The Marvel Universe: Where Should a Newbie Start?

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is huge. Here's where the uninitiated should start.

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Ever since the first Iron Man hit theaters in 2008, Marvel has slowly assembled a cinematic universe that has grown into a media super-giant, spanning across cinema and television screens, movie studios and television streaming. For those that have kept track throughout the universe’s run, it’s been a simple matter of trying to see everything as it comes out, and attempting to catch anything you missed when it gets released on DVD and/or Netflix. But even for the most diligent of fans, keeping up can be tough, and it’s a million times more difficult for those just trying to dive in to the universe. So, NCB writers Dan, Heather, and myself decided to have a conversation in which we would rank all of the Marvel properties into a tier-system of watchability. We succeeded, mostly. We didn’t talk at all about Agents of Shield or Agent Carter, and got off onto tangents about the DC films and different animated properties. But with comic book media and films being done and re-done so often in the mainstream, can you blame us?

Brian: Dan, Heather, it has come to my attention while trying to get caught up on all of the Marvel properties that there are a whole lot of them. Almost too many, in fact.

Dan: You know what they say about too many Marvel properties? Too Many Marvel properties isn’t enough Marvel properties.

Brian: That may be true, but I fear that for those who aren’t as willing to nerd out over these things, it can seem like a lot. I, myself, haven’t even seen every Marvel movie released in the last five years, so I can only imagine how daunting it would be for someone who isn’t as interested in them as we are.

Dan: As the universe continues to grow, I find it hard to really latch on to the lesser developed characters. It wasn’t till Civil War that I found myself actually enjoying Ant Man.

Brian: I was the same way. With some of these characters and stories, it can take time to understand and grow attached to them. So I thought that we, being the helpful people that we are, could come up with a priority system for all of the Marvel properties. That way people who aren’t as into all of them as we are can at least know what they absolutely should watch, and what they don’t necessarily have to watch.

Heather: There definitely is an abundance of Marvel movies. I haven’t seen all of them either, and the few that I’ve watched recently, in an attempt to catch up, were underwhelming.

Dan: Listen many of us have reached a point of no return with the Fox properties. I know I don’t think my heart can take another Fantastic Four flop, but what Marvel Studios has done is really amazing. We are several franchises deep, with only a few missteps along the way cough Iron Man 3 cough.

Heather: I’ll agree that Ironman was a total flop. Very disappointing because the other two movies weren’t awful — especially the first. Plus, I love Tony Stark… Now, I haven’t decided if I’m excited with the Spider-Man reboot (third time’s a charm?) or if I want to distance myself from it altogether. I didn’t hate the Tobey Maguire ones.

Dan: I absolutely hated every single thing about the brooding Spider-Man that McGuire played. I often like to black those movies out when thinking of Spider-Man.

Brian: Now what just a damn minute, you two. You think the third Iron Man was bad??? What the hell? That movie was a lot of fun! Not perfect or the best Marvel movie by far, but way better than the second one for sure. You both really think the third Iron Man was the worst of the three?

Heather: I can’t even recall most of the movie because I think I slept through it….

Dan: It was too 80’s action movie cliche for me. Thought the swerves were terrible and the ending was lackluster and never really talked about again.

Brian: But that’s what I thought was so great about it! They learned from the missteps of the second movie and focused more on being fun and action-y. There didn’t have to be a convoluted plot or tons of drama (like most of their DC counterparts) but was entertaining.

Heather: If we’re mentioning the DC counterparts, I have to make a comment about how awful Batman vs Superman was… IT WAS AWFUL… OK, done. I’m curious to know which Marvel movie is your favorite? Or the best? Which one should non-Marvel lovers (or non-comic book lovers) “try out” first?

Dan: How many times can Iron Man have the same villain twist? How many times, Martha! As far as my favorite Marvel movie goes its a toss up. Captain America: Winter Soldier & Guardians of the Galaxy are pretty much tied for first for me.

Brian: Yo my favorites are the same ones!

Heather: Am I wrong for not liking Winter Soldier? I prefer the first.

Dan: First you dismantle Space Jam…now this?

Brian: Yes, you’re very wrong for not liking it.

Heather: Guess I need to re-watch…plus my Amazon Video Streaming was terrible, so Winter Soldier deserves a second try. I may’ve taken my frustration out on the movie instead of Amazon.

Brian: While I’m in the camp that the first Captain America is actually pretty good, the second is far superior as a movie. It stands on its own as a tense, almost Cold War-esque thriller that has fantastic action sequences, compelling villains, and features the single best Marvel hero of the film franchise.

