Ant-Man was a pleasant surprise. It’s a success in that it takes yet another kind of silly Marvel hero and makes him a badass, all while staying true to the goofy humor of the character. I think the general absurdity of everything is handled appropriately, and the slight blur effects during the shrinking segments really help sell the scale. It’s also surprisingly different from other Marvel films in that it follows more of a spy caper-like story. It isn’t a terribly fresh take on the crime comedy genre, though. The villain, Yellowjacket, is unsurprisingly underdeveloped and the relationship between Scott and Hope lacks chemistry.
I love Paul Rudd, and my eyes love Evangeline Lilly, but I don’t really feel much of anything between them. I also think Corey Stoll is a fine actor, but his Darren Cross/Yellowjacket is a bit cliched for my tastes. There just isn’t much depth to his character because we spend so much time on the Scott/Hank dynamic. On the other end of the spectrum, I haven’t been a huge fan of Michael Pena in other movies, but he steals the show in this one. Making the cinematic universe’s version of Ant-Man be Scott Lang and not Hank Pym is an interesting choice, and I think it works. This way, Ant-Man gets to be an anti-hero instead of just another smart, Tony Stark type.
To be honest, though, there’s something about this movie that doesn’t make it stand out in my mind. Being ranked this highly against such strong company is a great showing, but I feel like this movie could have been better. There are just too many predictable elements, and if you remove the whole shrinking guy aspect, it’s a pretty by the numbers thief caper. Antony will forever remain in my heart, though.
9. Avengers: Infinity War
It seems that I’m not as high on Infinity War as some other folks, but I think recency bias is a bit to blame for that. There have been a lot of fantastic Marvel movies, people. The Russo brothers do an admirable job balancing the seemingly dozens of storylines taking place at once, but that doesn’t completely solve the problem of there just being too many storylines. And in a movie with this many characters, it becomes obvious which ones I prefer. I was happy whenever Star-Lord or Spider-Man were on screen and sad whenever Thor was driving things forward. It’s definitely fun seeing some of the characters meet for the first time, though. It brings back memories from the first Avengers.
After years of build-up, Thanos can confidently stand as one of the better Marvel villains. While I certainly don’t agree with his “mercy kill the entire universe” beliefs, it’s obvious that he truly believes in what he’s doing. This isn’t a villain that takes pleasure in what’s he’s doing. He does it because he thinks it’s necessary.
I’m of two minds on the ending. On the one hand, some of the impact is lessened because we already know most if not all of the characters won’t stay dead. But for the remaining characters in the film, there’s certainly some weight to the proceedings. I just wish we got to spend some more time with the survivors digesting what had just happened. The ending comes about in an abrupt way. I’m certainly curious how this will all wrap up, but other than its scale and cliffhanger ending, Infinity War doesn’t do quite enough new for me to consider it one of the all-time greats in the series.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
As I said in my review, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 suffers simply because it isn’t as strong as the first movie. That’s an admittedly high bar to reach, but it’s impossible to look at all of these movies in a vacuum, especially when the entire point is to compare them to one another. That all said, it’s still a very strong, funny movie that just doesn’t feel as special the second time around.
The story itself is cool and really lets the audience in on Peter Quill’s origin. I’ve always been a fan of learning more about a character as I go and not being given an exposition dump as the intro to the character. I’ll say that the writing feels stronger throughout, as you’d expect in a sophomore effort, but there’s no element of surprise here with the characters. And there are certainly no standout scenes like the original’s jail scene. Smaller characters like Nebula and Yondu get more screen time, and Yondu actually becomes the heart of the movie, which I know was a shock to me. I’m not as big a fan of Baby Groot as others; I think he’s adorable but his moments of comedy don’t land all that hard for me. Drax gets most of the biggest laugh lines, and Dave Bautista nails the character yet again.
The biggest things that impress me about the movie, though, are its emotional moments. The first one had the whole “underdog, we’re in this together” thing going for it, but the second movie dives deeper into the relationships and paints the dysfunctional group as a family, which I really like. This story couldn’t have been told as the intro to these characters, but I think people (myself included) would have liked this one more if it hadn’t been a sequel. It’s a tough line to walk.
7. Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange was a breath of fresh air for those starting to feel a bit burnt out on superhero movies. It deals with magic and alternate universes, which really helps it stand out from the traditional muscly guy punching muscly guy aesthetic that most Marvel movies follow. It’s also certainly the most visually striking Marvel movie to date — and has a surprising amount of humor to it.
