This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which began in 2008 with Iron Man. The studio’s third Phase continues this year with Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and The Wasp, with three more movies bringing it to a close next year.
With Infinity War almost upon us, we wanted to look back and rank the Phase 3 movies that we’ve seen so far…
7. Doctor Strange
Marvel had been developing a Doctor Strange movie for many years, and the Sorcerer Supreme’s film debut finally happened in 2016. The movie is an origin story for Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon who suffers a life-changing car accident and finds himself in a place called Kamar-Taj. There, Strange learns the mystic arts and defends the Earth from Dormammu and Kaecilius.
Doctor Strange is one of the better origin movies in the MCU, effectively bringing the Sorcerer Supreme and his world to life. Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect casting as the titular hero, while the visual effects are just incredible. Sure, the movie has a few flaws, such as the Ancient One’s whitewashing and a waste of Rachel McAdams and Mads Mikkelsen. But otherwise, Doctor Strange is a highly entertaining film. Hopefully, we’ll hear something about a sequel soon.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Following the surprise success of 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel quickly put a sequel into development. Featuring the return of the original cast and writer-director James Gunn, Vol. 2 sees the Guardians meet Peter Quill’s father, Ego. Newcomer Mantis and former enemy Nebula join the Guardians in their latest mission to guard the galaxy.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the rare sequel that’s just as good as its predecessor, if not better. The visual effects and heartfelt themes elevate it, while the cast is as good as ever. You can tell that Gunn cares deeply about these characters. It does a great job further expanding the cosmic side of the MCU. The humor was off at times (Drax bragging about his “famously huge turds” was silly), but other than that, Vol. 2 was on point.
5. Spider-Man: Homecoming
After several underwhelming movies, the Spider-Man franchise was at a low point. However, Sony Pictures made the right decision and created a deal to share the character with Marvel Studios. This led to Spidey being introduced in Captain America: Civil War and getting his own film, subtitled Homecoming. The new movie skips the origin story and focuses solely on Peter Parker’s high school life, as well as his desire to join the Avengers. Along the way, he faces a new enemy in the form of Vulture.
Spider-Man: Homecoming shows us how a good reboot is done. It offers a fresh new direction for the Web-Slinger, while still respecting what made the character work in the first place. Its more grounded approach and youthful protagonist help this movie stand out from the rest of the MCU. Tom Holland is genuinely great as Spidey, while Michael Keaton’s Vulture is hands down one of Marvel’s best villains ever. Spider-Man is home, indeed.
4. Thor: Ragnarok
Despite being one of the core Avengers, Thor’s solo movies couldn’t quite match those of his teammates. That changed with Ragnarok, which deconstructed everything in the Thor franchise so far and built up new things. The film spends much more time in the cosmos and adopts a comedic tone. Here, Thor teams up with Hulk and Valkyrie, loses his hammer and hair, and tries to save Asgard from the evil Hela. Key word is “tries.”
Thor: Ragnarok successfully reinvents the franchise, taking the God of Thunder into exciting new territory. The action is great, the storytelling is improved, and it’s just so funny. (Korg is the greatest MCU character ever. Don’t @ me.) Thankfully, the tone allows for more serious scenes when needed. Meanwhile, Hela is a great villain, and she poses a legitimate threat to everything. If you can overlook the occasionally wonky green screen, then you can thoroughly enjoy Ragnarok.
3. Captain America: Civil War
Captain America’s third movie kicked off Phase 3, and along the way, he brings a lot of his fellow heroes. Following another mission resulting in collateral deaths, the Avengers are required to sign the Sokovia Accords, which will bring them under governmental supervision. Steve Rogers is against it, and Tony Stark is for it. The other heroes must choose their side, as the Avengers are fractured. Along the way, our heroes are manipulated by Zemo, while the fight for Bucky’s soul continues.
Captain America: Civil War is easily one of Marvel’s best movies to date. The action, the personal stakes, the story, and the excitement are all on full display here. It does a fine job closing out the Captain America trilogy (even if it feels more like Avengers 2.5 at times), while Robert Downey Jr. delivers one of his best Tony Stark performances yet. Additionally, the introductions of Black Panther and Spider-Man are handled perfectly. While the CGI could use some work in a few areas, Civil War is another phenomenal installment of the MCU.
2. Black Panther
And now, we have one of the biggest movies of all time – Marvel or otherwise. Black Panther picks up immediately after Civil War, exploring T’Challa’s rise to the throne of Wakanda. Along the way, T’Challa must face a new enemy named Erik Killmonger, who poses a very personal threat to the King and everything he stands for. With the help of the Dora Milaje and other allies, the Black Panther must defend his kingdom and create his own legacy.
What can be said about Black Panther that hasn’t been said already? Pretty much everything about the movie is fantastic. It’s a character-driven story that masterfully builds the world of Wakanda, while Killmonger is arguably the best MCU villain yet. Also, the representation offered here (particularly with great women of color roles) is so refreshing. I can go on and on, but ultimately, Black Panther is easily one of my favorite Marvel movies to date.
#1: Avengers: Infinity War
And now, we have the big one. Avengers: Infinity War is the first in a two-movie culmination of everything that has happened in the MCU so far. In this movie, Thanos has embarked on his quest to collect all six Infinity Stones. But along the way, the Mad Titan has to face several hurdles – namely, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the Guardians of the Galaxy. To say anything more about the plot could be considered spoilerific, so I’ll stop here.
Needless to say, Infinity War is an epic unlike any other in the genre. The movie unites (almost) every single MCU hero into one movie, and somehow, the Russo brothers pull it off. While it is obviously Part 1 of a bigger picture, the film is very successful, masterfully juggling different tones and characters into one cohesive story. We also see some very real stakes here. It’s gonna be a long wait until Avengers 4 next year…
How would you rank Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Latest posts by Paul Romano (see all)