My Top 5 Marvel Movies

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This isn’t just my top Marvel movie, this is one of my top 5 movie movies. It makes my very short list of “perfect” movies that I have seen. I’ll write about those another day. This is the one movie poster that I own, and I’m proud of that fact.

Everything about this movie is perfect. The character introductions and reveals. Seriously, Steve giving Sam Wilson “on your left” is the best character introduction ever. The pacing. The horror of realizing what is actually happening. The road trip Steve and Nat take. The combat sequences (oooh, so perfectly choreographed and executed). The jaw-dropping moments (Fury’s car chase, elevator scene, fighting the Winter Solider on the highway!!!). This movie just makes you tingle from head to toe!

This movie features my favorite 3 Avengers: Steve, Nat, and Sam, and has the political thriller genre running strongly in its veins. The build-up and payoff are satisfying on every level possible. The quiet moments of reflection and resolve perfectly complement the big moments of sudden horror and “eat your failure” moments that get shoved in the villains’ faces.

But the best part is how this movie enables even the little guys to be the hero. That’s a big part of who Steve Rogers is, he believes in the little guy. He never sees himself as above someone else, and he’s all about using his gifts and strengths to lift others up. That’s true leadership, and his leadership brings Hydra to its knees. I love the throwing off of false morality and heroism, call crap what crap is and truth what truth is.

This movie is brilliant, unapologetic, heroic, and full of normal people doing amazing things because they believe in doing what’s right no matter the cost. It’s a movie of revelation, friendship, humor, glorious action sequences, and an extremely strong character heartbeat that keeps everything grounded.

2. Avengers

I never get tired of this one. The feeling I have when I watch it is something I haven’t felt so much with the more recent superhero movies. Things were simpler at this time, clearer, more fun.

And dang, if this movie isn’t just the most fun. Unlike DC (really? Justice League before the origin stories?) Marvel took the time required to properly develop a superhero team-up worth our while. We knew everyone, already loved them and wanted to see what would happen when we threw our favorite characters into the blender together.

Half of this movie is spent with everyone showing their worst side. They clash, misunderstand each other, or have their most vulnerable spots rubbed. It’s a hot mess. A beautiful hot mess. A hilarious hot mess. A delightful hot mess. I love this hot mess, and so does Agent Coulson.

Coulson. Y’all, Phil Coulson is enough of a reason to fall in love with this movie all on his own.

The hot mess almost completely falls apart (except Nat, she’s surprisingly put together minus that slight Hulk panic attack, but that’s Nat.). And then they come together with such a great show of humility, respect, and teamwork. It’s inspiring.

The pure glory and unabashed superhero swagger of this movie are unparalleled. From the soundtrack to the superhero poses and power moves, it’s just delicious. Absolutely delicious. And The Battle of New York is something I never tire of. Never ever. Never.

Even though it’s one giant glamor scene to the next, this movie still never sacrifices character development and interpersonal growth. Some of the best friendships, pairings, character clashes, and important Marvel moments are birthed in this movie.

And shawarma. Have you ever wondered how much shawarma sales spiked after this movie came out?

3. Ant-Man and the Wasp

If you just did a double-take, I ask that you rewatch this movie. See if you don’t finish your day feeling happier, fuller, and inspired to be a little bit more “out there”.

How can anyone spend time in the company of Paul Rudd for a few hours without coming out feeling happier? I’m also quite fond of Evangeline Lily and would like to see a LOT more of her. There’s not a single actor in this movie that I do not enjoy.

This movie arrived at a time in my life when I didn’t have as much to laugh about. It was a heavy time. This movie came right into the middle of my heavy, pulled me out of it, and gave me the gift of laughter that was grounded with heart. I literally felt like I’d gone through some healing for the 2+ hours I sat in the theater and laughed.

Scott Lang is one of my favorite characters. He’s an everyman. He’s us. He’s cool, but not so cool that he’s not also totally in awe of anything cool that comes his way. He wants to brag about knowing “Cap”. He’s going to learn online close-up magic sing karaoke and play a fake drumset.

