Your Guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: 2017 Edition

The original version of this post was written as Avengers: Age of Ultron comes to theaters. Now, just two years later, there are four more films to add to the listAnd starting with this week’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, we will get five(!) more of these movies by this time next year. This seemed like a good time to check in and look at all of the films released so far, and see the good, the bad, the loose ends, and rate the credits stingers.

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1. Iron Man (dir. Jon Favreau, 2008)

The good: This is the one that launched this whole crazy endeavor. It definitely nails the tone of all of the Marvel films, with a mixture of earnestness and lightheartedness that make them perfectly suited to be popcorn fare.

The bad: Tony Stark still has a long way to go to be a hero beyond acting in his self-interest. It feels like a redemption story, but it actualy takes a while for Tony Stark to truly live up to his promise.

The loose ends: We still don’t know if the Ten Rings are at all connected to The Mandarin.

Post-credits: A tradition begins: Only die-hard comic fans knew who Nick Fury was when this came out, and just hearing the word Avengers uttered on screen was like a dream come true for this lifelong fan. (Nerd score: 5/5)

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2. The Incredible Hulk (dir. Louis Leterrier, 2008)

The good: Established the Hulk’s status quo and introduced the supporting cast without being an origin story. A clear sign that Marvel Studios was headed in the right direction. I also really liked Ed Norton’s take on Bruce Banner, a man truly driven by rationality and science, but trying to do some good even while on the run.

The bad: The story has just enough momentum to get by, and Louis Leterrier’s direction is uninspired.

The loose ends: Before rewatching, I had completely forgotten that Ty Burrell was playing Doc Samson. Not to mention the on screen origin for Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) to become The Leader. We’ve heard mention of The Abomination here and there, but haven’t seen him at all. But finally, after 8 years, William Hurt reprised his role as General Thunderbolt Ross in last year’s Civil War, which is awesome.

Post-credits: Seeing Robert Downey Jr. show up as Tony Stark in a film twice in the same summer was a treat, and while the scene is a funny beat, it seems they decided to change course after it was released, and so it took a short, The Consultant (released on the Thor DVD) to retcon it in order to fit the overall story. (Nerd score: 3/5)

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3. Iron Man 2 (dir. Jon Favreau, 2010)

The good: While this film is kind of a mess, there are still some fun moments. Marvel starts to fill in some history, with the Stark Expo, the Vanko family, and the further development of the universe. There’s a lot of important groundwork here for the next few films. The scene with Robert Downey Jr. sparring with Garry Schandling at a Congressional hearing is delightful, as is Sam Rockwell as ineffectual Stark rival Justin Hammer. Actually, the best part of the film might be Rockwell facing off with Mickey Rourke.

The bad: So messy, and the film completely loses whatever momentum it has with a giant info-dump in the middle of the film. The underdevelopment of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, is a major flaw, but at least she gets a great action scene. Tony Stark’s birthday party, culminating in Rhodey fighting in middle of Stark’s Malibu mansion is the worst scene in a Marvel film to date.

The loose ends: We could always use some more Sam Rockwell.

Post-credits: Agent Coulson reports in on Thor’s Hammer. Serviceable. (Nerd score: 2/5)

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4. Thor (dir. Kenneth Branagh, 2011)

The good: The comedy on display here is perfect, and works well in conjunction with the most far out setting Marvel had attempted to date: Asgard. While it looks underpopulated, the overall design is spot-on, and a great introduction to the Nine Realms. Director Kenneth Branagh was a perfect choice, marrying the Shakespearian speech of Thor and Loki to the quippy Marvel Cinematic Universe. The cast is wonderful, with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster a great scientist as well as romantic lead, Kat Denning’s underrated Darcy, and of course Tom Hiddleston as Loki, elevating the character to new heights. Also, the sound design of the Destroyer is just perfect.

The bad: It’s a bit small-scale, with all of the Midgard action taking place in a remote New Mexico town, but it’s a minor quibble.

The loose ends: All of the cool looking stuff in Odin’s treasure vault was one of the few things not expanded upon in The Dark World

Post-credits: Sets up Doctor Selvig working with the Tesseract for S.H.I.E.L.D. while Loki influences him. Pretty cool since we haven’t seen the cube before. (Nerd Score: 4/5)

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5. Captain America: The First Avenger (dir. Joe Johnston, 2011)

The good: This is the Captain America I always wanted. A period film that combines World War II with secret, crazy history. Chris Evans gives the best performance of any lead actor in a Marvel film, and the technology to create pre-Cap Steve Rogers is impressive. Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull and Toby Jones’ Arnim Zola are note-perfect as the film’s villains, and to date the longest lasting effect on the overall MCU plot.

