You could disagree with me, but you won’t… because I’m right.
It’s a great time to be a comic-book fan. Even before the series now known as the MCU was sparked with Jon Favreau’s first Iron Man film, superhero movies were booming. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies were a hit, Chris Nolan resurrected the Batman, the X-Men movies found some success, and even Hellboy, an obscure character, found his mark with horror master Guillermo del Toro.
Now though, we’re being bombarded with superhero movies, with the thirteenth movie in Marvel’s shared universe hitting theaters this week. As well as Fox’s recent Fantastic Four and Deadpool, and I haven’t even mentioned DC’s expanding universe, which just went forward with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Are all of them good? Not a chance. But you better believe I love every minute of it. All those years of being bullied in the classroom for carrying about comic-books and talking about recent superhero movies (in the early, early 2000s) are finally starting to pay off.
This week, Captain American: Civil War hits theaters in the U.S., so of course you can count on me to rank all thirteen films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And since I’ve already bored you with three paragraphs of nonsense (and the fact that no one is probably reading this because everyone just likes to read the bold letters), let’s just get on with the list.
13.) The Incredible Hulk (2008)
I have long said that I like every movie in the MCU to some degree or the other, with even the ones at the bottom of the barrel getting a solid 6/10 at the lowest (if I had to rate them, that is). And after much thought, I still think this is the case. The Incredible Hulk is my least favorite of the bunch, and it is the closest of the pack to garner a negative review from me.
I enjoy bits of it, and overall I think it’s a fairly enjoyable romp, but I can’t help but long for the beauty of Ang Lee’s Hulk every time I see it. And believe me when I say I know what you’re thinking: “How dare you like Ang Lee’s character piece over the actual canon film??” Well, okay. Calm down. I don’t think his film is great by any means, but at least it fleshes out Bruce Banner as a character, and doesn’t treat him as some mere fugitive on the run trying to evade capture.
Also, while we can all agree that Mark Ruffalo is the best Banner and Hulk, I do think Eric Bana was much better Banner than Edward Norton. But Norton had the cooler looking Hulk, even if it didn’t look a thing like Norton’s Banner.
12.) Iron Man 2 (2010)
Call me basic for putting these two at the bottom just like everyone else, but I can’t hide the truth. They’re just not all that good. Still, Iron Man 2 is a much more pleasurable viewing than The Incredible Hulk, despite it’s clear and gaping flaws.
On the bright side, this movie introduces us to Black Widow for the first time, being one of Marvel’s first cinematic female badasses. Although her role here is limited (although not as limited as Hawkeye’s in Thor), Scarlett Johansson is a knockout to watch, and the feminist side of me is finally concurring with the horny teenage boy that never quite grew up (I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped reading this piece right here).
On a final note, I hate Whiplash (not the Damien Chazelle film) and I love Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer, despite what all the naysayers may say.
11.) Thor: The Dark World (2013)
I’m very active on Twitter and I’ve seen my fair share of folks hating on Alan Taylor’s sequel, and I’m just not buying it. I like it a lot, despite it’s having one of the worst villains in the MCU to date in Malekith (but I do like those Dark Elves).
It has some very cool visuals, I love some of the stuff with the alternate dimensions and especially how the final battle uses that for its advantage. I think Alan Taylor’s familiarity with the genre (see his work on Game of Thrones, for example) helped in making this film better than it could have been, even if it doesn’t live up to to its predecessor, which I really like.
I also want to acknowledge that the ending of TDW is very ballsy, and I still can’t stop thinking about how no one is buzzing about the fact that Loki is currently ruling over Asgard. Like, this is huge! Bring on Ragnarok.
10.) Ant-Man (2015)
For all it’s worth, Ant-Man shouldn’t have been made. Of course I’m always happy to see more comic-book characters coming to life and I’m always down to see Ant-Man riding on Hawkeye’s arrow (which we appear to be getting in Civil War), but given all the production issues, I wish they had left Ant-Man alone.
Also, for all it’s worth, it shouldn’t be as good as it is. This movie is awesome, Marvel’s smallest movie for its smallest character. It works as a heist film and a comedy, and getting Paul Rudd in the role was a great choice, making Peyton Reed’s film feel… just right.
