The hits and misses of Marvel's Phase 2

With Ant-Man officially bringing Marvel's Phase 2 to a close, let's look back at the hits and misses since The Avengers wrapped up Phase 1 and laid the groundwork for a rapidly-expanding cinematic universe—for better or worse.

HIT: Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)

Unless you live under a rock, it's impossible to have missed the phenomenal success of Guardians Of The Galaxy, a film that demonstrated Marvel could turn even its most obscure characters into a worldwide blockbuster. Even critics loved it. Marvel took a comic book team that only die-hard nerds knew about and exploded them into a merchandising juggernaut. Kids can't get enough of it, and it's already spawned a Saturday morning cartoon. Try going anywhere on Halloween without seeing a Rocket Raccoon or Star-Lord for the next decade. That's how hard Marvel hit it out of the park.

MISS: Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015)

Despite making a billion dollars at the box office, the highly-anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron lacked the fun and charm that made the first Avengers a success. It struggled to distinguish itself as a standalone movie and mainly seemed to operate as nothing more than a two-hour trailer for future Marvel franchises. Even worse, the numerous references to upcoming films left audiences confused thanks to studio execs forcing them into the final cut against director Joss Whedon's wishes. Case in point: Thor's "magic lightning bath," which is exactly as ridiculous as it sounds. What was that?

HIT: Ant-Man (2015)

After director Edgar Wright left the project over "creative differences," and Peyton Reed was brought on as a quick replacement, Ant-Man was widely expected to be Marvel's first bomb. Instead, it not only turned out to be a critical hit, but a family-favorite thanks to its lighter, comedic tone and unprecedented visual effects. Not since Guardians Of The Galaxy had Marvel so vividly captured imaginations, and from a movie that everyone expected to fail, no less.

MISS: Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3 was the first Marvel Phase 2 movie out of the gate, and with it came the virtually impossible task of living up to the excitement of The Avengers. While some enjoyed the Lethal Weapon-esque buddy-cop tone thanks to writer/director Shane Black, most fans didn't appreciate seeing Tony Stark out of his Iron Man suit for large portions of the movie. On top of that, the script didn't even bother to address why S.H.I.E.L.D., or any of the other Avengers, couldn't show up to lend Iron Man a hand. If Marvel wants an expanding cinematic universe, it needs some good excuses for why its growing stable of heroes can't pick up the phone.

HIT: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Even after starring in a solo movie and The Avengers, Captain America still felt like a superfluous character in the Marvel universe. But all of that changed with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The film had a tight script and expertly choreographed action sequences that made great use of Black Widow, while introducing new characters like Falcon. With that, Captain America went from an Internet joke to an absolute badass. The film was so well made that directors Joe and Anthony Russo were given the greenlight for Captain America: Civil War before Winter Soldier even hit theaters. They've since been given the keys to Avengers: Infinity War, which only further demonstrates Marvel's confidence in their skills.

MISS: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

If Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the best use of an Avenger in a solo movie, Thor: The Dark World is the absolute worst. Plagued by reshoots and last minute rewrites that required Joss Whedon to literally be flown in by helicopter, The Dark World is a jumbled mess that does little to establish Thor's place in the Marvel universe. Is he an invincible warrior god that can go toe-to-toe with the Hulk? Or a bored space prince that gets knocked around by elves? You'll have no idea when the movie's over.