In anticipation of this week’s release of “Avengers: Infinity War,” it’s only appropriate to do a special ranking of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe films so far. Have a gander below!
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
James Gunn’s foray into the world of Marvel is akin to playing a greatest hits album the audience never realized was timeless until listening. Fortunately for the film’s motley crew of space adventurers, it only took one spin to instantly known that a classic had been ironically unearthed. From the second Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord stumbles onscreen, there was no turning away from the dizzying levels of fun. The stylish escapades and effortless humor among the film’s ensemble provide peak entertainment. The abundance of energy becomes increasingly infectious, culminating in a breathtaking cinematic ride that heaven would be jealous of. When audiences think of the Marvel movie that makes them grin from ear-to-ear without asking why, it’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” that fits the priceless bill.
2. Black Panther
Ryan Coogler is the first MCU director to champion his auteur sensibilities into the ring. What results is an inclusive triumph that beams with cultural pride and personal resonance. Every word of dialogue conveys a global truth; every challenge confronted is more than routine obstacle. “Black Panther” is a grand illustration of what is possible if every civilization is granted autonomy. Best of all is that the titular star has enough humility to know he is one of many competent individuals who can save the world, much less the kingdom of Wakanda. Each character is developed to their max potential. No one’s arc is shortchanged, and by film’s end the audience knows every supporting member like they are old friends. Best of all, the villain’s motivations are nuanced and understandable given his position in a society that neglected his worth early on.
3. Iron Man
This is one of the best Marvel films precisely because it launches the franchise with intelligence, not bloated spectacle. Robert Downey, Jr. is brash and obnoxiously charismatic as Tony Stark, but he also takes time to flesh out a hero with dark realizations about his corporate elitism. Engaging rather topically on the war in Afghanistan, the movie asserts the dangers of the current arms race and the greedy weapons manufacturers who sponsor them. Tying the Middle East conflict into Iron Man’s origin story is an excellent way for a prospective superhero to understand who and what he’s fighting against. The “Iron Man” sequels unfortunately forget that their predecessor succeeds by prizing internal conflict above engineered strife.
4. Captain America: The First Avenger
This is the Marvel movie that often feels like the one that got away despite still existing. It represents a simpler age where the lines between good and evil weren’t blurred. Justice prevails and courage can be found in a man or woman of any stature or background. Seeing Steve Rogers transform from lanky enlistee to the Allied forces’ muscled weapon is one of the most visually stunning metamorphoses. Dear friends Peggy Carter and Bucky Barnes reinforce the notion that love makes us stronger in our endeavors. Thanks to Chris Evans’s astounding lead performance, the Captain America revered from the comic books reemerges as a ray of hope in the gravest of times. Because of this, idealism never comes under heavy fire in spite of the film’s 1942 Nazi Germany setting.
5. The Avengers
What could have turned into a case of too many egos on the battlefield becomes an iconic example of crossover storytelling done spectacularly. “The Avengers” contains all of the blockbuster superhero tropes in its final act, yet somehow winds up as the gold standard in mass destruction. Joss Whedon pushes his cast and the stakes to impossible levels of disbelief suspension, and the film is better for it. Hulk grabbing Loki and smashing him back and forth like a rag doll elicits an all-timer audience reaction. With heroes like these, who needs enemies besides Loki?
6. Thor Ragnarok
This is an entry in which director Taika Waititi took a hard look at his surroundings and wondered what, exactly, was so damn serious? Hardly any character of value dies in the MCU, the banter among allies fills up more screen-time than pivotal drama, and the excess of explosive action always drowns out narrative significance. Sometimes the only way for a brand to evolve is to revel in self-awareness. By doing so, audiences never have to weigh the value of plot or canonical integrity. All they were asked to measure was the amount of fun derived, and boy did Waititi excel this quota. Who knew the return of Hulk, the introduction of drunken badass Valkyrie, and Thor letting everything go but his sense of humor was the recipe needed to make the most entertaining Marvel movie yet?
7. Captain America: Civil War
A convergence of allied heroes with opposing ideologies makes this the true spiritual successor to Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers.” Whether you are Team Iron Man or Team Captain America, the script performs a perfect balancing act of drawing sympathy to both viewpoints. The impressive introductions of T’Challa as Black Panther and Peter Parker’s teenage Spider-Man only fuel anticipation for future solo outings. Finally, there might not be a more memorable moment in the MCU than the airport fight with our heroes squaring off in exhilarating battle royale fashion.
8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
A riveting spy thriller that finds Steve Rogers navigating a contemporary political climate eerily reminiscent of his original timeline, “Winter Solider” represents a turning point in the franchise. The enemy isn’t just extra-terrestrial anymore – it’s now from within. The resurgence of “Hydra” with its Nazi underpinnings has a better beat on current affairs than it did in 2014. “The Winter Soldier” confirms the necessity of Captain America so long as unchecked power runs rampant in our democracy. Yes, Robert Redford’s cheesy Patriot extremism is tonally jarring – the “Hail Hydra” death salute is a major eye-roller – but the personal betrayals Steve endures makes his heroic growth that much more inspiring.
9. Thor: The Dark World
Easily the most underrated movie in the MCU canon, “Thor: The Dark World” gets unfairly maligned for being inconsequential. Just because it doesn’t work as cohesively with its film siblings doesn’t make it a disappointing intergalactic adventure. After metropolitan destruction overload, “The Dark World” gives audiences a well-needed rest from Earthbound mayhem. Rather than rehash the Avengers’ infighting, we’re privy to a deeper history of Asgard and its ties to the Nine Realms. There’s a refreshing comic book “standalone” feel alongside some swashbuckling flair. There’s even some kinetic “Star Wars” vibes in the aerial dogfight action sequences. Most importantly, the MCU finally kills off a fairy integral character whose demise has rippling effects on a villain no less. We witness Loki at his most vulnerable, with Tom Hiddleston ensuring that our favorite troublemaker has a heart after all.
Kenneth Branagh is nowhere near the impresario auteur some claim him to be. However, his Shakespeare background serves him reasonably well with the Norse god’s movie kickoff. The first half is steeped in fascinating mythology and Greek pathos. Chris Hemsworth proves a brilliant discovery even if it takes him a few films to nestle comfortably. Moreover, it’s Tom Hiddleston as scorned adoptive brother Loki who pops as a relentless villain thirsty for continual chaos. Natalie Portman and Hemsworth’s coupling is forgettable, though the star wattage on display at such an early MCU stage makes for a glittery space opera with massive narrative ground-paving.