The explosion of superhero movies has been an absolute dream come true for those of us who used to get punched for thinking Spider-Man was cool. Marvel Studios seems unstoppable, and with the culmination of their epic cinematic universe shared story hitting the box office, I thought it was time to look at the best and worst Marvel Comics Universe (MCU) movies. Now, this is strictly the Marvel Studio-made movies; otherwise, I’d have to populate this list with a LOT of X-Men. But that we can blame on Tom Rothman. Moving along, here are my top 5 best and worst MCU movies.
Iron Man: Let’s face it, without this movie, the MCU would not exist. Not only was it a commercial hit, but its faithfulness to source material and clever adaptation for modern day of the origin story, not to mention acting that was WAY better than a superhero movie deserves, and by actors that are similarly a league above, this ambitious movie is the reason we have any Marvel movies at all today. RDJ cast as Tony Stark was so brilliant, so perfect, that no other contender comes close. (Early on, Tom Cruise was considered for the role.) The tone, effects, music and acting, not to mention fantastic action scenes blended with humor perfectly so as not to be too gritty, nor lose its austentatious gold and hot rod red, all work together to propel what should have been a guaranteed flop into movie and comic book history.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Another movie that seemed designed to fail was Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s an obscure Marvel title with barely a fan base, a bonkers premise and heavy CGI reliance, and one of the characters is a talking raccoon. But against all odds, James Gunn managed to make us fall in love with these rogues. I rate the second movie a little bit higher because it casts off the restraints of having to establish characters and is free to just play with the cast, and it is a great story. The casting, as always, is genius. I genuinely almost wept at the fate of Yondu, a minor character who we come to love just as much as any other by film’s end.
Captain Marvel: I absolutely delight when established formulas are broken, and what is seen as traditional gets turned on its head. While this isn’t the first female-led superhero movie, it’s definitely a contender for the best. After suffering years of Catwoman, Elektra, Supergirl, etc, we finally have come to the age of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel. Brie Larson brings a performance that stuns, and without giving anything away to those who haven’t seen it, its message is one that I think needs real examination and discussion. Certain continuity issues aside, and easily forgivable, this movie was far better than I expected and is definitely worth the price of admission.
Black Panther: This movie blew me away in so many ways. It so elegantly blends real-world race issues with a classic hero story, clever social commentary, beautiful visuals, excellent characters and stellar acting, and it establishes a mythology all its own without needing to rely on clumsy metaphors or morality plays. Black Panther had a lot going for it in production, and the end result was an incredible and surprisingly candid, but multi-layered, message about the racial divide we face in society. The “villain,” Killmonger, is really just someone who wants to end that racial divide, but in an overly aggressive, unbalanced way. This in no way makes him less relatable, and in the end, our protagonist actually learns from his experience and begins working for a less kill-y approach to a lofty, but important goal.
The Avengers: I rank this one higher than the others for one very simple reason: This movie shouldn’t have worked. Seriously, work it out on paper. After three moderately successful superhero movies, and one amazingly successful one, this film had to somehow balance so many larger-than-life characters. At the helm was Joss Whedon who, despite the loyalty of the entire internet, has a few black spots on his record (eg, Alien: Resurrection), so the fact that this movie not only works, but is so perfectly structured to balance all the characters, AND has the single coolest action scene in movie history during the climactic battle puts it right at the top of the list. Now, you might argue that Infinity War deserves this spot, but I personally feel the first is the best.
Incredible Hulk: In its defense, this movie is considerably better than the Ang Lee Hulk movie, but that’s not a high bar to set. It does have some interesting ideas, like Bruce Banner wearing a heart monitor to help him control his anger, his active search for a cure, and the self-referential self-awareness common to all MCU movies. But otherwise, this movie is a bland, boring, CGI-laden gamma bomb. If your movie about a Jekyll/Hyde archetype that can rip tanks apart has me bored, you’ve done something wrong. I’m pretty sure this movie is why Ed Norton bailed on The Avengers. I don’t blame him. The whole thing was a huge gamble. If not for Iron Man’s rampant success, this movie would have killed the MCU right out of the gate. Some scenes are quite good and fun, but others are just a long trek from plot point to plot point.
