Marvel Movies Ranked: All MCU Movies from Worst to Best - VRGyani News and Media

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Monday, September 6, 2021

Marvel Movies Ranked: All MCU Movies from Worst to Best

Taken as a whole, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an undeniable achievement in cinema. It began with a simple idea, thrown in after the credits of the first, risky movie: “You've become part of a bigger universe. You just don't know it yet.” That idea blossomed into movies that crossed over with each other, sometimes with incredible results and other times with diminished returns.

I decided to look back at the films in the universe and rank them from worst to best. You will likely disagree with my rankings.

25) Iron Man 2

If Nick Fury’s words to Tony Stark at the end of Iron Man were a confident declaration about the intentions to create the “Avengers Initiative”, then Iron Man 2 is tripping over your shoelaces and faceplanting.

Iron Man 2 suffers from trying to do too much in the span of one movie, and no one seeming to agree on what needs to take priority. Yes, there needs to be some time given to setting up The Avengers, but Iron Man 2 does it awkwardly by introducing Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) but forgetting to give her a character. It tacks on the Coulson stuff, which is still a little stiff, but Clark Gregg does his best to make it work even though his dialogue may as well read: “Thor: Coming Next Summer!”

The Avengers stuff could be forgiven if the A-plot worked a little better, but like just about every Marvel movie, it suffers from a weak villain with a lousy motivation. While Mickey Rourke definitely had some clout coming off The Wrestler, director Jon Favreau just got a campy performance out of the actor, who clearly thinks the material is beneath him, as opposed to Darren Aronofsky, who got the best performance of Rourke’s career.

This is to say nothing about Tony’s palladium poisoning and how it just so happens that his dad invented the one thing that could save his son’s life, built it decades before his son miniaturized it, and then hid the plans in a table. It makes you wonder if Howard Stark put any other revolutionary ideas in furniture.

The one consistently great aspect of Iron Man 2 is Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer, and it makes sense considering he’s pretty much freed from the sinking ship of everything else going around him. He’s not caught up in Avengers business, he’s pretty much making fun of Rourke’s lackadaisical performance, and he gets to look good doing everything. But when an actor who doesn’t even get top billing is the one who steals the movie, something has gone amiss.

24) Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange is a weird beast. It feels cobbled together in a way that it goes by the familiar beats of previous Marvel movies--notably Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy--but it also feels rote and uninteresting despite the trappings of putting its protagonist into a magical world. It seems like Marvel stuck close to a familiar playbook because they knew they were making a bit of a leap with "magic", but when it came time to make that magic, it was fairly uninteresting.

I understand the difficulty Strange presents with magic because magic needs rules or else everything falls apart. That being said, the film leans far too heavily on the "cocky guy becomes a nicer guy" story Marvel has done before, and does so in a largely uninteresting way. Benedict Cumberbatch is fine in the title role, but there's always a feeling of "been there, done that" with the movie even its eye-popping action scenes that feel either ripped from Jack Kirby or Inception on steroids.

The film's greatest strength is in its thematic subtext where Strange's arc is learning that he has to be okay with being broken. Although I think the film could have leaned a little more heavily into this, I still like that the climax of the movie is Strange--a man who has spent his life fighting death--embracing death in order to save mankind. Yes, the willingness to sacrifice one's life is a standard part of MCU heroics, but Strange does it on overdrive and it actually means something to the character's arc.

But overall, Doctor Strange is largely disappointing. It wastes a terrific cast, features mostly uninteresting characters, and struggles to find the sense of whimsy of humor found in most other Marvel movies. Walking out of Doctor Strange was the first time I felt with a Marvel movie, "Yeah, I'm okay if we don't get a sequel to this."

23) The Incredible Hulk

It’s almost unfair to include The Incredible Hulk on a list of MCU movies since it was clearly added to the Universe after the fact. There are a few second unit shots and additions to make it feel like it’s part of something bigger (like a quick glimpse of the “Stark Industries” logo), but it’s so clearly meant to stand on its own, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. I’m not of the opinion that just because these movies are part of a shared universe they’re somehow lesser because they’re not actively sharing all the time.

