26. Captain Marvel (2019)
“I’ve been fighting with one arm tied behind my back. But what happens when… I’m finally set free?”
Marvel’s first superhero movie with a woman in the lead (incidentally among the most powerful superheroes from the comics) is a pretty standard origin story of a pilot gaining powers in an otherworldly accident with some plot-driving amnesia thrown in.
Captain Marvel’s cosmically-powered fights, humour and neat sci-fi visuals are somewhat spoiled by a few missteps elsewhere. It’s a shame they had to use distracting not-quite-there de-ageing VFX and some laboured 1990s needle drops and pop culture references in an attempt to root it in time 20 years before the rest of the MCU, but Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson and Jude Law still give memorable turns.
25. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
“This time it’s gonna take more than killing me to kill me!”
Sam Raimi’s return to superhero filmmaking fifteen years after Spider-Man 3 wasn’t the slam-dunk we all hoped for, but he brought his usual style of mischievous mayhem and a respectable amount of horror imagery to the MCU in Strange’s first solo sequel, which sees the superhero sorcerer protecting a teen runaway from an ally-turned-adversary.
It’s great to see Raimi back in the world he was instrumental in popularising, and he can be seen to be pushing what he can get away with in the visuals for a 12A/PG-13 movie (including a “Deadite” Strange), but this does have the feel of something awkwardly rewritten multiple times to accommodate both fans and pandemic delays.
Be warned: anyone who hadn’t seen all of the plot setup in ‘Wandavision’ might feel somewhat bewildered by a lot that occurs here.
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24. Black Widow (2021)
“You both have killed so many people. Your ledgers must be dripping, just gushing red. I couldn’t be more proud of you.”
Scarlett Johansson had to wait ten whole years after Natasha Romanoff’s debut in Iron Man 2 before getting her own movie exploring the Russian defector spy’s past coming back to haunt her, and by the time it actually came out it felt an awful lot like the ship had sailed.
Becoming steadily more generic as the minutes pass, and providing sadly few moments of distinct directorial flare from indie favourite Cate Shortland (Berlin Syndrome), Black Widow at least has plenty of hard-hitting set-pieces and killer performances from Johansson, Florence Pugh and David Harbour as the most screwed up family of assassins around.
23. Thor (2011)
“I now take from you your power! In the name of my father and his father before, I, Odin Allfather, cast you out!”
Kenneth Branagh brought Shakespearean gravitas to Asgard and warm sitcom repartee to the Earthbound scenes in Thor Odinson’s first big-screen appearance, where he finds himself exiled to Midgard in order to overcome his pride and prove himself worthy of his power.
Nobody has as good of a voice for epic narration as Anthony Hopkins, his Odin overseeing his realm’s security and its ultimate fate under the rule of either the vain and reckless Thor or the treacherous and resentful Loki. The fantasy battles feel a bit quaint now and some the visuals have aged poorly more than a decade later, but it remains a lot of fun and the performances from Hemsworth, Portman and especially Hiddleston still crackle.
22. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
“Sorry, I had to come up with a name for my ant. I’m thinking Ulysses S. Gr-Ant.”
Ant-Man’s third appearance is an energetic chase movie through San Francisco that, with its family-centric mad science plot, doubled down on the Ant-Man series and its cast of characters being among the funniest and most earnest in the MCU.
Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang started at the bottom now he’s… still there really. But, with his complete dedication to his daughter driving him, and powerful allies in Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp and Michael Douglas as ex-Ant-Man Hank Pym, the team embark on a zippy size-shifting adventure that quickly loses focus and wastes some of its cast but is likeable enough knockabout fare.
21. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
“The city is flying and we’re fighting an army of robots. And I have a bow and arrow. Nothing makes sense.”
The sequel to the biggest superhero film of the time gives us a double-helping of memorable character interplay and the debut of super-twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (“He’s fast, she’s weird”), and the android Vision, but the plot is unnecessarily convoluted at times and some of Joss Whedon’s worst habits as a writer come to bear.
In hindsight, it was probably a mistake to make your big maniacal robot baddie quip so incessantly, as silky smooth as James Spader’s vocal delivery was. The rapid-fire banter between the team still works like gangbusters, and the superpowered fisticuffs – particularly “Hulkbuster” Iron Man doing what it says on the tin – is pretty stunning to look at.
Whedon may have been instrumental in making the MCU the juggernaut it is, but it was definitely the right move to bring in some new blood for the next round of big team-up movies.
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20. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
“I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies; I don’t care where they’re from.”
A rip-roaring intentional throwback to serial storytelling and Marvel’s own early wartime comics, The First Avenger has a tricky balance to strike between serious and silly, and The Rocketeer director Joe Johnston usually gets it right.
Following Robert Downey Jr, Marvel made another blinding casting choice with Chris Evans, a man born to play Cap, the embodiment of human decency. It might be an overly simplistic fantasy depiction of warfare (America fighting Super-Nazis solo), but the action is creative and Alan Silvestri’s instant classic, toe-tapping score featuring catchy spoof propaganda song “Star Spangled Man” easily takes up residency in your brain.