With the release of Ant-Man, Phase 2 of Marvel has officially been completed. Now the wait until Phase 3 begins. With now 12 movies of various types until its built, I feel that now is a good time to look back and decide what are the Top 5 Marvel movies of Phase 1 and Phase 2, in regards to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, just the Marvel Cinematic Universe, no X-Men or any other films that happen to have the Marvel logo. This is about the main Marvel Studios releases.
Also, this is my list. I have seen every one of the 12 MCU films multiple times. I have favorites, I have least favorites, and I’ll try to articulate why I love these five over all the others. But before we get to those…
Honorable Mention: The Incredible Hulk
Lest we forget, the Marvel Cinematic Universe started out with two movies, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. It would be these two that would tie things together and show the movies were connected, and that more was coming.
As the only Hulk movie in the MCU (with no other in sight for the time being), the movie did a great job in showcasing not just the power Hulk has, but the true struggle Bruce Banner has in trying to tame his monster and making sure his curse didn’t fall into the wrong hands. Edward Norton did a wonderful job as Bruce Banner, showing off both his scientist side and the wit that comes from having a green rage monster inside of you.
Also, the fights in The Incredible Hulk were top notch. From the battles with the military, to the ending battle vs. The Abomination, it was all super cool. So much so that they even referenced it in The Avengers, even though they replaced Edward Norton with Mark Ruffalo.
I don’t know when we’ll get another Hulk movie. However, we did get one, and it was good.
5. Iron Man
Call it a testament to good writing and directing, but Iron Man to this day still holds up as one of the best Marvel films, which is fascinating, as this movie was considered the bigger risk of the two when announced. Why? Well because Hulk had a popular TV show once upon a time, and Iron Man was seen as an uncertainty. Would people buy into it? In addition, would Robert Downey Jr., who had been going through a severe personal struggle with addiction beforehand, be able to pull off being the lead in a potential blockbuster? The answers were yes and yes.
Iron Man rocked audiences with intense action, great humor and a true sense of what the character was about. The opening scenes perfectly showed the cockyness and arrogance of Anthony Joseph Stark, but then when he became a captive to terrorists, you saw the change in him. That’s powerful stuff. He didn’t care that his company was going to lose money by not selling weapons anymore. He needed to change, and he did in more ways than people expected.
Another great part of the movie was seeing the process by which Iron Man was built. From the initial Mark I suit, which he used to escape his prison, to the Mark III in his battle with Iron Monger, it was a process, not a simple “suit up” moment. It further showed how smart Tony Stark is. Not only that, there was a great ensemble, from Gwyneth Paltrow Pepper Potts, Terrence Howard as James “Rhodey” Rhodes, and of course Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane, Tony was not the sole focus, which was really important as his decisions affected them all.
Iron Man set the tone for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that ending scene with the one and only Nick Fury solidified that Marvel had a big plan, and what a plan it was.
4. Thor: The Dark World
I fully admit that this choice will cause some controversy because there are some who did not like this movie. I on the other hand loved it! In fact, the only reason this isn’t higher on the list is because of the greatness of the movies that followed, so take that into account.
Of the big four of Marvel (Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and Thor), Thor was one of the bigger risks. They had to show a world where mythology (in regards to Norse mythology) was actually quite real. It was a world where Odin, Loki, and Thor (among others), were almost literal gods and capable of incredible things. So when the first movie was a success, they had to try and top it with The Dark World. They did that by building on the events of Thor, and then turning them on their heads. At the end of Thor, the Bifrost (by which Thor and others could travel to other realms) was destroyed, meaning that Thor couldn’t travel to Earth (save for that one time in Avengers, it was explained!) to see Jane Foster. Also, the Nine Realms had fallen into chaos. The Dark World showed us what Thor had been doing in those two years (between films) in trying to bring peace back to the realms, all the while still dreaming about Earth. Then, when a great threat came upon Jane, Thor flew to her aid, and a great struggle began.
For me, there’s so much to like in The Dark World. I loved how Chris Hemsworth showed the maturity Thor had gained in time since the first movie. He was no longer completely brash and arrogant, he was rather humble and wise in his own way. He began to think like a true future king of Asgard instead of a boy trying to get his jollies. Then there was Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston. He was funny, and the two together had some brilliant moments, but it wasn’t just Hiddleston. There was comedy galore in this movie, and almost all of it worked. Almost every character had a one-liner that made me laugh out loud in the best way possible. Not only that, there were some truly shocking moments that made this film even more memorable, particularly the death of Frigga, Thor and Loki’s mother.
All in all, Thor: The Dark World has some great moments from start to finish. I’ve barely talked about half of it honestly, and I could keep going. However, take this for what it is, The Dark World was good, and that twist at the end made it so I can’t wait for Ragnarok.
3. The Avengers
This was where the Marvel Cinematic Universe was heading. This is where we all knew it would lead the moment Nick Fury said, “I want to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative.” We knew they had to come together. They had to fight as one. The heroes had to become the Avengers.
