The Marvel Cinematic Universe Rankings
It's hard to remember a time before the new era of Superhero Cinema; a time where there is a new superhero movie every 3-6 months and a time where studios are trying to create interconnected universes regardless of whether a shared cinematic universe is a good idea. For better or worse, everybody is now trying to emulate the style of the MCU (usually to their detriment).
Marvel has succeeded beyond their wildest imaginations into turning their movies into long-form storytelling that mirrors not just episodic television and filmed serials of old, but films that also mirror the interweaving storytelling narratives of comic books themselves.
In light of the success of Guardians Galaxy Vol. 2, I felt it was time to re-assess the films of the MCU in order to determine their current rankings. Please keep in mind that the list below represents my opinion alone, and my order will greatly perturb my fellow Amigos contributors. This list will also need to be re-examined continually, as the MCU still has 7(!) upcoming movies within the next 2 years, culminating in the Untitled Avengers 4 movie that will wrap up the existing storylines and start a new chapter in Marvel's legacy. The commentary on the rankings are below the slideshow, which is in order from worst to greatest.
The Thor films are hands-down the absolute worst films that the MCU has to offer. This is a bit of a paradox, as Chris Hemsworth makes an excellent Thor - he's charming, he looks the part, and he plays the role with an amusing swagger. Loki is also easily the best villain of the MCU. Yet despite these two undeniable strengths, Thor's films always fall flat. Kenneth Branagh's direction leaned on the fantastical for the Asgard sections of the film, but Thor's first adventure is hamstrung by its cheapness - the vast majority of the film revolves around Thor's loss of power as he wanders New Mexico. This makes the movie feel like an 80's throwback, but not in a good way (see Iron Man 3 for how this is done well).
14. Thor: The Dark World
Thor's second outing proved to be better than the last, but only incrementally so. The budget increased and we got less of Kat Dennings's annoying character, but the storyline itself fell flat and the villain did nothing for me. As I type this, I barely remember much of the plot because the film is rather forgettable. Fortunately, Thor's cinematic fortunes appear to be looking up - Thor: Ragnarok looks like immense fun, and I have faith in director Taika Waititi, whose films What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople should be required viewing for those reading this article.
13. Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2 is easily the most convoluted entry in the MCU. The film focuses too much on building out the Avengers universe while shortchanging Tony Stark's story. There are a number of things about Iron Man 2 that make the movie fun and worthwhile, but this film is a textbook example of overstuffing that can occur when trying to develop a connected movie universe. Director Jon Favreau was reportedly not happy with his experience during the film's production, and it shows on the screen.
12. The Incredible Hulk
A lot of people seem to dislike The Incredible Hulk, and the movie's box office results are the worst in the MCU. I, however, really enjoy this film. Edward Norton's portrayal of Bruce Banner is excellent, although his portrayal is much more serious than Mark Ruffalo's lighthearted (yet still great) take. The film admittedly has its faults, but this film was a vast improvement over Ang Lee's overly dramatic Hulk a few years before, and the action beats are a blast. Who is not entertained by the Hulk beating down the Abomination in Brooklyn?
I had very low expectations for Ant-Man when it was released. The film's original director and co-screenwriter, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), had dropped out of the film due to creative differences with Marvel, and so Peyton Reed of Bring It On fame came onboard to direct a script that was rewritten by Adam McKay and Paul Rudd. As a huge Edgar Wright fan, I was very disappointed with his departure and concerned that Peyton Reed would not be able to step up to the plate and hit a home run. I'm glad I was wrong. Ant-Man is easily the most lighthearted entry in the MCU, and reminded me of a superhero heist version of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Michael Peña steals the show. While I will forever wonder what Edgar Wright's vision would have looked like on the screen, Ant-Man still shines.
10. Captain America: The First Avenger
I was never a big fan of Captain America's comic books. I always thought of the character as overly patriotic, and I preferred Superman's version of Truth, Justice and the American Way. Yet Captain America's first outing in the MCU is pitch-perfect entertainment. Chris Evans captured the essence of the character's goodness and created a performance that he will be remembered for in much the same way as Christopher Reeve and Superman. My biggest gripe with this film is the fact that the Red Skull disappears at the end of the film after touching the Tesseract, only to never show up again once more in the MCU. His reappearance is unlikely, as actor Hugo Weaving reportedly did not like working on this film.
