It’s the eve of the release of Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel’s last-ever instalment of their 10-year-old Cinematic Universe (just kidding, these films will exist long after you and I are dust). It’s the culmination of three “Phases” of films consisting of 18 movies, and there have been a few major shakeups since we last discussed the best and worst of the ongoing franchise. So, in the spirit of highly-anticipated crossover events, we at ORWAV have again gathered a few of our writers to pick what they feel is the best out of the selection (before Thanos kills all of our beloved Chrises), and argue their case.
Kambole: So, what’s the best Marvel film? Show your work.
James: The answer is Captain America: Civil War. It’s the best Avengers film which isn’t. It’s stacked with characters who all get their badass moments, yet still remains definitively a Cap movie with a compelling, personal and character-driven story. At its heart, it’s about Cap and his relationships with Bucky Barnes and Tony Stark. But it also has so many money-shot moments: Spidey with Cap’s shield, Giant-Man and the Cap/Iron Man fight scene, lifted straight from the page.
Carmen: The best, in my opinion, is Thor: Ragnarok. Two mediocre Thor films and a few Avengers outings with not near enough Asgardian time lead to this absolute gem by Taika Waititi. There’s never a slow moment, and every joke lands – Chris Hemsworth‘s sincerity is a gift. The all-star cast is on top form – it’s impossible to find a weak link. ‘The Immigrant Song’ is iconic once again. And despite the real threat of intergalactic destruction, this film is possibly the perfection of the Marvel house style’s lightheartedness and fun. I’ll never get tired of watching this one.
Bertie: Last time we had this debate, just before Civil War’s release, I championed Iron Man. The original and best – not just of that trilogy, but of all of Phases One and Two. I’m intrigued that so far today we’ve been discussing Phase Three movies only, and I’m going to continue that trend. My new champion is Black Panther. It’s such a blast. Both as a breath of fresh air from a sniff-the-milk formula (that is to say, potentially gone stale) and as a recognisable Marvel movie. Being able to so brilliantly build on the introduction to T’Challa in Civil War with a deep and rich new world was a sight to behold. And, of course, it was a massive step in the right direction for representation on screen and in the MCU. All hail the king.
James: I didn’t dig Thor: Ragnarok as much as everyone else. It was great fun but for me just pushed the envelope too far with the comedy. It undercut the dramatic moments and jarred with the previous two (admittedly less fun) Thor movies – characterisation up until that point seemed to go out the window.
Bertie: Now hold your horses both of you – what wasn’t fun about Thor (1)?!
Carmen: I think the complete irreverence of the comedy while keeping character depth (IMO) and the high stakes (Asgard was destroyed!) was a well-balanced masterstroke. And Thor is a great romp! Just a bit… stiff (sorry Kenneth Branagh, I still love you).
Kambole: I think Ken will be OK, just so long as you tell him his Shakespeare is great.
Carmen: Which it is!
James: I liked the first Thor; it struck the right balance of fish-out-of-water comedy, cosmic adventure and theatrical pomp. But let’s face it, it ain’t anywhere near the best Marvel pic.
Bertie: I’m with Carmen on this one – Ragnarok was both hilarious and sincere in stakes. But yes, perhaps Thor’s cosmic wanderings changed his personality? Also, a great idea to team Thor and Hulk!
Carmen: I will admit Ragnarok is not a standalone film, though – its greatness certainly owes some debt to the groundwork laid before it for all of its characters (see: Loki’s reaction when the Hulk arrives in the arena). If I had to pick the best film devoid of context, I’d go with Black Panther. But the MCU is an institution now, so it would not make sense for them to make films that could always stand alone – they’d be retracing ground when they can just pick up from the last one.
Bertie: Spot-on Carmen – is Black Panther the best IN the MCU, or the best film as a part of the shared universe? It expands rather than shares.
James: I think Black Panther was fantastic in basically every way as a film, but not the best Marvel film in terms of sheer giddy thrill.
Carmen: Interesting Bertie! Maybe Black Panther represented the latter – i.e. the best instalment of an ongoing series – and Ragnarok more the former?
Bertie: Back to Civil War though, the airport fight is perhaps the ultimate in that giddy thrill rating. Although the first Avengers did all this first.
James: Oh my god, that airport fight will go down in comic book movie legend as “this is how you do it”. But more to the point, comparing this to previous Avengers instalments, Evans and RDJ are just so good in Civil War. Their scenes together are electric, and it’s all because you’ve spent time with them, separately and together, over all these films. We’ve seen how they clash but also how well they work together and respect each other, which makes the fact they’re opposing each other so dramatically satisfying. The climactic battle carries so much emotional weight.
