Marvel Studios releases a lot of movies. Every passing year brings with it a number of installments into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and casual audience members might find it hard to keep track of all of them. So, in preparation for the release of the 22nd MCU film, Avengers: Endgame, later this week, I’ve decided to share my thoughts on every MCU movie I’ve seen, based off what I remember from the last time I saw them. Joan Gwak will fill in the Ant-Man movies for me because I haven’t seen them — be on the lookout for her review of Endgame once it releases!
Iron Man (2008)
The first installment in the MCU came out nearly 11 years ago, and I probably last saw it around 2010. While it’s been a long time since I watched Iron Man, I remember really liking it. Scenes such as the construction of the original Iron Man suit in a cave and the first flight of the Mark II suit are ingrained in my memory. Overall, while I don’t remember too much about Iron Man, the bits that I can recall are really solid, and it’s easy to see how this film was the perfect starting point for a much larger franchise.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
If we’re being honest, I didn’t see this movie. Did anyone? All I really know about it is that Edward Norton played the Hulk, and after seeing so many movies with Mark Ruffalo in the role, I’m not sure if I’d even be able to enjoy this movie if I watched it now. So yeah, no real thoughts on this one.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Even though I was a lot younger and didn’t really have high standards film quality-wise when I saw Iron Man 2, I remember thinking this movie was kind of mediocre. The one scene I can vividly recall is the race track scene, which contains one of the coolest Iron Man suit-ups to date. Other than that, not much stands out. Mickey Rourke had some electric whips or something? That was kind of cool. This movie also introduced Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Don Cheadle as War Machine, so universe building was in full force here.
Here we see the MCU finally starting to delve into some supernatural territory (although it did explain Asgard’s magic away as alien science or whatnot). This movie did introduce some iconic Marvel characters, such as the titular Thor, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and Hawkeye. However, it was marred by some less-than-memorable characters such as Natalie Portman’s Jane and whatever Kat Dennings’ character was named. Thor was relatively boring in the grand scheme of things, but it did lay the groundwork for a lot of great movies down the line.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Let’s be honest: Captain America as a concept is pretty corny on paper. And while he has a long history of being a badass character in the comics, Marvel had to put in extra work to make moviegoing audiences take the superhero equivalent of Uncle Sam seriously. By developing its protagonist so well, this film made it possible for audiences to see Captain America as less of a walking propaganda poster and more of an action hero capable of carrying a massive blockbuster franchise. And given the cheesiness of previous attempts to do the same, that’s an admirable feat.
Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
Nowadays, it’s really easy to take The Avengers for granted. After all, the MCU has come so far since this movie was released, and this first massive crossover pales in comparison to the crossover extravaganzas that would come later down the line. But I think it’s important to appreciate what this movie accomplished by assembling (pun sort of intended) these separate series together. With the release of The Avengers, the potential of the MCU was fully realized for the first time. Even ignoring its status as a monumental achievement in franchise-building, this movie is a solid flick in its own right. Here’s to hoping that iconic circle shot gets recreated in some form in Endgame.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Everyone says Iron Man 3 isn’t very good, but I remember liking it. The twist with the fake villain was hilarious to me at the time (although I do understand comic purists being mad at the way the Mandarin was used), and I thought the movie portrayed Tony Stark’s mental state post-Avengers quite well. That said, there are definitely aspects of the film that I didn’t love at the time, including the kid who helped Tony in the shed and Pepper Potts’ fire superpowers toward the end.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
I can’t really say much about Thor: The Dark World, but I guess it was completely and utterly forgettable, because I have completely and utterly forgotten it.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
To this day, Captain America: The Winter Soldier remains one of the best MCU movies so far. The spy thriller approach suits Cap perfectly and allows characters such as Black Widow and Falcon (who makes his MCU debut) to shine in their supporting roles. Since there isn’t a world-threatening catastrophe on the horizon in this movie, the stakes feel more real, which is a nice change of pace from previous movies where the protagonists’ ultimate success was all but guaranteed.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
My first exposure to the Guardians of the Galaxy came through the Marvel vs. Capcom video game series. I remember thinking it was ridiculous that a character named “Rocket Raccoon” existed — flash forward a few years, and that character starred in a major Hollywood movie (played by Bradley Cooper of all people!). Considering Marvel was once so close to bankruptcy that it had to sell the film rights to many of its characters to stay afloat, the success of Guardians cements the company’s comeback.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
I have a lot of mixed feelings about Avengers: Age of Ultron. No, it isn’t the monumental event that its predecessor was, but it did a lot of things right. It introduced Scarlet Witch and Vision, and fleshed out pre-existing characters such as Hawkeye and Black Widow (no comment about the weird Black Widow X Hulk romance though). While the movie suffers from some predictable, uninspired writing, it is a solid film that does a lot to lay the groundwork for future movies.
