It’s truly remarkable what Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios have managed to accomplish in Only 8 years. Marvel Studios didn’t just create a universe of comic book films, but combined itt with a comic book level of continuity, with each film tying into the next as one continuing story, sometimes bringing together conflicting genres of film in the process. But with every story, there can be high and low points; for every idea like Iron Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy that worked, there are some that didn’t quit hit their marks. With Marvel’s third phase of films beginning with last week’s Captain America: Civil War, lets rank each entry to the MCU, starting at what many consider to be the worst….
#13- Iron Man 2
If anyone tells you that bigger always means better, show them Iron Man 2 and watch them retract their argument. while War Machine’s introduction was well done, and there was plenty of action in the third act, the film suffers from its inability to balance all the things it wants to be. As an Iron Man sequel, the characters feel less developed, and most of the films best moments don’t hold up to the quality of its predecessor. As a set up for the first Avengers film, the few scenes with Nick Fury and Black Widow feel disconnected from the rest of the film, and increase the already bloated films running time. Even as an action film, the second act drags with almost an hour of no iron man or fight scenes, and two forgettable villains that disappear for large stretches of the film. While not unwatchable, there’s a reason why the future of Marvel’s film plans was very much in question after Iron Man 2 was released.
#12- The Incredible Hulk
Like a lot of films on this list, I don’t think that The Incredible Hulk is a bad film. Some of the action is good, the Hulk looked great, and it helped get the bad taste of the Ang Lee Hulk film out of audiences mouthes. But if I had to use one word to describe this 2008 reboot of the Hulk, it would be forgettable. Everything from the wafer-thin characters, to the non-existent plot, to the villain who doesn’t show up until the third act, nothing really leaves an impact on the viewer. For a film about a giant green man destroying everything in sight, it’s baffling how the film manages to make none of this interesting. The Hulk may proclaim that he’s the strongest there is, but for his introduction in the MCU, The Incredible Hulk is fairly weak.
#11- Thor: The Dark World
Sometimes, actors who really embody their roles can help elevate an average film. Such is the case with Thor: The Dark World, a film that survives on the strength of its main characters. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are well regarded as the definitive portrayals of Thor and Loki, respectively, and much of the films focus is on their shaky relationship. While these scenes keep the audience relatively entertained, too much time spent on boring human characters, a predictable plot, and the weakest villain in the MCU with Malaketh prevent The Dark World from being anything more then an average action film. Simply put, come for the action, stay for Thor and Loki, and hope they get better in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok.
Being totally honest, I have no idea why the world went crazy for Ant-Man. Sure, Paul Rudd was funny, the shrinking scenes were fun, and a lot of the comedy works. But everyone overlooks things like the simplistic plot, forced family drama between Hank and Hope Pym, and the forgettable and non-present villain YellowJacket. Obviously some of this has to do with the departure of original director Edgar Wright, and the tough job replacement director Peyton Reed had with finishing the film on time. For his efforts, the film is a fun summer blockbuster, but nothing more or less then that, in one of Marvels’ safer outings.
#9- Iron-Man 3
While many were disappointed that the third in the Iron Man series didn’t surpass the prior year’s The Avengers, there’s a lot to admire in Tony Stark’s final solo outing. The darker tone worked to the films benefit, helping to increase the stakes, while also making the more comedic moments stand out. Downey Jr. gives a more layered performance as well, delivering a more vulnerable Tony Stark, and helping plant the seeds for the kind of character we’ve seen grow in Age of Ultron and Civil War. But while the action and performances were stronger, the story was surprisingly simple, relying on gaps in logic and a twist that unfortunately leads to yet another weak Marvel villain. Director Shane Black’s take on the Iron Avenger is certainly the MCU entry i’d suggest people give another shot, but not without admitting some significant flaws.
Even as a comic book fan, I know the character of Thor is a hard sell, let alone making him work in the same universe as his fellow Avengers. So, much to many peoples surprise, the original Thor didn’t really try to be a super hero film, but focused more on being a pseudo-Shakespearean family drama. While the film boasted plenty of fantasy action set pieces, and a great lead character in Chris Hemsworth, the best moments are in its smaller, intimate conversations between characters. The material is full of enough fantasy tropes that were it not in the right hands, the camp factor could outweigh any emotional resonance with the viewer; Luckily, the cast does a tremendous job of making larger then life characters relatable, with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and Anthony Hopkin’s Odin as the standouts. Ultimately, the many strengths Thor has far outweigh a slow 2nd act and forgettable human characters, delivering one of Marvel’s better cinematic outings.
