Marvel movies: a guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Time Out’s definitive guide to the superhero movies inspired by Marvel comics

Avengers Assemble, superhero movies

Marvel movies aren’t going away – in fact, there are at least 11 more set to be released between now and 2019. Lucky, then, that they consistently prove to be the best comic-book movies going, with memorable frontmen (and women), top-flight directors and cutting-edge special effects. From a definitive list of the best superhero movies to a history of Marvel films in 40 eye-popping gifs – plus, of course, reviews of each and every Marvel superhero film – we present our in-depth guide to this ever-expanding movie-verse.

List of Marvel movies

Iron Man (2008)
Film

Iron Man (2008)

Playboy weapons magnate Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is a greased amalgam of Howard Hughes, Hugh Hefner and C-3PO, complete with an enviable battery of glib banter and a goatee you could set your watch by. On a routine sales trip to the Middle East, his Humvee is ambushed by a terrorist cell and he is dragged away to a cave, where he is forced to reproduce one of his high-powered missiles with some scrap metal and a soldering iron.Instead, Stark uses those materials to construct a suit of robotic body armour and flee from the extremists’ clutches. This channels his epiphany –  perhaps long overdue – that profiteering from weapons is far from the Promethean zenith of overarching compassion he once thought it was. He returns a changed man and, with the help of his svelte assistant ‘Pepper’ (Gwyneth Paltrow) and best mate Jim Rhodes (Terrence Howard), builds a shiny suit of armour with which he plans to put an end to warfare for good.All this liberal hand-wringing comes much to the chagrin of the  sinisterly named Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), Stark’s devious benefactor, who doesn’t shine to his peacenik jabbering one bit. Stane sports both a bald pate and a beard, a red flag combination in comic-book land if ever there was one.Actor-turned-director Jon Favreau has proved with his past directorial efforts, including buddy comedy ‘Made’, Christmas film ‘Elf’ and kids’ fantasy ‘Zathura’, that he has a keen eye for character and can spin a decent yarn. Sadly, these two qualities a

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Film

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The first thing to say about director Louis Leterrier’s blockbuster monster-movie is that it’s more a stripped-down rerun of Ang Lee’s 2003 outing than a sequel to it. And all the better for it, too. If Leterrier has done a rethink, it is only to simplify and to streamline. It’s not praising with faint damns to say that this shorter, leaner, less psychologically fixated action adventure, on the whole, makes for a more satisfactory adaptation of the spirit of Stan Lee’s Marvel character than Ang Lee’s earlier attempt to nail the green giant.In so doing, the director, together with scriptwriter Zak Penn, wisely takes much for granted. The set-up – how Bruce Banner (a suitably unprepossessing Edward Norton) has been turned into an angry green creature in military experiments with gamma rays, injured his scientist lover Betty (Liv Tyler) and is on the run from ex-colleague General Ross (William Hurt) who considers his body US Army property – are cleverly glossed by the time the pre-credit sequence is over. Likewise, the filmmakers assume their audience will have a base knowledge of the Marvel universe and don’t overplay the crucial subtexts (about the abuse of science, et al). This allows, satisfyingly, a basic three-act adventure to get directly underway – with an exciting extended chase through a Brazilian favela, where Banner/The Hulk is pursued by new villain Blonsky (Tim Roth), an English-educated Russian soldier attached to Ross’s team with abominable, stop-at-nothing amb

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Film

Iron Man 2 (2010)

