Marvel Cinematic Universe – Phase 2: A Ranking
After conducting my definitive ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase 1, it felt appropriate to also put to numbers how I feel about MCU's Phase 2.
Phase 2, like Phase 1, began with an "Iron Man" movie. While this phase was mostly filled with sequels, it did introduce audiences to two brand new franchises that had an unlikely chance of success but ended up retaining Marvel Studios' streak of success.
#6 - Thor: The Dark World (2013)
I'll repeat myself in case you didn't read my ranking of MCU's Phase 1: the first and the second Thor movies just didn't do it for me. I can't think of anything incredibly awful about them, but they just didn't happen, just didn't come to life for me. "The Dark World" is a little more serious than the first film, which was a good call, but the plot is convoluted, Jane's presence (and Thor's entire love story) is useless, and even Loki's wittiness doesn't feel as awesome as I remembered it. It doesn't help that it was the third time we saw him on screen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a span of very few years.
They had to keep Thor's story going, so this was a necessary movie.
#5 - Iron Man 3 (2013)
Boy, 2013 was a tough year for my fandom of Marvel Studios. I know "Iron Man 3" has a couple of fans out there, and it's not like I hate the movie... It's just that my expectations of the Iron Man franchise were the highest, and this third installment just didn't deliver to audiences anything new or exciting about the character and his journey. The plot was teased as this film being Tony Stark's first time realizing that he was aging, but that whole thing fell flat as everybody knew Iron Man wasn't going anywhere and that the suit made him capable of just about anything.
Maybe the movie's attempt to discuss Tony Stark's legacy would've worked if the hero was truly retiring (or close to retirement) at that point in the timeline, but on the contrary – Iron Man was just getting started! The film holds up as yet another very good Marvel movie, even if it doesn't deliver the same excitement we once felt for the first "Iron Man."
#4 - Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Ah, the Avengers movie that dropped the The. Listen, "Age of Ultron" is cool, but it's pretty much a convoluted 2-hour commercial for what was next in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The villain, Ultron, had the potential to be absolutely incredible and menacing, but for some reason that robot just didn't feel like that big of a deal, like that just wasn't more threatening than the freaking alien invasion the Avengers had to fight against the first time they got together.
Also, the team-up aspect just didn't feel as awesome as it did the first time. To freshen things up, Marvel Studios added the heroes Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Vision to the lineup, but audiences didn't really know them, and we hadn't really followed them in solo movies at all, so they didn't carry the same emotional weight other heroes possessed. No matter what, people couldn't feel that invested in them. Overall, it's still a pretty cool movie with funny moments and dozens of Easter Eggs for fans to collect.
#3 - Ant-Man (2015)
I bet many will find my placement of "Ant-Man" controversial, but I beg to differ. This movie was, by far, the riskiest thing Marvel Studios had ever done at that point. The hero looks ridiculous, his name is stupid, and his power is debatably not that awesome. After two Avengers movies where heroes had to literally save the world from catastrophic events, following a guy trying to impress his daughter also didn't feel urgent, to say the least.
And yet, "Ant-Man" simply worked. It was funny, exciting, and something completely different for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It came out the same year as "Avengers: Age of Ultron," and it was refreshing to see a movie with a beginning, middle, and end, that didn't feel like just a big commercial for other Marvel Studios properties. Not to mention that Paul Rudd was awesome as Scott Lang and Evangeline Lilly killed it as Hope van Dyne. So much so that the sequel to Ant-Man was announced as "Ant-Man and the Wasp," therefore including in the title the superhero Hope van Dyne becomes. Did I mention that "Ant-Man" was an unbelievable hit in China?
#2 - Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
It was very hard to place this movie as #2, because it certainly deserved the #1 spot. "Guardians of the Galaxy" was the runaway hit of 2014. It was all of the talk of that year. It rebranded Chris Pratt, of "Parks and Recreation" fame, as a talented, muscular, bonafide action movie star. He would later have another hit on his hands: "Jurassic World."
Everything goes right in "Guardians of the Galaxy." Peter Quill / Star-Lord was exciting to watch, Gamora was a bad ass, and Rocket, Groot, and Drax were absolutely hilarious. The movie is fresh, completely separate from the rest of the MCU, and offers an entire introduction to five Marvel heroes that were completely unknown to audiences at that point. If Iron Man became a pop culture staple after his 2008 film, then the Guardians were the freaking Beatles in 2014. You couldn't go anywhere without seeing or hearing about Groot, and deservedly so. "Guardians" took Marvel Studios out of the box, proving that a risk could pay off in a massive way.
#1 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
After a steady career in television, the Russo brothers (Anthony and Joe) were called upon to direct the second installment of the Captain America franchise. I think that if it wasn't for them, MCU's Phase 2 could've crashed and burned, entering Phase 3 on a very low stamina and with real uncertainties. However, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" was one of the most well-done and awesome superhero movies of all time. The Russo brothers took the character of Steve Rogers very seriously and accelerated his story to an espionage pace that Marvel Studios had never explored before. This movie was so well-regarded that, for the time time, it didn't feel like Iron Man was the center of MCU any longer. It was now Cap.
Also, the Winter Soldier came as a great villain to exist in the MCU, something Marvel Studios was struggling to find since Loki lost his mojo. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" felt like a high-stakes, yet incredibly personal movie to watch. It was phenomenal to follow Steve's dilemma as he wanted to be a dutiful soldier but also needed to be true to his instincts that something was wrong about the team that surrounded him. Some go as far as considering this film to being the true successor to "The Avengers," as it changed the landscape of the Marvel Cinematic Universe much more than "Avengers: Age of Ultron" (the actual team-up sequel) did.