[I could easily write a full article about each Marvel movie, but here are my brief thoughts on all of them. Stay tuned for an Endgame review later this weekend!]
21. Thor: The Dark World
This is everything wrong with Marvel movies raised to the umpth degree. Every character besides Loki is unbearably boring, the color palette is drab, and it probably features the most forgettable villain in the entire MCU (which is no small feat.)
20. Iron Man 2
Marvel patiently set up the MCU in Phase 1, but let’s not forget how close Iron Man 2 came to jumping the gun. It feels far more interested in setting up future films than delivering a satisfying story, and the end result is a tonal and structural mess.
19. The Incredible Hulk
It’s a pretty standard Phase 1 origin story, but the future recasting of Ed Norton really makes The Incredible Hulk feel like an unnecessary addition in the MCU.
18. Ant-Man and the Wasp
There aren’t a lot of things necessarily wrong with Ant-Man and the Wasp, but that doesn’t mean it necessarily does things well; it’s just painstakingly mediocre. I’m fine with a movie not taking itself seriously, but it has to be entertaining and fun in order to compensate. Unfortunately, the humor in this never really lands and the plot is so devoid of stakes that it’s hard to stay engaged during the action scenes.
The fish-out-of-water concept is done well, but that doesn’t change the boring human characters and the fact that Thor belongs in space. Even Thor himself feels kind of boring, relying solely on Chris Hemsworth’s charm as Marvel had yet to recognize the hero’s true potential. The movie’s saving grace is undoubtedly the Loki/Odin plot.
16. Captain Marvel
This is probably right in between the good Marvel movies and the mediocre ones. It features some of the MCU’s poorest action scenes, and it feels like Brie Larson never fully steps into the role. Some things still work, though, as there are some legitimately surprising twists and turns, and the whole 90’s ‘buddy-cop’ vibe really worked for me.
15. Thor: Ragnarok
I can see you reaching for your pitchforks, but allow me to explain. Yes, this movie does a wonderful job of redefining Thor as a character, but as a movie? It’s good! Just not much more. The humor is relentless and doesn’t amount to much more than improvised quips, and this is almost entirely at the expense of any dramatic stakes. Asgard’s destruction and Odin’s death aren’t just rushed; they feel like punchlines to a joke. I just don’t see the hype with this one.
There is something inexplicably charming about this movie. A heist movie with Paul Rudd’s charisma? And he’s flying around on an ant? Ant-Man is really fun, and it also features some of the most visually inventive action scenes in the entire MCU.
13. Doctor Strange
The movie’s generic origin story can never quite match its breathtaking visuals, but, wow, are the visuals good. Michael Giacchino’s score perfectly complements all the psychedelic action, all of which resorts in a climactic scene that strays away from superhero convention in a way that I wish more Marvel movies did.
12. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Similar to Ragnarok, I have this much lower (higher?) on my ranking than most people. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good movie, but it never is quite the political espionage thriller it thinks it is. The Fury cop-out is also maddening, but thankfully the rest of the movie is an absolute treat.
11. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2
I was initially disappointed by Guardians 2, but I’ve really grown to appreciate its simplicity over time. It’s essentially 140 minutes of characters hanging out, and it feels entirely separate from the MCU in the best way possible. The movie packs an emotional punch, and James Gunn carefully develops these characters and gives them a level of depth that’s rare in blockbuster movies. The movie is also a ton of fun, and the Star-Lord/Ego dynamic is A+.
10. Captain America: The First Avenger
Very much a run-of-the-mill origin story, but, man, it is done well. Chris Evans perfectly embodies Captain America in all regards, and the WW2 time-period gives it a semblance of personality most MCU movies could only dream of. Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull is also great.
9. Avengers: Age of Ultron
I’ve swayed back and forth on this one over the years. The humor is undeniably overstuffed and the stakes do feel inconsequential, but it doesn’t change the fact that Joss Whedon knows these characters inside and out. Some of the MCU’s best action is on display, and James Spader truly crushes it as Ultron. The movie also has aged well, as it effectively sets the seeds for Civil War, Ragnarok, and Infinity War.
8. Iron Man 3
This movie gets too much disrespect. It truly is an unfiltered Shane Black movie with a massive budget, which means that it’s consistently stylish and entertaining, regardless of how messy it ever gets. The Mandarin twist is legitimately clever, and this movie probably has a better understanding of Tony Stark as a character than any other MCU film. Do yourself a favor and rewatch this one.
7. Black Panther
Proof that overrated movies can still be really, really good. This is unquestionably the most thematically dense Marvel movie, and Killmonger is the closest any villain will get to Thanos for a while. Both the soundtrack and the score are incredible, and Ryan Coogler and Rachel Morrison run away with this one on the cinematography.
6. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Probably the first movie on this list that I unapologetically adore. No Spider-Man movie has better captured Peter Parker, mostly thanks to Tom Holland’s performance and the John Hughes homages. The blend between comedy and drama is kinda astounding, and the execution of the Vulture twist is so good that it almost puts the rest of the MCU to shame.
5. Avengers: Infinity War
Undoubtedly overstuffed, but it really is a sight to behold. This is Marvel throwing everything on the table, and it can’t be overstated how impressive of an accomplishment it is in paying off and connecting to previous films.
4. Captain America: Civil War
I’m still in awe of this movie three years later. All the moving pieces are handled so well, making it truly feel like a Captain America film in addition to Avengers 2.5. The Russo Brothers wonderfully continue off the foundation they built in Winter Soldier, and the last 30 minutes are an immensely emotional test of the characters we’ve grown to love. I would also argue that the airport scene is the closest the MCU has gotten to replicating the Battle of New York.
3. Iron Man
The movie that started it all. It is legitimately crazy to think about all the production issues this movie had considering how the final product turned out. This is as good as origin stories get, making us fall in love with the character that would become the face of the MCU.
2. The Avengers
The other Avengers movies may be bigger in scale, but none of them reach the crowd-pleasing highs of the original Avengers. After being built up to for several movies, seeing the Avengers interact and team up is simply electric. Joss Whedon ensures that every character gets their share, and the whole thing is done so well that nearly every studio in Hollywood tried (and failed) to emulate its success.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
This movie is delightful. It’s the most audacious movie Marvel has ever made, and the risk paid off so much that I would argue Guardians is almost as influential as the first Avengers movie in determining the future of superhero movies. The whole thing is a big, stylish space-opera told with the intimacy and attention to detail of an indie movie. It’s frequently hilarious, yet the movie still manages to carry loads of emotional weight and dramatic moments. James Gunn truly is the master, and we have Kevin Feige to thank for letting him realize his vision.