The Marvel Cinematic Universe in its entirety feels like one giant blur of meaningful moments, scenes, feelings and characters, all meshing together to create an explosive cinematic experience.
A man building high-tech armour in his fancy basement. A scrawny stick of a soldier going into a machine and coming out a bulging, towering figure. The now iconic circular shot of a series of remarkable individuals coming together in battle for the first time. A space pirate standing by his new friends, facing impossible odds against a powerful villain, deciding to engage in a dance-off. An evacuated airport that becomes the stage for a superhero battle extravaganza. A teary-eyed teenager lying in the arms of his mentor, apologising before gradually fading away into nothing.
So as we approach the culmination of the MCU’s 10-year Avengers saga with Avengers: Endgame, here are my thoughts on a series of movies that I believe are the most enjoyable, rewatchable films ever made. Here’s my ranking of all 20 movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from worst to best.
Infinity War was a surface-level spectacle that hinged solely on maximum-heroes-per-frame moments. Thor was his same life’s-just-one-big-joke Ragnarok self, Vision is feeble and just gets beaten up throughout, Bruce Banner whines from start to finish, and literally everyone on Team Cap just shows up and battles. Its greatest failure is giving Captain America all of 8 lines and nothing to do. How ironic that he was so ignored at the hands of the directors who made him. Weirdly, Doctor Strange was far more memorable here than in his own film.
Remove Thanos and Infinity War is a whole bunch of nothing. While he’s powerful and daunting enough, he just wasn’t enough to carry an entire film which side-lined its most important characters. Infinity War also had some of the weakest set pieces across all the Avengers movies. The entire Wakanda battle was uninteresting.
Maybe it’ll all make sense after watching Endgame, but as a standalone film, Infinity War was spectacularly anticlimactic and made me rethink my entire relationship with the MCU.
Captain Marvel was the most nothing of the few nothing Marvel films. Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers felt ordinary, uninteresting and utterly devoid of personality. What films like Captain America: Civil War did to establish new characters like Black Panther and Spiderman over a handful of scenes, Captain Marvel couldn’t manage for its titular character over an entire movie. A great female superhero has been long overdue from the MCU and this was a wasted opportunity.
The movie also did what the MCU does best – building up great characters over multiple films and undoing them in one fell swoop. Nick Fury was reduced to provider-of-punchlines. And who can forget that historically terrible final scene in which a newly-eye-patched Fury has a eureka moment while thinking of a cool super-friends team name when he sees the word ‘Avengers’ written on the side of a plane. Painful.
Iron Man 2 was an incoherent, unfocused, bloated mess of plot. Despite a few memorable moments like that great courtroom scene with Tony Stark, the film was a desperate attempt to do something meaningful with the character.
You almost have to applaud that convoluted plot which included Stark slowly being poisoned by his own chest piece, leading to him going on a self-destructive bender. All of this while reconnecting with his dead dad who also happened to have discovered a new element which could save Tony’s life. And the purpose of all of this? To change the shape of his chest piece from circle to triangle.
To make it worse, Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow, who was reduced to just eye-candy.
If the best thing about your movie is a mystical flying cape with personality and a side character with Beyonce jokes, you know something ain’t right. Doctor Strange was a shoddy origin story and hollow visual spectacle. Take away the magic-fuelled fight sequences and mind-bending Inception-esque visuals, and all you’re left with is weak writing and forced, exposition-y dialogue.
It’s lead by a bland Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange (armed with an annoying American accent). Add to that a serviceable Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams in two scenes, a sorely wasted Mads Mikkelsen and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Michael Stuhlbarg.
Iron Man 3 was… just fine. A serviceable addition to the Tony Stark story. In many ways, it was Iron Man 2 done right. It gave Stark a real inner conflict – struggling to understand where the man ends and suit begins – and PTSD, stemming from the Battle Of New York.
Aside from a bunch of exploding baddies, IM3 also brought to screen The Mandarin – Iron Man’s most iconic adversary – in a clever little twist. But we also got another vanilla villain in Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian (the franchise’s third wannabe-Tony Stark bad guy).
Ant-Man And The Wasp lacked the creativity and distinct comedic charm of its predecessor. While it gave us a whole bunch of new size gags and shrunken badass-ery (largely from The Wasp – one of the MCU’s coolest female characters), it proved to be a suitable-at-best follow-up. The film essentially answered the question of just how much of the first film’s greatness was down to its previous writers Adam McKay and Edgar Wright.
Spider-Man: Homecoming was a cheerful, breezy film meant to firmly integrate Spidey into the MCU by offering a new take on the iconic character. But, like Captain Marvel, it also felt like yet another Marvel assembly line product, ticking off a franchise checklist.
