News

What Is the Most Underrated MCU Movie?

Between a pair of origin stories, an offbeat Christmas movie, and even a couple of Avengers team-ups, which one deserves more love than it gets?

by | May 19, 2020 | Comments

Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Ultron, and Thanos

(Photo by ©Paramount Pictures, Zade Rosenthal/©Walt Disney Pictures, ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, ©Marvel Studios)

The decade-long (and counting) grand experiment known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven to be both a critical and commercial success, and with 23 movies to the franchise thus far, there are bound to be entries that were overshadowed or outright dismissed. With the next big Marvel movie — Black Widow — now delayed until November 6, effectively creating a domino effect and pushing back all other planned entries, fans are free to catch up on all the movies as they self-quarantine at home. But what are those unsung — or underappreciated — movies in the franchise?

We asked staff members here at RT what they thought were the most underrated MCU movies, and a handful responded with some interesting selections. We should clarify that this isn’t simply a list of the worst-reviewed movies in the franchise with arguments amounting to, “It’s secretly good!” The five choices below represent films that either never managed to gain the kind of fanbase that others did, or irked audiences in one way or another, or became lost in the shadows of even bigger entries. Read on for the five most underrated MCU movies according to RT staff, and then vote in the poll below for which one you think deserves more love than it gets!


Thor (2011) 77%

When Thor was announced and Kenneth Branagh was tapped to direct it, many were more than little a skeptical. Branagh, who was best known for Shakespearean adaptations like Hamlet, Henry V, and Much Ado About Nothing, had never helmed a middle-range budgeted film, let alone a $150 million CGI-heavy fantasy flick for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, that inspired albeit risky choice in the director’s chair is why the film is better than it’s often credited to be. In truth, Thor set a formula that would be repeated by many of the most beloved superhero films yet to come. Logan, Ant-Man, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier all borrowed from the blueprint set by Thor and thrived because of it. Thor proved that the heart of every successful superhero film had to be story and theme, and the superhero part is less important.

Logan is a western but with superheroes; Ant-Man is a heist movie with superhero tech; and Captain America: The Winter Solider is a spy thriller with some really super soldiers. This is why Thor sticks out and feels slightly out of place with early MCU films — and why it’s often dismissed as mediocre. Up to that point, putting Robert Downey Jr. in a suit or making Edward Norton go green was all the audience needed. Thor gave us more, including the pitch-perfect casting of Chris Hemsworth as the God of Thunder himself, Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Natalie Portman as Jane, and one of the best villains ever, Tom Hiddleston as Loki. You can’t get actors of that pedigree without a director like Branagh, who understood the film was, in fact, a Shakespearean drama more akin to Hamlet than Iron Man. Secret parentage, a path to succession, and a spoiled little prince in need of redemption sound more like an episode of The Tudors than a comic book movie, but a comic book movie it is, and one that deserves our respect. – Jacqueline Coley


Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) 80%

Like Thor, this isn’t your typical superhero movie, and that’s why it’s so great. It doesn’t have supersuits or alien invaders, or even cell phones. It’s an origin story of a good man becoming a great hero. The film feels like one of the old Hollywood serials that would have been popular during the era in which the film itself is set, which is part of its charm, and it celebrates the campiness of the Cap comics while also embracing the heart. We get to see a scrawny Steve Rogers turn into the mighty Captain America (with some not-so-bad CGI), some fun action sequences, a lot of Bucky bromance, a little Peggy romance (Agent Carter is the most underrated hero), and of course, the origins of one of the best MCU lines ever, “I can do this all day.” And if we hadn’t seen how it all began, there’s no way we would have been as invested in his character — one of the linchpins of the entire franchise —  or as touched when he made his bittersweet exit. – Jennifer Jevons


Iron Man 3 (2013) 79%

Yes, we’re going there. And yes, we’re going to… deep breath… defend its take on the Mandarin. Iron Man 3 may only be the third-best threequel in the MCU – how could it compete with Ragnarok and Civil War? – but it’s never deserved the fury with which some fans greeted it back in 2013, nor the indifference with which many reflect on it today. Indeed, it belongs in the upper tiers of any fair MCU ranking for a whole host of reasons. First up, it continued arguably the most creatively rich trend in the franchise: the risky hiring of unique, auteur-type directors, not necessarily tested in the superhero genre, to helm these things. Without Shane “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” Black putting his mark on Iron Man, you don’t get Taika Waititi’s take on Thor, James Gunn’s Galaxy, or Chloe Zhao helming The Eternals. In other words, you don’t get the current all-Fresh-no-Rotten, genre-bending shape of the MCU. Black made the film the most distinctive MCU offering up to that point, infusing it with many of his ticks and trademarks: a Christmas setting – yes, Iron Man 3 is a Christmas movie and we think we just won the argument right there – plus plenty of rapid-fire dialogue and some clever voice over. And he did it all while delivering some of the MCU’s best bang-bang set pieces, including the breathtaking destruction of Tony Stark’s home.