Ahem, this is where I pause and I point out that Scott Lang lives in San Francisco and sings karaoke and is a cool dude. And Shang-Chi ALSO lives in San Francisco sings karaoke and is a cool dude. If these two don’t meet and team up I’m going to riot. I don’t care if people are worried that the combination of Luis and Katy might create a nuclear explosion, it’s worth it.

Infinity War (one of the 3 Marvel offerings in 2018) was a miserable watch. It had nice moments but mostly it was just echoing the heaviness and grief I was already dealing with in my own life. And while Black Panther was an absolute masterpiece, it was an extremely intense movie to watch. I wanted a break. I wanted to feel grounded again. Ant-Man movies are always more grounded (literally) and single-minded than other Marvel movies. Scott isn’t always trying to solve a whole world problem, sometimes he’s just trying to save one person. Hope and Hank just wanted to save their Janet. Bill Foster just wants to save Ava. Scott just wants to get his life together and to stop letting his loved ones down. Luis just wants their business to succeed and is willing to buy oatmeal packets to make it happen. Jimmy Woo just wants to be as cool as Scott (just wait a few years, Jimmy, then you’ll be cool all on your own).

Ant-Man and The Wasp takes a group of very sincere people who are flawed, sometimes dysfunctional, and throws them into a scenario that is both lighthearted, serious, and beautiful. It’s just about people loving people. There isn’t even a truly big “human” villain in this movie, the biggest battle is against Time. I love that even Ghost is redeemed.

This movie literally healed places inside of me and was salve on a very sad soul. I love it. I can watch it without feeling dragged down by larger Marvel events, it’s just perfect. The weight and enormity of the MCU has become a heavy burden at times, but Ant-Man and The Wasp never feels that way.

And who doesn’t need to see a hot wheels-sized car chase through the streets of San Francisco that also includes a larger-than-life Pez dispenser being hurled at the bad guy’s car? We all do, that’s who.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

I am not someone who likes or supports crass humor. I do not personally support every statement/joke/or attitude expressed in these movies. And I don’t recommend them for children. Morally gray characters are a line I think you have to walk very carefully and can easily take too far. But when they are done well they end up teaching you a lot.

The Guardians are definitely a mixed bag, but I learn a lot from watching them. Yondu is not someone I would hold up as a role model, neither would I hold Peter Quill up as a role model (Chris Pratt is another matter. Love him.) These people are desperately flawed, often annoying, and they know how to push each other’s buttons. They are not the crew you would invite to an elegant gathering or your child’s preschool show-and-tell.

Here’s the thing about the Guardians though, for how little sense they make, for how awkward and messy they are, I just love them. I saw Volume 1 and I was like…What. Is. Happening…oh crabapples! Suddenly I’m crying and have a huge lump in my throat. And that dang, that raccoon on screen worming his way past my emotional guard is in reality just a puppet. A PUPPET!

I kid you not, the characters most guaranteed to make me cry are the Guardians. I could see that special moment that was coming, the hand-holding that reminded Peter of his mom that was going to contain the Power Stone that followed the dance-off that was going to save Xandar! The fact that the previous sentence is the actual plot is really a thing of beauty.

But Vol. 2. Volume 2. Wow.

For the first 2/3s of the movie, I was like, “What are we doing here? Nothing means anything. Everyone is losing their mind, being a jerk, or all over the place. Sylvester Stallone is definitely still a knockout, but beyond that, why am I here?”

And then I hit the last 45 minutes, and it all came together and I saw it and was mindblown. Oh, wait! This whole movie has been all about meaning! It’s been about love, forgiveness, and healing. It’s been about friendship, sisterhood, fatherhood, giving yourself permission to love and be loved. Letting go of the things that keep people from getting close to you. It’s about loving people with their flaws and through their painful, vulnerable times. It’s about understanding what truly matters in life! It’s ordinary people loving each other, and that love creates an extraordinary strength that defeats the inflated, twisted agendas of those who think real meaning is about power and self.

