The First Dozen Marvel (MCU) Films Ranked

With the release of Ant-Man, Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films has concluded. Before Phase Three begins with Captain America: Civil War, now would be a good time to rank the twelve MCU films released so far.

1. The Avengers (2012) – As the culmination of years of careful seeding by previous MCU films The Avengers was a bold, energetic triumph. Director Joss Whedon accomplished the impossible by bringing together completely different characters and molding them into a superhero team just like in the comic books.


As the most successful superhero film of all time, The Avengers excited numerous viewers and changed the landscape of superhero films. Before this film, the usual superhero films operated in their own realities without any indication of a rich universe as seen in comic books. But The Avengers embraced the richness of its comic book lore and it paid off. Now, shared cinematic universes are the rage. However, The Avengers is the best of the MCU films because it was so energetic, witty, and snappy, and had the novelty of our favorite heroes meeting for the first time. It all led to one of the most exciting finales presented on film that still reverberates with viewers.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – Marvel Studios showed they were willing to take a chance with this quirky and exciting space adventure yarn. Who would’ve imagined that a sci-fi movie about a bumbling space pirate, violent green aliens, a foul-mouthed raccoon and a walking tree would strike a chord with audiences?


Technically, Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t a superhero film, but this demonstrates how this MCU entry is quite different from its standard superhero repertoire. What made it special wasn’t just the premise, beautiful visuals or production design, but a toe-tapping soundtrack that ingeniously used ’70s pop songs. It was a unique signature for this space opera tale about a group of space losers who banded together to save the galaxy. Chris Pratt became a star thanks to his silly, but good-hearted role as Star-Lord, the self-proclaimed legendary outlaw.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – The best MCU solo superhero film and one of the greatest superhero films ever made. More importantly, this was arguably the most volatile entry in the MCU because by the time the film ended, the cinematic universe was forever changed by the film’s events.


Chris Evans as Captain America/Steve Rogers has demonstrated how he has grown in stature in these films. As a man out of time, Steve Rogers faced his greatest threats from a former friend (one of the deadliest and most frightening supervillains on film) and a shocking global conspiracy that rocked the MCU to its roots. Adding to the film’s specialness were a tightly written script, well-executed and riveting fight scenes and terrific performances from the cast.

4. Ant-Man (2015) – The final Phase Two film is known for its numerous behind-the-scenes hurdles where the original director quit after having developed the film for years. Yet, in spite of that and the titular character’s obscurity, Ant-Man was an unexpectedly great superhero film that’s full of panache.

antman in your face

As one of the more humorous MCU films, Ant-Man quickly won over viewers with its outlandish premise: a man who can shrink and communicate with ants. Wrapped around that was a swift-paced heist story that deftly integrated itself into the larger MCU in a natural way that eluded other films that attempted this. Adding to the film’s enjoyment were many winning performances, fantastic special effects and unlike other MCU films, Ant-Man was able to deliver an astonishing final act that helped pave the future for the MCU.

5. Thor (2011) – What sets Marvel Studios apart with their MCU films is its willingness to remain faithful to the comic book source material. At the same time, Marvel Studios has the ability to make organic changes and updates to its characters and situations. Thor is a perfect example. The film wisely eschewed its magic-based comic book roots that Thor and his ilk were actual gods and cleverly used science fiction tropes instead.


Thor followed the winning formula of MCU films by having an egotistical, flawed character learn some humility and become a hero. Thanks to director Kenneth Branagh, Thor also had a sense of grandeur that evoked a Shakespearean family drama. In this case, that involved otherworldly aliens mistaken for gods. It was also noted for its humorous fish-out-of-water scenario and Tom Hiddleston’s star-making performance as Loki, the MCU’s best villain.

6. Iron Man (2008) – The one that started the MCU phenomenon still holds up as a well-made origin story. Robert Downey, Jr. shined as he made a personal and professional comeback in the role of a lifetime. His trend-setting Tony Stark/Iron Man was a self-centered narcissist who learned to become something more.

iron man flying

The first part of Iron Man was engrossing, particularly during the moments when Tony Stark first faced his mortality and was forced to construct a crude armored suit. However, the film faltered a bit in the second half. The pace dragged as we waited for him to construct a proper Iron Man suit. Things weren’t helped by the final battle that looked like something out of the Transformers and was just as cartoony. But Iron Man’s successful formula set the tone for the rest of the MCU. Continue reading

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Upends The Marvel Cinematic Universe

cap 2 posterI’m not exaggerating when I say that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the greatest superhero films ever made. It ranks right up there with Iron Man, The Dark Knight and The Avengers. It’s that great! It’s exciting, intriguing, full of action and, most importantly, character defining moments that elevates this film above your standard superhero flick.

