Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hits theaters this weekend, adding yet another film to the blockbuster Marvel Cinematic Universe. The return of Peter Quill, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, Drax and Groot expands the MCU to 15 films now. That’s a lot of superhero spectacle to enjoy, and audiences know that the Marvel brand is a stamp of quality entertainment that few film studios are matching right now.
To commemorate the release of Guardians Vol. 2 and to acknowledge the cultural phenomenon that Marvel movies have become, we asked The Comeback staff to pick the best of the bunch. (And to make the discussion as diverse as possible, we allowed films that aren’t in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be included. So Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four movies were eligible. Nitpick if you please.) We’ve got a pretty strong mix of favorites here and hope you’ll join in the conversation as well.
What is the best Marvel movie?
While the first Avengers movie is probably the most impressive overall feat in the MCU, my favorite Marvel film is actually our introduction to the First Avenger.
The first Captain America installment remains the only period piece, functioning as an homage to old-school action-adventure movies, with a dash of comic book science fiction as well. That it made you care about the characters is what stands out.
And then it had to tie that story to the modern-day MCU as well, which it did more effectively than we could have hoped for. The last line of the film remains the most gutting moment in any of the Marvel movies, and Captain America: The First Avenger earned every bit of that.
So, I have a confession: I’m not a huge fan of the Marvel universe, or of most superhero movies. But I loved Guardians of the Galaxy. I knew nothing about it when I walked into the theater, other than the involvement of Chris Pratt, but I was blown away.
The humor (and adult-tinged humor at that; the “under a black light, it looks like a Jackson Pollock painting” line killed me), the team dynamics between the different characters, the cool space locations and the stellar soundtrack really pulled me in. It struck me as a solid sci-fi film that just happened to feature superheroes, or a superhero movie for people who don’t like superhero movies. And I can’t wait to see the sequel.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up liking the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, considering I wasn’t interested in seeing it at first and knew nothing about the characters. My wife actually convinced me to see it, and proved why husbands should listen to their wives. It was a blast, and I can watch it any time. That said, I still think Captain America: Civil War is right up there for me, largely because Spider-Man was… amazing.
Iron Man isn’t just the best Marvel movie, it’s the greatest superhero film of all time. (Sorry, The Dark Knight.) What makes Iron Man so good is that it’s completely accessible to people who don’t enjoy comic book films. Even if you know nothing about Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr.’s performance is sheer joy. Who wouldn’t enjoy him cracking jokes and living the life of a charismatic playboy? Downey is a compelling actor and he breathes life into Tony Stark. He’s as much fun in the suit as he is out of the suit.
Origin storylines in movies can be clunky. Sometimes, they get in the way of the plot. The storyline here isn’t complicated. It’s easy to follow and understand. Weapons manufacturer Stark invents a special weapon out of necessity and desperation. Somebody else wants to usurp that technology for his own personal and evil gain. But the true miracle of this movie? It will make you like kooky Gwyneth Paltrow. She’s great as Pepper Potts.
I like nearly all of the Marvel movies — except Thor: The Dark World, the one misstep in Marvel’s pop culture takeover. A big reason for Marvel’s success is that they think beyond superhero films. Many of the movies stand alone as industrial espionage, mythic fantasy, spy thrillers and heist capers. But Marvel also translated what was on the comic book page to the big screen.
No movie does that better than The Avengers. Marvel Studios was tremendously ambitious in combining all of its properties into one team-up blockbuster, exactly what the Avengers concept was as a comic book. Meshing multiple characters and storylines, Joss Whedon created the signature event of Marvel’s cinematic universe and the model which every other film studio is trying to emulate now.
There’s nothing fun or vibrant about Logan, and like another great Marvel movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s kind of a square peg in the round hole that is your typical superhero movie. Logan is more of a contemporary Western, if the anti-hero has six indestructible claws instead of a six-shooter, and like many of the great Westerns it’s engulfed in an almost overwhelming dread that at any point one or all of our heroes will die.
A lot was made about Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold finally getting to show the bloody, hyper-violent Wolverine we all wanted to see on screen, but that’s not why Logan is the best Marvel movie. It’s a beautifully shot slow burn of a tragedy that pulls us out of our normal popcorn fluff superhero movie comfort zone to show us that even the fiercest heroes, no matter how indestructible they seem, are ultimately vulnerable.
The best Marvel movie is unquestionably Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s a serious spy thriller that works outside the superhero genre. It’s got everything you want in a universe-building film — betrayal (S.H.I.E.L.D. being infiltrated by Hydra), incredible action, and at its heart is a movie about friendship through extreme doubt and adversity. It’s incredibly rewatchable and elevated due to amazing performances from Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, and Sebastian Stan.
As we just passed the nine-year mark of the release of Iron Man, it is tough to say any other movie has surpassed it. The way it came in and cleared a path for other films is almost indescribable. It is funny, action-packed and entertaining in all of the right ways. As a movie, it isn’t perfect but the boxes it checked off were perfect. It launched an entire franchise of films in a way that no one was expecting.
The impact of Iron Man will be felt for a long time, providing a different, lighter style for superhero blockbusters to follow. A lot of backlash is currently happening with Marvel and the way they go about their films, but they work with a tried-and-true formula. Iron Man set the template.