It Was Inevitable: Every Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie, Ranked

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It Was Inevitable: Every Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie, Ranked

After 14 years and 33 films, it’s time to participate in the most hallowed of internet traditions and rank the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies!

Mild snark aside, it has been an incredible run for this particular Disney-owned billion-dollar movie machine. As I sat awaiting the first scenes from Black Panther, I was struck by how amazing it is that the opening animation to all MCU films, which was once a flipping of pages showing scenes from Marvel comics—usually aligned to match whichever character the film was featuring—was now made up of pictures of the actual movie characters themselves. The mere fact this robust collage is now possible stirs within me a sense of joy and awe at the achievement that’s hard to explain to folks who didn’t spend the ’70s and ’80s being forced to accept that the limitations of studio imagination and, to be fair, CGI were preventing the characters who came to life in the pages I devoured from coming to life on the Big Screen. With all due respect to those whose profess genre fatigue at the prospect of 3-4 comic book films a year, I’m not tired one whit. There will be plenty of bad superhero films in the future—no genre is immune to that—but meanwhile, I’m going to enjoy this particular Golden Age.—Michael Burgin

Here’s every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ranked:

33. Eternals (2021)


Chloé Zhao’s Eternals is not a film that frustrates because it misses an obvious target, plunges down the wrong path or even mangles the source material. In fact, it doesn’t really frustrate at all. Instead, it just kinda … occupies time? Oh, plenty of things happen, but, weighed down by 11 or so narrative arcs of mostly “bland new” superheroes—creator Jack Kirby’s signature style and energy is mostly absent—while also dutifully doling out a millennia-spanning, massively predictable larger plot, Eternals never really feels that connected to the greater MCU. Instead, it feels like a well-shot but rather densely packed educational film on some other comic universe, one filled with off-brand heroes and the usual array of power sets. If Eternals had merely been an enjoyable ensemble one-off—an Ocean’s Eleven or Knives Out of the MCU’s very own!—that could have been delightful. But there’s no real magic, Marvel or otherwise, happening here. Eternals is unlikely to leave audiences wanting more (or remembering much), though it may well whet the appetite for the day when the Fantastic Four and X-Men finally arrive.—Michael Burgin


32. The Incredible Hulk (2008)


If it achieved nothing else, The Incredible Hulk deserves credit for picking up the ball from Ang Lee’s 2003 version, throwing it away, buying a new ball and pretending that radioactive tree poodle never happened. Just the second entry in the still brand new MCU, Louis Leterrier’s film also does something that we wish more films would do: Get the origin story out of the way in the opening credits. (But hey, let’s show the deaths of the Waynes or of Uncle Ben one more time … we may have forgotten!) As the titular smasher of puny things, it’s hard to say whether Edward Norton is better than Eric Bana (in fairness, Bana never got a fair shot), but what can be said is this iteration actually gives viewers more Hulk (and more quickly) than its predecessor, and it trots out an actual Hulk-specific villain in Tim Roth’s Abomination. Besides being encouraging evidence that Marvel knew how to better handle its recently reclaimed property, such moves make some of the less sensible moments—and there are plenty—easier to overlook. No one will ever claim The Incredible Hulk is one of the best MCU efforts, but it deserves credit for being one of the first.—Michael Burgin


31. Iron Man 2 (2010)


For all of its star power and CGI wizardry (some of the action scenes seem perfectly calibrated to tickle your superfan receptors), Iron Man 2 can’t quite manage the balance between plot development and action. Just as you think there’s about to be some payoff for yet another overlong sequence spent plumbing Stark’s family history, or watching Mickey Rourke’s Vanko pace like a caged animal and generally devour scenery, the movie abruptly shifts gears and tosses in another joyless chase sequence or string of explosions. It’s a shame that director Jon Favreau didn’t place more of the film in the hands of his actors; where the first Iron Man was a character-driven delight—something of a thinking-man’s blockbuster—the sequel succumbs to, well, sequel-itis, opting instead to crank up the special effects and noise and hope for the best. The most cynical and calculating part of it all is that the movie never really finds a justification for its existence—except, that is, as a bald-faced set-up for The Avengers.—Michael Burgin


30. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)

For better or worse (and mostly for worse), Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania goes large. In a case of cinematic superposition, a franchise built to go small, to ride on more personal stakes and the casual chemistry of Ruddian charm and likable group dynamics, must now also fully introduce not only an entire universe/microverse but the next Thanos-level threat much of the MCU will be centered around in the coming decade. Frankly, it’s a lot to ask of an insect-themed hero. That’s not to say there aren’t moments to appreciate. The initial scenes in the quantum realm have a certain “$200 million budget” vigor that evokes the often trippy alien landscapes found in the pages of the Fantastic Four, Thor and Doctor Strange. At a minimum, it felt like the budget line for creating new aliens was double or even triple that allowed in a Guardians of the Galaxy film. That said, the relentless green screen of it all, coupled with often clunky, predictable dialogue, drains much of the interpersonal charm and chemistry that helped buoy the previous films. In its place, we’re left with sheepish excusing (Paul Rudd), disapproving looks and mutterings (Kathryn Newton’s Cassie Lang) and buckets of “No time to tell you!” (Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet Van Dyne), the latter of which seems a scriptwriting substitute for actual suspense and revelation. Thankfully, as Kang the Conqueror, Johnathan Majors seems mostly immune. And then it all gets shoved into the MCU Third Act Sausage Grinder, yielding a familiar mush of green-screened heroes battling swarms of identical henchmen in numbers as limitless—or conspicuously absent—as they need to be. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania feels less like it’s a small part of a bigger plan and more as if it’s being forced to work against its own interests to serve a grand design. The MCU is undeniably a bigger place than it was when Thanos lost his game of gauntlet keepaway. But in the midst of multiplying timelines, exploding multiverses, and newly revealed quantum realms, Kevin Feige and company shouldn’t overlook the small things.—Michael Burgin


