ROAD TO INFINITY WAR: Rewatching and Reranking the MCU

I’m rewatching the MCU from Iron Man to Black Panther in anticipation of Infinity War in May. Much as I love to rank and rerank these, it’s been years since I’ve seen many of them, so this’ll be a ranking that develops in succession with all the films fairly fresh in my mind.

  • Captain America: Civil War

    1.Captain America: Civil War

    ★★★★★

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    Hot damn, what a flick! The Russos take the action, tension and superhero political discourse of Winter Soldier and ratchet it up to eleven all while capitalizing on twelve preceding films and juggling a cast of a dozen plus new and returning characters. Cap and Tony really get to do the heavy lifting here but every character has a moment to shine and, more than that, moments of doubt and growth. There are no extraneous vision quests here. Zemo is an antagonist that is new to the MCU, one who lurks in the background, quiet and small. His plan is convoluted and I’ve heard it sinks the film for some, but I have little trouble with his quest for specific evidence and a specific audience to show it to. Chris Evans and RDJ really get to shine here in a script that, among other achievements, is shockingly tasteful with its quips for an MCU flick. The final realization of Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther is one of my favorite MCU moments. If there’s an Odin above, the Russos will be able to transition in scope from Civil War to Infinity War with the same careful grace they showed going from Winter Soldier to Civil War. Oh, and the return of ol’ Billy Hurt don’t hurt neither.

    (March 21st: 36 days until Infinity War)

  • Guardians of the Galaxy

    2.Guardians of the Galaxy

    ★★★★★

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    Over a year before The Force Awakens came out I sat down for this movie on opening night and during the credits sequence I became insanely excited not only for the film to come but for films to come and for Star Wars to come. This movie reignited my interest in contemporary blockbusters and their potential. Guardians is the first Marvel film I truly loved. It really unlocked the appeal of the MCU for me. Before Guardians my dead horse opinion was “Marvel’s never going to make the Dark Knight.” After Guardians that ceased to be a bad thing and I was able to appreciate previous MCU entries for what they were, not begrudge them what they were not. The humor here is fantastic and adventurous, the color and production design are vivid and imaginative and both the heroism and snark by the films protagonists feel genuine. On this rewatch I genuinely had to contemplate whether I not preferred Guardians or Winter Soldier, but at this point in the MCU the franchise truly has begun to evolve to a point where comparing certain entries became a futile gesture. They’re both five star films to me, but one of them taught me how to love the other and ALBERT NOBBS IS IN THIS ONE.

    (March 6th: 51 days until Infinity War)

  • Black Panther

    3.Black Panther

    ★★★★★

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    The story! The characters! The discourse! The art direction! The set design! The costumes! The score! What a freakin’ movie! Black Panther hasn’t even been out for two months, so my relationship with the film hasn’t exactly cooled down. It’s the only MCU flick I wasn’t able to rewatch from the privacy of my own living room, bourbon and notebook in hand, so who knows how mine and audiences’ relationship with Black Panther will develop as it settles into the MCU. I adore Chadwick Boseman’s performance as T’Challa and I truly don’t think he gets enough credit for the reserved, regal character he’s created. And Michael B. Jordan, what can be said that hasn’t been already? The single greatest MCU villain, without contest. Likely the greatest supporting cast in an MCU film as well. And while I’m handing out MCU GOATs, seriously Ludwig Goransson’s score is killer. This movie is the best of what Marvel has to offer, with the ideological battlegrounds of the Russos’ Cap films and the spectacular imagination of Guardians or Ragnarok. And there’s literally just a straight up James Bond movie in the middle of the film for good measure. The action in Black Panther is it’s weakness. The fights lack the sort of fluency we see in Winter Soldier or Civil War, but the sequences and set pieces are awesome nonetheless. Watching the movie a second time, all it’s secrets revealed, I appreciated it even more.

    (March 26th: 31 days until Infinity War)


    And, with that...


    ROAD TO INFINITY WAR: COMPLETE

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier

    4.Captain America: The Winter Soldier

    ★★★★★

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    Look I ain’t trying to knock any other previous MCU flicks or anything, but real talk: for my money, Winter Soldier is the MCU’s second truly great work of cinema after The Avengers, and on this rewatch it surpassed even that landmark movie for me. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s dialogue is snappy and engaging like Whedon’s, but it never feels written or sacrifices authenticity for humor’s sake. The story here is certainly the best at this point in the MCU, with plenty of intellectual and philosophical bones to gnaw on, but even on the surface level Winter Soldier represents a high water mark for the MCU in terms of action. There’s a sense of momentum, of gravity, of weight to every chase and every fight scene. And once again Cap’s supporting cast knocks it out of the park. Scarlet Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson finally get the chance for their characters and performances to really breath and stretch, and Anthony Mackie is a delightful and welcomed addition to the MCU.
    Huh? Excuse me? WHAT DO YOU MEAN LIEUTENANT DAN  IS THE NARRATOR AT THE SMITHSONIAN’S CAPTAIN AMERICA EXHIBIT!?!?