The problem with Incredible Hulk is that it’s tonally so dissonant from the other movies, and it’s actually a bit of a downer. It’s a film that, when paired with Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk, makes you wonder if the character can carry his own movie or if he needs to be paired with other superheroes to work to his full extent. Left to his own devices, you have a character who rejects his own superpower and feels ambivalent about it at best. You need other characters to draw it out as a force for good and to give the loner Bruce Banner a sense of belonging.

The Incredible Hulk is too early in the MCU to take advantage of this kind of dynamic, so it’s adrift, and as a result lacks the proper tone, voice, and attitude to quality as a proper Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. Until William Hurt pops up in Civil War, it's the only movie where its actors don’t appear in other Marvel movies. Edward Norton is acceptable as Banner, but Mark Ruffalo is so much better in a well-rounded version of the character. It seems like Marvel didn’t know what they had yet with Hulk, so everything is just slightly off-center.

That doesn’t make The Incredible Hulk a “bad” movie as much as it’s a painfully mediocre one that’s constantly trying to reconcile its tone and its lead character, and while it has yet to figure out the former, we’ve at least come to a good place with the latter.

22) Ant-Man

When you consider that it had a rough pre-production, Ant-Man turned out far better than it could have. That being said, it still feels like a film that’s caught between two visions, and the vision it settled on is the less exciting of the two. That’s not trying to show favoritism towards Edgar Wright, and I’m eager to see what director Peyton Reed will do when he has full run of the show on Ant-Man and the Wasp, but his version of Ant-Man feels like it’s been stripped down to My First Heist Film.

It meets the genre requirements, but it meets them in such a simplistic way that it feels like the greatest achievement is so that Kevin Feige can point to Ant-Man as an example of saying “We don’t make superhero movies; we make heist movies,” and then compares Captain America: The Winter Soldier to a 70s political thriller even though it’s only like those movies in the loosest sense of the genre possible. It’s fairer to say that Ant-Man is a superhero movie through the lens of the heist genre, and once you’ve checked your expectations, it’s fairly enjoyable.

And yet (no pun intended), there’s a feeling that Ant-Man should go bigger. It has terrific stakes—a father wanting to earn his way back into his daughter’s life—and it’s a nice palette cleanser after the “Something big is going to drop from the sky” climaxes of the previous four MCU movies. And yet it doesn’t give us a particularly complex character with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is a nothing villain, and the Quantum Realm could have been a really exciting, psychedelic place, but instead it’s just a pretty kaleidoscope.

Thankfully, the movie ultimately hints at something grander just around the bend, and while the first Ant-Man may not achieve everything it wanted to, it succeeds as a minor Marvel film that still manages to charm despite some glaring shortcomings.

21) Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp is pretty much like the first Ant-Man in that it’s perfect for background viewing. It doesn’t really demand your full attention because it’s just a silly, goofy romp, and sometimes that’s more than okay. We don’t always need the world-ending stakes of an Avengers movie, and for its part, Ant-Man and the Wasp doesn’t even really have antagonists for the most part. It’s a caper movie where the Macguffin is a building, and then you have Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly bouncing off each other.

The flip side is that there's nothing particularly memorable about the movie. Peyton Reed does a good job playing with the relative size of the characters and objects, and it's a nice story about a family trying to reunite after 30 years apart. And yet for all the emotional stakes, it's a film that also takes nothing, including itself, seriously. It's like Thor: Ragnarok minus the impressive visuals--always going for the gag at the expense of everything else. There’s nothing really bad about the movie, and goofball comedies have their place, so this is one I won’t mind revisiting even if it will start disappearing from my memory the moment the credits roll.

20) Black Widow

I really wish this one was better. We waited so long for Black Widow to get her own movie, and it was too little, too late. The central problem is that because the movie arrived so late in the MCU that Natasha had already died in Avengers: Endgame, so a prequel story was already drained of stakes. To revisit Natasha's family life felt like ceding ground rather than illuminating anything new about the character. If anything, it felt like Black Widow was kind of a backdoor pilot of sorts to introduce Yelena (Florence Pugh) rather than do justice to Natasha.