Of course, it isn’t. The movie, while loads of fun, isn’t as great as it could’ve been. I wish Edgar Wright had stayed on the project, even if I understand his frustration in fighting with the system that is Marvel and his eventual departure due to creative differences. But if Joss Whedon and Age of Ultron taught us anything, it’s that sometimes a filmmaker can fight the system and come out the victor (we’ll talk more on that later).
9.) Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Up front it should be noted that Marvel’s latest features not only the best action sequence(s) of the entire franchise, but also some of the best action I’ve ever seen. At times, the Russos resort to shaky-cam and combined with the 3D it can get a bit nauseating, but mostly it remains clear and consistently hard-hitting. Think The Winter Soldier action but with way more characters and way more stakes.
Tom Holland makes a small appearance in his debut role as Spider-Man, and I wish I could formulate my feelings toward him into words, but I haven’t been able to. Let’s just say I cried. He’s perfect.
Black Panther is a boss. Watching Chadwick Boseman move was almost as pleasurable as watching Ben Affleck’s Batman move (I stress the “almost” there).
The film itself is a bit inconsistent and feels messy, but then again, with this many characters and such great action on display (and a beautiful, perfect Spider-Man), it’s hard to hold much against it.
8.) Thor (2011)
Who else would Marvel hire to helm a film about the Norse God of Thunder than Sir Kenneth Branagh? And it’s the better of the two, to say the least. I don’t love it, but I really, really like it. I like the jealousy of Loki toward Thor. I like the Frost Giants. I like Natalie Portman’s Jane. I like Stellan Skarsgard’s Erik. I… don’t particularly like the convoluted final battle and I really, really don’t like Kat Dennings, but hey, who am I to complain in a movie this cool?
Chris Hemsworth is awesome as Thor, blending intensity with humor, and I like the fish-out-of-water technique that is appropriate for such a character landing on Earth at such a convenient time. This movie is a blast, and it’s also the first movie to give us the best villain in the movies thus far.
7.) Iron Man (2008)
Here is the one that started it all. Jon Favreau, who recently won every audience member everywhere over with The Jungle Book, is solidifying himself as one of Hollywood’s most crowd-pleasing filmmakers. Everything he makes slaps a smile on faces, whether it’s during the Christmas season with Elf or the summer with Cowboys & Aliens or simply during lunch hour with Chef. And Iron Man, his most popular film (save for maybe Elf) is no different.
The first forty-five minutes of Iron Man are some of Marvel’s best, in my opinion. Seeing Tony Stark fight for his life by building a super suit may sound silly on paper, but it really is the sequence that the entire cinematic universe as we know it was riding on. Tony Stark using his genius to fight his way from the grip of terrorism, only to use that intellect and newfound power to help people in the world eventually led to his involvement in the Avengers initiative, and that led to the destruction of cities and now the Superhero Registration Act (or Civil War’s form of it anyway).
This is a good movie, one that opens strongly and steadily loses steam but still remains good in more ways than one. But watching Robert Downey, Jr. lead and seeing Iron Man flying around should be enough to distract you from the messy third act. It isn’t good enough to make the top 5, but when considering all of the introductory standalone entries, Iron Man is top notch.
6.) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
It isn’t really a surprise that shortly after Disney’s acquiring of Marvel and Lucasfilm, the studio would finance a Marvel movie that feels so much like a Lucasfilm production. Guardians of the Galaxy is Star Wars for the superhero world, with a cast of characters that vary in species and a setting that ranges from star to star. And it’s about as good as it sounds.
Tell me that seeing Rocket and Groot for the first time on screen didn’t elicit feelings of seeing Han and Chewie for the first time. You can’t. These two are awesome, and it only helps matters that Chris Pratt is extremely likable as Star-Lord and Zoe Saldana is straight fire as Gamora. And who wasn’t won over by Dave Bautista as Drax?
5.) Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
WWII movies have always been one of my favorite kinds, and seeing Nazi Germany mix with Marvel is ripe for success in my eyes. And while I don’t think it’s as good as The Winter Soldier, I do think it’s the best standalone solo movie that Marvel has given us. The star spangled hero could have easily felt too “Go America!” and way too campy in regard to the rest of the MCU, but apart from an obvious scene in which Cap is performing for a group of soldiers, it never feels campy, and that is one of its greatest achievements.
