Tuesday 12 August 2014

Rank the Films: Marvel Cinematic Universe

As any regular reader of this blog will know, lists are pretty darn nifty. I have a profound appreciation for straight-up lists. This is the thinking behind Rank the Films, a regular feature that pulls apart the pros and cons of a series of films, ranking them in order of bad to good. 

This month, I revisit the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ranking the 10 (count 'em!) films the studio has put out to date, from 2008's Iron Man to 2012's The Avengers and newest kid off the block, Guardians of the Galaxy. I originally ranked the MCU films in April last year, and wanted to do so again to include the four most recent movies - they sure to pump them out! 

What'll come out on top? Well, read on...

10th - The Incredible Hulk (2008)

"You don't look anything like your profile picture"
2008's The Incredible Hulk is an odd film - whenever I think of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's almost like I completely disregard its existence in the canon. If it wasn't for the Tony Stark cameo, it would barely even register on my radar as a MCU film. In some ways, it works well as a stand-alone film and isn't that closely connected to the rest of the series. 

Despite this however, The Incredible Hulk (which stars Edward Norton as Bruce Banner) is not half-bad. As superhero films go, it's not great. It's not awful either. It really does land squarely in the middle of the spectrum, just above your mediocre Fantastic Four's but well below the quality of your X-Men's or your Captain America's. 

Where I think it does excel is in the casting of Norton as Banner - whilst Ruffalo captured it brilliantly in The Avengers, Norton works with the tortured nature of the character in a way that The Ruff hasn't (yet). The rest of the cast...ermm...give me a second...

Liv Tyler is in it (yeah, I had to look it up) as is...(looks at Rotten Tomatoes page) Tim Roth and William Hurt. Oh look! Phil from Modern Family is there too! It's not all bad, eh?

We've yet to see a follow-up solo outing for the Hulk, and judging by the tepid response to this one, I doubt we ever will.

9th - Iron Man 2 (2010)

Any excuse for a ScarJo pic *drools*
Marvel's first sequel gets a lot of hate, and most of it is justified. The amount of world building Iron Man 2 crams into an already busy movie borders on insanity, with Stark confronting his father's legacy, evading the villainous whips of Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), stopping the government from taking the Iron Man suit, combating corporate rivalry with Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer, (*breathe*) meeting Sam Jackson's Nick Fury and, last but not least, tackling his own drinking problems and health issues caused by the Arc reactor in his chest.

Whatever way you cut it, that's a lot of separate story threads to pack into one movie. And we didn't even mention his love trials with Pepper (Gwenyth Paltrow) or meeting Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson).

Luckily, there are stand-out scenes that redeem this cluttered sequel. The action set-piece set during the Monaco Grand Prix was awesome, as was the opening intro scene at the Stark expo. That hallway fight where Black Widow gets to kick some serious butt never fails to entertain, whilst Don Cheadle slots into the role of War Machine nicely. On the whole, the movie gets an unfair amount of flak, and fits into the series well enough to be better than The Incredible Hulk

8th - Thor (2011)

Weekend away - Jane and Thor bond over their
brief weekend together

Now we're getting into tricky territory; unlike some, I actually think the first Thor film is pretty decent. I had a really great time with this film when it first came out in 2011, and went as far as putting it in my Top 5 from the year (okay, maybe I got a little ahead of myself there...)

In hindsight, it isn't that great. Still good, but not a real standout. There are indisputable upsides; this first Thor film tackles the tricky issue of introducing Norse gods, Bifrosts and rainbow roads into the Marvel Cinematic Universe really well, and we also got our first look at the wider universe expanded upon in this year's Guardians of the Galaxy.

Loki and Thor are written well, and the film gets bonus points for not being an 'origin' story. Thor is still 'Thor' at the start of the film, but is more adult and mature Thor by the end. I liked that approach. Also, the opening half-hour where Thor and co. kick Frost Giant butt is cool (pun intended)

There are also a few weak points also; Hemsworth and Portman share great chemistry, but their romance is very forced. They literally only spend a long weekend together. She's like the real-life Overly Attached Girlfriend. Plus, the movie does slow down a lot once Thor crash lands on Earth. It's almost like they blew 90% of the budget on the bookends of the film set in Asgard. That, and the Warriors Three aren't given much depth. 

7th - Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Rotten Tomatoes: 65%

Stop. Hammer time.
I've seen it described by Entertainment Weekly as the Batman and Robin of the MCU - now that's just rude. Nothing will ever close to that degree of awfulness ever again. 1997 truly was a dark time...let us never speak of it again.

That being said, Thor: The Dark World is a bit of a mixed bag at times - the film races along at breakneck speed with a scope wide enough to encompass everything from Greenwich to Svartelheim, but it never really pauses to focus on the characters for very long.