The saving grace here is that Pugh is so good as Yelena. The plot of Black Widow is whatever (the concept of liberating other women should feel more immediate, but within Black Widow it almost plays like an afterthought to everything else going on with the clumsy family dynamic the film is trying to manage), but when you've got Yelena bouncing off other character or kind of poking fun at the very concept of superheroes and the Avengers, you've got a strong new character to play in the MCU, and you're excited to see where she goes from here.

But while Black Widow may be a good launchpad for Yelena, it's sadly an off-key swan song for Natasha. It's also confusing why Marvel, if they were so intent on doing a Black Widow prequel, didn't make the movie about her defection to S.H.I.E.L.D. and friendship with Barton rather than this weird bridge chapter between Civil War and Infinity War. Of course, the answer is that this story needs to be told for Yelena's sake, not Natasha's, and it leaves a bitter taste to see a longtime character, particularly a woman, discarded so casually.

19) Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

There’s a lot that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings does right. It’s a huge step forward for Asian representation in films. It’s awesome that the film’s prologue is basically all subtitled. The action is easily among the best in the MCU. On a basic level, Shang-Chi accomplishes what most Marvel movies accomplish: it’s fun, funny, and pretty entertaining. However, the biggest hurdle for an origin story like Shang-Chi is making you care about its title character, and that’s where this film struggles. Its plot is fairly uninteresting, and constantly jumping between the present and the backstories of Shang-Chi, his sister, and his father saps the film of momentum.

My biggest qualm with Shang-Chi is a similar one I had to Doctor Strange: I didn’t feel compelled to see more stories about this character. That’s not to say that future movies won’t make him more interesting (just look at how much more fun Strange was in his supporting turn in Avengers: Infinity War), but in his first movie, it’s tough to discern what Shang-Chi’s character arc even is beyond reconciling the legacy of a perfect mother and deeply imperfect father. There’s also a nice story about not being held prisoner by the past and grief, but that falls a little flat when the film constantly throws you flashbacks.

Shang-Chi has an edge over other lower-tier MCU movies simply because of the strides it makes in representation, and the action is masterful, but storytelling and character need to be the core virtues of these movies, especially as the MCU begins in a new chapter in Phase 4. We obviously haven’t seen the last of Shang-Chi, but hopefully, we’ll see him in a stronger story for his next outing.

18) Thor

Thor seems fairly counterintuitive: Here’s a Norse god. He has awesome powers. Now let’s strip him of those powers for the majority of this movie and stick him in New Mexico.

Thor’s lesson of humility in the Land of Enchantment is at least tempered by the fact that director Kenneth Branagh, despite having the incredibly poor idea to constantly use canted angles when filming, was dead on when it came to casting, especially Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. So much of the MCU’s greater success rests on these two actors that if you messed up this part, other films would suffer. The same could be said of casting on other movies, but Branagh basically found two unknowns and trusted that they could serve as bridges between the lofty realm of Asgard to the most mundane places on Earth. He absolutely succeeded, and when Hemsworth grins, you don’t care that the film has taken away his superpowers. When Hiddleston seethes, you love being wrapped up in the grandiose family dispute in Asgard.

Sadly, the rest of the film isn’t as strong as its two lead characters (I consider Loki as much of a lead as Thor, which is one of the reasons the character succeeds as a villain; Marvel should really take note of how they did this character right and apply it to their other antagonists). While Branagh succeeds at bringing Asgard to life, which is an impressive task, everything on Earth feels fairly limp.

Additionally, as time has gone on, we’ve seen that Thor’s willingness to sacrifice himself isn’t a unique trait as much as it’s something that Marvel superheroes are just willing to do at the climax of every movie. If that’s all it takes to wield Mjolnir, then more than just Thor, Vision, and Captain America should be able to pick up the hammer.

