It all started with a man in a fancy armor suit, and it will end with the love child of a California Raisin and Stone Cold Steve Austin with a fancy glove. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed the way we view and think about films. Other cinematic universe attempts have come and gone, but Marvel is still kicking. That isn’t to say they haven’t had their own set of missteps. That is why we at JKLM are going to run down our top favorite and least favorite MCU movies!
Captain America: The First Avenger
The conventional choices for those ranking the MCU would be to put either The Winter Soldier or Civil War ahead of Cap’s first outing. While I can appreciate the sophistication in direction and outstanding stories in both films, The First Avenger hits a very specific aesthetic and emotional core that personally resonates with me. The film is a throwback to adventure films of our childhood wrapped with a WW2 and futurist aesthetic. On top of great production design is one of the best superhero performances in all of film by Chris Evans. Not since Christopher Reeves’ Superman have we reached that heroic ideal. His Steve Rogers has both depth and sincerity. Captain America stands as an example of what we can be, and this film illustrates him beautifully. The First Avenger is an exciting romp that covers every facet of the character . . . and Star-Spangled Man makes me happy cry, don’t judge me.
I know you might be thinking its a bit too soon to acclaim the most recent entry in the MCU as one of the best, but I can’t think of a film that has been more groundbreaking in the culture at large. Aside from the cultural tidal wave it has started, the film is an achievement of production design and pushing the narrative potential of the comic book movie. Never in a million years would I think that a film produced by the Walt Disney company would openly discuss the evils of colonialism and the internal struggle of the black identity. Comic book films have gotten political before, but only scratched the surface on issues. Ryan Coogler and company firmly stand and present a film that challenges its audience, but at the same time is a crowd-pleasing blockbuster with a universal message.
Guardians of the Galaxy Volumes 1 and 2
Don’t care if it’s cheating I love both equally.
Guardians of the Galaxy is my favorite MCU franchise. Period. The ensemble has great chemistry, the color palette isn’t afraid of being COLORFUL, the action beats bring both fun and high stakes, and it’s the series where I LOVE each of the characters. That is because I can FEEL for them and their personal struggles. Other films should take note of the sheer emotional sincerity that each of the actors brings to their parts alongside James Gunn’s and Nicole Perlman excellent and charming writing. What this series is about surviving abuse, how parental relationships shape us, grief, and how opening ourselves up to friendship can not only save others but ourselves. I have seen both film’s multiple times in theaters and at home, and each time I am overcome with emotion. There is nothing more beautiful than outcasts coming together for the greater good and winning in the end. . . .all while 70’s rock is playing in the background.
Captain America: Civil War
I’m such a sucker for ensembles but like… ensembles have to be done well. I’m particular! And I think Civil War did Avengers better than Avengers did. There, I said it. While Avengers might have been one of the first to feature a big team/ensemble casts with lots of powers, Civil War kicked it up another notch and perfected the model- it’s one of the few Marvel movies where the stake aren’t just high, but they feel real, personal, and dynamic. From start to finish, the movie slowly unravels the relationships we thought we knew and moves everything into place for the next MCU outing. While Infinity War might be a sequel and third part of the Avengers trilogy, it’s Civil War that we leave off from, that set the pieces, and GOT US HYPE.
Which brings me to my next pick…
There are very few big budget movies out there that make a huge, lasting impact on not just audiences, but the industry itself. Black Panther took a little bit of everything good from its predecessors, added a whole lot of swag, and made something truly magnificent. While the action isn’t the best (meaning way too close and too jumbly), it makes up for it by actually having something to say. It’s what I would label as a “smart” comic book movie, similar to how Hamilton is a “smart” musical or how Jurassic Park (OG) is a “smart” action movie- it takes the notions of the genre and does it well, while also providing its own allegory and running commentary of the time its in. It provides so much more than just explosions and guns- the war T’Challa faces translates well off and on-screen, the characters move and shift throughout the movie, and nothing ever slows down. The attention to detail is just amazing- everything is just taken from inspiration while remaining incredibly creative and vibrant, made with love- shouts to a really incredible production team. And we get a set of kickass women, led by the amazing Danai Gurira. I can’t say enough good things about what this movie means beyond the screen.
I do need to shout out the OG MCU because, without Iron Man, we wouldn’t have anything else. While I think Iron Man is a little dated and has been surpassed by his BFF Cap, I do think Iron Man set a pretty perfect template for the rest of the MCU movies to follow. Or you know, filled in where the Tobey Maguire series lacked- what?
Aside from the perfect casting (seriously, just perfect), Iron Man is so grounded and engaged with its titular character and counterpart. Does it get a little carried away in its action? Of course, but it’s just the right amount to keep us engaged and to remind us that its a superhero movie. Thematically, I think this is one of the stronger movies the MCU has offered us and I wish other movies had stayed in this vein.
… and Our Worst…
John – Iron Man 2
Talk about a disappointing follow-up. . . I get that they were really trying to do the whole “Demon in a Bottle” arc from the comics, but the end product is so boring and flat. The film seems to meander from scene to scene, never feeling at all put together. On top of a lifeless noodle of a story is some decent performances, and some downright laughable ones. All I can tell you about whiplash is… “I want my Berd.” The action scenes are generic as all hell, and never grab you as a viewer. If you wanted to know which MCU flick is NOT going in my Blu-Ray collection… it’s definitely this one!
… Sam Rockwell was pretty good though…
Kelly – Thor: The Dark World
What’s worse, a movie you’ve seen once that you really didn’t like and have nothing but negative things to say about it or a movie you’ve seen once that… you don’t… really remember and has so far been inconsequential to its series as a whole? Yeah, I could have easily gone Dr. Strange on this bad boy for obvious reasons, but I’m going to swerve and pick Thor: The Dark World, well, because…
ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZzzzz… What even happened in this movie?
The Dark World is definitely in this weird spot like it almost went DC on us for a sec but then luckily Tom Hiddleston was still super charismatic and over the top so it wasn’t too too bad. You can tell they didn’t really know what to do with this movie- do we stick with the Shakespeare-Norse-thing? We want him to be more fun! We also want him to be more blonde! And broody! But charming! And we’re just going to shoehorn a romance in there but not really use it because we need a love story and a love story between brothers isn’t enough and… Thor’s planet is under attack, kind of, or at least we need his throne to be in Jeopardy, and… and… I can do without it. That is all.