Avengers: Endgame is upon us. It’s an interesting feat no matter how you look at it: 21 interconnected (some more connected than others) all working to tell a cohesive story that is about to culminate into a three hour epic that will most likely involve explosions, some quips, and talking trees. As a comic book fan, this is something unfathomable, I can still remember being excited when there was the mere reference of Metropolis in a Batman movie, or when Lois and Clark made a comment about how there was a bat person running around Gotham City. Hell, we even got a Thor/Hulk movie at one point, and even that seemed to stretch the idea of how many superheroes you could get into one room. So a movie that’s going to feature roughly “all of them” is nothing short of amazing.
So why rank them? Because for me it’s fun. These movies were all good in some way: I’ve rewatched all of them multiple times, and that includes Captain Marvel, which is currently still in theaters as I type this. (If you’re going back through my archives in the future, it’s probably not still in theaters. Also, I hope you’re not a robot who’s enslaved humanity.) Regardless, I’ve revisited these movies in preparation for this movie, so I wanted to just give out my thoughts regarding each one. They’re all really good, but there are some I liked more than others.
- Captain America: Civil War
Why is this one at the bottom of the list when Thor: The Dark World is an actual movie they made? It has Captain America fighting Iron Man! Well, that’s sort of the reason. I like Captain America: Civil War, but honestly… it’s not a Captain America movie. Yes, it has all the Avengers, but it’s not really that, either. It’s a setup to get the Avengers divided for Infinity War. It keeps wanting to get to next moment, it adds in Spider-Man at the last minute in a way that damages the narrative, and the airport fight was defanged because at the time they were dealing with backlash from Man of Steel’s Metropolis destruction. Don’t get me started on the whole Scarlet Witch thing. It’s a very entertaining movie, until you think about it.
- Thor: The Dark World
There it is! The second entry into the Thor franchise suffers a lot from the MCU Phase 2 issue, which is that while Phase 1 was all about growing the world, Phase 2 was all about trying to shrink it back down again. It took a lot of tries to get it right, and this shows the growing pains: From the awkward Captain America cameo, to the darkness, to whatever movie Christopher Eccleston thought he was making, this one was not the strongest entry into the Marvel franchise. It had some great moments individually, and it’s a shame it’s the last we see of Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster. I do like how it starts to set up the Infinity Stones by reminding us there’s more weirdness than just a glowing cube.
- Iron Man 3
So, you know how I mentioned that Phase 3 was all about trying to shrink the world? There’s an actual line that says “When are we going to talk about the Avengers?” It really seems like this movie bends over backwards to avoid talking about how Iron Man isn’t the only hero out there. And it’s painful at times. I was one of the few that liked the Mandalorian twist, because it showed a willingness to embrace the spirit of the comics while still giving some twists. But then there’s the very end, where Tony gets rid of all his suits. Remember that? Marvel sure hopes you don’t. Which leads us to…
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
This is one of those movies that I wanted to be a lot better. It had some great standout moments, such as the fight in the beginning, and really that fight at the end. Joss Whedon knows how film a fight scene, and do it on a budget. Again, though, this one showed that after the first Avengers, Marvel didn’t have much of a plan: Iron Man was back in action, the events of Winter Soldier are largely forgotten (and reversed!), and it seems like everyone is sort of hanging out, despite the fact that they have had almost no interaction since the last movie. We know because all of Phase 2 worked hard to remind of us of that. This movie also wants to set up things to come such as Black Panther, the Infinity Saga… It constantly fighting between being its own movie, and wanting to be the launch point for a bunch of other movies.
- Iron Man 2
If Iron Man 3 was all about shrinking the world, then Iron Man 2 was all about growing it. While not viewed as great (the end scene was a bit disappointing) the movie itself should be lauded for trying to do more to set up a larger MCU: We get Coulson, references to Captain America, Hulk, and Thor, Nick Fury, Black Widow… this movie helped laid the groundwork so we can get to something like the first Avengers, and eventually Infinity War. It’s not without its flaws, chief among them being the defanging of some important storylines, but it had its heart in the right place.
