My Ranking of the MCU's Phase Two Films
All MCU Phase Two Films Ranked Worst to Best
If you have not read my list "My Ranking of the MCU's Phase One Films" please check it out before you read this list.
Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame are both on the horizon so I felt it the perfect time to continue the rankings of the MCU films. For this installment, I have decided to focus on the MCU's Phase Two films. As with the Phase One list, this is exclusively the movies released by Marvel. No tv shows will be considered.
From what feedback I have heard about the MCU Phase Two films, Phase Two seems to be a mixed bag. The films are either praised or reviled and are ranked as some of the best or some of the worst of the MCU. Phase Two started with Iron Man 3 and includes Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and concluded with Ant-Man.
Before we get into the list, we have to do the standard disclaimer stuff. First, this list is my 100% my opinion. Your list may be different from mine, which is fine. You may have had a different experience with one of these films leading it to be in another spot. We're humans and are bound to disagree on a few entries.
Second, these are not attacks on the movie, they are critiques. I may vent about a film, but know that it is because I see potential not being realized.
Finally, this list is based on my experience with each movie. I do not base my opinion on the opinions of others. I will not criticize a film because of faults other people see in it, only for the flaws I see.
With that out of the way let's get into the list!
#6: 'Thor: The Dark World'
I honestly doubt that this will surprise anyone. The second outing for Thor is much maligned and often cited as the worst movie in the MCU. While I am not going as far as saying its the worst of the MCU, I would have to stop and reflect on that, I am willing to say I consider it to be the worst of MCU Phase Two.
Like the other "worse" entries for Phase Two, I will say that The Dark World has its moments I genuinely enjoy. The battle on Asgard was a great sequence from beginning to end. I loved the way it showed us Heimdall's abilities to detect threats to the realm, and Frigga's ploy to delay Malekith capturing Jane and her ultimate sacrifice.
Other shout outs include Jane discovering the aether, Odin explaining the Dark Elves to Thor and Jane, and the twist ending with Loki revealing himself as the Odin.
I also really enjoyed the scene in which Jane showed the Asgardians that she understood their technology. This one is a bit of a mixed bag to me because I feel like there were moments where they were successful in turning Jane into a strong character but then turned her into a plot device.
Then come the negatives, the main negative being the film is just so bloated. There are several places throughout the film that it seems to go on and on. One example is the sequence where Thor and Loki attempt to get Jane off of Asgard. The sequence is at least twice as long as it needs to be and is overly convoluted for no reason.
Finally, there is the problem with the villains themselves. The Dark Elves are just another faceless army of bad guys that line up for Thor & company to tear through. Besides Malekith and Kurse, none of the Dark Elves have any personality or distinguishing features. Malekith and Kurse are flat and weak characters with Malekith being a rather unimposing primary antagonist.
#5: 'Iron Man 3'
Iron Man 3 was the last Phase Two film I watched, I didn't get to it until after I had seen Infinity War, and honestly did not care for it. Had Thor: The Dark World not been such a drawn-out bore with weaker villains it would be likely Iron Man 3 would be in the last place on this list.
My main gripe with Iron Man 3 is that it sets up an amazing premise that it squanders by using it as a red herring. Iron Man 3 introduces us to Iron Man's big-time comic rival in the Mandarin who has been behind acts of terrorism around the globe. Near the end of the film, we learn that the person we thought was the Mandarin is actually an actor covering for his employer whose Extremis procedure has highly destructive side effects if it goes wrong.
The Extremis storyline is underdeveloped and seems as unnecessary as the cure storyline in X-Men: The Last Stand. It takes away screen time that could have been used to focus the plot around the Mandarin and flesh out the character more. Had the filmmakers left the acts of terror as just that it would have made for a more thrilling movie than the one we received.
I don't want to beat a dead horse so I will wrap this up before it drags into a full rant. My final gripe with Iron Man 3 is it comes off as a waste of time, especially with the MCU in general. It is undermined by the films that followed it, one example of this is the Iron Legion. Tony destroys the other Iron Man suits for Pepper at the end of Iron Man 3, yet a few films later in Avengers: Age of Ultron it is shown he built more suits again and it is never explained why. If the entire film universe goes to undoing what one of its installments did you know something went wrong.
#4: 'Avengers: Age of Ultron'
The sequel to the groundbreaking Avengers had huge shoes to fill, but did it live up to its predecessor's reputation? Short answer, no. Not even close. That is not to say it is a horrible movie, it just pales in comparison to Avengers.
Avengers: Age of Ultron has some good things going for it. Namely, it gives us some incredible scenes and sequences, some of which are among the best of the MCU.
- The sequence where everyone has a go at trying to lift Thor's hammer? Epic.
- Thor's face when Mjolnir shifts as Cap tries to lift it? Priceless.
- Vision effortlessly lifting Mjolnir and handing it to Thor leaving everyone in the room dumbstruck? Exquisite.
