A while back, IGN did a feature on ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in light of the fact that Marvel has finished its “Phase II” movie slate. Mine differs from theirs however, so I thought I’d do my own take on the list. Now I’m fully committed to seeing the new Fantastic Four reboot, so I will probably assign a new number to it and then “push” all the other movies under it down by 1 number. (EDIT: Still haven’t seen the FF reboot based on reviews–I probably won’t include it here when I do see it as it isn’t technically in the MCU. I’m thinking of doing another list for the non-MCU Marvel movies (X-Men, FF reboot, etc.), but I’m not sure when I’ll get to it at the moment).
A Note on Spoilers: Now, I tried to be as “Spoiler Free” as possible and not get into too many specifics and just give a general impression of why I felt it belonged where I placed it on the list. I tried not to go into any plot discussion whatsoever (just in case), but I can’t guarantee that if you haven’t seen the movie, that these listings will be completely spoiler free.
14. Iron Man 2: On this one, both IGN and I agree. This one was the weakest of the Marvel Universe films. IGN says that it is because they were trying to set up other movies in the Universe, but for me, they lost the through line of Tony Stark’s character. Tony finding out that his life’s work was causing misery in the world in Iron Man 1 was one of the revelations of the character. Not having that type of character introspection was a missed opportunity. It was like the filmmakers wanted to do the whole “Demon in a Bottle” storyline here, but decided that it was too dark and then stripped it out while leaving Tony’s erratic behaviors in place.
13. Thor: The Dark World: Missed this one in the theaters and saw it on Blu-Ray. For some reason, this one missed with me. I loved the 1st Thor, but the storyline on this one just seemed to not make a lot of sense. I pride myself on being able to follow plot, but many of the scenes seemed to lurch from one “element” to another without the tight narrative flow throughout the movie.
12. The Incredible Hulk: I liked this one more than the critics and if not for the strong showing of other Marvel Universe movies, this one would be much higher. I liked the “Hulk on the run” motif as it mimicked the TV show from the late 70s-early 80s (which I watched religiously as a child). I also liked the Hulk vs. Abomination fight. What really sold the deal for me with this movie was the awesome cameo by Lou Ferrigno and the fight choreography that called back to the Playstation 2 era Hulk video game.
11. Iron Man 3: Actually, liked this one quite a bit when I saw it in IMAX 3D. Several scenes lose their punch when viewed 2D via Blu-Ray, but it is still a great movie. This one worked better because (unlike IM2) they actually did use elements from the storyline “A Demon in a Bottle” (albeit they substituted PTSD for alcoholism) and that worked to explain Tony’s increasingly erratic behavior. I didn’t like the Mandarin’s portrayal all that much, but if you are not going to allow Mandarin to have his rings then a significant change to the Mandarin character is necessary.
10. Ant-Man: Now we’re starting to get into territory where ALL of the following movies are good, but it just depends on individual preference. Even in this grouping, I’m making fine distinctions between the movies. Let’s just say that if any of the movies from here above are playing on TV and I have the time, chances are good I’d just sit and watch to the conclusion. I liked this story–it was a fun movie. It was also a “heist” movie and I’m not personally a big fan of those. Luckily, the heist was part of the movie’s climax and it was pretty interesting.
9. Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron: Okay, I was expecting to like this one a whole lot more than I did. I think that the final climax and set-piece was fine. For me, the interactions did not ring as true as they did in the 1st movie. This one was more set piece to set piece, but the interactions seemed forced for some reason. Take the hinted Widow/Banner romance for instance. Widow seemed to have much more of a rapport with Captain America based on the chemistry and camaraderie displayed in The Winter Soldier than she had with her interactions with Banner in both of the Avengers movies. I think, though, what ultimately I didn’t like is that Ultron was “creepy,” almost horrific like a good classic horror villain. Just like Winter Soldier was a mix of superhero and political thriller, I think Age of Ultron should have mixed superhero movie with horror movie elements, with Ultron “picking off” the Avengers one-by-one.
8. Thor: So the first Thor movie doesn’t get a lot of love, but it set’s up the first Marvel Avengers movie, it features great performances from the leads (Tom Hiddleston owns the role of Loki), and has some great comedic moments. I really like the earnest approach to the story–both in terms of acting and the story itself. It is the “Fall from Grace” story, but because it isn’t a Tragedy (aka GrimDark), the hero is given the chance to redeem himself and learns what it means to be a hero. The cynic in me says that this why the movie isn’t universally loved–it is hard to be a hero because a true hero isn’t a jerk or an anti-hero. A true hero has to be willing to sacrifice. And in America (and the world at large), that just isn’t a very popular idea (Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones, I’m looking at you).
