Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe upped the stakes and further expanded the stories of the superheroes we now know and love. This phase even introduced us to a bunch of new heroes, including Ant-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Collectively, the six films of Phase Two have grossed $5.269 billion, against a budget of $1.179 billion.
With Phase Four set to kick off this year, I’ve decided to have a reflective look back over the Marvel films. I will be ranking all three phases, as well as the television series attached to the MCU. They are all personal rankings and may cause some debate, but it’s purely my own opinion. Without further ado, below is my ranking of the MCU’s Phase Two.
6. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Thor certainly got the short end of the stick with his solo films. Although I actually rate Thor: The Dark World higher than most, it’s definitely still the weakest link in Marvel’s Phase Two. It has some great moments – the assault on Asgard is solid action, remaining a great set piece in the MCU’s history and Thor and Loki’s relationship has never been better.
Director Alan Taylor’s biggest downfall is under utilising two great villains. Kurse, played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, is an intimidating foe, visually reminiscent of the Predator in the Predator series. He has a couple of great moments in the film, but largely resides in the background – if you showed a picture of him even to a die hard Marvel fan, they might not know who it is. Christopher Eccleston is also misused as Malekith. The final battle between Thor and Malekith is so off-kilter with the rest of the film, it’s a disappointing showdown and a missed opportunity.
5. Iron Man 3 (2013)
On paper, Iron Man 3 should’ve been one of the MCU’s best. On execution, however, it’s merely decent.
Jon Favreau vacates the director’s chair, but gets a funnier, larger role as Happy Hogan. The infamous Mandarin twist actually works as one of the best elements of the film (with this plot point looking to be followed up in Shang Chi). Shane Black also brings some of his trademark humour to the franchise and attempts to bring some heart into the story. Unfortunately, it’s the most distracting part of the film – Tony’s side arc with Harley Keener seems out of place and dilutes from the main plot. The ending also remains one of the MCU’s most confusing plot holes. Tony ends up destroying all his suits and essentially gives up the title of Iron Man, but is back in business a couple of years later with Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Also Read: Ranking of the MCU’s Phase One
4. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
James Gunn’s biggest success is in making the whole team – Star Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot – seem like family after having only spent two hours with them. All characters feel whole, are easy to like and gel together so well, it’s crazy to think that this space opera was Marvel’s biggest risk since Iron Man. Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista, in particular, leave this film as movie stars as delivering two great performances.
However, the villains come off worse for wear. As is typical in the MCU. Lee Pace’s Ronan is flat, Karen Gillan’s Nebula is a snarling stereotype and Djimon Hounsou deserves better.
3. Ant Man (2015)
My placing of Ant-Man above Guardians of the Galaxy might throw some people, but it ultimately hinges off Paul Rudd’s performance. Guardians of the Galaxy may have been a risk, but Ant-Man almost seemed like a joke waiting to fall flat. A superhero movie about a guy who can talk to ants? Come on…
Cut to 2015, where Rudd charms the pants off everyone. Ant communication and shrinking abilities suddenly become cool. Part of the success comes in embracing the goofiness of it all. Allowing those cheeky nods to the ridiculousness of everything makes it all so much more engrossing. Plus, Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas are two of the best supporting cast members anyone could ever ask for.
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2. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
This feels like one of the more underappreciated films in the MCU. Rather than viewing it as a sequel to The Avengers, I feel like it should be seen more as the next chapter in a huge story. When you look at it through that lens, Joss Whedon has actually pulled off a behemoth task.
Beyond giving us a thoroughly entertaining story about the evil AI, Ultron, Whedon also introduces us to three new heroes (Vision, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver), gives us a story-induced Hulkbuster vs Hulk fight, and sows the seeds for multiple, upcoming movies, including Captain America: Civil War (Sokovia), Avengers: Infinity War (Tony and Thor’s visions) and Black Panther (Ulysses Klaue). And that only scratches the surface of this film. Avengers: Age of Ultron remains one of the most re watchable, and rewarding, entries in the Infinity Saga.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Not only the best film in the MCU, but also one of my favourite action movies of all time.
Captain America: The Winter Solider works beyond being a superhero movie. Joe and Anthony Russo come onboard and leave their mark. The greatest thing about this film is their taste for action. It’s pretty much non-stop, but the best thing about it is that the Russo’s like to tell their stories using action, rather than action for action’s sake. It really emphasises their love for story and it’s something that sometimes goes amiss in the MCU.
It’s a nearly flawless joy ride and actually gives reason for Nick Fury to still be in the MCU. The car chase sequence involving him remains possibly one of my favourite action sequences of all time.
I cannot praise this film enough.