Unlike my previous columns, this column is not going to be on business or the economy, or education.
It will be on a topic far less 'serious' to most (but perhaps, utterly serious to a few).
I am a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). 15 years ago, you had to be careful with such proclamations since superhero movies tended to be infantile, simplistic and unimaginative.
However, by now, if you haven't watched many MCU films, regardless of your age or vocation, you might not have fully lived. I kid, of course.
That said, the MCU is nothing short of a milestone in the history of cinema.
The superhero genre has been a pervasive part of popular culture for decades. However, MCU has single-handedly rendered superhero movies the most lucrative, the most-watched and possibly the most-enjoyed genre in recent history.
Two weeks ago, by the time my wife and I finished watching Black Widow - MCU's latest - we were truly impressed.
Naturally, we reminisced watching the MCU movies at various theaters in Dhaka and overseas, bearing witness to the epic saga as it unfolded - from Iron Man's first flight to his famous last words as he snapped Thanos into oblivion.
It also felt opportune to recall and, just for fun, rank the top MCU movies.
So here goes my ranking of the Top 10 MCU movies, which is, of course, a highly subjective endeavor not based on formal parameters such as box office performance, but simply on my personal enjoyment.
10. Doctor Strange (2016): Benedict Cumberbatch is one of my favorite actors. His casting as Doctor Strange is one more feather in Marvel's cap of immaculate casting decisions. Although this movie can become a tad zany and there have been controversies about Tilda Swinton being cast as the sorcerer instead of an Asian ethnic, the story is very well-told with stunning yet credible visuals effects. Moreover, Cumberbatch is in his element. If you have watched BBC's Sherlock Holmes and are a fan of the actor's wit and personality, you will have cheered at Cumberbatch reprising yet another iconic pop culture character.
9. Spiderman: Homecoming (2017): Spiderman is, of course, a comic book character targeted at a younger demographic. Every time Marvel has tried to do this character justice, it has walked the fine line between doing justice to the comic book lore while ensuring an appeal to a wider demographic. With Tom Holland's Spiderman, Marvel has pulled this off. In Homecoming, Holland plays a perfectly awkward yet endearing Spiderman. The movie is light, humorous and perky, which is a welcoming breather from the other larger-than-life MCU stories.
8. Black Widow (2021): Finally, we get a stand-alone Black Widow film despite Scarlett Johansson's popularity as the titular character for a long time now. Some speculate that the success of DC's Wonder Woman encouraged this better-late-than-never release of an independent Black Widow film. The film is an outstandingly action-packed spy thriller providing non-stop entertainment with deeper themes of geopolitical conflict, exploitation of women, spy wars and above all, exploring family relations, which Marvel does with finesse. The movie is also a nice departure from Marvel's enhanced superheroes and cosmic supervillains.
7. Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014): After the chaotic events in the first Avengers film, Chris Evans as Captain America comes face-to-face with a new super-villain - his childhood-friend-reincarnate Bucky Barnes, who has been turned into the Winter Soldier. To me, the biggest achievement in this movie was a mature and gritty take on the Winter Soldier played adeptly by Sebastian Stan. The movie is still one of Marvel's most fast-paced, with plot twists and spectacularly choreographed old-school fight scenes. The film also established the Russo Brothers' credentials as MCU Directors.
6. Iron Man (2008): The decision to cast Robert Downey Jr as the pivotal character of the MCU was a masterstroke. Downey's natural quick wit, cynicism and flamboyance afforded MCU movies a certain tonal difference that gave MCU films a realism and relatability that other superhero movies simply lack. Tony Stark's relentless personality makes superhero characters of the previous generations seem childish, two-dimensional and simplistic.
The Iron Man was Marvel's first movie of this phase, and off the bat, you could tell, Marvel was on to something. The movie itself has some great action scenes, fun dialog and enjoyable drama around arms races and technological heists. Overall, a very watchable movie.
