While the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the highest-grossing movie franchise ever, and it does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon, it is not above criticism. For every post that boldly tries to bring something new to comics, there tends to be an MCU movie that follows formulas that previous movies established.
Of course, sticking to a formula is not in itself a bad thing. First, it helps create consistency in the franchise, but it is appreciated when filmmakers like Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler came along. These instructors managed to make films within the MCU that tried to take things in different directions.
Updated September 1, 2021 by Melody MacReady: Infinity Saga of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies may be over, but with the release of Black Widow, a new phase as well as a new saga has begun. As such, it is time to look back and showcase the films that either took the MCU in a new direction as well as those that committed to the normal formula, for better or worse.
14 Sticks To The Formula – Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
While the Russo brothers would eventually make superior Captain America films that established Cap as one of the best characters in MCU, Joe Johnstons Captain America: The First Avenger told his origin story with all the familiar beats: a dead mentor, a love interest, a big victim, etc.
The fresh mass works well from wartime action scenes, and Steve’s early career as a propaganda tool provides some interesting comments, but The first takes revenge is ultimately a well-known superhero origin story the audience has seen over and over again for better or worse.
13 Deviates From It – Black Panther (2018)
Wakandan setting off Black Panther makes the film completely unique. T’Challa embarks on a similar hero’s journey to Marvel’s other criminal warriors, but the immersive world structure of his fictional African nation makes the film his very own epic hero, separated from the rest of MCU’s output.
Ryan Coogler’s films broke all sorts of records, such as becoming one of the highest-grossing superhero films ever and the first MCU film to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture.
12 Sticks To The Formula – Iron Man 2 (2010)
Although it was only the third film in MCU, Iron Man 2 was a solid sequel, but many agreed that it was disappointing compared to the first film. Iron Man 2 is too focused on establishing the wider world and creating future successors to tell its own story in a satisfying way.
Rather than show Tony Stark how he felt at the end of the first Iron Man film, he is back to being the narcissistic playboy who has to grow up and learn to be a responsible hero again. This does Iron Man 2 at times feels like a retreading, but the inclusion of War Machine, Black Widow and Whiplash helps by giving it a bit of flair.
11 Deviates from it – Iron Man 3 (2013)
Shane Black did everything he could to undermine the expectations of a Marvel movie when he directed and co-wrote Iron Man 3. In this case, the undermining of expectations resulted in setbacks from the fan base, as did the revelation that Mandarin is a beer-twin actor as opposed to an intimidating terrorist leader.
Black’s undermining was mixed with some that seemed like a breath of fresh air, while others left fans confused or bored, like forcing Tony to face the villains without his armor and Black’s trademark by putting the story around Christmas time.
10 Sticks To The Formula – Doctor Strange (2016)
Sorcerer Supreme’s powers are brought to life with trippy, mind-bending visual effects in Scott Derricksons Doctor Strange. However, fans have pointed out that Stephen Strange’s origin story is very similar to Iron Man’s origins, as both are eccentric wealthy men who become better people through becoming superheroes.
It undermines the formula in a crucial way as the final match sees Strange create a time loop to prevent the destruction of skyscraper that usually takes place in Marvel’s final matches. However, the film generally adheres to the formula established in Phase 1 of the MCU.
9 Deviates From It – Captain Marvel (2019)
Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck Captain Marvel avoided the usual rigidity of origin stories with a non-linear narrative. The film dives right into the action, and Carol Danvers’ backstory is shown in glimpses, while Skrulls sticks around in her memories.
The battle in the third act is undermined by the fact that Carol is strong enough to break through the navy that was sent to destroy her, so it’s less a two-sided battle and more a massacre. The way the villains are presented with numerous twists gives some of the most engaging parts of Captain Marvel also.
8 Sticks To The Formula: Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)
IN Guardians of the Galaxy, a group of heroes who do not get together come together to stop a villain who plans to use a plot device to destroy the universe. In many ways, this is the same setup as The Avengers but that does not mean it is a bad thing. It leads to a very strong introduction to the cosmic heroes in a fast-paced action comedy.
The titular Guardians have become icons because of their rashes and dysfunctional personalities. What their first film lacks in originality, it makes up for in pure sci-fi acting, character chemistry, emotional moments and an unforgettable soundtrack.
