So you read my breakdown of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and are now wondering how I think the films stack up so far? Well, I thought you’d never ask!
No, seriously, what took you so long to ask?
So here it is, how I think the Marvel movies stack up.
#9 Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2 tries to do a lot of things and in the process basically fails at all of them. It has some scenes that I like (Tony Stark in his Iron Man suit and drunk at his birthday, for one. “how do you go to the bathroom in the suit?”; anything with Sam Rockwell for two) but ultimately they recycle the entire concept from the first film, right down to an overpowered Iron Man suited bad guy who is far too easy to defeat (except in this case he was played by the ridiculous Mickey Rourke instead of the awesome Jeff Bridges).
It feels like this film was written, or at least directed by, committee and in the process of trying to please the big personalities on set and the production team it just became a mess.
When Thor first came out I liked it quite a bit. It had some nice comic moments and in some ways really captured the spirit of the comics it was based on, and it was also insanely well cast. It doesn’t hold up though. It’s a foundation on which better films have been built but now it’s just kinda…. boring.
#7 The Incredible Hulk
Bruce Banner is an interesting character and really the main problem with this film is that they cast Edward Norton. There’s a lot of potential here that seems to have fallen by the wayside much of which is likely due to squabbling between Edward Norton (who was promised some measure of creative control when he signed on but then his contributions were all but excised from the film), the studio (who reportedly hated everything Norton brought to the table (seriously, there’s apparently something like an hours worth of footage that hit the cutting room floor), and director Louis Leterrier who was trying to keep the peace. In the end the film was ok and like Thor laid the groundwork for the universe to be built on, but Norton was fired (you can read the whole story here).
#6 Iron Man
Iron Man is a good movie but upon repeat viewings it has become not a great one. Again with the world building and the great work by Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges but the action no longer really holds up (and there’s precious little of it, too) and the story is slow to get anywhere.
But when it comes down to it it isn’t that Iron Man is a bad film, it’s just that it’s a good film that no longer stands out in a crowd of great ones. Still, it did get the ball rolling on this whole thing and proved to Marvel that B-List superheroes (yes, Iron Man used to be on the B-List at Marvel) could be used to conduct their grand experiment.
#5 Thor: The Dark World
I really liked Thor: The Dar World but (as discussed on an episode of the podcast) it has a few things that hold it back from being higher on this list. It’s great fun, the action is well done, they really get the look of Thor himself right for the first time, and I like the extended look at the nine realms, however Malekith is kind of a one note bad guy, the pace is bit rushed, and I was a bit disappointed that it never slowed down to smell the roses (or really dive into the characters).
Still, it’s only just shy of being truly great which is why it sits right in the middle of this list.
#4 Captain America: The First Avenger
I know what some of you are thinking but I don’t particularly care. The First Avenger is the best of the stand alone Phase One Marvel films. Sure it montages through what could have been some awesome action sequences but it’s also the first film in the franchise to have any real heart. Chris Evans remains to this day Marvel’s best casting choice (yes, better than RDJ though he’s close to perfect too), and I really like the period setting.
Furthermore it’s just fun to see Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci, and Hugo Weaving have a “who can get away with the most ridiculous German accent” contest.
While the rest of the films have some shared threads this was also the first one to really tie itself into the rest of the universe by introducing The Tesseract, the macguffin which would re-appear in The Avengers and later be revealed to be an Infinity Stone, an important plot point all the way through Phase Three of Marvel’s experiment.
It’s not a perfect film but it’s earnestness and charm make it something special.
#3 Iron Man Three
Phase One was all set up, Phase Two is all character. Iron Man Three gave the franchise a few things. First, it broke free of genres a little by essentially being a detective story with a sci-fi twist. It also gave us a broken Tony Stark, suffering from PTSD after the events of New York, and showed him healing. In the comics Tony battles alcoholism and a few other things and that’ll never make it to screen in a Disney movie, so that’s just nice to see.
And furthermore it gave Iron Man a good ending, at least as far as stand alone films go. He has now had a full character arc through 4 movies and is free to be an Avenger but doesn’t really need his own films anymore (although we’ll certainly get them eventually), freeing up screen time for new characters.
Plus I even like the kid and Tony’s interaction with him. That’s the other thing I love about this movie: it’s Marvel movie, it’s an Iron Man movie, but it’s also undeniably a Shane Black movie. Marvel isn’t afraid to let directors put their stamp on the characters and films, and that’s a very good thing.
#2 The Avengers
The culmination of Phase One, the first time many of the characters have met on screen, the Avengers assembling after their adversary tried to cast them asunder. I love basically everything about this movie. It’s easy and rewarding to re-watch; I still get a giddy smile on my face every time I see the helicarrier take off for the first time. I love the banter between the characters, I love the dynamic between the Captain America the soldier and Iron Man the anti-hero. They also finally fucking nailed Hulk by casting Mark Ruffalo, managed to make Hawkeye interesting despite having little to do, and stared to allude to Black Widow’s past.
There are a lot of elements that make The Avengers a great film so rather than tell you all of them I’m just going to tell you to go watch it again. It’s great.
#1 Captain America: The Winter Soldier
But as great as The Avengers is, it’s not the best. No, that title now belongs to Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Building on everything which has come before and it leaping ahead in terms of quality and storytelling The Winter Soldier is a cut above the rest of the Marvel films to date.
Not only does it use everything that’s come before, it also isn’t afraid to just turn everything upside down, casting everything we knew about who is good and who is bad in the universe into doubt, casting character actions in earlier films and short films into new light and not necessarily for the better.
Iron Man Three and Thor: The Dark World started it but The Winter Soldier makes the point clear. You won’t have to see all the Marvel movies to enjoy the ones you do see, but we really are dealing with one series of films here. Things that happen in this movie have had drastic effects on the ongoing TV show and will be felt all the way into Avengers: Age of Ultron next year, if not beyond that.
So there you have it, that’s how I rate the Marvel films so far. Captain America is the new leader. That could change mind you, I’ll be revisiting the list when Guardians of the Galaxy comes out later this year and by that time I’ll have had a chance to revisit The Winter Soldier to see if it holds up under repeat viewings.
In the mean time, feel free to agree or disagree with me. I’ll enjoy the discussion.