When I first heard about this movie, I thought the concept of Ant-Man was a joke. Why would Marvel need to make a movie about another hero named after a type of bug? Nothing about Ant-Man seemed particularly special – the power of shrinking offers nothing new to a regular audience. Regardless, I gave it a chance because I knew that Marvel wouldn’t release a bad movie. After enjoying the typical superhero training montage, laughing at Luis’s crazy dialogues and shedding a few tears at Scott Lang’s acts of love for his daughter, I realized that Ant-Man tells the poignant story of the most well-intentioned and wholesome superheroes in the MCU. It’s hard not to love Scott Lang, and to this day, the Ant-Man that I thought was so silly holds a special place in my heart. I can’t wait to see him in action in Avengers: Endgame.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
You could argue that this film should be really titled Avengers: Civil War since it features so many Avengers and doesn’t necessarily focus on Captain America the whole time. Regardless, this movie is amazing. The film’s central conflict is nuanced, and neither Cap nor Tony feels like a villain. Civil War also introduces some major players in the MCU: Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. At a time when Marvel movies were often criticized for being too similar to each other, Civil War departed from the typical MCU formula in an amazing way.
Doctor Strange (2016)
It might be easy to dismiss Doctor Strange as being a textbook example of “style over substance.” And while that critique is valid, I think the visual spectacle of this film is an achievement in itself. The trippy CGI magic sequences were breathtaking to watch in the theater and took my focus away from any shortcomings the plot might have had. And honestly, the plot itself isn’t bad. It certainly doesn’t break new ground for the MCU, but it’s a solid origin story. And while the MCU isn’t lacking in the origin story department, one more can’t hurt, can it?
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
The second Guardians movie won’t surprise anyone who’s seen the first — it’s got the same sense of humor and 80s aesthetic as its predecessor. And just like the first Guardians movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a really fun film. The chemistry between the main characters and witty writing carry the movie forward. While the movie’s villain is relatively bland and the twists are predictable, Guardians Vol. 2 is a solid Marvel movie overall.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
With so much Spider-Man already available, why was Spider-Man: Homecoming necessary? In short, it nailed the titular hero better than any previous incarnation. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker really captures the essence of the character: a witty, brave superhero who, on the inside, is still a regular high school student. These qualities have continued to set him apart from other MCU heroes in later appearances.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Given my mediocre-at-best reception of the first two Thor films, I had almost no interest in Ragnarok prior to its release. Boy, was I wrong — this film is excellent. Director Taika Waititi transforms Thor from a relatively uninteresting character to one of the best superheroes in the MCU. Characters such as Thor and Hulk, who weren’t exactly comic relief before, become more fun in a comedic setting without undermining their pre-established personalities. Overall, Thor: Ragnarok is one of the best MCU movies so far.
Black Panther (2018)
This is a big one. Of course, in terms of representation, Black Panther was a huge milestone as a major superhero film with a primarily Black cast. Beyond that, it’s a really great film. The main characters all have interesting personalities and fantastic chemistry, the action scenes (save for the final battle with its shoddy CGI) are all well done, and the soundtrack (courtesy of Kendrick Lamar and Top Dawg Entertainment) is one of the best in superhero movie history. I’m excited to see how T’Challa and co. fit into the MCU going forward (Infinity War events notwithstanding).
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
The third Avengers movie is, in many ways, the culmination of every previous film on this list. And unlike other films that claim to be the culmination of the entire MCU, Infinity War really feels like it. So much is going on here, yet the various plot lines all fit together to make a cohesive whole. Despite the many, many Avengers that play a role in this film, the villain, Thanos, steals the show. While previous films set him up to be a typical comic villain, Infinity War reveals layers to his character that make his motivations almost sympathetic. In a movie with so many heroes, the true protagonist is the villain — a storytelling feat that should not be overlooked.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
After being so impressed with Ant-Man’s origin story, I knew that I had to watch the sequel for more reasons than one. A formidable villain with a tragic backstory and motivations that actually make sense proves to be a challenge for Pym, Hope and Scott to fight, and Hope finally debuts her own suit (after already proving that she was the superior fighter in the first film). And the post-credits scene? I got chills running up and down my spine when I left the theater, scarred by the synchronous events of the ending of Avengers: Infinity War, with the remnants of Pym and Hope drifting with the wind while Scott was trapped in the quantum realm.
Captain Marvel (2019)
The most recent installment of the MCU sets up another major player from the comics: Captain Marvel. While I loved this film overall, it did have some plot issues. The narrative structure — an origin story told in the wrong order through flashbacks — leads to some plot points and major reveals feeling unsatisfying. However, the movie makes up for these issues with its strong characterization of the protagonist Carol Danvers, as well as a young Nick Fury. Captain Marvel is an incredibly important figure in the comics, and I’m so excited to see how this character interacts with the rest of the Avengers in Endgame and beyond.
So that (finally) wraps it up. With so much content, you would think I would be tired of the constant stream of Marvel movies pouring into theaters. And yet, somehow, I’m not. I still get excited every time Marvel releases a new film. With major changes to the MCU likely imminent in the form of Avengers: Endgame, I'm so excited to see where Marvel goes from here.