This whole thing started out originally as a straight review for the latest addition to the MCU canon (and official closure to Marvel’s Phase 2 slate) Ant-Man. However, your editor and badass in charge Mr. Pruitt beat me to the punch with his most excellent take on the film. So rather than clutter the site with yet another glowing review, I figured I’d try to do something a little different. In honor of Ant-Man being the punctuation mark closing out Phase 2, I decided to make a 7’s list ranking all the films leading up to this point.
7.) Avengers: Age of Ultron
I really thought this film would have placed higher on the list. On paper, this should have been a slam dunk. It’s the big team up movie uniting all the standalone franchises that came before into one big sprawling and epic adventure. Sadly, the more distance I give myself from Ultron, the more the flaws and problems with the film begin to show. It speaks to the quality of Marvel Studios that it’s most ambitious and large film to date places so low in comparison to the rest of its oeuvre. The Hulkbuster vs. Hulk fight alone is worth the price of admission. Also, we get the MCU’S best villain since Loki and the beginning seeds being sewn for next year’s massively anticipated CIVIL WAR movie. However, too many new characters being introduced and truck-sized narrative plot holes prevent this from being the best of the Marvel cannon, as most thought it would be.
6.) Thor: The Dark World
This film has sort of the exact opposite effect of Age of Ultron. Upon initial viewing, it really didn’t strike me as anything more than standard sequel fare in attempts to keep the continuity of Marvels cinematic output chugging along. However the more I think about it, the more I actually really love this flick. Thor isn’t one of my favorite Avengers, so this was always going to be a hard sell for me anyway. In the end, it pulled through and turned me into a massive fan of this character. There are just as many problems with this movie as in Ultron, but it places higher because the film is still given its own identity. It’s a rip-roaring science fiction Viking adventure film that moves at a brisk pace and never stops entertaining you from beginning to end. Thor’s arc from brash young warrior to noble and humbled hero is as complete a journey as your likely find in any film. It’s also one of the funnier films in the MCU as well.
5.) Guardians of the Galaxy
This is the one that really proved the mass appeal of Marvel studios across the widest possible audience. Guardians took a relatively unknown squad of comic characters and turned them into household names. I would almost call it an Indiana Jones movie in space. It centers on the roguish appeal of rugged space pirate Star Lord as he puts together a team of rough and tumble misfits as they try to save the galaxy from the threat of a genocidal maniac. There could even be parallels drawn to the first Star Wars film as well. Any movie where a talking tree who only says 5 words in the whole film and a genetically modified raccoon become your star players, that’s when you know you have something special. Not since the original Iron Man film have I seen such rapturous and unanimous love for a movie like this. The fact that this only places at number 5 speaks volumes about the quality of what Marvel continues to pump out.
4.) Iron Man 3
This one was probably the most difficult for me to choose. I was originally going to pick the 1st Iron Man as it kickstarted this whole MCU venture to begin with, and I wanted to give credit where credit is due. Iron Man 2 was never a choice because even though it was a good flick in its own right, the fact that it served more as connective tissue to future films instead of being given its own identity really hindered it in the long run. I finally decided that not only does Iron Man 3 best represent the Iron franchise, it’s also the most complete journey Tony Stark makes in any Marvel movie to date. It retains the snarky comedic chops Robert Downey Jr can play in his sleep while giving us the darkest and thematically weighted MCU up until this point. Tony is really forced to confront his demons more than ever here and often without the help of the Iron Man armor. The scenes of him using his razor sharp wit and unmatched intelligence to figure out how to save the day while completely on his own without any help are some of the best scenes in the whole movie. By the end, Tony Stark goes from billionaire philanthropist to endearing hero and the journey you take with him along the way never feels contrived or shoehorned at any moment.
3.) The Avengers
This was another movie that as I was compiling this list, I was shocked to find it was not at the very top. However, The Avengers is probably the most fun to watch in terms of action and general excitement. The “hero” shot near the middle of the third act as the camera pans around the fully formed team as they assemble for the first time STILL gives me chills every time I watch it. Even though it’s the closing chapter to Marvels Phase One slate of films, it’s really the first time this cohesive multi-film shared universe really took form. Unlike a lot of other comic book films that try to revel in the dark and gritty grounded realism that took flight in Nolan’s Bat trilogy, The Avengers showed that it was okay to have a good time at the movies. Escapist and grandiose populist cinema is as cinematically viable as dark tales and depressing color palettes.
Given more time and space, I can see Marvels latest film (and closure to Phase 2) being possibly my favorite film in their entire canon. Despite all the behind the scenes drama surrounding Edgar Wright’s departure, I still held hope it would at the least be a good movie. I mean, this far along into the MCU experiment, you think we would learn to trust Marvel Studios by now. It was an even riskier venture than Guardians by virtue of the fact that Ant Man couldn’t even sustain his own comic book title. He was always a supporting character in the other adventures, so how was he going to anchor his own feature film? Well, let me tell you, they pulled it off in spades. 11 or 12 films into this massive MCU franchise, Marvel has finally given us its first relatable blue collar hero in Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang. He’s viewing his introduction into this world of super heroics with the same kind of wide-eyed enthusiasm as any of us would surely have. Also as a follow up to the huge globe-trotting nature of Age of Ultron, Ant-Man is a nicely self-contained story that harkens back to the days of the original Iron Man where smaller more personal stakes were just as harrowing and thrilling as huge end of the world style threats. Despite there being more connective tissue to the other Avengers, it was never a hindrance to the story being displayed on a screen. Combine all this with a powerhouse performance from Michael Douglas, a confident and amazing direction from comedy mastermind Peyton Reed and very stylish visual effects and you have the makings of the very best Marvel Studios has to offer. That is until you get to my number one pick……
1.) Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
There are so many good places to start on this one, I can’t decide. Not only is this the pinnacle of everything that Marvel Studios has been working towards, but it’s also a landmark in the blending of popular blockbuster filmmaking and smarter and densely layered cinema. It’s a rich multi-tiered narrative that is jam-packed with next level parallels to the type of paranoia and mistrust of the government at large that pervades the society we live in today. Also at its core, Winter Soldier is a damn perfect example of action filmmaking. It takes the character of Steve Rodgers\Captain America in so many new and exciting directions. Cap is widely considered to be the moral compass of the entire Marvel universe. He always does what’s right even if it puts him in harm’s way. You can always count on him to be the poster boy for the morally upstanding citizen. In this film what’s right isn’t so clear for Steve, and he is often forced to question everything that he’s ever stood for. The government that he’s so blindly served over the years has finally failed him in such a profoundly ideological way that at one point it’s literally him against the world. That The Russo Brothers (directors of this film, the upcoming Captain America Civil War and two-part Avengers: Infinity War) were able to deftly weave in such scathing and incendiary topical subject matter with constantly upscaling action and adventure is a miracle. I mean, there is so much packed into this 2-hour run time that it’s amazing the film didn’t buckle somewhere under the pressure. Thankfully it didn’t because Captain America: Winter Soldier is not only the best and most mature MCU film to date… it is a perfect representation of the current cinematic climate we live in; a rousing picture stuffed to the brim with equal parts weighty dramatic themes and fun comic book action hijinks.