The retrospective on the Marvel franchise ends today, just before the latest film, “Avengers: Infinity War” hits theaters for the first showings on Thursday (April 26). In case you missed them, check out my 18-12 ranking and my 11-6 list.
Now, here are (so far) my all time favorite films that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has produced. Keep in mind, I enjoyed all of these movies very much, so the numbers aren’t the be-all-end-all.
Here we go.
5. Thor Ragnarok (2017)
“Thor: Ragnarok” hit theaters like a bolt of lightning and blew me away with how good it was. As the rest of this list points out, I wasn’t as big of a fan of the past two “Thor” films. “Ragnarok,” though, changed the whole thing.
This film was funny, entertaining and developed Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as a character while also giving Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) more development as a bonus. Great new characters, such as the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and the new villain Hela (Cate Blanchett) rounded things out nicely, too.
It’s simply a blast to watch from start to finish, from Thor fighting the Hulk in a gladiator match to him learning more about his own powers and what he’s supposed to inherit. Plus, seeing him interact with Bruce as well as Valkyrie put the cherry on top.
It should also be noted that this is another movie in this franchise that had the protagonists use a rather inventive idea to defeat the villain rather than just throwing punches.
If I had to recommend just a few Marvel films, this would be on the list.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
I think a film like “Thor: Ragnarok” was only possible because of how well “Guardians of the Galaxy” ended up working. While I really like its sequel, I still love the original more. First of all, the makers did this project a great service by filling it with great nostalgic pop culture, and doing so in a meaningful way by tying it in to the lead character, Peter’s, backstory.
This definitely wasn’t a one person show, though, as all of the Guardians are given fantastic depth and personalities as characters and as an audience, you want to see them team up and work together soon after they meet.
One of the biggest strengths the film has is its comedic script. There are so many great lines here, for example, Peter calling Rocket “Ranger Rick” still makes me laugh to this day. Not only was the writing funny, though, but the acting delivered on this front, too. Dave Bautista is spot on as the socially inept Drax, Bradley Cooper lends an awesome performance to Rocket, Zoe Saldana fits great as the cynical, dead-panning Gamora and Chris Pratt is perfectly cast as Peter.
Along with the comedy, the lead performers also did great work in the more serious moments, and made the team bonding moments quite convincing. Plus, the action sequences featured here are a lot of fun and many of them were unique, especially when the Tree-character Groot was involved.
3. The Avengers (2012)
“The Avengers” still wows me in how well it all worked out. When I wrote my original review way back in 2012, I noted that the main story here is quite simple. However, there was a lot more going on here than just the Loki vs Avengers concept going on.
What “The Avengers” is really about was watching the team come together and exploring how this effected each character. The previously self-centered Thor, for example, who’s still learning to be humble, still appeared in “The Avengers” to be trying to grasp how to work in a team.
Bruce Banner, meanwhile, has to come to terms with being back in society while having the Hulk inside him and Tony Stark is confronted with who/what he fights for. There’s even a scene where Steve Rogers (Captain America) calls out Stark for something along the lines of “fighting for himself.”
The list goes on. This movie is about characters, and all of the characters are compelling, they have backgrounds and most importantly, they’re very well acted. Just look at the film careers of some of the people on screen here, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Scar Jo. These are all award caliber actors, and they share the screen with other great talents.
Plus, the film boasts a very strong, funny script. There are such great lines here, such as Thor mentioning that his brother Loki is adopted when confronted with some of the destruction that’s happened.
The action is also amazing, there’s one part in particular where all the Avengers are working together to fight and to me it’s like the culmination of every comic book film ever made.
2. Iron Man (2008)
The original still holds up and is near the top in terms of Marvel quality. Despite using an origin story formula that was already quite familiar (getting powers in the first act, testing them in the second and a final battle for the third), “Iron Man” still stood out as something new and fresh back in 2008.
The film seemed to have so much more style and swagger than many of its comic book film counterparts at the time. The film was also very accessible, even to audiences not as interested in the genre. This is likely because of the realism displayed here, which made the movie much more relatable. The realism was partly because instead of getting powers, the lead character Tony Stark had to build and construct everything he uses. As a result, while still going into science fiction territory, “Iron Man” remained largely grounded, making it very easy to get into as a viewer and to a larger point, being the perfect film to start the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Plus, the casting was downright perfect. Downey Jr. was so impressive as Stark, capturing everything from the character’s arrogance to his regret and his resolve. He made the character his, and it’s the reason he’s remained one of the key figures in the franchise. The character was also well developed throughout the film, starting off as arrogant and selfish but revealing a deeper person behind the ‘rich playboy.’ Seeing Stark’s character arc of being a weapons developer to going in the opposite direction is compelling and watching him develop the Iron Man armor is interesting and engaging.
The cast is also filled with extremely talented performers, such as Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard. While Howard only appeared in one Marvel film and was later replaced by Don Cheadle, he was still great in the role.
It’s smart, entertaining and one of the best Marvel films to date.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
This is the gold standard of Marvel. “The Winter Soldier” isn’t just a Marvel comic book film, it’s a spy espionage thriller that even has time to commit to social commentary. This film includes two great characters betrayed by their own agency, as well as government secrets and conspiracies related to surveillance.
The movie is also very much about the characters, specifically its lead. From start to finish, audiences get to watch Steve Rogers (Captain America) adjust to the time period he now lives in while also dealing with things from his past. The latter especially comes into play later in the movie where it turns out Rogers has to fight one of his former friends.
The movie also benefits from the relationships Rogers has with those around him, such as his friendships with Natasha (Black Widow) and Sam (Falcon). The group of characters is rounded out well with head spy Nick Fury played fantastically by Samuel Jackson and government official Alexander Pierce, portrayed in convincing fashion by Robert Redford.
The picture also features exhilarating action sequences that are some of the best in this Marvel franchise. Highlights include a stealth mission on a ship, Rogers taking down a jet by himself with just his shield and a battle on a highway. All of these, and more, are top notch in effects and choreography.
Plus, while the film is played mostly straightforward with a good amount of seriousness, the script did include some very well timed pieces of humor, allowing for some moments of relief for the audience and banter that developed the characters.
Those characters also work so well thanks to the talented cast. Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Jackson and Redford are all on point here.
Other Marvel movies may have had more action, or more comedy and in some cases even more character development. However, in my opinion, nothing else has brought so many elements from this franchise together and made it work so well as “Winter Soldier.”