17) Thor: The Dark World

You can pinpoint the exact moment when Thor: The Dark World goes from being a slog to being a good movie. The entire movie picks up at Freya’s funeral (killing off a female character to give your male heroes motivation is a tired trope, but it’s a deeply flawed film), but it takes a while for the film to get there. First you have to go through Sad Thor cleaning up the Nine Realms, unceremoniously ditching Hogun for some reason, Jane meandering around Earth, Loki trapped in a cell, and yet another dull Marvel villain who suffers from a dearth of personality.

But after Freya’s funeral and Loki getting sprung from captivity, the film takes off and finds it energy. Between Thor and Thor: The Dark World, it’s not enough to have just Thor or even Thor and Jane. You have to have the relationship between Thor and Loki because that’s where these movies get their power. Even after Loki “dies”, his presence is still felt as a driving force for Thor and the movie keeps up the energy it found in their relationship.

It’s also clear that what Thor movies need more than anything is a sense of humor. The first half is pretty remote and dour, but the second half finds a pulse and throws in plenty of jokes and memorable little moments that give the movie a personality. Yes, it can be a little slapstick in some regards, but Thor shouldn’t take itself so seriously. When the stakes are interdimensional, that’s about all the seriousness these movies can handle, and it’s better to let the God of Thunder just have some fun.

16) Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel is pretty much on par with Thor with maybe a slight edge because it’s got a good buddy comedy thing going between Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). But overall, you have a character who’s much better than her debut movie. Nothing surrounding her, from the direction to the script, is really on par with what Larson brings to the character and how she makes Carol Danvers come to life. And that’s important! Imagine not getting Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man or Chris Evans as Captain America or Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Sure, there might have been another actor out there who could do the job, but these guys were perfect for their respective roles and so is Larson.

I just wish that the film she was in was better. Directors Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck don’t bring the flair and imagination the movie needs, especially given its cosmic settings. Directors like James Gunn and Taika Waititi were able to make the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe feel weird and trippy, but there’s none of that boldness here and the world, whether it’s 1995 Earth or the cosmos feels depressingly mundane. You also have the issue that despite Captain Marvel’s dazzling powers, most of the set pieces are pretty bland and fail to make her skills all that impressive.

The script also suffers from trying to obscure the origin story, and while it’s understandable that they wanted to mix things up a bit in terms of structure, the screenwriters’ decisions ultimately deprive Captain Marvel of an arc. She goes from someone who doesn’t really remember her past and doesn’t have full use of her powers to someone who remembers her past and has full use of her powers. That’s not particularly satisfying, and the only reason it even remotely works is because we’re rooting for Captain Marvel as a character even if the story kind of lets her down.

15) Captain America: Civil War

I really liked Captain America: Civil War the first time I saw it, and I still think it has plenty of great stuff going on. I think it shows the power of its lead characters by putting them both in the wrong and yet they’re still likable regardless. I don’t walk out of Civil War hating Captain America or Iron Man, and I hope that they’re bond can be repaired. It’s a movie that finds stakes outside of life and death, and what’s on the line is not only a partnership, but also the Avengers. Granted, we know that the Avengers will eventually be called back in, but now Infinity War has to deal with the fallout.

That being said, Civil War struggles to hold up on repeating viewings. It’s a movie that has some interesting ideas about government oversight and whether personal responsibility to all outweighs personal responsibility to an individual, but it really chugs along in order to get to these moments. It’s a big movie that feels like a big movie and at points it lumbers along like a big movie. There are a lot of moving parts, and while it’s nice to get a payoff like Spider-Man showing up, you also have to stop your movie to reintroduce Spider-Man. The character is thematically important, but he’s also a bit of fan service.

But what gives me greater pause for Civil War is that it’s a movie that’s highly competent, and yet bereft of personality. The Russo Brothers have shown that they’re highly adept at playing by Marvel’s playbook, and it’s a playbook that says, “Make me an expensive episode of television.” The film may feint at having big ideas and it can spur conversations, but there’s nothing particularly daring about Civil War. I suppose it’s a risk to pack your movie with too many characters, but there’s nothing particularly challenging about the film. It’s bombast and tone doesn’t match the scale of its rhetoric.

Civil War is still a fine film, and it has a lot that works for it, but I think when contrasted against other Marvel movies as opposed to the weak crop of superhero films we got in 2016, it has a harder time standing on its own.