The end result is a film that is light and bubbly, with lots of action and adventure but little drama. The characters undergo some less than remarkable development - Thor is Thor; heroic, hunky, powerful. Loki is Loki; devious, charming, clever. Jane is Jane; beautiful, but harmless and boring. There's nothing game-changing about the whole thing. They skip around on a merry adventure, things get blown up, someone threatens to destroy the galaxy with a dangerous MacGuffin and they get stopped by Thor swinging his hammer around. Roll credits.

Plus, the villain is notoriously the weakest of any Marvel film yet, which is a real shame given the depth of talent Christopher Ecclestone has. His whole motive comprises of "I'm a Dark Elf, and must subsequently destroy everything". He must be great fun at parties.

That said, I still enjoyed the heck out of this film. It blows things open with a great twist ending and the action really is dazzling. Loki and Thor are a fantastic double-act, made even better by Hemsworth and Hiddlestone's glowing chemistry together. In fact, Thor: The Dark World is a lot better than my description makes it sound, and that's because it is just so easy to be swept up by. It isn't the biggest game-changer, and there isn't lots in the way of character drama, but the fun blend of humour and hammer-smashing dazzle leaves the audience feeling entertained from beginning to end.

6th - Iron Man 3 (2013)

Stark trials out Google Glass - product placement, it's
everywhere I tells ya!
These next three movies are tough, and could really be arranged in any order and still be 70% accurate to my opinion of them. Iron Man 3, which hit cinemas last year, is a really great movie. Don't get me wrong, it has its faults, but Iron Man 3 rounded out the trilogy in fine form.

The first film in Marvel's second phase of films, Iron Man 3 sees Tony Stark recuperating from the events of The Avengers - he's a broken man, struggling to sleep and fretting over danger. It's a familiar theme in superhero films, but here it seems very real. Stark is a larger-than-life character, one who lives and breathes his own ego. For me, to see him suffering from PTSD hit home much more than if it was a sulky Peter Parker or a moody Clark Kent.

Also, I really love Shane Black's humour in this film - the sequence where Stark is escaping from Killian's Miami mansion is hilarious - "I don't even like working here, these guys are so weird." Gets me every time. The theme, 'Can You Dig It', is funky, the opening prologue set in 1999 to 'Blue' was a blast from the past, and I really liked that the film was set at Christmas. Why? No reason. Shane Black just has a hard-on for festive cheer (see: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon).

Saying that, that Mandarin twist is just stupid. The more I think about it, the more I wish they'd just played it straight.

5th - Iron Man (2008)

Iron Man Begins
Is the first Iron Man film still the best? I'd say maybe? Possibly? Only just. I don't know, it's too tough to call. For laughs, Iron Man 3 is your best option. For actual Iron Man action and a more satisfying plot, the first film just edges it.

As origin stories go, 2008's Iron Man is up there with the best. The character arc that Stark undergoes throughout the film is wonderfully handled, and the end result is we see the person beneath Iron Man, not just a suit of armour come the climactic showdown with Iron Monger (Jeff Bridges). Speaking of Bridges - how understated is his role here? I forget he's in this film every time, and it always surprises me how good he actually is as Stark's father-figure trying to muscle him out of his own company.

Also, without the success of Iron Man, there would be no Marvel Cinematic Universe. If this movie had tanked, critics would have been proclaiming the end of Marvel before the series had even begun to find its feet. Bonus points for that if nothing else.

4th - Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Rotten Tomatoes: 79%

Nice camouflage, Rogers 
This one might ruffle some feathers, but meh, what are you going to do, it's my list. The First Avenger was a real fresh take on the superhero genre, the WWII setting being bathed in a nostalgic glow, but also peppered with a cool Resistance/Fallout future technology vibe going on.

I liked that Marvel didn't try and make it all gritty like Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers - instead Steve Rogers is plucked from the streets of Brooklyn, plopped on the operating table, pumped with super solider steroids and BAM! Most American superhero ever. Most of the film looks like it has been plucked straight from a Captain America comic-book.

Hugo Weaving chews the scenery as uber-Nazi Red Skull, whilst Dominic Cooper tied the whole thing up with Avengers by being Tony Stark's father, Howard. Throw in the comedic snark of Tommy Lee Jones, mix it up with some retro glam in the form of Hayley Atwell and you've got a delightfully chipper superhero flick that doesn't feel like a retread of anything seen before.

A few naysayers disregard this film as being an extended prelude to The Avengers, and in some ways they're right. There is a lot of introductions here, including Hydra, the Tesserect and so on. The stinger scene where Cap wakes up at the end is brilliant though, and teases the big crossover to come masterfully.

