batalon as best friend and “guy in the chair” Ned. Watching him nerd out over discovering Peter’s identity and his instant support and helpfulness is impressive. He is also constantly hilarious. While Homecoming nails the characters and comedy, the action is one part that doesn’t quite hold up. The ferry scene particularly feels too close to scenes featured in past Spider-Man movies, specifically Spider-Man 2’s train sequence. The final action scene when Vulture is attacking the plane is kind of a mess, with some interesting ideas but it’s a bit hard to tell what exactly is going on and there’s nothing overly impressive about the fight until the very end, when Peter shows his true colors and saves Vulture’s life. The only set piece that really works is the Washington Monument scene, which features some cool visuals and speaks more to Spider-Man as a character. All that being said, Spider-Man Homecoming isn’t about the action, instead deciding to focus on characters and story, which are both great.

10. Black Panther

There is little doubt that Black Panther is a great achievement when it comes to establishing and creating a world for a new character. It unfolds the mysterious Wakanda, whose true nature was only barely hinted at in Civil War. Wakanda is visually stunning and the most fully realized fictional world so far in the MCU. The way futuristic technology is blended with ancient culture is cool and really speaks to the type of people Wakandans are. While it spends a lot of time setting up Wakanda and its people, something that is sure to be important in Infinity War, Black Panther spends equal time developing T’Challa as he struggles to decide what type of king he wants to be. Where T’Challa was fairly one-note in Civil War, here we get a true character arc, while also getting to see Chadwick Boseman’s charisma.

The other supporting Wakandans are great, with the standouts being Danai Gurira’s fearless and proud Okaye and Letitia Wright’s smart and playful Shuri. You also get a great, although brief, performance from Andy Serkis, who is just clearly having a ton of fun in the role of Ulysses Klaue. The most interesting character, though, is Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger. He portrays an amazing villain in that you actual feel for his plight and his reasoning, while also fearing his strength. His ultimate goal is clear and understandable while simultaneously being detestable. The way his story ends, especially with his final line, is especially poignant.

Plot and characters aside Black Panther features a couple of really interesting action scenes. You have the almost James Bond-like casino action scene, which then transforms into a true superhero scene when it becomes a high speed chase through the streets of South Korea. The two main fights at Warrior Falls are both great as well, featuring simple yet impactful one on one fights. I do, however, have major problems with the climax of the movie, both from a story perspective and from an action perspective. The big conflict that plays out feels incredibly forced and doesn’t seem to really have any stakes. The final confrontation between T’Challa and Killmonger is a complete letdown and far less interesting than their first battle. And don’t even get me started on Martin Freeman’s terrible remote-control airplane scenes, which are uninteresting and pointless. The finale is ultimately what brings Black Panther so far down my list. When everything was going right and we were getting a great and thoughtful personal story, the movie decides it needs some giant battle at the end and ends up squandering so much of what it was working for.

9. Ant-Man

Of the 18 movies featured so far in the MCU, Ant-Man has the distinguishment of being the most bizarre and unbelievable of all of them. There is seemingly no reason that a movie about a guy who shrinks down and interacts with ants should make any sense on the big screen, let alone be any good. Instead, however, Ant-Man makes it not only believeable but also incredibly entertaining. It’s probably the closest to a true comedy that we’ve seen in the MCU, so naturally it makes sense that it stars the incredibly charismatic Paul Rudd. He is great in this movie and seems as genuinely surprised at being a superhero as we are in watching him become one. It’s a quaint movie by superhero standards, with just an everyday guy being the hero rather than some super-soldier, billionare or alien from Asgard. The supporting cast here is great. Michael Douglas as Hank Pym is fantastic, as is Evangeline Lilly as Hope, holding her own against the two men and constantly being smarter and stronger than either. You can clearly see her path towards becoming The Wasp in the upcoming movie. The real scene-stealer is Michael Peña, who’s optimism and constant goofy grin as he explains his ridiculous plots simply hilarious.

While the people are simple, everyday folks the stakes are at still “save the world” levels and Ant-Man turns into a heist movie for a good while before going full superhero at the end as Ant-Man fights Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket, a mirror of Ant-Man’s own powers. The fight between them is creative and entertaining, never shifting too far away from comedy by switching back and forth from high-stakes battle between two small opponents to the actual normal sized world view of it. My favorite moment of this has to be the fight on the train, where we get a traditional action scene where train cars are being thrown around and blasted into fiery pieces. When the Thomas the Train engine is barreling down on our bad guy, the perspective swaps to a normal view as we watch a toy train plop off the fake tracks with little fanfare. It’s moments like this that are sprinkled throughout the movie that give it the charm and energy that make it so enjoyable from start to finish.