Thor: The Dark World: I’d like to have an analysis of this movie, but I don’t think this movie actually is real. Like, I watch it, and once it’s over, I can’t recall any of it. I remember certain lines and scenes that made me chuckle, but otherwise, it’s just like a hole in my memory. I suspect this movie is actually a hypnotic induction to make us spend money to see all future MCU movies. It’s just so forgettable and hollow that I can’t tell if I’m remembering a real movie, or 17 other movies compiled to fill in the blanks. Seriously, can anyone quote a line from this movie at all? Does anyone remember any scene at all? I vaguely remember Loki dying, kinda, but that’s only because they make fun of it in Thor: Ragnarok. I think Natalie Portman punched Loki, but that was in the trailer, so it doesn’t count. Please, anyone, write to me if you can remember this movie.
Captain America: First Avenger: Okay, so I’m gonna be kinda gentle on this one because as much as we love Cap, he’s pretty dull as a character. The skinny CGI is uncomfortable, and let’s face it, Hugo Weaving survives on a steady diet of scenery. Not that I don’t love him as Red Skull, he’s perfect, but the movie attempts to balance hamminess and gritty World War 2 drama and does it with the dexterity of a drunk monkey. And the corny musical number … God, that hurts to watch. But I will say this, it’s faithful, generally entertaining and harmless. Even if the final scene is so much forced melodrama, the action scenes are pretty good, and Tommy Lee Jones is a scream to watch. Frankly, my favorite scenes are the ones where skinny Rogers is in boot camp and keeps passing tests by not being a dumbass. That and the Nazi-punching. I’m always down for Nazi-punching.
Thor: Where do I begin? While a competent and generally enjoyable introduction to the Thunder God, this movie has … issues. A clearly pregnant Natalie Portman hiding the belly under a bulky jacket IN THE DESERT, a handful of barely competent scientists somehow forging a fake ID to free a man guilty of assaulting federal agents, the fact that Colson lets him go despite KNOWING the ID is fake, the Hawkeye tease that doesn’t pay off at all and the cringe-worthy tasing of the God of Thunder. But at least this movie is visually interesting and not dulled or muted like others, and Chris Hemsworth is perfect in his role. Hiddleston as the scheming Loki is subtle and perfect, especially compared to his later incarnations, but overall, the movie is generally kind of dull and predictable. There are some great lines and fun in-jokes, as always, but at the end of the day, Thor’s introduction could have been accomplished in half the time, leaving more time for Thor to beat up Ice Giants and his brother. The scene where Odin confesses to Loki his true origins is, in my opinion, the best in the entire movie. So there are gems to mine here, but they don’t get properly cut and polished until Ragnarok.
Iron Man 3:Oh dear Thunder God, how I hate this movie. Where do I even begin? Aside from the fact that the writer apparently didn’t even see the first two films, this movie is desperately afraid to have an Iron Man in it, preferring instead this Macgyver role for our beloved Tony Stark who, despite having billions of dollars, a personal arsenal and a connection to a global anti-terrorism organization, has to go it alone for … reasons. His suit runs out of power, despite the device in his chest that powers it, you know, the thing we saw established for two previous movies. The villain’s plan is to kidnap Tony Stark to perfect his superweapon. Say, who remembers what happened last time someone tried that? Then there’s the bit where the Mark 40-something suit gets hit by a slow-moving truck that smashes it to pieces, when the Mark 3 took an F22 to the back and didn’t even lose a single wingnut. I could go on and on about how stupid this movie is, but I’m comforted by the fact that the final scene is Tony Stark telling the story to Bruce Banner, who fell asleep. We could potentially write the entire movie off as Stark’s Extremis-based fever dream and that none of it actually happened. This movie is the lowest point for the MCU, clearly an attempt to squeeze extra cash from the Iron Man franchise, and a poorly disguised one at that. The other movies might just be flawed, but this one is almost a deliberate insult, as it completely removes everything that was fun about Iron Man and inserts a bizarre, overly complex plot that ruins the Mandarin. Oh yes, let’s deal with that elephant. The Mandarin is one of the most laughable villains in Marvel, but here we get a glimpse of what it would be like if he were cool … and then they ruined it. Christ, what a waste of Ben Kingsley. Seriously, Sir Ben flippin’ Kingsley agreed to be in your superhero movie, and THIS is what you do with him? Ugh. I could go on, but I’m going to stop before this becomes an endless list of the movie’s flaws. This was the worst, and I’m just glad it can now fade away into obscurity.