On October 4th, 2019, an interview with Martin Scorsese went live where he talked about Marvel movies and was quoted saying, “I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema. Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks.” An argument can be made that Scorsese is the greatest film auteur ever and in regards to his take about Marvel, he’s mostly right.
I Anybody who knows me knows I’ve long avoided Marvel movies and feuded with their existence. As somebody who meal-preps every single week, I already had enough redundancy in my life without experiencing the same films regurgitated over and over again onscreen. But, though I basically knew what I was getting from the films already, I decided to use quarantine to watch them all (in chronological order) and rank them. It nearly melted my brain. I commend the 1000s of editors and animators who were willing to get scoliosis from the hours of leaning over computers as a means to get these films made, but I’m not sure the movies are necessary. And I’ve had many people tell me to “just let people like what they like”, to which I would say… “No.”
The majority of these movies are average-at-best to terrible, save for a couple entries. People tell me these movies are “made for kids” and “they’re not that serious” and yet, I see plots involving Taliban-like groups kidnapping superheroes and WATERBOARDING THEM (how fun for an eight-year-old) and I watch every movie end with cities being decimated with destruction levels comparable (or greater) to 9/11. But then I’ll have other people saying “they’re made for adults”, yet I see most every character being completely sexless and dull and making jokes that should only make children laugh. Because these movies seem hell-bent on making as much money as possible, even if it means sacrificing quality, they guarantee themselves of being devoid of any substance, beyond “Teamwork is good!” and “If we work together, we can stop the big, purple monster!”
I inherently hate corporations, but I especially hate cynical corporations that try and act like they care about ideals or people (especially marginalized ones) when they really just care about their money and their bottom line and see people as walking dollar-signs. And when corporations try and pass off their products (and these movies absolutely are “products”) as being progressive and part of social change but then have nothing meaningful or interesting to say about said social movements, it becomes very apparent that the corporations are just whoring out marginalized people for profit, which I find particularly disturbing.
Ultimately, these films are impossible to avoid. THE AVENGERS can be argued as one of the most important films from the 2010s, mostly because it ushered in a new era of film: one where we’ll never go another year for the rest of our lives without multiple films from Disney/Marvel in said year. The monopoly on the film industry that Disney has will also only further to continue to crush small films, too. Every other piggy ate the corporate slop, so I guess I have to as well, right? These movies mostly suck, but I guess I’m the idiot for having watched them all and ranked them, huh? But let it be known… Marty was right.
23. THOR (2011) (Dir. Kenneth Branagh)
This movie is an absolute miserable nightmare. Outside of the appropriate casting for the titular character with Hemsworth and the casting of Hiddleston as “Loki” this film fails on just about every level. Anthony Hopkins must have lost a bet with somebody because I couldn’t stop laughing at him dressed up as a Norse god. Natalie Portman is useless, boring, and feels totally shoehorned in. While the villain is one of the rare villains that feels like he has some justifiable motivation, the film is utterly stale, drab, and awful. The character of Thor, while most definitely not one of my favorites from these movies, eventually ends up being pretty alright, but this introduction to him is botched in almost every conceivable way. It’s a miracle a sequel got made.
22. THE INCREIDBLE HULK (2008) (Dir. Louis Leterrier)
It feels unfair to even include this film on this list because it clearly wasn’t made with any cinematic universe in mind, save for a few moments referencing Stark enterprises (which feel jammed in after additional reshoots). This is absolutely exacerbated by the fact that Ed Norton doesn’t play Hulk in the future films, but is instead replaced by Mark Ruffalo. Norton is a good actor, but he’s not particularly compelling as Bruce Banner (though I don’t blame him too much, because the script truly gives him nothing to work with). The villain is lame and predictable (this will be a redundant criticism of these films that I will eventually grow so tired of typing but I will have to) and the love-interest plot feels hackneyed and devoid of chemistry. There are moments that are dumb and enjoyable, though, like the moment where Hulk throws a tank into a helicopter (that whole battle is particularly fun and maybe the only good moment of the film, actually). If all superhero movies were more schlocky, stupid, and took themselves less seriously, they would be better.
21. THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013) (Dir. Alan Taylor)
Like its predecessor, THOR, THOR: THE DARK WORLD is terrible. It’s quite possibly the ugliest film I have ever seen, mostly because of the green and brown hues used all throughout. The dynamic between Thor-Loki continues to be one of the only redeemable aspect. I’m convinced Natalie Portman sold her soul to the devil for an Oscar in exchange for being a notable character in some of the worst big-budget films ever made (the STAR WARS prequels and these, of course). She appears in this film again, doing nothing but being a useless, walking ambien. The first half of this film is the far worse portion of the movie. Asgard is utterly boring and everything that happens there is coma-inducing. The second half of the film slightly improves, because it devolves into schlock and stops taking itself seriously. It’s still bad, but gets better. It’s only slightly better than THE INCREDIBLE HULK and THOR because it doesn’t feel as long as them.
20. ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018) (Dir. Peyton Reed)
By the third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Disney had grown pretty well-versed at crafting the films they were releasing. The days of the sloppy and uneven releases (found predominantly in the first phase) were gone, and instead, they were replaced by slick, machine-like, corporate products that were never usually awful but also rarely excellent. ANT-MAN AND THE WASP feels like a pretty gross misstep, especially right after AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, which was maybe the first Marvel film that made me feel slightly excited to see what the next entry would bring. This ANT-MAN sequel isn’t horrendous, but after seeing everything that goes down in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, it’s almost impossible to be even slightly invested in the stakes of this film and when a film has no stakes, a film is devoid of tension. This film lacks tension and feels stale, though still features a few fun visual moments.
19. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) (Dir. Joe Johnston)
I saw another list ranking the Marvel movies that had this film at the number one spot. That’s silly, but I suppose everybody can’t have good taste. I wanted to like CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, but it’s so dull. I understand that it’s an origin story, but it really takes 50 minutes for anything of consequence to happen. While there are flaws with IRON MAN and the way it approaches that origin story, it at least feels like SOMETHING is happening in that movie. In this film, it becomes pretty clear that Steve Rogers isn’t a charismatic or interesting enough character to shoulder the burden of a solo movie by himself. Hayley Atwell does nice work as Peggy, though, and I did love seeing Natalie Dormer make a one-minute cameo as a harlot trying to seduce Steve Rogers.
18. CAPTAIN MARVEL (2018) (Dir. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)
This is the film people hailed as “important” and “groundbreaking” in 2018?? This is the film that was causing media controversies and think-pieces to get written after its release? I’m embarrassed. This movie could not be any less significant and it has nothing to do with the fact that it’s a female-led superhero film, but rather that it’s totally unremarkable and has nothing interesting to say. Brie Larson, an actress I’ve been on record hailing many times, feels completely miscast here: sometimes she’s witty and sarcastic like Tony Stark, sometimes she’s a fish out-of-a-water, sometimes she’s badass, but… she’s always consistently boring. The storytelling device here fails, too, and makes it hard to care about anything happening. Thankfully, Larson and Jackson have fine enough chemistry that this serves as a mostly sub-par “buddy cop” film for much of the runtime. It’s just pitiful how important people tried to make this film seem, when ultimately, it’s a movie about an alien… who gets powers from an explosion… and participates in fight sequences that look like they were designed for a video game. That’s powerful feminism now, huh?
17. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2(2017) (Dir. James Gunn)
This movie should be better, given it’s the sequel to one of the better films from the MCU, was written and directed by the same director to helm the first film, and still featured a cast of likable, diverse characters, but, unfortunately, this one sucks. Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana continue to deliver and Bradley Cooper as “Rocket” still shines, as does Michael Rooker, who chews every line he delivers and never stops hamming it up, but the addition of Karen Gillan as Nebula is definitely a minus and Kurt Russell feels entirely out of place in the universe. Dave Bautista, who was quite funny in the first GUARDIANS film, also begins to feel painfully redundant here and Sylvester Stallone’s appearance simply feels jarring. This movie really falters in the final act, though, where the action and effects become so excessive and absurd that they become headache-inducing and nauseating. I had high hopes for this one, and even though there were quite a few decent performances, the obnoxious fan-service and faux emotional moments hinder a movie that had potential.
16. DOCTOR STRANGE (2016) (Dir. Scott Derrickson)
Stop trying to tell me that having cool visual effects in the 2010s makes a movie good. Having 1000 people sit at a computer for hours to create flashy visual effects cannot compensate for an uninteresting titular character or a mind-numbingly lame plot. You can visually accomplish anything you want in a modern movie with a computer at this point, so having impeccable visual effects is the standard now and points won’t be rewarded for effects if they aren’t in service of making a story more engaging. DOCTOR STRANGE is utterly fine, like most of these movies. It’s never offensive and it’s never spectacular. Tilda Swinton gives a solid performance in the the wise sage role (a role that women are almost never cast as) and Rachel McAdams was likable, if not underused, but there is absolutely nothing that Doctor Strange does in the film to make me care about him at all. And that isn’t the fault of Benedict Cumberbatch (a remarkable actor), either; it’s the fault of the writers. I was relieved and surprised by how much I enjoyed the ending, though. It’s one of the only Marvel films that didn’t have its conflict resolved by characters punching each other a lot, so that was nice. These movies are better when they opt for any cleverness.
15. SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019) (Dir. Jon Watts)
I find it disappointing that this film exists. After all of the hype leading up to the culmination of a decade of movies, it’s pretty lame to almost immediately jump back into everything less than four months later and start right back up. I understand that this is Disney and that Disney cares far less about the quality of their products and far more about their dollars, but it’s still a shame. Tom Holland is still quite good as the titular character, but this time, the story feels completely superfluous, given the fact that we just watched 50 superheroes fight the biggest villain in the universe and prevail. Now audiences are expected to care about… Mysterio, which is a guy with no powers, other than being clever and wanting revenge?? How utterly stale. Jake Gyllenhaal, a consummate professional, elevates the lackluster material as best he can by overacting at every moment, but Zendaya still fails to be interesting here and the final battle, like in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY sequel, feels overwhelming and exhausting. It’s just so disappointing, because SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is pretty okay. I had hoped this one would’ve been, too.
14. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015) (Dir. Joss Whedon)
This one is a mess. It’s goofy at times and super self-serious at other times. It’s bloated, unfocused, and messy. While the villain (voiced wryly by James Spader) of this film is better than some of the other villains from this universe, it still manages to be one of the weakest aspects of the film. Joss Whedon does an effective enough job with dialogue/banter, even if he struggles with giving all of his characters unique enough of voices and perspectives (most characters in Joss Whedon films are all a little too clever). The final act is overlong and so stuffed with action that it becomes tired. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON tries to do too much and the result is a poorly-paced and tonally-inconsistent movie. Still, Robert Downey Jr. is effective as Tony Stark, per usual, and, after already appearing in three other films and being an utter drag, Marvel finally did an acceptable job with the Thor character, allowing Hemsworth to finally show a bit of his comedic chops.
13. IRON MAN 2 (2010) (Dir. Jon Favreau)
I had half a mind to put this film ever higher than this spot, but I ultimately couldn’t… it’s just not an incredible film, but here’s the thing: Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark has more charisma in his pinky finger than most all of these other actors playing Marvel protagonists have in their entire bodies. That’s important as far as the quality of these movies go. I can forgive flimsy plots and clunky, awkward dialogue if the face of the film is extremely watchable. Robert Downey Jr. appears at all times to be improving all of his lines, ignoring his scripts, and simply doing whatever he wants instead (he seems to be rightfully treating these Disney films with as much respect as they deserve, which is… very little). It just works. He has great chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow. They’re one of the only onscreen couples in these shamefully sexless films that I believe actually like each other. Yeah, the plot is a complete retread of the first film, Mickey Rourke’s villain entirely lacks solid motivation, and the film ultimately ends with a guy in a robot suit fighting another guy in a robot suit (again) AND they botched the introduction of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow but it’s way more interesting than watching a movie about Carol Danvers or Bruce Banner or Steven Strange. Also, Don Cheadle is good!
12. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) (Dir. Joe and Anthony Russo)
This movie feels about 35-40 minutes too long. It’s too much. The final act of this film is one of the strongest acts in an MCU film, but the first two acts are the problem (mostly the first act). For one, this film feels far less like a Captain America story and instead just another Avengers film. Sure, Captain America is featured onscreen the most, but he has hardly any more time devoted to him than Tony Stark. This wouldn’t usually be an issue, since Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is the best character in the whole universe, but in this film, the usual charm and wit Stark has is gone (whether that is justifiable or not is debatable). The first act is devoted to Captain America and it drastically pales to the previous installment focused on him, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. The whole thing is needlessly dour. The second act is actually fun, but it’s jarring when placed next to the first. The first act wants to be a spy-thriller and the second act wants to be a whacky superhero film. The best scene in the film introduces Spider-Man. It’s the only scene where Tony Stark acts like himself, but the scene also feels totally shoehorned in, and though amusing, Marisa Tomei is hilariously inappropriate as Aunt May. The final act is satisfying, though, and paced well. The final 40 minutes save this from being a total slog and the result is a mildly passable film.