It does, unfortunately, fall into the familiar trap of not developing its villain enough, and while Dormammu is a really cool inclusion and I like Strange’s interactions with him, I would have preferred focusing on a more “real” villain. If they’d kept Kaecilius and have him be drawing on the Dark Dimension for power of his own accord, I’d feel better about it. We don’t need Dormammu, and it would have given more depth and motivation to Kaecilius. Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t the perfect fit for the character that I expected, but I still enjoy his performance and plenty of people will disagree with me anyway. Tilda Swinton’s The Ancient One is the real character standout, though, as she heightens every scene she’s in and really sells the insanity of this magical universe.
Despite the out of left field heel turn credits stinger, I’m looking forward to the continuation of this franchise, and for Strange’s crossover potential, as plenty of threads are left laying at the end of the movie. Mordo will obviously play some sort of villainous role moving forwards. Strange’s personality may be a bit too similar to Tony Stark’s for my taste, but the world that Doctor Strange builds makes it something very unique and fresh.
When Avengers came out, it was my favorite Marvel movie at the time. It’s definitely come down the rankings since then, but it’s still a great movie and serves to set up the Marvel cinematic universe in ways that the standalone movies never could. Avengers gives you everything that inner fanboy wants from an Avengers movie. It’s the culmination of several movies worth of character and world set up, and we finally get to see everyone fighting together. Seeing that 360 degree shot of the Avengers in NYC standing together is still one of the coolest nerd moments of my life.
For all of its awesomeness, that final battle is a bit disappointing, if only for the fact that the enemy is so generic. The Chitauri are never really established as characters, so they end up being a nameless, faceless mob for the good guys to fight. That kind of takes some of the stakes away from the proceedings. Loki, on the other hand, is brilliant. He’s a terrifying villain in his own right, but he’s also being manipulated by Thanos. Having all of the knowledge that we do now, I think it was unnecessary to introduce Thanos so early on since he really didn’t come back around in a significant way until Infinity War. But at the time, the reveal that he was behind everything was so freaking cool, and put the grander scope of the Marvel cinematic universe on display.
Every Avenger gets their moment, too, which is a feat in and of itself. I personally don’t like how Hawkeye was taken over and becomes a villain for a good chunk of the film, because it doesn’t let us see enough of the “real” character. But it serves a decent story purpose and gives us the cool fight between Black Widow and Hawkeye, so I’ll forgive it. The first Iron Man film established the tone of the Marvel cinematic universe, but Avengers established its scope and greater story.
5. Iron Man
The very first Marvel Universe film is still among the best. In a time when Christopher Nolan’s Batman films were setting the standard for more modern, “realistic” superhero films, Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr brought us a new kind of spin. Downey’s Tony Stark definitely feels like a real person living in the real world, but there’s a sense of heightened reality that sets this new universe apart. I will say that Jeff Bridges hams it up a little too much for my taste and I’m far from being a fan of Gwyneth Paltrow, but overall the combination of action and comedy is fantastic.
It also shows an immense amount of confidence on the part of Marvel to start with Iron Man, who at the time was far from the most popular Marvel character — especially among a casual audience. This ended up being the perfect decision, as Iron Man absolutely set the tone for future Marvel films and established Tony Stark as sort of the central character in the greater Marvel universe. Nowadays he shares that role with Captain America, but for several years, Iron Man was the first thing people thought of when Marvel was mentioned.
I’m sure there are plenty of people reading this who count him as their favorite character, too, and that is definitely due to his movies. Downey has said that he wants to be done with the character and I totally respect him wanting to move on, but I’d love to see him stick around after the Infinity War movies.
4. Captain America: Winter Soldier
Man, these top movies are so hard to rank because they all excel for different reasons. So, instead of writing about why Winter Soldier isn’t as good as the movies above, let’s just talk about why I love it. More than anything, Winter Soldier is a personal journey for Cap, and to a lesser extent, Bucky. Honestly, Cap’s first movie kind of works against this one, because Bucky is such a small part of that story. His “death” didn’t have the resonance that it could have, and thus, his return didn’t have quite the necessary impact. Still, the Russo brothers do the best they can with what they were given, and the end result was a fantastic, more confined character story told on a scale that still has lasting ramifications on the greater Marvel universe.
It isn’t the movie’s fault, but I have to admit that I hold a little bit of a grudge against Winter Soldier because of how it affected the Agents of SHIELD show. By destroying SHIELD at the end of the movie, it completely changed the trajectory of the show, which was only in its first season. But that’s small potatoes. I love how they handle the Winter Soldier storyline, which is arguably the best Captain America story in the comics. It feels personal, and even though the reveal isn’t much of a reveal, it’s handled well.
Winter Soldier also better establishes the relationship between Cap and Black Widow, which has been used to great effect in the more recent Marvel films. When it comes to story and story alone, Winter Soldier is the best in the entire Marvel cinematic universe. But my top three have elements that make them rise above.
