Ok kids, it’s finally here. This past Friday (or Thursday in many cases), Avengers: Endgame released, capping an 11 year-long journey.
Consider the Marvel Studios journey, a beginning studio running off of borrowed cash and hedged bets, culminating as a part of the largest, most powerful corporate conglomerates the entertainment industry has ever seen. I believe this moment is the high water mark for superhero films. I’m sure superhero movies will continue. While I don’t buy into “superhero fatigue” leading to the genre disappearing, I don’t know if Marvel Studios can replicate the magic of what they’ve done here. Hopefully, they’ll prove me wrong. I can’t think of any other universe that has translated so successfully into both film and pop culture.
There’s something to be said for the quality of work produced under the confinement of limitations. Marvel made the Avengers work because Marvel had to make the Avengers work. They didn’t have access to Spider-man, the X-Men, or many of their other more popular heroes. They had Iron Man, Cap, and the heroes that no other studios wanted when they tried to sell the rights earlier.
It’s a different story moving forward. Marvel has been acquired by Disney who has acquired Star Wars, Pixar (they had separated briefly), Fox, and the majority of culturally relevant properties that aren’t Dr. Who, Star Trek, or Minion-based. Disney partnered with Netflix for a minute and are now set to destroy Netflix with their own thing–that’s not Hulu, which they also now own a majority stake in, by the way. Today, the possibilities far outweigh the limitations–but the edge is off. It’s almost like there’s too much out there. And think of how many other film franchises have tried to create their own shared cinematic universes. Some are…ok (Kong and the monster movies are fun), some fizzled out shortly after launch (remember Tom Cruise’s Mummy? Or Dracula Untold?), and some are just trainwrecks (Hello, DC Synderverse); none have managed what the MCU has. Can lightning strike twice? Maybe, but I doubt even if it does that it will be as magical as this go around.
So let’s pause and celebrate what’s made this trip so wonderful: really great movies. The best rank amongst the best movies of all time, and the worst are still ok. I’ve yet to see a Marvel Studios movie that I regretted seeing. I can’t say that about Sony (Amazing Spider-man movies made my heart hurt) or Fox (X-Men Origins: Wolverine is so terrible). Of the 22 released Marvel Cinematic Universe, here are my rankings, broken into tiers instead of a hard numerical ranking, because honestly, my preference could shift depending on my mood that day.
Let’s start with the lowest tier, the C-D range movies:
Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 2, and Iron Man 3.
These are the movies that I’m not going to watch again unless there’s some important reason. I wouldn’t say any are bad; they’re just not all that good. Iron Man 2 suffered from being more focused on setting up the Avengers than being its own thing. Thor 2 was there. I saw it. I enjoyed it enough at the time. Don’t really remember much outside of the fact it squandered some great performers. Chris Eccleston, Kat Dennings, and Chris O’Dowd all have much greater potential than they were given a chance to show here. Iron Man 3 is a movie that I like more than the others here in this tier, and I can see where others might rank it higher sheerly based on Robert Downey, Jr.’s charm. For me, it was a real letdown following the Avengers. They had just smashed all of the toys in the toybox together and then came out on the other side with this really isolated story dealing with the fallout. Simply adding more interplay amongst the Avengers could have really helped this movie. Regardless, I still enjoyed RDJ and Adam Palley and I didn’t hate the Mandarin swerve. It helps that they cleared that up in the bonus short on the dvd release. Even the worst of Marvel’s movies have still been entertaining.
The next tier are all pretty good movies that I would rewatch maybe but would never prioritize. They’re all B-level. If they’re on tv, I might sit and stay a bit, but I’m not clamoring to see them any time soon:
Avengers 2, Incredible Hulk, Dr. Strange, Captain Marvel, and Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
Avengers 2 suffered from a burned out Joss Whedon, I surmise, and this movie never captured anything like the impact it intended. I didn’t mind the Ed Norton Banner for the Incredible Hulk, but that movie’s internal troubles–not to mention feeling like it doesn’t fit because of recasting– hold it back. Dr. Strange and Captain Marvel were both good enough, but suffered because I had higher expectations they didn’t meet. Strange felt like they were trying too hard to knock off Inception, and Captain Marvel felt like they were trying too hard to manipulate my sense of 90’s nostalgia to get me to like something. I already have Star Wars movies for nostalgia manipulation, thankyouverymuch. They had great parts but the sum of the movies didn’t add up to anything special. Guardians 2 gets lumped into this category because even though I enjoyed it, it felt too much of more of the same from the first Guardians, which I enjoyed more.