While the first Captain America film was a pleasant salute to World War II Americana, this sequel just elevates the character and the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a whole new level. In fact, Captain America: The Winter Soldier completely upends the carefully crafted world created with ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????these Marvel movies and it does so in a logical way that actually reflects on the impact of the events from The Avengers. As much as 9/11 radically changed our world, the alien attack on New York City in The Avengers has had far reaching ramifications. Iron Man 3 explored the personal impact as seen with Iron Man’s post traumatic stress disorder. This Captain America film examines the impact on the world stage and how it has made the spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. just a tad bit too omnipresent. That was something that was underlying in past Marvel films, the spies were everywhere, seemed too powerful, had too much carte blanche. This film shows how the agency overreached with a diabolical plot hatched by traitors from within.

The film begins with Steve Rogers a.k.a Captain America (Chris Evans) leading a strike force that includes fellow Avenger Natasha Romanoff a.k.a Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) to rescue hostages onboard a hijacked freighter ship. It turns out that the hostages are actually S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and Black Widow has a separate agenda to download encrypted files from the ship’s computer. Captain America then learns that S.H.I.E.L.D. is about to launch Project: Insight, which will use a trio of new generation helicarriers to preemptively take out potential threats worldwide.


All this causes Rogers to question his allegiance to S.H.I.E.L.D. and magnificently echoes the unease he’s having with adapting to this new world. Despite its fast-moving plot, time is taken to feature quiet, reflective moments where he sees how much the world and his country has changed. They are the emotional highlights of the film and allow Evans to prove his acting chops. He undeniably owns this role and it’s now difficult to picture another actor playing this character.

Anyway, it turns out that he is not the only one wondering about the spy agency’s ambiguous nature. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), S.H.I.E.L.D.’s director also has his doubts and his inquiries launch a devastating chain of events that includes having Rogers and Romanoff hunted by S.H.I.E.L.D. and ultimately leaves the agency and the world changed forever. The stakes are that high.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????As he eludes S.H.I.E.L.D., Captain America has to face a specter from his past. This being the lethal Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), a super assassin with a bionic arm. I won’t give away who the Winter Soldier is in case anyone reading this doesn’t know but his storyline is very tragic considering his relationship to Rogers. Putting that aside the directors Anthony and Joe Russo make him one of the most formidable super villains seen on film and while the Red Skull was Captain America’s chief nemesis, the Winter Soldier is both a physical match to Rogers and a genuine threat. At times I actually wondered if the good Captain would prevail in their fights.

Speaking of action, this film has lots of it. It does have that annoying shaky cam for some scenes, but the directors knew enough to control it and let the spectacular stunts speak for themselves. It’s incredible how Marvel Studios were able to make a perfect, unorthodox directing choice. This duo was known for directing comedies, ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????who would’ve known they could pull this off? But what underlines all the action sequences are the characters, they’re so well written and acted and the actors have their moments, even the newcomers. Take Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson a.k.a. the Falcon. This version of the Falcon was so cool and likable, it’s easy to see why Rogers gravitated to this guy when he needed help. The Falcon definitely has his moments with his flight outfit that seems so formidable and believable.

cap on bike

Captain America: The Winter Soldier works in so many ways because writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely took the best elements from the Captain America comic books and fused them to make this unforgettable cinematic wonder. The movie left me wanting to see more and it set up enough questions and material to carry over to another sequel. Honestly, since Marvel Studios has signed on these directors for the next film, I cannot wait to see it.

Waldermann Rivera

Sci-Fi Heads Of State


Romney? Obama? Who’s your choice for president? Would you rather choose someone else? Well how about these presidents and heads of state that have appeared in science fiction? Love them or hate them, they were memorable leaders.

The Despotic

Science fiction is probably the best vehicle for showcasing villainous presidents. Look at it this way, few will get offended with these fictional tyrants that star in cautionary tales that take place in dystopian times.

Take President Erwin Rexall in the classic Frank Miller/David Gibbons mini-series Give Me Liberty. Though not the main character in the comic book, his presence in lieu of his harsh policies had an impact on Give Me Liberty’s heroine, Martha Washington. An exaggeration of Ronald Reagan, Rexall was a far-right, callous man who cared little for the average American. His successor, Howard Nissen was the complete opposite, a far left liberal who turned out to be a drunken incompetent. Eventually Rexall has his brain implanted into a robot’s body and continued his presidency after Nissen was assassinated.

