In honor of the seemingly next-level crossover event, Avengers: Infinity War, coming out next week, I’ve decided to reflect back on the preceding installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Launched in 2008 with the release of the game-changing Iron Man, the MCU currently includes 17 other films, the most recent being the 10th highest-grossing film of all time, Black Panther.
Here is my ranking of the top three MCU movies of all time, at least until next April 27. (WARNING: Spoilers. And full disclosure: I have not seen The Incredible Hulk, Ant-Man or most of the Thor franchise.)
3. Spider-Man: Homecoming: First off, this is the funniest Marvel movie I’ve ever seen. And to answer your question: Yes, I have seen Deadpool. But I don’t enjoy that kind of humor as much. More generally, though, what I love most about the movie is that it never pretends like Peter Parker (Tom Holland) isn’t a teenager.
Peter being a teenager informs every aspect of the film, from Peter’s immaturity to his struggle with balancing school and Avenging to his social anxiety, especially as the target of a bully (Tony Revolori). Holland’s Peter can be simultaneously likable and frustrating, which works well. Tobey Maguire’s Peter, by contrast, was often annoying and frustrating, which was annoying and frustrating.
Also, shout out to Jacob Batalon, who plays Peter’s BFF Ned, and Zendaya, who plays sarcastic loner Michelle, for stealing the show. Their characters’ one-liners and unapologetically quirky personalities make for some of the film’s best moments.
2. Captain America: The Cap’s first outing will always hold a special place in my heart, because Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) are my favorite MCU couple. Yes, they didn’t have much time together since he heroically crashed a HYDRA plane into the Arctic Ocean and got frozen in time for nearly 70 years. (Don’t you hate it when that happens to your OTP?)
But Steve and Peggy’s development in just this one movie was fun, poignant and very organic.
He always respects her authority and her opinion, while she always challenges him to be the best version of himself, which she knows is the skinny kid from Brooklyn who threw himself on a grenade he didn’t know was fake to save his fellow trainees.
She is, in fact, instrumental in his decision to transition from Captain America the entertainer to Captain America the war hero when he starts becoming disillusioned after his Super Solider Serum glow up. “And these are your only two options? A lab rat or a dancing monkey? You were meant for more than this, you know?”
Additionally, she respects his decision to sacrifice himself for the greater good. She is, of course, heartbroken and tries desperately to figure out some way he can save both himself and civilians. But she never expects him to put himself first for her sake. As a fellow warrior, she understands.
1. Black Panther: I fear that I might not have anything to say about this incredible movie that hasn’t already been said, but I will attempt to do it justice. There are so many ways in which this movie is groundbreaking, from having an almost exclusively black cast to having an entirely female royal guard.
Another revolutionary aspect of the film is its ability to transcend an origin story format. Black Panther details the ascension of Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) to the throne of Wakanda. However, it also reflects on the struggle of being black in America; the morality or immorality of violence; and what defines a community or a people. Furthermore, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who brings those questions to the forefront, is the best — most compelling and nuanced — villain in the MCU.
As a writer, I also very much appreciated the film’s comedic moments. The dialogue is refreshingly witty, and it is delivered to great effect, especially by Letitia Wright, who plays Shuri. The movie infuses humor even in many of its most dramatic moments, which improves rather than detracts from them.