9. Doctor Strange
Structurally, Doctor Strange follows closely to the template laid forth in Iron Man. That is the film's biggest fault. Despite this, Doctor Strange is a blast. The film captures the trippy iconography of Inception and merges it into psychedelic black-light renditions of the comic's roots. This movie is the only film in the MCU that has excellent use of 3D. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Doctor Strange well, and I look forward to his interactions with the rest of the Avengers.
8. Iron Man 3
This placement will be controversial with many of my Amigos, particularly Marcos De La Fuente, because a number of fans hate the film. A number of complaints leveled at Iron Man 3 revolve around the fact that Ben Kingsley's Mandarin ultimately turns out to be a patsy for Guy Pierce's villain as well as complaints that Tony Stark is not in the Iron Man suit enough. These criticisms miss the point of an excellent Shane Black film that turns action flicks like Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout into a superhero flick. The movie is about Tony Stark coming to terms with his trauma inflicted during The Avengers, and focuses on what makes the person: the armor or the man behind the mask? There's plenty of great action and clever set pieces, and the Mandarin was always going to be a problematic villain to adapt since the character was previously a bad Fu Manchu comic stereotype. The same people that complain about the Mandarin's lack of faithfulness to its comic book iteration are the same people that love Guardians of the Galaxy, a series that takes many liberties with its characters. I suppose some people just love to complain.
7. The Avengers: Age of Ultron
I believe Age of Ultron is a technically superior film to The Avengers and has a better story and better action. Which begs the question, why is it placed at #7 on the list while The Avengers is placed higher? First impressions count, and watching The Avengers come together for the first time just cannot be matched by the sequels. Furthermore, the first film is just so much fun. However, Age of Ultron is a great flick with one of the MCU's few good villains.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy was a refreshing change of pace for the MCU, leaving behind the feeling of interconnectedness by having a story that explores the vastness of space. A lot of people thought this movie would test how strong the Marvel brand would be for films, since it revolves around then-unknown characters that were as weird as a talking raccoon and a giant tree creature. Yet these oddball characters were a perfect match for director James Gunn's sense of humor (watch Super starring Rainn Wilson AKA Dwight Schrute). The Guardians of the Galaxy style is so beloved, Suicide Squad tried to emulate it with their marketing materials and got retooled in the edit to be more "fun".
5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
A lot of people seem to think that Vol. 2 is a worthy sequel to the first, but still not as good. I disagree. After repeat viewings, I have solidified my stance that Vol. 2 is the superior film. I will agree that the first film's storyline is better, but Vol. 2 is much more focused on character development. The humor, action and characterization is all top-notch, with standout roles for Yondu and Rocket. Vol. 2 packs so much more heart, pathos and familial issues that I have to place it higher than the first.
4. Iron Man
The movie that started it all and ultimately led to Disney's acquisition of Marvel for 4 BILLION dollars. This was seen as a hugely risky endeavor, as Marvel collateralized their assets to make their own movies. If the film flopped, they would have likely gone through bankruptcy AGAIN. But as we all know, Iron Man is a tremendous achievement with a breakout performance by RDJ. This film fires on all cylinders.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Winter Soldier is widely regarded as one of the best films of the MCU, for good reason. This is just a solid spy/espionage film that harkens back to films like Three Days of the Condor. Chris Evans once again proves he was the right man for the role of Captain America, and the Russo Brothers showed the world they could do more than direct TV shows. No longer would they be remembered for You, Me and Dupree...
2. The Avengers
I still remember watching this film with fellow Amigo contributor Marcos De La Fuente. We went to an all-day screening at the Alamo Drafthouse that started with Iron Man and ended with The Avengers. The audience reaction to the film was so great, and the experience of watching all six Phase 1 films with such a receptive crowd will be something I will always remember. I took the next day off work since I had been watching movies for 13 hours straight, and yet when I woke up the next morning I went ahead and drove to the theater to watch The Avengers for a second time. The pacing at the beginning of the film is admittedly shaky, but once the team assembles the film finds its rhythm and becomes pure cinematic gold.
1. Captain America: Civil War
I'm a huge Spider-Man fan, and this film manages to bring him into the MCU fold effortlessly. Tom Holland brings forth the best cinematic iteration of Spider-Man, and so I'm hugely anticipating his solo film. In addition, the Russo Brothers up the ante from Winter Soldier and create a film that succeeds in every way that Batman v. Superman did not. I genuinely cared about the characters when they throw down against one another, and the action beats are superb. Is there a better action sequence in a superhero film that rivals the airport sequence? I think not.