29. Thor: The Dark World (2013)


In comic books, the Thor series has long been among the most otherworldly of Marvel titles. After all, its protagonist is a Norse god, basically immortal and mostly invulnerable. While so many of the other heroes of the Lee, Ditko and Kirby era were compelling in the way they mixed in the mundane and angsty with the heroic—the Fantastic Four bickered, Peter Parker struggled to pay rent, the X-Men just wanted to belong—Thor always outshone his lame alter ego, Donald Blake. In Thor: The Dark World, director Alan Taylor and Marvel Studios embrace the extra-dimensional grandeur of it all. The result is an Asgardian space opera the enjoyment of which is consistently buoyed by its grade-A cast—and occasionally dragged down by “plot incidentals” best ignored by the viewer. As Thor and Loki, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston make it easy to look past the flaws. Combined with lushly realized production design, liberal doses of humor and a plot that doesn’t let the need for sustained coherence get too in the way, their performances prevent The Dark World from degenerating into a mere collection of bombastic action setpieces. Instead, it’s outlandish, occasionally silly and surprisingly fun.—Michael Burgin


28. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)


Delayed by and filmed throughout the pandemic, filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton’s sprawling and intangible martial arts journey wears its rich influences openly, treats its supporting cast reverently and dilutes it all predictably. Despite hints of the interpersonal nuance Cretton brought to his indie work (best seen in 2013’s Short Term 12) lurking in a bulky script, recognizable elements of Asian action cinema struggling for breath under countless layers of digital sediment and one of our greatest living actors working wonders as its villain, Shang-Chi is as bland and busy as its title. Poor Simu Liu never had a chance. Every character is more interesting than the actor’s Shang-Chi, who’s a straight man foil to the world around him. He is the sweet-faced stoic to Awkwafina’s Katy (his rambling, riffing, spotlight-stealing comic relief pal) and—as is implied through countless flashbacks and, naturally, a long opening Legend—the allegedly brooding center of the film’s themes of identity and inheritance. But the San Franciscan valet with the heart of gold, single-digit body fat, and secret, mythical family history has a personality akin to circling a lot looking for parking. He is a vehicle for plot to drive around, picking up more interesting characters (Ben Kingsley’s faux Mandarin; Benedict Wong’s Wong) along its extended roadtrip. That’s because, really, this isn’t Shang-Chi’s movie at all. It’s the movie of his father, Tony Leung’s Wenwu AKA The Mandarin. Not only is his character arc the only compelling one of the film and not only is Leung an ultra-charismatic master at handsome mystique, but he’s the essential force of the unwieldy story. That frustration especially chafes because of how clearly Shang-Chi desires to inject a cultural and personal uniqueness into its fantasy template. The idea that someone must wrestle with familial expectations, the desire to be one’s own person and the inherent influence upon that person by those that came before them is a compelling inner struggle—one that could have special resonance for Asian Americans. But with only the vaguest of gestures towards this deeper emotional conflict—not helped by a main character who’s only got that title because his name is in the movie’s—it’s drowned in an overload of particle effects and Easter eggs. Shang-Chi’s a long and often sidetracked movie so, if you’re inclined, there’s plenty of time to find these threads and pull them, hoping not to unravel anything but to find something meaningful at their ends. That the threads exist at all hints that Cretton or one of his two co-writers attempted this specificity—in addition to their casting choices, karaoke scenes and nods to understanding (but not really speaking) a parent’s language—but that their ambitions were either incompatible with or swallowed up by the needs of a wide-ranging origin story with its eyes squarely on a boardroom flowchart’s future.—Jacob Oller


27. Doctor Strange (2016)


When the folks at Marvel Studios truly realized, likely via The Avengers in 2012, that these films were comedies just as much as they were action-adventure stories, it crystallized the format in ways both positive and somewhat limiting. The result is that one can never quite take seriously claims that a new film is going to “break the mold” of the MCU, but at the same time it’s hardly something to complain about when that mold is fundamentally solid and entertaining. To that end, Doctor Strange is crowd-pleasing and exciting—funny when it should be, sober when it has to be and crackling with a magical mystique that adds a veiled layer of depth to the inner workings of the Marvel universe. Even without too many overt references to the rest of the MCU, everything in Doctor Strange makes one wonder how the revelation of the Marvel Multiverse will affect the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and others.—Jim Vorel


26. Black Widow (2021)


In many ways, Black Widow is a peculiar film, simultaneously relic and preface, an epilogue that occurs before the story ends, and, with Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova, an introduction of another piece of the post-Phase 4 MCU. It seems unlikely Black Widow was ever envisioned as more than a coda to the grand finale of Endgame, one that set up a baton exchange between Widows while doing what MCU movies do best—print box office money for the Mouse. Yet in other ways, especially as relates to its genre-specific weaknesses, Black Widow is all too familiar. Director Cate Shortland tries to leaven this particular loaf o’ unacknowledged concussions, fractures and tissue damage with family drama and trauma. Flashbacks and present action introduce Rachel Weisz as Melina Vostokoff and David Harbour as the single traditionally superpowered character in the movie, Alexei Shostakov (a.k.a., the Red Guardian). Beyond the general joy of seeing Weisz in another comic book adaptation, these scenes work well initially—the flashbacks and jailbreak in particular—but as the scope of the current crisis, and the role of Weisz’s character in it, is revealed, the jokes don’t so much land as disappear down a bottomless pit. (I haven’t seen a more morally imbalanced/unearned “plot pass” given to a character since Mirage in The Incredibles.) So what is there to be excited about with Black Widow? Pugh’s Black Widow, whether she arrives via Thunderbolts, Avengers 2.0 or by other means, is Florence Pugh—no matter how light in calories, Pugh delivers like it’s a steak dinner (and it’s difficult to overstate how crucial that is to pulp fare).—Michael Burgin


