Ten years, eighteen fucking movies. Holy shit.
Yup it’s been a whole decade since Samuel L. Jackson showed up in the “Iron Man” end credits to tease the hell out of fans at the mention of the word “Avengers” but I don’t think even in most fans’ wildest dreams did they believe such a mega franchise would blossom from that moment.
Though quality certainly varies from film to film and some have aged better than others, what the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done is still nothing short of remarkable. This series is basically pumping out two to three sequels every year and somehow all these films connect to one another in mostly coherent ways. Fans and general movie going audiences have for the most part adored the movies, much to the chagrin of screaming DCEU fan boys and now we finally appear to be reaching some sort of end game (at least for this particular chapter of the MCU-verse) in “Infinity War” premiering at the end of the week.
Now anyone who knows me well knows I’ve been pretty lukewarm on this franchise since the beginning. Outside of some clear gems, the MCU has been mostly one big, largely one dimensional bag of popcorn flicks and action comedies and while that’s not the worst thing in the world (we all know what is) it’s at the very least a little mundane. The MCU tends to over rely on the Joss Whedon school of film-making, littering almost every scene with a punchline, thus over-saturating the story with bathos (my new favorite word btw) to the point the story loses its sincerity and almost becomes a parody of itself.
That said, there are worst super hero films to watch in the world besides the MCU series and rarely have I left a movie going “well that was a waste of time” so without further ado here are the 18 MCU ranked by yours truly (which I’m sure will piss some of you off). Enjoy…
18. Thor: The Dark World
*Sigh* I had high hopes for this one when it came out many years ago because I was hoping I might see a bit more of the Thor I’m familiar with in the comics but instead we got a boilerplate of the most consistent problems MCU films tend to have: Uninteresting plot, a one-dimensional villain, flatly directed scene creation, bad jokes, and a bland female love interest. The first half of this movie is a fucking slog to get through and Natalie Portman is as dry as sand paper inheriting the plot device for no other reason than to give her something to do. Really, the only thing that saves this movie from being completely unwatchable is Tom Hiddleston as Loki who carries the film like Kobe Bryant did the 2006 LA Lakers, keeping it just barely above completely terrible. The Thor films are generally speaking not that good on most levels but “The Dark World” is exceptionally bad.
17. The Incredible Hulk
Can we even count this as part of the MCU anymore? Virtually none of this film’s contents make it to the rest of the MCU including Edward Norton as Bruce Banner and most people, including myself when making this list, forget the movie even existed. Not much interesting happens in this movie but hey, at least it has a pretty decent fight for the finale that kind of saves the movie.
16. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
This is probably where I’ll start to piss a few of you off but I just don’t care for this sequel that much. This is a movie that really over does it on the bathos, with another one-note bad guy and just seems to rely too much on the wit and charisma of the cast to carry it (as good as they are). The film takes zero risks from the original and seems to have a punchline for virtually every scene in the movie to the point it becomes tedious to get through for me. I get that movies like this, and the original, are meant to be lighthearted and goofy but the film needed way more quiet and sincere moments to balance it out more. For what it’s worth though Michael Rooker kills it as Yondu and the best moment of the movie is his and *gasp* it’s one of the few moments where we don’t get a punchline! What a concept!
15. Iron Man 2
Generally considered to be most fans least favorite MCU flick, (until they remember “The Incredible Hulk” and “Thor: The Dark World” exists of course) “Iron Man 2” is a mixed bag of good to bad moments. In terms of the good, Mickey Rourke, when he’s onscreen at least, is menacing and enjoyable and Sam Rockwell is a natural delight as well but at the same time both villains are half-baked once again and don’t do much of anything that interesting in the story. Terence Howard was recast with Don Cheadle who in my opinion is miscast as James Rhodes aka War Machine and the whole script feels like they were making it up as they go. That said, it’s a decent one-time popcorn flick and the race scene is genuinely fun even if it’s short.