Now, to address the simpering, British elephant in the room: Black and co.’s treatment of the Mandarin is, far from a crime against the character’s comic-book legacy, one of the best surprises Marvel has ever given us on screen. Precisely because it is that: a genuine, refreshing, hilarious surprise. After the battering we’d all received from The Avengers, and a string of grandiose to tedious villains (remember Malekith? Neither do we), the Mandarin bait-and-switch is an ingenious subversion, and one that showed a $200 million blockbuster from Disney and Marvel could still mess with our expectations. Oh, and Sir Ben Kingsley is great. So, yes, we get it: It wasn’t the Mandarin you wanted, but it was the Mandarin – and Iron Man 3 was the film – the MCU needed. And it’s time the movie was shown a bit more respect. – Joel Meares


Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) 76%

We already made a case here for why Avengers: Age of Ultron could be the most important movie in the MCU, but allow us to reiterate. While it sports one of the lower Tomatometer scores in the MCU and it’s frequently cited as something of a disappointment in the franchise, it also happens to be the foundation upon which the latter half of the Infinity Saga is built. This is the film that sowed the seeds of Bruce Banner assuming some control over the Hulk, a story arc that came to full fruition in Endgame. It’s also when the meet-cute between the two halves of WandaVision took place, as well as the first indication that Cap might be worthy to wield Mjolnir, a throwaway sight gag that would later pay off in a major way. We meet Hawkeye’s family, see visions of potential futures that hint at the events of Infinity War and Thor: Ragnarok, and get a few pointedly ominous lines (“That’s the endgame”). But perhaps the most crucial development in Age of Ultron is the rift that begins to develop between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers as they argue over ideology and literally come to blows over the creation of Vision. The cracks in their relationship would grow into giant fault lines when the final confrontation between the Avengers and Ultron here later ultimately leads to the events of Captain America: Civil War, and that division, in part, is what allows Thanos to succeed in his plan to the extent that he does. So while it may not be the most beloved film in the MCU, Age of Ultron absolutely deserves more respect than it regularly gets, even if only because it represents a crucial turning point in the Infinity Saga. – Jacqueline Coley


Avengers: Infinity War (2018) 85%

It’s true that Avengers: Infinity War was a huge box office winner and a hit with critics, but its success was largely trumped by the film it served to set up, and we think its reputation deserves better than that. In Infinity War, we finally meet the big baddie of all the MCU villains. While Thanos’ goal — to wipe out half the galaxy — doesn’t appear to be so different from that of any other major villain, he believes he’s saving the galaxy by destroying it, and he dispatches anyone who dares to stand in his way as a mere casualty in his “quest for good.” One of the overlooked strengths of Infinity War is that you walk in already knowing and loving the Avengers, but it’s Thanos you spend the most time with. He’s an unknown quantity, and that uncertainty immediately makes you afraid for the lives of your favorite heroes, because you don’t know exactly what this purple villain is capable of.

In Infinity War, Thanos experiences something that’s usually reserved for heroes: a moment of personal sacrifice. From Tony in New York to Groot in the Dark Aster, our heroes have found themselves making choices that could end their own lives in order to save others, and Infinity War subverts this trope in an unexpected way. Throughout the film, the Avengers spend a lot of time telling each other to protect the Infinity Stones — and Earth — at all costs, but their initial unwillingness to accept loss of life in exchange for Thanos’ defeat limits their ability to effectively fight the Mad Titan. We’re left seeing them unable to come to grips with whether their choice was really for the greater good — or if it was for themselves. Meanwhile, unlike our heroes, Thanos makes the painful decision to sacrifice a life — that of his daughter Gamora — to obtain the Soul Stone. By the end, Infinity War leaves viewers debating whether the Avengers should have traded lives for the sake of the universe. That’s not how a Marvel movie “should” end. Yes, it’s a setup for Endgame, but it has prescience — and for a blockbuster studio film, it’s a hell of an ending to chew on. – Daisy Gonzalez