25. Thor: Love and Thunder (2021)

Love and Thunder may take place after the Snap that ended the threat of a Snap that would undo the Snap that undid the original Snap, but the franchise’s fourth installment (and Hemsworth’s eighth turn as Thor Odinson) nonetheless feels as close to “Original Recipe” MCU as audiences are likely to get for a while. The tonal refresh of Ragnarok also goes a long way in explaining why, amongst a Phase 4 featuring movie-length baton exchanges, C-list headliners and super teams, and a multitude of multiverses, Love and Thunder is the first that doesn’t feel expressly handicapped by flaws stemming from sacrifices made to set up and get aloft the post-Endgame MCU. Granted, Waititi’s brand of “no riff unjuiced” comedy generates some flaws of its own, but it remains a potent antidote to the often dark, dour and dire storylines found in the source material. Much as with Ragnarok, Love and Thunder has no shortage of spectacle, and mostly maintains a strict no-plodding policy in terms of pacing. Unlike in the comics, the origin and identity of the new Thor is immediately obvious to viewers and characters alike, allowing writers Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson to move straight to a barrage of relationship jokes revolving around … Mjolnir and Stormbreaker (which, in the Waititi-verse, feels inevitable). But unlike Ragnarok, in which Waititi’s disruptive playfulness felt mostly harnessed and in proper proportion to the scale of the events unfolding (and by both the scene-chewing and ensemble work of the larger cast), Love and Thunder’s story is prone to extra beats (bleats?) and extended riffs meant to fill the spaces left otherwise unoccupied by absent Hulks, Lokis, Helas, Grandmasters, Skurges and the like. This results in moments that feel off—like the light banter in the immediate (and perhaps still ongoing!) kidnapping of children—or just over-stretched—like the introduction and visit to Omnipotence City. (Blame the source material for that “unobtainium”-level name.) The result is a movie significantly more flawed than its franchise predecessor yet more fun than anything we’ve seen in Phase 4 thus far.—Michael Burgin


24. Ant-Man (2015)


Compared to the two Marvel films that immediately preceded it, Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man provided a welcome respite from extinction-level threats and superhuman bombast. Instead, and in what can only be considered power-set-appropriate, everything feels smaller and more human. That’s not to say that there’s not plenty at stake, or that the superhuman action isn’t dependably fun, and occasionally really fun to watch—the film just lacks the genocidal ambition of Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy and Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron. And while Ant-Man has more than its share of logic lapses and convenient (read: sloppy) scripting, most viewers won’t care. In much the same way Guardians of the Galaxy is powered by the charisma and affability of Chris Pratt, Ant-Man is buoyed by the charm of Paul Rudd. The combination of a charismatic lead, a solid supporting cast, and the debut and dramatization of a new (to moviegoers) superpower (or two) has proved a winning formula for Marvel Studios for the last, oh, 10 or so films now—and it’s no different here. With Ant-Man, the MCU’s Phase Two ended on a small note, but it was just the right one.—Michael Burgin


23. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)


The second Avengers film was warmly received when it initially arrived, but then suffered a bit of immediate blowback, with many superhero genre geeks asserting themselves that although it was undeniably an entertaining film, it represented something of a step back from Joss Whedon’s record-smashing original. Even if it can’t quite match it, and occasionally feels like a bridge toward the next Avengers story, there’s still a whole lot to enjoy in this action-packed yarn. James Spader excels as the voice of the godlike Ultron—a wonderfully arrogant, immature AI character who is only undermined by plot, rather than performance. Ultimately, though, we may remember Age of Ultron more for the storyline fallout it helped generate in the MCU, as Tony Stark’s guilt at creating Ultron is instrumental in driving his position in the fabulous Civil War. Looking back on it in the wake of several other MCU films, its stature has somewhat grown as a result of what it has helped build.—Jim Vorel


22. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, director James Gunn’s final bow before leaving to right a partially capsized DCEU, has a lot going on right now, man. Along with Gunn’s departure, there are plenty of other farewells—officially announced or implicit—from its cast, the requisite seeding of new faces, and the need to wrap up the most traditionally conceived trilogy on the sprawling slate of the MCU. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 also represents another chance to convince folks, “No, really, Phase 4 is right where we want it!”—an increasingly difficult argument to make. In its stumbles, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 lands closest to Love and Thunder and Quantumania. In the case of the former, previously benign—and even expressly positive—directorial tendencies take on a detrimental shade, as Gunn’s signature pairing of musical hits of yore with onscreen sequences feels more intrusive and, worse, often superfluous. But it’s in a Quantumania-esque breach of ensemble charm where the movie suffers most. (The CGI swarms and formulaic tumult don’t help, either.) Scoff at one-note, broad-strokes characters all you wish, but the first two Guardians films showed how the right notes, in the right sequence, can make for a pleasing, catchy melody. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 shows us that some of those notes—particularly the furry one—were more crucial than others. As keenly felt as Rocket’s absence is to the narrative present, the gradual reveal of his origin story via flashbacks will be, for many, more than enough to make the latest installment of the trilogy their favorite. But between these sequences—and during the resolution—Gunn’s story feels more overstuffed than powerfully packed. The late ’60s sci-fi vibe of the Orgoscope notwithstanding, the closer we get to the end, the more it feels like we’ve been here before. Worlds are squandered, details are overlooked and, yes, there’s a CGI swarm. For better or worse, and much like the MCU at large, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has a lot going on.—Michael Burgin


21. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Spider-Man: No Way Home holds no surprises. It delivers what’s expected and whether you cry “spoilers” or not, you likely already know exactly what I mean. That’s what the film is hoping for, as its premise—that Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has come so far from his enjoyably low-key Homecoming, his secret identity known thanks to Far From Home, that he must literally toy with fate spanning far beyond his own universe—assumes its audience has a working knowledge and appreciation of two decades of Spider-Man cinema. The multiverse, which supplemented the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse origin story with explosive animated verve, is the only force at work here. It is a massive fan servicing crossover, with the MCU bringing staggeringly little to the fold like a potluck mooch. It is a metatextual collage, which often overshadows the actual text—it’s easy to miss the movie for the Easter eggs. No Way Home is an intriguing case study of corporate collaboration, a self-aware meme machine, and a lackluster movie that understands its hero so well that the disservice stings all the greater. What director Jon Watts’ trilogy has done better than its Raimi and Webb counterparts is convince us that Peter Parker is a kid. A nervous, charming goodie-goodie with a headful of knowledge and not a lick of sense. So it fits that when he, his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya) and BFF Ned (Jacob Batalon) face problems—blown out of proportion by crippling cases of teen-brain—he’d run off to Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and plead for a magical worldwide memory wipe without really considering consequences or alternatives. What follows, with characters from past Spidey films getting interdimensionally sucked to this NYC, only really makes sense if you’ve been keeping a keen eye on casting rumors. If so, congratulations: They’re here and shenanigans ensue. If you don’t really care about a fan-fictional Spidey Greatest Hits parade, there’s some other stuff in the movie (it continues trying to convince us that Marisa Tomei’s May and Jon Favreau’s Happy were anything but a long and bad running joke; it lightly engages with bad journalism’s shift from tabloids to InfoWars) but you can tell it’s mostly ceremonial. Spider-Man: No Way Home’s routine is overwhelmed with flourishes, more devoted to Spider-Man™ than its Spider-Man. But it sticks the landing. It’s not that it’s without the MCU’s required final act CG spectacular, but that said spectacular is followed by an excellent denouement, subtly written and acted in turn by performers who’ve waited years to actually act with each other. After so long playing with the legacy and impact of Spider-Man, No Way Home finds its way back. All the spectacle, all the stunt performers and stunt casting—it all evaporates like so many Snapped extras when confronted with small, connected scenes of human-level dramatic filmmaking that remind you why broke loser Peter Parker resonates with us so deeply in the first place. It’s valuable, this recollection, but getting back to Spider-Man basics is a shallow victory with diminished returns. Perhaps the fact that Spider-Man: No Way Home finds any success in this familiar territory, after devoting itself so wholly to unwieldly examinations of its own IP, is itself its biggest surprise.—Jacob Oller


20. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Marvel still has a lot to figure out with how it handles its women, but it’s getting the multiverse idea under its feet. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness starts its fast-paced but forgettable first act with dialogue that could be improved by a middle schooler before giving way to an emotional Elizabeth Olsen performance that holds down some eye-roll-inducing lines about motherhood, ridiculous cameos as plot conduits, and horror cinematography, sound and direction bouncing captivatingly between the grotesque and comical. Despite boring opening salvos that reminded me why so many people have grown hateful of the Marvel movies, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness eventually becomes very fun to watch. It’s weird that so many Sam Raimi fans were hoping for a return to his horror auteur form considering (1) we’ve seen a bunch of skilled indie filmmakers squish their vision into the Marvel frame for a big paycheck and (2) Raimi is known to the wider film-watching public as the guy that made the original Spider-Man trilogy. It’s weirder still that the horror fans were kinda right to be hopeful: The second and third acts are full of horror imagery, jump scares and a Bruce Campbell cameo (and fellow Raimi collaborator Danny Elfman does the score). One of my favorite things about the first Doctor Strange was that the introduction of magic into the MCU meant exciting psychedelic visuals. Multiverse of Madness alternates between being comparatively rudimentary and going past the original into the macabre. Unfortunately, as with all Marvel movies, the director must square their vision with the circle of Kevin Feige’s machine. There are a lot of cool moments, but a lot of the flaws are derived from needing to set up a new superhero and connect to two or three or 20 movies. Opening with heavy CG that the actors aren’t interacting with in a way that’s legible as any kind of tangible space makes it hard to accept the movie. It’s less interesting. Too much time and money was spent on designing those FX monsters for me to come away thinking about how they could have gotten more out of the opening scenes by instead setting them in a series of dark rooms. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will surely be a commercial success, but it could have been more artistically satisfying if it wasn’t weighed down by the need to remind people of its outward connections. It stands better on its own than No Way Home but it’s still relying on early ‘00s Fox movies and internet fan castings for theatrical audience pops. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is everything you could reasonably expect from a Sam Raimi-Kevin Feige collaboration, but not much more.—Kevin Fox, Jr.


19. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)


In Ant-Man and the Wasp, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is still under house arrest after the events of Captain America: Civil War but days away from release when he receives a message from Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), the mother of Hope/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and wife of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who has been trapped in the Quantum Realm for 30 years and needs him to gather her family so they can save her. Meanwhile, there’s a former colleague of Pym’s (Laurence Fishburne) who wants to help save the life of his adopted daughter, Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who is suffering from some sort of quantum displacement, and oh yeah there’s Walton Goggins as an evil entrepreneur who wants Pym’s technology and can you tell we’re in yet another wildly over-plotted Marvel movie? Much of the fun of the Ant-Man franchise is playing with perspective, the idea that a superhero can have the strength of a full-sized superhero but be the size of, well, an ant. I still think Edgar Wright would have played around with this idea more than Peyton Reed does, but nonetheless, the movie does have its moments of inspired silliness. There’s when Scott waits for his usual insect to fly him off and away but keeps having his rides intercepted by hungry seagulls (“Murderers!”), and the big chase sequence that makes up the last half hour of the film makes good use of San Francisco as a location, particularly the idea that its hills and turns—so glamorized in cinematic chase sequences of the past—take on an entirely different dimension when everyone’s sizes keep getting blown up and shrunken down. The movie’s ending has the jazzy, goofy rhythm that you want from a movie like this.—Will Leitch


18. Thor (2011)


Of the three “origin tentpole” movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor—Kenneth Branagh’s film has come off the least critically valued of the three. (In box office, it comes in second.) But this initial installment in the adventures of everyone’s favorite Asgardian distinguishes itself from those of everyone’s favorite armor-suited industrialist and everyone’s favorite supersoldier in what it portends about MCU worldbuilding. While Thor spends plenty of time on Earth, Branagh and company make sure the out-of-this-world landscapes of Asgard and its nearby realms are presented with vigor. For comic book fans, this was particularly encouraging. A Thor film should be as different from an Iron Man film as the two comic book series are from one another. Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios’ willingness to trust their source material—a willingness that yielded Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange—was first and most evident here. This, added to Chris Hemsworth’s perfect portrayal of the beefy thunder god, Tom Hiddleston’s near-transcendent turn as Loki and Branagh’s sure-handed direction (with Anthony Hopkins as Odin, no less), ensure Thor will remain firmly rooted in the top echelon of superhero films as a whole and may well rise as it ages.—Michael Burgin


17. Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)


Coming on the heels of the hefty hunk o’ cinematic event that was Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far from Home is, as one would expect, much lighter fare. That doesn’t stop this 23rd and final entry in the MCU’s initial Feige Phase barrage from serving as an effective coda for Endgame even as it presents what is, in many ways, a classic Spider-Man adventure. Along with having a Grade-A capturing of a C-tier villain (Mysterio), Spider-Man: Far from Home is (relatively) small, sincere and funny, and has more than your usual MCU allotment of post-credit bombshells. Though a comparatively recent addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is already Tom Holland’s fifth film as Spider-Man in three years. Like so many other casting decisions made in the MCU, he’s proven himself near perfect in the role. No Golden Age lasts forever, and the MCU will eventually stumble—but as long as they can spin box office (and audience) gold from the Mysterios and Vultures of Spidey’s rogues gallery, it won’t be Holland’s Spider-Man that is the first to stumble.—Michael Burgin


16. Captain Marvel (2019)

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One thing Captain Marvel has going for it that Ant Man and the Wasp didn’t is that it gives us a lead character we can care about and (even more important) an actor (Brie Larson) who rises to the occasion. In many of these Marvel origin stories—and by my count, this is the eighth one since the original Iron Man—the movie goes through great pains to explain to us why we should care about this new character; why, with everything else we have to keep track of, we should readily agree to adding one more to the mix. Captain Marvel, like many MCU movies, sometimes labors under the weight of having to tell its own story while still connecting to the larger, ongoing saga, but it has no issues with justifying its main character: We see in her eyes, from the first second, what’s different about her. The movie has us on her side before she ever says a word. The film is otherwise entertaining and exhausting in the equal measures we have come to expect from modern Marvel movies—if you’ve seen one bad guy bent on galaxy domination, you’ve seen them all. You know the music, so it’s all about how they play the notes. Larson gets valuable support from Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn, still reliably Ben Mendelsohn even under layers of alien makeup, and the ’90s backdrop is at least a welcome change-up from the usual formula. But this movie isn’t about the supporting characters, or the setting, or even how well its big action setpieces play out. It’s all about whether or not they can sell this Captain Marvel as someone who, later, even the mighty Avengers can call to someday help them save the world. In Larson, they have a star who is more than up for the task. You’ve seen this movie before. But you haven’t seen her.—Will Leitch


15. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

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It’s simultaneously easy and impossible to forget that Spider-Man: Homecoming is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Easy, because unlike most every MCU film before it, with the partial exception of Doctor Strange, it manages to extricate its characters (and especially its scope) from the world-ending catastrophes faced by The Avengers to tell a story that is a little bit more “close to the ground,” to use Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) own words. Impossible because, well, Tony Stark is in this. Quite a bit, actually. Nevertheless, Homecoming manages to pull off the most difficult feat for just about any franchise installment: It justifies its own existence. Briskly paced and charming to a fault, it’s a Spider-Man movie that fully embraces both its source material and the perils of 21st century teenage life.—Jim Vorel


14. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

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In addition to the meticulous construction of the cinematic recreation of their decades of comic book worldbuilding, if there’s one thing Marvel Studios is absolutely crushing it in, it’s the casting of its superhero leads. Chris Evans as one of Marvel’s most famous faces (and shields) could have been seen by other studios as a gamble; after all, it hadn’t been too long since Evans was shouting “Flame on!” as Johnny Storm in the (admittedly awful) film adaptation The Fantastic Four. But Marvel movie boss Kevin Feige clearly knew the perfect fit when he saw it—Evans’ turn as supersoldier Steve Rogers would quickly make audiences ask, “The Human Whatnow?” Period-perfect sets, costuming and turn-of-phrase from director Joe “The Rocketeer” Johnston—alongside a killer supporting cast including the likes of Tommy Lee Jones as the sardonic Colonel Phillips and Hugo Weaving as the Nazi-rific baddie Red Skull—add up to one of the more enjoyably vibrant superpowered movies in recent memory.—Scott Wold


13. Iron Man 3 (2013)

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Though its titular hero spends 2/3rds of the film outside his armor, Iron Man 3 works. The film provides just the right mix of action (much of it explosive), chuckles (mostly via banter) and plot (fairly comprehensible). Some of that credit goes to director Shane Black, no stranger to the action genre as a screenwriter (Lethal Weapon, The Last Action Hero), nor to Robert Downey Jr. as a director (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). At a time when Whedon’s Avengers still loomed large in the rearview mirror (and provided much of the impetus for Tony Stark’s personal character arc in Iron Man 3), Black keeps the plot and pacing under much firmer control than Jon Favreau did in Iron Man 2. But though Iron Man 3 is a better-constructed film than its predecessor, ultimately it succeeds for the same reason the first two films did: Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. Whereas most actors, no matter how adept the performance, play second fiddle to the character they portray, Downey Jr. has pretty much displaced Tony Stark, 50 years of comic book character development notwithstanding. In part, it’s because the character himself has never been as compelling as the armor he wore, but mainly, it’s because Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is just so damned much more enjoyable to be around than Stark Classic. It doesn’t matter that, in terms of hero profiles, Downey Jr.’s breezy, edgy quipping is pure Spider-Man. In fact, it’s telling that, in a realm pretty much defined by a fandom that will wail and gnash teeth about even the slightest deviation from canon, no one really cared. It’s the primary reason why a superhero film where the protagonist spends most of his time out of his armor rather than in it is not just bearable, but downright fun. It’s why the neutering of an arch-villain—though still a troublesome precedent for the Marvel film universe as a whole—works fine within the framework of the film. It’s why, in the frivolous debates of the future, the question “Who was the best Iron Man?” will really be, “Who has done the best version of Robert Downey Jr.?”—Michael Burgin


12. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)


For every frenetic fight scene in Avengers: Infinity War—and there are plenty of them—there are myriad character interactions and emotional beats the audience has been prepped for by the previous films (okay, maybe not The Incredible Hulk). As a result, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have ample room to riff and play as characters meet for the first time or see each other again. Some of the interactions are easy to anticipate, if no less enjoyable—the immediate ego clash between Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange and Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, for example—but our familiarity with these characters adds resonance to nearly every scene and every line, as the vestiges and ripples of emotional arcs laid down in the last decade’s worth of movies bolster even the smallest moment. (It grounds such moments in ways that viewers unfamiliar with the bulk of the MCU will likely still recognize, as well.) It also generates a surprising amount of humor, especially for a two-hour-and-twenty-nine-minute film about a godlike being trying to exterminate half the population of the known universe. (It will forever bear repeating: When all is said and done, the casting of the MCU may go down as its most astounding achievement of all.) For anyone familiar with the source material—or anyone who has been paying attention to the movies—it shouldn’t be a spoiler to say things don’t go well for our heroes. In fact, in the genre of fantasy sci-fi franchises, probably only The Empire Strikes Back can make a case for ending on as dire a note. That, too, is sort of exhilarating, especially for those of us who remember seeing Empire in the theaters. Sure, you knew deep down that Han would get out of that block of carbonite and the Empire eventually be thwarted in the next film, but somehow that didn’t make you feel any better in the meantime.—Michael Burgin

11. The Marvels (2023)

the marvels review

Director and co-writer Nia DaCosta uses three of Marvel’s most charismatic heroes to create a delightful team-up filled with color, odd genre explorations and some timely themes, all characterized by a trio that bursts with chemistry. The Marvels is the most personality a Marvel film has had since the MCU’s previous high-water mark, Thor: Ragnarok. It’s also another impressive portfolio entry for DaCosta, who delivers all of this in a fleet-footed 105 minutes. The Marvels brings together Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Kamala Khan, alias Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani) and Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris). Larson’s Carol has been a regular presence since 2019’s Captain Marvel. Vellani’s Kamala and Parris’ Monica are both carry-overs from Disney+ series (Ms. Marvel and WandaVision, respectively) making their big-screen debuts. When Kree soldier Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton) creates a series of holes in space-time to rob other planets of their natural resources to save her dying home, the resulting energy links Carol, Monica and Kamala together—they each have light and electromagnet-based superpowers, you see. Much of The Marvels’ sense of delight comes from watching Larson, Vellani and Parris interact. As she did in Ms. Marvel, Vellani brings wide-eyed excitement and earnestness to Kamala that closely reflects the character’s innate appeal in the Marvel comics. Parris and Larson’s characters have a more complex history, so their relationship is equal parts curiosity and nervousness. When the three are all in one space, there’s a playful sense of discovery, as in a montage where Carol, Kamala and Monica practice choreographing their spot-swapping with a game of double dutch. DaCosta also smartly applies another strength of the Ms. Marvel streaming series here: A frequent use of illustration and comic book aesthetics. Early on, Kamala doodles Captain Marvel fan art that comes to goofy hand-drawn life, bringing the audience in on her youthful enthusiasm. In later scenes, DaCosta breaks up the screen into panel-framed shots to transition between scenes or increase the impact of certain moments. It works like a charm, and reminds you why we used to get excited about superhero movies in the first place.Abby Olcese

10. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever boasts the same director in Ryan Coogler (and the same writing team of Coogler and Joe Robert Cole), who have again created a story whose conflicts and character arcs go deeper than the average MCU fare. Of equal importance, Wakanda Forever again features the Oscar-winning talents of Hannah Beachler (production design) and Ruth E. Carter (costume design). Wakanda remains a vividly realized Afrofuturist cityscape (even in mourning), and the MCU’s newest kingdom, Talokan, though markedly less flashy than James Wan’s Atlantis in Aquaman, feels as real and wondrous as a fictitious Aztec/Mayan underwater realm should. The cast is mostly the same, with Michael B. Jordan’s scene-stealing antagonist Erik Killmonger replaced by Tenoch Huerta’s similarly compelling and cleverly reimagined anti-hero Namor (who is much more integral to Marvel Comics—and likely the MCU—than Killmonger). But how keen the loss contained in that word—“mostly.” Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa was a magical piece of casting alchemy on par with Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers. Coogler confronts the loss directly in Wakanda Forever in a beautiful opening tribute to both actor and character. T’Challa’s funeral is a reminder of just how strong the cast is overall, providing Angela Bassett, Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira some grief-themed scene-chewing of their own. Where Thor: Love and Thunder felt like a lighter, sloppier version of its predecessor, Wakanda Forever feels like a well-considered, necessary next step for a franchise rocked by loss. It’s a tad overstuffed—an entire sub-plot involving Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) feels more like Feige fiat to ensure certain characters and developments are sufficiently presaged—but that only serves as a reminder of the fine line between “laying groundwork” and overpacking. Despite the daunting challenge faced by Coogler and his team, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever feels like the surest step taken in the MCU since Thanos was reduced to ash. It’s both an impressive achievement and a promising development, especially when considers the strong comic book connections between Namor, mutants (he is one), and a certain fantastic foursome on the MCU horizon.—Michael Burgin


