Avengers: Infinity War comes to theaters this Friday, which means that, once again, Iron Man, Captain America, Ross and Rachel must once again come together to fight a super evil alien — in this case, Thanos — who wants to collect gems in order to destroy the universe. Or something. The plot doesn’t really matter because, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the characters have always been more important than plot. Thankfully, Marvel more than delivers when it comes to creating heroes audiences can’t help but admire. And their squad rolls increasingly deep so the question has become who to like best and, perhaps more importantly, who to encourage children to like best.
That’s not an easy puzzle to solve given the surfeit of fun characters and the diversity of personalities. Is Iron Man still the top dog or has Black Panther done enough to take over the throne? To help out, here is a definitive guide to which member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is most deserving to be named the Greatest Avenger.
The First Cut
Before we can get anywhere, we need to eliminate some Avengers. Given the size of this superpowered supergroup (current membership estimated at around 5,000), it would take days to go through every member and evaluate their pros and cons. So, for the sake of argument, we are only going to review the “first-stringers,” the heroes who in the past or present have been objectively essential both in-universe and at the box office. They also have to have superpowers or at least technological abilities that are comparable to having superpowers.
Eliminated: Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, Vision, War Machine, Doctor Strange, Bucky, and the Guardians of the Galaxy who aren’t Star-Lord or Gamora.
Remaining Avengers: Thor, Hulk, Spiderman, Black Panther, Black Widow, Star-Lord, Gamora, Captain America, Antman, Iron Man.
The Second Cut
So… Antman. He probably should have been eliminated in round one. He has been little more than comic relief and the star of a fine but ultimately forgettable movie. The fact that he is getting another solo movie in the next Marvel phase suggests he might be a bit of a sleeper. For now, he is mostly a background character who can’t compete with the big dogs, but don’t be surprised if his stock goes up.
Remaining: Thor, Hulk, Spiderman, Black Panther, Black Widow, Star-Lord, Gamora, Captain America, Iron Man
The Third Cut
The Hulk has come a long way since his days of suppressing rage boners and looking like Edward Norton. But he has always been more of a sidekick to the real stars of the group and since Mark Ruffalo has taken over the role, it has been fairly explicit that he’ll never get a spin-off. Ruffalo is great, but the character can’t carry a film.
Thor is in a similar boat. He’s somehow become the Michelangelo of the Avengers, cracking wise and hanging loose despite the entire universe being on the edge of destruction. But the God of Thunder has always worked best in a duo – first two solo flicks he had his sibling rivalry with Loki, then in Ragnarok, he established a buddy cop vibe with the Hulk – and has been too removed from the central storyline to feel as relevant as the remaining members.
Eliminated: Thor and the Hulk
Remaining Avengers: Spiderman, Black Panther, Star-Lord, Gamora, Captain America, Iron Man
The Fourth Cut
Next up are the remaining Guardians of the Galaxy. Star-Lord has quickly become a fan favorite with his lightning-quick wit and flexible attitude towards following rules. He’s a scoundrel who loves managing a bit of mischief while barely making an effort to hide the fact that he secretly cares about the rest of galaxy of which he is a guardian. He’s fun to watch but he feels more like a mashup of Iron Man and Han Solo than a new and original character. Perhaps as he becomes more central to the general MCU storyline, new sides of Star-Lord will emerge that will make him the top Avenger but for now, he’s out.
Gamora is a total badass. She is a ruthless assassin who isn’t afraid to take on anyone in the universe and also has a moral compass that ensures she is always willing to fight for what she believes in. Gamora has all the makings to be one of the top choices on the list if it wasn’t for one terrifying factor: Her adopted dad is Thanos, the biggest baddie in every known universe. This, sadly, makes her an obvious candidate to die in Infinity Wars, likely sacrificing herself by standing up to Thanos and helping the other Avengers either escape or pull off a secret attack on her old man.
Eliminated: Star-Lord and Gamora
Remaining Avengers: Spiderman, Black Panther, Captain America, Iron Man
The Final Four
The Avengers are in a strange era currently where it feels like Infinity Wars is a passing of the torch, as the original generation of Avengers slowly gives up the spotlight to a new generation that has emerged over the last few years. From here on out, we are only dealing with the power players and the first to go is the man who started it all: Tony “Iron Man” Stark.
Ignoring the fact that the majority of the Avengers’ problems are Stark’s fault, the genius, billionaire, philanthropist playboy automatically deserves consideration for the title of best Avenger because he’s the original superstar of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But, honestly, his “smartass with a heart of gold shtick” hasn’t developed much since the first Avengers movie and he seems to be settling comfortably into a mentor role. As other heroes’ roles have grown over subsequent movies (looking at you, Cap), Stark has never felt less relevant. Plus, it’s common knowledge that if any of the first-string Avengers are going to die, it will almost certainly be Stark.
Then there’s Steve Rogers aka Captain America. Cap has become the breakout star of the Avengers since Winter Soldier unexpectedly turned out to be a solid espionage flick. There is a lot to love about Rogers and everything he represents – honor, courage, a commitment to the truth – and his movies do a wonderful job making what could have been a one-dimensional caricature into one of the most compelling figures in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Still, while Rogers may not be as close to retirement as Stark, he does appear to be slowly heading down a similar path, destined to fade into the background as other star players emerge. (It doesn’t help that Chris Evans wants out.) Both Stark and Rogers have had great runs and the MCU would not be what it was today if not for them but all good things must come to an end and it would appear that ending is coming for these two icons.
Eliminated: Iron Man and Captain America
Remaining Avengers: Spiderman and Black Panther
Spiderman vs. Black Panther
It was always going to be these two. Both Spiderman and Black Panther first appeared in Civil War and each of them followed up their cameos with critically-acclaimed solo films. Both have almost immediately become fan favorites and rightfully so, because of the new generation of Avengers, Spiderman and Black Panther are the clear-cut stand-outs. They have proven themselves to be totally awesome and completely original characters in this universe already filled with countless beloved characters but which deserves the title of Best Avenger?
For nearly a decade, Peter Parker was the jewel missing from Marvel’s movie crown. But finally, they got a hold of everyone’s favorite teen web-slinger and he has not disappointed. Spiderman has the brains and cavalier spirit of Iron Man combined with the wide-eyed enthusiasm and unbreakable moral compass of Captain America. He is the best of both worlds and there is no doubt that he is only getting started. Plus, against all odds, Spiderman has become the subversive choice, as Black Panther’s unprecedented box office and critical success have made him the obvious front-runner.
But often times, the correct answer is the obvious one and, in this case, Black Panther is at the top of the podium where he deserves to be, as he’s already established himself as one of the greatest cinematic superhero ever. First of all, just look at his suit. Even Batman is jealous of how damn cool Black Panther’s super-suit is. And from the minute he appeared onscreen, Black Panther made it clear he was not someone to fuck with, as he hunts down the elusive Winter Soldier with relative ease. He would have caught him too if War Machine didn’t intervene.
T’Challa’s legend has only grown since then, as he has proven himself to be as brilliant as he is noble and as brave as he is compassionate. And like any truly great hero, T’Challa remains admirably human despite his incredible powers, constantly examining his actions and wondering what he can do to make the world a better place for everyone, not just himself.
On a more practical note, Black Panther is in prime position to continue to ascend through the ranks of the Avengers, as his solo film ended with him revealing Wakanda’s vast wealth and technological achievement to the rest of the world. Plus the trailers have made it clear his home country will play a major part in Infinity War. So long live, King T’Challa, the reigning champion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Remaining Avenger: Black Panther