7. Captain America: the Winter Soldier
The first sequel starring Captain America introduced the Russo Brothers to the MCU, and showed how much the siblings behind many episodes of Arrested Development and Community could bring to the table.
The Winter Soldier switches the tables of the world set in the Phase 1 of the franchise, as Captain America has to fight S.H.I.E.L.D., which is revealed to have fallen under Hydra, while facing a threat that comes from his very past: Bucky, his best friend, now a ruthless assassin under the name Winter Soldier.
The film feels very refreshing, as it has no fear of going deep into “political thriller” territory, while keeping a more than decent amount of compelling action. With personal and political issues at stake at the same time, Winter Soldier uses Steve Rogers in the best way possible, and is an accomplished work, far more interesting than most superhero movies.
6. Iron Man
The one which started it all, Iron Man (2008) is now officially the first film of what is being called the Infinity Saga. If the film had failed, all plans for a larger shared universe would have probably been discarded, since this was the first film Marvel produced on its own (distribution was given to Paramount). Some of their most successful characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men had already starred in other companies’ films, so Iron Man was chosen to start a new wave of Marvel movies.
It was a success, and immediately made an icon out of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. The film still holds up, as it benefits from a fresh approach from director Jon Favreau who made the actors often improvise on set, giving Iron Man an engaging, even if sometimes clunky, feel.
The design, the effects, the first set-up for Avengers (Nick Fury appears in the post-credits scene), Downey’s charisma, everything works to make sure the viewer has a great time.
5. Avengers: Endgame
Avengers: Endgame is basically three movies in one. It begins as a mostly dramatic film about people in grief trying to get over their losses, then it becomes a fun-filled adventure movie about time travel (this section also functions as a big homage to the MCU’S past history), and ends as a war movie, with an epic battle of gigantic proportions.
How is it possible to say if the film is good or bad? It is so many different things at the same time that none of the usual criteria can be applied to it. What can be said is that Endgame is undeniably impressive, and most importantly it actually works as an ending to a 22-film long narrative, a really difficult task considering the emotional weight these characters have brought to the table since 2008. Its sheer scope is praise worthy, and it is an unforgettable viewing experience.
4. Marvel’s The Avengers
Along with Kevin Feige, the mastermind behind the first phase of the MCU is Joss Whedon. Feige had produced every film since Iron Man, and when it was clear that the universe shared by the characters could actually led to a team-up, he chose Whedon as the man to make it cohesive and actually write/direct the first Avenger film. It is easy to forget how big an event the film was when it came out: the world had never seen such a culmination of different films into one.
The movie now seems somewhat simplistic and naive, but it is not really an issue because of how clearly the film is supposed to feel like a comic book. Whedon is an expert of quirky dialogue, team dynamics and superhero mythos: The Avengers puts these three elements together and becomes a excitingly fun ride. Sure, it is entertainment cinema, but entertainment cinema rarely gets better than this.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) constitutes a fundamental moment in the MCU’s history: it was the first time the franchise proved it could be successful even without household characters.
Sure, in the late 2000s characters like Iron Man or Thor were not universally known like others (Spider-Man or Captain America, to name a few), but still, they were very famous. When Guardians was announced, arguably only comic book fans (and not even all of them) knew who they were.
Things quickly changed: Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Racoon and Groot immediately became iconic characters. This happened due to the unique treatment these anti-heroes were given by writer/director James Gunn, who did not shy away from underlining their unlikable traits and as a result gave them more interesting personalities.
The film also made extensive use of infectious musical sequences and took the right amount of inspiration from films like Star Wars or The Dirty Dozen, making it an original piece of filmmaking and a gem between the often formulaic MCU entries.
2. Avengers: Infinity War
The most ambitious MCU movie up to that point (perhaps even the most ambitious in cinema history), Infinity War featured almost every major character of the franchise in a crossover the likes of which were unprecedented. Still, this is more than a Thanos movie than an Avengers movie: every storyline involving the heroes moves around Thanos’ intentions.
With so many characters and storylines, it is impossible for the film to be in any way cohesive; this is obviously taken into account by the filmmakers, and every shortcoming of the plot (there are lots of them) is perfectly balanced by the sheer entertainment value of seeing beloved characters work together. There is so much happening in Infinity War that there is little space for the characters, and there is no real story arc to any of them, but it is really difficult not to enjoy a film with this scope and ability to entertain.
1. Captain America: The First Avenger
With a perfectly cast Robert Downey Jr. and a fresh approach to the superhero genre, the first Iron Man movie is the most popular MCU movie released before The Avengers, but from a strictly cinematic point of view, the first Captain America is the most accomplished one the franchise ever produced.
There were some doubts regarding Chris Evans (formerly the Human Torch) and the timeliness of an hero so straight-forwardly patriotic that he risked being boring. Veteran director Joe Johnston and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who later wrote Infinity War and Endgame as well) delivered much more than a period movie with superheroes.
The film is exciting, moving and smart at the same time, and laid ground for some of the best recurring themes of the whole franchise. The First Avenger does not miss a beat, and is a perfectly enjoyable film for those who do not care about the “shared universe” idea, as well as those who rejoice in seeing Howard Stark, Bucky, the Red Skull and many other characters that are important for the bigger picture.