Homecoming relied too heavily on nostalgia, rather than being memorable on its own. This latest iteration of the character wasn’t better than the previous Sam Raimi and Marc Webb versions, just… different.
As a coming-of-age high school comedy, Spiderman: The Teenage Years worked well as we saw Peter Parker grapple with getting girls, fighting crime, studying for Spanish tests and fighting Michael Keaton’s working-class villain, Vulture. After the solid Captain America: Civil War, it was a little tough to see the same guy who went toe-to-toe with some of earth’s mightiest heroes, clumsily crash into fences in this one.
Despite being hailed as one of the best Marvel films to date, Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok was a hollow and heart-breaking experience. In a desperate attempt to reinvent the Thor franchise, Marvel pressed the reset button, casting aside all character development and conflict thus far, turning a layered, complex family drama into a spoof of itself. Waititi reduced some of the MCU’s greatest characters into caricatures/cartoons of their former selves. Remove both punches and punch lines and what are you really left with?
James Gunn’s follow up to one of the most beloved additions to the MCU was essentially more of the same. Though we were reunited with our favourite ragtag team of dysfunctional, squabbling idiots, the film lacked genuine feeling or heft.
There’s a predictable plot involving Quill reconnecting with his ‘secretly’ evil father which you could see coming from a mile away. The entire Rocket-and-Yondu-being-two-peas-in-a-pod angle was poorly fleshed out as was Yondu’s sudden discovery of his feelings. For all the visually imaginative gags you could feel the effort in trying to be constantly zany and whacky. That said, how adorable was Baby Groot?!
Why Thor: The Dark World gets such a bad rap, I fail to understand. It had Frigga’s death, Odin’s anger, Loki’s sacrifice and so many damn feels. Like Iron Man 3, it also addressed the fallout from the events of The Avengers, with Thor finally coming to terms with who Loki really is. Their complex dynamic is what really elevated the movie.
The film’s issues stem from how little we got to explore Asgard and Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster being woefully underutilised. Also, the film had another case of great-actor-playing-scary-looking-villain-who-basically-just-growls-a lot in Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith.
Easily the most overlooked MCU film, Ant-Man was the refreshing, imaginative breath of fresh air that burst into the scene just when you thought you were tired of origin stories. In a world consumed by spies, super soldiers and spacemen, Paul Rudd gave us the endlessly likeable everyman reluctantly thrust into a world of superhero-ing who refused to take himself, or any of it too seriously.
Ant-Man was the innovative comedy of the Marvel roster, co-written by some of the best comedic minds, including Adam McKay, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. It also had some of the most visually creative, ridiculously well-designed CGI sequences (see the briefcase battle or that epic final toy train showdown). It is in many ways what Doctor Strange wishes it was.
Black Panther was difficult to not like, but easy enough to not love. Ryan Coogler’s film was an undeniable cultural phenomenon. A visual feast, made with much conviction and sincerity on all fronts – from the formidable ensemble cast, the costumes, to the action sequences and above all, the unforgettable female characters. But aside from its political statements, when it came to telling an emotionally engrossing story, Coogler’s film failed to stay with you like the best on this list.
In the end, Black Panther almost felt like a dream. What stayed with you was a mesh of dizzying, colourful, visuals and scenes rather than a story and characters that refused to budge from your subconscious.
The First Avenger was a strong origin story that introduced us to the man who would go on to become the soul of the MCU. It was by no means an easy story to tell, juggling the Nazis, Hydra and the World War 2 setting with themes of patriotism, politics and propaganda.
The First Avenger explored the very idea of heroism. Steve Rodgers was always a hero – a scrawny kid from Brooklyn who refused to back down from a bully. The serum merely improved the packaging. The unflinchingly earnest Chris Evans proved to be the ideal choice for the man out of time, brimming with simple goodness.
The First Avenger also gave us MCU’s greatest female character in Hayley Atwell’s Peggy. And along with it, arguably its most heartfelt romance in Cap and Peggy. While director Joe Johnston may not have known at the time what Cap would go on to become for this universe, The First Avenger was by all accounts a worthy origin to his story. True to the words of Dr Erskine before administering the serum – good became great.
Kenneth Branagh’s emotionally-charged Shakespearean family drama disguised as a superhero movie was our first taste of just how diverse these movies could really be. Backed by one of the MCU’s best scores (by composer Patrick Doyle), Thor was tightly-made and felt poles apart from its predecessor Iron Man. Thor showed us what powerful performers could do to make strange, far-off magical realms of gods and monsters feel real and believable. Inspite of the perfectly-cast Anthony Hopkins, and the introduction of the superb Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston stole the film as Loki, the scheming son scarred by a life of rejection.
