The Marvel Cinematic Universe will launch its highly awaited Phase 5 with the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania on February 17. Nearly 15 years into its existence, the MCU is still on top of the world, even if it’s not exactly as too big to fail as many people had thought. Yet, the sprawling franchise keeps winning, delivering more of the same fan-pleasing spectacle that made it a phenomenon in the first place with each new entry.
A large reason why the MCU is so successful is its larger-than-life action set pieces. Audiences go gaga seeing their favorite superheroes clashing with their favorite supervillains, making their comic book dreams come true. And while it’s true that the MCU seldom experiments with its formula — in fact, the franchise is notorious for actively resisting change — it does try to change things up when it comes to the action department. From interstellar battles in dilapidated moons to multiverse-breaking sequences against multiple villains, these battles stand out as the most memorable and exciting in the MCU.
The first Avengers movie was the official launch of the MCU. Sure, there were several films before it, but The Avengers confirmed that this wasn’t just a dream, and these characters could actually coexist in an organic and entertaining way. The film spends a considerable amount oftime setting the stage for the team to unite, showcasing how different they are and how chaotic throwing them together could be. There are several Avenger-versus-Avenger scenes in the film, but the helicarrier attack at the end of the second act remains the best.
The extended sequence features two major battles — Thor versus Hulk and Black Widow versus Hawkeye — plus a chase sequence straight out of a horror movie and even a brotherly therapy session. It’s an exciting battle that successfully moves the story forward and even provides valuable character development for some of its key players. The Avengers holds up surprisingly well, mainly because it understands that large set pieces can work together with good, albeit basic character development to create an above-average superhero film.
Is Captain America: Civil War a good adaptation of its now-iconic source material? Not quite. For starters, it’s not really a war; it’s more of an overblown conflict. However, the stakes are high at a personal level for boy scout Steve Rogers, whose insistence on saving his “friend” Bucky Barnes goes from the stubborn to the outright obsessive. Tony Stark makes for a compelling antagonist, largely thanks to Robert Downey Jr.’s devilish charm, and Daniel Brühl is an excellent villain. Overall, Civil War is a serviceable entry into the MCU, with two major fight scenes that place it among the franchise’s most memorable pictures.
Sure, the airport battle is Civil War‘s pièce de résistance, but the final fight between Steve and Bucky against Tony is the film’s true standout. Fast-paced, surprisingly brutal, and with a genuine emotional background to justify it, the fight is one of the rare instances where the MCU lets go of its self-imposed boundaries and lets its godlike characters rage on. Tony, particularly, goes all-in on the action, making for a thrilling scene where everything seems possible, even if just for a fleeting moment.
Thanos is the best villain in the MCU, and Avengers: Infinity War is his finest hour. Thanks to a genuinely compelling Josh Brolin, the Mad Titan rises above the barren landscape of MCU baddies, presenting a nuanced take on ambition and villainy. The film revolves around his efforts to gather the Infinity Stones, showcasing his single-minded and resourceful ways and cementing him as the ultimate threat to the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Although he owns the film from beginning to end, Thanos’ key moment comes near the film’s ending. Arriving at his destroyed home world of Titan, Thanos faces the combined might of three Avengers (Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Doctor Strange) and three Guardians (Star-Lord, Drax, and Mantis). The battle is the first and arguably only time in the MCU where the characters fully use their abilities, displaying all the power they supposedly have to stand a chance against a four-stone-gauntlet-wielding Thanos. Doctor Strange is the fight’s MVP, displaying his impressive abilities and giving the Mad Titan a run for his money. Sadly, we all know stupid Quill ruins everything, but at least the battle is spectacular.
Fanboys’ dreams came true when the MCU brought cinema’s three Spider-Men together in the 2021 crossover Spider-Man: No Way Home. The film features a frankly ridiculous plot meant to justify bringing in beloved actors from past movies, but it gets away with it through sheer spectacle. There are bad guys aplenty — almost every major Spider-Man villain shows up, except the ones introduced by the MCU, which is telling. The battles are big and loud, with respected actors like Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe bringing their distinctive flair to elevate every scene they’re in.
No Way Home has two impressive battles. And while the condominium clash might be the best of the two, the final sequence on the new Statue of Liberty easily takes the cake. There’s Tobey Maguire reuniting with Molina! There’s Andrew Garfield catching Zendaya and reducing everyone to tears! There’s Tom Holland being Tom Holland! The VFX are very wonky, and the action is sometimes unclear, but the battle’s scope is so big that the scene’s many flaws become background noise. After all, three Spider-Men are better than one.
Avengers: Endgame is the conclusion of 11 years worth of continuous storytelling. Every major character gathers on Earth for one last stand against the Mad Titan, resulting in arguably the most iconic scene from the 2010s. The setup is not perfect — far from it, in fact — but the MCU did the work, and audiences let it reap the benefits, going along for the intense ride that is Endgame‘s final battle.
From the moment the portals open to Tony’s final snap, the scene is an explosion of adrenaline and emotion. People screamed at the theater; they clapped and cheered like baseball fans after a walk-off home run. The final battle in Endgame is the stuff of comic book fans’ dreams, a gargantuan clash of epic proportions featuring everyone from Iron Man and Cap to freaking Rocket Racoon. From the moment Cap uttered those long-awaited words, fans knew they were in for the fight of a lifetime. Assemble, indeed.