Ego with his sick, twisted expansion missed the true meaning of everything that was right in front of his eyes. He could have stayed with Peter’s mom. They could have loved each other. He could have enjoyed being a dad. But he was blind to the meaning of anything, and he went so far as to destroy the beauty that did exist. He killed his children. He killed Peter’s mom. So Peter is gonna smash that perverted creep in the face with a giant Pac Man and doggone! I’m going to enjoy watching it!

I think the clincher moment for me in this movie was watching Peter mourn Yondu. I do not like Yondu. I still don’t “like” him. Yondu is unpleasant to me, but there are a lot of Yondu’s out there, and they are worth something and they need to be told so. They need to be seen and loved too. When Peter was grieving Yondu, I heard something in his voice. “I had a pretty cool dad.” I don’t think Chris Pratt was just being Peter Quill at that moment, I think he was being Chris Pratt. Chris lost his father far too soon, and I think at this moment he was being given the gift of feeling his own loss and love on screen. That was a very intimate moment that I felt lent gravity to the movie, and I felt honored that he was willing to share that with us.

I love the Guardians because on paper they make no sense, they are so messy, and yet they love so hard and they don’t quit. I can respect that. I learn so much from them that I don’t from other characters. I know the love they are learning to have comes less easy for them than it does for other characters. I was highly displeased with the Guardians’ portrayal in both Infinity War and a lot in (only Nebula and Rocket were handled well) Endgame. I felt they were not treated with the respect and growth their characters had earned. I’m hoping Vol 3 can fix some of these problems.

But yeah, I like my Guardians. I like them a lot.

5. Shang-Chi

It does not hurt that this was the first movie I’d seen in theaters since Far From Home in the summer of 2019. You know, a thousand years ago before the Dark Ages of Covid and everything else that has happened since. I didn’t mean to stay away from the theater so long, it just happened that way.

Shang-Chi was a treat that I got to go see with my mom as a celebration for my 25th birthday. I’d had a really good feeling about it going in, but wow. Wow, was I ever right!

This movie is amazing. I mean, AMAZING! It’s been a while since we’ve seen a completely new character with no prior introduction in the MCU make their debut. Shang-Chi did it and did it so well I’m still amazed. Nothing about this story was wasted. Every aspect of the movie, from the script to the humor to the costuming to the martial arts was all working in harmony to tell a very fantastical, very human story.

I loved the fantasy elements. I loved the bright colors. I loved how Chinese legends and otherworldly elements were seamlessly blended with some very American-tasting characters/conversations. I LOVED the characters. Shaun and Katy are what got me out of movie blog retirement.

This movie was powerful in its messaging, handled flashbacks with fine dexterity, and never lost the momentum. It used visual symbolism as well as honest dialogue extremely well. You could see the character growth portrayed in multiple ways. The story had deep moments of trauma and darkness, but they were well-integrated alongside moments of hope and humor.

Also, I just think Shaun is really cute. Like, REALLY cute.

I also like where he landed at the ending. His choice to stay true to the beauty and light inside of him, while also acknowledging the skills and history from both sides of his family was a more sustainable, mature approach to life. A lot of people think in terms of black and white and they don’t take the time to pick through the pieces of what’s worth keeping vs what you throw away. Living with extremes is usually an exhausting and dead-end way to live. It’s certainly NOT how you successfully woo the magical rings away from your father in a one-on-one battle.

It was nice to see a new origin story that felt like a Marvel movie, but more like the old ones used to feel. Exciting, fresh, making you hungry for more.