The next tier of movies are movies that are really solid, but I have to be in the right mood to be able to watch them, otherwise I find my attention drifting. These are my A- movies.
Captain America: Civil War and Thor: Ragnarok
I loved both of these movies the first time out, and I think they’re both high quality experiences and impressive cinematic feats. Civil War loses points only by virtue of the fact its plot demands its seriousness, and sometimes I don’t want to see my heroes fighting each other. Ragnarok was tons of fun, but I found it to be a bit of a slow start when trying to rewatch it. I have to be in the right place to truly appreciate Korg and his rock, paper, scissors jokes.
The next tier are all solid A movies in my mind. I’ve watched them all multiple times, and I’ll gladly watch them again any time the opportunity presents itself.
Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-man and the Wasp, Thor, Black Panther, Spider-man: Homecoming, Avengers, Captain America: The First Avenger
It’s a testament to the quality of Marvel Studios that there are so many movies that I consider to be in the A or better range. Infinity War (and Endgame) are doing something unheard of by wrapping up a 22 movie arc. Their biggest problem is that you need to have seen most of the 20 movies that came before it to really buy in and understand what is happening. Ant-Man and the Wasp ranks higher on my list than most other folks because it is a Paul Rudd showcase, and I am an unapologetic fan of Paul Rudd. Starting with Thor, the remaining movies all showcase something in common that I’ve always felt Marvel Studios has excelled at. They don’t make super hero movies as a genre, they make genre movies starring super heroes. Thor is their Shakespearean family epic, and the Kenneth Branaugh direction does that masterfully. Black Panther tackles the son ascending to fill the role of his father like a cross between the Godfather and the Lion King. Homecoming is the teen coming of age John Hughes-style movie; and Captain America was their take on the War adventure movie genre.
The Avengers doesn’t fit that mold, though. It’s its own thang. I want to dog the first Avengers movie for being so light on plot (heroes come together to punch aliens that fly out of a sky-hole), but I can’t. The Avengers was truly original in that it was the first movie to not just allude to a shared universe, but to blend those shared elements seamlessly. At this point, it’s difficult to understand how big of a deal it was to see Iron Man, Cap, the Hulk, etc. interacting at the same time for more than just a brief cameo. But for a fan who grew up in the dark ages of comic book movies, you never forget your first time, so the Avengers will always be special.
Finally, the top tier, the best of the best, the movies that I will watch over and over again. I made multiple trips to the theater for each of these movies, and any time a friend comes over and hasn’t seen them–I know what our next few hours will probably involve.
Ant-man, Iron Man, Avengers: Endgame, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Captain America: Winter Soldier.
Heist film, Origin movie, Series Finale, Sci-Fi Space Epic, 70’s Political Thriller; each movie a showcase for a talented actor/director combination. Also, Guardians of the Galaxy was so unexpected and so much fun. The lead heroes in each of these movies all just felt so right for their characters, and if there was something different, then that character needed to change. And they did. Initially I dogged Winter Soldier because I felt they did not adequately handle the scenes from Ed Brubaker’s Captain America comic that established Bucky as so badass, but eventually I came around to realize this movie is top notch storytelling and probably Marvel Studio’s best overall movie.
And as far as Endgame goes, no spoilers. Just go see it. If you’ve read down this far, you should put forth every effort to see this thing before some jerky jerkster straight from the jerk store ruins it for you. Endgame is like nothing else before it, and I doubt we’ll see anything like it any time soon. The Brothers Russo are masterful orchestra conductors, deftly weaving well-earned fan service payoffs with a moving tale that was over 20 movies in the making.
So there you have it. Thanks to everyone from Stan Lee to Kevin Feige who has made this 20+ epic movie run possible. Extra special thanks to the casting department, who has hit so many home runs, the baseball Hall of Fame should give them their own wing.
For the guys in charge of the villains department–keep trying. You have Loki, which is impressive. For Marvel to keep going strong, they’re going to have to work on bringing the bad guys…better?
We’ll worry about the next 20 or so movies soon enough once all the press announcements start rolling in. For this week, let’s just enjoy the finale to this fantastic ride. Cheers and excelsior!
Until next time, I’m gonna try to sneak in another Avengers: Endgame show!
Hit me up in the comments or tweet @chachachad1 to let me know how your list differs!