5. Thor: Ragnarok (2017): Thor Ragnarok was a shockingly good film and a creative addition to the MCU. Departing from the rather underwhelming first two Thor movies, Director Taika Waititi delivers a visually stimulating and hilariously funny take on Thor as he lands in a strange dysfunctional plant, reconnects with Hulk, fights of his evil sister, Hela, played with great humor by Cate Blanchett.
Waititi does a lot of impressive things in this movie. He gives his characters a wonderful sense of self-awareness as they laugh at themselves and with the audience, making, in particular, Thor's character more human and natural than I ever imagined possible. Also worth a mention is the visual extravaganza in this movie – from rainbow bridges to monster wolves that make for some striking sequences.
4. Capitan America: Civil War (2016): This is the third Avengers movie which sees the team bifurcated into two equally noble factions with distinct ideologies. The US Secretary of State forces the Avengers to agree to the UN-sponsored Sokovia Accords, after damages left in the wake of Avengers' battles. While Tony agrees with the decision, Steve (Captain America) disagrees. The two factions face off in an abandoned airport that makes for a memorable fight scene.
The plot thickens as Tony learns of the Winter Soldier's hand in the death of his parents. No punches are pulled as the final fight scene, among the most sober in MCU history, pits Iron Man against Captain America and the Winter Soldier.
The movie is action-packed true to the Russo Brothers' style, while being appropriately humorous and entertaining where appropriate. Weaving together the diverse cast of characters and pulling off a coherent story while doing justice to each superhero's character development was unprecedented in execution and, undoubtedly, speaks to the growing confidence of the Russo brothers.
3. Black Panther (2018): The Black Panther was the first MCU film with the most overt and timely political message. And boy, does it deliver in projecting its anti-colonial and anti-racist tropes! From empowering a fictional African country with the best-in-class tech, to working powerfully with a predominantly all-African yet glowingly diverse cast of characters, this is a movie with great heart.
Of course, the backstory itself is fascinating and exciting, as one has to come to expect from Marvel. It is no surprise that this is the only MCU film to win any Academy Award.
2. End Game (2019): Endgame continues where Infinity War left off, after Josh Brolin's Thanos destroys half the known universe. The movie sees the culmination of MCU's 22 iconic films into one, as a much smaller cast than in the Infinity War (thanks to Thanos), make one last ditch attempt to undo his now-famous snap. With a 97 percent RT rating, it is the second-best reviewed of all MCU films.
In a joyful and emotive three hours, the Russo brothers enacted a finale that almost every critic and fan alike has agreed was a fitting end to the franchise. From stuttering attempts of the remaining Avengers to recover the infinity stones from different points in history, to beautiful moments between Tony and Howard Stark, to an epic fight scene, this is a movie that you are unlikely to ever forget if you have seen it even once.
And what about the final battle scene? To create a battle scene replete with memorable moments, from Captain America wielding the Mjolnir on one hand and his shield on the other, to Captain Marvel unperturbed by Thanos' headbutt, to Black Panther's meandering run carrying Thanos' Gauntlet like a wide receiver enroute to a touchdown, to Wanda Maximoff's raw display of power as she almost tears Thanos apart; it is possibly one of the top two fight scenes in movie history - the other being the fight scene of the Infinity War, my favorite MCU film.
1. Avengers: Infinity War (2018): Avengers Infinity War is one of my favorite movies of all time. This is the movie in which Thanos, the intergalactic villain played brilliantly by Josh Brolin, faces off against the Avengers; and Thanos realizes his purpose of vaporizing half of all life in order to render the universe more sustainable, true to his eco-terrorist roots.
There are so many things to marvel about with this movie. First, the management of tone is so well-done, as it goes from tragic to humorous to thrilling without missing a beat, or breaking sweat. Second, the action is just about the best you will see – edge of the seat stuff – choreographed to perfection as each individual character maintains his or her unique flourish and style. The visual effects are astounding – better than anything I have seen. The editing is also so good, constantly reminding how bad DC's Justice League was, in contrast. And did I mention that this movie packs 76 characters into the plot? The ending was a tear-jerker of operatic proportions and handled with aplomb, never bordering into maudlin, but always credible. This movie is large, grand, and 'cosmic', and is worth watching repeatedly.