- The Incredible Hulk
This movie gets a lot of credit for not making us wait for the Hulk to appear. It also gets credit for giving us a good enemy for the Hulk, and setting the fighting in New York, which helps to show just how dangerous he can be. It’s sadly the only appearance of Ed Norton the MCU, and while l like Mark Ruffalo I also wanted to see what he might do with the character. That being said, this is also a big step towards a bigger world, with tiny references to Nick Fury in the beginning, and a great ending with Tony Stark. This… this is how you build excitement.
- Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2
What can I say about Guardians of the Galaxy? Why put number 2 here? Honestly, because I liked the opening number better in the first one, where Star Lord is dancing through that cavern and in 15 minutes sets up what kind of movie we’re in for: goofy, but also kind of terrifying. This one is good, featuring a great dance scene with Groot, but I felt relied too heavily on “look at this cute thing try to be terrifying” at times. Not bad, it’s a great movie about fathers and sons that features a David Hasselhoff cameo. Also: Pac Man.
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
By the time Spider-Man joined the MCU, we had been treated to five movies, three of which were actually pretty good. (You know which three.) Spider-Man could only learn with great power comes great responsibility so many times. This is an interesting take which seeks to remove all of the familiar trappings of the previous movie (hello, Sexy Aunt May!) and integrate him into the larger universe (Hello, many scenes with Iron Man.) I liked what they did with Spider Man, but I liked even more what they did with Michael Keaton’s Vulture, showing us a world where villains are created out of necessity.
The original Thor is an impressive piece of filmmaking. It manages to be epic, while at the same time kind of small. We get gods and goddesses, but we also get a small town that’s not really ready for a god to hop in and suddenly start smashing things. It lacks a typical “the bad guy is a funhouse mirror version of the good guy” narrative, as Loki is such a unique type of villain: one that you don’t hate, and one that manages to not die at the end of a Marvel movie. It’s a fun movie.
- Doctor Strange
This is another odd entry into the Marvel world. I like the introduction of magic, I like the introduction of the Infinity Stone. But the perfect casting of Benedict Cumberbatch really helps bring this into the top tier. What this movie really shows me is that Marvel is still so willing to try new things, like having an astral projection fight, twist around buildings, or have the main villain be defeated mostly through strategy instead of fighting. It’s a smarter movie than it lets on, and it’s a better one for it.
- Ant-Man and the Wasp
I feel bad for both Ant-Man movies. They were never able to just develop, they had to come out after bigger blockbusters, ones that reset the stage, like Infinity War or Age of Ultron. Ant-Man and the Wasp, scheduled after Infinity War, takes a smaller (sorry) look at the Marvel Universe, this time showing us the fallout of Civil War while spending a long time not talking about the giant purple guy who’s going to snap things out of existence in the room. This is a light movie, its fun, and it has some of the best superhero performances from Paul Rudd and Evangaline Lilly. It’s just a great movie.
- Avengers: Infinity War
One of the smartest things the Russo Brothers did in crafting this movie was divide the team into two, and keeping the focus on Thanos. Instead of a story of just the Avengers, we also get a man on a mission who wants to save the Universe, too, just in his own way. It’s the only way that can justify that snap ending, when half the universe is suddenly destroyed. It’s only not higher on the list because it is the first half of a story, and because it does spend a long time getting to the snap. While, yes, it’s supposed to take a long time, there are moments that drag for no other reason than they need to, in order to make sure people don’t team up too quickly.
- Captain Marvel
Coming in late into the MCU, Captain Marvel had a lot of work to do. It had to answer questions like, “where was she when aliens were attacking” or “where was she when an evil robot threatened Earth” or “what the hell is a Flerken?” It does all of this. It’s a really good movie that manages to be an origin story without spending a lot of time on an origin. We get a fully powered Captain Marvel, then work backwards from that.
- Thor: Ragnarok
Ah, Thor. Will he ever get a break? Essentially a Thor/Hulk buddy comedy, this is an example of how you grow the universe around you. We find out where the Hulk has been hanging out all these years after vanishing, we get real growth from Thor, and we find out that Odin may not have been as great as we saw earlier. We get moments of Thor being goofy, which works and it doesn’t… we don’t need a joke after Asgard is destroyed, but it’s nice when get a few moments of levity from the Grandmaster. This is Thor at his best, and he’s got a great arc. It’s too bad Infinity War undoes it, but it’s great that we get some of it.
