With one little sentence from Nick Fury, the expansive litany of movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe became a promise from Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios to deliver something we as moviegoers had never seen before.
The MCU is now eight years old and with the release of ‘Captain America: Civil War’ -the 13th film in the analogs of the MCU – now behind us, let’s take a look back at the 13 movies that make up the current connected universe.
Fair warning, there will be spoilers for ‘Captain America: Civil War’ in the countdown.
13.) Thor: The Dark World
Easily the worst movie of the Marvel Studios baker’s dozen ‘The Dark World’ focuses too heavily on Thor’s earthborn friends- Jane, Darcy and Dr. Eric Selvig- and giving glorified cameo appearances to central characters to the Thor comics: Lady Sif, Fandral, Volstaag and Hogun. Using one of Thor’s most noticeable villains in Malekith the Accursed was a great choice to follow up a double dip of Loki in ‘Thor’ and ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’. But the translation to screen never really made the lord of the Dark Elves feel very threatening.
‘The Dark World’ relied too heavily on humor to advance the story and progress characters. It’s a little disappointing when one of the most memorable moments from the movie was an improvised one from Chris Hemsworth when he casually placed Mjolnir on the key rack in Jane Foster’s apartment. The other biggest detriment to the movie was that the title character almost felt like a sidekick to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.
This movie also leaves one of the biggest plot holes in the MCU with its post credits scene. We see a Jotun hound chasing after some birds after the battle with Malekith has been won. Outside of being a quick laugh, this moment raises a lot of questions. Where is this beast hiding on Earth? Did SHIELD or Hydra get their hands on it? If so, what are they going to do with it? Is it just roaming around in Great Britain and no one cares? These are things that keep me up at night.
12.) Iron Man 2
A promising villain in Ivan Vanko- played by Mickey Rouke -and solid supporting performance by Sam Rockwell as business rival Justin Hammer, ‘Iron Man 2’ became a jumbled mess after promising Samuel L. Jackson a larger role in the sequel and still wanting to expand on their growing lineup to films leading up to ‘The Avengers’. The performances are strong and on par with the prior movie. But the plot is where the movie becomes a problem.
The fight scene in Monaco was very fun, mostly because of the nod to the briefcase suit.
All of the behind the scenes drama lead to Happy Hogan actor Jon Favreau stepping out of the directors chair for ‘Iron Man 3’.
11.) The Incredible Hulk
The only MCU movie to not receive a direct sequel (despite a tease for Samuel Sterns rise as the Leader) or a post credits scene, the Louis D’Esposito directed Hulk reboot was a decided improvement over Ang Lee’s fiasco and definitely put Jade Jaws back on the right track- this is fairly noticeable by the fact that D’Esposito is a Producer on all MCU films after ‘Incredible Hulk’
Taking its cues more from the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno TV series than the comics, ‘The Incredible Hulk’ was hindered by the fact that Ang Lee’s Hulk movie was released just five years earlier. While it featured a wonderful cast, headlined by Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. The movies biggest downfall was an uninteresting Hulk. He seemed more interested in finding lush forests and saving Betty than anything else. Not giving the green giant any kind of character was a big misstep by the creative team.
The scene that was intended to be the post credits scene, featuring Robert Downey Jr reprising his role as Tony Stark, only cemented the hype for this connected movie universe and also became a backdoor for one of the best Marvel One-Shots called “The Consultant”
10.) Avengers: Age of Ultron
The culmination of Marvel’s Phase 2 suffered from ‘Iron Man 2’ syndrome. ‘Age of Ultron’ tries to cram too many things into one movie. Instead of focusing on one of the Avengers greatest villains in Ultron, the movie focuses more heavily on setting up Phase 3. As a movie villain, Ultron is very forgettable as a quirky robot created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner as a deterrent to needing the Avengers putting their lives on the line whenever a global catastrophe strikes.
One of the many creative mistakes was giving Ultron a mouth and a face that moved. The idea was to be able to show the performance given by James Spader as the titular villain, but instead the final product just looked weird and took away from what makes Ultron such a fearsome foe: the fact that he is a machine and has no emotion.
‘Age of Ultron’ is arguably the biggest disappointment within the MCU lineup. The anticipation reached a fever pitch for the followup to one of the highest grossing and fun movies in history. It failed to capture that same magic-I believe- as its predecessor because it didn’t give us time to know why the villain was so menacing and, again, it focused too heavily on setting up the arrival of Thanos and the other Phase 3 films.
While not a perfect movie, ‘Thor’ was a solid introductory movie for a character that casual audiences weren’t too familiar with. In typical Marvel Studios fashion, this star studded entry in the MCU offered many things that fans of the God of Thunder would expect, while also offering a comedic “fish out of water” premise in the style of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie ‘Hercules in New York’.
