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The Best & Worst Films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

11 minutes to read

Ten years ago Iron Man burst into cinemas and kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe, changing movies forever.

Fast-forward twenty movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown bigger than anyone could ever have expected. We’ve gone from not knowing who Thor or the Guardians of the Galaxy are to waiting in eager anticipation for another opportunity to see them on the big screen. However, there’s also some bad news, and no, I’m not talking about Thanos killing half the universe:

The next Marvel film, Captain Marvel, doesn’t come out until March 2019.

To fill in the time until Captain Marvel arrives, why not go back and revisit Marvel’s past? Of course, not every Marvel movie was made equal, so to guide you on your journey I have made a handy list of the five Marvel movies to skip, and the five that you must not miss:

Big Spoiler Warning

The Skips

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

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There’s a moment in Avengers: Infinity War that perfectly sums up the viewing experience. It’s late in the movie and Thanos has defeated everyone who has stood in way. Out of the skies comes Thor who hurtles his brand-new axe down at Thanos, striking him in the chest. We breathe a sigh of relief, it looks like our heroes have won – but then we find out the blow wasn’t fatal. Thanos makes a snarky remark, snaps his fingers, and everything goes to hell.

Avengers: Infinity War, much like Thor in the moment I just described, comes so close to getting it right but misses the mark. There are some great moments spread throughout the film; the introduction of Thanos, Scarlet Witch singlehandedly destroying an army, and Drax’s iconic “why’s Gamora?” spring to mind. Avengers: Infinity War’s undoing is that it tries to juggle too many characters, plot points, and fight scenes and ends up dropping the lot of them.

In the end Avengers: Infinity War feels incomplete and unsatisfying, despite some good moments.

Best Part: The snap.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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I went to see Captain America: Civil War the day it dropped in cinemas. I loved it.

At the cinemas the following day, I watched it again. I loved it more.

When it came out on Netflix I decided to watch it a third time. I fell asleep in the first thirty minutes.

The airport battle is still arguably the best fight scene Marvel has made to date, and the final fight between Iron Man, Captain America, and the Winter Soldier remains heartbreaking. Unfortunately, the rest is extremely boring. It’s not the fault of the Russo Brothers who directed, or any of the actors who all put in fine performances. The problem is that the movie has no consequences. We know no one will die, we know the Avengers can’t disband forever, and that’s because we know that Marvel wants to keep making more movies and they can’t if there are major consequences.

Ultimately, Captain America: Civil War gives us no reason to care. So we don’t.

Best Part: The introductions of Black Panther and Spider-Man.

Doctor Strange (2016)

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Doctor Strange is an action-packed adventure filled with dazzling special effects.

Or at least that’s what the advertising sold us.

The part about the special effects is true, they really are brilliant, jaw-dropping, and mind-bending. They also make up less than a quarter of the movie overall.

The ‘action-packed adventure’ that fills up the other three quarters meanwhile is beyond a mess. Let’s do a quick rundown: Doctor Strange is a rip-off of Tony Stark, the ‘villain’ is ridiculously underdeveloped, Tilda Swinton plays a whitewashed Asian character, there’s almost no plot, and perhaps worst of all, Rachel McAdams is completely wasted as love interest character.

Doctor Strange is like Benedict Cumberbatch’s attempt at an American accent: a nice try but not good.

Best Part: Any time Doctor Strange enters the mirror dimension.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

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Hands up if you forgot that The Incredible Hulk existed until I mentioned it.

The Incredible Hulk is technically the second entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and yet seems to have been completely forgotten by everyone. It suffers from being middle of the road in every way imaginable. It’s neither as smart as Ang Lee’s Hulk, nor as fun as other Marvel movies where the Hulk appears.

When you watch The Incredible Hulk you get the feeling that no one really knew what to do with the character. Eric Norton’s Bruce Banner just sort of drifts along while the plot happens around him. The obligatory fight scenes border on fun, but they don’t really work, because CGI just wasn’t ready for the Hulk in 2008.

I would say more but honestly, I have already forgotten what happened.

Best Part: The foot chase over the rooftops of Rio De Janeiro.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

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Iron Man 2 is a chore to watch.

It feels like director Jon Favreau was given a list of studio notes that a plot had to be written around. The result is that the movie feels less concerned with being a fun time and more concerned with ticking things off the list.

Setting up Black Widow, even though she has nothing to do with the movie? Check.

A random Nick Fury scene to remind you the Avengers is coming up? Check.