    (March 3rd: 54 days until Infinity War)

  • Thor: Ragnarok

    5.Thor: Ragnarok

    ★★★★★

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    Jeff. Goldblum. JEFF GOLDBLUM. I love me some anti-colonialist sentiment and man do you get it here. Also this movie is hilarious. Arguably too hilarious. And the colors! And the music! Thor: Ragnarok touches on some stuff from writer Greg Pak’s excellent Planet Hulk story, which is one of the greatest comic book narratives I’ve ever read. This isn’t Planet Hulk, but it does a little  to ease the pain of likely never getting a live-action Planet Hulk thanks to Universal and their ownership of Hulk rights. This movie is a lot of fun in its own right and a lot of fun within the context of the MCU. It may serve as the best thematic bridge between three Marvel films as Odin’s dominion and the means to achieve it tie into the Vulture’s view of Tony Stark in Homecoming and the colonial conquest embodied by Cate Blanchett’s excellent performance as Hela is echoed in the themes explored in Black Panther. I have a hard time picking between Guardians Vol. 2 and Ragnarok, but Ragnarok is just so, so bonkers. And this cast? Good lord. Flawless. This movie is so good it makes the first two Thor movies (and Age of Ultron) worse because it serves as a reminder of all the wasted, sub-standard time we’ve had to spend with Hemsworth’s Thor, despite Hemsworth’s excellent work in the role. If there is an Odin above, the MCU will find a place for director Taika Waititi to return.

    (March 24th: 33 days until Infinity War. I have officially bought my ticket.)

  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

    6.Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

    ★★★★★

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    So Avengers is a great film and will likely go down as an all-time cinema classic for the grand stunt it pulled off, I’ll give you that, but man, I really dig Guardians Vol. 2. There seems to be a certain sense of ambivalence about this movie but I find Guardians 2 hilarious, heart felt and thought provoking. At the time, it was the Marvel movie I found myself contemplating the most after my initial viewing. Beyond that, the force of antagonism here is far more thoughtful, substantive and sinister than Loki’s theatric and entertaining but sort of broad villainy in Avengers. I’ve got my minor qualms - primarily I hate that Gamora is time and time again relegated to being the straight woman and never allowed to be a goofball like her peers - but damn, even my least favorite Chris (hey, 4th outta 4 ain’t bad, considering the completion) really kills it here and though Gamora doesn’t get to be goofy she is undeniably badass. And man oh man, Michael Rooker absolutely slays in this movie. You wanna talk about all-time MCU moments, he’s got them left and right here. And Bautista’s Drax is just preposterously great. And Rocket. And Baby Groot. And the soundtrack and the colors and the art direction. AND VING RHAMES!?

    (March 23rd: 34 days until Infinity War)

  • The Avengers

    7.The Avengers

    ★★★★★

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    The culmination of Phase 1. Man oh man this movie does not disappoint, due in large part to Joss Whedon’s excellent script (I mean, aside from “they are unruly and therefore cannot be ruled”). Whedon joins a billionaire playboy, an 80-year-old super soldier and a god together seemlessly by letting them talk. Tony Stark, in particular, really shines, with Downey taking the character to another level here. Mark Ruffolo also steps in effortlessly for Edward Norton, taking queues from Norton’s Incredible Hulk whisper-acting and adding on his own nuances. Seeds for the future of the MCU are planted without being pummeled into the movie. This is a film that set out with a mission and accomplished it in such a spectacular fashion that it’s easy to forget that there was a time (like, April of 2012) when the idea of a shared cinematic universe seemed like a cluttered pipe dream. Crazy. Almost as crazy as how POWERS BOOTHE IS IN THIS FILM!


