8. Doctor Strange (2016)
Even more so than Ant-Man, Doctor Strange could be accused of being an Iron Man clone. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is more similar to Stark than any other character when we meet him; rich, arrogant, and uncaring about anyone but himself. But, like with Guardians of the Galaxy, director Scott Derrickson isn’t afraid to make things weird and trippy, and Doctor Strange really benefits from this, making it one of the most unique entries in the MCU, comparisons to Iron Man aside.
The visuals are unlike anything from any superhero movie, and the film may just sport the MCU’s best cast, including Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, and Tilda Swinton. The addition of actual magic (not whatever they were talking about in Thor) is just as much a game changer for the MCU as Guardians of the Galaxy’s introduction of a much bigger world than just Asgard and Earth. And the extremely clever finale bucks classic hero v villain showdown clichés, allowing for loads of destruction while avoiding the ramifications by undoing it all, in an age when we were finally tiring of the whole “city gets destroyed in the climax” battles seen in movies like The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Man of Steel, and X-Men: Apocalypse, among many others.
7. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
In 2017, six years after his first appearance on the big screen, Marvel Studios finally figured out what to do with Thor. Ragnarok is hilarious in an entirely different way than Guardians, with a more blunt, understated, dry style of comedy that mostly doesn’t go for Guardians‘ brand of turd and chafed nipple jokes.
Hemsworth is finally allowed to fully use his comedic chops, earning him the title of funniest Avenger. Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) too is more fully realized than even in the Avengers films, and side characters like Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) are just utterly bizarre; again, a unique brand of weird unlike Guardians of the Galaxy. Sometimes the action can be a bit of CGI overload, and there are a few missed opportunities narrative wise, but otherwise this film is a real winner for Thor, catapulting his best solo film over Iron Man’s.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Truly the most original entry in the MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy was a huge risk, that paid off better than anyone could have possibly imagined. Though all the MCU films are fairly funny (except for The Incredible Hulk and Thor: The Dark World), Guardians was a full-on comedy, utilizing the comedic chops of a newly fit Chris Pratt. New characters included a talking raccoon and tree, something that one thought could only work in the pages of a comic book, but this sort of weirdness became the film’s greatest strength.
Guardians of the Galaxy is the gold standard for an ensemble superhero team that doesn’t benefit from origin films about each major player preceding it. X-Men and Suicide Squad wish they could be this effective. And if Doctor Strange has the most unique villain showdown, Guardians certainly takes the title for second most original, with the hilarious and memorable dance-off. Guardians also became the first MCU film were music was just as much a character as our team of five heroes, something done even more effectively in the sequel.
5. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Spider-Man: Homecoming is truly unique on this list as it is a smaller scale film with much lower stakes than nearly any other film in the MCU, yet it is still a powerful film. Michael Keaton absolutely steals the show as Adrian Toomes/Vulture. Though he is a very different type of villain than Loki, I would say has stolen the crown of greatest villain in the MCU. That car ride to Homecoming is a killer scene, as is the movie’s biggest reveal and the conversation between Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and Toomes that follows.
And Spider-Man has never been better! While Sam Raimi’s films, the first two of which are still excellent, took a darker approach with a moodier Spider-Man, Homecoming is nothing but fun; a superhero film crossed with a John Hughes movie. Marvel literally can save any franchise!
4. The Avengers (2012)
What? I’m putting The Avengers below Avengers: Age of Ultron? How dare I!
The Avengers doesn’t sit as high on my list as many would put if for similar reasons to why I let the original Iron Man slip down the ranks. At the time, it was a revelation, and I can still remember my unbridled excitement and joy when Steve Rogers and a newly cast Bruce Banner (Ruffalo replacing Norton) met for the first time on what turned out to be a helicarrier! Seeing the Avengers together, after leading their own origin solo films, was a geek dream come true and an actual game changer in Hollywood. I may never get the same feeling again as watching that panning shot of all the Avengers fighting together across New York, and it is this film, not Thor, that cements Loki as one of the most interesting characters in the MCU.
But, like Iron Man, looking back at it five years later, The Avengers is a very basic team-up movie with very little plot and even fewer locations. When you think about it, The Avengers really only hits three locations, Germany, the helicarier, and New York, with almost the entire second act spent on the helicarrier. Not exactly the most epic narrative for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. And, let’s be real, Hawkeye got screwed in this one, still not taken as seriously as the other Avengers four years later in Captain America: Civil War.
On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, Black Widow is fleshed out wonderfully after her stoic appearance in Iron Man 2, becoming on of the most interesting and badass Avengers thanks to director Josh Whedon’s love and experience with strong female heroes. The Hulk is finally used correctly, no longer a sick man seeking a cure, but a hero who wants to help others, and by the end of the film owns his infliction rather than run from it. The Avengers a nice, clean, well written, directed, and acted film, but the Avengers aren’t pushed quite as hard as they are in Age of Ultron.
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