We did it! We watched all 22 MCU movies. My big overall takeaway, which I didn't reach until halfway through Endgame, is that I never really saw these movies as a big epic story before. I have always enjoyed them greatly, but suddenly I was seeing it - a big arc for these characters, not a bunch of standalone fun movies. I mean, obviously they have always tied together into a big story, but I didn't really get that as a vibe until Endgame. By the end of Endgame, I was super excited for whatever comes next, to see the stories continue, which is kind of crazy, especially for a movie aptly titled Endgame.
So I guess you could say I developed an even greater appreciation for these movies. Here are my opinions in a ranked order from worst to best! With no spoilers of note (especially for Endgame, since that is probably what people are worried about).
#22 - Thor: The Dark World
The twist: In this one, they were going for terrible, which is a twist of sorts.
Review: The worst MCU movie easily, the best word that comes to mind for this one is nonsense. It's just pure nonsense. Jane's friend Kat is still very funny and I wish she was in other MCU movies, but other than that, there's nothing to recommend this movie. The physics are possibly worse than Ant-Man, the plot is the purest of garbage, and the action is just stupid. This infinity stone (the Aether) is the deadliest thing ever and it literally does NOTHING to Thor. He gets hurt, sure, but it's by the badguy hitting him and flinging things at him. The Aether itself has no effect on him at all as he sits there brawling inside a cloud of it, and it doesn't seem particularly harmful to the world at large either. This is really the only MCU movie I would call truly a bad movie. Even Incredible Hulk is an acceptable film. This is actually a true bad movie.
#21 - Incredible Hulk
The twist: None, it's a superhero movie.
Review: Barely a part of the MCU, this movie is not good, but not nearly as bad as I expected it to be. I realized about halfway through that I'd seen it before, but the fact that it took that long to notice tells you all you need to know. It's just really nothing special or interesting.
#20 - Age of Ultron
The twist: None, it's an avengers mashup.
Review: This movie is a giant muddled mess, straight up. It's just not good. There are fun parts, and the characters are enjoyable, but moreso than any other MCU movie, this is just WAY too big, and too much going on in the plot and onscreen. I also really hated Tony Stark (and Bruce Banner, really, for being his lackey) in this movie. As bad of a person as he was all along, the choices he makes in this movie are just stupidly evil (and kinda nasty and snarly instead of his usual snarky. He's just a jerk). And despite how long the movie is, it also manages to move too fast. Like the badguy shows up and he basically takes over the world (sorta) off-screen in the next 30 seconds of the movie, and it just isn't delivered in a way that has any impact.
[Starting here, I label the movies "good". Everything below this point was "not good". I would happily recommend the movies below]
#19 - Iron Man
The twist: Iron Man movies don't have a twist, other than Tony Stark's personality. They're standard superhero movies.
Review: This was the first MCU movie! And it got me and everybody else hyped up about superheroes in a way we hadn't been in decades. It seemed totally amazing at the time. But now in retrospect... meh. Tony Stark is a really fun character, but at the same time... he's not pleasant. He's a deeply terrible person, and while remarks like "Quiet, the adults are talking" delivered in a quick, sharp style, sounds amusing and clever, it's actually terrible behavior. It's a lot like Bender on Futurama - as a character, it's really fun, but if you think about interacting with him for real, he'd be the worst human being (or robot) on the planet. So you can really end up flipping a switch with this movie - at one moment you're laughing at the cleverness of the quip, then another moment you're disgusted that somebody would treat others this way. Anyway, as a story, it's not that great. It's just a very simplistic standard superhero thing with the evil CEO and all of that. I'm glad we've come so far from this point!
#18 - Iron Man 2
The twist: None, see above.
Review: I thought the Iron Man movies went in the reverse quality order the first time I saw them, but on this viewing, I did find Iron Man 2 better than the original. All of the Iron Man movies are pretty forgettable, but I enjoyed the villain here (also the semi-villain of Justin Hammer, he was fun too). Speaking of forgettable, I really forget what else was good or bad about this. I just know after watching it I thought it was better than the first. But not by much.