    (March 2nd: 55 days until Infinity War)

  • Captain America: The First Avenger

    8.Captain America: The First Avenger

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    “Do you fondue?” Look I’m as surprised as anyone here. This movie really got up the list from where I had it before my rewatch and rerank. Revisiting the MCU the second real intellectual rankings crisis  for me (after Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2) is between Iron Man or The First Avenger. Cap 1 has aged really well where parts of Iron Man are starting to show their age, particulary the overly-masculine camera. But the big things here that put First Avenger over the edge for me are Chris Evans’ performance, which was right on the money from “go,” and the art direction. Evans’ performance didn’t resonate with me until Civil War, but looking back at First Avenger in hindsight that performance has always been on point and super sincere. It just took me seven years to appreciate it. On top of that, this is a movie that looks like it was directed by the eyes that created Boba Fett and the AT-AT. Because it was. Hydra’s troopers and technology in Joe Johnson’s revised WWII are a sight to behold. This movie also boasts the best supporting cast Phase 1 of the MCU has to offer. Oh and, uh, don’t look now, but... TUCCI IN THIS MOVIE!? AND BILBO’S FRIEND THORIN “RED DRAGON” OAKENSHIELD!?

    (February 27: 65, er, make that 58 days until Infinity War)

  • Doctor Strange

    9.Doctor Strange

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    Look, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and Spider-Man: Homecoming are always difficult to rank for me as they wind up with a very similar grade for very different reasons. But of the four, Doctor Strange speaks to me the most. The VFX are engaging and interesting, the supporting cast is cool, the villains are interesting and that final showdown is just fantastic. That being said, man is Rachel McAdams kind of squandered here. Third billing though! And throwing Michael Stuhlbarg into Doctor Strange just makes me wish he were Doctor Strange (not that I have any issue with Cumberbatch). I also wish the score went a little more weird or unconventional. But the humbling of Stephen Strange and the wacky corners of the MCU he helps to introduce are quite a romp! I’m thrilled Wong is in Infinity War, as I love the character and Benedict Wong the actor, but I’m also dying to see Mordo’s story continued. I have very high hopes for a Doctor Strange sequel.

    (March 22: 35 days until Infinity War)

  • Spider-Man: Homecoming

    10.Spider-Man: Homecoming

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    This movie has SIX CREDITED SCREENWRITERS and is still good! No small feat. I’m not a huge Spider-Man guy and I am a pretty big Doctor Strange guy and yet I found myself searching for reasons I liked the Doctor Strange film more. Doctor Strange is a film more concerned with mythological storytelling, morality, ideologies and the like, which, as a pretentious person, I am very into. But man, Spider-Man: Homecoming is really charming and Michael Keaton is a really, really good villain. That being said, I’m not a huge fan of the hyper-powered spidersuit with A.I. and a H.U.D. and all that jazz. I feel like overdoing it with the suit could have in all likelihood been intentional for the purposes of the story and the lessons Peter has to learn, but those are Peter’s lessons to learn as a character, not mine to learn as a viewer. Donald Glover joins the ranks of Idris Elb, Natalie Portman and Rachel McAdams, an absolute powerhorse relegated to a bit part (though that bit part is a highlight for sure). At this point in the MCU every film has at least a moment or sequence of transcendence where everything is firing…

  • Iron Man

    11.Iron Man

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    Aside from the casual cinematic womanizing, Iron Man still holds up. There’s a really interesting sort of “transcend the rat race” type narrative going on here that gave this movie more substance than I’d given it credit for. Remember how JEFF BRIDGES IS IN THIS MOVIE!?
     
    (February 24: 68, wait, no, 61 days until Infinity War)

  • Ant-Man

    12.Ant-Man

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    I mean, Michael Peña. Can’t help but wonder how much of the perceived gap in quality between this film and Iron Man is just because Iron Man came first. I’ve always enjoyed this film but for some reason it was the movie I’d been looking forward to rewatching the least. I’d forgotten how funny and charming this movie is and had never really given it the credit for its unique style amongst the entries of the MCU. The score and the montages swing and bounce and the supporting cast, while not quite Cap-level, is excellent. This movie is also perfectly positioned within the MCU as a whole between the bloat of Age of Ultron and the intensity of Civil War. After finding myself disappointed in Age of Ultron, being reminded how fun this movie is was a welcomed treat. And, I mean, Bobby Cannavale.


    (March 20th: 37 days until Infinity War)

  • Avengers: Age of Ultron

    13.Avengers: Age of Ultron

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    Another surprise from this rewatch is, unfortunately, how poorly Age of Ultron has aged for me. Like Iron Man 2 before it, it’s a film that seems more concerned with the future than with itself and is sort of a harbinger of things to come should the MCU not spice things up a bit. Which they fortunately did. There’s just so, so much going on in this movie. Not only are there throngs of characters, there are throngs of locations and no one person or place really gets sufficient attention. Three years out, post Civil War, it’s hard for me to remain an apologist for the likes of Hawkeye’s farm or Thor’s vision quest, or even Ultron, despite the brilliant casting of James Spader. This is a movie that has to follow up the action and suspense of Winter Soldier and the humor and heart of Guardians of the Galaxy, but it feels like it was made in an MCU where those films never happened and those strides were never made. The first Avengers was the top of a mountain, the big kid on the block. But this is Phase 2, baby! That being said, Age of Ultron is still…