- Hawkeye's pep talk to a demoralized Scarlet Witch? Amazing.
- Hawkeye jokingly contemplating to kill Quicksilver? Hilarious.
- The sequence where the Avengers assemble to stop Ultron from reaching the device in the church? Awesome.
- Quicksilver's sacrifice & Scarlet Witch's sensing her brother's death? Heart-wrenching.
- Vision & Ultron's final interaction with Vision jokingly stating he "was born yesterday"? Perfection.
So, if Age of Ultron has so many great scenes why is it ranked so low? In one word, technically a name, Ultron. I don't care for Ultron as a villain at all. He comes off as that spoiled kid we all knew growing up who always had to defy their parents and had a fit when they didn't get their way. I don't understand why they made him this way, they focused far too much on his rivalry with Tony instead of his belief that the world needed to be cleansed to achieve peace.
Also, they under-utilized Ultron's abilities on the internet. They could've shown what havoc he was wreaking on the net but chose not to. We only got one scene where we saw what he could do and it was just showing him wiring money to someone. That's it. He never achieved his goal of getting the nuclear codes before Vision blocked his access to the internet. Vision must've downgraded him to dial-up. Why even bother with the internet angle when you only give us one scene where it is truly relevant?
Starting the top half of the list is Ant-Man. I will be honest, I always forget that Ant-Man is the official end to Phase Two. Not to say that it is a forgettable film, rather it feels like Phase Two ended with Age of Ultron but we were given Ant-Man as a bonus by the Powers That Be at Marvel as penance for some of the above entries.
As with the next two entries, I do not have anything truly negative to say about Ant-Man. The only gripe I have is a part of the second act seems to slow down the pace, particularly around when Scott breaks back into Hank's house to return the suit. It soon picks back up again, but I feel with a few tweaks this section wouldn't seem to slow down what pace the film had built up before it.
With that minor gripe out of the way, let's discuss Ant-Man's positives. First, Ant-Man is HILARIOUS. Michael Peña's Luis is a true standout and his long-winded stories are the funniest parts of the movie. Paul Rudd is also hilarious in a relatable way.
Ant-Man lands at #3 for one reason, when I weighed the three solid films of Phase Two I found that I enjoyed the next two more giving them the top spots over it.
#2: 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
This was an incredibly difficult decision, but I gave the #2 slot to Guardians of the Galaxy. As I stated in my entry for Ant-Man there isn't anything bad I have to say about Guardians of the Galaxy. It's hilarious, the action is amazing, it introduces some of the best characters of the MCU and gives us more information about the Infinity Stones.
Let's get into the nitty-gritty, first, the entire cast just absolutely nails their performances. Each embodies their character to the point that they seem like 100% real people who've had lifetimes worth of experiences before they made it to the screen.
Second, its use of the Power Stone as its plot device drives its own plot forward while progressing the over-arcing plot of the MCU. It even gives us background information about the stones while showing how Thanos is searching for them.
Finally, it gives us some of the best scenes of the MCU. Quill's performance during the opening credits, "I am Groot", Drax's lack of comprehension of metaphors, Rocket's demanding of people's robotic body parts, Groot's sacrifice, the final battle over Xandar, the final dance off, Peter grabbing the stone to save everyone, the list goes on and on.
#1: 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier'
Narrowly edging out Guardians of the Galaxy for the honor of Best MCU Phase 2 film in my book is Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It is my favorite MCU Phase Two film and one of my favorite entries into the MCU to date. Yet a lot of people seem to have a lukewarm response to Winter Soldier. While I understand their complaints that it doesn't tie into the rest of the MCU I do have to disagree, it does impact the rest of the MCU just in a subtle way.
Winter Soldier was the swansong for S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury in the movies who had been the driving force behind finding the Avengers members and getting them to unite and form the team. While Nick comes to the rescue in Age of Ultron his role is then regulated to support allowing the team to function largely on their own. This allows the Avengers to take on bigger and badder threats like Thanos on their own without having to explain why S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't stepping in to help or handle the situation.
Now that is out of the way Winter Soldier has a lot of praises to be sung. First, it has an amazing plot with real world implications. In a world of terrorism, surveillance, information sharing and government secrets, Winter Soldier hits very close to home with its showcasing all of the above.
Second, its pacing and plot make you feel like you are being caught up in a government conspiracy and are on the run. The action sequences dial up the tension and pace until everything comes together in the final confrontation over D.C.
Finally, it develops Cap's character further and rewards his idealism in the best ways. Cap has always been the most idealistic of the Avengers, but Winter Soldier shows us how he is not afraid to tear an entire corrupt system down. We even see his idealism be rewarded after his announcement to the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters when an agent refuses to follow H.Y.D.R.A. orders despite the threat of death for doing so.
"Captain's orders" is one of my favorite lines from Phase Two and the preceding speech from Cap is one of the most iconic scenes from the MCU.