Now that the Infinity Saga is finally complete with the release of Avengers: Endgame, it’s time to look back at Marvel’s back catalogue and reflect on the films that worked and the ones that didn’t.
This 11-year journey has been filled with wonders and surprises. Many audience members, this writer included, have grown up with the rousing adventures of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk and all our other favourite heroes. Here is my ranking of all 22 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from worst to best.
22. Ant-Man and the Wasp
The most mediocre of all the Marvel movies is this buddy action comedy that feels less than the sum of its parts. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a disappointing sequel to Ant-Man and an unworthy follow-up to the bombastic epic that was Infinity War. The quips from Paul Rudd and Michael Peña are stale the second time around, and Michelle Pfeiffer’s talents are wasted. The only things that hold the film together are the ever-creative action sequences and performances from Walton Goggins and Hannah John-Kamen as the primary antagonists.
21. Iron Man 2
Half of Iron Man 2 was the sequel to the first movie, while the other half is a set-up for The Avengers. It’s filled with clunky dialogue and an overabundance of exposition. It feels frustrating because with each element that works comes another that doesn’t. Mickey Rourke does as much as he can to add characterisation to Whiplash, and Scarlett Johansson embodies the Black Widow perfectly, but the film still feels messy.
20. The Incredible Hulk
Although The Incredible Hulk is a perfectly watchable movie, it feels disconnected to the larger MCU. Edward Norton’s interpretation of the character is vastly different, and in my opinion inferior, to Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk. Director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, Now You See Me) is a stylish director who directs action quite well. Even if The Incredible Hulk doesn’t live up to its title, Leterrier’s film is a significant improvement over Ang Lee’s giant disaster from 2003.
19. Thor: The Dark World
The second film in the Thor franchise is an awe-inspiring adventure with spectacular production and costume design, but it’s weighed down by pretty cringe-worthy comedy and a weak villain. Alan Taylor (Terminator: Genisys, Game of Thrones episodes) took over directing duties once Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman) exited early in pre-production, and one can only imagine what Jenkins could have brought to The Dark World. What we got isn’t a bad film, it’s just not that good either.
18. Captain Marvel
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the powerhouse duo behind such indie gems as Half Nelson and Mississippi Grind, bring their wit, emotion and humanism to Captain Marvel, who is played brilliantly by Brie Larson. Ben Mendelsohn and Lashana Lynch are also standouts. However, what Captain Marvel is missing is the thrilling spectacle. Unfortunately, you can feel that Boden and Fleck struggled with the action scenes.
17. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Guardians 2 is just as visually arresting and funny as the first, often times even more so, but the sheer originality of the first film is not able to be replicated. Kurt Russell is a dynamic villain for Star-Lord to face, especially due to their personal connection. Other side characters like Nebula, Rocket and even Kraglin (played by director James Gunn’s brother Sean) are given time to glow and expand, but ultimately this sequel is less memorable than its predecessor.
After Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Baby Driver) stepped down as director, Peyton Reed (Yes Man) took his place and made an entertaining caper that showed a cooler side to Paul Rudd. Ant-Man acts as a good buffer between Age of Ultron and Civil War. In music terms, it’s a nice B-side.
15. Black Panther
Black Panther is a fine film, but extremely overrated. The music, production design, costumes and performances are exemplary, but the film just isn’t that interesting apart from these elements. The story is needlessly convoluted, and it plays out as if the movie is more important than it actually is. It’s either too darkly lit or too brightly lit and the visual effects are quite noticeable, especially in the final battle. All in all, it’s an alright film - just nowhere near as good as people praise it to be.
14. Captain America: The First Avenger
The First Avenger is an old-fashioned romp that introduced us to Steve Rogers, played with sincerity and heart by Chris Evans. He’s a good-hearted skinny American kid who became a superhero. It’s cheesy, it’s retro, and it’s fun. Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Jumanji) delivers a family-friendly treat of a movie.
Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet, Cinderella) brings his signature Shakespearean flourishes to the world of Asgard, and Chris Hemsworth begins his tenure as Thor, the role of a lifetime. This film is character driven, with right amounts of humour and action to balance it out. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is one of Marvel’s best on-screen baddies - of course they had to keep bringing him back in future movies.
12. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Jon Watts (Cop Car) continues Peter Parker’s story post-Civil War and solidifies the MCU’s version of everyone’s favourite web-slinger as a socially awkward but likeable high schooler. John Hughes-esque energy flows through the fabric of every scene in Homecoming, and Tom Holland is pitch-perfect, making him the best Spider-Man yet. Michael Keaton is also pretty menacing as the Vulture. However, this film suffers from similar problems in the action department as Captain Marvel did, and the female supporting characters are under-utilised.
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Joss Whedon’s second Avengers film isn’t as focussed as his first, but Age of Ultron is still a superbly made blockbuster. It reunites all six heroes and explores their stories further, deepening the characters of Hawkeye and Black Widow, and setting up Steve and Tony’s arcs that lead all the way through to Endgame. On top of all that, it also gives us a great villain in the form of James Spader as Ultron, and successfully introduces Scarlett Witch and Vision. Oh, and it also teases Thanos. You’ll forgive it if it sometimes feels a bit all over the place.
10. Thor: Ragnarok
Thanks to the unmistakable humour of Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Ragnarok is a blast. It’s a buddy road-trip movie in the galaxy with Hulk and Thor, with a genuine sense of fun and some gorgeous action scenes. It’s light on character, and thin on plot, but you won’t care because you’ll have a smile on your face the whole time.
9. Iron Man 3
While many fans were upset that this third Iron Man deviated from the comic book lore, I would argue that it is still a supremely entertaining movie that simultaneously takes Tony Stark’s journey into darker places and keeps the story strands around him subversive and surprising. Much of this is due to the unique touch that Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys) brings to any project of his. Iron Man 3 is strange, and definitely not for everyone, but its sheer ambition cannot be ignored.
8. Doctor Strange
Horror maestro Scott Derrickson (Sinister) creates one of the most intriguing and dynamic worlds in the MCU. Just like all the other protagonists in this decade-long franchise, Benedict Cumberbatch fits the role of an arrogant-intellectual-turned-selfless-protector perfectly. The hallucinogenic imagery inspired by the comic art of Steve Ditko is still unparalleled in another other superhero film.
7. The Avengers
Joss Whedon, the creator of cult classic shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, was chosen to bring to the silver screen the culmination of MCU’s Phase One. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye come together for the first time in an epic showdown with Loki, the God of Mischief. The film puts an emphasis on the characters’ humanity and allows them to clash, bond and ultimately assemble to become the Earth’s mightiest heroes.
6. Captain America: Civil War
When Joe and Anthony Russo began their work in the MCU with 2014’s The Winter Soldier, they brought to their films a courage to be realistic, and to explore thought-provoking themes that otherwise would not be touched upon in films of this nation. Captain America: Civil War, on top of being an amazing action movie, is a psychological thriller that tears the heroes apart, and positions Iron Man as a villain.
5. Avengers: Infinity War
Infinity War managed to juggle a plethora of characters and fold them into a story with stakes the likes of which the MCU hadn’t seen at that point. Thanos, played brilliantly by Josh Brolin, is on an intergalactic quest to find the infinity stones, and our Avengers must band together to stop him.
4. Iron Man
Jon Favreau (Zathura, The Jungle Book) and Robert Downey Jr. kickstarted this franchise with an exhilarating sci-fi adventure. If this movie didn’t work, the MCU as we know it would not exist. Thankfully, what they made was a smart, charming and sincerely fun movie.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel goes galactic with the first Guardians movie, directed by James Gunn (Slither, Super). This is a colourful space adventure with a group of ragtag underdogs with inflections of Star Wars, if Star Wars was re-imagined by Andy Warhol.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Winter Soldier is a political thriller that has one of the best villains in the form of Alexander Pierce, portrayed by the legendary Robert Redford. It’s suspenseful and surprising in equal measure, and set a high bar for Marvel movies that hadn’t been matched until this year.
1. Avengers: Endgame
Endgame is emotionally satisfying. It’s mature, impactful lingers long in the mind after you watch it for the first time. The story retroactively ties up loose ends, and elevates the previous 21 movies. The ending is one that we all wanted, and needed, after all these adventures.
And that’s it. As we reflect on the ending of the MCU, we can… sorry, what? Spider-Man: Far from Home is in cinemas in July?