14. Dr. Strange
Let me first say that this character will always have a special place in my heart because this is my dad’s favorite comic book hero and I grew up reading a lot of old “Dr. Strange” comics because of it. But with that said I really don’t get the love behind this movie. It’s a pretty straightforward origin story comic book movie and aside from some dazzling Inception-like visuals I was bored through most all the movie. Benedict Cumberbatch is fine as the sorcerer supreme and even with the white-washing in mind I guess Tilda Swinton is decent as the Ancient One but there’s not much to hang on to here. The film wastes the talents of Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius (again a recurring theme with these villains) and has another one-dimensional female love interest that lends virtually nothing to the story. The film’s not bad so much as it is just simply not that interesting even with all its magic in play. But the film does have a genuinely good sequence with the “I want to bargain” scene which is both funny and clever, so it had that at least (But what a waste of a character like Dormamu too).
13. Avengers: Age of Ultron
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what makes this movie not work. Between a shoehorned in romance between Black Widow and Hulk, lazy writing behind the character of Ultron (despite James Spader doing his best), and lack of knowledge on the goings-on of the “Agents of Shield” TV show going in, the film, for lack of a better description, just isn’t good. It has some decent action scenes and again Spader does the best with what he has but I think the movie just struggles from having too many moving parts going at the same time. The film does have a pretty great scene that I’m glad wasn’t cut from the theatrical release and that’s the Scarlett Witch hallucination sequence which gave the characters some real depth for a moment. I should say, I don’t hate this movie so much as I’m just not all that impressed by it is all.
I think this movie gets a little more crap than it deserves but the first “Thor” really wasn’t as bad as some fans will tell you, in my opinion. Perhaps I’m looking back on it with the rose-tinted glasses of a Thor fanboy who was just so happy to see his favorite Odison on the big screen for the first time back in the day but really there isn’t much that was thaaaat offensive about this movie. It’s cheesy, yes, with it’s family fun level violence, corny jokes and again flat female love interest but it was fun at least and not a bad time at the movies back in 2011 (wow). The story is simple and the action is entertaining and for its time that was enough. Is it a great comic book movie or even a great MCU movie? Hell no! But it survives on the talents of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston and that’s enough to make it not a bad movie at least.
For what it’s worth, this movie had a lot of things going against it before it premiered and still ended up being a genuinely fun, campy super hero flick despite its flaws. The original director Edgar Wright (one of the best directors of this era, in my opinion) bowed out over creative differences with the studio which is a real shame and the new director basically had a year to rewrite and shoot everything. Despite this, it was still a fun movie even if it was kind of whatever too. Paul Rudd is great as Scott Lang who plays off Michael Douglas’s as Hank Pym well and Michael Pena is funny as the wise-cracking, story-telling Luis. The film does have perhaps one of the worst one-dimensional villains of the series in Yellow Jacket but ehh it’s still a fun movie and easily the best sequence is the miniature fight between him and Ant-Man on the train set.
10. Iron Man
*Gasp* I know. “This low on this list?” You’re damn right. I don’t care what anyone tells me, this is one of the most overatted super hero flicks of all-time. How people could compare this to “The Dark Knight” back in 2008, unless you’re rabid Marvel comics fan boy, is beyond me. With that said it’s not a bad movie, it’s just a fairly straight forward popcorn flick is all. Robert Downey Jr. of course carries the film with all his natural charisma and the action sequences are a lot of fun on screen but that’s just it; there’s not much else there beyond it. It’s an origin story film that certainly works but doesn’t rise beyond its genre in the same way perhaps other better origin movies have done. Again it has a one-note villain, even if he is played by The Dude himself Jeff Bridges, but the final fight, as short as it is, is fun too so there’s that at least. All in all this isn’t a bad movie but I seriously do not understand people’s love affair with this film. It’s a popcorn flick and not much deeper than that, fam.
9. Iron Man 3
“That one??” I can hear a few of you saying reading this. Yes, that one.
Of the solo Iron Man movies (emphasis on solo here, I’ll get into this later) this is the best Iron Man in my opinion. I’ve warmed up to this one more over the years, appreciating the little things it does well, such as putting Tony in a precarious position without his suit for most of the movie where he has to MacGyver his way out of trouble to survive his enemies and the twist, upon further review, is actually kind of clever (not great). The film still wastes another talented actor, this time Guy Pierce, as the main villain in the story, like most MCU films, but RDJ is his typically witty self in this and the movie works well as it always does with him. The movie didn’t need Iron Patriot, especially if Norman Osbourne wasn’t going to make an appearance, but there isn’t that much about the movie that is intellectually offensive at least. It’s another popcorn flick and nothing more than that but I enjoyed it when it came out many years ago, though I doubt I’ll ever feel the need to watch it again like most films on this list.