14) Avengers: Infinity War

On the one hand, Avengers: Infinity War is loads of fun, and it’s staggering in its ambition to bring together almost every Marvel superhero into a single film. There’s also a delightful payoff to mixing and matching characters so you get to see Thor hanging out with Rocket and Groot or Hulk and War Machine coming to Wakanda. The vastness of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is on display here, and it’s easy to get swept up into it.

But the film’s greatest strength—putting most of its characters into one movie—also ends up being its greatest weakness. Because it’s trying to get around to everyone, it ends up getting around to no one. Everyone is pretty much the same character they were at the start of the movie. There’s been no catharsis, no realization, no growth. It’s fun to watch the characters bounce off each other, but unlike other Marvel movies, Infinity War isn’t really about anything. There’s no character arc or even a thematic arc beyond questioning how we value life.

Thankfully, there’s a strong villain with Thanos, whose motives may be weak (his solution to overpopulation is to just cut the population in half), but who gets a sympathetic, weary performance from Josh Brolin. The film wisely decides to move away from the character’s sadism and instead opts for someone who believes he has the will to do what must be done even if he’s not enthusiastic about doing it. The Avengers may have the title, but the film really belongs to Thanos.

13) Spider-Man: Far From Home

While not quite as strong as Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man: Far From Home does what these MCU Spider-Man movies do best, which is provide a look at the world of the MCU from the eyes of non-superheroes. While Spider-Man (Tom Holland) may be at the center of the action, he’s surrounded by normal people who are reacting to massive events surrounding them whether it’s something the audience forgot like the BARF technology from Captain America: Civil War, or something vital like the Thanos’ snap. Giving these characters time makes the MCU feel real and inclusive, not just a world belonging to superheroes that happens to have normal people in it.

Far From Home also shines by making sure that the villainy, like the villain in Homecoming, has a real relation to our world. It does need to be overtly political, but it comes as close as it can with the observation that people will believe anything, and that a “post-truth” world serves powerful bad guys far more than it serves regular people. While some Marvel movies are about themes like family or responsibility, Far From Home doesn’t shy away from an inherently political subtext.

Where the film struggles is in its pacing. By taking Peter and his pals on a European vacation that then becomes a spy thriller of sorts, it loses the tightness and focus of Homecoming, a movie that knew its touchstones (John Hughes movies) and had a true North in showing Peter Parker as a high schooler. That’s been lost somewhat here, and while it still takes Spider-Man to some interesting places, the film occasionally loses sight of the personal stakes that makes this such a rich adaptation of the character.

12) Spider-Man: Homecoming

This movie is so much fun. For some Spider-Man fans, Spider-Man: Homecoming is the Spider-Man movie they've been waiting for their entire lives after being let down by the angst permeating the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb franchises. Whether you like the previous Spider-Man movies or not, Homecoming distinguishes itself by going all-in with its high-school age Peter Parker and seeing his youth as a defining feature not just among Spider-Man movies, but in the superhero genre as a whole.

But what makes Homecoming stand apart are all of the great little touches. This is truly Spider-Man as a novice and Peter Parker as a diminutive figure. He may be able to lift a row of lockers with one hand, but he's still shorter than the girl he has a crush on. Rather than running from his responsibilities or trying to figure out how he'll pay the bills, he's totally focused on trying to be a hero even if he's not sure exactly how to do it. It's an endearing take on the character that doesn't lose sight of the stakes.

The only thing that really stops Homecoming from being among the best Marvel movies is that it doesn't really take any chances. Homecoming is all about putting the "friendly" and "neighborhood" into "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man." It's a cheerful film that doesn't even mention Uncle Ben by name, and while I'm glad it isn't weighted down by tragedy, it's not weighted down by much of anything. And that makes it an incredibly fun movie, but one that doesn't leave as much of an impression as other Marvel films.