Kambole: I’d say Civil War was the first one in a while where the stakes feel tangible and convincing.
Bertie: Which of them is the villain to you James? For me it is Cap. Tony may be wrong, but that’s on bad information. For me, it feels a lot like Cap goes out of his way to fight the group.
James: That’s a great question Bertie! And the beauty of Civil War is that there’s no black-and-white answer. I’m definitely #TeamIronMan though, and with the revelation that Cap knew Bucky killed the Starks… eeesh.
Bertie: Let’s be honest though – Zemo is a weak villain. This takes me neatly back to Black Panther. When comparing Marvel movies I often, but not always, find that my decisions come down to the villains. Black Panther has two rocking bad guys, each memorable and enjoyable in their own way. But Killmonger is such a different villain to the rest of the MCU – the closest probably being Captain America or Tony Stark in Civil War (depending on your perspective of that film) – in that I could get behind Killmonger’s aspirations, if not his methods.
James: Zemo’s plot is iffy at best, but the outcome he manages to achieve is pretty seismic.
Carmen: Killmonger is hands-down my favourite Marvel villain.
James: Agreed, Michael B. Jordan kills it.
Carmen: There’s a lot of real pain and rage and relatability, which you don’t often get from Marvel villains out to take over the world.
Bertie: And he just owns the screen, early-Loki style.
Carmen: Truly compelling – he isn’t an interchangeable space guy or another smart man with a complex.
James: Marvel’s always had a villain problem, everyone knows this. Black Panther went a long way to addressing that.
James: And let’s not forget the film which introduced Black Panther to the MCU… Civil War!
Carmen: I don’t think Hela is exempt from the villain problem, but Cate Blanchett vamps it up and it’s immensely entertaining. She’s having such a grand time. Also Ragnarok’s commentary on imperialism and colonialism, which she spurs, lends some depth to the shenanigans.
Bertie: It’s not just the villains though; the introductions of Black Panther and Spider-Man were, for me, the best parts of Civil War. A shame it took so long to then see the full films!
James: And how incredible a feat was that from the Russos to introduce Black Panther, and do him justice. PLUS, it gave us an awesome new Spider-Man.
Carmen: The way they pulled off Spidey was pretty neat; I was convinced it was going to be a let-down of a reveal.
Bertie: Evil Cate was pretty decent in Ragnarok, but felt slightly like a Loki/what’s-his-name from Guardians of the Galaxy hybrid.
Carmen: Loki is the god of chaos, Hela is the goddess of destruction – completely different outcomes. Loki on the throne just sat around and watched plays of himself (bless Sir Anthony).
Bertie: In fact, with a few exceptions, Phase Three is an excellent set of films.
Carmen: It really is. I’ve enjoyed them all immensely – there’s been no Ultron.
James: If we’re going way back for contenders, it’s got to be the original Iron Man. Still great.
Bertie: Iron Man rules! See the last debate for my robust defence of every moment of that film.
Kambole: But there can be only one best one – what raises your choices above all others? Maybe it’s the look or score or something? I want to dig into the aesthetic of these films, especially because it’s a franchise that has been accused of, well, not really having one.
Bertie: Black Panther is beautiful. Sounds great, looks great, feels alive. None of the corporate hi-tech blandness of most of the rest (Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Doctor Strange excepted). And I adore the pan-African incorporation into every inch of Black Panther.
Carmen: Thor’s ’80s psychedelia is a treat from start to finish – it feels irreverent, ridiculous, and warm-hearted, and it allows the lesser-loved figures to shine on Jeff Goldblum‘s (amazing) trash planet. And actually, the dialogue also sparkles in a way the more sanitised Marvel wit does not always, I think – like the snake story, “Get Help”, etc.
James: For me, Civil War ticks all the boxes: great fights, comedy, real emotional drama and genuine progression of the overarching story of the MCU. Plus, the first meeting between Tony and Steve in Infinity War is going to be such a huge moment.
Kambole: But James, does the look or style stand out to you? They do have a fight in a big airport after all, not a fictional African nation.
Bertie: Aesthetically, I would only vote for Civil War for the location titles. They are the only fresh bit of design.
James: I will say that the look of Black Panther is easily the most lived-in, authentic, yet still wondrous look of any of these things.
