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The middle pack of the Marvel movies – where we begin to truly separate the good from the great. This is also where the lists definitely get more subjective. The weaker ones were probably easier to predict. It is clear that Iron Man 2 was nowhere near the same league as Avengers Assemble. But here it gets more subjective. It comes down to who the critic likes more: Chris Pratt or Chris Evans? Black Panther or Spidey? The solace is that there aren’t really any bad MCU movies out there, meaning that… deep down aren’t we all winners?

Screw that! Let’s find out whose better. Thor or Cap?

12 – SPIDERMAN – HOMECOMING

For the full review, click here.

Let’s start off with one of the more controversial ones. Spider-Man is one of the most popular heroes in the comic book universe and there was a time, before Downey Jr donned the iron helmet, that the concept of making a superhero movie without Webhead was foolish and bound for failure. Even now, when other heroes managed to stand on their own two feet, he was definitely a massive empty gap in the MCU universe. So is it fair to place the first MCU solo entry from Spidey this low down on the list, after all of Feige’s hard work, drafting in the character?

The truth is that Homecoming was another one of those films that desperately needed to take itself a little more seriously. Yes, Spider-Man should be a lighter shade of hero movie than its counterparts, with Tom Holland’s take on Peter Parker nailing that youthful naivety. But, it turned into another case of Marvel undercutting tense moments with a punchline. Michael Keaton’s Vulture deserved a bit more poignancy, and while Keaton definitely does a lot better than most of the Marvel rogue gallery, he was still hampered by a script that wasn’t giving him the material he really needed. That being said, Spider-Man was a solid Marvel entry, albeit one hurting from being followed only a few years after the last Spider-Man imagining. It entertained, developed yet another favourite to the Avengers team and impressed fans.

11 – CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

For the full review, click here.

The First Avenger is one of the more peculiar Marvels. It was, in many ways, the first big gamble from the production company, taking the action away from the comfortable setting of modern day Manhattan and becoming a WWII period piece. Fans of universe building will be slightly put off that the connections between films aren’t star-studded cameos, but relatives of the heroes we actually want to see, like Tony Stark’s inventor dad. No matter how fun Tommy Lee Jones is, the odds are he isn’t coming back for the sequel (mind you, Bucky found a way!) However, also, it doesn’t quite feel like that much of a gamble. If you look past the era of the movie, we still get a story about an underdog hero gaining superpowers and taking on a nasty baddie character. These days, Marvel take their stories to far galaxies and write in supernatural reality-bending sorcerers. The First Avenger comes across as a film trying to take a gamble, but not quite being brave enough to actually do just that. On the other hand, it is a bit rich to look back on First Avenger with disdain. It’s a little like accusing 1993’s Jurassic Park of not being brave enough to kill off its main character in the opening half.

Where the First Avenger really earns its stripes is in Chris Evans’ Captain America. Despite the setting and ridiculously old-fashioned comic book character, Marvel finds a truly solid protagonist to work its movie around. Chris Evans grabs hold of that sense of decency that really fuels the character, even after his exhausting run of movies. He is easy to root for from his very first appearance here, instantly an iconic figure. This movie is worth revisiting just to get a sense of how consistently strong Captain America’s arc, and lead actor, are.

10 – AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

For the full review, click here.

Guys, I don’t feel too good…

Here, it is, pretty much bang splat in the middle of the pack! Right now, this is likely getting a few shouts and swear words, because Infinity War is currently the best thing since sliced bread. With its masterful balancing of a dizzying array of characters and narratives and daring cliffhangers, there is not a lot anyone can say to make audiences lose faith with Infinity War. Therefore, I will keep this entry brief and let my full review do the speaking for me. I shall merely suggest that the majority of love for this movie stems from that shocking conclusion and that, in a year’s time, when this movie is revisited, it will feel strangely hollow, half a story and a touch too bloated, like three Avengers movies stapled together. I hope I’m wrong, believe me…

9 – GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

For the full review, click here.