While decidedly better than ‘Hercules’, ‘Thor’ fell a flat with its attempt to give the audience relatable human characters in the form of Jane Foster, Darcy Lewis and Erik Selvig. These characters would receive expanded roles in the previously mentioned ‘Thor: The Dark World’ and become even larger detriments to the sequel.
Just like its successor, the title character is overshadowed by his co-star Tom Hiddleston as Thor’s step brother, Loki.
8.) Iron Man 3
Here is where my opinion may start ruffling some feathers. I liked ‘Iron Man 3’. The first act and the third act are fun, while the middle act with Harley Keener (Jurassic World’s Ty Simpkins), is slow and campy. The first act deals with the fallout of Stark’s experiences in the Battle of New York. The third act becomes a superhero buddy cop movie. It doesn’t make for a perfect movie. However, it is the second best ‘Iron Man’ movie.
Marvel played the Mandarin card about as well as one could in today’s market. One of the biggest foreign markets is China and they have very strict rules about showing movies in their theaters that don’t portray China in a positive light. Making the Mandarin a guy pretending to be a myth- or so we think- was a great twist that many didn’t see coming. While fans weren’t thrilled with the reveal of Trevor Slattery as a phony, it did serve it’s purpose.
The end credits sequence also needs a special mention here. That was just awesome. So much so, here they are!
7.) Captain America: The First Avenger
Steve Rogers is a staple of the Marvel universe. Cinematic or otherwise. When his turn came as the final solo film of Phase One before the Avengers assembled on screen, it came with high anticipation.
While not a huge box office success, ‘The First Avenger’ nailed several things: Steve’s origin story was updated to be a bit more realistic. Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine was lovable from the moment he appeared on screen and made his ultimate demise just a few scenes later all the more heartbreaking. Tommy Lee Jones was the perfect choice for Col. Chester Phillips. Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull was a wonderful performance, even though Weaving later admitted that he wasn’t 100% into the project once he realized what the prosthetic process was like. The unexpected star of the film was Hayley Atwell as the first love of Steve Rogers: Peggy Carter. The undeniable chemistry between Atwell and Evans beamed on screen. Even during the sometime visually awful “skinny Steve” sequences, the back and forth between the two created an instant love of the pair together.
‘The First Avenger’ would be higher on this list, if not for several gaping plot holes. While the movie is solid, there are many gaps in logic and cuts that leave many questions unanswered. Mainly, what does the Red Skull’s Valkyrie plane do? It shoots out little planes that look like bombs and these little things are what will take out the US? The threat of the Valkyrie loses its value because it’s never explained to the audience what exactly the Red Skull’s plan is once he gets the plane working.
Alan Silvestri composed what is arguably the best musical score within the MCU films.
6.) Guardians of the Galaxy
Again, here’s where your opinions may differ from my own. Guardians of the Galaxy was easily Marvel Studios biggest risk and it paid off beautifully. Chris Pratt- the lovable chubby guy from ‘Parks and Recreation’- buffed up and proved doubters that he can star in his own action blockbuster. Meanwhile, a talking tree and his best friend Rocket Raccoon also proved that while a silly concept, they work within the galactic MCU.
The escape from the prison was a fun scene and the back and forth between Rocket and Quill was run to see. The soundtrack was fun and expertly woven into the story. While I was skeptical of the casting of Dave Bautista as Drax, the way the character was portrayed was fun and well played. James Gunn showed his directing chops with handling such a large budget and visually stunning movie.
However, I feel it must be said that it is a little sad the Rocket Raccoon made it to the big screen before DC’s Wonder Woman and Marvel’s own Carol Danvers aka Ms./Captain Marvel/
Guardians would be higher on this list, but the final showdown against Ronan the Accuser after his dreadnought crashed on Xandar was a bit of a let down. While it fit within the aesthetic of the movie, Peter Quill’s dance off to distract Ronan was a bit too silly and then when Quill gets his hands on the Infinity Stone and is about to be destroyed by it, the group of misfits essentially beat their nemesis with the power of friendship.
The encore for the second phase of Marvel movies, the long in development Ant-Man left many worried about the quality of the movie after Edgar Wright- having been attached to direct the film before even ‘Iron Man’ was announced- left due to creative differences.
Switching directors didn’t seem to be as bad of a step as it could have been. Lead by Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang/Ant-Man and Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym, Marvel once again proved it can handle a touchy situation with panache and keep everyone happy. Pym, the original Ant-Man, has a small claim to infamy when in the comics he abused his then wife, Janet van Dyne. Marvel gracefully glossed over that in their universe and made Pym a retired hero and mentor to Lang.