Dan: I feel the need to say that Deadpool also is a top my list, but since it’s a Fox property I didn’t know if it counted.

Heather: Does that mean you think Captain America is the best Marvel hero?

Brian: It’s not that I think that, it’s that it’s the truth. Cap is the best person of all of the heroes, and the coolest hero as well. For all of Tony Stark’s positives, he’s kind of an ass, and was a total dick in Civil War. Meanwhile Cap is the man that everyone trusts and follows, and even still respects if they don’t agree with him. Just look at how far he and Black Panther went in just one movie together!

Heather: I agree with what you said, but I think the whole bad guy, asshole-thing about Stark makes me love him more. After seeing Iron Man in theaters (way back in 2008), I wanted to be Pepper Potts only because she gets to date that!

Dan: You wanted to be Pepper Potts because of the movie? She is in an unhealthy relationship to workaholic (wish Disney let him be the coked out drunk that he really is) who falls victim to everyone in every movie.

Heather: It’s really only because I find him attractive. In terms of Marvel characters, I’ve always loved Spider-Man the most, but the movies with Andrew Garfield sucked. I was disappointed (much like after Spider-Man 3), so I refer back to the “Spider-Man: The Animated Series” from Fox Kids.

Dan: Those Fox cartoons are really a great starting out spot for kids to get a grasp of who the characters are. The X-Men & Spider-Man series really got me into comics as a kid. That and the old Batman series with Adam West.

Brian: Guys we can’t get started on the animated shows and stuff. There’s too much ground to cover, and we haven’t even come close to prioritizing which Marvel movies non-comic fans need to watch. Also none of us have mentioned Thor at all, which I think is pretty telling of those movies’ quality compared to the rest of the franchise…

Heather: You’ve got a point. And what about the Netflix series? Are we including these in the Marvel realm as well? I think there’s some great content there as well. Must-watch TV.

Dan: Thor is probably the worst franchise out of the group, that’s including the two terrible Hulk Movies that were thrown at us.

Heather: I thought that Thor: The Dark World was better than the first. But still, not my favorite, and probably worth a spot at the end of the list.

Brian: Ok, I have to confess something: I’ve still never seen Thor: The Dark World. I only saw the first Thor because it was in college and this girl I liked wanted to watch it, so I did. But I feel like I’m not missing anything by not seeing the second Thor, which I feel makes it not a great movie. And as far as the Netflix series go, they’re all must-watch. Even the worst of them (season two of Daredevil) is some of the better stuff Marvel has done recently, and way better than any other superhero television show by a wide margin.

Heather: Definitely agree, except for Daredevil season 2, in my opinion, was great…even if I liked the first one better overall.

Dan: Honestly, while the second season had too much jammed into it, it was still some of the best television I’ve seen.

Heather: And Luke Cage is pretty bomb thanks to Mahershala Ali, who plays Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes.

Dan: Luke Cage might have been the best casted of the three shows so far.

Brian: Look, we can sit and debate the best Defender or I can just tell you that it’s Iron Fist without question, even if his season doesn’t come out until next week. But we still haven’t even figured out where to put all the separate movies in the Marvel universe, let alone the shows. Though at this point, I think we can agree the shows are all tier-one must watch.

Heather: Yes, I agree with that. 100%. (And I’m excited to binge-watch Iron Fist.)

Dan: I’m already a little upset that we aren’t getting the suit in the first season, but I’ll be geared up to watch it.

Brian: We haven’t even gotten to the actual Avengers movies yet. And we haven’t talked about how incredibly dope the first one is, and how the second one was crushed by the weight of its own expectations.

Heather: Uhhhhh, while there were fun moments in each of the movies, I thought they were both awful — but not as awful as Batman vs Superman.

Brian: WHAT?!?! First Space Jam and now you say you don’t like either Avengers movie??? But the first one was incredible!

Dan: I’m at a loss for words here. I just want to know who hurt you? Space Jam, Winter Soldier and now the 1st Avengers movie, let me just say sorry for whoever did wrong by you to make you into this monster.

Heather: What was so great about them? Convince me I’m wrong on the Avengers thing at least.

Brian: That’s easy. It should have been impossible to make a good, fun, easy to follow movie with so many characters and stories getting tied together. But everyone has their own individual moments, the story and character arcs progress really nicely and intertwine with each other, and you get the sense that what was a group of superheroes thrown together at the start of the movie was actually a team working for a common goal of the greater good for Earth. It was fun, funny, the action was incredible, and it was all tied together perfectly.

