Saturday, April 11, 2015

Ranking the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is coming to a close in a month with Avengers: Age of Ultron, the highly anticipated sequel to Marvel's biggest hit so far. Ten films have debuted in the Cinematic Universe and all have been good in their own way. None of them have been awful and some have been certifiably great, but I believe that there is a way to rank the Marvel films. So before Age of Ultron ends Phase 2 and Ant-Man kicks off Phase 3, let's rank the ten films that we've seen from Marvel Studios.


Thor: The Dark World is the only Marvel movie that is arguably not good. It's a pretty inconsequential little sequel with a few impressive sequences and not too much else. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston have engaging rapport as always and Stellan Skarsgaard gives an absolutely bananas performance, but the rest of the cast seems to be phoning it in. The villain, Malekith the Accursed, is the worst and most unmemorable of the cinematic universe and the plot is pretty standard Marvel. At the time of its release, I appreciated that The Dark World felt connected to the Marvel world as a whole, but on rewatch, this film has only become more and more difficult to sit through simply because there's just not much there.


Although this might be a controversial opinion, Iron Man 2 is not a bad movie. Sure, it's the weakest of the trilogy and it's a film that has little bearing on the Cinematic Universe as a whole, but it entertains in its own right. The racetrack fight and final battle are both very cool and all of the actors seem to be giving it their all. Robert Downey Jr. is charismatic and the supporting cast is led by solid players like Sam Rockwell, Gwyneth Paltrow and Mickey Rourke. There's too much going on with this movie, but if you go back and look at this film now, I think that you'll be surprised by how well it holds up.


Thor is a consistently entertaining film and it introduces some important threads into the Cinematic Universe. I really enjoyed this film when it first debuted and there are many aspects that are very impressive. However, there are some truly lackluster and cliched elements to Thor. The silly and forced love story between Thor and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). The blatant origin elements that never work out that well. Despite the flaws, Thor's major contribution to Marvel is Tom Hiddleston's Loki and he does a spectacular job. Thor is great entertainment and a fun time at the movies if you're able to look beyond its select flaws.


The most underrated movie in the MCU, The Incredible Hulk is actually a pretty good Bourne-style thriller when you take a closer look at it. There's nothing revolutionary about the film's plot, structure or acting, but it's an efficient film and it has one of my favorite action movie conclusions with the battle between the Hulk and Abomination. Mark Ruffalo has obviously surpassed Edward Norton at this point, but Norton still made for an effective Hulk and he brings depth to the character. I also enjoyed the fact that there was no real attempt at an origin story, which is refreshing for a superhero film. Overall, The Incredible Hulk gets a bad rap but it's surprisingly good in the end.


Iron Man 3 doubles as both the best and worst Marvel movie. That's why it falls right in the middle of the pack. Director Shane Black gave a smart and witty edge to the film that allowed for some truly exceptional patches, while other parts of the film are dragged down by exposition and bland universe building. However, there are so many things that I love about this movie. The Christmas setting. Harley, played by Ty Simpkins. The spectacular action scenes and visual effects. Ben Kingsley as "The Mandarin" and the rather funny twist. But for every good decision that Black makes, it seems that there's a poor one waiting around the corner. Iron Man 3 ends up being a very good film, but shave off a few mistakes and it might be one of the best Marvel movies period.


Guardians of the Galaxy is the most overrated movie in the MCU. There, I said it. The plot is scattered, the mid-section lags and the fact that it's just The Avengers in space is hard to overlook. Despite those flaws, that doesn't mean that I don't like Guardians of the Galaxy. To be honest, I almost flat-out love it. There's so much fun stuff in this movie and it's a film that I'm dying to rewatch as I write this piece. The action scenes are incredible, the performances and actors are stellar and the soundtrack is just awesome. Sure, Ronan's a forgettable villain, but Groot and Rocket are two of the most memorable characters to debut in the MCU yet. Guardians of the Galaxy is an imperfect film, but it has the potential to create the perfect franchise.


Captain America: The First Avenger is a movie that many Marvel fans tend to dismiss or forget about and I'm honestly not sure why. The 1940's setting is invaluable to this film and it makes for a classic retro action film that is close to perfect. Chris Evans is literally the only actor that can play Captain America in my mind and he has help in this film from a stellar supporting cast that includes a snarling Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Sebastian Stan and Hayley Altwell. The action scenes are well staged and Joe Johnson's experience with period pieces helps him immensely. This isn't the most dramatically critical or well-constructed entry into the franchise, but it might just be one of the most entertaining Marvel films yet.


The film that started it all. Iron Man. Looking back on it now, I don't think one can really comprehend how gutsy this film was. It doesn't feature a ton of big action scenes, there's no massive city destruction and the majority of the film is spent building up the character of Tony Stark. Not to mention the fact that Tony reveals his secret identity at the end of the film, previously a big no-no in superhero flicks. And we can't forget about the end credits coda with Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, which pretty much established this whole universe. Iron Man may not be the most entertaining film in the series, but it's well-written and directed and it feels like the most complete film, which is something that many of the other Marvel films lack.


The Winter Soldier is the most perfectly scripted and energetically filmed movie in the MCU and it is nearly the perfect action movie, if it only did away with some of the more blatant world-building. The Winter Soldier has stakes, implications and consequences that will likely have a severe impact on the Marvel world in the future. It also has some brutal action that perfectly mixes well-choreographed fight scenes and big-scale discussion like no other Marvel film. The supporting cast is terrific and this film's ability to shock and surprise in a world dominated by spoilers was very impressive. The Winter Soldier is so close to being my favorite Marvel movie, but it just can't top.....


The Avengers is the perfect Marvel movie and I doubt that anything will ever top this film. It's simply the most fun, energetic, colorful and entertaining action film of the last few years and I've watched it countless times. The ensemble cast all put something on the table and the action is filmed to perfection. It's rare for an audience to clap and cheer throughout a movie, but that happened during my screening. The audience went nuts and it was so fun to be a part of that experience. The Avengers is simply the ultimate blockbuster and one fantastic time at the movies. Marvel's best film.

Of course, this list will change over time and there are some films that I'll probably end up liking more in the future than I do now. But as of today, this is my list and I'm proud of it. Hopefully we can get some more great Marvel films in the future. I'm optimistic for Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man and I'm flat-out pumped to see what they have in store for us in the future.

Image Credits: Telegraph, Marvel wikia, Hollywood Reporter, YouTube, Forbes, Screen Rant, Hollywood Reporter, MTV, Digital Spy, Disney Wikia

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