We left off in Part 1 by expelling the lower-tier outings from our system. Don’t we feel a lot healthier having done that?
I feel like including the newest outing, Avengers: Endgame, in the bottom tier will kill a lot of interest in my ranking. But who cares? This ranking is OFFICIAL and FINAL! These are the ones that truly matter, I don’t care how many billions you make on your opening weekend.
The next levels aren’t all winners, but even the ones I don’t like at least have interesting things in them. I’ll take an interesting failure over mediocrity any day of the week. So all of the movies on this list are watchable, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if one of them is your favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe outing.
Which one is my favorite? Let’s count it down.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
This sequel seemed to set out to do everything the first film did, but more of it. It gets really grating when every single joke from the first film gets stretched to its limit in this one. The original balances the sensibilities of writer/director James Gunn with the needs of an audience-friendly blockbuster, and I think Vol. 2 doesn’t get that balance right. It’s tonally off at times. But it gets extra credit for being an interesting failure and for trying to expand the visual constraints of the MCU. I also can’t totally fault a film that covers Michael Rooker in blue paint, makes him a space hillbilly, and then makes him the emotional core of the film.
09. Black Panther (2018)
Black Panther is the definition of a mixed bag. There’s a lot to love in it! Michael B. Jordan knocks it out of the park as one of the few legitimately interesting and well-developed villains in the entire MCU. Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, and Danai Gurira all made me instant fans with their performances, and the fight scene in South Korea had a fun, James Bond-like flavor.
Unfortunately, it has some really, really uncomfortable politics. A movie with this title shouldn’t have such a buddy-buddy relationship with the CIA — within the film and in real life. It’s also kind of telling that we spend barely one scene with the day-to-day life of a normal Wakandan backgrounded and the rest of the film is superheroics and palace intrigues. There are a lot of blindspots in this thing.
Also, the finale is just a ripoff of the finale in Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
08. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Homecoming is not the best Spider-Man movie. It’s definitely not the worst either. It’s comfortably nestled in the middle: both entertaining and uneven. Tom Holland is a fantastic Spider-Man and owns the role completely. He’s helped out by Michael Keaton’s menacing turn as Vulture, who’s in the same league as Loki and Killmonger when it comes to sympathetic and well-developed villains, which is something that’s in short supply in the MCU. The scene where Vulture drives his daughter and Peter Parker to the homecoming dance is loaded with tension and menace, it’s the kind of scene that the MCU as a whole tends to forget.
While the Spider-Man antics and the high-school stuff are all decent, everything with Iron Man feels weird and forced. He basically replaces Uncle Ben, but we have the baggage of 15 other films on our shoulders, so it’s hard to see Iron Man as a saintly figure. Also, for a movie that came out in 2017, it has a weirdly mid-’00s soundtrack, right? It isn’t a patch on Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, but that’s a tall order. Spider-Man: Homecoming is … good enough.
07. Ant-Man (2015)
The worst thing about Ant-Man is that we know a version of this film could have been made by Edgar Wright. That’s always going to stick in my mind when I think about it, which is fair. That being said, it’s still a fun ride. Paul Rudd slots into the hero role well, because he’s adorable and charming. Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly are fun foils for Rudd — Lilly deserved to do more, which they obliged in the sequel — and Michael Peña is a godsend, as usual. The film suffers from the villain being a “dark mirror” of the hero, which the MCU loves to do (see Iron Man and Black Panther). Just like Iron Man’s presence in Spider-Man: Homecoming, the scene with the Falcon in this movie sticks out as pointlessly trying to shoehorn in the larger universe of characters. Overall, it’s fun and slight and not a bad way to spend a couple hours. Still, how great would an Edgar Wright version have been?
06. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Putting Iron Man 3 this high on my list feels controversial, but I don’t think it is. I still don’t love the movie, it has some glaring flaws, but it feels like a departure from the previous three films starring Tony Stark, which is refreshing. It’s nice to see Robert Downey Jr. shine by spending a lot of time out of the suit, and he can deliver Shane Black dialogue really, really well. The finale with all of the Iron Man suits fighting and exploding becomes a dull layer of CGI after a while, and reading about how they wasted Rebecca Hall really annoys me retroactively. Nevertheless, I appreciate a movie that does something like the Mandarin twist or actually deals with the consequences of a previous film, so here it sits at number six.
05. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
This is the movie that finally made Thor an interesting character. Turning him into Kurt Russell from Big Trouble in Little China was a stroke of genius, and Chris Hemsworth gelled really well with Taika Waititi’s humour. Unfortunately, half the movie is spent on the boring Asgard stuff, which never comes close to getting off the ground. Cate Blanchett is a striking presence as Hela, but the movie gives her next to nothing to actually do. I also don’t find it quite as visually interesting as other people do. Except for a couple of flashback scenes with Valkyrie, it’s mostly Wes Anderson-style fussy blocking with MCU’s standard washed-out color palette. Nevertheless, it charmed its way to the top of the pile.
04. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The most interesting thing to me about Guardians of the Galaxy is how personal it feels. This is the tenth film in a mega-successful series of action blockbusters, but it’s also undoubtedly a James Gunn film. His schlocky genre experience comes through in every frame, and it’s not a surprise to me why there was a backlash when Gunn was fired from Guardians 3. I have a few issues with the movie, though. Chris Pratt’s performance is a little creaky at times until he seems to get used to leading a big budget film, and Gamora’s role is so stereotypical it borders on parody. But overall, Guardians gets by on charm and inventiveness, and it’s also the most visually interesting Marvel film post-Avengers 1. I’m glad Gunn is back for the third movie, and I hope we get something more like this and less like Vol. 2.
03. Iron Man (2008)
The entire MCU would not exist if it weren’t for Robert Downey Jr. The entire series is built upon his performance in Iron Man, and for good reason too. Rewatching the movie is kind of refreshing. The big finale isn’t a CGI slug-fest with faceless drones, and there’s a lot of time spent developing Tony Stark and his supporting cast. Jeff Bridges doesn’t get a lot to do, but he seems to be having fun. It’s actually entertaining to watch Tony Stark become Iron Man, because we’re basically watching Robert Downey Jr. prove to us that he’s a megastar. There are some stumbles out of the gate as to the larger universe (the Ten Rings, the nature of S.H.I.E.L.D., Terrence Howard), but they nailed it where they had to: the iconic post-credits scene featuring Samuel L. Jackson. That’s the right way to get people hyped.
02. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The solo Captain America films managed to do something that Joss Whedon never could; they managed to make the idealistic, square-jawed hero actually interesting. Captain America: The First Avenger sets itself apart by being a period piece and a love story. Joe Johnston’s steady, experienced hand guides it along to deliver some of the most memorable and important scenes in the entire series (the USO montage, the chase scene with the saboteur, Steve Rogers jumping on the grenade). First Avenger also boasts some of the best effects work in the MCU, with The Red Skull’s gruesome face and the wimpifying effects on Chris Evans still holding up remarkably well.
The First Avenger was only the fifth MCU film, so it was allowed to have its own style. Since then, there’s been a dearth of directorial influence, give or take the occasional James Gunn or Taika Waititi. Still, Johnston and Evans were obviously on to something. Captain America showed up later than Iron Man, Black Widow, Nick Fury, Thor, Loki, and the Hulk, but it’s hard to argue that he isn’t the second-most important character in the entire universe. That’s all due to the foundation they built here.
01. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best MCU film, because it’s the best overall film they’ve made. It’s the most complete version of the benefits of world-building mixed with the benefits of a self-contained story. Winter Soldier tells a story that greatly affects the entire Universe while grounding it with personal stakes. This movie slightly suffers from that gray concrete and brushed steel look that pervades the MCU, but it fits the story being told. Nick Fury and Black Widow are the best they’ve ever been here, the villains are varied and interesting, Captain America actually feels like a continuation, and evolution of the character from his first film and the fight scenes, by and large, are entertaining. It’s also absolutely bonkers that Robert Redford not only co-starred in an MCU film but allegedly made one of them his last film appearances ever.
Winter Soldier felt like a high-water mark when it came out, so it’s no surprise that the powers that be handed over the reins of the entire MCU to the creative team behind this film. It’s just unfortunate that they never came close to this again.
That’s it. That’s the proper order.
Is Avengers: Endgame a proper capstone to the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far? Sure, why not? Without going into spoilers, it certainly points towards a new-ish focus. Does that make it great? … No. I wish it were better, but with three hours’ worth of movie, there’s enough there to grab onto something fun.
Where will the MCU go from here? I’m not sure. With their recent ominous acquisition of Fox, the smart money is on the X-Men mutants making an appearance. The Fantastic Four also seems like the biggest and easiest superhero group to introduce. Still, I’d bet that there will be some kind of Black Panther/Captain Marvel/Spider-Man team-up for the Avengers films to start. And right now, the Guardians of the Galaxy seem like the best bet for a guaranteed audience, so they’d be silly not to expand from that.
All I know is that Disney will keep pumping them out, and my opinion will keep being meaningless.
But it’ll still be correct.