Spider-Man: Homecoming finally arrived in cinemas yesterday. And what better way to celebrate the web slinger’s first full film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe than by ranking the previous 15 entries in the franchise? Well there might have been a better way, but that’s what we’re doing. So here we go with my ranking of the MCU films. BE WARNED, SPOILERS AHEAD.
15) Captain America: The First Avenger – When people try and talk about Captain America as one of the best trilogy’s I don’t get it, because The First Avenger is pretty bad. The effects on pre-serum Steve Rodgers are awful and look. The story is dull and revolves far too much around Captain America operating in a travelling musical show. The actual action feels static and they hadn’t figured out what to do with him or how to use the shield. And The Red Skull, as played by the legendary Hugo Weaving, is completely wasted. The one real saving grace of the film is Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. She earned her own show with that performance, and the final scene with her talking to Cap over the radio is heartbreaking. Apart from that however there’s nothing I really enjoy about The First Avenger.
14) Iron Man 2 – Most of what I said about The First Avenger also rings true for Iron Man 2, except it at least had Robert Downey Jr. in it. The plot is convoluted and far too much about business dealings (although that’s often been Iron Man‘s problem in the MCU). The other problem is Mickey Rourke’s villain Whiplash. He has nothing really interesting about him at all. In fact he’s so much less interesting than the supporting villain, Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer, which is another sad indictment of the villains of the MCU. But for the most part Iron Man 2 is just a forgettable experience, and there has never been anything to draw me back to it since.
13) The Incredible Hulk – You might be forgiven for forgetting that The Incredible Hulk was one of the founding films in the MCU. Especially as the only real connecting strands are General Ross’ retroactive appearance in Civil War and an end credit scene featuring Tony Stark. The actual film itself is perfectly fine, there’s some decent HULK SMASH action, and the final fight with Abomination is pretty cool. But apart from that Emil Blonsky is yet another example of Marvel wasting a hugely talented actor in a big villain role, in this instance Tim Roth. Edward Norton was a fairly good Bruce Banner, but Mark Ruffalo’s performance since then has quickly pushed Norton out of the public consciousness, and just makes you wonder what might have been if they’d included Ruffalo from the get go.
12) Thor: The Dark World – The sequel to Thor is another example of the familiar problems plaguing a Marvel film. Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith may just be the worst MCU villain to date, and the film is far too centered on the franchise building of the Aether. On top of that the third act is an absolute mess. They even came up with a brilliant idea of Thor and Malekith falling through portals into the different worlds, but never used it to anywhere close to its full potential. Despite that aspects of The Dark World are actually excellent. The funeral for Thor’s mother is beautiful, the scenes with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki steal the show, and most of the humour works. But it doesn’t really add up to a complete feeling film, just individual aspects.
11) Doctor Strange – Doctor Strange is remarkable in its ability to feel like a rehash of what has come before it. When you consider how this was the MCU’s first time tapping into the mystical, and all the different possibilities that brought with it, it does feel very underwhelming. It feels like a remake of the original Iron Man with magic instead of technology. Even the character of Steven Strange feels exactly like Tony Stark did in that first Iron Man film. Doctor Strange also continued the proud Marvel tradition of wasting a brilliant actor in the role of a two dimensional, one and done villain, this time reducing Mads Mikkelsen to a completely forgettable turn as a character who’s name I can’t remember… and refuse to look up just to prove my point. Credit does have to be given to the visual effects team for creating some truly awesome looking and trippy effects, and also to the writers, Jon Spaiht, Scott Derrickson, and C. Robert Cargill, for giving the third act a genuinely unique feeling and twist. But for the most part Doctor Strange was more of the same, and 8 years in that’s really no longer good enough.