Back when this movie was first announced, it seemed like Marvel had got too big for its boots and were just doing whatever they could. Had we reached the point where boundaries were pushed just for the sake of subverting expectations? To a degree, that is precisely what James Gunn is doing here, with a movie so outlandishly daring that it beggars belief. However, regardless of the reasoning for making this movie, the truth is that the Guardians movie is so strong that it does make this side of the Marvel franchise seem like the safest bet in the galaxy.

Why? Well, for one, it nails the humour. Yes, I am touchy about overdoing my humour in these Marvel movies, but Guardians manages to capture that sense of being in charge of the joke category. This should be the movie that is allowed to be fun, because, quite simply, it does it better than the others. Chris Pratt is on superb duty as the leading man. Pop culture references make up so much of the genetics of this film that without them, the script was probably a few pages long. And the music is to die for. Guardians might be so burdened with flaws that it often feels like it is about to keel over from exhaustion – lazy plotting, one of the weaker villains – but any film that ends with a dance-off deserves high ranking in my books.

8 – DR. STRANGE

For the full review, click here.

An origin story this late in the day for the MCU is a little odd. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr Strange is the first hero in a while to come without any foreshadowing from previous movies. Spider-Man and Black Panther got to get early support with stellar guest spots in Civil War. Cumberbatch was thrown straight into the deep end. Yet, his movie marks a fascinating entry into the weird and wonderful for the franchise, making it one of the more important ones. With Strange up Feige’s sleeve, the door was opened to really dig deep into Infinity War’s more bizarre plot points and not lose track of reality. Because Dr. Strange proves that reality is easily ignored…

Visually, this is Marvel at its best with several scenes of trippy hyper-surrealism. Fight scenes take the cinematography of Christopher Nolan’s Inception and multiplies it. One watch of this movie simply isn’t enough to appreciate the wonders behind it all. There is also a very powerful leading performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, who doesn’t ignore the fact his hero is an arrogant asshole, yet makes sure to add in a touch of humanity. By the end of the movie, he is still capable of the occasional snide remark, yet is a much more heroic figure. It means that when Strange appears in Infinity War, he is a surprisingly strong character, one of the main pillars that holds the narrative together.

7 – THOR

For the full review, click here.

The truth is I really like Feige’s take on Thor, the demigod hero from the Avengers team. Hemsworth’s stint in this franchise has really made the character grow on me and I do look forward to seeing from the actor each time. I simply disagree with the direction of the sequels and felt that the material could have been handled better. However, the early effort with Branagh’s origin story, hits the Thor satisfaction right on the head for me. Branagh balances the traditional with the new so perfectly, making sure that Thor hits a unique flavour with the Norse mythology, but pulls it back to modern day Earth, so audiences don’t get lost in too much ‘new’. Throw in some excellent supporting casting from the likeable Natalie Portman, the excellent Stellan Skarsgard and the superstar Anthony Hopkins and you have an all-round success. And that’s without even mentioning Loki…

6 – AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

For the full review, click here.

Originally, Age of Ultron didn’t sit too well with me. Perhaps, despite the blockbuster nature of it all, it still feels very much like a sequel. The heroes have all had their origins and first encounters with each other, taking away the thrill of wondering how Stark and Thor are going to take each other’s styles of heroism. The bad guy, while one of the better Marvel villains, is no Loki and is definitely no Thanos. There was something very hollow about Age of Ultron, meaning I walked away a little disappointed, even if my Marvel boxes were ticked.

But Age of Ultron improved with age. Looking back, it is a very dependable movie. But calling it dependable feels like a disservice to the excellent pacing of Joss Whedon’s efforts as a director. The heroes are still evenly spaced out with Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye enjoying a more thorough part, Downey Jr getting a good enough arc to drag him out of a supposed retirement and an unexpected romance blossoming between Widow and Hulk (although the writers haven’t found time to do much with that thread just yet). The casual camaraderie is still there, the humour and the drama finding the perfect harmony. Amusing scenes like the Avengers trying to pick up Thor’s hammer are wonderfully juxtaposed with a shock character death in the final few minutes. Add the bit parts from Quicksilver’s scowling henchman, Scarlet Witch’s scary super-being and Vision’s last minute scene-stealer, and you have a very solid film. Whedon bowed out of the MCU with a very strong entry.

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