8. Avengers: Age of Ultron

There was no way that the second Avengers movie would be able to deliver the same type of awe and wonder that the original did. You just can’t recreate the same excitement around getting the group back together as you did when you got to watch them join up in the first place (although Infinity War may surpass this by literally getting everyone together). Nevertheless I find Age of Ultron to be a vastly underrated film. You have a great villain portrayed by James Spader, who is just eating up his role as the maniacal Ultron. You introduce two new Avengers (and killed off a potential third in Quicksilver before he really got to do anything cool) as well as fleshed out the only Avenger who seemed like he didn’t belong by finally giving Jeremy Renner some time to shine as Hawkeye. Moreover you get time to just watch the team be The Avengers both in battle and outside. The comraderie and banter is fantastic, especially in the party scenes before everything hits the fan. Age of Ultron also has amazing action set pieces. The Hulkbuster fight is amazing, the freeway scene with Captain America going toe to toe with Ultron is great and the final battle, even though it is just another fight against an army of faceless soldiers like the first Avengers, has some really cool moments and great uses of powers.

The only real missteps with Age of Ultron come by way of the story. Thor’s mystical journey to learn more about the Infinity Stones still makes completely no sense and his decision to override and settle the debate over Vision’s creation comes out of nowhere. Also Tony Stark’s reasoning for doing basically everything in this movie is very bizarre, even considering Scarlett Witch’s influence. Even still, Age of Ultron sets up important aspects of Marvel’s Phase Three: Captain America and Iron Man’s growing distrust of each other, Hulk escaping away in Quinjet and even the first hints of Wakanda, the true value of Vibranium and introduction of Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaue.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

I won’t lie: seeing Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 in theaters I thought it was just an alright movie. Clearly not as good as the first one – which would be difficult for anything to surpass – but I still came away from it with mixed feelings. Having just revisited it, however, I now see that I vastly underrated the movie when it came out, as it is definitely a worthy sequel. With all of the set up out of the way, Guardians 2 gets to focus on each of the characters and their growth. Chris Pratt is working out his daddy issues with the always great Kurt Russell. Bradley Cooper’s Rocket also gets a lot of time in the spotlight dealing with his own demons. This goes side-by-side with the increased role of Michael Rooker’s Yondu, who turns out to be the one stealing scenes this time around. His entire arc in the movie is great, just as his ending is heartbreaking. He also gets an incredibly shot action scene in the movie, where we finally get to see why his flying arrow is a feared as it is. We even get some more history around the relationship between Gamora and Nebula, although it’s clearly a B or even C plot in the movie, which is a shame. Heading into Infinity War it would have been nice to get more info surrounding their childhood days with Thanos, although it looks like that is tackled somewhat in the upcoming movie. Dave Bautista, the biggest surprise from the original Guardians, returns here and is mostly used as comic relief, which he’s great at, but he doesn’t get much in the way of an arc or storyline. Instead he is paired with Pom Klementieff’s Mantis, who is similarly used mostly for comic relief.

Not everything in the movie works, however. The entire plot surrounding the Sovereign is uninteresting, beyond the great opening action sequence/musical number, which could bode poorly for the eventual Volume 3 which is teased to focus on them again. Also the conflict between Nebula and Gamora leads to a pretty underwhelming action sequence that feels stuffed in the movie for little reason. Lastly is Ego’s overall plan for worldwide domination, which is so blatantly evil that his turn from nice dad to bad guy just happens too fast. These are minor quibbles, however, and Guardians 2 is a still great movie, overshadowed only by how phenomenal the original is. Guardians 2 is still full of great music, a fantastic mix of comedy and action and frickin’ Baby Groot. You can’t go wrong here.

6. Thor: Ragnarok

Man Thor: Ragnarok is just joyful from beginning to end. It’s actually kind of shocking how different Thor is here. When we last saw him he was brooding his way through Dark World and going off on a weird spiritual journey in Age of Ultron. Then suddenly we get to Ragnarok and Thor is suddenly a goofy, funny protagonist. In fact Ragnarok is basically a reboot for the entirety of Thor. Every character save for Thor, Loki and Heimdall is cut out: Odin dies (but not before letting Anthony Hopkins have fun playing Loki), the Warriors Three are killed with little impact, matching how little development they have received. Even Jane Foster, who was the central character in Dark World and was madly in love with Thor, is written out.