7. Captain America: First Avenger: I really like this movie. This is mostly a period piece movie, but I like it more for its message than its out-and-out action sequences. This the quintessential American movie–the little guy with a heart of gold who becomes not so little and stands up to those who would oppress others. Again, not a popular sentiment these days. I didn’t grow up in the time period the movie describes, but as someone who minored in History, I love the period piece behind the movie.
6. Doctor Strange: Okay, I liked this one just slightly more than I did the first Captain America movie, but less than I did the first Iron Man movie. I think that Benedict Cumberbatch was an awesome choice to play this role because of his time with Sherlock and that gave him the right “timbre” for playing the narcissistic Stephen Strange. I also thought that the change from selfish to selfless was well earned, and unlike the critics and masses, I liked the conclusion and final fight. I thought that it was well earned and concluded the story well, but was also darkly humorous. I loved the special effects and Doctor’s Strange’s cloak was a great character all by itself!
5. Iron Man: This one’s special to me as it is the first time that I realized that Marvel was really serious about “Universe-building.” I’ve always been a Spider-Man and X-Men reader (on the Marvel side), but it was impossible ignore the other heroes. I would see references in other comics about Iron Man and had a comic that was the precursor to the Marvel Handbooks that described the tech of Marvel’s heroes. It diagramed how Spider-Man’s web-shooters worked, how Falcon’s wings and flight apparatus worked, how Mandarin’s rings did their thing, and so on. As I recall, the comic showed several variants of Tony Stark’s armor, including the “gray Iron Man” suit. Seeing that suit on-screen and then seeing Tony reworking it into the “contemporary” suit blew my mind! If nothing else, I realized that this batch of Marvel movies (unlike the 1st batch in the mid/late 80s) intended to get it right and treat the source material with respect. I was hooked on Marvel’s movies with this one.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy: So this one was one of those movies that I decided that I really loved the Trailer and that I was going to see no matter what. To understand my reasoning, you have to understand that I had been talked out of seeing World War Z at the theaters by the lukewarm reviews. When I saw WWZ on Blu-Ray, I loved it and wished that I’d seen it via Imax (as I’d intended before watching/reading reviews). I made up my mind that if I ever saw a trailer that I liked, I was going to see the movie no matter what. I saw the trailer for GG in March/Apr. and liked it. I expected the critics to hate this one or at least be lukewarm with it like WWZ, but to my surprise they liked it and so did I. WWZ taught me that if I’m already predisposed to like the movie, to go see it, otherwise I might miss out. I was doggedly determined to see GG no matter its critical reaction–and I’m glad I did. It was both a good Marvel movie and a good Sci-Fi movie as well.
3. Captain America: Civil War: I thought this would go to number one based on the fact that even though this is a Captain America movie, it is essentially an Avengers movie because the plot line revolves around the fracturing of the Avengers based on ideologies. When I saw this in the theaters (IMAX 3D), it was by far my number one movie. However, after purchasing it and rematching it multiple times, I’ve found that after the first major scene, the pace really slows until spectacular sequences in the middle. I think, however, what keeps this one lower than CA:WS and Avengers is the fact that while I liked the ending, the reason why both Cap and Tony fracture, while set up earlier in the movie, seems forced. It was almost as if I could see the screenwriters pulling the strings in order to put Cap and Tony at each other’s throats at the end. Neither CA:WS or Avengers gave me that feeling. I love this movie, don’t get me wrong. The “airport” scene alone is one of the best scenes in movies, but I just can’t help feeling that the two heroes were “manipulated” into their final fight, not by the villain of the story, but by the screenwriters reaching too hard to wring pathos out of the audience.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Just watched this one again recently. If not for the 1st Avengers film, this one would definitely be my favorite. It had everything that I look for in a movie. Spectacular fight sequences and choreography, tight plotting, reversals, betrayals, secrets, spy vs spy, secret organizations, two leads who work well together, cats and dogs living together in harmony (okay, so I threw that last one in there from Ghostbusters, but I wanted to see if you were paying attention). For me, this one paid off the promise made in the first Captain America film. A man of a different era now has to come to grips with the modern world and all its perceived faults.
1. Marvel’s Avengers: Off all the Marvel Universe movies released so far, this one is my favorite. It has all of the elements that I enjoy (strong characterization, tension between teammates, heroism, and teammates banding together against a common foe). The fight sequences were astounding and more importantly, seemed real and engaging, and the character interactions were spot-on. The final sequence was jaw-dropping in its scale and intensity. I almost ALWAYS stop and watch this one out to the end whenever I run across it playing on TV. They got this one perfect for me.
There you have it–my top Marvel movies, so far.