#17 - Ant-Man & Wasp
The twist: Nothing really. We don't even get a heist this time. It is pretty untraditionally structured, but it's also just a mess. I did read that the idea here was a sort of Elmore Leonard film, where there's lots of wacky characters and the troubles come from the convoluted interactions between them rather than straightforward villain but I'm not sure the end product bears that out.
Review: Not as good as the original. This movie is truly the epitome of bad physics. It drove me nuts the entire time. It was enough that it actually hurts the movie, quite a bit, because I spent so much time yelling about how stupid things were, so I couldn't get into the plot because that plot couldn't actually happen since none of the events were physically possible. I have to wonder how scenes got out of the writer's room without somebody saying "If you shrunk the car down, would it really still go full speed?" This movie should've been a more elaborate heist than the first movie, but instead they just kind of dumped the whole heist idea, which is a big disappointment. It does have some very funny scenes and lines though. It's at its best when it takes the Thor/Guardians route of just being silly instead of worrying about what people would actually do. I think there's a real opening for a Ragnarok-like Ant-Man 3 that just goes all-out comedy. That's where this kind of invalid physics belongs.
#16 - Civil War
The twist: None, it's an Avengers movie hidden under the Captain America name.
Review: Everybody LOVED this movie, but it's really not that good. It's one that really suffers under the "too big" thing that afflicts the Avengers movie. I know it's a big treat for the True Fans, but I truly did not ever need a 10 minute battle between all the Avengers in an airport where they just slam each other back and forth. It's pointless and exhausting. Honestly there's not much about this movie I did like. Which is weird since it's rated above 6 other movies. It was an interesting storyline. Both sides in the conflict really have some points. I don't know who was right about the accords. But the actual guy who was plotting to turn them against each other and stuff... I think we could've just skipped that and had the conflict be the actual conflict. It seemed unnecessary.
#15 - Iron Man 3
The twist: See the previous Iron Man movies.
Review: I thought this was the worst Iron Man movie the first time I saw it, and now I think it's the best one. I like that Tony doesn't get to use his suit for most of the movie, and I like that he spends the movie struggling with panic attacks from The Avengers. There's a lot going on character-wise. There's also some really good lightning-fast stuff happening in the big final fight that you'd miss if you blinked. I can't imagine how Tony is able to actually think fast enough to pull these moves off, but they sure are clever. Of course, real comics fans were screaming mad about The Mandarin in this movie, but since I didn't have any attachment to that character (and also I recognize that the presence of a fake guy named The Mandarin doesn't preclude an actual guy showing up in the future), it not only didn't bother me, I thought it was a fun twist.
#14 - Thor
The twist: Well, it's pretty much E.T. Also it has the whole Asgard thing going, so fantasy business.
Review: I really didn't think this movie was going to be good the second time around. I had not been impressed with it the first time, at all. But actually, it's not bad at all! It's very funny. That's pretty much the main thing here. I didn't remember that Thor was funny. I thought Ragnarok was a weird anomaly but it's actually sort of been the style of these movies from the beginning. They push the humor really hard, much more than most Marvel movies (other than Guardians). It's really quite enjoyable, but not a great movie. Just fun. The plot is pretty basic and the big badguy is nothing interesting.
[From here on, I called the movies "great". Not just good!]
#13 - Ant-Man
The twist: It's a heist movie! One of my favorite genres. The best trope in heist movies, which is included here (but not done very well), is the part where they overlap the planning of the heist with the actual execution. They'll go "So then you crawl into the air vent" and while they're saying it, you're watching the guy actually crawl in.