11. THE AVENGERS (2012) (Dir. Joss Whedon)
THE AVENGERS is a totally adequate film that delivers on much of what it sets out to do. It brings the six core heroes together for the first time because of a threat and then gives them a big action sequence to traverse for the final act. The second act is underwhelming compared to the rest of the movie, but much of this one is fine. The dialogue is cheesy at times (Robert Downey Jr. is really the only actor in the film with the prowess to naturally handle the quippy dialogue Whedon provides) but it’s forgivable. Though Hiddleston’s Loki is a more dynamic villain than these movies are usually equipped with, his intentions and the revenge-plot are flimsy and not nearly as scary as they should be. The third act is mindless action, which is fun at times, but also carries on for so long that it starts to feel a bit redundant and boring. Ultimately, this one is inoffensive. It’s not great, but it’s far better than most of the solo films that come before it and when it was finished, I didn’t feel angry, so that’s good.
10. ANT-MAN (2015) (Dir. Peyton Reed)
Look, I hate saying this, because I’ve long made fun of ANT-MAN before I ever even watched it, but, I have no shame in declaring that ANT-MAN is a better film than THE AVENGERS. It’s unfortunate that the original director of ANT-MAN, Edgar Wright, removed himself from the production due to “irrevocable differences with Disney in regards to the vision of the project”, because there are few directors alive who craft quirky comedies as effectively as Wright does (see: SHAUN OF THE DEAD, SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, BABY DRIVER, etc). It’s always quite odd to me how these massive studios continue to find smaller, acclaimed directors who have ideas and perspectives as creators to helm their films and then fire them because, shockingly, those creatives don’t want to be boxed in by the needs of a soulless franchise. Thankfully, much of ANT-MAN and Wright’s vision for it doesn’t feel tarnished from the behind-the-scenes drama. ANT-MAN is effective because it succeeds AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, which was cumbersome, and provides a necessary moment to breathe. Everything ANT-MAN isn’t is what makes it work: There is no end-of-the-world plot and there is no over-the-top action sequence at the end of the film where heroes fight hundreds of mindless henchmen. It’s a simple heist-film featuring a protagonist (played by a solid Paul Rudd) with clear motivation and an amiable personality. Visually, it’s the most interesting looking film in the whole universe, too, as far as action is concerned. Yes, the villain of ANT-MAN (an acceptable Corey Stoll, who was better in HOUSE OF CARDS) is sub-par, just like most of the villains in this universe (this film, like many of the past films, annoyingly ends with the villain fighting the hero with the exact same technology), but the film is visually stimulating, doesn’t feel overlong, and never tries to be anything other than a story about a father trying to be closer to his daughter. It’s effective in its subtlety.
9. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) (Dir. James Gunn)
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY does a lot of things pretty decently, which is fairly surprising for a Marvel film. For starters, it lets writer/director James Gunn, who has a unique voice as a creator, have almost absolute control over most of the creative aspects of the film. The film doesn’t feel like it’s part of a greater cinematic universe, which is probably why it’s enjoyable. Chris Pratt does alright enough playing the same character he’s played ever since his departure from PARKS AND RECREATION (it’s appropriate here, to be fair) and he and Zoe Saldana have better chemistry than most of the romantic pairings in the MCU. The star of the whole thing, though, is Bradley Cooper as “Rocket”, and he gives one of the finest performances in the MCU. Dave Bautista is solid here, too, and provides suitable comedic relief before it gets too tired (like it does by the sequel). The villain/MacGuffin in this movie is the weakest part of the film, as is usually the case, but thankfully, the characters are fun enough that it’s easier than with most Marvel films to just look past that and enjoy the ride with the cast. As a weird and fun sci-fi/action flick, this one is okay.
8. IRON MAN 3 (2013) (Dir. Shane Black)
IRON MAN 3 is far better than many would like to give it credit for. Director/writer Shane Black, who’s responsible for one of my favorite comedy films of the last decade, THE NICE GUYS, brings a slightly unique approach to the Marvel universe with the finale of the IRON MAN trilogy. To many fans chagrin, he completely ignored many story elements (particularly concerning the character of “The Mandarin”) from the comics and opted instead to just make a story that he found interesting. This is effective, mostly because sometimes comics suck and are nonsense. I never care if something strays from the source material as long as they make creative choices that aren’t stupid or pointless. For the purpose of this story, Black’s creative change proves to be effective for the overall plot. Robert Downey Jr. is particularly good here, and part of why he gives such a decent performance is because Black’s story doesn’t force him to live in the Iron Man suit for the majority of the runtime, but instead makes him figure things out and solve problems as Tony Stark. Stark is the best character in the cinematic universe, so getting plenty of time devoted to him is never bad. Though the ending reaches the level of mindless action and explosions that’s typically nauseating, because it was the only real action through the whole course of the film, it felt more earned than normal. I’ll sound like a broken clock saying this, but Guy Ritchie’s villain plot/revenge story is lame, but ultimately this film succeeds on most levels.
7. AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) (Dir. Joe and Anthony Russo)
This movie shouldn’t excel as well as it does, but it’s shockingly good. It’s three hours, which is fairly daunting for a film about superheroes fighting a big, purple space monster, but it’s handled as decently as one could ask for. The film almost feels like three completely separate hour-long films, which to be fair, probably explains why the runtime doesn’t feel as long as it is. The first act is depressing and awful (understandably, given the circumstances following AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR), though the way in which the movie subverts your expectations in regards to how they handle Thanos is effective. The second act is probably the most fun. It’s a bit of a mess, as are most films that center around time-travel, but it’s fun, nonetheless. The third act is the weakest, though most Marvel fans will probably say it’s the best in the film (they would be blinded by their love of corporate products if they said that, though). The problem is that the tension should come from a rooted interest in defeating Thanos from INFINITY WAR, but ultimately, when the Avengers square up against him in this film, it’s a completely different version of the character, which makes it harder to be invested in the whole thing. Still, this film has adequate payoff for a story that took a decade to tell and though some of it is certainly schlocky fan-service and the ending is another overwhelming bonanza of special effects, this film is one of the better ones.
6. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017) (Dir. Jon Watts)
Let me preface this by saying that Tom Holland might be the best interpretation of the Peter Parker/Spider-Man character, but this film isn’t better than either of the first two Sam Raimi films (even if this one is good)! SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is an above-average film. It helps that Spider-Man is one of the most beloved and likable superheroes of all time, but the restraint that this film shows is remarkable. This film feels far less like a superhero film and more like a coming-of-age teen comedy about a kid with superhero powers, which is nice. It’s entertaining enough and Holland does a nice job as both a teenager trying to hide his identity and a superhero with incredible powers determined to improve his local area. Marisa Tomei as Aunt May is charming enough, even if it’s absolutely baffling that she was cast in the role, given the typical depiction of the character and Laura Harrier works as Peter’s love interest, Liz Allen, well enough. Michael Keaton is also a fairly compelling, clearly motivated villain and Robert Downey Jr. makes small cameos and is as good as he typically is. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING achieves what it sets out to because Spider-Man is far less interested in saving the world than he is in just protecting the citizens and people around him. It’s refreshing to also have a superhero character who is as interesting without their costume as they are with their costume and actually feeling invested in their petty human dramas and experiences. It’s nice to see a superhero actually do things you would expect out of a superhero, as opposed to being involved with destruction that decimates cities. That alone makes SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING one of the better entries in the MCU.
5. THOR: RAGNAROK (2017) (Dir. Taika Waititi)
THOR: RAGNAROK is a better film than Taika’s embarrassing (and somehow, critically acclaimed) 2019 feature, JOJO RABBIT. It’s the first solo THOR film where the character of Thor doesn’t absolutely suck, so that’s good (better late than never?). The movie is weird in all of the best ways. The first half is one of the best halves of any Marvel movie ever. I actually laughed out loud multiple times, which rarely happens (since these movies are hardly ever funny), though I’m not sure if it was actually funny or if it was just so truly absurd and stupid that I couldn’t help but be amused. The concept of the whole film is comical. Thor is kidnapped and forced to compete in a gladiatorial-style competition (run by Jeff Goldblum, basically playing himself, which is exactly as it sounds) against the Hulk, who has been separated from the Avengers for two years. Mark Ruffalo gives his finest Hulk performance in the entire series (he’s the funniest part of the whole film). Tessa Thompson, who I’ve long adored, is satisfactory, if not slightly forgettable in this film, but the star of the whole thing is Chris Hemsworth, who after having to endure many MISERABLE scripts for years, is finally given a competent screenplay to work with. He’s able to flex his comedic skills, especially his penchant for physical comedy, more than he’d ever been able to up to that point. The back half suffers from the typical, lame doomsday-plot and miserably boring villain (played by two-time Academy Award recipient Cate Blanchett, who feels completely out-of-place here), but the first half is truly so fun that it doesn’t matter. It also helped that Taika seemingly gave up on trying to force Natalie Portman on these movies, as she’s always been useless and never had any chemistry with Hemsworth. THOR: RAGNAROK knows that it isn’t necessary for Marvel films to take themselves so seriously and instead, sets out to have fun and be amusing and it’s decent for that reason.
