The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is now at twenty films. I’ve not spoken to one person who fully agrees on the order these films should be ranked in, and my wife is still giving me crap about where I’ve put Iron Man 3.
So it’s always a good topic for discussion.
20 – The Incredible Hulk
The 2003 Eric Bana Hulk was an odd beast. But with Iron Man doing well Marvel must have felt confident that with Ed Norton in the main role and a strong supporting cast they’d be onto another winner. Not quite unfortunately.
I liked Norton but the Hulk didn’t reflect him in appearance, plus they’d taken away his ability to get bigger as he got angrier, which was something I always thought was cool. Rather than fighting giant dogs and an energy blob this time the Green Goliath battles Tim Roth’s Abomination. Emil Blonsky’s fascination with Hulk and his thirst for a similar power is both interesting and gruesome.
The main issue with this film though is it’s disconnect with the rest of the MCU. Hints haven’t been followed up on (The Leader for instance), and bar a one-shot we’ve heard nothing of the captured Abomination since. So as much as I enjoy seeing two monsters beat the crap out of each other on ITV2 (who are always repeating it), it’s a bit of a misfit and almost seems forgotten in the grand scheme of things. Ross’s welcome appearance in Civil War brings it slightly more into the fold but it doesn’t help much.
19 – Thor: The Dark World
You’ll have heard before that ‘a hero is only as strong as their villain’. Well, The Dark World falls flat on its face on that front. Christopher Eccleston was clearly unhappy with the amount of time his character Malekith received on the press tour and it’s easy to see why. He’s underdeveloped and really quite dull.
Apart from that the film only really livens up when Loki and Thor are together on screen. Hemsworth and Hiddleston are comfortable in their roles and have great chemistry, whilst Natalie Portman is more a plot point than a character.
TDW has got better with repeat viewings, but overall is merely fine when the rest of the MCU has more to offer. It may have the best villain the MCU has to offer involved but it also becomes the perfect example of what the studio has done wrong with its other bad guys.
At the time a Norse God was seen as a big risk, with Marvel only dealing in technology and science up to this point. Could the burgeoning Marvel Universe hold up to the more cosmic end of things?
Kenneth Brannagh was a great choice, his steady hand making the grandeur of Asgard and its inhabitants work. Hemsworth was suitably arrogant and massive in the title role but Tom Hiddleston’s Loki was the real star. Deceitful, emotional, and a lovable little tinker that you wanted to hate but just couldn’t.
Though it delivered on introducing audiences to the greater Marvel universe it had one big issue. Thor changed his tune bloody quickly. Over a couple of days in fact. Quite an about turn and a bit rushed. This took the edge off the story as a whole for me, but it is entertaining.
17 – Iron Man 2
The curse of the sequel! Instead of focusing on what made the first film so strong and naturally growing the story, Marvel threw everything at IM2 in their rush to build towards The Avengers. There are plenty of threads, and all them could have been the focus. Stark’s health. The military’s interest in the Iron Man tech. Whiplash’s vengeance. Justin Hammer’s jealousy.
Instead it’s all thrown together and doesn’t focus on any of it, which is a real shame as it has some very cool moments. Sam Rockwell is gloriously in over his head and arrogant as business rival Justin Hammer, whilst we have the introduction of Black Widow, as well as Agent Coulson getting more screen time.
The absolutely coolest part though is War Machine. Don Cheadle replaced Terence Howard and brought with him much stronger chemistry with Stark….and a bloody big chain gun. Does it get much cooler than Iron Man and War Machine taking names? It does not.
It has improved each time I’ve seen it but it’s still a very busy sequel.
16 – Avengers: Age of Ultron
At first viewing I thought AoU was great, with plenty of action, far better treatment of Hawkeye (as if they were making it up to him) and tonnes of Avengers banter. Oh, and Veronica.
But the more I think about it the more issues I have. It’s extremely crowded, Spader is wasted, and some of the CGI looks really iffy.
It’s extremely entertaining, and Whedon once again nails the dialogue. But it feels like a missed opportunity with such an interesting villain.
15- Ant-Man and The Wasp
I could watch Rudd for days, and it’s his chemistry co-headliner Lily that forms a strong core to the film. She isn’t in the title to tick a box; this is just as much her film.
The supporting cast are amusing and bring a depth of quality, with even the villains getting in on the humour.
Since watching Ant-Man and The Wasp, I’ve read several other reviews. There is a consensus that this is a light-hearted and fun palette cleanser that isn’t going to rock your world but will entertain you. They’re absolutely right.
Ant-Man’s focus on family sets it apart. Before AoU the heroes didn’t appear to have family, so this feels much more personal.
You could say the film deals with things on a smaller scale in general! How they’ve managed to make Ants cute, and their loss lamentable, is very impressive.
The bigger MCU connections don’t feel that forced to me and are enjoyable, but once again the villain is side-lined. Come on Marvel, these characters could all be popular and longer lasting if you gave them the attention you gave Loki.
Pena nearly steals the show, but Douglas and Rudd are great together as the old and new Ant-Mans. A visually interesting and amusing movie that opens up a lot of possibilities.