In their place, Ragnarok introduces new characters that are all great. Tessa Thompson is instantly more interesting and receives more character development that was ever given to all of Thor’s previous lackeys combined. Korg steals the show, with his gruff, intimidating look contrasting his meek, peaceful voice and manner. You also get Jeff Goldblum being amazing as the Grandmaster, a role hopefully he gets to reprise in some form. And while not new, the evolution of The Hulk as a character separate from Bruce Banner is fantastic.

Other new characters are less interesting with Cate Blanchett and Karl Urban doing their best at being bad guys but quickly take a back seat to everything going on with Thor and Hulk on Sakaar. Just about everything about Ragnarok works perfectly. It is overflowing with style with 80’s inspired electronica music, a gorgeous color palette and several sequences that are breathtaking, like the Valkyrie flashback. The action is great, especially the Thor-Hulk fight but more importantly Thor Ragnarok is full with great humor and a general lightheartedness that just makes it an incredibly fun and entertaining ride.

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The more times I watch Winter Soldier, the more it grows on me. After my initial viewing way back in 2014, I liked it but I wasn’t head over heels for it like so many Marvel fans were at the time. Now after several viewings over the years, I think I may finally be coming around towards placing it higher up on the list of all Marvel movies. The first thing that I think of after watching this is just how intense the action is and how you feel every fight almost like you were actually there. For the first time you really feel the “super soldier” of Captain America is a way that we never really saw in The First Avenger or even The Avengers. Where those focused more on establishing Rogers’ morals and his ability to lead, here you get to see him in full bad-ass mode. Assaulting the freighter, the elevator scene and the several fights against Bucky are fantastic and some of the best work in all Marvel movies.

On top of that somehow Marvel manages to make Captain America into a spy movie and the twists and turns are captivating. It also doubles as the closest thing we’ve gotten to a Black Widow movie. The movie is also a turning point for the entire MCU, with the effects of SHIELD collapsing and Hydra resurfacing affecting all future movies and even the tv show Agents of SHIELD. It’s a great film that showed that Marvel films can offer something different than just standard super hero stuff.

4. Captain America: Civil War

Civil War is one of the largest events in Marvel comics and the most ambitious film so far in the MCU, cramming in tons of heroes and offering something we have rarely seen glimpses of: heroes fighting heroes. More important though is that Civil War makes a feud between Captain America and Iron Man believable. Sure it doesn’t get as vicious or deadly between the two sides as it does in the comics but I think that this version works better on the screen where you only have and hour or so to build up the conflict. Civil War also has the honor of introducing two new heroes, both who have since debuted great standalone films. Black Panther is the first and while he doesn’t have a ton to do, his arc is important in setting up the Black Panther movie, especially the moment at the end where he decides not to kill Zemo where we start to see his first steps at becoming a king. We also get the surprise reboot of Spider-Man, who gets a mini origin story and is one of the highlights of the brilliant airport fight scene. While he only shows up for a small sequence and has no affect on the greater story, he is casted and portrayed perfectly, similarly setting up important parts of Spider-Man Homecoming.

Still, Civil War is billed as a Captain America movie, and for good reason, as he is the main character and moral compass for the movie. While the overall plot has some weird contrivances, and enemy Zemo doesn’t get a ton to do, Civil War is much more about the relationships between the Avengers and showing off some amazing action sequences. The apartment scene is pure Jason Bourne and the chase between Cap, Bucky and Black Panther shows off just how powerful these individuals are. Fast forward to the airport scene and not only do you get to watch new heroes interacting with each other for the first time, but the entire fight is filled with creative pairings and cool uses of powers. The whole airport scene is amazing to behold and also features a lot of great comedy moments as the characters banter back and forth. When the light-hearted scene ends in tragedy for War Machine, it sets up perfectly the emotional final act with Zemo’s plan to split the Avengers coming to fruition.