The bad: While it makes sense to take this film all the way to the end of Cap’s WWII adventures, I just want more.

The loose ends: The Red Skull theoretically is still out there.

Post-credits: Trailer for The Avengers (Nerd Score: 1/5)

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6. The Avengers (dir. Joss Whedon, 2012)

The good: The Avengers is a dream come true. Just seeing these characters…assemble (sorry!) on the big screen for the first time bring with it endless delights. And on top of that, it’s a great movie. Joss Whedon brings the dream to life in both dialogue and character, keeping each hero (and Loki) distinct.

The bad: Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye gets a couple cool moments, but not as much as the rest of the team given his Loki takeover.

The loose ends: Seemed to be wrapped up or furthered in Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: The Dark World, and the Marvel Netflix shows.

Post-credits: There are two here. The mid-credits appearance of Thanos is a nice touch, but the post-credits silent shwarma is absolutely perfect. (Nerd score: 5/5)

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7. Iron Man 3 (dir. Shane Black, 2013)

The good: I really admire how this film puts Tony Stark in a bad spot even before anything else happens. PSTD is somewhat rarely seen on screen, and to have a superhero attempting to deal with the emotional fallout of the previous film is a pretty great idea. While it may not be quite as exciting as having the actual Mandarin show up, the twist is very well accomplished. Also, all of the variations of Iron Man suits are just so much fun. This is a great example of an autuer blending their style in with the Marvel house style.

The bad: Aldrich Killian is the latest in a long line of dud villains, and never truly feels like a match for Tony Stark.

The loose ends: Killian’s evil think tank, A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics), has the best dressed henchmen in all of Marvel comics. I hope they show up eventually.

Post-credits: Tony Stark is telling this story to Bruce Banner. First time Marvel acknowledges internet fandom of “Science Bros” (Nerd score: 3/5)

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8. Thor: The Dark World (dir. Alan Taylor, 2013)

The good: The two Thor films are the hidden gems of the MCU. Not as popular as the rest of Marvel’s output, they offer a mashup of mythology, fantasy, and science fiction that I find completely delightful. And while Malekith isn’t exactly an impressive villain, the final, Portal-esque fight is a total blast.

The bad: The best part of the first film was Thor dealing with Earth, and while the film does bring Natalie Portman to Asgard, it does very little to make this as fun as it should be. It also doesn’t do enough with the Warriors Three (Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg) or Sif for my liking, but I’d be in favor of a spinoff movie about those characters.

The loose ends: Where’s Odin? The Doctor Strange stinger follows up on this, and it will be a plot point in Ragnarok.

Post-credits: The mid-credits scene is Sif and Volstagg visiting The Collector, who later shows up in Guardians. Post-credits, Thor comes back to Earth for Jane. (Nerd score: 4/5)

My original Thor: The Dark World review.

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9. Captain America: The Winter Solider (dir. Anthony and Joe Russo, 2014)

The good: One of the best entries in the MCU so far, Winter Solider melds superheroics and political intrigue that is directly from Ed Brubaker’s run on the Captain America comic, but adding thrillers like Three Days of the Condor into the mix. Anthony Mackie’s Falcon is a welcome addition, having an easy chemistry that is lacking from the Stark-Rhodey relationship.

The bad: The only real complaint I have with this film is the lack of the second title character. While I am sure he will be back in future installments, Bucky blends in to the S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra conflict a little too much, making him feel like the B plot rather than the A plot.

The loose ends: As awesome as it was to see Frank Grillo’s Brock Rumlow (Crossbones) dispatched at the beginning of Civil War, I really want Batroc the Leaper, played by Georges St-Pierre , to return.

Post-credits: Introducing Baron von Strucker, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch, revealing the whereabouts of Loki’s staff. And the Winter Solider visiting the Smithsonian. (Nerd score: 4/5)

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10. Guardians of the Galaxy (dir. James Gunn, 2014)

The good: I love this movie. It’s the closest thing to Star Wars since 1977, blending space opera and damaged characters with wry humor in a way that just works. The most weird Marvel film on paper, director James Gunn treats everything outlandish as somewhat normal, and manages to give a genetically altered Raccoon just about more pathos than any other character from last year.