10) Thor – There is something that’s just a bit forgettable about Thor. I remember actually enjoying Thor when I’ve watched it, but there’s nothing that really stays with me about that film. Chris Hemsworth certainly looks the part, and delivers a great fish out of water comedic performance once he’s banished to Earth. It was obviously the film that announced Tom Hiddleston as the one great villain in the MCU, Loki. As mentioned earlier Hiddleston steals scenes in that role, and is still the high bar that Marvel have never managed to reach since. The actual story has a nice enough message about what it means to be worthy, but not much else of substance to it. The introduction of Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye is incredibly underwhelming, and is a further example of most people at Marvel not really being sure of how to use him. Thor is a decent enough watch, but ultimately not memorable enough to warrant a higher spot on this list.
9) Avengers: Age of Ultron – The sequel to The Avengers suffered from two things; studio interference and bad marketing. Marvel has created a very rigid structure in most of their films to date and it can be hard for filmmakers to express their own individuality. So it was for Joss Whedon in Age of Ultron. He wanted to push more character driven scenes such as the aftermath of the party and the farm sequence. Whedon has spoken about how Marvel essentially held these scenes hostage to force him to include the world building aspects of Thor’s vision and storyline. These clearly disrupt the flow of the film, as does the focus on franchise building as a whole. The other major problem is how some of the coolest sequences in the film, particularly the Hulkbuster fight, were completely ruined by overexposure in the film’s marketing. Outside of this Age of Ultron is arguably a stronger storytelling effort than its predecessor. Tony’s hubris in creation Ultron and the introduction of Vision are absolutely fantastic, and prime examples of Whedon’s writing ability. It’s a real shame that Marvel let Age of Ultron down, but as it is I can’t have it any higher than this middle of the pack showing.
8) Ant-Man – How I wish Edgar Wright had been allowed to follow through on his vision for Ant-Man. You can tell from the fairly zany story that it would have been an awful fun, and probably closer to my favoured brand of humour. But the final film from Peyton Reed isn’t a bad substitute. But I genuinely believe that Wright’s iteration would have been a cut above. Where Ant-Man really succeeds is in its father and daughter relationships. You really get the sense that everything Scott Lang is doing is for his daughter, and all his bad choices are to try and provide for her. Similarly Hank Pym and Hope’s relationship throughout the film provides a lot of the heart and emotion. Ant-Man does some brilliant things with its use of scale, particularly the final fight in Lang’s daughter’s bedroom; where suddenly model trains become epic. The real disappointment in how terrible the villain was yet again, with Darren Cross’s Yellowjacket being another bland copy of the hero.
7) Iron Man 3 – Iron Man 3 stands out like a sore thumb amongst the rest of the MCU. It feels so far removed from the tone of most other MCU films. And that’s because Shane Black was allowed to really stamp his mark on the film. And it is far more like a Shane Black film than an Iron Man one. From Tony telling the story in voice over (hilariously revealed to be him hanging out with Banner) to the tone of the humour, to the big twist surrounding The Mandarin. Now that’s an element that has completely divided people, but it’s something I loved. It was completely unexpected, and absolutely hilarious. It also isn’t saying that the Mandarin is an actor called Trevor Slattery; the more tradition iteration is still going to be out there. The only real shame about the twist is how lame Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian proved to be as true villain. Although the ending with of Tony’s suits is epic and innovative. Iron Man 3 is probably one of my favourite films from the MCU, but it just isn’t a great example of an MCU film, and the mixed reception probably scared Marvel from allowing directors such free rein in films like Age of Ultron and Ant-Man.
6) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – The newest film on this list is the second Guardians of the Galaxy film. James Gunn managed to produce another bizarre and out there space opera that was grounded in some very human stories for the characters. One thing that really worked well was essentially dividing the characters into pairs for the bulk of the film. Obviously the primary focus is on Quill and his father Ego (thank goodness Kurt Russell wasn’t wasted like some of the actors I’ve mentioned in previous films), but actually the storyline that really rang truest for me was Gamora and Nebula’s sister story. I loved everything revolving around Yondu in this film, and his death was truly emotional. The humour is very similar to what we saw in the first film, with Baby Groot and Drax bringing the majority of the comedy. The film is a little let down by a first act that often feels rushed and choppy, as well as losing a little of the freshness from the first film. Just look at how much less impact the music had in Guardians 2, despite arguably being better than the first film’s soundtrack. This was a very fitting and entertaining sequel, but wasn’t quite enough to crack the top 5.