4. BLACK PANTHER (2018) (Dir. Ryan Coogler)
Nowadays, people on the internet will try and tell you that BLACK PANTHER sucks. It doesn’t suck at all, even if it was just ultimately a corporation’s successful attempt at capitalizing off of social movements and giving fake-woke liberals a chance to pat themselves on the back for watching a movie about… superheroes… as opposed to doing any legitimate activism. Regardless, the movie works quite effectively, save for Shuri, who is awful and grating (Letita Wright gives a fine performance but also delivers some of the worst lines in the MCU, such as when she references a dated Vine by shouting “What are those???” because of sandals that the Black Panther wears or talks about wanting to go to Coachella). Michael B. Jordan is one of the most talented young actors alive and he is also probably the second-most interesting villain in the whole universe (he’s so compelling that I found myself somewhat rooting for him both times I watched the movie). Chadwick Boseman does a really nice job as “Black Panther”, as does Danai Gurira (who has always been excellent in THE WALKING DEAD) and Lupita Nyung’o and the action sequences are exciting enough. The soundtrack, which is something I never think much of in these films, is also excellent, spearheaded by Kendrick Lamar, of course. It’s a good movie and much better than most of the films in the franchise, even if people continue to do their best to act like it’s subpar.
3. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) (Dir. Joe and Anthony Russo)
I thought this one had potential to be a disaster before I watched it. I didn’t even slightly care about Thanos going into this movie and somehow, with hardly no prior character development, he managed to be the most interesting villain in any Marvel movie ever. This is mostly due to the fact that he so ardently believes in what he is doing and because he’s actually effective. Most of the other villains in these Marvel movies have been good at destroying random civilians and buildings but have never actually inflicted any pain upon any of the protagonists, which basically makes them not intimidating and lowers the potential of heightened tension and stakes. Thanos is somewhat different, though, as he straight-up murders multiple heroes, which was useful as far as establishing him as a credible threat. This movie is engaging because the heroes that are paired up to go on different missions are strange enough to be dynamic and the movie actually feels like there are stakes if they fail. It’s almost great, and though it feels slightly overlong, it’s a mostly satisfying film and was one of the rare Marvel movies that left me excited to watch the next installment in the franchise.
2. IRON MAN (2008) (Dir. Jon Favreau)
Robert Downey Jr. was underpaid. He’s easily the best aspect of this entire franchise. He oozes charisma. He’s smarmy and obnoxious but lovable and deserving of sympathy. Because this movie devotes 4/5 (if not, more) of the runtime to him and all of his antics, this movie thrives. It’s one of the only Marvel origin stories that doesn’t feel like a trainwreck. The first quarter of the film is a bit obnoxious (as I was watching it, I couldn’t help but think of nine-year-olds excited to watch an exciting superhero film that were instead subjected to Tony Stark getting tortured by the Taliban), but after that, it’s pretty great for the rest of the film. Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. have impeccably good chemistry. You’re actively rooting for both of them to end up together, which is something you can’t say about any of the other couples. The moment Stark finally completes his suit is also one of the most exhilarating moments in the entire series. The film is charming, well-cast, and above all-else, it’s mostly fun. Superhero movies are supposed to be FUN. Most of these films aren’t fun, but the first IRON MAN is quite a bit of fun, and though it’s not quite a great film (it’s close), it’s worth seeing.
1. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014) (Dir. Joe and Anthony Russo)
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is the only film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I would call a great film, mostly because it doesn’t treat itself like it’s a superhero movie. This film is just an excellently-done action movie. It’s exciting, tense, and adeptly shot. I was shocked by how much I liked it, given how little I thought of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, but in all honesty, this one is effortlessly good. The script is mostly devoid of the typical attempts-at-comedy that you would come to expect from a Marvel film and the action is expertly choreographed. Also, the action never really gets so overwhelming that it becomes nauseating or exhausting. The characters and villains both have pretty clear motivations and goals and Steve Rogers proves he can effectively shoulder a solo Marvel film. Scarlett Johannson also does a far better job here than in the second IRON MAN. In this film, she actually feels useful and provides a purpose, whereas in the IRON MAN sequel, she never did. The finale is satisfying and leaves you wanting more. I’d be shocked if Marvel ever makes a better film, to be honest.