With five solo superhero adventures building up to the ensemble team-up of The Avengers, Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe stuck the landing. Phase One proved that this ambitious cinematic experiment could work, turning B-tier characters like Iron Man and Captain America into globally beloved icons. After that, Phase Two had to follow it up. In Phase Two, the MCU continued the ongoing arcs of beloved heroes like Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Thor, and also introduced fan-favorite additions like Guardians of the Galaxy’s scene-stealing talking tree Groot and the Ant-Man franchise’s resident storyteller, Luis.
Every movie in the MCU has its own standout character. No one can steal an Iron Man movie from Tony Stark, but Thor sometimes has to yield the spotlight to his mischievous brother Loki. Big team-ups like the Avengers movies are up for grabs – sometimes, even the villain steals the show.
6 Iron Man 3 – Tony Stark
No supporting character can steal an Iron Man movie from Tony Stark, although Natasha Romanoff gave him a run for his money with her debut in the second film. Iron Man 3 is controversial for its Mandarin identity twist, but Tony undeniably carries the movie. Shane Black, one of the most acclaimed action screenwriters in Hollywood, signed on to helm the threequel in his signature style. The movie marked a reunion between Black and franchise star Robert Downey, Jr. after their neo-noir gem Kiss Kiss Bang Bang gave Downey one of the best roles of his career.
Black’s snappy dialogue and Downey’s ice-cool performing style are a match made in heaven. With his script for Iron Man 3, Black penned some of Tony’s most memorable quips, including this notoriously savage put-down: “Which happens, dads leave, no need to be a p***y about it.”
5 Thor: The Dark World – Loki
After Loki stole the show as the main villain in The Avengers, he was given an inflated role in Thor: The Dark World. The Dark World is generally considered to be one of the weakest entries in the MCU, but Tom Hiddleston is as charming as always in the role of the trickster god.
Thor reluctantly teams up with his imprisoned brother when Asgard is attacked by Dark Elves. Loki is still delightfully smarmy in the sequel – with one great moment in which he impersonates Captain America – but he also gets some emotional depth as he mourns the loss of Frigga, one of the only people who ever loved him.
4 Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Steve Rogers
After Steve Rogers was introduced as a generic goody-two-shoes in Phase One, the Russo brothers reinvigorated the character in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Essentially Cap’s Ragnarok, The Winter Soldier took a stale superhero and made him much more compelling. He’s still a straightforward do-gooder, but his action scenes got much more intense. The revamped Cap is like John Wick with a vibranium shield.
Unlike most MCU movies, The Winter Soldier creates a personal connection between the hero and villain as Cap is targeted by his brainwashed best friend. He doesn’t just have to defeat the bad guy; he wants to save him.
3 Guardians Of The Galaxy – Groot
When Marvel Studios announced an intergalactic action-adventure movie featuring a talking tree, some box office analysts expected it to be the MCU’s first commercial bomb. Now, that tree is one of the most globally recognizable and universally adored icons in popular culture.
Groot won the hearts of fans across the world with just three words: “We are Groot.” In the original Groot’s tragic death scene (before he was resurrected as a Funko Pop), he makes the ultimate sacrifice to save his newfound family. Guardians of the Galaxy is a balanced ensemble piece, but Groot is the undeniable breakout star.
2 Avengers: Age Of Ultron – Ultron
The titular android in Age of Ultron is a truly chilling bad guy from the moment he gains consciousness and staggers into the Avengers’ after-party, evoking Pinocchio: “I once had strings, but now I’m free… there are no strings on me!” The movie adaptation of Ultron was criticized for not living up to the character’s full potential. In the comics, Ultron is a malicious artificial intelligence who can hack into any computer on the planet. He’s one of the biggest threats in the Marvel universe. But in the movie, it just takes a barrage of CG energy to defeat him and the “age” teased by the title only lasts for a couple of days.
Still, he’s an unforgettable character, mostly thanks to James Spader’s unsettling vocal performance. Most of the Avengers themselves are on autopilot in Age of Ultron, but Ultron himself is a mesmerizing presence whenever he shows up on-screen.
1 Ant-Man – Luis
Michael Peña made his MCU debut in Ant-Man with the role of Scott Lang’s best friend (and later business partner), Luis. Luis immediately became a beloved supporting character. He’s one of the funniest comic relief sidekicks in the MCU’s history (which is saying a lot, because Paul Rudd already provides plenty of comic relief as Lang himself).
Luis is most renowned for the running joke of his rambling storytelling. When he starts off on an unwieldy anecdote, director Peyton Reed cuts through a montage of all the events he’s describing, complete with characters speaking in Luis’ voice.
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Author: Ben Sherlock