5) Captain America: The Winter Soldier – The Russo brothers deserve a huge amount of credit for they’ve managed to transform one of the blandest characters in Marvel Comics into the lead of what is essentially a spy thriller. I know many people hold The Winter Soldier up as the best MCU film, but I feel that it is actually let down by the first film. The third act of the film just feels a little hollow because the Cap and Bucky storyline doesn’t work for me. I wasn’t made to care about Bucky in The First Avenger, so didn’t really feel the emotional turmoil that Cap is meant to be going through when he is revealed to be the Winter Soldier. Apart from that this is a brilliant, tense, and game changing film in the MCU. It has its own very distinct tone, and yet still feels very connected to the wider universe. The incorporation of Hydra’s presence in S.H.I.E.L.D. is a stroke of genius, and may still be the best twist from an MCU film to date. It was also great to see Black Widow up there, essentially as a lead in the film despite her name not being in the title. I do think that The Winter Soldier is a fantastic film, but thanks to issues with that final act I struggle to put it any higher.
4) The Avengers – Analysed in the terms of the actual story The Avengers actually doesn’t hold up too well. There is an overly long sequence involving fixing an engine, Hawkeye’s role in the film isn’t great, the entire opening is pretty ropey, and the ending features both a mass CGI army and a sky beam. But that doesn’t matter. Because there has still been nothing compared to the experience of watching The Avengers for the first time in cinemas. This was the film that proved that huge scale comic book crossovers could work. The interplay of the characters was incredible, and Joss Whedon’s script managed to be funny, moving, and epic. There are so many memorable moments from The Avengers that it’s hard not to love the film, even some of the weaker elements.
3) Iron Man – This is where it all started. And without a film as great as Jon Favreau’s original Iron Man in 2008 we certainly wouldn’t have made it to where we are today. The casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is one of the most perfect pieces of casting of all time. He’s sardonic, witty, selfish, and intellectual to begin with. But RDJ plays his journey of self doubt, to a heroic, yet still flawed, figure perfectly. The suit itself looked incredible, and this was before we all got tired of seeing a villain that was just an evil version of the hero, so the Iron Monger is a fine villain. Iron Man was a movie that completely delivered in a time before summer blockbusters were dominated by superhero films. It’s funny, it has a good story, the action is great, the soundtrack is absolutely on point, and it’s Downey Jr. at his very best.
2) Captain America: Civil War – I said in my review when it came out that for me Civil War absolutely succeeded at what it wanted to do. There are so many characters at play in this film, yet the Russo Brothers did a great job of giving you all their motivations. Obviously some like War Machine or Falcon’s are fairly basic. But characters like Cap, Iron Man, and Black Widow build on that story that has come over all their previous films, so you understand exactly why they chose the side they do. On top of that the tiny amount of Spider-Man was enough to get people excited about the character again after Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man films. Most impressive though was Black Panther, such a rich and well definite character, despite being introduced in an already crowded film. To top it off is the airport sequence. On of the great action set pieces of all time. What more could you want?
1) Guardians of the Galaxy – It had to be. There has never been an MCU film that was just as fun and original as Guardians of the Galaxy. This was Gunn laying down a marker for the MCU, and showing us that even virtually unknown characters could succeed. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, and even Vin Diesel own their roles. Their journeys in coming to trust, accept, and care for one another are note perfect. And Peter’s own personal story, about finally reaching out to others, something he hasn’t really done since his mother died, is incredibly emotional. The humour, the soundtrack, the colours, everything about Guardians is very in your face and loud. But it works. The only really concern most people have is how weak the villain Ronan the Accuser was, but if he’d had a larger role it would’ve detracted from the five more important characters we had to get to know. Guardians of the Galaxy is my favourite MCU to date.