We are just at the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Phase 1. And we’ve had ten films in this first phase, leading up to Avengers: Age Of Ultron. While there is no denying the cultural stamp the Marvel films have put on modern popular culture, and the films are widely celebrated, they can’t all be winners.
From the original Iron Man to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, let us (or, me I suppose) rank the films of the MCU as we ramp up to the Avengers assembling once more…
10) Thor: The Dark World – This second Thor film is easily the most overlooked and forgotten film of the MCU. Released in November, which was a weird choice in and of itself, The Dark World builds certain aspects of the Universe in order to push the story along, but the dramatic thrust and general fun of the original film is lacking here.
9) The Incredible Hulk – Poor Hulk, he just can’t seem to get a stand alone film right, even though fans now have their true Bruce Banner in Mark Ruffalo and are clamoring for another shot. This early entry into the MCU, starring Edward Norton as the tortured Doctor, was a fanboy improvement on the too cerebral and too Shrek-like Ang Lee version in 2003. But still, something is missing for this character to truly be able to carry a film on its own. Now that the technology has made the tricky look of green goliath something of a reality, perhaps it is time for Marvel to take another chance. They just need those rights back from Universal.
8) Iron Man 2 – This one sits at number eight not because it is a poor entry, but it isn’t quite as good as what’s left. Iron Man 2 had some strong points, but they were glossed over too quickly in order to set up the Universe. The battle between Stark and Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) on the racetrack is thrilling, but it is here and gone much too quickly. The enjoyable plot points are shoved aside for set up, and it makes the film as a whole feel more like a chore than a film.
7) Captain America: The First Avenger – Chris Evans is spot on as Steve Rogers, the first superhero who is frozen in time. The opening half of Captain America is a wonderful adventure in the vein of Indiana Jones films, and The Red Skull is a fantastic adversary here. However, the second half of the film feels like nothing more than set up, much like Iron Man 2.
6) Thor – Thor’s mythical background makes him the trickiest of the Avengers, but director Kenneth Branagh did just about everything right here. Chris Hemsworth is cocky and strong as the title character, and the film itself is lean and to the point. Nothing about the story feels like it is purely setup, despite the fact Loki, one of the most important villains in the MCU, is introduced.
5) Iron Man 3 – This Iron Man story is almost completely devoid of the MCU. Directed by Shane Black, Iron Man 3 has merely passing mentions of The Avengers from the year before, and it goes off the reservation with Tony Stark getting lost in Tennessee and the plot involving simple, intimate revenge. Iron Man 3 goes rogue and the result is a breath of fresh air.
4) Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Finally, the setup and the personal aspects of a story come together in this Captain America sequel. Everything about The Winter Soldier is setting pieces in place for the next Avengers and Phase 2, but at the same time the action and adventure in the film itself is thrilling. We are introduced to Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and, of course, The Winter Soldier (Sbastian Stan), one of the cooler adversaries in the MCU thus far.
3) Iron Man – The 2008 original, the birthplace of this new MCU, is still one of the best entries in the Universe thanks to the absolute perfect match of Robert Downey Jr.’s sarcasm and the cocky nature of Tony Stark. The original Iron Man was a perfect origin story for arguably the most popular character this side of the not-so-jolly green giant.
2) Guardians of The Galaxy – Many may consider this to be the outlier in the MCU, but it ties in quite well with the story even though it may never fully cross over. Chris Pratt’s inching pad for his new stardom as, ironically enough, Star Lord, is as funny and fully realized as it is exciting and refreshing.
1) The Avengers – Joss Whedon has a tough task with these films, and he may never get it quite as right as he did with the original Avengers. With a wide array of superheroes large enough to carry their own set of films, The Avengers fought an uphill task of giving them all something to do, and it won. The battle of New York is head and shoulders above the rest of the action set pieces thus far in the MCU, and the introduction of – finally – a perfect Incredible Hulk put this film over the top.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron, opens for U.S. audiences tonight. How would you rank the MCU films thus far?