The Films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ranked, 2016 Catch Up Edition

Posted by Matthew on February 17, 2017
Editorial, Movies

We’re continuing to shake off the dust around here at Awesome Friday HQ, and one easy way to do that is to update the Marvel Fanboy Marvel Cinematic Universe Rankings. Last year there were two additions to the canon of films, Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange. Each were good, but where do they fit? Let’s take a look.

Last time I did this I grouped the films into three categories, this time I’m doing a straight up ranking. Feel free to agree or disagree with me. In fact, I encourage it.

Now let’s get to it.

#14 Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2

Stop e if you’ve heard this before: Iron Man 2 is a mess. In hindsight it may be viewed as a warning that Marvel was going to have a villain problem. The third film released, and the third time that the hero faced a dark-side version of himself –even more so that in Iron Man. Most of Iron Man 2 seems to exist to set up other facets of the MCU, it was made clear that things like Tony Stark’s alcoholism will never be explicit or deeply explored, and the best action sequence in the movie doesn’t even include Iron Man!

#13 Thor

Thor

My main problem with Thor is that is just kinda… boring. Yes, we get our first look at the extended Marvel Universe and it is very shiny but also not very interesting. Sure, you can tell that this was where they started thinking “maybe we should save our villains and see which one tests best for The Avengers“, but this was a good opportunity to get really weird and, horses galloping down the rainbow bridge aside, they didn’t.

#12 The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk isn’t a bad movie, in fact it is perfectly fine. I still actually like Edward Norton in the role, but all the behind the scenes squabbling is more interesting.

The real shame is that I’d be willing to bet that all the flashbacks and the unused opening wold probably have lent more depth to the film and maybe, just maybe, it could have been higher on this list. But then again, maybe not, and we’ll probably never know regardless.

There’s also a moment when they are setting up a return villain in this one who we never see again. It’s interesting to think how things might have been different if they’d chosen The Leader instead of Loki as the big bad in Avengers.

#11 Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World

This is always the point where the rankings get tough for me, since this is where the movies go from “ok” to “pretty good”. Thor: The Dark World gets a lot of credit from me for some delightfully weird stuff: machine gun armed flying space canoes, space elves, and rock monsters, I am looking at you. We also get a better look at the nine realms, and Christ Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston have a great time with the complicated love-hate brotherly relationship between Thor and Loki.

But they also don’t let Christopher Eccleston do much in his role as Malekith and director Alan Taylor doesn’t really have a distinctive enough style to impart on the film to elevate it.

#10 Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron

The strength of the Marvel machine is that they can introduce bits of continuity and world building in different films and then tie them together in later outings. The down side is that when it comes time for a big team up, and every character has a thread that needs attention, then a film can become a little overstuffed like Age of Ultron.

I suppose it could have been worse, but ultimately it feels like Joss Whedon had a story he wanted to tell that was compromised by the addition of a bunch of universe building subplots. The film is undone by its own ambition.

#9 Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange

It’s a solid origin story, but one we’ve seen before. Iron Man But With Magic is a pretty solid description. I like Benedict Cumberbatch, he’s just the right flavour of arrogant for the part (especially since Strange never really loses it) but his jokes don’t land as solidly as they should or could.

There’s a lot to say too about the casting of white actors in asian parts, and of the “white guy goes to asia and becomes the best at the thing he learns” story, and while the movie gets a lot wrong I think it did better than it could have.

In any event the visuals for the magic are stunning, there’s a CGI character that steals a lot of scenes, and the chemistry between Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor is great. It almost feels like a phase one film, and I mean that in a good way.

#8 Ant-Man

Ant-Man / Paul Rudd

Another that almost feels like a phase one film in the good way. Tiny Iron Man is a pretty solid description here. It’s a solid origin story, but what I like most is that the stakes are deliberately small. Sure, they avert a disaster, but it is really about fathers and daughters.

The action is good, the humour is good, but most importantly this one has the heart.

