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Ranking Phase 2 of the MCU (Worst to Best)

Charlene is a Film and Television major. She is a big fan of Disney, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Stranger Things.

Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)

Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)

Following the success of The Avengers, both casual and diehard Marvel fans were excited about the movies Phase 2 would offer. Taken over by Disney, the MCU gave audiences four sequels and two origin stories in its second phase. Phase 2 deepened the viewers’ connections to the characters and left them with the desire to see more of the beloved characters again.

Phase 2 of the MCU

Here is a list of the release order of the Phase 2 movies, which began in 2013 and concluded in 2015:

  • Iron Man 3 (May 3, 2013)
  • Thor: The Dark World (November 8, 2013)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 4, 2014)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1, 2014)
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1, 2015)
  • Ant-Man (July 17, 2015)

Guardians of the Galaxy changed the MCU greatly. Instead of maintaining the semi-realistic mood of the previous films, Guardians of the Galaxy used more CGI, making it more colorful and comic-bookey. This was when the MCU finally found its identity and aesthetic. After its success, the MCU fully embraced its fantastical side in many subsequent Phase 3 films, including but not limited to Doctor Strange and Thor: Ragnarok.

Some of the good parts about the films in the second phase are the humor and strong character arcs. However, most of the films have some issues, such as weak villains and plots that could have been written better. My ranking of the films in this list are all my opinion, and it is fine for other people to feel differently or disagree on a few of these entries.

Without further ado, here is my ranking of Phase 2 of the MCU!

6. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World is not as bad as people say it is; it’s just not as good as other MCU films. Nothing about it stands out.

Even though the movie has a serious tone, it isn’t substantively engaging. The pacing isn’t bad, but it still has a lot of rather unsatisfying moments, making it a nearly forgettable movie. The story is told with little to no passion, and it has a one-dimensional villain, bland action, and a lack of charm to the characters (except for Loki, whose cleverness and charm brings life to this film and makes it bearable to watch).

There are some amazing medieval fantasy visuals; however, the movie has dark color grading, making the appearance of the movie dull. Color grading is supposed to emphasize the moods present in scenes, influencing how viewers respond. Although Thor: The Dark World succeeds in creating a more gloomy look and feel, the color palette is still unappealing to look at and completely distracting. It also makes the humor a bit jarring.

One of the highlights of the film is Thor and Loki’s dynamic. Their sibling dynamic is explored more here than it had been in previous movies, and their dynamic here contributes a lot to the building up of Loki’s character arc. The two brothers bring out the worst but also some good in each other, and it is entertaining to watch. The use of the Aether in the film is also nice.

5. Ant-Man (2015)

Ant-Man may be a lighthearted film, but it brings amazing tension to the screen. I actually felt like the characters were in danger the whole time, making me tense until those specific scenes were over.

Excluding the villain, the characters are well-written. Hope’s respect for Scott grows as the movie progresses, and it is sweet to see her slowly open up to him. She seems to be a careful person who doesn’t want people seeing the soft side of her. Her and Scott may have the perfect pacing of a relationship, but it is the father-daughter relationship between Scott and Cassie that is the heart of this film.

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It is endearing that Scott’s primary goal is to be with his daughter and consequently fight for her and try to find ways to interact with her. Cassie loves him just as much as he loves her, but it is his past that makes it hard for him to spend time with her. Aside from Scott’s charming personality, Luis also happens to be one of the best parts of this film, whose long-winded stories and friendliness to Scott add energy to the film.

Even with amazing characters, the film still has some problems. The action is creative but isn’t shot very spectacularly. The movie suffers from some empty moments. And as original as the plot is, it is very much underwhelming, though I do have to give it credit for having a smaller scale than most superhero movies.

In addition to the underwhelming plot, the movie also wastes the villain, Darren Cross, though there are rumors that he appears in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania as MODOK, possibly giving his character more depth. But when it comes to Ant-Man specifically, Darren lacks any distinguishing characteristics or creativity, even if he effectively inspires fear and builds up tension. He has no interesting personal motivations and is overall generic, underdeveloped, and undercharacterized. I do have to applaud Corey Stoll for the portrayal though, because as thinly written as Darren is, Stoll gives it his all.

4. Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3 is a fitting conclusion to the Iron Man franchise, and although it does nothing to advance the overall story of the Infinity Saga, the movie itself is interesting in a sense. It’s an enjoyable movie that merits a watch; it’s not as good as Iron Man but it’s better than Iron Man 2.

Iron Man 3 has mind-blowing action scenes and great character development, and along with that, perfect doses of action and comedy. However, the story itself is not constructed well, even if it has no dull moments.

Iron Man 3 is certainly fast-paced, but its fast pace doesn’t feel intentional. The story structure is poorly connected; it feels disorganized and isn’t skillfully carried out. The way scenes are pieced together feel random and incoherent, and the plot at times can lack elaboration.

Sometimes, events go by so fast that it becomes difficult to acknowledge what is taking place. In other words, it is a bit frustrating to watch how messy and rambling the plot is. Additionally, it doesn’t make sense for Tony to publicly reveal his address. It may be an important part of the story, but Tony is also famous—he would have fans and haters quickly invading his home upon hearing the address.

A good part about the story though is that while there are a lot of intense action sequences and special effects, it still cares more about character development and dialogue (even if the dialogue is poor at times).

The movie reveals how Tony was affected by the traumatic events of The Avengers, exploring a more vulnerable side to him and successfully adding depth to the film. His anxiety and PTSD prove that even with all his wealth and heroic deeds, he is still human. In addition to that, seeing Tony fend for himself without his technology and use his creative and inventive mind to be resourceful is incredible.

