With the release of “Avengers: Infinity War,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe hits the apex of its third phase of movies that have entertained moviegoers through the past decade since the release of “Iron Man.”
In some respects, this latest installment is the best yet. It combines the vast majority of its heroes in a non-forced manner, plenty of quality action with some well-placed comedic lines, and one incredible bad guy.
That’s all you get about that movie, because this is a spoiler-free zone.
Before “Infinity War’s” release, I took the challenge to see all of the MCU releases in order to get myself ready. Let’s take a look back at the best, worst and in between of the MCU releases (in no order within each category):
“Iron Man” (2008): The OG film. This one started it all and it holds up over time. In a theme repeated numerous times in other titles, the main man, in this case Robert Downey Jr., is humbled and then becomes a force for good. This movie, you could say, changed how the world has seen movies ever since.
“Black Panther” (2018): Visually beautiful and well-acted, this movie brilliantly takes the small role by Chadwick Boseman in “Captain America: Civil War” (more on that later) and expands the character’s story. It brings in new characters that I have no doubt will play a big role moving forward. Also, Michael B. Jordan is one of the better villains the MCU has seen.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014): The second installment with Chris Evans at the helm is perhaps the best, with the introduction of Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier. This movie has had a huge impact on those that followed. It’s well-written, well-acted and just all-around good fun to watch.
“Captain America: Civil War” (2016): Keeping up with its predecessor, this movie sets the stage for “Infinity War” with the breaking of the original team. The characters continue to grow throughout some quality action sequences, and see themselves set upon separate paths that are just now coming back together. Also, welcome new Spider-Man.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014): The vast majority of MCU fans had no clue who this group was when the movie was announced. I, too, was skeptical, but saw it on a whim because – hey, it was Marvel. It holds up well over time as action mixed with comedy, a combination MCU is extremely good at. A bonus is the fantastic soundtrack.
“Thor: Ragnarok” (2017): In the best of the trio of Thor films, we finally start to see just how powerful Thor can be. The Hulk side story and Loki’s presence add to the film. Add in Valkyrie and Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster, and you have a very enjoyable couple hours that immediately sets up “Infinity War.”
“The Avengers” (2012): It combines all of the original characters in a way that hadn’t been seen much before. It solidifies this franchise as a force to be reckoned with and we get to see Hulk smash. And it gives the first small tease toward Thanos, so the arrival of the Big Bad has been a long time coming.
“The Incredible Hulk” (2008): The CGI was still being worked out, the change from Eric Bana to Edward Norton makes continuity difficult and it just isn’t nearly as good as the others. Mark Ruffalo has made the character much better.
“Thor: The Dark World” (2013): Tom Hiddleston is always good as Loki, and Thor’s character sees some growth. But overall, eh.
“Iron Man 2” (2010) and “Iron Man 3” (2013): In the same vein as above, the main character sees some growth while the overall story is lacking and the bad guys underwhelm. But at least we see some cool Iron Man suits, and Don Cheadle has staying power as War Machine.
“Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015): I like seeing all the characters together and how they play off one another, but this movie is long and slow. It feels like too much talking. And the love story of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) seems to come out of nowhere and doesn’t add a whole lot to the film. Hawkeye’s bigger role is a bonus, as Jeremy Renner does a nice job navigating the small amount of screen time they give him and making the most of it.
“Ant-Man” (2015): It’s funny, as Paul Rudd has great delivery and rapport with Michael Douglas, and the visuals are nice with the size change of the character. The introduction of Evangeline Lily as The Wasp at the end will grow in importance in the next few MCU films. Oh, and Michael Pena is hilarious.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017): It’s good, just not as good as the first. They go a little over the top with Drax as a jokester, but they move the Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) storyline forward nicely, and baby Groot adds some lightness. Rocket can’t be left out — his antics are fun to watch.
“Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017): Yay, this isn’t a third origin story. Like we needed another one of those. Instead, we get a young superhero trying to find his place in the world of heroes. It’s entertaining, and Iron Man has a nice cameo to help move the character forward.
“Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011): Evans makes his first foray into the MCU after his stint as the Human Torch in “Fantastic Four” (in which I thought he was funny). This introduces one of the Infinity Stones and sets up storylines for the next set of movies that we have seen make a tremendous impact. It also helps set up the TV series, “Agent Carter.”
“Thor” (2011): What a weekend in New Mexico will do for you. Disappoint your dad, lose your hammer and power, go to the desert, meet a girl and make it all right in 72 hours. Not too bad for a few days’ work.
“Doctor Strange” (2016): It all comes together really easy for Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). This has different feel from the other films, dealing with the mystic arts, but it works.