Setting up Rhodey as War Machine? Check.

If you think that it sounds like there’s not much room left for actual story between all that, you would be right. Iron Man 2 attempts to cram a story about terminal illness and Tony’s father in there, but the movie is already too packed.

In the end not even Robert Downey Jr can save Iron Man 2 from crumbling into an incoherent mess.

Best Part: The race track fight is a fun time, even if nothing else is.

The Must Sees

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

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Avengers: Age of Ultron is insane.

Everything feels ripped from a comic book in the best possible way. The villain, Ultron, is a robot with artificial intelligence. Ultron’s plan involves turning a city into an asteroid and dropping it on the earth. Why? Because Ultron wants to “save humanity from themselves” and the only way to do that is to kill them all.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is filled with great action, like the Hulk vs Hulkbuster fight, and great emotion, like Scarlet Witch’s breakdown at the death of her brother. Not everything in the movie works, the romantic subplot between Black Widow and Bruce Banner sticks out especially. Nevertheless, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a case where the good things make up for the bad, and the result is a movie that is bigger and crazier than the original.

Best Part: Ultron and Vision debating the fate of humanity after the final battle.

Black Panther (2018)

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At this point, saying Black Panther is a game changer is like telling someone water is wet.

There are many great elements in this film, but none are better that Michael B. Jordan’s villainous Killmonger. It is because of Killmonger that Black Panther becomes a story about the legacy of colonialism and the power of societal change. The way these ideas are blended with the superhero genre is what puts this Marvel entry above so many others and makes it one of the most influential blockbusters in recent memory.

Not everything in Black Panther is perfect. I have serious problems with how generic the actions scenes are. The title character is also boring and gets weirdly sidelined in his own movie. In the end these problems don’t really matter because it’s the first movie with an African-American director, lead, and cast to make over a billion dollars. Its significance in pop culture history has less to do with the movie itself and more to do with what it means for diversity in film.

Black Panther is changing the landscape of Hollywood as we speak.

Best Part: Killmonger finally getting to see the Wakandan sunrise right before his death.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

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Tom Holland is the best Spider-Man hands down.

Spider-Man has always been one of the most relatable superheroes, he’s just an average high schooler who accidentally got spider themed superpowers. Spider-Man: Homecoming makes the most of this premise. It’s essentially a John Hughes movie with superhero elements thrown in, and it’s for that exact reason that the movie succeeds.

We relate to Peter because we see him struggle not only with the superpowers and responsibility, but also regular high school problems like friendships, popularity, and asking people to dances. It’s because Spider-Man: Homecoming is grounded in real life that it’s so effective. The high school elements are so real and immediate that they make the superhero parts less fantastical and distant. It allows us to relate deeply to Peter and so we feel his every success and failure just as much as he does.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the teen film for the superhero age.

Best Part: The plot twist that the Vulture is the father of the girl Peter is taking to Homecoming.

Iron man 3 (2013)

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Iron Man 3 shows why the first Marvel hero is also the best.

Tony Stark has never been a more relatable character than he is in this film. Throughout Iron Man 3 he is fighting a villain he created through his own arrogance. This villain is armed with weapons that Stark made to profit from war, while trying to save a relationship he let get on the rocks, all the while he’s combating PTSD from his past heroics in The Avengers. He’s his own worst enemy and what’s more relatable than that?

Robert Downey Jr realises all the emotion perfectly, proving he’s still the clear star of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His ability to deliver a quip like no one else is combined with the dialogue of Shane Black, a man known for writing quippy dialogue. On top of that we see a plot filled with emotion and twists, keeping us on the edge of our seats from start to finish.

Best Part: Every scene with Tony and the kid is comedy gold.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

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When you think of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the funky soundtrack, dazzling visuals, and endless jokes probably spring to mind.

True, those elements are present in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the sequence where Groot dances to ‘Mr Blue Sky’ whilst a battle rages on in the background. It’s undeniably the most fun Marvel has ever been – but that’s not all there is to this film. It’s also a story about a group of deeply hurt people trying to put themselves back together and form a family.

Director James Gunn manages to balance fun and emotion with an incredible deftness. He keeps the action fun and jokey so he can have emotional and bittersweet moments. I could spend all day trying to explain what makes this movie great, but someone already has better than I ever could.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is Marvel at its absolute best.

Best Part: While Yondu saving Peter Quill is devastating, my vote has to go to Nebula’s desperate cry of “I just wanted a sister”, after her fight with Gamora. It was heartbreaking and perfect.