A more infamous president was Lex Luthor as seen in the pages of Superman. Holding the highest office in the land, allowed Luthor to be an effective thorn on Superman’s side. Adding insult was Luthor’s early popularity, though he didn’t do anything to prevent aliens from destroying Topeka, Kansas. Eventually, he fell from grace and power thanks to the efforts of several superheroes.

But more well-known despotic heads of state have been seen on film. The most recent one was Mr. Thompson in Atlas Shrugged, Part II. Played by Ray Wise, Thompson, although never referred to as the president, is the socialist head of state in the U.S. who implements unpopular reforms and mandates that strip away citizens’ rights. Another recent tyrant was President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in The Hunger Games. He wasn’t a prominent character in the book but appears in the film. Seemingly laid back, Snow actually has a sadistic demeanor.

One truly despicable despot was Greg Stillson in The Dead Zone. Based on the Stephen King book of the same name, the hero Johnny Smith discovers with his psychic powers that a local politician (played by Martin Sheen) will become a crazed president who unleashes a nuclear holocaust. The future scenes where he defies everyone’s pleas and launches nukes were quite chilling. The character also showed up in The Dead Zone TV series.

While the U.S. has had youthful presidents (keeping in mind that presidents in their forties like Kennedy or Clinton or Obama are considered young), there was Max Frost (Christopher Jones) in the film Wild In The Streets. A socially conscious and ambitious rock star, Frost manipulates politicians to pass a constitutional amendment that lowers the voting age and when a person can run for president. This allows the youthful rocker, whose in his twenties, to ride a wave into the White House where he becomes a dictator that banishes old people into re-education camps.

The Incompetents

Not all future presidents are dictators, many are just not up to snuff. There was President Chet Roosevelt (John Ritter) in the comedy Americathon where a bankrupt U.S. has to hold a telethon to raise cash. Then there was President Dwayne Elizando Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho in Idiocracy who leads an illiterate nation and is all about style but no substance. By the end of Idiocracy, it falls on the modern-day hero who winds up in that future, Joe Bauers a.k.a. Not Sure, to begin the re-education and salvation of American citizens by becoming president himself. But the most ill-suited president has to be Peter Sellers’ indecisive President Merkin Muffley in Dr. Strangelove.

Leaders On Television

There have been notable presidents or leaders in several sci-fi TV shows. For instance Lisa Simpson in The Simpsons was shown to be president sometime in the future in the episode “Back To The Future”. The most recent world leader was President Elias Martinez in The Event. Skillfully played by Blair Underwood, the president seemed unsure of how to handle the alien refugees the government was holding captive, but by the series’ end, President Martinez became more determined and decisive in protecting the U.S. and the world. The show Jack & Bobby took place in modern times but was framed by bookending commentaries by people in the future. One of the boys featured in the show grows up to become president years into the future. In the anthology show The Outer Limits, one episode “Trial By Fire” featured a newly inaugurated President Charles Halsey (Robert Foxworth), who unexpectedly has to deal with a first contact situation. An alien armada is on its way to Earth and Halsey has to decide if they are friendly or not. President Halsey is wracked with the knowledge that his decisions will severely impact life on the planet.

But the best known fictional presidents in sci-fi TV have to be Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) and Gaius Baltar (James Callis) seen in the remake of Battlestar Galactica. Roslin was the sole surviving member of the president’s cabinet following a surprise robotic Cylon attack on humanity. Although inexperienced, Roslin quickly grows into her role, becomes presidential and ultimately helps save humanity. Baltar on the other hand is more complex. Best seen as an enigmatic anti-hero, Baltar is responsible for the near extinction of humanity by the Cylons. There were broad hints that Baltar was insane but cunning and he aided the surviving humans. Eventually Baltar defeated Roslin in a presidential election and settled humanity on a habitable world. His presidency was unpopular especially after he surrenders humanity to an invading Cylon force.

Heroic Leaders

Not all presidents in sci-fi are evil or incompetent. Many were shown in a positive light and were even heroic. Roslin in Battlestar Galactica was heroic during her appearances in the show. Superman himself served as president of the United States in a fantasy “future” story in Action Comics Annual #3. Thanks to his diplomatic skills, Superman/Clark Kent has a successful presidency where he brings about world peace and lowers the deficit (thanks to some help from Aquaman, who dredges up sunken ships laden with treasure).

Another potential president was Steve Rogers. In the pages of Captain America # 250 he is approached to run for president of the U.S. but eventually declines. In the comic book What If Captain America Had Been Elected President? # 26, Rogers has a successful presidency, one of his major accomplishments being to make America energy independent. In the mini-series The Last Avengers Story, it’s stated that in the future Rogers becomes president of the U.S. but is apparently killed in his third term. Recently in The Ultimates # 16 the Steve Rogers in that universe is elected president of the U.S.