13 – Black Panther
The MCU has a well-recognised villain problem. Mirror images of the hero that are only there to help the on their way to being what we expect. With that in mind I was fully prepared to lump in Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger with the Whiplashes, Yellow Jackets, and Abominations of this world. But he’s much more than that. Like the best villains, he’s got a point, and it’s pretty damn valid one. Disagree with his methodology for sure, but can you say he’s 100% wrong? I’d be surprised if you could. Add in the fact that Jordan has such charisma and presence, and you’ve finally got another great MCU villain.
For all the stunning Afrofuturism on display there are some problems. Popping two guys in dark costumes and then having them duke it out in a dark area with choppy edits does not make for entertaining or easy-to-follow action. Considering other scenes in the films, and Director Coogler’s very own Creed, this seems like an odd misstep.
At no point during the film did I feel blown away, but every time I reflect on it there’s a lot to like. Now we finally know something about that dot on the map in Iron Man 2!
12 – Doctor Strange
For the first time I wasn’t filled with excitement going into a Marvel movie. This was due to a very specific fatigue.
However! Mainly due to an extremely lean story bolstered by a series of amusing moments, fitting character questioning and some intensely trippy visuals, Doctor Strange not only managed to liven me up, but also left me leaving the cinema knowing that Marvel can still pull things off when Cap and Iron Man aren’t around.
The aforementioned lean story verges on underdevelopment. I prefer to think of it as treating us with some respect. We can fill in things without having to be told. We’ve seen egotistical characters change before. It doesn’t need to be dragged out.
I had my concerns that Mikkleson would fall prey to the ‘Marvel villian that isn’t Loki’ curse. He isn’t a top tier bad guy but he isn’t meant to be. Instead he’s a catalyst. For our understanding, for Strange’s transformation, and for some more unexpected character shifts.
A great looking film with humour and action in good measure, Doctor Strange also contains the coolest cape this side of Batman.
11 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2
I really struggled to place this one. Like it’s predecessor it has a very different feel to everything else in the MCU. It’s still got the attitude and the music. But we’re more familiar with it this time. Perhaps it’s that familiarity that prevents it from making the same impression.
This time however there is a lot more emotion. With the team fully-formed it was time to add in some real drama, and it does so in spades. Kurt Russell fits the mold of Peter’s Dad fantastically, whilst the additions to the cast fit in seamlessly.
Baby Groot is hilariously cute and the ending could have you in tears. So it’s a damn good film, but it hasn’t had the same impact.
10 – Thor: Ragnarok
Taika Waititi’s idiosyncratic style melds seamlessly with the God of Thunder as Thor: Ragnarok immediately becomes the strongest film in the Asgardian’s trilogy. Eminently re-watchable, it’s a highly entertaining affair as Thor now seems to have picked up some Earth banter and finally moves on from being a fish out of water.
Ragnarok is another good Marvel film. It moves things forward nicely into Infinity War and is joyous in its appreciation and use of zanier aspects of the comic books this universe is based on. Marvel have consistently grown braver when it comes to tone, but they could still do with improving in a couple of areas. They don’t have to follow every serious moment with one of humour.
9 – Captain America: The First Avenger
I had reservations about Chris Evans. He has the physique of an action figure (seriously, that size and leanness?) but I’d only seen him playing the cocky jock type really, with Sunshine not overly impressing me. How silly do I feel now!
Evans is as earnest, well meaning, and heroic you could be without being cheesy. Steve Rogers is a good man (a worthy man Mjolnir might think) and doesn’t change when his body does, keeping the promise he makes to Dr Erskine (the always excellent Stanley Tucci). The same values that have him picking up a trash can lid and standing up for himself shine through when he saves millions of lives later whilst standing up to the Nazis and Hydra as Captain America.
For a film that could have so easily alienated foreign audiences, Steve Rogers is a character we can all root for. The WW2 setting sets it apart in aesthetic and tone, and seeing a pyjama clothed Cap hoisting a motorbike above his head for the US recruitment drive is a sight to behold! Patriotic, yet never so much to be a turn off. A great balance.
8 – Spider-Man: Homecoming
Rightly assuming we all know the story by now, this isn’t really an origin tale; it’s more about learning lessons. He’s already got the powers and a suit, but at 15 his wants exceed his abilities. Holland’s Peter is acrobatic, clever and witty, but not overly mature as is befitting his age. There’s none of the overt awkwardness of Maguire or the occasional meanness of Garfield. It’s all different enough to make this fresh, and more importantly a much truer representation of the character from the comics.
I didn’t think I’d be calling a Marvel film mundane, but here we are. Not in a bad way mind you – that grounded quality comes back not just in the environment but also in the characters. This is most obvious in the villain. It brings me great joy to say that Michael Keaton gives us a great villain in The Vulture. His standard kookiness is on display, but with both honour and malevolence mixed in. Like Peter he’s had a rough time, but he chooses to deal with it very differently.
Leaning fairly heavily on the themes introduced in Iron Man 3, Spider-Man: Homecoming mixes Ultimate Spider-Man with just enough MCU to make a thoroughly entertaining movie.