Thor was the coming-of-age story of an entitled, war-hungry, glory-seeking prince who learnt compassion in exile. Thor was simple, but never simplistic.
Iron Man introduced the world to one of modern pop culture’s most iconic characters – Tony Stark. As the weapons manufacturer and warmonger who has a change of heart after coming face to face with the consequences of his empire, Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark is charming and flamboyant but also complex and flawed. The self-proclaimed ‘genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist’ is wonderfully full of himself, a stark contrast (pun intended) to the standard ‘good guy’ archetype.
Iron Man offers a transformative experience, a coming of age arc, a great villain, and one of the most memorable ‘discover your powers’ or in this case ‘build your armour’ sequences you could ask for.
Guardians Of The Galaxy is the most purely fun film in the MCU. A ridiculously entertaining romp filled with bursting personalities, glorious banter and oh-so-much attitude. Director James Gunn cemented himself as one of the most distinct voices in the MCU with his heightened comedic approach and cool visual style.
The film gave us our favourite bunch of loveable A-holes. The group of jackasses standing in a circle we never knew we needed. Guardians represents one of Marvel’s greatest strengths – taking a bunch of nobodies and using winning storytelling to make them overnight pop culture mainstays.
If a decade ago you told me I’d be deeply invested in a repetitive talking tree, a Bradley Cooper-voiced racoon with a thing for big guns and a blue dude with a fin-head and a formidable flying whistle pen, I’d have some questions. If Captain America: Winter Soldier raised the stakes of dramatic storytelling and Avengers took us to new heights of spectacle, then Guardians did the same for an unapologetic good time at the movies.
Avengers: Age of Ultron is one of the most exciting and entertaining MCU films with some of the franchise’s coolest moments. Aside from more mind-boggling set pieces (that explosive opening single take, the final Sokovia Battle and Veronica Vs The Hulk), Age Of Ultron delved deeper into the individual struggles of these characters.
The film set in motion some of the best MCU narratives to come like the idea of the Avengers being a destructive force and establishing Tony Stark as the man who creates more problems than he solves. It was also the best Hawkeye movie, a sorely misunderstood character. He came to be the dad of the group who keeps these superpowered hotheads in check.
Finally, Age Of Ultron also gave us one of the most underrated villains. Ultron was driven and ruthless but also vulnerable and human.
‘Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?’ With lines like these, Captain America: The Winter Soldier proved that outside of comic book merriment and superhero showdowns, the MCU could also offer intricate storytelling and drama.
The introduction of the Russo brothers catapulted Cap to one of the franchise’s most complex characters. It was also the best Black Widow movie, the best Nick Fury movie, and had some of the most electric action sequences of any film on this list. That first ship assault, Nick Fury’s car ambush and that elevator scene. Damn, that elevator scene.
Cap has always had the best villains and Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce was no exception. As the calculating Hydra mastermind, Redford brought a further dose of credibility. With no aliens, cosmic villains or intergalactic anything, The Winter Soldier was a small movie with seismic impact.
Joss Whedon’s glorious team-up story still brings with it a rousing feeling of watching one of the biggest movies ever made. Whedon’s film was well conceived with each and every character getting their due. It was in many ways the perfect comic book movie – the ideal mix of campy, cool and comedic. We get a good old-fashioned hero-villain story with grand, world-ending stakes, and a dysfunctional set of fish-out-of-water characters who initially flounder before coming together for the greater good. It all builds up to the Battle Of New York which remains one of the greatest set pieces seen on screen. Not to mention one of the MCU’s most effective villains in Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.
Civil War was so intricate and complex that it actually harmed the MCU, making all the films that followed look lesser in comparison. It took us to dizzying new heights of storytelling, conflict, politics and ideology. Every scene, every moment, every frame was so well-executed and served a larger purpose.
Civil War explored one of the most fascinating implications of a world of superheroes – the politics. The Sokovia Accords asked pressing questions about where they fit in the world, how to keep them accountable, whether to keep them controlled and above all, whether they are a threat.
The film also gave us a massive spectacle with mature storytelling that made you think. It’s a perfect counterpart to Infinity War, succeeding so triumphantly where that movie failed, giving you a deep sense of each character and motivations in mere moments.
Aside from cementing Cap as the best thing the MCU ever produced, Civil War is also the best Tony Stark movie. We see him as a problematic, easily manipulated man at the end of his rope. Zemo and his psychological crusade to end the Avengers was one of the most formidable antagonists they’d ever face. Here, the climax isn’t some gigantic battle against aliens and the conflict can’t be captured by one specific villain to defeat.
Civil War raised the bar by giving us a superhero film that was far more than we thought it could be.