Review: This is a fun movie, with a lot of funny stuff, but it fell more flat for me this time than it did the first time. I still really liked it, but I enjoyed it much more the first time I saw it. It doesn't quite go far enough with the heist. There aren't enough twists and turns and double-crosses. If they had hired the writers of Leverage to pull this together, it would've worked beautifully. Of course, the physics are an absolute nightmare.You really have to shut down your brain to not scream at a movie like this every time anything involving size-changing happens. But compared to Ant Man & Wasp, it's a college textbook.
#12 - Winter Soldier
The twist: It's a Jason Bourne movie. Spies, politics, fist fights.
Review: I wanted this to be the best Marvel movie. I liked it less on second viewing than I did the first time, and the reason is that it falls apart at the end. It's got this great low-key spy thing going for most of the runtime, then at the end it kinda just gives up and becomes an Avengers movie, with these huge bombastic battles as airships crash all around and buildings collapse and explode. It really needed not to do that. This is the kind of movie that should've ended with the hero outwitting the villain, nobody fires a shot, and the badguy is in handcuffs just when he thought he had everything under control. It does contain some really great spy movie moments though, with the elevator fight, and the electronic disguise. I think they were too afraid to alienate the superhero crowd by not having enough crazy explosions and bad physics.
#11 - Captain America
The twist: WWII Nazi-punching action. All very rah-rah and sepia-toned old-school stuff. Reminds me a lot of Wonder Woman, actually! (Yes, I know that was WWI)
Review: I really didn't like this movie the first time I saw it. I remembered it being like 75% montages of Cap's team running off to blow up Nazis. On this viewing, I really liked it a lot. It tells a good story, it does not actually have a lot of montages, and it just kept me interested.
[Note: From this point on, the movies are all officially "fantastic" and I have no higher category. Pretty crazy that that includes 10 of the 22 movies!]
#10 - The Avengers
The twist: No twist, this is a big messy superhero romp.
Review: I remember thinking this movie was just too big when I first saw it. And it is. Too many characters, too much plot, too much noise and mayhem. It's all just too much. This movie could be 3 seasons of a TV show (and should've been!). But what makes it so impressive is how expertly all those characters are rendered so that it feels like in the 2+ hours we watch, we get to know the characters, they all have arcs and goals and failures, and the interactions between them are great. And lots of funny. I think I rate this movie higher just because it attempted the impossible and succeeded, even though I would rather watch a more grounded, smaller film. It just does such an amazing job doing what it's trying to do. I mean, if you question how great this is, you only have to look at Hawkeye. Never a peep about him prior to this movie (except one moment in Thor), and yet by the end I was throwing my money at the screen for a Hawkeye+Widow spy movie (I pre-emptively rate that as my favorite Marvel movie). He's built up from zero to hero over the course of 2 hours while sharing the screen with like 12 other heroes AND spending a major chunk of the movie mind-controlled and offscreen. And on top of the character stuff and humor, the huge end battle is amazing to watch, with the scenes where the camera pans around and you see each Avenger in turn doing something interesting and it all just flows.
#9 - Spider-Man: Homecoming
The twist: Well, sort of teen comedy. It's by far the youngest Marvel movie, and Spider-man himself is always fun. But really, not much of a twist, just a superhero movie.
Review: I have mentioned that the physics in these movies drive me nuts. Never is that true more than in the scene where the boat gets cut in half. That's one scene where I literally can't figure out how it got out of the writer's room, like Ant Man & Wasp. Was there not some point where somebody was like "Wait, does half a boat float?" It's honestly so insane that the magic in Dr. Strange is more believable. Anyway, besides that moment, this movie is absolutely buried in nonsense physics, to a point where it's pretty offensive. And I hated that he had a million robo-gadgets in his suit - I like my spidermen traditional. However, I've rated this fantastic, because it's just so very very fun. I guess it all comes down to one thing: the portrayal of Spider-Man himself. I can't wait to see his next movie because he's the best Spider-Man we've ever had, by a mile. I did also like the down-to-earth nature of the whole movie. Seeing these guys who are working clean-up for the damage the superhero battles have caused, and the real-life problems they face trying to make ends meet. And they were very human badguys, not mustache twirlers. All that stuff works well. Plus Donald Glover (briefly).