But in true Joss Whedon fashion, it didn’t come easy. The Avengers started as anything but a team-up movie. One of their numbers was almost immediately turned to Loki’s side. One only showed up because of circumstance and dark magic, and one didn’t want to be there at all. Yet, with the threat of global war, the Avengers came together, and it was good.
What really set this movie apart was that you saw the different personalities come together and clash. Captain America and Iron Man were key among this aspect. One is a soldier, and one is an engineer. They are two entirely different mindsets from two entirely different times, so of course they were going to clash. Then you had Bruce Banner, who was trying very hard to not let his Hulk side (or “the other guy”) out. Thor wanted to get Loki and the Tesseract and leave, knowing what would happen to Earth if they remained. All the pieces were there to stage a tremendous superhero extravaganza.
Then, when the fighting finally started, it was awesome! Seeing the “assemble” moment of the Avengers was great stuff, and the fights against Loki and the Chitauri were epic. This was meant to be a culmination of what had happened in Phase 1, and it delivered on pretty much every level. Yes, there were some odd moments, but this was too cool to deny.
The Avengers had assembled, and we loved every minute of it, so much so that audiences made it the No. 1 Box Office opening of all time when it was released. Not bad for a superhero movie.
2. Captain America: The Winter Solider
There’s always a fear when it comes to genres that after a while, they all become the same thing. Phase 2 for Marvel needed to show that things were going to change, not stay stagnant, and evolve. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was that change.
Whereas the original Captain America movie was about how Steve Rogers became the First Avenger, The Winter Soldier showed him in the present day and trying his best to adjust to the modern world. In addition, Steve Rogers had to deal with his own demons and trust issues in regards to Nick Fury and SHIELD. This was key, as Steve is still very much a man of the 1940’s, and how he sees things is a reflection of that. He believes in true freedom, and the freedom he fought for. However, the world, as Fury notes, isn’t what it was, and the definitions have of freedom have changed.
The Winter Solider was called a “political thriller” in terms to its plot, and its not wrong. There’s plenty of action, but all around that is espionage, betrayal, sleight of hand, and several reveals that shocked not only audiences, but the MCU at large in its ramifications. HYDRA, the organization of fascist Nazi criminals Cap fought against in the first film, was alive and had heavily infiltrated SHIELD. In many ways, HYDRA was SHIELD, and it was about to take over the world. Add to that, the fact that Steve’s best friend, Bucky Barnes, was still alive as the brainwashed Winter Soldier, and you’ve got all the makings of a thriller many times over.
It’s almost hard to pin down all the great things that happened in The Winter Soldier because the scale of what happened was amazing. In addition, the way it tied past, present, and future events of the MCU was masterfully done. Many believe that The Winter Solider is the best film of Phase 2 and possibly the best Marvel film ever. The Winter Solider was the catalyst for many things that would happen in the MCU, and it’s still being felt today. That’s the power of good storytelling.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
Do you remember the moment, where you were unsure about something, and you weren’t sure whether you would like it or not and maybe thought it was a bad idea? Then you saw something that made all of those thoughts go away? For me, that was Guardians of the Galaxy, and my turning point was the first trailer for the film. The funny thing about that trailer was that it started out in typical format. Then it broke into a prison style “The Usual Suspects” breakdown, then it used Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling”, and the rest is history.
Of all the Marvel movies ever made, Guardians of the Galaxy was one of, if not the biggest, risk. More than any other movie (even Ant-Man), none of these characters were really established outside of the comics. In fact, the Guardians of the Galaxy was more of a cult comic. Yet Marvel saw the property’s potential and gave it to James Gunn, and an instant classic was born.
What else is there to say that hasn’t been said about GOTG? It’s just a fun movie. It never takes itself too seriously outside of some powerful moments that help sell both the team, the villain, and his plans for destruction. That’s hard to do while getting people to take it somewhat seriously.
Truly though, this movie succeeded because of its character work. Each one of the GOTG had standout movies both in seriousness, and in comedy. Again, hard to do. But most of all, unlike just about every Marvel person we’ve meet, these guys aren’t heroes! Some of them have very few “redeeming” qualities, yet you learned to love them. In fact, the three characters that were the biggest question marks in the film (Rocket, Groot, and Drax) almost instantly became the favorites for many fans. Drax and Groot especially! Also, a lot like The Avengers, they didn’t mesh initially, only coming together for the most basic of instincts: money and revenge. Classic. But as they spent time together (and fighting each other), they learned to be friends of a sort.
On a personal level, I loved Guardians of the Galaxy bucked certain trends you can usually expect from superhero movies. Mainly, there’s no love story, and it didn’t need one (You hear that Age of Ultron?!). In fact, they teased it, then basically broke the fourth wall and ruined the moment for it to happen twice.
There was plenty of great action. I still hold the Battle of Xandar as one of the most visually striking action scenes in a Marvel movie. Each Guardian got to show their skills many times over, proving that each of them are as dangerous as their reputations hold.
In the end, from start to finish, “Come and Get Your Love” to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, Guardians of the Galaxy just rocks full stop. It’s funny, has meaning, story, builds the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and has a cast you can’t wait to see again. Is it a masterpiece? Is it perfect or…a little bit of both?