Other positive presidents seen in movies include Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman) in Deep Impact, who helps the U.S. and the world to recover from a comet strike, and the two Federation Presidents seen in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. It should be noted that Captain Jonathan Archer from Star Trek: Enterprise eventually becomes the first President of the Federation. But out of all these fictional sci-fi presidents probably the most heroic one  is President Thomas Whitmore from Independence Day. Patterned loosely on Bill Clinton, Whitmore is a young, beleaguered commander-in-chief who heroically leads the nation in fighting off an alien invasion. Although his military role in the final counterattack against the aliens is implausible it was heroic. Seriously, it is a stretch to believe that one of the few remaining world leaders will be allowed to fly a fighter jet to lead an attack on alien invaders. But he does give one heck of a rousing speech. So would any of these candidates earn your vote?

Lewis T. Grove

Captain America: The First Avenger Celebrates Marvel’s Premier Hero

Captain America: The First Avenger at its very best makes audiences emotionally invested in the core character of Steve Rogers a.k.a. Captain America. That’s largely in part to Director Joe Johnston, who shows a clear love and respect for the character and the Marvel-ous world of Cap and the casting of Chris Evans as the title character.

Not since Christopher Reeve was picked as Superman or Robert Downey, Jr. took on the reins of Iron Man or Chris Hemsworth picked up Thor’s hammer has a casting decision been so perfect. There were some doubts among fans as to the casting of Chris Evans for Steve Rogers , but he pulls it off in a big way. Forget about Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan/Green Lantern. Reynolds had the look but no personality. Evans, however, makes you care about his character, he just nails it and that is the biggest and most pleasant surprise about the film.

Regarding Johnston, Marvel Studios was very wise in giving him the director’s chair and his track record bears him out. Johnston provides plenty of action but heart as well. From what I’ve read, he took on the assignment under the condition that the film be set in World War II, which is faithful to the original stories. And also that he be given reign in casting, setting the look and other aspects. The f/x were top notch and successfully blends CGI with practical effects, you could tell a lot of care was placed in getting the film just right. Johnston creates a larger-than-life world of fantastic and bizarre Nazi super weapons, film montages that are reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark that harkens back to that era and a rousing score by Alan Silvestri.

For those not familiar with the character, Captain America (created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) was originally a World War II-era 4F reject from Brooklyn who desperately wanted to serve his country. Volunteering for an experimental U.S. Army program, Rogers is physically transformed into the ideal super soldier, becoming a bulked up, athletic fighter who dons the patriotic duds of his country in war. At first he is used by the army as a celebrity in USO shows in Europe because he is considered too valuable to risk in combat. Then his true calling comes when he meets his arch nemesis the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), a disfigured uber Nazi who establishes his own evil organization called Hydra in order to conquer the world. Teaming up with Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Captain America sets out to find the Skull’s bases and defeat the Skull. Not to worry you don’t have to be a die-hard fan to enjoy and understand this movie.

As for Marvel fans, well they should take notice, to me this is the most Marvel Universe-centric film to date. It’s the fourth stake of movie tent pole that sets up audiences for next summer’s film The Avengers–arguably the most ambitious and grandest superhero film. You will get plenty of Easter eggs such as references to the original Human Torch, SHIELD, Iron Man and others (and as you’ve heard it’s vital to stick around after the credits to not just see Cap’s final fate but to get a teaser for next year’s Avengers movie). More importantly, this film combines four distinct aspects of the main character. We get the original 1940s version created by Simon and Kirby, complete with the triangular shield; then there’s the kinetic and iconic version done by Stan Lee (who has a very sweet cameo) and Kirby from the 1960s; then there are aspects of the brutal and gritty Ultimates Captain America imagined by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, and finally the recent version done by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. It was a tricky task but the filmmakers were able to reinvent Cap by picking the best parts of those four different interpretations. Some liberties were taken with altering Cap and his supporting cast but they were for the best. Examples of that include tying the Red Skull’s origin more closely to Cap’s and making his sidekick Bucky older and grittier, which is more in tuned with the current version of that character.

IMO, a superhero film like Captain America: The First Avenger only comes along about every 40 years and is easily on my top three list of superhero films. It’s the most profound and emotional portrait of a Marvel hero that I’ve seen. The enthusiastic audience reaction in the theater where I saw it is a testament to the joy and thrills anyone will get from watching this film. Needless to say it’s the best of the four superhero flicks released this summer.