‘Ant-Man’ breaks into the top five due to its fun premise as a heist movie and its fun storytelling from Lang’s best buddy Luis played by Michael Pena was a highlight of the film. His final storytelling did also feature the first time Spider-Man is mentioned within the MCU.
4.) Iron Man
Proving that superhero movies don’t have to change the heroes origin stories to be compelling, ‘Iron Man’ nearly translates Tony Stark’s origin page for page- aside from the location of the cave and terrorist group that is holding Stark prisoner.
What has become a staple of the Marvel movies, the acting and cast are superb. Jeff Bridges works wonderfully as Obadiah Stane, the man who orchestrated Stark’s abduction after a weapons demo in the Middle East and eventual Iron Monger villain. RDJ is obviously ideal for the role of Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow nailed her first outing as Pepper Potts. Then, of course, there’s our introduction to Clark Gregg’s Agent Phil Coulson of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.
While the movie is a bit formulaic in its overall origin delivery, the performances and visuals are what makes this an instant and all-time classic.
The main thing that keeps ‘Iron Man in the top echelon of Marvel movies that it easily stands on its own, while also laying the groundwork for the upcoming succession of films.
‘Iron Man’ also resurrected Robert Downey Jr’s career and made him a household name again.
3.) Captain America: Civil War
It’s rare when the third movie in a series of solo films is the best of the bunch. But ‘Civil War’ followed up ‘The Winter Soldier’ beautifully.
While definitely an ensemble movie, ‘Civil War’ is very much a direct sequel to the ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, too.
For a more in-depth look, you can head on over to my review of ‘Civil War’ here.
To those of you who are wondering how ‘Civil War’ is third and not number one or two, the reason this movie is number three is because Marvel made a slight mistake making this movie a ‘Captain America’ movie and not an ‘Avengers’ movie. By titling this movie ‘Captain America: Civil War’ Marvel pretty much told you who you should invest you time in. While both sides of the Sokovia Accords have valid points, the story is very heavily influenced by Cap’s point of view.
‘Civil War’ could easily be 2a or 2b, but that would be a cheap way out of this ranking system.
2.) Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Adapting Ed Brubaker’s “Bucky Rule” breaking Winter Soldier arc was a tall task. The directing duo of Joe and Anthony Russo answered the call by orchestrating an homage to the classic espionage thrillers of the 70s, while giving it the Marvel twist.
Full of intrigue and an overall solid movie, with minimal plot holes, ‘The Winter Soldier’ is the arguably the best sequel of the MCU, while arguably considered the best stand-alone movie within the catalog of movies.
‘The Winter Soldier’ re-introduces us to Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff and Nick Fury, while adding new blood in Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson/The Falcon. It was also grounded in a very real idea and succeeded in adding some surreal moments such as the moment we find out that Dr. Arnim Zola is still around in a very comic book way.
The movie also is a great character piece and shows Steve’s dedication to his friend and the theme continues straight into ‘Civil War’.
Bringing Steve’s long lost best friend, Bucky, back from the dead as the Winter Soldier needed to be believable while also offering intrigue to the audience about how he survived for so long. Making him a Hydra assassin as opposed to a Russian one in the comics worked perfectly in the MCU as it gave Steve a tie to his roots while also giving him conflict about how to go about beating his old adversary in a new form.
‘Winter Soldier’ didn’t answer all of the questions it created or left with. But ‘Civil War’ answered many
of those unanswered questions.
1.) Marvel’s The Avengers
The proverbial money shot, ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’ was the definition of a summer blockbuster. It had the best re-watch value of any movie I’ve seen. Joss Whedon’s quips and storytelling was the perfect formula to bring Earth’s Mightiest to the big screen for the first time.
There are too many things to gush about with this movie, the chemistry between the actors. The visual effects- making the Hulk look like he is Bruce Banner, the Chitauri invasion. The practical makeup put on Damion Poitier who portrayed Thanos in that brief glimpse at the end of the first credits scene, and the practical makeup on Whedon-verse vet Alexis Denisof as the Other, I can go on and on.
Where the movie shines in the long tracking shot during the Battle of New York that shows the Avengers working in unison throughout the city to fight this threat.
The score by ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ composer, Alan Silvestri, definitely added to the fun and momentous occasion.
While not the most crisp film in the MCU, it was the fulfillment of the promise made at the end of the first ‘Iron Man’ movie and it didn’t disappoint, despite its flaws. The Chitauri collapsing once their Mother Ship is destroyed is a maligned moment among fans and director Joss Whedon. Captain America’s suit is definitely not the best in his on-screen appearances, but it works for what they needed it to do. But you really can’t argue with the results.