7 – Iron Man 3
Post Avengers this could have been a tricky one. Why would they bother tackling baddies on their own when they could just get Thor or Hulk to come flying in? Watching IM3 I found myself not giving them any thought. This is a great self-contained (ish) story.
This time around Stark is a wreck. He may be a hero of Earth now but he’s prone to panic attacks and letting his ego get in the way. Calling out the villain and giving him your address is one thing. But not preparing for it is criminal! Without his friends or his tech it’s up to Tony to prove he’s a hero without the armour, and he does so in great buddy cop meets James Bond style.
Black and Downey Jnr were great together in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and that same relationship is present here, with plenty of sharp dialogue that serves the cast well, especially in scenes that Tony shares with Rhodey and Harper. Pepper Potts even gets to step up this time around.
Iron Man rescuing people from a blown up plane is a fantastic real life stunt, and they even manage to make how he puts on the suit cooler again.
In the end though, Tony Stark is Iron Man, suit or not, and this third film does a great job of showing that. Highly underrated.
6 – The Avengers
This is the big payoff that was promised when Nick Fury appeared at the end of Iron Man’s credits. Nothing like this had been seen before, and with all the films leading up making a big splash (apart from maybe Hulk) this film was hyped to the max, and for the most part it delivered. Director Joss Whedon was the perfect choice for such an ensemble piece, juggling the characters well whilst giving them all some quotable dialogue.
Hawkeye gets a bum deal (being taken out early on and made into a Loki pawn), but Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk is by far the strongest representation yet, stealing the show on several occasions.
If you want character progression I’ll refer you to the solo films. But if you want action, humour, and a geekasm of superheroes doing their thing? This is the one for you.
5 – Iron Man
The start of it all. Weird to think now that the general public didn’t know who Iron Man was before this film.
Of course Robert Downey, Jnr is Iron Man, in what is possibly the best casting of any comic book film. The likeable douchebaggery of the billionaire play boy and his journey to becoming a superhero was a great introduction to the larger Marvel world. With hints to the Ten Rings and SHIELD it doesn’t go crazy but gave those in the know enough to salivate over.
I loved Jeff Bridges as Stane, and although his final ‘battle’ with Tony could have been stronger I’ve seen this film many a time on TV now and it never gets boring.
The highlight for me though is the process of designing and testing the Iron Man suit, with Tony’s robot helpers stars of the film. I’d have loved to see Cheadle cast at this point, as I much prefer his chemistry with Downey Jnr, but what can you do?
4 – Captain America: Civil War
Winter Soldier told a great story whilst carrying with it massive ramifications for the characters involved. Civil War’s inclusion of so many other characters is a strength but feels focused on Cap himself. It uses the history built up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to great effect as it tells a wonderful tale of friends caught on opposite sides of a conflict.
Imagine the MCU as a song. Guardians of the Galaxy is like an awesome guitar solo. I adore it, but taking it out doesn’t spoil the song. The Captain America trilogy is the bass line – fundamental to the entire thing.
3 – Guardians of the Galaxy
Fights. Spaceships. Humour. Charm. Villainy. Heroism. Great music.
It’s all going on in Guardians of the Galaxy! Each time I’ve seen it I’ve been wowed. All the strongest parts of Marvel films tied up with an irreverent verve by director James Gunn.
With Jurassic World under his belt now Chris Pratt can be considered a leading man, but it’s Guardians that showed he was up to the task, with a swagger that never annoys and constantly surprises.
Everyone gets a chance to shine with quotable lines and action scenes, but Groot is my favourite. An innocent seemingly along for the ride with his pal Rocket (also amazing), he provides the heart of the story, and I wasn’t surprised to find online folk already offering merchandise based on him. Vin Diesel takes four words and makes them work.
From the way the ships handbrake turn like speeding cars to impromptu dance-offs, GotG may be full of losers but fully deserves its place this high up the list.
2 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
By this point it had become clear that each Marvel film would mix humour with cool action and then take on a different genre to throw into the mix. A quasi political thriller fits Captain America perfectly, forcing him to look at his past whilst completely changing the world that he and The Avengers operate in.
Drama and intrigue mix in with action that really shows Cap at his best; with great control over his shield and some new moves he’s picked up.
But best of all? His relationships with both the brilliant newcomer Falcon and Black Widow. One an open and honest guy who immediately forms a bond and the other a spy who has her motives and doesn’t always let him in on them. Both serve to show the different sides of our hero.
We also get to see how Rogers deals with the present and how being displaced has affected him. In all honesty it doesn’t seem to be sitting with him all that well. Before Falcon he doesn’t seem to have any friends outside of work and is constantly monitored. To see him come to terms with present day and just how grey it is makes for a moving experience you rarely see in these films.
1 – Avengers: Infinity War
The sheer scale and audacity of Infinity War sets it apart in ways we could never have imagined when the Avengers first assembled. That it still manages to be as hilarious, exhilarating, and heart breaking as anything that came before is testament to the skills of the Russo Brothers (one of the best casting decisions Feige has ever made), and how they manage to juggle such a roster of characters.
Ten years ago the MCU offered a glimpse at something very special with a meeting between two characters.
“…you’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.”
Infinity War truly delivers on that.
How would you rank them?