#7 Iron Man

Iron Man

The prototype in so many ways. The first car on the Marvel train established a template that so many have followed (capable guy loses everything, learns a thing, redeems himself, faces a villain who is a dark side version of himself, gets enough of the girls respect that they’ll maybe get them in the next film), and that fun, upbeat Marvel feeling is established.

Plus Robert Downey Jr is just having a great time and that’s fun to watch.

#6 Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger

Tony Stark is the brain of the MCU but Steve Rogers is its beating heart. The First Avenger has its issues, but the perfect casting (Chris Evans remains the best decision they ever made) combined with the period setting and the perfectly over the top villain make it the best of the phase one films.

Plus, the Hugo Weaving, Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci 3-way “who has the worst German accent” contest is still a ton of fun.

#5 Captain America: Civil War

There’s an argument some make that this would be better titled Avengers 2.5 but I disagree with that assessment. This is Captain America’s story, not The Avengers. It just so happens that all of Cap’s friends are Avengers.

Interestingly, making most of the primary characters superheroes solves a lot of problems. You can’t have too many of them if they are all superheroes! Plus when they all square off in the big climactic fight the stakes feel personal instead of just the good ones vs. the bad ones. Long established friendships are at stake, and actions actually have some consequences. Sure, none of them die but in the words of Joss Whedon, the stakes then have to become emotional (and they do).

#4 Iron Man Three

Iron Man Three

We’ll never get demon in a bottle on-screen, but the story of Tony Stark going through PTSD following nearly dying in The Avengers is kind of close enough.

Iron Man Three is one of the Marvel films that clearly has it’s directors stamp on it thanks to Shane Black, and as the direct follow-up to The Avengers did a good job of answering the “why doesn’t he just call The Avengers” question with a resounding “he doesn’t have to.”

#3 Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Following two outings as an action hero, Captain America now stars in a perfectly executed spy thriller. The best thing about the Marvel films is when they try new genres and this is maybe the best example of them doing that. It exists in perfect continuity with the films that came before but also flips the table on the state of the world.

The streak of amazing casting choices keeps up with the addition of Anthony Mackie as Falcon, and the chemistry between him, Chris Evans, and Scarlett Johansson is fantastic. The stakes are high for the world but again, incredibly personal for our hero, and that makes all the difference. Plus, this one still has the best hand to hand fight scenes in the entire Marvel canon so far.

#2: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

The Guardians of the Galaxy don’t have as much back story as The Avengers do, but as a group of flawed misfits they’re maybe more relatable from the get to too. Effectively Seven Samurai but in Space, The Guardians of the Galaxy blends lovable characters with cosmic weirdness, inventive visuals, and a hefty dose of awesome music to really hammer That Marvel Feeling home, and it works perfectly.

#1: The Avengers

The Avengers

As with Guardians, The Avengers is also effectively a Seven Samurai retelling but with the heroes, villain, and macguffin that we had already been introduced to. Nothing like it had really happened before, and even Marvel hasn’t been able to really recreate the same magic since.

I remember I saw The Avengers at a midnight showing, in a huge theatre full of other devout nerds, and in that moment where the Avengers assemble for the first time on the streets of New York, and the camera pans all the way around the team as they ready for battle, the crowd stood up and cheered. Something I had never seen before and haven’t seen since. It was a great moment for each and every one of us there.

The Avengers was the film that I had waited to see since I was 9 years old, and remains the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Conclusions

My rankings of these movies has changed several times over the years and I think that might be because they are, on the whole, very good movies. Even the ones at the bottom of the list are fine. Maybe not great, but they’re very rewatchable. Statistically speaking Marvel will eventually have to make a dud, but they seem to have their priorities straight for the time being. People talk about “superhero fatigue” but that’s not something we’d be talking about if the movies were all bad.

This is the first year that we are getting three Marvel movies (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok). I will of course be seeing all of them, and have thoughts to share.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,