3. Spider-Man: Homecoming
As I said in my review, Tom Holland is now the definitive Spider-Man. As if his performance in Captain America: Civil War isn’t enough to win you over, he more than carries his first solo movie. I could do with less Tony Stark, and Vulture is woefully under-developed, but the focus on Spider-Man is smart. Also smart is skipping Spidey’s origin story entirely, and the movie even takes some fun jabs at the unnecessary Uncle Ben dying storyline.
In all honesty, this movie is just a great time. I’d say that overall, Guardians of the Galaxy is straight up funnier, but Homecoming deserves special props for capturing that high school spirit that neither Sam Raimi nor Marc Webb’s iterations could reach. Tom Holland actually feels like he’s a high schooler dealing with high school problems. It’s just that he dreams big and finds this larger world where he feels he belongs.
I had a shit-eating grin on my face while watching Spider-Man: Homecoming, and that’s a pretty rare thing for me. I can’t wait to see where Spidey’s story goes from here, because the cast of characters and world that Homecoming establishes is a place I’ll be happy to revisit at least a few more times.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy is freaking hilarious, and that’s the best thing it has going for it. Most Marvel movies have a significant amount of humor to them, but Guardians really leans into it in a unique way. Chris Pratt is such a perfect Star Lord — and such a perfect anti-hero — that it’s a complete shame he can’t be more involved in other Marvel movies. Honestly, the vast majority of the casting in Guardians is spot on, with a few exceptions. Unfortunately, the miscasting (or at least poor writing) comes with the villains. Both Ronan and Nebula are throwaway characters. Thanos is used to good effect, and the warring siblings aspect could be cool, but things don’t really come together. Karen Gillan is actually terrible in this movie, but Lee Pace fares better as Ronan. He’s just kind of over the top, like a villain that would belong more in a superhero movie from the 90s.
Besides that, this movie is damn near perfect. The action set pieces are exciting, the settings are visually stunning and unique, and the character dynamics are constantly changing and constantly interesting. Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel are perfect as Rocket and Groot, and Dave Bautista has several standout moments as Drax. Yondu, Corpsman Dey, and The Collector all have hilarious moments, too. I’ll say that the war with the Kree and the greater motivations of Ronan are a bit convoluted, but most of the story is secondary to the fun situations and reactions by the characters. There are just so many memorable set pieces in this movie — and so many memorable lines.
Guardians also has the advantage of being able to stand on its own, as there aren’t any repeat characters in the movie besides Thanos and The Collector. The Infinity Stones storyline is still built upon, but it doesn’t feel tacked on like in Thor: The Dark World. Before The Force Awakens came out, Guardians of the Galaxy felt like Star Wars for the next generation.
1. Captain America: Civil War
It’s always hard putting one of the more recent movies at the top of the list, because you aren’t sure if you love it because it’s great, or just because it’s more freshly in your mind. My favorite may change in the coming years, but for now, Civil War is my favorite Marvel movie. It just accomplishes everything that it sets out to do, and it executes on such a high level. It takes the best aspects of movies like Winter Soldier and Avengers and combines them into a movie that feels like complete fan service and yet has a central story that’s so much about its characters and relationships. Honestly, even with the hype surrounding it, I can’t believe the movie came out as well as it did.
My review goes into a lot more detail than I can here, but I’ll give the short version. First, the only real negative I can give is Baron Zemo. He ends up being kind of a background villain to the central story between Cap, Bucky, and Tony. I also find his motivations and means to be contradictory. Thankfully, even though he puts a lot of the events of the movie into motion, he doesn’t actually do much. The movie is called Civil War and highly features almost all of the Avengers crew, but this is still definitely a Captain America movie. Following the highly successful Winter Soldier, the Russo brothers are back, attacking both the fallout of that story and Age of Ultron. This movie handles the whole “are superheroes good or bad for society?” story immeasurably better than Batman v Superman. Not only that, but the action is insanely awesome, there’s still humor to be had, and it introduces two characters that are going to have a significant impact on the Marvel universe — Black Panther and Spider-Man. And they’re both awesome.
Just like in the Avengers movies, everyone gets a few moments here and there, all while keeping the focus on Cap and Bucky. The ending reveal of how Tony’s parents died is a bit of a letdown because the after-effects undermine a lot of Tony’s argument leading up to it, but that’s a small complaint. Overall, I left this movie on a high, completely excited for what’s to come in this universe. And that’s saying something because, to be honest, I was getting a bit burnt out on superhero movies.
So there you go! My definitive personal ranking of Marvel’s cinematic universe! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and be sure to check out my ranking of the Spider-Man movies!