8. Thor: Ragnarok
This movie is basically “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2″ but better in that even though it’s basically one punchline after another at least the humor is better this time around and doesn’t try to fool you into thinking it’s something more sincere. This one is perhaps the only MCU film that can 100 percent be classified as a comedy and though it was a bit annoying to sit through another joke heavy Marvel flick at least I laughed a lot. It’s funny, sometimes uproariously, and visually it’s a very pretty movie, especially compared to the drabness of the previous two solo Thor ventures. Mike Ruffalo’s Hulk has some great moments in the movie and plays off Hemsworth’s Thor well and the movie even gets a memorable villain for a change as Cate Blanchett hams it up as Hela pretty well (even if she has a criminally small amount of screentime). Maybe since I gave up on waiting to see a serious Thor movie ages ago I wasn’t offended by this as much as GOTG Vol. 2 last year but legitimately this is a fun movie to watch despite everything.
7. Captain America: The First Avenger
Back in a forlorn period where punching Nazis wasn’t controversial, the first Captain America film came out and for all its cheesiness this is actually a pretty sincerely decent movie. It came out during a time where the angst of my teenage years was beginning to subside and my love for those types of cynical comic book heroes (Batman, The Watchmen, Constantine) became less centralized (still love all of those of course). I didn’t know it at the time but I needed a heavy dosage of optimism and a character who was just a genuinely good person trying to do the right thing. I started to warm up to the boy scout type characters such as Superman and after “Captain America” came out I instantly became a fan of his too. There’s a wholesome message in the film about simply being good and physical strength vs personal strength. Yes, Red Skull is another generic mustache twirler but it works in relation to the story better than most as there’s a nice conflict between him and Cap. The movie is cheesy and shot poorly and visually has not aged well at all (having re-watched it recently) but performances by Evans and Hayley Atwell, who plays perhaps the most three-dimensional female lead in the series as Peggy Carter, make the film worth watching. I had my doubts about how Chris Evans would do as Cap in this movie, considering he had only seemed to play wisecracks up to this point in his career but now I can’t imagine anyone else playing this character. He captures the quiet charisma and good natured calm of the super hero well in the same way Christopher Reeves did as Superman many decades prior and though I’m sure he’ll have a final curtain call in “Infinity War” (or its sequel) Evans will always be Captain America to me and he made me a fan because of this film.
6. The Avengers
I’ve become significantly less enamored with this film since it came out in 2012 but with that said it was probably the most fun I had at the theaters that summer (Note: That I didn’t see “Dredd” until it came out on Blu-ray). It’s a pretty typical Joss Whedon witty action, blockbuster comedy but it’s a damn sharp one at least. The action in the movie is fantastic and with limited exposure to their interpersonal relationships we get a lot out of each Avenger in this movie that fans all around can enjoy. Tom Hiddleston hams it up beautifully as Loki and steals each scene he’s in and there are some very quotable lines all around in this movie from the other characters as well. The movie also introduced me to schwarma which is great too.
Is it a deep movie? Not even close but it’s still a lot of fun at least.
5. Spider-man: Homecoming
No, this isn’t the best Spider-man movie but damn it does it help wipe my memory of the worst one. “Homecoming” is less a Spider-man movie per se and more a typical Avengers style film that fits in fairly well with the rest of the series. It’s a movie full of light-hearted quips and typical Spider-man vigilante people-saving flair but it also stand on its own even if it is imperfect (Stealing a Miles Morales character for Peter Parker is a tad bit fucked up). Tom Holland does well as our friendly neighborhood Spider-man but it’s Michael Keaton who plays a sharper than usual MCU bad guy in Vulture that helps carry the film between the two. All in all it’s not a great super hero film but it’s a quality popcorn flick and in this case that’s better than “amazing.”
