Friday, November 29, 2019
Marvel Cinematic Universe is Cinema Pt. 2: The Infinity Saga Ranked
Part 2: The Infinity Saga Ranked
In the course of 11 years, 23 films would be made to define the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it began with the story of a weapons manufacturer tech who decides to become a superhero and then ends with his protégé who saves Europe from a crazed illusionist. These stories of different superheroes who would all come together and fight off the bad guys as well as deal with themselves and each other while also understanding the benefits of friendship and teamwork. These 23 films represent an evolution of not just filmmaking and visual effects but also how they started off with one film about a superhero and then make films about other heroes, teams, and people who fight off against bad guys and sometimes each other.
The ranking of these films are based on not just my own enjoyment of the films but the importance it made for the MCU so it’s sort of a personal list but with a more critical point of view. I should note that this list and everything else relating to this seven-part series will not include the TV series as (with the exception of Agent Carter) I hadn’t seen Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Punisher, Cloak & Dagger, The Runaways, and Inhumans. I’m not exactly familiar with them while some of those shows were on Netflix and I had no access to Netflix at the time. So the focus will be on the 23 films and shorts of the Infinity Saga period of 2008 to 2019. Here are the 23 films of the Infinity Saga ranked:
1. Avengers: Endgame
The culmination of twenty-one films prior had all lead up to this film as it unlike any other superhero nor blockbuster film out there. Largely for the fact that it was willing to go into different places as well as start off as a bleak and unforgiving film that opens with a major character experiencing loss of the worst kind where he would descend into an extremely dark world. The first fifteen minutes of the film is definitely dark and gloomy that is followed by the narrative shifting to five years later as the Avengers cope with failure. Credit to directors Joe and Anthony Russo as well as screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for doing wonders with the narrative structure of the film. Mainly as much of its first act and part of its second act is about characters coping with loss as well as dealing with the idea that they can do something about it. Even as it focuses on the journey that these ten characters trying to do what is right leading a climatic showdown with Thanos in its third act. It’s a film that clearly owes a lot to the cinema of the past in not just time travel films but also epics from the likes of John Ford, Akira Kurosawa, and Sergio Leone. It would be followed by not just moments of sadness but also an appropriate and perfect ending for one major character that will go down as one of the great endings in film.
2. The Avengers
If film historians will ever trace the history of superhero films, blockbusters, and shared cinematic universe films, it will be in before and after this film. Before this film, there have been attempts at shared universes but studios wanted to focus on one hero and build a franchise around that hero while legal issues and such prevented the idea for the shared universe concept in film. It is in this film that bringing in different superheroes such as Iron Man, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye to become the Avengers to face off Loki and the Chitauri in its climax. What Joss Whedon did wasn’t just create this tremendous story of a group of heroes coming together but also put aside their own differences and personalities for the greater good despite the intentions of Nick Fury.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
A film about a group of misfits who protect the galaxy was a film that had no right to be better than it expected to be. Especially a group like Guardians of the Galaxy whom people outside of the world of comics might not have heard of but would know who they are with this film. James Gunn is a key reason for the film’s success as it brought in a group of dysfunctional figures in a half-human thief, a green-skinned woman-warrior, a big guy who says strange things yet kicks ass, a genetically-mutated raccoon, and a tree-like figure who can only say three words in “I am Groot”. Fighting against a fanatical Kree militant who would defy Thanos as he would wreak havoc on a galaxy over power. Yet, it is this group of misfits that would be exciting while it has these gorgeous visuals and a killer music soundtrack that adds a lot of joy to the film.
4. Avengers: Infinity War
The first of a two-part film is definitely unlike a lot of superhero films in terms of its tone but for the fact that it showcases how powerful Thanos is from the opening scene where he kills half of Asgard and kicks Hulk’s ass in a way that no one expected. It also featured a couple of deaths in beloved characters that would drive Thor to get revenge as it is a film that has a lot going on. Notably with its narrative as it play into the fact that the Avengers have split up and as they would battle Thanos separately with Iron Man teaming up with Doctor Strange and Spider-Man and a few members of the Guardians of the Galaxy while most of the Avengers travel to Wakanda to battle Thanos’ army with Thor arriving with Rocket and Groot to help out everyone. It’s a film that has a lot more than just battles and characters trying to sort themselves out. It’s a film about a villain and what he is willing to do in his quest to collect six infinity stones and wipe out half of the universe with the snap of his finger.