I don’t know if you’ve picked up on this yet or not, but I have some MCU fatigue. Endgame was a big movie, no one can deny that, but I was disappointed in many regards. The need for the story to keep getting bigger and bigger than the last thing has caused a lot of complications and overwhelm. Some things have been done that can’t be undone and I’m not happy about it. Often when a story grows to this point, it can get out of control. I am not enjoying the MCU the way I used to when things were simpler and more defined. Perhaps it’s naive or silly to expect/want it to feel the same way it did when I first started. I’m not the same person I was in my teenage years any more than the MCU is the same “world” it once was. I would say where I am now is I try to focus on individual chapters/characters more than just the world as a whole.

And that’s why I loved Shang-Chi, it was a fresh start with someone new that I have no baggage with. He was a character I was 100% happy to root for, and even his introduction to other big characters like Wong, Captain Marvel, and Bruce Banner was far more honest. They told him what he was in for right up front. “Your life has just changed and it’s never going back.” “Welcome to the roller coaster.” That’s exactly how I feel about life in multiple areas, so I could relate with those statements a lot. I have 0 martial arts skills and a very normal human origin story, but on an emotional level, I connected deeply with large parts of Shaun’s story.

Honorable Mentions: Spider-Man Homecoming and Far From Home

I haven’t seen No Way Home yet. I’m honestly very sad at some (not all) of the choices made for the movie, I don’t see how leaving Peter friendless and family-less is beneficial. One of those things I could swallow even if it tastes bad, especially the death part because it was an unexpected thing for Peter. But to leave his friends in the dark? To lose them not just as Spider-man, but also as Peter Parker? To do both? Why??? How does that make sense? Why is that “necessary”? Why should he have to lose Happy after he lost his mother and father, his uncle, Tony Stark, and now Aunt May????

What are we learning here? It’s “safer” or “nobler” to be on your own? What people don’t know can’t hurt them and it’s better that way? That’s crap and we know it. Marvel has proven it time and again, together is better. Family is better. Stick together, make it out the other side or die protecting each other. It’s worth it. #avengersassemble

The only reasonable thing I can think of that would justify causing Peter separation from everyone is Sony is hoping for another trilogy. Otherwise, I think it’s inexcusable.

But yeah, I love Peter Parker. I love his humility and his kindness. His stories are so easy to learn from and he’s so endearing. That’s why the Spider-Man movies get an honorable mention from me.

These are my top 5 Marvel movies. I chose them because they are movies I still want to watch more frequently. They are ones that still echo in my mind and I know I will enjoy them. I watched them and had a uniquely warm experience, or, they came at a very pivotal moment in my life and touched me more deeply than other chapters of the MCU.

These movies are not necessarily my most nostalgic Marvel movies (Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor have that honor). I like many installments in this series (Age of Ultron is a highly underrated Avengers film). And Captain America: Civil War has some of the best footage in the MCU. And the Marvel Disney+ series is a whole other ball of wax. But when I sat down and I thought about it, these were the 5 that rose to the top. I found my answers both expected and unexpected.

So, what are your top 5 Marvel movies? Why are they your top 5?

Katy and Shaun, Shang-Chi’s Real Superpower

Marvel’s recent origin story¬†Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings¬†was good enough to pull me out of movie blogging retirement.

I could spend article after article talking about the depth, meaning, and symbolism of this movie. Everything from the costuming to the scenery was full of purpose and interest. The character work was excellent. Shang-Chi carried a balance of sadness, triumph, humor, and potential.

But what actually got me to put words on the page is the relationship between Shaun (Shang-Chi) and his best friend Katy. They are probably one of the best things the MCU has created in a long while. Here’s why – warning, spoilers ahead.

Katy and Shaun are the defining relationship of the movie.

That may sound funny given how many other turbulent and dominating relationships we see Shaun experience throughout this story. But Katy and Shaun’s relationship is the most important one in the entire movie; and every other relationship (good or bad) can be contrasted or compared to it.

His relationship with his father is a twisted one. It’s defined by abuse, sick expectations, deep desire for something genuine, broken heartedness, and whatever true love is left in his father’s heart. It’s turbulent, nauseating, angering, and aggressive.

