You know you have waited for this: for me to rank and wax poetic about the cinematic offerings of the “comic book movies.”
I divided them into three tiers: The top tier are movies that I consider to be good and enjoyable, the middle tier are good Marvel Comic Book Movies, and the bottom tier, which is just movies that exist.
Note: this has been updated since it’s original inception in June of 2018, to include the movies that have come out since then.
MOST RECENT UPDATE: March 2019 - Captain Marvel
Top Tier: Good, enjoyable movies that I might just watch any time they are on.
#1: Thor: Ragnarok
Thor: Ragnarok, even moreso than the other top tier offerings on this list, achieves a unique headspace: It is a Comic Book Movie, and like the namesake medium, it uses color and spectacle to create a confidently outrageous story.
It recalls artists like Simonson and Kirby, who, to become fully engaged in a medium where color and splash took precedence, turned to cosmic scenes and themes, pages of gods, aliens, and apocalypse.
Thor: Ragnarok also has a top-notch soundtrack, takes a moment to show the characters out of their elements, and even gives a little time to dabble in some side themes of colonialism, or, perhaps, the ownership of art and stories. That aside is perfect for the third movie in a series based on a fifty-year run comic book based on an ancient aliens version of a Nordic myth.
Above all, Ragnarok is absurdly confident, and more than any other movie on this list, it uses the Big Comic Book Movie budget to serve up memorable visual images from the pages of a Simonson-era psychedelic splash page, with colors that any inker and colorist would kill for. It also has a good soundtrack!
#2: Black Panther
More than most of the other films on this list, Black Panther is interesting and probably the most “serious” of all. That doesn’t stop it from being fun, and the supporting characters are top-notch, better than any of the other films - even ensemble offerings like Avengers.
Black Panther is bright, colorful, and kinetic. Wakanda is beautiful, a well-realized and rich setting, and the mid-film action sequences are a notch above the usual smash-cut and CGI blur offerings from the MCU. Like all the top-tier MCU films, it’s confident, well-designed, and artistic.
The storyline is human and compelling. The costumes are gorgeous. Killmonger simultaneously comes across as a sympathetic figure and as a brutal villain. There’s the best soundtrack of anything in the MCU. It was a cultural phenomenon leading up to the release, and honestly, watching people thrill over a real Black Panther movie was worth the line on opening day.
#3: TIE: Guardians of the Galaxy 1 & 2
Yes, I decided these can tie. If we’re talking about the confidence from the previous films, GotG 2 has it far more than the first - but maybe it doesn’t entirely earn it, either. Both have muddled messes of endings that would be sore spots if the rest of the flick wasn’t consistently comically and cosmically enjoyable.
The soundtracks make good use of Quill’s “Awesome Mix,” but when we’re not getting pop hits the bland orchestrals really stand out. Seriously, the MCU needs some help on that “blur-of-horns and strings” thing they’ve got going on.
#4: Spiderman: Homecoming
Spiderman would be firmly mid-tier if not for the outstanding villain, and the “reveal” of who that villain is was definitely the best “oh shit” moment in the entire MCU. Like the films before, though - it’s confident, colorful, and witty.
Plus - there’s no origin story. You’ll notice that none of the top-tier films are origin stories. There’s never a need for an origin story.
#5: Captain America: Winter Soldier
Winter Soldier is at the bottom of this tier because it is not particularly confident. Muddled stories are par for the MCU course, but the usually scintillating colors come through a bit drab, and the action scenes are more blurry than not. This is still a top-tier Marvel flick, however, because of the story. A massive spy organization turns out to be evil! It’s more serious than most, and lets a good bit of spy-thriller accoutrements come through, to save it from being boring. While still a comic book movie (and crashing a SHIELD helicarrier, which is required), it’s clear, well-paced, and never gets bogged down. Plus, there’s Batroc, the Leaper.
His whole thing is that he can jump, but he’s not that great at it. Plus, evil Sitwell!