I do wish that Harley appeared more in the MCU before Tony’s death in Avengers: Endgame though, because as oblivious as Harley can be, he is delightful and his interactions with Tony are one of the highlights of this film. More time should have also been given to Tony and Rhodey’s friendship.

The acting performances in this movie are solid. Robert Downey Jr. is still excellent as Tony Stark. Although I can’t quite understand the villain’s, Aldrich Killian’s, motives, he is threatening, and the actor portraying him, Guy Pearce, is brilliant in the role. His character may have some inconsistencies due to poor writing, but Pearce excellently portrays a vengeful and manipulative person who is a genuine threat to Tony.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy is an enjoyable addition to the MCU. The movie as a whole manages to be clever, youthful, and heartfelt. Anyone who likes outer space, humor, well-made action, and unique characters will appreciate this flick. Not only that, but Guardians of the Galaxy probably has one of the best soundtracks of any MCU film. The integration of ‘70s music because of Peter’s childhood gives the movie a lively vibe.

None of the characters on the team feel like traditional superheroes, which is what makes this film so fresh and entertaining. The characters offer an amazing blend of action, comedy, and emotion. The film takes its time building up the team dynamic, and the ways in which Peter, Gamora, Rocket, Groot, and Drax meet all feel natural.

The actors themselves fit their roles and bring life to these characters perfectly, making them feel real and authentic. All of them have excellent chemistry with one another, and each of the characters have their own struggles and unique personality traits while being very likable. Not only is their character development well thought out, but when it comes to dialogue, the characters also have strong, funny one-liners that are easy to remember.

The hearty humor works well because of how convincingly dysfunctional and competitive the characters can get with one another. The movie has plenty of human, emotional, and enriching moments from the characters, and the one that stands out the most is Groot’s sacrifice. Overall, the character interactions allow viewers to become attached to them and care about them in passionate ways.

The film isn’t perfect, however. Even though the plot of this movie is simple and nicely paced, it is a bit weak at times. The plot perfectly allows the awesome characters to unite and grow, sure, and it is strong in that aspect. It is also weak in the way that it sometimes feels like an excuse to show off visual effects and CGI, preferring stylistic choices over substance.

Despite negative things to say about the plot, I do appreciate the use of the Power Stone to drive both Guardian of the Galaxy’s plot and the Infinity Saga’s underlying plot, and the decision to include information on the stones and Thanos is perfect. It satisfyingly includes a nice introduction of an Infinity Stone.

Otherwise, the story wouldn’t be very special. The villain is also forgettable and one-dimensional. I myself couldn’t even remember who the villain of this movie was and had to search it up. Ronan is not even remotely interesting and the movie doesn’t spend enough time on him to further flesh out his motives.

2. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Avengers: Age of Ultron is often to be considered the worst of the Avengers films, though it’s an opinion I have to respectfully disagree with. Avengers: Age of Ultron has a strong plot, strong action, and strong characters. As Screen Rant puts it best, “The MCU’s Avengers sometimes seem like a response team rather than an active superhero group, and Avengers: Age of Ultron offered an alternative to that.“ It may not be the best of the Avengers films, but so far, it is the only one where the team is functional all the way through. The Avengers actually feel like a well-established team who go on missions.

A lot of people have issues with this film, but it is hard to deny that it includes several important character developments. This movie is character-driven, which makes for a number of interesting storylines (except for the shoehorned romance between Natasha and Bruce). The introductions of Wanda Maximoff and Vision are some of those great parts, who end up being important characters in the MCU going forward.

The movie also has many great scenes, such as the opening battle scene, action-free dialogue scenes that present the characters as relatable and emphasize their friendships, and intimate and vulnerable individual moments. Clint, an underrated Avenger, is explored more here, more than he had been in previous films. A lot claim that the scene at his farm distracts from the overarching plot of the film; however, that scene helps serve the Avengers’ character arcs, including his.

The only real flaw about this film is Ultron. I do not care about him as a villain. For an Avengers movie, he should have been more special, not a one-and-done villain. Loki in The Avengers and Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame are truly compelling, major villains. Ultron is not. The movie does not flesh out Ultron’s motives well enough for me to see him as a scary threat. It also doesn’t help that he doesn’t make full use of his power here. The Ultron in season one of What If…? is a better villain than the Ultron in this movie.

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

This has a different vibe to it when compared with other MCU films, and it works excellently. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a refreshing, down-to-earth spy action movie. The cinematography, effects, stunts, and overall editing are of such a high caliber that it’s pleasing in its gritty, bold, and ground-level appearance.

The plot is a bit hard to follow, but regardless, the story advances seamlessly and naturally from one point to the next. The story is carefully thought out and planned, with clever turns, exciting details, and solid pacing. It has many themes—trust, loyalty, morality, duty, and honor—that give the movie passion and depth, allowing the characters to have more emotion.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier features many well-rounded characters with prominent personality traits and goals: Natasha and her strategic smarts, Steve’s loyalty to Bucky, Fury with his own struggles, and the solid introduction of Sam and his compassionate nature. As a matter of fact, this movie elevates Captain America and makes him highly admirable as a character, along with Natasha, Sam, and Fury.

Not only are the characters delightful to watch, but viewers can also really feel sympathy for the villain, Bucky. He had an endearing personality in Captain America: The First Avenger, but here, he is presented in such a way that viewers just want him to be okay because he’s brainwashed. Even the final confrontation between Steve and Bucky holds a lot of emotional weight to it.

The action is also one of the best of an MCU film by far, standing out from the rest of the films. There are a lot of straightforward action sequences and hand-to-hand combat scenes, and they are overall really good, clean, and satisfying. The choreography of these nonstop action sequences are of breathtaking quality, and it is easy to really feel the weight that the brawls carry.

Overall, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is well-directed, well-acted, well-constructed, and action-packed.

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