#8 - Dr. Strange
The twist: Magic, baby! This is a fantasy film with a really unique world.
Review: The rules of magic rarely make any sense here, but I found that I didn't care. As you can tell, I'm always getting mad at the physics in these movies, but this inexplicable magic was just fine by me because, hey, magic. This movie is very funny in a dry way that the other funny ones aren't. The thing that really brings my rating of this up is the entire ending. For that matter, the whole movie is just plotted out in a great way that never slows down (at least once the magic starts) and just builds to that ending. But anyway, the ending is a completely untraditional battle with no big fist fights or anything. I always like my heroes to win by outsmarting their opponent rather than just being stronger or better at fighting (or like in most superhero movies, getting beaten to a pulp and then just suddenly 'deciding' you're super strong and winning for no reason). Somehow the way the final battle is done in this movie really does it for me. Even though the rules of it, again, make no sense at all.
#7 - Black Panther
The twist: This is a James Bond film (as opposed to Jason Bourne - the key difference being that Black Panther is provided an array of high tech gadgets by his own personal Q/sister, Shuri). At first. Then it becomes like one of those royalty shows like The Tudors where there are illegitimate kings and political maneuvering and whatnot and trying to hold the throne. And all along it's sort of a travelogue of this fantasy world, whereas most superhero movies just take place in the normal world. There's a lot of uniqueness here.
Review: It's just really great. It doesn't even have a whole lot of superhero to it, it's more just this one specific small(ish) scale struggle, and I really like that. Battling for the universe gets pretty exhausting. The more personal stakes are much more interesting every time. Unlike watching Captain Marvel with my wife (see below), I did NOT see this movie with a Black viewer. From the things I heard online, I have to imagine that would've been a similarly epiphanous event. This stuff matters, and no, it's not wrong to prize the movie for that - if a movie has a meaningful powerful social impact, that is better than a movie that is tightly written and beautifully acted but is just entertaining. It matters.
#6 - Captain Marvel
The twist: Feminism, baby! It's kind of terrifying that it took 20 movies before Marvel had one focused on a woman, and even then there was a big outcry of typing from cheeto-encrusted fingers about it. Seriously, if we had gender parity, there would've been TEN female-led Marvel movies by this point, and we got one. But really, other than that issue that should've been a non-issue, there's no twist here, stylistically it's just a standard superhero movie!
Review: When I first saw this movie (saw it twice in theaters), I really liked it. I liked Captain Marvel's attitude, the Skrull guy's wit, Nick Fury's obsession with the cat, and just the whole buddy-cop thing he and Marvel had going on. But I wouldn't have ranked it as high as I did if I didn't experience it with a member of the group for whom it was revelatory. At the end of the movie, my wife was vibrating. Seeing what this whole thing meant to her, and discussing it, was absolutely amazing to me. There were entire layers of metaphor to what happens in the movie that I didn't get because I don't experience the abuse that women do. What it means for a woman to have a superhero film where the man says "debate me" and the woman smashes him into a rock is ... not really something I can explain because I'm not a woman. But I saw the reaction, and I felt the power it held for her. My wife loved Wonder Woman, but this movie was on an entirely other level for a lot of reasons that'd take a long time to explain. But I'll sum it up with the twist again: Feminism, baby. This stuff isn't just fun, it matters for marginalized people. Deeply.
#5 - Guardians of the Galaxy
The twist: Guardians is the comedy sci-fi side of the Marvel universe, where the jokes take precedence over the logic and everybody is a big doofus.
Review: It's just great fun. Again, the comedy supercedes any reality or logic. The characters do things that would get them instantly shot in real life, but like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, their antics are successful. I wouldn't want that to be my only kind of superhero movie, but I do think it's my favorite kind!