Now I’ve always felt that Tony’s reaction to learning his parent’s fate felt a bit forced, especially considering everything he had learned about Zemo and about Bucky being framed. That being said, the final action scene is still amazing. You go from the high-flying, bombastic fight at the airport to this, an emotional, gritty fight between two surprisingly evenly matched foes. Like any great fight, there is a story to the combat, almost like a wrestling match. The momentum swings back and forth several times, the powers and tech are used in inventive ways and you seriously question who is going to win throughout the fight. I was legitimately worried for a split second that Cap was going to actually murder Tony right before he delivers the final blow. It’s a powerful ending, with the Avengers fractured but still ending up sort of on the same side by the end. It has yet to be seen if the Sekovia Accords have any lasting affect on the MCU but surely the events here will play an important part in Infinity War.

3. Iron Man

The original Marvel movie, as it turns out, continues to be incredibly entertaining to this day. It’s bizarre to watch again now after everything that the characters in the movie have been through. Robert Downey Jr. is the most inspired casting choice for Tony Stark and the perfect man to hold the MCU together. This movie still works great: the escape from captivity, the Iron Man test flight, the famous “I am Iron Man.” Plus, for a universe that has generally poor villains, Obadiah Stane is one of the better ones. Granted this mostly comes from the great Jeff Bridges more so than the actual characterization on screen or the actual final battle. Iron Man stands the test of time as one of the best in the MCU.

2. The Avengers

Looking back six years after The Avengers came out, it’s still a very impressive accomplishment. They brought the four big names of the MCU at that point together and not only did they make it work, but they hit it out of the park. Naturally the stand outs are Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans who play off of each other perfectly as the two most important characters in the MCU. Mark Ruffalo’s debut as Bruce Banner is fantastic as he easily holds his own. Chris Hemsworth unfortunately doesn’t get to show off as much of the charm as he does in his own movie but going toe to toe with The Hulk and combating Loki more than make up for it. Speaking of Loki he returns with even greater charisma and mischief and is the perfect foe to bring everything together. The grandness of The Avengers is felt all over. It starts by bouncing all around the world as we are reintroduced to all of the characters, each in their own special way. You get the initial confrontation between Iron Man, Captain America, Loki and eventually Thor, which is equal parts cool action and comedic bits. You fully believe it when Iron Man and Thor go at it and it’s great to see how Cap ends it.

Then you get to the massive SHIELD helicarrier, where the general discomfort and mistrust between the crew is pushed over the edge by the mere presence of Loki. This leads to the aforementioned great fight between Thor and Hulk and the eventual death of Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson (another character I wish they would bring back to the MCU). Then comes one of the most impressive sequences in the MCU, the battle of New York. Where you previously got little tastes of the Avengers working together, here you get to watch the team truly do battle and utilize each person’s special abilities (even Hawkeye and Black Widow). That revolving shot around the entire group is by far the most iconic thing in the MCU and it still gives me chills. This final part perfects Marvel’s now usual combination of great action and light-hearted comedy. The Avengers is a amazing achievement from beginning to end.

1. Guardians of the Galaxy

Like Ant-Man, this is a movie that, on paper, should not work. The Guardians of the Galaxy are obscure characters to feature in a movie to begin with but then add on the space and alien elements on top of that and it definitely doesn’t seem like something that would be a smash hit. Obviously all of that turned out to be unimportant, as Guardians quickly became one of Marvel’s biggest movies because it’s funny, charming, features great action and, most importantly, has great characters. Chris Pratt is the shining point of the cast and his ability to hold down the leading man of an action movie is a big turn from the goofy, immature Andy Dwyer from Parks & Recreation – although obviously there are similarities to Starlord. Zoe Saldana is great as Gamora, bringing the nuance and complexity of of a foe turned enemy. The surprise move here, though, might just be Dave Bautista’s role as Drax. His dry, comedic timing steals many scenes and his natural physical presence makes him believable as “The Destroyer.”

Guardians also features two fantastic vocal performances in Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper. Sure Groot may only say one phrase but his charm is delivered thanks to great animation and the sheer variety of ways Vin Diesel can say “I am Groot.” More impressive, though, is Bradley Cooper, who after watching this and the sequel several times I have still have a difficult time recognizing – that’s how much he disappears into the role of Rocket. The supporting cast is also all-around fantastic, specifically Michael Rooker, who is always great, and Karen Gillan, who is terrifying in this role. The characters come together to offer a fantastic mix of comedy and action, with tons of memorable scenes and moments. You also have the 70’s inspired soundtrack, which is something I still listen to to this day. It’s an overall fantastic movie and continues to be my pick for best Marvel movie so far.

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