Tag Cloud

nbcuniversal HBO Max Superheroes MSNBC cats singing competition Disney Shondaland Pride Month BET Awards streaming Nat Geo comics Academy Awards Reality Competition kids unscripted WarnerMedia Acorn TV TruTV Funimation See It Skip It spy thriller Creative Arts Emmys Amazon Studios CBS laika 4/20 scary movies Family ratings First Reviews VH1 Walt Disney Pictures political drama Ghostbusters Oscars hist Britbox E3 boxoffice Comedy worst movies ABC Family VICE Trailer sports Netflix documentaries chucky crime drama Syfy Awards Tour transformers Anna Paquin Elton John Emmy Nominations Showtime natural history werewolf stand-up comedy japanese richard e. Grant independent cancelled TV series BBC One BET 72 Emmy Awards Cartoon Network canceled TV shows A24 PlayStation Esquire Black Mirror Star Wars south america Hulu TCA Awards Hallmark TCA animated harry potter 20th Century Fox PBS renewed TV shows movie Pop mission: impossible Trivia OneApp Amazon Prime Toys spanish latino Sneak Peek biography Dark Horse Comics GoT Endgame name the review Hear Us Out GIFs witnail Fox Searchlight YA Crackle New York Comic Con Sundance TV SundanceTV Heroines Fall TV Black History Month Superheroe ESPN Spike spanish language CBS All Access YouTube Red BAFTA FX dogs Mudbound blaxploitation Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Logo BBC America Video Games Universal Super Bowl politics Apple TV Plus Apple TV+ TV Baby Yoda Marvel Television Schedule Star Trek Vudu Amazon Winners Turner Crunchyroll Interview toronto teaser 71st Emmy Awards festivals Lionsgate The Arrangement foreign parents Awards HBO Go Music facebook Calendar superhero screenings what to watch diversity MCU Kids & Family asian-american TNT docudrama nfl Rocketman golden globes psycho Election Premiere Dates Grammys Netflix Christmas movies El Rey Mary Tyler Moore USA sitcom cops crossover batman DC Universe IFC Summer romance The Purge Rock universal monsters Quiz American Society of Cinematographers SXSW 007 video Sci-Fi National Geographic war 24 frames Food Network spinoff crime thriller Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fast and furious DC Comics concert San Diego Comic-Con The Academy Extras science fiction stop motion documentary adventure 2020 Disney streaming service Biopics zombies Ovation 2015 indiana jones Bravo Rom-Com TV renewals scorecard CW Seed Marvel Christmas President Comic Book dceu halloween tv Lifetime SDCC Western YouTube Premium 2017 RT21 Film Festival Masterpiece police drama historical drama Television Critics Association Adult Swim TV Land anthology Pop TV rotten movies we love USA Network Mary poppins cars revenge zombie binge italian Shudder justice league psychological thriller E! History nature BBC sag awards Spectrum Originals Spring TV DC streaming service The Witch Infographic directors GLAAD Tubi Tarantino sequel cartoon Martial Arts NBC Film Women's History Month First Look french Tumblr RT History comedies aliens TCA Winter 2020 mockumentary LGBTQ TIFF Freeform zero dark thirty Comics on TV FOX Best and Worst FXX FX on Hulu venice archives Apple a nightmare on elm street period drama Mystery festival APB Marvel Studios news dragons Holidays Rocky casting worst hollywood Emmys Musicals Character Guide ghosts Certified Fresh Pet Sematary hispanic composers Amazon Prime Video Cosplay cancelled television toy story Paramount MTV children's TV based on movie Mary Poppins Returns TBS book Song of Ice and Fire green book franchise Musical Television Academy Ellie Kemper Winter TV Stephen King child's play cinemax Warner Bros. Sony Pictures thriller Reality cancelled Comedy Central NYCC Sundance Now satire technology CMT game show Lucasfilm award winner miniseries 2018 vampires reviews Sundance Polls and Games comiccon Photos dark adaptation Year in Review best Peacock Horror Holiday VOD Turner Classic Movies 2016 stoner finale rotten christmas movies dc disaster DGA cults Arrowverse Epix Brie Larson HBO television Avengers Classic Film Countdown Trophy Talk discovery cooking TCA 2017 cancelled TV shows AMC Podcast social media Lifetime Christmas movies free movies die hard IFC Films Opinion twilight joker Chernobyl reboot Box Office Valentine's Day dramedy jamie lee curtis serial killer quibi criterion Marathons WGN football breaking bad mutant The CW TLC critics blockbuster LGBT crime strong female leads Binge Guide versus Animation Writers Guild of America Disney+ Disney Plus Fantasy X-Men sequels spain Cannes Disney Channel movies Watching Series travel elevated horror romantic comedy 21st Century Fox A&E 45 anime films Fox News Country robots slashers true crime indie all-time Disney Plus Nominations TCM Pirates Thanksgiving ABC space CNN remakes doctor who spider-man Set visit Teen Mindy Kaling ITV Columbia Pictures comic Red Carpet emmy awards Starz Pixar halloween obituary classics tv talk Nickelodeon Hallmark Christmas movies screen actors guild game of thrones series supernatural Tomatazos Action talk show Captain marvel Discovery Channel YouTube Travel Channel OWN theme song DirecTV canceled medical drama PaleyFest 2019 The Walking Dead Paramount Network Drama video on demand