The ‘X-Men’, ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Batman’ movies have proven that the second instalment is where a comic-book blockbuster series finds its feet: with all those pesky origin details out of the way, the filmmakers can focus on raising the stakes, deepening the characters and ramping up the action. And for the first 45 minutes or so, this is where ‘Iron Man 2’ looks to be heading. Director Jon Favreau sets the stage for a titanic three-way conflagration as Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is under investigation by the US government following the public revelation of his superhero persona, while his arch rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) is scrambling after his technology and mysterious, musclebound Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) is up to unspecified no-good.The dialogue crackles, the special effects pop and the onscreen action never flags, climaxing with an astonishing multi-car pileup at the Monaco Grand Prix, where Iron Man meets his nemesis Vanko, aka Whiplash, for the first time. So far, so excellent: Favreau builds on the solid foundations of the first movie, and success looks guaranteed. But slowly, imperceptibly, it all starts to fall apart during the remaining hour or so.A major problem is the number of characters: Downey, Rockwell and Rourke are obviously all enjoying themselves enormously, but the same can’t be said for Don Cheadle as Stark’s redundant buddy-cum-sidekick Rhodes. Nor do the others seem to be having much fun: Gwyneth Paltrow is underused as Star

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Thor (2011)
Film

Thor (2011)

Is it 1987 again already? With its big hair, bulging biceps, blunt dialogue, swooning maidens, stoic heroes, shiny sets and even shinier armour, had ‘Thor’ been released a quarter of a century ago it would have had its own animated spinoff, tie-in shampoo and a range of articulated toys manufactured by Kenner. Even the basic set-up – an age-old interglactic conflict between musclebound lugs transfers to Earth and chaos ensues – feels eerily similar to the movie version of ‘Masters of the Universe’. The only thing missing is a cheeky animal sidekick.Comic-book fans will angrily point out that this incarnation of the ancient Norse god was actually created by Marvel guru and cameo junkie Stan Lee back in the early ’60s, and that the film’s plot, which sees Thor (Chris Hemsworth) banished from Asgard by his dad Odin (Anthony Hopkins) in an effort to teach the wayward warrior a spot of humility, comes directly from the source. But it’s clear from the decor, the dialogue and the nod-and-wink execution that everyone involved knows exactly how outrageously outdated this all is, and they’re going to have a little fun with it while they can.Not that ‘Thor’ is camp – this isn’t ‘Flash Gordon 2’, however much some of us might have enjoyed that. Like a number of recent comic-book blockbusters, it treads the line between telling an engaging story and recognising its silliness, though it does err sporadically on both sides. For every solid action set-piece or inventive digital effect, there

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

It feels fair to say that when ‘Captain America’ was first announced, no one outside of the 50 states was expecting anything special. As the film’s subtitle alleges, the Captain may be ‘The First Avenger’ but he’s still a patriotic prat in tights whose main powers, much like the real-world superpower that spawned him, seem to be excessive arrogance and blunt force. So respect is due to Joe Johnston and his screenwriters for not only fashioning a nifty, highly entertaining slice of pulpy comic-book action, but for making this most divisive of costumed crusaders universally relatable.The film’s period setting helps: by taking the character back to his mid-’40s roots and pitting him against history’s most hissable villains, the Nazis, the filmmakers have neatly sidestepped questions of American imperialism. They even take a few witty potshots at patriotic fervour in a terrific mid-film musical sequence, as our genetically buffed-up, weed-turned-warrior hero, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), traverses the country selling war bonds and bopping a comedy Adolf on the nose to the delight of baying crowds.But, with this sticking point out of the way, the film has other problems to contend with: the action scenes are inventive and well constructed but can feel somewhat slight; the characters are well sketched but far too plentiful; and the 3D effects are blurry and confusing – if you can catch this in 2D, you probably should. Most damagingly of all, ‘Captain America’, like ‘Iron Man 2’ and

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
The Avengers (2012)
Film

The Avengers (2012)

It’s official: May 2012 will forever be known as Joss Whedon month. Not content with co-writing and producing the best film of the year so far, the berserk horror romp ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, he’s now scripted and directed its biggest. And if ‘Avengers Assemble’ doesn’t feel quite as irreducibly Whedon-esque as ‘Cabin’, it retains enough of his trademark off-kilter wit and attention to character to set it high above your average multiplex crowd-pleaser.For those unfamiliar with the Marvel canon, the Avengers comics unite superheroes from across the company’s roster, in this case – deep breath – Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and lesser-known caped crusaders Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Brought together by Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and his SHIELD organisation, these six ass-kicking egomaniacs are tasked with taking on Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who plans to flood the world with evil skeleton monsters from outer space.It’s not rare to see a blockbuster skimp on plot, but that tendency is taken to new extremes here: the story is just a bare frame on which Whedon hangs his characters and action sequences. This can lead to problems when we realise that, Loki aside, we don’t know who the bad guys are, where they come from or what they want.But that – and a handful of dodgy CGI effects – is the only major fault with ‘Avengers Assemble’. This is as close as cinema

