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) 79%

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

obi wan GIFs serial killer TV best psycho DC Universe science fiction Stephen King golden globe awards Interview natural history Fox News Lifetime Shudder Musicals game show joker TruTV USA spanish language Toys Marvel blockbusters Animation Lifetime Christmas movies crime thriller unscripted movies dc talk show Netflix Christmas movies comic book movie new york war The Academy CBS Opinion Quiz binge Mary Poppins Returns ID FOX franchise LGBT what to watch Neflix Avengers 2015 Spike ratings TCA Awards HFPA harry potter breaking bad Exclusive Video IMDb TV legend Travel Channel E! First Look Women's History Month sag awards FXX Apple TV Plus Shondaland die hard women Music TCM Emmys foreign space nfl suspense streaming movies Marvel Studios worst movies cancelled TV series Crackle jurassic park kids directors summer preview The Walking Dead YouTube Premium robots Mary poppins kong Crunchyroll Family Musical IFC Films anime true crime Television Academy GLAAD a nightmare on elm street Pop TV godzilla MSNBC MGM TIFF festival Best Actress doctor who Mystery The Arrangement Awards Tour 007 scary movies wonder woman TV renewals young adult diversity Starz Sci-Fi series vampires Wes Anderson American Society of Cinematographers dragons ghosts Turner renewed TV shows Red Carpet Disney Plus game of thrones zombie TCA The CW Trivia disaster concert feel good Britbox animated 90s cancelled television Calendar hidden camera royal family Awards Cannes basketball spinoff Hulu Disney Amazon Studios SXSW live event venice CMT documentary New York Comic Con Thanksgiving DGA IFC Mudbound Chernobyl 71st Emmy Awards TCA Winter 2020 24 frames crime Watching Series rt labs critics edition Ghostbusters sequels Hallmark Super Bowl cancelled TV shows comiccon halloween tv Best Picture ABC NBA Polls and Games rt labs Amazon BBC One golden globes technology medical drama festivals HBO Go Ovation 79th Golden Globes Awards Legendary dexter Showtime emmy awards Tomatazos twilight Television Critics Association television Martial Arts justice league Epix deadpool NYCC SXSW 2022 documentaries hispanic heritage month Valentine's Day TV movies Best and Worst VOD nbcuniversal Focus Features universal monsters VH1 mob sequel First Reviews Universal Pictures Marathons 2016 spider-man Kids & Family Nominations facebook South by Southwest Film Festival black indie reboot jamie lee curtis new zealand Star Wars telelvision Oscars action-comedy Syfy razzies BET Star Trek Spring TV Broadway Schedule Instagram Live comic book movies Acorn TV Sony Pictures richard e. Grant 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards christmas movies 1990s mutant Comedy worst Hallmark Christmas movies BAFTA leaderboard Tumblr cartoon Oscar fast and furious USA Network Adult Swim 45 mockumentary critic resources Pop SDCC rt archives Disney Channel based on movie boxing Pacific Islander zombies Trailer new star wars movies french singing competition australia summer TV preview films Rock Columbia Pictures Binge Guide Netflix Disney streaming service lord of the rings award winner Action independent toy story CNN Country broadcast king arthur teaser FX on Hulu reviews AMC Reality Competition Academy Awards strong female leads dark Peacock Image Comics Tubi prank Summer thriller Christmas TV Land comic superhero mcc Song of Ice and Fire Fantasy romance remakes comedies Superheroes TCA 2017 elevated horror Sundance Now romantic comedy blockbuster cops Rom-Com revenge APB comic books Logo YouTube Red X-Men kaiju hist Set visit dogs transformers quibi ABC Signature biography Superheroe target 20th Century Fox satire OneApp sports spider-verse Certified Fresh 94th Oscars stand-up comedy Pet Sematary Grammys Mary Tyler Moore japanese canceled TV shows Spectrum Originals DC Comics cinemax book adaptation olympics Cartoon Network LGBTQ 2017 Food Network Arrowverse Classic Film spain adventure TLC fresh heist movie green book tv talk Best Actor know your critic TV One rom-coms Photos Freeform slasher canceled criterion ITV pirates of the caribbean 73rd Emmy Awards chucky Pirates Paramount Pictures international streaming AMC Plus screenings OWN marvel cinematic universe TNT The Witch monster movies screen actors guild Bravo Fox Searchlight BBC America Apple TV+ Prime Video 2018 The Walt Disney Company dreamworks YA Black History Month blaxploitation police drama slashers Lionsgate Comics on TV Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Holidays Sneak Peek Tarantino werewolf anthology Pixar Endgame scene in color streamig Lucasfilm Paramount Network sitcom Captain marvel obituary Nickelodeon historical drama Biopics theme song Film Festival Esquire laika casting 99% Alien children's TV japan marvel comics sopranos gangster Tokyo Olympics spanish spy thriller RT History travel supernatural name the review CW Seed video Holiday PaleyFest A&E vs. A24 child's play National Geographic President Sundance Video Games asian-american Fargo docudrama south america Black Mirror art house Baby Yoda Creative Arts Emmys social media psychological thriller 72 Emmy Awards HBO Max superman 21st Century Fox Ellie Kemper 2019 Brie Larson boxoffice MCU Best Director rotten Disney+ Disney Plus Comic-Con@Home 2021 zero dark thirty movie FX Mindy Kaling Rocketman saw scary cats comics Masterpiece PBS Cosplay Paramount 93rd Oscars BET Awards archives news Horror james bond Warner Bros. cooking black comedy Heroines political drama DirecTV scorecard miniseries 4/20 biopic GoT halloween hollywood Countdown video on demand RT21 aapi nature trophy live action witnail WarnerMedia cults PlayStation Chilling Adventures of Sabrina cancelled cars Election indiana jones Nat Geo MTV Winners NBC Character Guide aliens Reality Paramount Plus WGN genre The Purge parents ViacomCBS ESPN crossover latino SundanceTV Western ABC Family toronto Film CBS All Access Writers Guild of America Marvel Television Trophy Talk Pride Month adaptation HBO DC streaming service Extras Universal posters Walt Disney Pictures versus debate Dark Horse Comics Infographic classics Vudu Hear Us Out critics Comic Book summer TV Box Office Fall TV finale Drama trailers Teen Elton John batman Apple Rocky composers dramedy Emmy Nominations crime drama Hollywood Foreign Press Association book Amazon Prime See It Skip It Tags: Comedy Sundance TV Podcast 2021 docuseries all-time Anna Paquin Comedy Central Year in Review adenture popular free movies hispanic VICE History Winter TV E3 TBS stoner Turner Classic Movies politics San Diego Comic-Con stop motion football mission: impossible high school Funimation El Rey dceu BBC Amazon Prime Video period drama YouTube italian 2020 king kong discovery Discovery Channel Premiere Dates rotten movies we love