5. Captain America: Civil War
The third and final film of Captain America’s trilogy isn’t just a film that would introduce audiences to Black Panther and a new version of Spider-Man but also a villain in Helmut Zemo who is clearly one of the most underrated antagonists in film. It is a film that explores the past of Steve Rogers’ longtime friend Bucky Barnes who is in danger after being accused of killing King T’Chaka of Wakanda that prompts his son T’Challa to take the mantle of Black Panther. Yet, it’s a film that explore the concept of accountability and responsibility where Tony Stark feels that the Avengers should be accounted for some of the things they did but Rogers disagrees as their disagreement would get ugly. Zemo’s actions would ultimately destroy Rogers and Stark’s friendship and the Avengers with Rogers dealing with its repercussions and guilt over the secret that he had discovered a few years ago.
6. Black Panther
Ryan Coogler’s film is definitely a landmark film not just for the superhero film genre but also for African-American cinema who had seen attempts from filmmakers trying to create black superheroes. Yet, Coogler would create something that is astronomical as well as imagine a country in Africa that was never colonized and had a civilization and technology far more advanced from the rest of the world with its king also being a superhero. It is a film that explore these ideas but also a king dealing with the sins of his father in the form of a mercenary who wants the throne and has legit reasons for wanting the throne. It is also a film that showcases this unique country that is Wakanda with a royal guard played by women as well as princess who is one of the smartest people in the world, and a vegetarian tribe leader who would help out T’Challa despite their philosophical differences.
7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The second film of Captain America’s trilogy is definitely a game-changer for the MCU in terms of its ambition as well as relying on other film genres to help this film stand out on its own thanks in part to Joe and Anthony Russo in the first of four films they would make for the MCU. It’s really a political-suspense thriller in disguise as it has Captain America learning that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been infiltrated by Hydra with its mysterious assassin in the Winter Soldier targeting Steve Rogers and those a threat to Hydra. The film not only features a great villainous turn from Robert Redford as S.H.I.E.L.D. chief Alexander Pierce but also amazing supporting work from Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow and Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon as the latter makes his MCU debut in grand style while the former proves to be a great comedic foil to the more serious Rogers.
8. Thor: Ragnarok
Before this film was released, the character of Thor was an interesting figure but often gets overshadowed by his adoptive brother Loki or the other Avengers as well as being in his own films that fall short in comparison to other films of the MCU. Thanks to Taika Waititi, the character of Thor doesn’t just become front and center but also embarks into a journey that has him coping with loss but also trying to find purpose after learning from his father that he has an older half-sister in Hela who has taken over Asgard following the death of their father. Through Waititi’s offbeat vision, it has a more comical approach that gives Thor new places to venture into while it also brings more layers to Hulk who is seen as a gladiator champion for this garbage-filled planet. The film also introduces the character of Valkyrie who has history with Hela while Loki copes with Thor’s growing indifference towards him as he would go on a path of redemption for himself. The film overall would have Thor, Loki, Valkyrie, and Hulk deal with Hela as it would feature the most appropriate usage of Led Zeppelin on film.
9. Iron Man
The film that started it all for the MCU seemed like another superhero film that was common during the 2000s yet Jon Favreau would create something that is different from the other superhero films of the time. Especially in having Robert Downey Jr. play the titular role/Tony Stark as someone who starts off as not being a nice guy as he is full of himself and seems to be indifferent about a lot of things preferring to create weapons of mass destruction. Yet, when he and a group of soldiers accompanying are attacked by the weapons that he created. Everything changes for Stark as he would use his brain and will to escape a cave filled with terrorists and adopt a new identity in the form of a superhero who would try to save the world. Even as he would try to figure out how to create this new figure and gain a heart in the process while learning that the man who had been at his side and his father’s side in Obidiah Stane is really the man that Stark could’ve been but much worse.
