Thor

10. Thor

Poor Thor. His medieval-knight-by-way-of-Point-Break schtick is undeniably appealing, but the MCU has historically struggled to build films around it. (See #13, above.) His first solo outing wasn’t bad, exactly, but it felt like less than the sum of its parts. Thor’s irreproachable cast (including Tom Hiddleston‘s Loki, still the MCU’s best villain), playful comedic sensibility, and exotic setting were continually buried under dull exposition, and the straight-faced action sequences was never as fun as its recurring fish-out-of-water gags. And while Kenneth Branagh‘s distracting Dutch angles weren’t really the problem with the movie, they surely didn’t help.

Avengers Age of Ultron

9. Avengers: Age of Ultron

There was plenty to enjoy about Avengers: Age of Ultron, from the clever one-liners (a Joss Whedon signature) to those extravagant battle sequences. But the film as a whole was a bloated mess. Worse, it was a bloated mess precisely because it had to answer to the rest of the MCU. The film sagged under the weight of a dozen major characters, half a dozen story arcs, and approximately eight thousand Easter eggs, leaving little time for organic character growth or thematic exploration. Ultimately, it felt less like an actual Avengers movie than a big-budget adaptation of the notes from a Marvel exec planning meeting.

Ant-Man dirt

8. Ant-Man

As the MCU continues to expand, Ant-Man showcased the merits of staying small. And we’re not just talking about its incredible shrinking hero. The endearingly low-key Ant-Man kept its scope narrow and its stakes personal, and felt all the more compelling for it. That willingness to go tiny and weird paid off gorgeously with what might be the best MCU third act of all time. Director Peyton Reed took full advantage of the character’s unusual powers and background to deliver an inventive spin on the usual superhero showdown shenanigans.

Captain America: The First Avenger

7. Captain America: The First Avenger

Consummate do-gooder Captain America could have been the dreadful drag of the MCU. Thanks to The First Avenger, he shot out of the gate as one of its most richly defined heroes. The retro setting and Chris Evans‘ straight (but never boring) performance allowed for an old-fashioned tale of heroism — which, ironically, felt like a refreshing change of pace in this cynical modern age.

Besides Captain America, The First Avenger also gave us one of the MCU’s best female characters in the form of Peggy Carter. Not only is she a badass hero in her own right, she and Steve feel well matched in a way that superhero love interests rarely do. Their tragic separation only makes their story seem all the more epic.

Iron Man 3

6. Iron Man 3

At various points, the MCU has struggled to balance its filmmakers’ individual personalities with its overarching house style. (Just ask Edgar Wright or Ava DuVernay.) With Iron Man 3, they just about nailed it. The film had the same sarcastic zing as Robert Downey Jr. and Shane Black‘s last movie together, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but it also deepened our understanding of this seemingly unflappable superhero, all while delivering big, shiny action and one genuinely jaw-dropping twist.

Continue Reading The Entire Marvel Cinematic Universe Ranked From Worst to Best >>

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