3. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Speak of the devil. Age of Ultron may not be as neat a package as The Avengers, it certainly has its flaws and extraneous scenes and story-lines. But, it also features a more ambitious plot that gives Earth’s Mightiest Heroes a lot more to do, and adds a great deal of depth to even the characters we’ve seen in multiple solo films before this outing. Hawkeye is given too much of a backstory as a response to Whedon screwing him in the last film, and Thor’s entire story-line is a bit of a wash.
But, my favorite Avenger, Captain America, has the most screentime by a large margin, and he really shines, even when he is fighting Ultron Prime and being told by his teammates he doesn’t stand a chance. James Spader is very underrated as Ultron, who is not as great a villain as Loki or Vulture, but is delicious nonetheless. The finale does fall into the overdoing the destruction trap, even by super hero team-up movie standards, but this was apparently part of the plan, setting up Captain America: Civil War in Phase 3. One of the film’s most powerful and redeeming scenes are the visions shown to Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Black Widow by Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), calling to mind their biggest fears and sense of loss in a very classy and dreamy way that only Whedon could pull off.
2. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Civil War earns its place above both Avengers films for having the single most powerful moment in the entire MCU, the revelation in the finale when Tony Stark learns The Winter Soldier aka Bucky (Sebastian Stan) killed his parents. This leads to the most personal and heart wrenching fight scene in the MCU, pitting Captain America and his friend Iron Man against each other in an actual fight to (nearly) the death. Who can argue with that amazing slow motion shot of Iron Man blasting Cap’s shield and it reflecting off, an image straight from the Civil War comic?
Civil War may not be as refined as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but the directing Russo brothers earn their spot on Avengers: Infinity War by balancing a great deal of characters and setting up the large clash between Avengers at the airport, the scene in the MCU most like a glorious splash page from a comic. Spider-Man is rehabilitated in his quick appearance, an impressive achievement indeed. Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is yet another underrated villain, another of the top five in the MCU. And can we please get a buddy picture featuring the pairing of Bucky and Falcon (Anthony Mackie)? Those too are just too great together!
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a nearly flawless film, and not simply the best film in the MCU, but also perhaps the best superhero film of all time in a top five club with The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Spider-Man 2, and Logan. The Russo brothers’ first action film and second film overall, they and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely perfectly marriage the superhero genre and all the elements of a ‘70s conspiracy thriller; the most seamless and effective blending of genres in the MCU.
The fighting is real and visceral with minimal CGI (there is still plenty… this is a superhero movie) and maximum stunt work, one of the reasons I prefer Captain America to any other Avenger. The plot is amazing, full of twists, turns, and major reveals you don’t see coming. The finale is powerful, with Captain America delivering a rousing speech while Hydra boards their helicarrirers meant to wipe out all enemies according to Zola’s algorithm. Watching Rogers find out Bucky is the Winter Soldier is heartbreaking, but not as heartbreaking as letting himself be beaten by Bucky at the end of the film because he is unwilling to fight his best friend and doesn’t believe Bucky is completely lost. And can we talk about Robert Redford, another underrated MCU villain? The Winter Soldier is the complete package and a movie I would recommend to anyone, even someone who doesn’t like superhero films.
That’s all, folks! What are your thoughts? How would you rank the MCU, or if that is too daunting a task, what does your Top 5 look like? The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a source of extreme joy for many of us, and analyzing it can be half the fun! So, let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!
Thor: Ragnarok lands in theaters on November 3, 2017.
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