Comics on Film: Ranking Marvel Studios' "Phase Two" Movies

Comics on Film: Ranking Marvel Studios' "Phase Two" Movies

Jul 31, 2015

Now that we’ve reached the end of July, we’ve also reached the end of Marvel Studios’ “Phase Two” slate of its cinematic-universe movies, with a little downtime before the next set of movies, TV shows, One-Shots, and Netflix ventures arrive in a few months from now.

So, as we say goodbye to Phase Two and get ready to welcome Phase Three in May of 2016, it seems like now would be a good time to see exactly how each of the Phase Two films can be ranked. Of course, this is only one opinion, so feel free to share yours in the comments below.


6) Thor: The Dark World

The second solo outing for the God of Thunder had a lot of potential behind it. By featuring both Thor and Loki, it could directly follow up the relationship between the embattled brothers and react to Loki’s grasp at power and domination from the first Avengers film, while also taking audiences on a sweeping journey through the Nine Realms as Thor stops one of his most storied enemies from the comics.

While it’s not exactly fair to call The Dark World a “bad” movie, it likely didn’t go far enough in showcasing potential for the character’s solo adventures. An oddly claustrophobic feel makes the sweeping digital environments feel smaller, and the stakes of the conflict presented by Malekith the Accursed feels rather listless in the scheme of things. Still, it leaves a very interesting setup for the forthcoming Thor: Ragnarok, and it’s always a delight seeing Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston as the sons of Odin.



5) Ant-Man

We’ve been hearing a lot about the Edgar Wright-developed Ant-Man for nearly a decade, and after a shuffling of the creative team and some deeper integration within the MCU, Ant-Man feels a little misplaced in the wider scheme of the universe. While it’s certainly admirable that the studio got behind a decidedly smaller project – both literally and figuratively – fans of Edgar Wright will notice just enough DNA of his brand of humor and insight and may feel like the final product takes the edge out of what could’ve been an even more memorable film.

Still, though, the true gloss of Ant-Man is in the cast and characters introduced. Some truly great scenes featuring Hank Pym, the Wasp, and of course Scott Lang and Hope van Dyne make for some very well-filled roles -- and the promise of more from these characters in the future makes the film more than worthy of its place in the wider universe. We’ll next see Scott Lang in Captain America: Civil War, and it should prove interesting to see which side he lands on.



4) Iron Man 3

The third solo outing for Tony Stark is loosely based on one of the most well-regarded Iron Man comics stories of the last 15 years, but shuffles off the specifics of that story in order to make this a solid, interesting look at the man inside of the armor.

Tony isn’t the same after the battle of New York from the first Avengers film, and it’s in that sub-plot that both the film and Robert Downey, Jr. truly shine. Tony’s place as a leader in the MCU is also given one of its biggest platforms on which to be shown, and it’s clear that the film was designed to be a crowd-pleaser in every sense of the phrase.

While a One-Shot short film backpedaled slightly on Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian being the real Mandarin of the MCU, the twist involving that character made for one of the most memorable – and divisive – scenes in the history of Marvel Studios’ films thus far. While we have yet to see a solo Iron Man film that truly threatens Tony and his place in the MCU, Iron Man 3 was a very solid way to kick off the second phase.



3) Avengers: Age of Ultron

Ever since they repelled the invading alien forces led by Loki in the summer of 2012, audiences have been waiting to see the Avengers assembled once again to take down a foe no single hero could withstand. When it was discovered that the foe would be the artificial-intelligence Ultron, the curiosities of comics fans and general audiences alike were certainly roused. The resulting film was the penultimate chapter of Phase Two, a film that sought – and by all accounts succeeded – to be a very different outing from that of its predecessor.

While Age of Ultron wasn’t quite the “home run” that the first Avengers was, it should be commended purely because it wasn’t trying to be. It sought to act similarly to the second act of a play, where its moments of triumph are a little more muted, and the stakes are far more personal.

Writer/director Joss Whedon turned inward to focus on who these heroes are and what makes them Avengers, and some seriously interesting insights into the entire team – particularly in the cases of Black Widow and Hawkeye – make Age of Ultron a more-than-worthy follow-up to the 2012 box office champion.


2) Guardians of the Galaxy

It could’ve been quite a gamble for Marvel Studios to release a film based off of a lesser-known comics franchise, taking place in the far reaches of space and relying on characters like a talking raccoon and his walking-tree best friend to carry some serious emotional weight. That gamble paid off significantly, though, as Guardians of the Galaxy became the most successful superhero film of 2014, and the second highest box office earner in North America of the year.

Guardians is a refreshing film because it doesn’t try to ease you into anything, and the performances of the excellent cast and the writing and direction provided by James Gunn all make for a sweeping, character-driven narrative that easily ranks as one of Marvel’s best films, period. 



1) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

After being introduced to the Star-Spangled Avenger in the first solo Captain America film from Marvel Studios, audiences were next shown why he’s such a capable leader in the first Avengers film. The next time we saw Steve Rogers, audiences likely didn’t expect to see one of the most well-written, impeccably constructed superhero films ever released. That’s exactly what they got with Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Based off of an excellent comic book arc by writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting, The Winter Soldier took its roots in intrigue and political thrills to the next level by completely changing the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe forever.

Add to that some of the most well-choreographed and action-packed fight scenes in the entire Marvel franchise along with some highly focused and emotionally resonant character work, and you have the first MCU film that seems more descended from the likes of The Dark Knight and All the President’s Men than it does Iron Man or Thor. That’s what pushes The Winter Soldier to the top of this list: it sought not just to tell the story of a moral man caught in a compromised world, but it also sought to tell us about principle in the face of too many shades of grey. That extra effort easily pushes it to the top.


What’s your ranking of Marvel’s Phase Two films? Be sure to include them in the comments below, and we’ll see you next week with an all-new Comics on Film!

Chris Clow is a geek. He is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, the Junior Editor at, and a freelance contributor to The Huffington Post and You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film right here at Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

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