20. Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)
Coming between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame – ie, post-snap – Ant-Man and The Wasp was put in an awful position to succeed, the creative minds behind the film having to choose between embracing the actions of Infinity War or ignoring them altogether. They chose the latter (at least until the film’s final moments), but what fans wanted was something of an indicator as to what was to come in Endgame, or at least a taste of post-Infinity War’s MCU landscape, and the comedy-centred light-heartedness of an Ant-Man movie was an example of Marvel Studios not taking a minute to read the room.
More than that, Ant-Man and The Wasp felt scaled down from the original, its outlandish creative ideas brought into line with the wider MCU look and feel of things, making a promising sequel to a moving and hilarious comedy one of the studio’s most formulaic and typically “superhero movie” releases to date – the “formula” not being necessarily bad, but certainly overplayed.
19. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Adored by some and maligned by others, Iron Man 3 simply came about much too early, screenwriter-director Shane Black’s offerings of genre and trope deconstructions – most notably the choice to twist a genuinely fascinating villain into a trope-ridden stereotypical bad guy as a form of commentary – being things usually reserved for the dying days of a genre, not for one of its peaks.
This film was the follow up to The Avengers where Tony Stark had almost died, so Black’s smarts didn’t hit as they could have much later in the studio’s line-up – people wanted emotion and stakes, as well as suitable conclusions to character arcs, and Black’s work was seen to undermine that, the very strong work in several aspects of this film ultimately shunned to the background of a film dominated by a creator’s singular intention seemingly forced into the canon at the wrong time.
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18. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Of all the central Avengers films, Age of Ultron is by far the most forgettable and easily the worst.
As with any major team-up movie, Age of Ultron had its moments – some of which were genuinely inspired, awesome bits of fan-service – but it felt like Avengers 2 was striving to be more of the same instead of something more exciting or more profound, and at a time when we’d already seen the genre-shaping Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, that just wasn’t enough, this film feeling like a throwback to an earlier phase rather than a look forward to a more exciting time. Avengers 2 was simply too low-stakes, its introductions of characters and locations being too transparent to hold any weight or emotional impact, the film being more of an important lesson to Marvel Studios than a monumentally enjoyable watch for any of us.
17. Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
Spider-Man: Far from Home has some of the most visually remarkable sequences in all of the MCU, the scenes in which Peter Parker is forced into dream-scapes of avant-garde nightmare imagery and spectacular visual effects being truly astonishing, but it suffered from the playful coming-of-age tropes of the original being stripped of their playfulness – MJ simply being MJ rather than a character with agency or even her typically dysfunctional charisma, Peter’s plethora of interesting classmates relegated to machines through which the film delivered expository dialogue or aligned viewers with what the “morally correct” point of view was, Peter no longer seeming like a fish out of water because of how the newness of superherodom and its related technologies was no longer new to him – while the narrative itself felt very much like a coming of age film for a character who had already come of age in other movies.
As Spidey grew away from his own franchise, his own franchise was made to lose out on its key selling point of seeing Peter Parker as a child in high school struggling with growing into his new body while dealing with the emotional rollercoasters of school romances, social pressures and so on – something that not even additional central MCU characters, exceptional CG and powerhouse new cast members could help fix.
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16. Captain Marvel (2019)
Captain Marvel was stripped of its opportunity for visual independence and warped into the same bland colour palette and CG-mechinations as the likes of Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World and Ant-Man and the Wasp, and was even placed in the most unfortunate position on the release calendar – between Infinity War and Endgame, despite not being related to either. It didn’t have the musical advantages of fellow debuts Guardians of the Galaxy or Black Panther, and barely leaned into its 1990s nostalgia that gave it one of its unique selling points, but it was a film that borrowed from the same narrative and dialogue tropes that ultimately tanked Age of Ultron (at least in terms of critical reception), a movie that ultimately illustrated the studio’s intent on making something safe rather than challenging.
Were it not for the very concept of a woman leading a Marvel movie being so strange and brand new 11 years into the studio’s run, and all of the joy that came from moments of empowerment and badassery because of that, this film wouldn’t have been able to hit the heights that it did.