#7- Avengers: Age of Ultron
True, Age of Ultron was considered by many to be a disappointment, not living up to the success of the first film, and containing the similar issues with Iron Man 2, such as too much time setting up future Marvel Films. But for everything going against this 2015 sequel, a lot of new and returning things worked incredibly well. The entire cast is well balanced, giving each character enough focus and screen time, while still making room for newcomers Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and the Vision. James Spader brings plenty of character to main villain Ultron, even if his plan isn’t one hundred percent clear by the films conclusion. Most notably, Joss Whedon’s script and direction manage to bring back more of the first films wit, humor and fun, while still helping create a slightly darker and more mature tone. While not the sequel we deserved, Age of Ultron did right by its Marvel name, and helped end Phase 2 on a relatively high note.
#6- Iron Man
The one that started it all, its surprising how many people have forgotten how good the first Iron Man was. Robert Downey Jr.’s career-saving portrayal of Tony Stark helped singlehandedly kick off the MCU, but it’s director John Favreau that really steals the show here. Modernizing Tony Stark, while keeping true to the character’s origin story, helped bring a faithful interpretation of the Iron Avenger to the big screen. And while Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane is yet another average marvel villain (noticing a pattern here?), it’s not enough to distract from how well Iron Man holds up, even after 8 years of other Marvel films.
#5- Captain America: The First Avenger
I was already excited for a Captain America film before The First Avenger came out, but my anticipation grew when it was announced that the film would be a throwback adventure film. Captain America‘s biggest strength lies in its earnest homage to pulp adventure films from the 30’s and 40’s, where the heroes are larger then life, and the villains are bad without any shades of moral complexity in them. That sounds strange to say, and it does hold the film back slightly, but its in the films first act where everything gels together, all thanks to Chris Evans. The film takes its time to introduce audiences to pre-super soldier Steve Rogers, helping elaborate on what makes Cap such a morally righteous character, without turning him into a boy scout in the process. The believability of Steve Rogers helps the audience invest in the more silly comic book aspects of the film, from Cap’s shield, to Red Skull and Hydra, and especially the films ending. Sure, it’s slightly predictable, and doesn’t exactly push the envelope, but the film is a great example of how Marvel Studios is the best in Hollywood at translating characters to film.
#4-Guardians of the Galaxy
2014 was arguably Marvel’s best year for films, and Guardians was the kind of great film that was a perfect storm for everything audiences wanted. A fun science fiction film, an oddball ensemble comedy, and a super hero film all manage to blend together in equal measure throughout guardians. While most will remember Rocket and Groot as their favorite characters, Chris Pratt’s surprise turn as the action lead Starlord manages to balance being a badass and buffoon well. Even as the least “Marvel” Marvel film, Guardians of the Galaxy was that rare comic book movie that both nerds and general moviegoers can enjoy.
#3- The Avengers
That this movie exists is a miracle in itself, but The Avengers was revolutionary in so many different ways. The culmination of the previous Phase 1 films, and combining several different genres into one, it isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that a film like this had never before existed. But were it not for Joss Whedon’s fantastic script and direction, every actors perfect portrayals of each famous character, and lots of surprising moments that audiences didn’t see coming, the film could have just been a fun but flawed experiment. But thanks to hiring the right people, and everyone bringing it on every department, The Avengers is a film that defined 21st century film-making, and has put the word “Cinematic Universe” on the mind of every Hollywood studio since its release.
#2- Captain America: Civil War
With Marvel’s latest outing, if the first Avengers film can be seen as culmination of the first Phase of films, then Civil War is the end of 8 years worth of character development. With Captain America and Iron Man’s ideological differences reaching the tipping point, every word exchanged and punch thrown carries more emotional weight then most summer blockbusters. Fantastic dialogue exchanges and character beats are in equal measure to big action, with already established heroes sharing screen time with new blood like Tom Hollands Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther. Without getting into potential spoilers for this recently released film, Civil War feels like a tragic ending point for the MCU fans have grown to love, but an exciting springboard into the different directions and films to come.
#1- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
There’s a reason why everyone who sees Civil War has been questioning whether it surpasses Captain America: The Winter Soldier; and while Civil War was a remarkable accomplishment for Marvel, The Winter Soldier still stands as one of the best made films of the 21st century. On almost every level, from the spy themes, to the introduction of the Falcon and Winter soldier, and the many twists and turns, the film already stands among the best films in the MCU. But what makes this my favorite film is its characterization of not just Captain America as the soldier, but as Steve Rogers as well. Questions like why he stays a soldier in a time with no clear enemy, and what the price of freedom ultimately is, are pondered over, leading to a fascinating character study on what many consider a one-dimensional character. Among the other impossible things The Winter Soldier manages to accomplish, it’s the way they turned what was many’s least favorite Avenger into the most complex and inspiring characters that shows why Marvel are making some of the best films of the 21st century, and why The Winter Soldier is my favorite Marvel film to date.