I was always nervous about Chris Evans being cast in another superhero role, not because we’ve never seen that before but because he was, in my eyes, a comedic superhero actor, already preconceived to me as as the Human Torch. Captain America is a more serious role (with some Thor-like fish-out-of-water elements that Joss Whedon addressed nicely in The Avengers), but Chris Evans did (and is doing) a fantastic job in the role.
Regarding the villain, I seem to be one of the few that really likes Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull. Sure, he may look a little cartoony, but I love it, and while I recognize he isn’t any Loki or Kingpin or Purple Man, but for my money, he’s one of the better villains in a list that includes Malekith and Whiplash.
4.) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
This was the one where most people started yelling, “Yes! Another Marvel movie to rival The Avengers!” and these loud shouts concealed my whispers of, “But… Iron Man 3!” I love The Winter Soldier, from its focus on Nick Fury to its 70s spy thriller feel to its hard-hitting action sequences. I thought Joe Johnston did fine with The First Avenger, but Joe & Anthony Russo (who are helming Avengers: Infinity War) improved upon his direction in every way.
It’s all about the villain here, which I don’t really like to consider “one of the Marvel villains” because… Bucky! I love Bucky, and I think Sebastian Stan is very likable even when he’s trying to kill our main hero. But this feels like a battle film, with some of the action sequences feeling very brutal when compared to the movies that came before it.
Also, Anthony Mackie is awesome.
3.) The Avengers (2012)
It’s just so right. A perfect balancing of the characters, the introduction to Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, the arrival of Loki, and yes, I’ll say it: Seeing the heroes together on screen for the first time.
No, a nostalgia factor shouldn’t determine which movie is great (and it doesn’t here), but it would be criminal not to mention the fact that this is the movie that first let us see Iron Man, Cap, Hulk, and Thor together. But they weren’t just immediate friends. Joss’ script gave us the entertainment of our heroes not liking each other at first, bickering back and forth over ridiculous things, and eventually trying to work together to save New York from an invasion of giant aliens.
Who cares if it’s a stupid reason to get them all together? When we hear Cap say, “Hulk smash” and we see Hulk smile like a kid who’s just broken into the ice-cream truck, nothing else in the world matters.
2.) Iron Man 3 (2013)
This is easily, without a doubt, no question, the single most divisive of the MCU. Some people, fans and audiences alike, genuinely hate it, and this is primarily due to the twist on the Mandarin, a character most fans wanted to see represented in spectacular fashion. But I didn’t mind the twist. In fact, I rather liked it, and the One-Shot All Hail the King makes up to the fans by teasing that the real Mandarin is out there. Still, Ben Kinglsey is terrific as both an intimidating villain and eventually comedic relief.
Also, director Shane Black makes this one of the funniest movies in the MCU, somehow taking the Marvel label and making the movie feel like his own. It’s certainly a Shane Black movie, and that’s probably why it’s my favorite Iron Man movie.
1.) Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
It’s really something to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron. Is it flawed? You bet. But all of these movies are. I don’t think Marvel has given us a 10/10 movie yet, but each time I watch Age of Ultron it gets closer and closer. This movie is awesome, and while it may not be as fresh as the first one (after all, can you really beat seeing the Avengers together for the first time?), it’s still a great representation of what Joss Whedon is capable of doing when wielding the pen, and here he is able to flesh out his characters more whilst already feeling at home with them.
It’s clear when watching this film that some scenes feel forced, as if Marvel required Joss to put them in in an attempt to set up future installments, but somehow, Joss managed to make this feel every bit as personal and beloved as he did with the first.
I love Ultron, I love the Hulk/Natasha element, I love Hawkeye finally rolling with the Avengers for an entire movie (and his home-life being incorporated into the story), and above all, I just love the writing. There’s a reason why the Avengers movies work and it isn’t because there’s usually more action; it’s because of Joss Whedon.
[UPDATE: After many people didn’t detect my sarcastic title “The Correct Ranking of the MCU” I changed it to “My Ranking of the MCU.”]
[UPDATE: After a first viewing of Civil War, I made this list and ranked it at number five, but after reevaluating it a second time and thinking, I moved it to number nine because I just don’t think it’s that good.]
Follow Ben Lane on Twitter: @TheBenjaminL