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
I wouldn’t call this film as revolutionary as some have but it is very creative and the product of James Gunn’s clever touch. It’s a space opera, action comedy blockbuster in the best way and just a hugely entertaining film in general. The movie balances the charm of all its characters well allowing Chris Pratt to do his thing and have everyone else involved between Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista and Zoey Saldana play off that while creating their own memorable moments and catchy one-liners too. This is also one of the few cases where a one-dimensional villain wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as Lee Pace’s Ronan hams it up to 11 and is evil in the most hilarious way possible. The story isn’t super complex but it does allow for genuine quiet moments of real emotion (more than its sequel did) that gives the audience much needed breaks between the zaniness of its plot and setting. This is perhaps the only movie on this list where having a lack of grit wasn’t a bad thing and in its own way is a nice homage to the cheese of old 1930s and 40’s science fiction serials of the past.
3. Captain America: Civil War
This movie is the second best Captain America film but the best Iron Man movie in my opinion. RDJ is the best version of Stark in this movie as we see his character experience more doubt and is allowed to be more distinctively dramatic than any of the previous movies. The narrative of this film though is what really carries the drama from start to finish and makes it stronger than most of the MCU. The story manages to construct powerful arcs for not just Cap and Stark but for its new arrival too in T’Challa aka Black Panther. Each of these characters have their own separate plot going and motivation toward their ultimate goal all relating back to Cap’s old war buddy Bucky. These plot lines converge powerfully at the film’s climax and sets up a truly satisfying ending that makes it not just one of the best MCU movies but just a great super hero film in general. The worst thing I can say about this movie, other than some bad jokes as per the usual MCU standard, is that its shot and edited fairly flatly. Action scenes are certainly fun but they are done in a pretty typical style that lacks creativity (Compare the staircase scene in this movie to the one in Season 2 of “Daredevil” of that same year and you’ll understand what I’m getting at). All in all, this film is one of the reasons The Russo Brothers have been given the reigns to the MCU’s biggest movie this summer and fans should be excited because of it.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The first MCU film in this franchise that actually bared some teeth and made me actual feel real emotions for a change is The Russo’s first fore into the franchise in the widely popular Captain America sequel “Winter Soldier.” This used to be my favorite MCU film, until the next film on this list, but it had earned that spot by being the first MCU film to finally get dirty and get at something a bit more personal and even thematically more important. At its core “Winter Soldier” is about Cap’s struggle with the past and how he can never get it back; one of the film’s first scenes is a rather tragic reminder of that as he sits bedside with an elderly Peggy Carter who appears to be suffering from Alzheimer’s. In Bucky he see’s a chance to get a little of that old life back but obviously it’s more complicated than that. Meanwhile the rest of the story appears to have a lot to say about the surveillance state and how much power we are giving those who look after us. Is this true freedom? To Cap that’s a resounding “no” and that’s what makes him a particularly powerful hero in this story. The movie has some decent action of course and some good jokes here and there but it’s used more effectively in this movie than in most others in this series and it results into, at the time, the most satisfying Marvel film to date.
1. Black Panther
Did you really think this list would end with anything but “Black Panther?” This film is far and away the best MCU film to date by a wide margin (as good as the previous two were) and it stands clearly on the mountain top here. This is more than a super hero movie to me; it’s a quality film period. It’s a movie that harkened back a bit to the first generation of modern super hero movies that were more message-driven while also being quintessentially of this age and nuanced as well. It’s a movie that bares its teeth and isn’t afraid to go long stretches in its story without a fucking joke for a change and trust its audience will hold its attention through that span. It’s one of the only MCU flicks that feature any real stylistic editing and shot producing and an original soundtrack that actually feels distinct and powerful for a change too. It’s a fanciful setup with an Afro-futurist society and cat suit wearing super hero but undeniably the movie is also more tuned into reality with its theme than any previous Marvel flick to date. It’s a film where the lead actor puts on a great performance of his own but maybe is only the third or fourth most best character of the film, in a good way! It features multiple three-dimensional female heroes, who never rely on the lead for help and a villain that is both complex and sympathetic. It’s such a beautiful film in multiple ways that I’m still shocked the MCU made it! “Black Panther” is the gold standard for this series, in my opinion, and frankly, regardless of how “Infinity War” plays out this month I’m just glad we’re going back to Wakanda again. Hopefully Thanos doesn’t destroy too much of it.
Phew. So there it is my best of list. Hope I didn’t piss too many of you off but that’s just like my opinion, man. Let me know what you think in the comments. What’s your favorite and least favorite MCU film? Sound off!