The bad: The tail end of the film is a bit clunky, as the quick scene with Ronan actually on Xandar feels more like denouement than climax.

The loose ends: Peter Quill’s dad, Thanos’ lust for the Infinity Stones, the whereabouts of Nebula. Two of these are fully answered in Vol. 2!

Post-credits: We visit the remnants of the Collector’s lair, with a cameo by Howard the Duck. Not my jam, bring on Adam Warlock! (Nerd score: 5/5)

My original Guardians review.

11. Avengers: Age of Ultron (dir. Joss Whedon, 2015)

The good: I seem to appreciate this movie more than a lot of other people. Yes, it is a bit messy, but of all of the films in the MCU so far, it feels the most like a classic superhero comic book. Everyone is in peril all the time, the character dynamics are soap opera, and there’s some amazing splash pages. I still believe this film is the essential pivot point for the entire series of films so far, demonstrating how fragile these heroes are, especially as something called The Avengers.

The bad: This film is trying to keep too many plates in the air, and the Thor stuff is especially extraneous.

The loose ends: Both the Thor stuff and Hulk’s whereabouts have been burning questions, at least until we saw the Thor: Ragnarok trailer.

Post-credits: Thanos puts on a gauntlet. Yawn. (Nerd score: 2/5)

My original Age of Ultron review.

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12. Ant-Man (dir. Payton Reed, 2015)

The good: I love that this movie exists. As heartbroken as I was when Edgar Wright left the project, it still managed to achieve a slightly different tone from the other Marvel films, and do a great job of expanding the universe by basically using it as a backdrop to a standalone story. While the other films continue to escalate the stakes, this is a much smaller (ha!) film that is just as satisfying as any of the other films in the franchise.

The bad: There’s no reason they couldn’t have had Hope as Wasp by the end of this movie.

The loose ends: Wasp!

Post-credits: See, there’s already a Wasp suit! Also a quick scene from Civil War. (Nerd score: 2/5)

My original Ant-Man review.

My look back at the Daddy issues that appear all throughout Phase Two.

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13. Captain America: Civil War (dir. Anthony and Joe Russo, 2016)

The good: This is the character payoff to Age of Ultron, as the feud between Tony and Steve splits wide open. Everything that happens in this film is directly driven by consistent character writing, and it completely makes sense. Too many of these films stem from Tony Stark’s Daddy issues, but this film pays it off well. And it manages to stack the deck by adding Black Panther and Spider-Man in ways that work and mostly don’t derail the rest of the film. It also improves on the comic version because both heroes’ positions actually have merit.

The bad: The action choreography could be a bit better here and there, but it’s hard to find story faults with this one.

The loose ends: There’s a ton from this film, including Helmut Zero (Daniel Brühl), Bucky being back on ice, and things are generally in disarray. We’ll be seeing Iron Man this summer, but will we see anyone else besides Spider-Man and Black Panther before next year’s Infinity War?

Post-credits: A tease for more Spider-Man. Remember when these were exciting? I’d take funny again too. (Nerd score: 1/5)

My original review of Captain America: Civil War.

I also did a deeper dive on Tony Stark’s character arc and the adaptation from the comics.

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14. Doctor Strange (dir. Scott Derrickson, 2016)

The good: The visuals in this film are the most directly inspired by the comic art of the 1960s (specifically Steve Ditko here) and that makes them awesome, but they are impeccably well-executed here. The visuals bolster the story and make this stand out much more than it would otherwise. The score is also excellent.

The bad: He’s like Tony Stark, but with magic instead of robot suits! The seams show on the formula here, even if it is a fun ride. Also can we give women something interesting to do?

The loose ends: Baron Mordo, of course, but everything else is wrapped up in a neat little bow.

Post-credits: Teasing Ragnarok but it’s a funny scene, and setting up Mordo for the future. More like these. (Nerd score: 3/5)

My original Doctor Strange review.

And here is my ranking of all 10 MCU films:

  1. The Avengers
  2. Captain America: The Winter Solider
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy
  4. Captain America: Civil War
  5. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  6. Captain America: The First Avenger
  7. Thor
  8. Iron Man 3
  9. Ant-Man
  10. Iron Man
  11. Thor: The Dark World
  12. Doctor Strange
  13. Iron Man 2
  14. The Incredible Hulk

Come back Friday for my full review of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2!

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan has been writing thoughtful film reviews and pop culture commentary on and off for over a decade. He spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area. His other interests include comic books, coffee, experimental beer, discovering new music, and books.

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