11) Guardians of the Galaxy

This is just a fun movie. It’s not particularly deep. It’s not super challenging. And that is perfectly okay when your movie is this much fun. Looking back at Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s a little bizarre how we treated it as such a “weird” film when really it’s pretty conventional, and it’s only the dearth of creativity in the larger Hollywood system that makes GOTG an outlier rather than the norm. There’s nothing inherently unusual about endearing characters or alien worlds, but we’ve come to accept that it’s the film that’s odd rather than Hollywood’s method of thinking.

Granted, there’s no way a studio would have greenlit this film without the success of Marvel’s previous hits, and it’s the strength of the Marvel brand that helped get people in the door, but Guardians is a fairly tame movie. Its band of outlaws aren’t bad guys; they’re outsiders, and they’re lovable outsiders at that. Hopefully the sequel will let its sole female member, Gamora, get to have a little fun beyond just her excellent “pelvic sorcery” line rather than playing the straight woman to a bunch of boys having a good time.

Like with most other Marvel movies, you have to skip past the non-villain (He wants to drop something big from the sky and kill billions of people? Get in line, Ronan) and Thanos coming off quite poorly (the big bad of the MCU got dissed in an intergalactic Skype call), but this movie is about the heroes and that’s where it shines. Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot are all lovable, and writer-director James Gunn gave them a big, shiny, colorful world to play in.

10) Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 is a fascinating and incredibly divisive film in the MCU. It’s a film that should carry the entire burden of The Avengers on its back, and instead just shrugs it off, and shrugs off the responsibility of being part of a shared universe to just go off and do its own thing. It’s kind of a “Fuck you” to people who have expectations, not just in terms of the MCU, but also with the Mandarin Twist, and yet that irreverence is also part of the film’s charm.

Shane Black is a filmmaker who likes messing with conventions, so in that sense, perhaps he wasn’t the best choice to tackle the first post-Avengers film. And yet if you support filmmaker-driven cinema, he’s one of Marvel’s most inspired choices, and he gives Iron Man 3 a personality that’s completely unique to the MCU rather than having a film that could have just as easily blended in and faded away. Iron Man 3 is a terrific litmus test even if its plot is a bit scattershot and overstuffed.

That’s the complication of Iron Man 3: Do you view it as a standalone feature, as a sequel to two Iron Man movies, a sequel to The Avengers, or a continuation of the MCU? It doesn’t seem like Marvel was entirely sure how to approach a post-Avengers world, and yet given the choice between a movie that can work on its own merits and one that’s constantly trying to do housekeeping for the larger franchise, I’m going to side with the former, warts and all. Iron Man 3 is a bold film that doesn’t always work, but I love its enthusiasm and attitude.

9) Thor: Ragnarok

In the broadest sense, Thor: Ragnarok is just joyous. It’s ridiculous, silly, and it’s all clearly in director Taika Waititi’s voice. It’s a credit to Marvel that they tried to do something radically different rather than keep plugging away at a Thor franchise that never clicked completely. Some may see Ragnarok as throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but after two movies, it smacked of a series that needed a new direction and to take advantage of its strengths: Chris Hemsworth’s comic timing and the cosmic setting. The result is a movie that’s not only hilarious, but also big, bold, bright and colorful.

On the one hand, I can sympathize with people who wish that they had gotten a Thor sequel that was more in line with the previous movies--more Thor/Jane Foster relationship, royal intrigue, leaning harder into the fantasy setting. But Waititi's vision is clear, and it works, moving the Marvel superhero firmly into the realm of sci-fi comedy, and using that strong take to give the character definition that previous Thor films lacked.

Even in the movie’s weakest moments, specifically when it goes for a joke over an emotional beat or having to spend time with Hela, you still have a movie that works. You may not get the emotional impact, but you’ll be laughing too hard at Korg’s dry humor. Hela may not have the sympathetic shading of someone like Loki, but it’s hard to argue with Cate Blanchett’s charismatic performance and how her character represents the past we try to bury in favor of a pretty mythology.

8) Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron is far from perfect, but I have an admiration for it because of how imperfect it is. It’s a film whose greatest sin is in trying to do too much, but it does so much of it well that I don’t begrudge the picture in the same way I do other movies that are larger just for the sake of being larger. AoU is bigger by the studio and audience demands of sequels being bigger, but it also carries bigger ideas with it too.

