While he certainly didn't make a terrible movie, Taylor's Thor: The Dark World is the most bland and episodic entry in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. From its generic, disposable dark elf villain played by Christopher Eccleston to the weak romance between Chris Hemsworth and a totally-phoning-it-in Natalie Portman (not to mention broad, unfunny comedy worthy of Richard Lester), it's the rare MCU movie that just doesn't work. Perhaps Taylor's TV pedigree didn't allow him to bring much style to the proceedings.
While Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk is not without its charms, it owes too much of its DNA to the Bill Bixby TV show, rather than the comics. Edward Norton gave an emotional, cerebral performance as Bruce Banner/Hulk, but didn't make half the impression that Mark Ruffalo would a few years later in half the screentime. As for Leterrier's style, it owes more to the films he did for Luc Besson than to the rest of the MCU, thus it feels slightly out of place.
While Sir. Kenneth did a remarkable job of making Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's take on Norse mythology palatable for modern audiences with Thor, his overreliance on Dutch angles and some questionable use of CGI take his one entry into the MCU down several pegs. He did, however, do as brilliant job in casting Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Anthony Hopkins.
Derrickson brought a spiritual dimension into the MCU with Doctor Strange, something that his theology background prepared him for nicely. While a lot of the effects sequences are derivative of Inception, they stay true to the early art of Steve Ditko and provide a genuinely-trippy experience wrapped in an otherwise formulaic story. He guided Benedict Cumberbatch to an entertaining performance as Stephen Strange, but unfortunately couldn't save the doomed chemistry between Cumberbatch and leading lady Rachel McAdams.
Let's be honest, Reed really had his work cut out for him on Ant-Man. While he was an avowed fan of the original comics, he had the tall order of replacing beloved director Edgar Wright weeks before principal photography, reshaping the story on the fly with his leading man Paul Rudd, and ultimately making the film his own while working within the constraints of the MCU. The final product, while lacking the flair of Wright's work, proved to be one of the most interesting, overtly-comedic and at times bizarre Marvel films to date. For those who listened to the film's commentary track, a lot of the best scenes came under Reed's revamping of the film. It also felt like a cohesive movie with a vision, as opposed to a patchwork studio hack job. For that we salute Reed, and hope he gets to put even more of his ideas and personality into Ant-Man and the Wasp.
If I was making this list a year ago, Gunn's name would have been far higher on the list, as his first Guardians of the Galaxy was a bold, colorful and fun sci-fi romp that brought a distinctive brand of stylish humor and visual panache to the MCU. Unfortunately, Vol. 2 proved to be a chaotic, at times juvenile follow-up that failed to recapture the lightning in a bottle from the first one. Instead, it overcranked the action to manic levels, relied far too much on needle-dropping songs, and made overt things that were already evident in the subtext of the first one (Guardians as surrogate family, Yondu as father figure, Nebula as abused daughter, etc). It also introduced far too many new esoteric characters from the comics as if the layman were supposed to know or care who they are, ala Stallone's Starhawk. Hopefully on Vol. 3 Gunn can bring back the same focus and brilliant storytelling he brought to the first one.
Watts is very much the new kid on the block, having only directed two smaller films prior to Spider-Man: Homecoming, but on his first big blockbuster he managed to create one of the most vibrant, fun, and funny MCU movies to date. He handles Peter Parker's scenes of high school awkwardness with a sensitivity worthy of John Hughes, while seamlessly integrating exciting action sequences that all have an emotional undercurrent. He managed to out-do the work Sam Raimi and Marc Webb had done previously and then some. We definitely hope he comes back for the next Spidey outing!
While by now 2008's Iron Man, a.k.a. MCU Movie #1, feels like a dated Bush-era superhero movie, and Iron Man 2 may be the worst film Marvel Studios has ever put out, Favreau deserves major kudos for 1) establishing the template that all movies in the MCU would follow and 2) casting Robert Downey Jr., the cornerstone actor of all these films. Favreau brought an emphasis on character work and verisimilitude that has shaped every one of these movies that have followed, not to mention his great (and continuing!) role as Happy Hogan.
With his pulp detective plot mechanics, bold action and knack for snappy dialogue, Shane Black may be the first director to make a true auteur movie within this universe... or as close to one as Kevin Feige will ever allow. Love it or hate it, Iron Man 3 is a Shane Black movie through-and-through, and the way he subverted the collection of racist cliches that was The Mandarin was a bold move loathed by continuity-obsessed fanboys but beloved by audiences that love to be pleasantly surprised.
Johnston is one of the few true old guard directors to take on an MCU movie, and having already made a brilliant period superhero movie (The Rocketeer) made him the perfect choice to usher in Captain America to the MCU. While we take Chris Evans' portrayal of Steve Rogers for granted now, when Captain America: The First Avenger came out, it was a revelation that you could take a seemingly cornball WWII-era character and make him feel not only believable but the kind of guy you want to believe in. Johnston's film is exciting, full of heart, and the first through-and-through creatively successful Marvel Studios film.
The Russo Brothers came from comedy and TV, but proved to be masterful when it came to juggling the responsibilities of telling a superhero story in a grounded way. Captain America: The Winter Soldier felt like a '70s thriller that happened to have superheroes in it, while Captain America: Civil War brought that same moral complexity to a global scale with far more comic book superheroics in a way that still felt seamless. They, along with their screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, are the perfect creative stewards for the MCU, and we can't wait to see what they bring to Infinity War and its sequel.
2012's Avengers harnessed Whedon's genuine enthusiasm for Marvel Comics and channeled it into one of the most fun and satisfying blockbusters of the 2000s. While Avengers: Age of Ultron didn't have quite the same impact, it stayed true to the characters and evolved most of them in very interesting ways. Although it lacked the same dynamism of the first, Age of Ultron actually brought new depth and a global scope to things while still fused with Whedon's trademark wit. Although there have arguably been better Marvel movies than the two Avengers films, no one gets Marvel quite like Whedon.