Avengers: Endgame hits this week, marking the symbolic end of a generation of bad-to-fine comic-book movies that I’ve paid an unfathomable amount of money to watch in the cinema since I was literally 12 years old. Most MCU movies do not hold to repeat viewings, given that they’re effectively written and directed by populist algorithms, but there are a few notable exceptions. Here I present… the six MCU movies that are actually good.
IRON MAN 2 (2010, Dir: Jon Favreau)
Iron Man 2 is a smart, fun, fast-paced family blockbuster that introduces key elements of the MCU canon (Nick Fury, Black Widow, S.H.I.E.L.D) without getting bogged-down in mythology. Justin Theroux’s script has moments of genius, captured in the opening Senate hearing where Downey Jr faces Garry Shandling, and in two fabulously silly villains: Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell, one a bird-adoring Russian mechanic, one a smooth, dancing ‘Dark Stark’. Iron Man 2 appeals to a very specific sensibility of what an action comedy should be (ie. Mine) and I love it dearly.
THE AVENGERS (2012, Dir: Joss Whedon)
Joss Whedon’s Avengers screenplay deserved an Oscar nomination. When I was 14, this instantly became one of my favourite movies; it’s a near-perfect team-up adventure with a sharp sense of self-awareness and an intensely charismatic cast. In hindsight, it visually resembles a CGI toilet bowl and Whedon’s endless post-postmodern jokes start to become insufferable, but Avengers was the foundation upon which the Marvel empire was built and it’s easy to see why.
IRON MAN 3 (2013, Dir: Shane Black)
Iron Man 3 subverts every expectation set up by Iron Man 2 and Avengers and offers a delightful Shane Blackian spin on the Stark character as a stripped-down, pistol-carrying action hero. Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin provides the MCU’s smartest twist. Bryan Tyler’s score is still an absolute treat. And Downey Jr gives possibly his best performance of the last 20 years.
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016, Dir: Scott Derrickson)
It’s quite outrageous that there still isn’t a greenlight on a Doctor Strange sequel. It’s a ton of fun: Benedict Cumberbatch is an adequately silly protagonist, Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen chew every inch of scenery, Derrickson completely rips off Inception’s visuals but with amusing results and Michael Stuhlbarg even shows up in a couple of shots. Doctor Strange wastes no time being entertaining.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014, Dir: Joe and Anthony Russo)
The first and last time a Marvel movie cared about atmosphere, this resembles a poor man’s Mission: Impossible more than its MCU sister films. Henry Jackman’s score is the best Marvel have ever had, and gives momentum to what’s effectively a superpowered remake of Three Days of the Condor. The Nick Fury armoured car sequence is genuinely thrilling and Robert Redford himself shows up as the rare — oh so rare — genuinely compelling MCU villain. It goes to shit in the third act, but Winter Soldier is a legitimately rewarding thriller.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014, Dir: James Gunn)
James Gunn delivered a meme-friendly, all-ages explosion of energy with 2014’s Guardians, a shabbier, rattier, funnier Avengers with a really excellent script and an even better soundtrack.
Honourable mentions: Spider-Man: Homecoming, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor: The Dark World, Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man and Black Panther are all… fine