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Film

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Calling ‘Iron Man 3’ a mixed bag doesn’t really do justice to the heady peaks and interminable troughs in this scrappy but overwhelmingly likeable superhero sequel. In the minus column, there’s the tedious, talky first act, the script’s uneasy attempts at psychological realism, Gwyneth Paltrow’s increasingly shrill and redundant Pepper Potts and Robert Downey Jr’s disastrously smarmy, David Gest-like facial furniture. But they’re balanced out by a handful of punchy one-liners courtesy of ‘Lethal Weapon’ scribe Shane Black, a loveable old-school, Joe Dante-ish small-town-USA central section, and a sprawling cast of reliable supporting players including Rebecca Hall, Guy Pearce, Miguel Ferrer and the great William Sadler. Towering above them all is Ben Kingsley as one of comic book cinema’s most astonishing and unlikely supervillains. We find Tony Stark (Downey Jr) languishing in the doldrums, scarred by his experiences with the alien-battling Avengers and throwing himself into work at the expense of relationships and sleep. What’s worse, there’s a terrorist on the loose: mystery man the Mandarin (Kingsley), bent on global annihilation. After an ill-advised public throwdown followed by a helicopter attack on his plush seafront palace, Tony heads for Tennessee on the trail of a seemingly suicidal ex-soldier, and quickly learns that nothing here is at it seems… Despite his unimpeachable screenwriting CV, this is only Black’s second film as a director (his first, 2005’s glorious

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Film

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Some ingredients for making a ‘Thor’ sequel: one copy of ‘The Lord of the Rings’; one DVD of ‘Hellboy 2’; one complete set of ‘Masters of the Universe’ dolls; one footballers’ hairdressing manual from 1983; one ‘Idiot’s Guide to Norse Mythology’; and one retrospective rock album: ‘The Very Best of Yes’. This is a deeply silly, extremely noisy and sometimes impenetrable action movie that’s drowning in CGI, wild overacting and mullets. And it’s enormously entertaining.We pick up the story shortly after events in 2012’s ‘The Avengers’: hissable horned villain Loki (Tom Hiddleston) languishes in Asgard’s deepest dungeon; bulging hero Thor (Chris Hemsworth) battles to reunite the Nine Realms; and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is in London studying dimensional anomalies and dating Richard (Chris O’Dowd). But it’s not long before an ancient enemy arises: this time it’s the dark elves, a gang of unpredictable intergalactic Tolkien re-enacters led by Christopher Eccleston in facepaint. Most of what worked in 2011’s first ‘Thor’ works again: Hiddleston is campy and treacherous, Hemsworth is puppy-dog keen and there’s a nice line in knowing jokery clearly inspired by Joss Whedon’s script for ‘The Avengers’. But the first film’s shortcomings reappear too: the realm of Asgard looks like a gold-plated chocolate-box nightmare, Anthony Hopkins looks bored as uber-God Odin, and Thor’s gang of forgettable divine sidekicks do little but get in the way. It’s when the action gets going that ‘The

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Film

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

With his biceps and righteousness pumped to the max, Chris Evans’s superhero Captain America is an enjoyable square peg in the round hole of the sleek Marvel universe. That continues in this involving sequel to 2011’s WW2-set ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’, placing the character in an unusually shady political landscape. We’re in present-day Washington, DC, a faintly utopian place where glass buildings gleam and Steve Rogers (Evans) can befriend former army supersoldier Sam (Anthony Mackie) during a pleasant morning’s jog. But it’s also the site of a massive military build-up: three huge ‘helicarriers’ are stored under the city’s river, primed to pry into people’s privacy a bit too impressively. Surveillance anxieties in a spandex-clad comic-book blockbuster? Just as you’re savouring the hint of an ethically compromised, eye-patched Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), along comes the film’s secret weapon. Robert Redford plays against lefty type as an ominous high-ranking official thrilled by his new toys. Too quickly to generate proper suspense (yet causing plenty of giddy disbelief), ‘The Winter Soldier’ nods to ’70s classics ‘The Parallax View’ and ‘Three Days of the Condor’. It results in a vertiginous, turned-over action epic where US senators whisper allegiance to terrorist organisation Hydra and good guys are on the run.The Marvel faithful will turn up for the action scenes, and the directors, brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, add an uncommon sharpness to sequences of u

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Film

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

To misquote Forrest Gump’s mother, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is like a box of chocolates. Or rather, it’s like a vast, family-sized festive crate of chocolates, all wrapped in the shiniest packaging, all exploding with sweetness and surprises. Maybe there are a couple of flavours you don’t much care for, and after a while it all starts to get a bit dizzying, but you stuff yourself anyway, coming up bloated and satisfied on the other side. Based on one of Marvel Comics’ lesser known franchises, this is the tale of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), an earthling abducted as a boy who, a quarter of a century later, is working as a Han Solo-style outlaw-for-hire under the self-ordained nickname Star-Lord. When his quest for a mysterious orb attracts the attention of some blue-skinned intergalactic troublemakers, Quill throws in with a team of fellow outsiders including green-skinned warrior princess Gamora (Zoe Saldana), genetically enhanced raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), comically literal man-mountain Drax (Dave Bautista) and a self-regenerating, semi-sentient walking tree named Groot (Vin Diesel, typecast again).  There’s a basic good-v-evil plot in here somewhere, but it’s rendered largely impenetrable by a profusion of Marvel-verse asides which will only make sense to those who have followed the mythology across the entire comic and film franchise (some conversations seem to consist entirely of silly names jumbled up at random). No matter – the rest of us can just sit b

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Film

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Joss Whedon’s first ‘Avengers’ movie was the epic finale to Marvel’s cinematic Phase One, herding all the franchise’s disparate elements in a rousing, rewarding whole. ‘Age of Ultron’, though, has a definite mid-season feel to it, telling a compelling but never game-changing story while laying the foundations for the epic, two-part ‘Infinity War’ due in 2018. It may be piled with MacGuffins, magic crystals, red-skinned demi-Gods and psychic asides, but at the heart of ‘Ultron’ is a simple, even derivative plot about overweening ambition and technology run amok. When Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) combine to create the world’s first fully functioning AI, they don’t stop to think of the consequences. And of course it’s not long before Ultron (voiced by James Spader) is building an army of robots bent on wiping out the population of earth – starting with the noble Avengers. Whedon has revealed that his first cut ran for well over three hours, and it shows: ‘Ultron’ feels excessively nipped and tucked, barrelling from one explosive set-piece to the next, leaving ideas half-formed and character motivations murky. While the introduction of new superheroes like Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the confusingly multi-talented Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) may excite comic fans, it makes for such a crowded field that even star players like Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) are shoved to the sidelines. ‘Age of Ultron’ is s

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars

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Ten things we learned from ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’
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Watch the first ten Marvel movies in just 40 GIFs
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The ten blandest villains in Marvel movies
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The ten blandest villains in Marvel movies

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The ten worst superhero costumes
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The ten worst superhero costumes

The snappy seersucker super-suit worn by Henry Cavill in ‘Man of Steel’ got us thinking about hero costumes. Sure, some of them are truly iconic, from Spidey’s eye-scorching primary colours to Batman’s shut-up-I’m-brooding black leather ensemble. But other masked avengers just don’t have the same instinctive feel for fashion. Here are the ten daftest, cheapest, most deeply embarrassing superhero outfits.