#4 - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The twist: See above.
Review: On my first viewing, I thought this was not nearly as good as the original movie, because structurally it just felt weak - very basic and obvious. But on this viewing, I liked it more than the original, because it's not the plot that's great, it's the characters and interactions between them. It is funnier than the first, and more emotional, with the only tear-jerking ending in the Marvel universe so far (Infinity War did not tug one drop, because come on, I never once thought those deaths were 'real'. Black Panther is not going to be stopped from making a second movie!).
#3 - Avengers: Infinity War
The twist: The only real twist here is that this is the culmination of all the previous movies. It builds on them like crazy, and relies on them as if the whole thing were one 60-hour movie.
Review: My second viewing (coming after watching the previous movies all in order rapidly), I liked this way more than I did the first time. I knew it was good, but I was not especially into it, and felt like all the huge love for it was overboard. Well, on second viewing, I get it! When you have all the previous movies in your head, this is astonishingly great. What I didn't like the first time, and loved the second time, was how it has so many disparate parts which it jumps between, and they all gradually merge together into one story. My wife likened it to the book Cryptonomicon, which is a great connection. One of the best books I've ever read, as well.
#2 - Thor: Ragnarok
The twist: it's an improv comedy (like Judd Apatow and/or Seth Rogen movies), and it also has this huge 70's/80's style to the whole thing, plastered on thick like the makeup that rock stars wore in the 80's. The style is intense.
Review: It's basically perfect. Huge amount of comedy that is really well delivered, along with big amazing action scenes (probably the only Marvel movie where I truly don't care that the physics make no sense, because it's all silly anyway), and all that along with a ton of real human emotion and depth. I loved this movie the first time I saw it and loved it more this time. Valkyrie is awesome, Thor is awesome, Hulk is the best he's been, Loki is awesome. It's got an unbelievable amount of style and confidence to it. It is in many ways just like my all-time favorite movie, Scott Pilgrim.
And so... I tricked you! #1 is not Avengers: Endgame. Or is it? I don't know, that's the problem. It's definitely very high up, but is it better than Ragnarok? Is that even possible? Is it better than Infinity War? Argh. I had figured out the rankings for all the other movies, then I went and saw Endgame and was like... ranking seems stupid. These movies (the top 7 I'd say) are amazing pieces of art, each super unique in their own way (even from Infinity War to Endgame, you have two wildly different movies, even though the story goes right through them). The idea that Black Panther could be the 7th best of something is silly. Anyone who doesn't watch the top 7 of these is the saddest of trash pandas. So I don't know, Endgame goes somewhere in the top 3 I guess. And here's what I think about it:
It's ridiculously long, and should've been several years of TV instead. But it didn't get dull or ever slow down or feel like it was bloated in any way. I loved every part of it, in different ways (because in all those hours, there's some of everything going on!). It needed that massive weight to carry the wrap-up to dozens of different arcs, and it does so in a way I have NEVER seen a finale do. It absolutely takes these 10 years of movies and pins them up so neatly that I don't even feel a drop of disappointment or question about it. Every ending always leaves me wanting something, and this did not. It was the perfect conclusion. It also has a totally new tone I can't quite describe. Obviously it's pretty somber and dark, but it's more than that. It feels like a drama movie, like some kind of indie movie where husbands and wives are fighting about child custody, and it manages to feel that way while there's a giant green man dabbing onscreen and spaceships. It's magic, and I have no idea how you could even begin to pull that off.
At the end of the 3.5 hours, I immediately wanted to see the movie again. And I don't do that even with movies I really like. I'm really excited that this epic tale exists in our world now, and I can go back to it when I want. I think 'real' filmmakers can learn a whole lot from these superhero dudes.
Ah man, and now I just thought about the scene where Hulk goes down the street smashing things and I want to see it again.