Carmen: It’s special in that way. And the women of Black Panther are the best Marvel has. (Followed closely by Valkyrie. Give me women who drink away their pain any day.)
James: Black Panther is undoubtedly the most important MCU entry though, culturally. And the design is incredible. But next to Civil War? Cap and Iron Man are fighting just like in the comic, c’mon!!
Bertie: Can we talk women a second? Because Carmen has a point. Film 20 will be the first to have a female lead in the title (Ant-Man AND The Wasp) and film 21 will be the first solo female lead (Captain Marvel). Black Widow may also be finally getting her due – which Carmen has already written extensively on! Black Panther, film 18, is filled with great female characters.
Carmen: Black Panther is leading the way in that regard – I want a Dora Milaje film, and a Shuri film!
James: It’s so cool that Shuri is going straight into being a key player in Infinity War. But yes, very true. This is the one area in which DC has the edge.
Bertie: WHO DARES SPEAK THE NAME DC?
Kambole: But yes, women – women of colour, especially, are at the forefront of Black Panther and Ragnarok – not so much in Civil War.
James: Ha, true though.
Carmen: These last couple of movies have simply represented a long overdue moment.
James: Civil War – not great for the ladies I admit. Black Widow and Scarlet Witch are just kinda there.
Carmen: I love Scarlet Witch and Black Widow, but it felt that their sides were divided because it “had” to be that way; their reasons for being team Cap or team Iron Man weren’t really explored.
James: It just isn’t their film; they’re minor players in the same way Falcon and Ant-Man are I guess.
Kambole: At the same time, there are a lot of minor characters in Black Panther, but they all actually have their own agency.
Carmen: Okoye’s loyalties were better explored and expanded on. And Thor is loyal only to his family and friends and it’s pure-hearted and good (not a strong argument, just me fangirling a bit).
Kambole: I’ll allow it.
James: So do we flip a three-sided coin now or… ?
Kambole: Someone is gonna have to say why everything else sucks and your choice is the best, you’re all agreeing too much!
Carmen: But the MCU is too good!
James: I loved Black Panther and will gladly budge for it, but Ragnarok, nope, sorry.
James: The tone tipped too far into everything being wacky and hilarious. I needed some more depth. Case in point: Asgard is destroyed, a huge moment in the MCU, and before we can absorb this Korg cracks another joke. It just wasn’t quite right.
Bertie: I agree with you all, but I do firmly believe that the best film is Black Panther. As much for the craft as for the excitement. Thor is a terrific character, and that’s a funny film, and Civil War pits brother on brother while giving meaning to the punches, but Black Panther just has it all.
Carmen: Thor is unique – it’s gorgeous, it’s engaging, and it’s hilarious. It takes the characters you know and love but always got pushed aside for Cap or Iron Man and gives them a madcap adventure where high stakes and slapstick exist side by side. It’s a masterclass in physical comedy. Taika Waititi‘s vision is both his own, and keeping true to Marvel. Cate Blanchett vamps up the place and gives us a villain who’s not as strong as Killmonger but nonetheless a joy to watch (“FAKE”). With her included, we have two excellent female characters (Valkyrie knocking every previous woman out of the park). It’s a gem brighter than any of those daft Infinity Stones.
James: I’m clearly not going to win this, so my vote goes to Black Panther – sorry Carmen!
Kambole: Seems like we’re headed that way. Gotta say that if I had a vote, I’d be saying Black Panther.
Bertie: Sorry James (not sorry).
Kambole: Will you concede or fight Bertie to the death?
Carmen: I will concede, the Black Panther ladies have my allegiance.
James: Well played Bertie.
Bertie: All hail King T’Challa! So here’s my parting thought: are we actually looking forward to Infinity War?
James: God yes.
Bertie: No trepidation?
Carmen: Nope, I’m all enthusiasm. I should be nervous, but no.
Bertie: Like, is anyone going to get more than 20 minutes’ screen time?
Kambole: The lizard part of my brain is excited, I’m worried that it’s basically going to be everyone introducing themselves for two hours. That said, I already have tickets.
Carmen: I think we’re losing a few key players – my money is on Cap, Iron Man, Thor, and/or Loki.
Bertie: All three would be a disaster!
James: They shouldn’t need to introduce too many surely? We know them all, just get them together and fighting Thanos!
Carmen: I’m keen to see how it all goes and how the MCU handles the next shakeup.
James: Serious point: the MCU does need to kill some major characters or the stakes are just non-existent.
Bertie: Oh, they will.
Kambole: Let’s hope!