9. Iron Man (2008)


There are plenty of important moments in the development of the superhero film, but the first Iron Man film boasts a few: It’s the first entry in Phase 1 of the MCU, and thus the easy-to-define dawn of the Marvel Age. But more interestingly, it showed that an actor could so overshadow the hero he portrays that he supplants that character, and it be a good thing. Before Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, Iron Man was a great suit of armor with a pretty boring alter ego. Stark’s personal story arcs involved heart trouble, alcohol abuse and intellectual property disputes. Downey Jr. brought the quips and the irreverence, and made Tony Stark on film much more fascinating than he had ever been in the comics. And comic book fans and neophytes alike loved the result. On a more basic level, the casting of Downey Jr. represented what would be a triumphant trio of casting moves—Downey Jr., Chris Evans’ Captain America, and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor—that would set the tone for the entire MCU. While Evans and Hemsworth are their respective characters, Tony Stark is Robert Downey Jr. As for the film itself, Iron Man had what all the initial MCU brand launches have had thus far: A first-time-on-film freshness as an invigorating expression of the core character that had 40+ years under its belt, yet not one good film to show for it. Add the increasing ability of CGI to handle the “super” of it all, and it’s pretty easy to overlook some of the film’s weaker plot points (e.g., the rushed “Wait, how does Jeff Bridges know how to operate that armor?” ending). As a result, the debut of the Downey Jr. show still ranks among the MCU’s most solid efforts.—Michael Burgin


8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)


To a large extent, GotG Vol. 2 follows the playbook from the first film, though now, with the entire cast familiar faces to the audience, Gunn skips introductions and goes right to the funny. In this case, that means an opening credits sequence featuring the entire team and what amounts to a highlight reel of character traits meant to amuse: Rapid banter from Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), humorous ’roid-rage from Drax (Dave Bautista), quiet badassitude from Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and an extended cute-Groot frolic. During this sequence and throughout the movie, the comic elements of this particular space opera feel as if they have been ratcheted up. But though he doesn’t seem to want the audience to have too much time between laughs, Gunn also seems determined to match the increased comic volume with more heart. Daddy issues, sibling rivalry, friendship struggles and questions of what makes a family—all themes present in the first film—are even more evident in the sequel. That’s not to say they are subtly or deeply explored—this is space opera, after all—but they give the proceedings a bit more oomph than if it were all quips and pratfalls. By the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the audience is unlikely to feel they’ve seen anything that different from Vol. 1, but it’s clear that Gunn and company knew exactly what qualities made the first film so enjoyable, and what they needed to do to make sure this particular sequel was worth the wait.—Michael Burgin


7. Captain America: Civil War (2016)


The Russo brothers’ second film in the Captain America trilogy, and their last before tackling the two-part Avengers: Infinity War films, Civil War maintains the same balance of action and significant (if brief) character development/interaction that made Winter Soldier so enjoyable. The fight and chase scenes are frenetic without being confusing, while the comic relief (mostly supplied by our bug-themed heroes) provides a Whedon-flavored lightening of the otherwise dark proceedings. Even more impressive, the film introduces two additional MCU Phase Three stars—one brand new to filmgoers and the other oh-so familiar—and both generate a real sense of “Man, I can’t wait to see his solo film!” All this is achieved without once veering too far from the core plot of the film. If one thinks of the each MCU film as a juggling act—and each hero’s origin, “flavor” and power set as its own subset of items that must be kept in motion and in proper relation with each other—then as a series, both Avengers films and Captain America: Civil War can be seen as an escalation of the routine that’s as impressive as it is necessary. After all, with each additional hero added, with each additional demand placed on the script in both action and dialogue, Kevin Feige and company are building toward Infinity.—Michael Burgin


6. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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When Guardians of the Galaxy was added to Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe lineup, much was made of how risky a move it was—the first of the MCU properties that didn’t feature a major Marvel character. Surprise, surprise, when you make the most enjoyable space opera romp since The Fifth Element, name recognition just doesn’t seem to matter. Director (and co-writer) James Gunn takes the somewhat obscure (to non-comic book fans) team and keeps the source material’s tone, attitude and bombastic settings intact. As the self-named Star-Lord, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) presents viewers with a pretty irresistible amalgam of Han Solo, Mal Reynolds and Captain Kirk. (Pratt owns this role.) The scene-stealing duo of Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) also provides the latest reminder of how convincing mo-cap-aided CGI has become. (Within moments after being introduced to them, I was yearning for a Rocket and Groot buddy picture.) Frankly, it’s hard to compete with Quill, Rocket and Groot, but Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) don’t need to shine as brightly—unlike The Avengers, one doesn’t get the sense each team member’s time center stage is being meticulously measured. Not everything fits together perfectly—there’s a mining pod sequence that felt like it was put there for the videogame tie-in, and at times the “Let me tell you about me!” exposition strikes one more as an effort to allay studio exec nerves than to meet actual audience needs—but ultimately Guardians is too fun to be much weighed down by it flaws. The film’s final position on this list is also recognition of the heavy lifting it did, reassuring studio execs that 2nd and 3rd tier characters—like Ant-Man or Deadpool, for example—were worth the risk.—Michael Burgin


5. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

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Where does one begin? When it comes to Avengers: Endgame, that question is not so much an expression of wanton enthusiasm as a practical challenge in evaluating the destination toward which Kevin Feige and company have been steering story and viewer alike for the previous 11 years and 21 films. Though there have been plenty of three-hour-plus movies and even a few 20+ entry movie franchises, there’s really nothing to compare with what Disney and Marvel Studios have pulled off, either in terms of size, quality and consistency of cast (a moment of silence for Edward Norton and Terrence Howard), or in how narrow the chronological window, all things considered, those movies were produced. Though we’ve praised it often, casting remains the cornerstone of the MCU. Whether by pitch-perfect distillations of decades-old comic book characters (Captain American, Thor, Spider-Man) or charisma-fueled reinventions of same (Iron Man, Ant-Man, Star-Lord), the MCU’s batting average in terms of casting is not only practically obscene, it’s a crucial ingredient in ensuring the thematic and emotional payoff (and box office payday) of Endgame. Moviegoers have been living with these actors, as these characters, for over a decade. For many, this version of these characters is the only one they know. This is why the sudden ashification of so many heroes at the end of Infinity War hit even the most cynical comic book veterans right in the feels and left less hardened viewers confused and distraught. It’s also why, as Avengers: Endgame opens (after another swift kick to the stomach just in case we’ve forgotten the toll of that snap), the audience cares about not just what the surviving heroes are going to do, but how they are doing in general. It gives the film an emotional resonance that’s unusual not only in pulpier genre offerings but in films in general. This connection makes the quiet moments as valuable to the viewer as the spectacle, and for all the fireworks in the third act, Avengers: Endgame is very much a film of quiet moments and small yet potent emotional payoffs. Comic book fans know the thrill of following all your favorite characters through a multi-issue storyline that culminates in a “universe at stake” ending. Now, thanks to 21 movies in 11 years and one massive, satisfying three-hour finale, moviegoers do, too. —Michael Burgin


4. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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Like the GotG films, the closest non-Thor cousins in tone and spirit to Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi’s film opens with a lively prologue/set piece involving its protagonist Thor-ing like a boss accompanied by a rockin’ tune. In a nod to all the comic book fans jonesin’ to see Mjolnir put through its paces, Thor wrecks all who oppose him. From there, Waititi keeps the pace swift, resolving a few plot cliffhangers, throwing down an extended cameo from the Master of the Mystic Arts, introducing this film’s big bad in Hela (a dependably enjoyable Cate Blanchett), propelling Thor (and Loki) to their next stop on the “it’s a big universe” express, meeting new faces (Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster and Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie foremost among them), and reuniting with everyone’s favorite green-hued god-pummeler before bringing it all back for the big finale in Asgard. The result? One of those two-hour-plus films that you’ll swear was just an hour-forty. Granted, there are times when Waititi’s signature deadpan conversational levity doesn’t quite work—when the achieved effect is “distracting awkward” instead of “funny awkward”—but that’s an unavoidable by-product of prolonged comic riffs and, more importantly, the audience is not given much time to ponder before the next joke (or gorgeous action shot) is upon them. By now, it’s not saying anything new to appreciate how well Chris Hemsworth occupies the role of the God of Thunder. Or even, after his turn in the Ghostbusters reboot, to marvel at his comic chops. Nonetheless, Waititi seems to delight in exploring the interplay between Hemsworth’s physical and comic presence. It yields a version of Thor that might annoy some comic book purists (certainly not this one), but it’s an undeniable asset for the franchise.—Michael Burgin


3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Captain America: The Winter Soldier picks up post-Avengers with Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) in the modern day trying to be that quaint relic from his earlier life during World War II—the good soldier. But the black-and-white ethical landscape of that time has been displaced by countless shades of gray. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and S.H.I.E.L.D. itself are all embodiments of a more complex present than that to which Cap is accustomed. To their credit, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely suggest early and often that no matter how much simpler the age from which Captain America has sprung, he’s not stupid. They also suggest—and this is something Captain America has had in common with Superman almost from the beginning—that one of Cap’s unofficial and less showy superpowers may just be a keen, correct sense of right and wrong. But no worries, Captain America: The Winter Soldier consists of more than moral quandaries and Steve Rogers sending discerning or suspicious looks in the direction of those around him—the brothers Russo have made, first and foremost, a thrilling action film. Starting with a perfectly paced rescue mission nicely leavened with relationship banter between Evans and Johansson, the film has little down time. This is especially true once the titular bad guy (Sebastian Stan) enters the picture (in an effort to erase Fury from it), but in truth, the movie is filled with enjoyable moments, both quiet and action-packed. That, along with the pitch-perfect casting of Evans as Cap makes The Winter Soldier a worthy addition to the ranks of flat-out fantastic sequels.—Michael Burgin


2. Black Panther (2018)

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Black Panther might be the first MCU film that could claim to most clearly be an expression of a particular director’s voice. We shouldn’t go so far as to call it auteurist, because it’s still a Disney movie and (perhaps ironically) a part of that monopolizing Empire—i.e., eat the rich—but Black Panther’s action scenes, especially, feel one with Coogler’s oeuvre. Look only to an early scene in a South Korean casino, in which T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Okoye (Danai Gurire) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) plan to intercept a deal between Klaue and everyone’s favorite CIA milquetoast, Everett Ross (Martin Freeman, lovable) for a vibranium-filled artifact which Klaue stole from some colonizer-run museum with Killmonger’s help. We’re introduced to Klaue through the surprising spryness of his violence—Andy Serkis, too, freed from mocap, is still an amazing presence, even as a gangster shitbag—and Coogler gets on his wavelength, carving out the geography of the casino in long tracking shots, much like he convinced us to love stained, shitty-seeming Philadelphia gyms in Creed by helping us to comprehend the many crevices and corners of each hole in the wall. When the casino brawl breaks out into the streets, morphing into a death-defying car chase (slow motion thankfully kept to a minimum), we feel as if we know exactly what these characters—and this wonderful director—are capable of. His vision for Wakanda—shot by Oscar nominee Rachel Morrison as an Afrofuturist paradise—rightly draws its inspiration from an omnibus of natural sources, just as the casino scene affords Morrison the chance to go full Deakins (James Bond references all over this thing), imagining the world of the MCU as Steven Soderbergh might have scoped out Traffic, developing a fully sensual visual language to define the many locations of this world-hopping adventure without resorting to sterile maps or facile borders. If T’Challa’s whole narrative arc concerns the need for him to realize the importance of bringing Wakanda into our globalized world, of revealing its riches to a world that probably doesn’t deserve them, then the vastness of that world, the many different kinds of people who populate it, must be felt in all of its ungraspable diversity.—Dom Sinacola


1. The Avengers (2012)

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Nestled amongst the gaudy box office numbers ($1.55 billion) of Joss Whedon’s blockbuster is a much simpler achievement. Yes, The Avengers should evoke a deserved appreciation of Whedon’s directorial skills. And yes, the film’s release and reception make for a natural “And that’s when it was official” moment that the MCU took over Hollywood. But for comic book fans especially, The Avengers represents the first instance of the superhero team dynamic truly captured and sustained on film. Even though the X-Men (four times) and the Fantastic Four (twice) had received big screen treatment, those films were all still pretty static. The interaction between both heroes and villains were slow, separate vignettes rather than two-way, three-way or more-way battles. If Raimi’s Spider-Man showed why comic book superheroes are fun, The Avengers showed why superhero teams are. (The X-Men franchise fared much better at this with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four reboot, not so much.)—Michael Burgin

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