His relationship with his sister is one of broken promises, a broken heart, bitterness, coldness. At the root is a little girl who lost everything/everyone. It’s sad.

His relationship with his mother is one of remembered sweetness and meaning and beauty that he once had. He can’t reach her, he can’t get her back, and he couldn’t save her. It’s full of guilt and longing. It’s tragic.

Shaun’s new relationship with his aunt brings back some of the light he’s had hidden inside of him from his mother. It helps remind him of who he is, but it’s still much more of a mentor relationship.

And then there’s Katy. Quirky, witty, adorably awkward, forever faithful Katy. Katy is Shaun’s defining relationship throughout this entire movie. He deals with every demon (literally) of his past and present. From the bus fight in San Francisco to a magical valley in China where a dungeon full of soul-eaters exists, Katy is there. She’s Shaun’s reference point, his only constant, the anchor. He orbits around her as he faces everything else.

Unlike his father, Katy isn’t always about what Shaun has to do for her in order to earn her love. Unlike his sister, their friendship has been one of constants. Unlike his mother, Katy is very real and in the present. And unlike his aunt, Katy is facing some of the same struggles he is when it comes to being grounded in her identity and life direction.

We see Shaun experience many relationships in this story. We meet many layers and versions of Shang-Chi/Shaun, but we always return to Katy and Shaun. The way they laugh together, the way they tackle problems, the fears they both have, the way they listen to one another. It’s a healthy, life-on-life kind of relationship that keeps Shaun from jumping off of a character cliff. Katy grounds him even as she helps him fly. For a character with no superpowers, Katy is one of the most powerful characters in this movie.

It’s subtle, well-written, and woven logically and beautifully into the story. It feels real. Katy and Shaun are forever even if other things/people are not.

Katy saved Shaun

No, I’m not just talking about when she jumped in between him and the bully (honestly, she saved that jerk’s life). I’m talking about Shaun. He’d been through horrific things and had no where to land – until Katy showed up. She gave him a home, a family, a friend, and a sense of normal he lost the moment his mother was killed.

We see just how much this one friendship has defined Shaun when we see the contrast between him and his sister – Xialing. Where Shaun is warm, Xialing is cold. Shaun is gentle, Xialing is harsh. Shaun is normal, Xialing is very much abnormal.

You can’t really hold it against her. Shaun got to spend more years nurtured by their mother. Once their beautiful mother was gone, their father didn’t just see Xialing as a neutral presence, he treated her like a negative. She became someone lesser, someone to step over. He looked away from her in pain for something that wasn’t her fault. Even though his relationship with Shaun was perverted and full of abuse, he still affirmed Shaun in a twisted way. Xialing never got any of that. The only place where she found affirmation was in the gross underworld of using force to gain respect and admiration. For how much she hates her father, she has learned to be very much like him.

At the end of the movie, Shaun goes back to his normal life of karaoke and storytelling over drinks and appetizers with Katy – until Wong comes along with what is essentially a gold-lettered invite to the Avengers. Shaun has maintained the ground he’s gained and grown a few sizes larger as well. But he’s still Shaun. He’s a pretty amazing knight-in-shining-armor character.

Xialing isn’t as far along as he is. While at her father’s compound (where Shaun thinks she’s cleaning up the mess) we see Xialing uncovering the wall in her room. It’s full of angry, dark, violent pictures/posters/images. Half of the wall is uncovered, revealing a beautiful painting of a sad little girl. Xialing sits in normal clothes on the floor (the first time we see her this way) clutching a beautiful drawing of her mother. It’s symbolic – half of her heart has been uncovered – but the other half is still caught in darkness.

Her scene ends where we see that she is actually taking over the Ten Rings name and running the thug group on her own. The black leather is back, she’s still chasing affirmation and identity through force. She hasn’t learned as many lessons as her brother has, her future is still more in question.