Dan: Agent Coulson didn’t die for this…

Heather: Wait… I actually did enjoy the first Avengers movie. It’s been so long since I’ve seen it. But that one, I did like. And I guess Age of Ultron wasn’t as awful as I remember. (Yes, I had to read a synopsis to remember the second one.)

Brian: Ok, cool. Dan, cancel that hit we just put out on Heather for her movie opinions. But yes, the second one wasn’t great and it’s fine to think that. It had ridiculous expectations and wasn’t nearly as polished or thought-out as the first one.

Dan: Honestly sometime I like to close my eyes and just imagine that Civil War is really the second Avengers movie. While still flawed it didn’t near fall victim to the hype train that Age of Ultron did.

Heather: My next piece of homework is to watch Civil War…I haven’t seen that one, and I definitely need to.

Brian: I would like to briefly circle back and point out that all three of us agree that the Captain America movies are, wholly or at least partially, the best that Marvel has made, which further speaks to him being the best Avenger.

Dan: I’ll agree to that. As a whole his series has been the best thus far.

Heather: Yes, I will agree. So, who’s second-best in the Marvel movie franchise?

Dan: I think Guardians tops anything else in that universe.

Brian: Couldn’t agree more. The second one hasn’t even come out yet and I already want to place it in the top-tier must watch column. I just have that much faith in James Gunn based on how good the first one was. Even for those who don’t like or understand Marvel movies, it’s so good on its own and just makes for an excellent movie to watch.

Dan: Baby Groot…enough said.

Heather: I agree, and I’ve only seen half of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Dan: You might get fired from NCB following this, if you keep it up.

Heather: At least I’m honest…?

Dan: I’ll give you that. But how could you not finish Guardians?

Heather: Amazon Rental expired because I was viewing late at night and fell asleep. Not because the movie was boring, though.

Brian: You know they play these things in movie theaters, right? Like you go and pay some money and then you sit in a big seat and can eat like, food and drinks they sell. It sounds like you might have a more positive viewing experience than with Amazon…

Heather: Probably, but I’m cheap.

Dan: Well, have you seen the majority of them?

Heather: Oh yes. Civil War and the second-half of Guardians, I haven’t. Did you see Doctor Strange? I don’t know anything about him/was nervous to spend $10-plus on a movie to see it without knowing anything.

Brian: I saw it. It was pretty good, but felt like Antman in that it’s entertaining, but not worth seeing if you don’t really want to. He becomes important later, but I don’t think you have to see his first movie to know that or feel included.

Dan: Dr. Strange is the only one I haven’t seen, never got around to it.

Brian: Ok, so it sounds like we’ve got Captain America (more or less), Guardians of the Galaxy, the first Avengers, and all of the Netflix stuff in the must-watch. I’m happy with that. It seems like Iron Man is the tier-two, “watch this if you want more, but you don’t absolutely have to” column. And then there’s like Ant Man and Doctor Strange in the mildly entertaining column, and then there’s Thor in the, “eh, you can skip it” column.

Dan: I think the first Iron Man is in the top tier, the other two would be in the second tier. Also throw the Hulks in the do I really want to do this to myself.

Heather:
Definitely, definitely, Iron Man (the first one) belongs in the first tier. Ant-Man could probably be in the “skip it” column, but there were some fun parts, so you could keep it where Brian suggested.

Dan: Ant Man is the best family movie of the crew, so I’d keep it in the second tier.

Brian: Ok, I’m good with that. So is there anything we’re missing? I feel like we’ve covered almost everything…

Heather: I think that’s everything, unless you want to mention where Spider-Man fits into this mess. But I assume we’ve kinda labeled him “skip it” until we know how the new movie will do?

Dan: Well if we are doing just the Marvel Studio properties Homecoming would be the first in that “universe”.

Heather: That’s true… I’ll drop it.

Brian: I say we include the street dancing scene from Spider-Man three in the “must watch” column, but other than that, we can leave those out.

Dan: I think that scene is the only must watch part of that trilogy.

Heather: Hahahahaha, yes I love it.

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Brian likes all sports to a varying degree that ranges from mild interest to intense obsession. He primarily writes about college football, the NBA, and pop culture, but will also write about other, more obscure things when his superiors allow it. He also doesn't care in the slightest for Bruce Springsteen, which separates him from 98% of all other sports writers.

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