10. Spider-Man: Homecoming
After a successful franchise that plummeted with a disappointing third film and an unnecessary re-boot that didn’t excite many with an awful sequel, it seems like there wasn’t anything more to say for Spider-Man but after his appearance in Captain America: Civil War. He was back and is given a new fresher narrative as it is more about Peter Parker learning to be Spider-Man through the suit that Tony Stark created as well as learn about the ideas of responsibility and action. Tom Holland’s performance as Parker/Spider-Man feels more realistic and energetic than what Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield had done previously. Even as it’s a more grounded film with emphasis on Parker being seen as a high school student and trying to balance his role as a kid and as a superhero but also deal with an antagonist in Adrian Toomes/Vulture, who is played with gusto by Michael Keaton, who is a much smarter villain than the ones Spider-Man had faced before in other films. Even as he is a far more complex individual who has some legit gripes towards the Avengers.
11. Captain America: The First Avenger
The first film of the Captain America trilogy that is helmed by Joe Johnston is a film that harkens back to classic war movies and other films of the 1940s as well as Johnston’s overlooked 1991 adaptation of The Rocketeer. Yet, the film serves as a major breakthrough for Chris Evans in the titular role where he displays that innocence of a young man just wanting to serve his country. The film doesn’t just succeed in creating this world set in World War II where Rogers went from this small skinny kid from Brooklyn and then participate in an experiment where he becomes a big and buff dude yet retains his sense of heart and duty. Featuring great supporting performances from Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes, Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Chester Phillips, Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine, Dominic Cooper as a young Howard Stark, and Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull. It’s a superhero film that manages to do so much more in creating an atmosphere but also proving that the greatest attributes of a hero is in his selflessness.
12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The sequel to the 2014 film isn’t just an exploration of loss but also family as it relates to the ever-expanding band of misfits that would include a Ravager with a heart of gold, an empathic alien who had been sheltered for much of her life, and an android who was previously an antagonist who still bears some issues with her own adoptive sister. It revolves around Peter Quill/Starlord finally learning about who his father is in the form of Ego and what his intentions are leading to all sorts of trouble as they also have to deal with mutinous ravagers and a race of conceited beings who think highly of themselves. It’s a film with a lot of adventure and heart as well as the most adorable thing in the MCU that is… Baby Groot.
13. Spider-Man: Far from Home
The final film of the Infinity Saga doesn’t just play into the aftermath of Endgame but also explores Peter Parker’s maturity as a superhero just as he is coping with loss and the overwhelming expectation to be the next Iron Man when he really just wants to be a normal high school kid. Going on this European trip with his classmates as well as attempting to woo another student, Parker also has to deal with these mysterious forces and team up with Quentin Beck/Mysterio who isn’t exactly what he seems. Even as it involve callbacks from previous films while there are other twists and revelations Parker would face even in the shocking post-credit scene that sees the return of J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson.
14. Ant-Man and the Wasp
A sequel that manages to top its predecessor in not just its visuals but also in furthering its exploration in the theme of family. Peyton Reed definitely loosens things up for the second film as it play into Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne trying to find Janet Van Dyne through the quantum realm. Yet, they’re on the run after Scott Lang’s involvement in Captain America: Civil War with Lang almost finishing his house arrest as he’s trying to start a securities business with his friends and be a father to his daughter. It is a film about family and families trying to reunite as Lang, Pym, and Van Dyne deal with some black market criminals and a mysterious anti-hero in Ava Starr/Ghost who has a legitimate grudge towards Pym and is eager to what Pym is trying to create and the world that is the Quantum Realm that has powers that are beyond description.
Though it was meant to be something different under the vision of Edgar Wright, the eventual final version that was helmed by Peyton Reed still managed to feature some of Wright’s comic sensibilities but also a lot of heart. Notably as it explore the parallel narrative of Hank Pym and Scott Lang with the latter taking on the Ant-Man mantle from the former who is dealing with a former protégé who is perfecting a formula to make humans shrink to the size of ants. Both Pym and Lang are also fathers with the latter trying to help Pym reconcile with his daughter Hope Van Dyne while Lang is trying to be there for his own daughter after being in prison for a few years. It’s a fun film that would feature one of the great supporting players of the MCU in Luis and his comical exposition montage.
16. Doctor Strange
One of the new heroes introduced in the third phase period of the MCU, the film origin story of Doctor Steven Strange is definitely one of the strangest films of the MCU in terms of its visuals that were obviously inspired by psychedelic art work of the 1960s. Yet, Scott Derrickson manages to create something that is unique but also play into a world that is bigger with Benedict Cumberbatch in the titular role as this surgeon who survives an auto accident but is unable to do simple things with his hands. Upon learning about mystical powers and traveling to Nepal where he meets the Ancient One, he learns how to use the mystic arts and becomes humbled by his experience while dealing with dark forces where he knows what he has to do as well as use an Infinity Stone in the Time Stone to his advantage.