7 Deviates From It – Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
From the first ten minutes alone, the Russo brothers let the audience know Avengers: Infinity War is not standard Marvel affair. It may be that Thanos is trying to get a plot unit, but from start to finish it undermines expectations. Many memorable encounters between Thanos and Marvel’s heroes take place in Infinite war.
The Avengers are split apart, allowing for multiple stories at once across different parts of the galaxy. There are character deaths and changes that no one will see coming, and it features one of the coldest and heartbreaking endings of any cartoon.
6 Sticks To The Formula: Ant-Man (2015)
Marvel was not interested in deviating from its formula with Ant man, as stated by the original director Edgar Wright, who withdrew from the project at a relatively late stage, citing creative differences. The studio hired Peyton Reed to replace Wright as director, and the result is a simple yet effective superhero plot.
Ant man stands out mainly with its images, the great uplift and the many memorable performances; the world’s photorealistic CGI, when Ant-Man is in its shrunken form, is nothing short of impressive. However, it suffers from the typical Marvel formula for heroes trying to stop a villain from getting a plot unit, and the villain is an evil version of the hero.
5 Deviates From It: Avengers: Endgame (2019)
After the disastrous end of Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame was expected to be an all-out war from start to finish. However, the film seriously undermined expectations by making it clear within its opening act that the damage has been done and Snap cannot be reversed. Thor beheads Thanos and the Earth’s most powerful heroes are toppled in the depression by the devastating loss their failure caused.
The film then takes a five-year leap into a post-apocalyptic world that cannot move forward. As it catches up with Avengers after snap, it becomes more of a dark, cerebral drama than an action movie. Even when it returns to a superhero parade in the final half, it manages to keep throwing twists along with one of the most iconic final fights in MCU.
4 Sticks To The Formula – Thor: The Dark World (2013)
It is common to see Thor: The Dark World as a popular choice for one of the least beloved items in MCU, precisely because it represents the pinnacle of the franchise’s formal approach. Malekith is a generic evil villain with a generic evil plan who speaks in sound bites and never develops a personality.
Fans praise rattles between Thor and Loki as they work together, but generally speaking Thor: The Dark World seems to lack any substance to keep the audience excited between the forgettable villain, cliché Infinity Stone hunting plot and over-consumption of characters like Darcy Lewis and Erik Selvig for comedy that was not so funny.
3 Deviates from it – Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
After Thor’s first two independent films, Taika Waititi came together to revive the series Thor: Ragnarok, a tonal 180-degree turn facing a wildly comic area. The Hulk and Valkyrie were added to the ensemble along with Loki, now one of MCU’s best anti-heroes, to create a cosmic adventure unlike anything else in MCU.
Instead of a typical story about Thor trying to prevent a villain from getting a plot unit, the villain, Hela, wins essentially the moment she arrives. Thor tries to get back to Asgard to win a rematch and save his home from her evil rule. Using the simple but effective buddy formula that Thor and Hulk cultivate, Thor: Ragnarok is one of the most unique Marvel movies.
2 Sticks To The Formula – Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015)
Unfortunately, the second Avengers movie does more rehashing than it provides new concepts. The inclusion of the Hawkeyes family, the Maximoff twins and the different approach to artificial intelligence all deserve the credit, but the rest of Ultron’s age is very similar to the first film.
The heroes come together, the heroes end up fighting with each other, something happens that brings them back together to a giant CGI-filled climax, the villain is defeated, credits roll. Ultron’s age have many things to enjoy but it may disappoint those looking for something different.
1 Deviates From It – Black Widow (2021)
The first movie in Phase 4 tries to be something different than it begins, and presents a much darker Marvel movie. This film puts a lot of focus on Natasha Romanoff’s past and shows the dark things she and her sister have to do for the enigmatic Red Room.
Even the action scenes are different and feel more akin to Impossible mission mixed with James Bond action sequences, giving the film a spy-thriller feel. Black widow also places great emphasis on the family dynamics between Natasha, Yelena Belova, the Red Guardian and Melina, and shows the trauma the black widows all go through to become what they are.
NEXT: The 10 Best Quotes from Black Widow (2021)
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