What’s the difference between the two siblings? Shaun had a Katy, Xialing didn’t. Katy’s tiny family apartment in an old corner of San Francisco represents more genuine wealth than the entire stone compound Xialing possesses. The life that Shaun has where he gets to argue with Katy’s grandma about where the whiskey went, gulp down cereal before taking the bus to their shared valet job is more real, beautiful, and genuine than anything Xialing has. For a movie about the child of a 1000 year old warlord and his magical, soul-sucker fighting wife, Shang-Chi gave a place of great honor and value to the everyday beauty of a normal, loving family.

When Katy stepped in between Shaun and that bully she was saving his life. She was bringing in beauty, truth, life, warmth, hope, and a future. She didn’t know that, she doesn’t overthink it, she’s just herself and that’s what he needs.

Shaun’s mama used to sit at a table with him and make construction paper dragons and tell him stories from her homeland. That kind of beauty is what had literally caused his evil father to put the rings away and act normal for a while. It’s magic – powerful magic woven into ordinary, extraordinary, everyday kind of love. I finally found something worth growing old forXu Wenwu

Shaun lost that life the moment his mama died, but he was given it anew the moment he met Katy. It didn’t matter if his mama was from a magic corner of China with fantastical creatures, and Katy is the self-described “Asian Jeff Gordon”. It’s the same magic presented differently, but the fruit produced is just as good.

Katy and Shaun are a perfect team.

Are they perfect as people? No, they are beautifully flawed and that makes the story that much more enjoyable. But they are a perfect team.

A mistake many people make is they create a normal character like Katy, and a super-character like Shang-Chi, but then they don’t know how to keep the two together throughout a story. The Katy’s of the world get pushed off to the sidelines to ooh and ahh at the wonders of the Shaun character.

Shang-Chi didn’t do that once. Katy was always as relevant and important to the storyline as Shaun was. It isn’t because she is crazy brilliant, superpowered, rich, famous, etc. She’s just a good friend who doesn’t give up, and that’s an overlooked and under-utilized power. Her loyalty and faithfulness to Shaun is what made her the perfect boom to his pow. They need each other and they give to each other.

Shaun gets attacked on the bus and fights back – so Katy drives the bus.

Shaun has to go face his deadly family – Katy buys a plane ticket. So what if we are going to a seedy corner of Macau? Girl’s got a fanny pack, she ready.

They have to escape his father’s compound – Katy drives full speed towards a cement door trusting that Shaun is gonna get a henchman’s bio print on the screen in time to open it.

Shaun admits to murdering someone at the age of 14 – Katy is the first person to point out what a bad situation he was in and how he needs to be kinder to himself.

Shaun is about to lose to the soul-eater as it’s sucking the soul out of the dragon – Katy fires an arrow at the soul-sucker’s throat and causes a pivotal interruption.

Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina)

Shaun and Katy are a one-two punch, on and off the battlefield. They fill in each others gaps, listen to each other’s problems, and have each other’s backs. They develop together, something that many movies struggle to portray. Their friendship naturally produces growth in both of them even if they take turns supporting each other. They are a both and kind of relationship, not an either or.

The director of the film (Destin Daniel Cretton) said very clearly that Katy and Shaun are just friends for the majority of this movie. Shang-Chi is going through a lot and Katy’s friendship is what he needs, there isn’t room for anything else….But now? Who knows?

I could easily see (and let’s be real, AM TOTALLY ROOTING FOR) them becoming more in the future. Shaun and Katy are one of those legendary kind of relationships that are quite simply, best friends forever that slide smoothly from one phase of friendship into another. They are never gonna find someone else to connect with at the level they connect with each other, and they don’t need to. What they have is powerful and the world needs more of it.

The friendship of Katy and Shaun created this base rhythm for the rest of the movie to build off of. Their humanity and love for each other gave a heart and soul to a story that without that human base could have felt very bizarre. But with them in the center of it, it was just perfect. The strength and health of their friendship created a measuring mark for every other character interaction. As a writer and a fan who is always looking for character-first stories, I was incredibly pleased.

What did you think of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings?

%d bloggers like this: