Its been ten years since Marvel kicked off their cinematic universe. Back in 2008, Iron Man hit theaters with a powerhouse origin story that lifted the superhero genre into the blockbuster limelight. With the release of Avengers: Infinity War this weekend movie history will be made with the end game of 10 years of groundwork laid out by all the previous films. Every character in the MCU will be a part of this epic showdown with the Mad Titan, Thanos. What better way to prep for the end of the first ten years of the MCU than to review the last 18 films in the franchise.
18. Iron Man 3
As successful as the Iron Man character has been in the MCU, the third standalone film is easily the weakest in the universe. Stark and all of the supporting characters don’t have as much growth as in the previous installments. The antagonist is thin and one dimensional, and the reveal of the Mandarin character is a critical comic book sin. The best part of this movie is the addition of the Iron Legion and the climatic battle with all the suits on the oil rig.
17. The Incredible Hulk
Bruce Banner/Hulk has been one of the strongest (no pun intended) supporting characters in the Avengers films, but the standalone Hulk film back in Marvel’s phase one was not that great. Retreading a similar plot as Ang Lee’s Hulk the film is easily forgettable. Edward Norton is a fine Banner, but recasting Mark Ruffalo was one of the better choices the MCU made. He is much more sympathetic as the scientist fighting for control of his own body. With no clear antagonist or conflict until the very end, this film is really just a stepping stone to the team up film everyone was waiting on.
16. Iron Man 2
The second chapter in the Iron Man trilogy isn’t quite as bad as the third, but its nowhere near the caliber of the original. The inner growth of Tony Stark dealing with his new responsibilities and ailing body make for a great character arc, and the world grows a little bigger with the welcome addition of Rhodie as War Machine. The momentum of a great antagonist is quickly forgotten and buried underneath a mega tech battle in the third act. What could have been a promising sequel ends up being a pretty run-of-the-mill superhero flick.
15. Thor: The Dark World
The follow up to the original Thor movie is similar to Iron Man 2. Thor and the lore around Asgard are developed nicely, but the dark elves are pretty linear in terms of their purpose in the film. The action in the third act is fantastic, with the gravity jumps between the nine realms. The redemption of Loki’s character and the information regarding one of the Infinity Stones makes this an essential Marvel film, but it has virtually no rewatch value.
14. Captain America: The First Avenger
The film that introduced Captain America is easily the weakest of his standalone films. Set back during World War II, Steve Rogers enlists in the army and becomes an Super Soldier experiment in the fight against Nazi Germany (guided by Hydra). The movie is a fine origin story for Cap’, but the scrawny CGI Chris Evans is very awkward and the action gets a bit ridiculous. Similar to The Dark World, the film is necessary to watch for information regarding the Tesseract/Infinity Stone but the other Captain America films are much better.
13. Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange was the first origin story of Marvel’s phase three, so the formula they have established for an origin story has become a bit tired by 2016. The movie is a visual treat and Benedict Cumberbatch is a perfect casting for Doctor Steven Strange. The film retreads familiar ground and has a very one dimensional villain that keeps it from being a better Marvel movie. It had potential to be a much better film if it did not have to be an origin story for the Doctor.
Ant-Man capped off phase two with a solid and entertaining film. Paul Rudd is a charismatic, comedic actor that proves himself a competent leading man in a superhero franchise. After all the grandiose, otherworldly action of the previous films it was refreshing to have a story that unfolded on Earth. The cast showcases tremendous talent with Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lily, and Corey Stoll. The microscopic sequences were a delight, and Ant-Man is a hero that translates very well to the big screen. It’s not essential viewing fo the overall story arc in the Universe, but it is a highly entertaining film.
The first Thor film is a strong introduction to the God of Thunder and the world of Asgard. Not only is the lore of Norse mythology strongly adapted here, the film is a surprisingly competent fish-out-of-water story as Thor explores Earth for the very first time. The best part of Thor is the introduction of the mischievous Loki, arguably Marvel’s best villain.
10. Avengers: Age of Ultron
The second team-up Avengers movie does not quite live up to the awe of the original, but it’s a good movie none-the-less. James Spader commands the screen by lending his domineering voice to the menacing Ultron. The film introduces Scarlet Witch and the Infinity Stone infused Vision, who have become essential staples to the MCU. While a lot of the action is entertaining, like Scarlet Witch’s dream sequences and Quicksilver slo-mo fights (which stump the X-men franchise attempt at the character). The film gets a bit cooky towards the ending with the falling city meaning to cause a meteor collision level catastrophe, but that doesn’t make it any less of an essential MCU film.
9. Thor: Ragnarok
Easily the most fun of the three Thor standalone films. The humor is as quick as it is unrelenting. A lot of ground is covered in this film, from the reinvention of Thor’s character to the fate of Asgard. Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum are wonderful antagonists. The lore of Asgard is expanded even further with the destruction of Thor’s hammer and the expansion of his family. The downfall of this film is that there is a lot of content crammed into just one film, but it’s a thrilling ride nonetheless.
8. Iron Man
The very first movie in the MCU is one easily one of the best. Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is one of the more charismatic leading men in recent blockbusters. This film established a great formula for the origin story. A great tale of redemption for Stark as he figures out how to use his technological prowess to good use. Jeff Bridges is a great antagonist, and the action is top notch. Kicking off the cinematic universe was a bold choice, and set the bar for all subsequent films pretty high.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
The first Guardians film was a hit film that seemingly came out of nowhere. A rather unknown comic book property, this box office hit propelled the Guardians into the limelight. The movie injects the MCU with a fresh bit of humor, and an absolutely kickass soundtrack to boot. Chris Pratt totally reinvented his image as a smoldering leading man with this film, and the rest of the cast is incredible. The only pitfall of the film is villain is a bit lackluster, but the film is essential in terms of helping establish Thanos more in the MCU. This movie made the universe feel a whole lot bigger.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The second Guardians movie proved it’s possibly to capture lighting in a bottle twice. The film lands the same jokes as the first one. Michael Rooker’s Yondu character is developed beautifully. Baby Groot may be one of the best things that Marvel has ever done. The one thing that this film does better than the first one is a complex villain in the shape of Ego the Living Planet. Aside from the antagonist, the second Guardians film is as much fun as the first one.
5. Spider-Man: Homecoming
The first standalone Spider-Man film in the MCU since regaining the rights to the character is an absolute blast. The film rings so true to the character that it almost blots out all of the previous iterations of Spider on the big screen (maybe not Spider-Man 2). The film is witty, fun, and ties into the overall universe perfectly while balancing being a standalone. Michael Keaton’s Vulture is one of the better villains in the MCU. The film doesn’t waste any time by not retreading over Spider-Man’s origins.
4. Black Panther
The other new hit character from Civil War to get a standalone film is T’Challa, aka the Black Pather. This film isn’t so much an origin story as it is a movie that establishes the world and people of Wakanda within the Universe. Much like Guardians did, this film helps the whole cinematic universe feel so much more diverse and full. All of the characters are interesting and carry their weight through the film. Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is a perfectly empathetic antagonist that helps elevate this movie to even greater heights.
3. The Avengers
The first team-up superhero movie of its kind, The Avengers knocked it out of the park. After laying the groundwork with 5 standalone films, this film ends is the perfect culmination of everything from phase one. Every hero gets an appropriate amount of screen time. No time is wasted introducing new characters. The action is superb and highly entertaining. Loki proves himself further as a truly cunning villain and one of the persistent highlights of the MCU.
2. Captain America: Civil War
While this is technically a chapter in Captain America’s saga, this is a team-up movie for the ages. Not only do familiar heroes team up, but they go head to head in epic all out brawl. The final encounter between the most established heroes, Iron Man and Captain America, is one of the more emotionally devastating moments of the franchise. New additions Black Panther and Spider-Man effortless work their way into the fray before their own films. This film proved that the Russo Brothers are more than capable filmmakers and can perfectly execute Infinity War.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
It is astonishing how incredible the follow-up to the first Captain America film is. This film does not play out like a superhero movie at all, but rather a high stakes spy thriller. There are twists at every turn and no one can be trusted. It redefines everything audiences expected from the MCU and shifts everything in a new direction. The Winter Soldier is a non-stop thrill ride up until the very end.
The first ten years of Marvel movies have been a amazing success. With Infinity War already getting high praise before its release this weekend, there’s only hope that the next ten years will give us just as many great movies.
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