  • Thor: The Dark World

    14.Thor: The Dark World

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    Yes, the villain is nonsense (not even mentioned on the back of the Blu-ray? Ouch). Yes, the MacGuffin is nonsense. Yes, Natalie Portman is absolutely squandered in this film. That being said, one of the things I enjoy most about Marvel movies is when they really unleash imagination on the screen and The Dark World does that more than any MCU film before it, particularly in its middle section. Kurse is dope as hell, the dark elves look awesome, the weapons are neat-o burrito and the spaceships are sick-nasty. The story in Dark World is lacking, especially any time it’s on Earth, but I love to watch it and take in the Star Trek: Next Generation meets Game of Thrones aesthetic. Hemsworth, Hiddelston and Hopkins (a.k.a. Triple H) really bring out the best in each other and any scene with any combination of the three of them is engaging. Oh, remember how CHUCK SHAZAM IS IN THIS FILM!?

    (March 3rd: 54 days until Infinity War)

  • Thor

    15.Thor

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    Thor is the happy middle ground between Incredible Hulk’s leaner storytelling and Iron Man 2’s unmitigated bombast and the end result is better than both. The biggest step forward in the MCU at the time. The first stride toward Thanos, Guardians and Infinity War: Earth as a small part of a far more vast Marvel Universe. If you have to make a school play out of one Marvel film this is the one as it’s at its best when it’s two guys yelling at or about their dad. Tom Hiddelston’s Loki has that special something right out of the gate. You really can’t unsee just how much of this film is Dutch angles. I mean honestly near 90%. It is pathological. Oh, remember how KENNETH BRANAGH DIRECTED THIS MOVIE!? 

    (February 25th: 67, uh, okay apparently now it’s 60 days until Infinity War)

  • The Incredible Hulk

    16.The Incredible Hulk

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    If there’s one MCU film worth a second look it’s Incredible Hulk. It’s no Iron Man but you’ll be hard pressed to convince me it’s biggest issue isn’t the lapse in casting between it and the Avengers. There’s no Ruffulo but the story is streamlined and straightforward and the action, at least while Tim Roth is still a human with a penis and a butt, is on point. Oh and remember how PHIL DUNPHY IS IN THIS FILM?! SIXTH BILLING!?


    (February 24: 68, what’s that? Oh never mind, 61 days until Infinity War)

  • Iron Man 2

    17.Iron Man 2

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk are destined to duke it out at the bottom of pretty much every MCU ranking. For me, it comes down to choosing between a tighter, better movie and a movie with Sam Rockwell in it. Ultimately, for all the shared-universe building it fumbles around with, Iron Man 2 is kind of in a holding pattern waiting for Avengers to happen, which kind of makes it the most expendable film in the MCU. The road from Iron Man to Avengers is not greatly altered by Iron Man 2. If you took it away and only had four films leading into the same cut of Avengers, I don’t think you’d know something was missing, and I don’t think you can quite say that of Incredible Hulk. Remember how KATE MARA AND OLIVIA MUNN AND BILL O’REILLY ARE IN THIS MOVIE!? I sure didn’t. 


    (February 24: 68, JK, 61 days until Infinity War)

  • Iron Man 3

    18.Iron Man 3

    The notes for this list item reportedly contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    Iron Man 3 is the point in my MCU rewatch/rerank where I have to decide whether this is a list of best to worst films or my own most to least favorites. It’s probably the latter, so while Iron Man 3 May be a more focused movie than Iron Man 2 and has a more charismatic protagonist than the Incredible Hulk, it’s just not for me. Shane Black continues Whedon’s work fleshing out Tony Stark to great effect, Jon Favreau gets another fun turn as Happy Hogan and Tony’s Home Depot shopping trip and mansion infiltration are dope. But man, I do not enjoy the film’s antagonist or any of the new characters it introduces and even under a different director Iron Man is still shot with a very male camera. Where the art direction and visual language of The First Avenger really elevates that film, the visuals in Iron Man 3, particularly of Extremis, don’t do it for me. And empty Iron Man suits are such a bummer. When this movie came out it had to prove that there was still juice left in MCU solo films after finally bringing The Avengers together. I think it achieves that due in large part to Downey’s continues mastery of playing Tony Stark, but it remains the MCU film I find myself least interested in revisiting.

    (March 3rd: 54 days until Infinity War)