- Captain America: The First Avenger
This is one of the best superhero films ever. The end when that kid runs by with the trash can lid pretending to be Captain America is perfect. It still suffers from some of the Marvel “we have to make a little fun of our old style” with an extended sequence of the live shows he does, but this is a story of a protector who does not want to be a warrior. It’s a story of a man who sets ideals for us that we need to live up to. This is Marvel at some of its best.
- Black Panther
What can I write about Black Panther than hasn’t been written? Great villain, great story, great hero, great effects, great battle at the end (until the Playstation 1 quality Panther on Panther fight at the end). I love how this movie feels, how it gets you to think about your actions, and about what makes not just a hero but a leader. Wakanda feels like a real place, and the actions that T’Challa takes to make the world a better place at the end is inspiring. It’s one of the best entries into the MCU: it grows the world without feeling forced, but it tells a balanced story. It should serve as a template for all Superhero movies.
- Iron Man
The one that started it all. It gives us a good origin for Iron Man, it gives us the Marvel Template, and it mostly it’s a good story. There are some moments that haven’t aged that way (the terrorist seeking missiles come to mind) but it’s a great story about a man that realizes he needs to atone for what he’s done. It’s a great redemption arc, and a great narrative about the nature of heroism. I love this movie. What more can I say?
- Guardians of the Galaxy
Here’s where Marvel wanted to get fun, and started to cut loose. The only Phase 2 movie that doesn’t have to worry about the Avengers, and it shows by not tying itself into knots at the mere mention of another hero. In fact, it goes further by giving us our first real look at Thanos, who would become a big problem later on, after he’s exhausted his plan of sending almost two people out to do his bidding for him. But it’s light, it’s fun, but at its core it’s a family film, about a family that finds each other against all odds. Try not to cry after “We Are Groot” or when they’re holding hands to protect against the Infinity Stone’s effects. This is masterful filmmaking.
- Captain America: Winter Soldier
Intrigue. Game-changing. This movie blew everything up, all while keeping the focus on Captain America. We could feel his guilt over having worked for the bad guys, we could feel that he wanted to do what was right against all odds. I don’t have much to say for this one, just that it’s a good movie, it’s one that sets the bar high for all superhero movies.
- The Avengers
There’s the iconic shot in the Avengers where the camera pans around all of them before they go into action. They’re all there. Iron Man. Thor. Captain America. Black Widow. Hawkeye. The Incredible Hulk. They’re going to defend the planet from Loki, and this alien invasion. Until then they’ve been beaten up, torn apart, and put back together. It’s a great moment, and one that reminded you how difficult it was to even think a movie like this could be put together, much less exist in the form that it does. This is a great film. It’s a reminder that anything can happen, and in this movie it does. It’s easy to forget, as we get 50 characters on screen, that it’s difficult to make movies like this, and to make them good. This is the one that started it, and it’s simply fantastic.
Look, I know this is controversial, but there’s a big reason (sorry again) that this is my number one movie for the MCU. If Phase 1 (Iron Man to Avengers) was about growing the world, Phase 2 had a problem of trying to shrink it. Ant-Man was the best course correction for the MCU. If we got more movies like Iron Man 3 or Thor: the Dark World which tried to avoid the answer of who are the Avengers, or Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron which just want to ignore what came before it, either by setting it in space or through willful ignorance, we would not have gotten Infinity War or Endgame. It’s a fact. The MCU would have died out. Marvel had no clue where it was going after the first Avengers, and that’s painfully obvious. Ant-Man took a look around and embraced that it was a superhero movie. It took the larger world and reminded us there could be a world outside of the bigger (sorry) heroes. It was willing to ask “why DON’T we call in the Avengers” or feature a few moments where we would get an Avenger for a cameo. If Iron Man is how you start a 22 movie streak, then Ant-Man is how you continue it: By not shying away from what you’ve created. It’s a fun movie, it’s one that takes super-heroics to the family level. That’s why it’s my favorite Marvel movie.