With Avengers: Endgame, Marvel/Paramount’s/Universal’s/Disney’s “The Infinity Saga” has come to its end. Even though producer Kevin Feige now says the upcoming Spider-Man: Far From Home is the actual end of “Phase Three,” which started back in 2016 with Captain America: Civil War, or: The Avengers 2.5, Endgame is the right place to stop. (No spoilers, but on so many levels it’s the place to stop).
Oh, hey, I realized “Phase Three” is the post-Perlmutter era of Marvel.
Anyway, I’ve only seen the first two Marvel movies twice and the second time on Hulk was the fan-extended version. So I’m not comfortable giving a numbered list; instead tiers.
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Or: The Disneyfication of Superhero Movies Is a Good, Actually
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017, Jon Watts)
- Black Panther (2018, Ryan Coogler)
- Avengers: Infinity War (2018, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)
- Captain Marvel (2019, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)
Notice they’re all from well into “Phase Three?” I’m fairly sure Feige didn’t really come into bloom as a producer of these pictures until after Perlmutter was gone and he started getting positive reinforcement from the Disney fellows. “Phase Three” is also when Feige got to stop listening to the creative committee.
Of the four films, I’d say I’m most impressed with Infinity War just because there’s so much to it. Homecoming is probably my favorite? Though Black Panther’s the best made overall. Captain Marvel… might be better than Homecoming. With these four films, Feige does exceptionally well. Panther had the most impressive cast of a Marvel movie ever, Homecoming proved Spider-Man works, and Captain Marvel has the first strong lead in a Marvel movie since Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 3. Good stuff. And all of them are better than proof of concept for the Marvel-style movie, they’re successful Marvel movies.
Or: Almost There and Just Missed
- Iron Man 2 (2010, Jon Favreau)
- Captain America: The First Avenger (2011, Joe Johnston)
- Iron Man 3 (2013, Shane Black)
- Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018, Peyton Reed)
- Avengers: Endgame (2019, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)
The second tier of Marvel movies is the “almost there” tier. The ones where, at some point during the film, it seems like they’re going to bring it all together. They’ve got all the right pieces. The Iron Man sequels have great Robert Downey Jr. performances, Don Cheadle, Gwyneth, real supporting actors—Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Hall. But then something just doesn’t work. They can’t quite make it; the Marvel house style hasn’t been perfected.
Captain America is a little different of a situation, though it’s from Feige and Marvel’s attempt to play the second two productions “straight.” For Captain America, they got Joe Johnston (beloved for The Rocketeer, forgiven for all else) to direct. Chris Evans got the title role even though he had the Fantastic Four strike against him and, frankly, not much existing breakout potential, even though he’d been quite good in quite a few things. And they spent on the supporting cast enough—aughts standard villain Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones—and it worked. Almost.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is a totally different situation. It’s a successful proof-of-concept, which the first film didn’t provide. Marvel movies come off so finished—and, frankly, the “Phase Two” material is so weak for the most part—it’s gotten to the point it doesn’t seem they can improve in the sequel. But Wasp does, without the advantages the Iron Man sequels or Captain America had.
Then Endgame is a fine conclusion to the “Infinity Saga” but a crappy sequel to Infinity War.
Or: Nothing Special Albeit Somewhat Spectaculars
- Thor (2011, Kenneth Branagh)
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)
- Ant-Man (2015, Peyton Reed)
- Captain America: Civil War (2016, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)
Thor is also from when Marvel tried to play it straight-face and hired Kenneth Branagh to make Asgard Shakespearian but not. It’s pretty good, especially considering how absurd the whole idea of a Thor movie seemed back then. Just getting to the end credits without the theater breaking out in laughter at some of the silly… well, Branagh and company did it.
Let’s talk about the two Captain America sequels which owe it all to Ed Brubaker and Mark Millar. They’re overwrought in a lot of ways, maybe because no one can figure out how to give Chris Evans a character to play. But there’s a lot of good in each of them, though I remember Winter Soldier never quite getting as close to succeeding as Civil War. Winter Soldier was a S.H.I.E.L.D. movie for Scarlett Johansson and Sam Jackson more than an Evans vehicle. Then Civil War brought in Robert Downey Jr. and all but two of the Avengers so it just felt like an Avengers movie. Again, nothing for Evans to do.
And the first Ant-Man was all right. Fun. Aimed very much at the tween audience. Paul Rudd. He’s usually reliable. Of course, the big story with Ant-Man is it was meant to be a mainstream auteur project for Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim). He walked. Presumably he got paid for some of the extensive pre-production work he’d done.
Or: Origins of the Marvel Cinematic Universe
The first two MCU movies are about on par with one another. Iron Man has a better budget, but Hulk has a better director. Both have great leads. Both have kind of crappy villains. Only Iron Man doesn’t go full CGI for the last third or whatever and, even though the CGI’s fine, it’s still just a very budgeted brawl. Hulk had more sequel promise though. Shame it didn’t get one. Also a shame the extended version never got a release, instead just fans piecing it together from the DVD.
Or: Sure, Fine, But I Never Ever Want to See It Again
- The Avengers (2012, Joss Whedon)
- Thor: The Dark World (2013, Alan Taylor)
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, James Gunn)
- Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015, Joss Whedon)
- Doctor Strange (2016, Scott Derrickson)
- Thor: Ragnarok (2017, Taika Waititi)
Yes, Thor 3. Though it’s definitely the one I’d watch again if I had to watch once of them again. Then maybe Ultron just because Scarlet Witch is cool and Vision is awesome. After that I’d probably watch Doctor Strange before Dark World or Guardians. I know Avengers 1 is last because the first half of the movie is so boring, but Thor 2 or Guardians would depend on runtime. Less wins. And Dark World does almost have that wonderful finish. Just like the Raimi Spider-Man missed the boat on Ultimate Spider-Man, Thor 1 and 2 really could’ve leveraged Thor: The Mighty Avenger and basically given the MCU the best Superman since 1978.
Or: To the last I grapple with thee; from Hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee
“Man, come on, I had a rough night, and I hate the fuckin’ Guardians of the Galaxy 2, man.”