Where Age of Ultron could really stand to be stronger and where it needs its spine is in making Ultron a better character. James Spader does what he can, but ultimately, we never get to know more of Ultron and the gap between what Joss Whedon wants his antagonist to be and how he actually comes across is a bridge too far. There’s not enough menace, not enough sadness, not enough humanity in his detached robot, and while he hates The Avengers, it feels like he hates them because they’re the protagonists rather than any ideological difference. In hindsight, Ultron is a character that probably should have been birthed out of Iron Man 3 or at least the inklings of the character (this is if the studio leaned hard on a cohesive vision; Iron Man 3, as I said, is torn between being part of the MCU and an independent vision).

And yet there’s so much of Age of Ultron that goes right. The Hulkbuster fight is everything you could want from a set piece. The relationship between Hulk and Black Widow is thoughtful and inspired. AoU gets flack for not playing into audience expectations, but those expectations overlook everything that Whedon was doing right rather than judging the movie on its own merits. If he comes up short on his own attempt, its fine to call him on it (like trying to wedge in the Thor subplot), but don’t try to call Whedon out on your pre-conceived notions.

Perhaps more than any other MCU movie, Age of Ultron demands a second or third viewing, one that’s freed from expectations and where you can see the film’s strengths and weaknesses with the benefit of time.

7) Avengers: Endgame

The culmination of the first three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, well, a marvel. No movie has carried the weight of twenty-one other films with it, but Avengers: Endgame is able to serve as one hell of a payoff, not just simply taking viewers down memory lane, but providing a fulfilling conclusion to plenty of character arcs along the way. The spectacle is off the charts, and while the stakes couldn’t be higher, the film never loses sight of that breezy Marvel charm that has made this franchise just a success.

While the leadup to the film was cloaked in mystery and a warning to not “spoil the endgame”, the movie still works beyond surprises. I’ve seen it twice as of this writing, and I only found it more fulfilling on a second viewing. While Infinity War clunkily moved along and felt hollow because Thanos was the protagonist rather than our heroes, Endgame puts the focus right back where it belongs and lets us remember why we invested in all these superheroes in the first place.

There will probably never be another movie like Endgame outside of the MCU because of the unique way this story was told. Yes, the time travel aspect is fuzzy at best, but it’s a minor quibble that even Endgame acknowledges as silly since characters admit their knowledge of time travel comes entirely from movies. But for a three-hour film, Endgame flies by, and it serves as a mighty fine conclusion even though the MCU will continue. I also suspect that the more I rewatch this film, the higher it will climb in the rankings.

6) Black Panther

Black Panther is probably the only movie on this list that’s more remarkable for what it means in the larger landscape of blockbuster cinema than how it relates to other Marvel movies. Black Panther isn’t indifferent to the rest of the MCU, and it has its fair share of connections in terms of reaching out to Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Age of Ultron. But it’s far more revolutionary than just delivering standard superhero fare by fully investing in not only the world of Wakanda, but what the politics of that world mean as they relate to our own.

Director Ryan Coogler has made a deeply thoughtful and engaging experience not just with amazing characters and astounding visuals, but by providing a conflicting ideology of isolationism for the good of a country and what we owe to the rest of the world. While the villain, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan at his most seductive), believes Wakanda must reshape the world, his central premise—a powerful African nation owes African descendants a better future than the one they got from colonizers and slavers—is sound. This belief also presents T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) with his own conundrum as he struggles with his father’s decisions and how to be a “good man” and a great king.

Where the movie falters is in its climax as the traditional beats of a Marvel movie rear their head. It’s not that the climax of the movie is bad as much as it looks overly familiar. Watching Wakanda descend into a civil skirmish lacks much of a punch since we’ve never seen Wakanda’s tribal relationships to be particularly unstable, and we have yet another showdown where the hero must fight the villain who has similarly-powered super suit. The ideas presented don’t get lost, but they get put on hold so Black Panther can go through the traditional Marvel motions even though the rest of the movie far exceeds the standard Marvel template.



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