17. Captain Marvel
The first film of the MCU that is to be directed or co-directed by a woman in the duo of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck is another origin story of sorts yet in a female superhero who would be a difference maker later in the war against the Thanos. Yet, it is a film that takes place during the mid-1990s where a young woman falls down to Earth after a battle with Skrulls where she meets Nick Fury and later learns about her old identity. The film also makes commentary about the Kree-Skrulls conflict while finding the time to be fun and exciting. Even as it features a cat named Goose and strong supporting work from Jude Law, Lashana Lynch, and Annette Bening and a killer music soundtrack.
18. Avengers: Age of Ultron
The second film in the Avengers film series is definitely the weakest of the four in trying to do a lot in having the Avengers face off against a being named Ultron that Tony Stark and Bruce Banner created as AI being they would hope to use to police the world. Instead, it all goes wrong and the Avengers would also have to deal with Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, respectively) who have a grudge with Stark until they learn what Ultron is planning to do. Despite its flaws, the film does manage to introduce another new hero in Vision as well as establishing the dysfunctional relationship in the Avengers with Hawkeye given more to do as the one who keeps everyone together despite their differences.
The second of three origin stories from the first phase of the MCU comes Kenneth Branagh’s unique take of Thor story as it play into a young god from the planet of Asgard who is banished to Earth by his father due to his arrogance and lust for glory. On Earth, Thor meets a young scientist in Jane Foster and her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig as he learns humility, kindness, and selflessness while also learns what it means to be a hero. It’s a typical narrative expected in origin films but Branagh is able to infuse it with great visuals and some memorable supporting characters that includes Tom Hiddleston making his MCU debut as Thor’s adopted younger brother Loki who would discover something about himself that would shape his own path as a character.
20. Iron Man 3
The first film of the second phase of the MCU doesn’t just explore Tony Stark coping with PTSD following the events of The Avengers but also dealing with aspects of his past and a mysterious villain known as the Mandarin. It does have a few flaws in its narrative yet Shane Black does manage to have Stark go on an adventure and learn about this new experiment that Aldrich Killian had created while getting help from a kid who proves to inventive and smart. Plus, it would also feature Pepper Potts wearing an Iron Man suit as she would prove herself to be a badass and a bigger role she would play in the future.
21. Thor: The Dark World
Originally meant to be a romantic-adventure story under the direction of Patty Jenkins, the final version of the film by Alan Taylor is a bit underwhelming mainly due to a few tonal issues in the narrative as well as Loki stealing the show from everyone including Thor. Still, the film succeeds in being entertaining and funny as well as have Thor step a bit in what he has to do while becoming concerned with Jane Foster who founds herself carrying the Aether that the Dark Elves want as it is later revealed to be an Infinity Stone. It also feature some funny moments including comments from Foster’s intern Darcy as well as Erik Selvig who discovers the joy of not wearing pants.
22. Iron Man 2
The second film of the Iron Man film series is definitely one of the messiest films of the MCU mainly due to the fact that it felt more of a set-up for the Avengers than just being an Iron Man film. Though it features a narrative of Stark dying due to an element in the arc reactor as he’s struggling to find a new one, he also has to deal with a rival weapons manufacturer and a man named Anton Vanko whose father helped Howard Stark in develop ideas for the arc reactor until he tried to sell those ideas to the Soviet Union. Mickey Rourke’s performance as Vanko is a highlight while re-casting the character of Rhodey in Don Cheadle is another smart move in the film. The film would also serve as an introduction to Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow who observes Stark’s behavior as it would relate to the Avengers.
23. The Incredible Hulk
The second film of the MCU is definitely the weakest of the entire saga and for a lot of reasons. Among them was the fact that there was a movie about Bruce Banner/the Hulk that was released five years ago from Ang Lee that wasn’t well-received. Though Louis Leterrier doesn’t repeat the narrative of Lee’s film, it does play more into Bruce Banner being on the run from the U.S. military with a soldier in Emil Blonsky wanting to be the one kill Banner/the Hulk. While Edward Norton’s performance as Banner does have its moments in terms of a few funny bits as well as showcasing the struggle Banner is having. It lacks the warmth and laid-back approach that Mark Ruffalo would bring to the character while the climatic showdown between Hulk and Blonsky’s new persona in Abomination is a bit of a mess.
MCU Short Films/Marvel One-Shots Ranked…
1. Agent Carter
2. Team Thor short series
3. Team Darryl
4. All Hail the King
5. Item 47
6. Peter’s To-Do List
7. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer
8. The Consultant
From 2012 to 2019, the MCU has created some short films that would relate to certain events as it really help to serve as a way to introduce characters outside of the heroes or the heroes themselves in other events. Five short films from 2011 to 2014 that was part of the Marvel One-Shot series served as bridges to the films of the first phase with the best one being Agent Carter as it showcases how cool the character is with Hayley Atwell giving a hell of a performance as the short would lead to the creation of the short-lived but widely-beloved TV series of the same name. The Consultant is the weakest of the One-Shot series as it’s just a brief short that involves Agent Coulson and Agent Sitwell discussing about what should be done with Emil Blonsky as it relates to the post-credit scene in The Incredible Hulk. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer is a much more entertaining short as it showcases what Agent Coulson was doing on his way to Thor's hammer as it involves a stop for gas and a couple of robbers. Item 47 that stars Jesse Bradford and Lizzy Caplan as a couple who rob banks by using a Chitauri gun they found after the events of The Avengers as they would pursued by Agent Sitwell who makes them a deal they couldn’t refuse.
The final One-Shot short film in All Hail the King focuses on Ben Kingsley’s character Trevor Slattery who pretended to be the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 as he’s interviewed in prison while talking about his work as an actor. At the time it was released a year after the release of Iron Man 3, it only touched upon the brief discussions of the Mandarin and the Ten Rings as it was a more comical short that featured a hilarious cameo from Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer from Iron Man 2. Yet with a film entitled Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings coming in a few years, the unveiling of the true version of the Mandarin might be unveiled as well as maybe reveal more of what Slattery had unknowingly uncovered.
The two shorts for Team Thor by Taika Waititi marked a major change for the character of Thor as it would allow Chris Hemsworth to display his comedic skills as Thor is taking a break from his journey to find the Infinity Stones to stay at the home of an office worker named Darryl. The shorts are funny as it play into Thor living on Earth while not sure how things work there. The third short that is more about Darryl moving to Los Angeles with his girlfriend as they both have an unfortunate roommate in the Grandmaster as hijinks ensue. The most recent short from the MCU that appears exclusively for home video release of Spider-Man: Far from Home is essentially a three-minute short that was cut from the final film as it more play into Peter Parker running errands and taking down a Mafia family.
The MCU has also manage to bring in a couple of inspiring promos relating to their films and characters. One of which is from Comedy Central that has Loki talking to children and trying to convince them he’s better than Thor. Another promo that was mainly a commercial for mini-Coke involves Ant-Man stealing a can of mini-Coke from Bruce Banner’s lab which pisses off Banner who turns into the Hulk and chases after Ant-Man. Ant-Man gives Hulk back his Coke but Hulk is unable to open it until Ant-Man opens it while taking a sip and a friendship is born.
Marvel Cinematic Universe: Infinity Saga: Phase One: Iron Man - The Incredible Hulk - Iron Man 2 - Thor - Captain America: The First Avenger - The Avengers
Phase Two: Iron Man 3 - Thor: The Dark World - Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Guardians of the Galaxy - The Avengers: Age of Ultron - Ant-Man
Phase Three: Captain America: Civil War - Doctor Strange - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - Spider-Man: Homecoming - Thor: Ragnarok - Black Panther - Avengers: Infinity War - Ant-Man and the Wasp - Captain Marvel - Avengers: Endgame - Spider-Man: Far from Home
Post-Infinity Saga: Phase Four: Black Widow (2021 film) - Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – (Eternals) – (Spider-Man: No Way Home) – (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) – (Thor: Love and Thunder) – (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) - (The Marvels) – (Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania) – (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3) – (Fantastic Four)
MCU is Cinema: Pt. 1 - Pt. 3 – Pt. 4 – (Part 5) – (Part 6) – (Part 7)
The MCU: 10 Reasons Why It Rules the World
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