3rd - Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America's third appearance in the MCU was directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, and the duo targeted a 70's Cold War thriller vibe, whilst mixing in elements of cyber warfare and post-911 paranoia.

They nailed it. The Winter Soldier is a tight, slickly-made action film that ensured Chris Evans decked out in a kevlar red, white and blue jumpsuit flinging an indestructible shield about wasn't laughable or cheesy in a 21st Century setting. Despite the large amount of helicarriers and flying Falcons, the movie felt grounded.

The film felt like an Avengers-lite, with the ties to central universe coming on strong. Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury, and Scarlett Johansson pretty much steals the show as Black Widow. WHY OH WHY HASN'T SHE GOT HER OWN MOVIE.

Sorry, caps lock got stuck. The Winter Solider also had the balls to shake the series to the core with one of the biggest and most shocking revelations yet. Hydra are back! They've been pulling the strings all along! Also, Winter Solider himself (Sebastian Stan) is one of the better villains we've seen in the series so far. All in all, a brilliant slice of superhero action.

2nd - Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Cue "you're looking a bit green" jokes
It's only been a matter of days since I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, and it has easily earned its spot this high up the list. In fact, it only very nearly misses out on being 1st. 

Right from the opening credits, you get the sense you're watching something special. This is something fun, intelligent and fresh. It's funky, cool and has an infectious air of confidence about it. As Chris Pratt's Peter Quill swaggers his way through a gloomy alien cave miming to 'Come and Get Your Love' by Redbone, you can't help but grin from ear to ear.

And then, you don't stop for 120 breathless minutes. From a hilarious prison break spearheaded by Bradley Cooper's snarky Rocket to the climactic battle/dance-off against Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the most infectiously entertaining movies I've seen, not just from Marvel, but any big-budget studio.

Less of a superhero flick and more of a full-blown space opera, James Gunn's skull and wisecracking troupe of misfits sees Marvel delve deeper into outer space than ever before, and expand their Universe tenfold. It's like Firefly meets Star Wars meets The Usual Suspects. More please.

1st - The Avengers (2012)

Super secret boy band assemble!
Was it really going to be anything else? Whedon's first foray into the Marvel Universe at the helm of Earth's Mightiest Heroes is as pretty much perfect as superhero romps go, and I stand by that. 10/10. Sorry Star-Lord, Stark and co. just edge you out for the top spot. Only just though...

With an awesome cast (RDJ, Evans, Hemsworth lead, Ruffalo is an excellent addition), a memorable villain (Hiddleston is in his element as Loki) and some of the best comic-book action scenes ever committed to film, Whedon knew what the audience wanted and delivered by the bucket load. The film is a culmination of five other films all leading into one story, and it feels worth it.

The film balances the whole cast immaculately, from Stark bonding with Banner in the lab to Rogers acclimatising to life in the 21st Century ("I understood that reference") and Hawkeye and Romanoff sticking close whilst surrounded by larger-than-life heroes. This isn't the 'Iron Man and Friends' after school special - it's a continuation of everyone's story.

Plus, this movie is seriously funny. The quips flow free and fast between the team, with Stark ribbing Thor about his cape ("Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?") to nicknaming Loki "reindeer games". Great stuff.

Guardians comes close, but Avengers is still my favourite Marvel Studios movie yet. Your move, Age of Ultron.

What are your thoughts on my list? What is your favourite Marvel Studios movie? Let me know in the comments below, and also leave some suggestions on which series of movies I should rank next. Click here to view past entries in this sporadically appearing feature of mine


  1. Love this! I am a huge fan of lists myself so I really appreciate this :D
    If it were me I would have put Thor 2 a little higher up the list, but that's just me :)
    - Allie

    1. Thanks Allie! It's a feature I've been running for a while now, but only get round to every now and again. But there's plenty of series and directors I can run through in the future, so I'd better get to it. Next up - Indiana Jones, maybe?

      Yeah, Thor 2 seems to split opinions I find :) Thanks for commenting!

  2. Love the graphic at the top! Great list! I think mine would be similar, but I'd have Thor: The Dark World higher. Avengers would surely be #1.

    1. I know right! They're some cool alternative posters I've come across in my time skimming the web. I really love the Winter Soldier one, I'd love it if someone put together the whole series in the same theme.

      Thor 2 seems to be getting a lot of love in this comments section! Odd considering I've read some v. mixed stuff on it. Thanks for commenting Brittani!

  3. Good stuff. Yours appears to match approximately how I see a lot of rankings of this series turning out from most people. My own has a handful of controversial placements, as I wasn't a fan of fan-favorite The Winter Soldier, and I'm one of the few who's already knocked Avengers off the top spot prior to Guardians' release (though Guardians didn't quite place so high on my own initial viewing. That second viewing was the kicker. ;) ), but here's how mine look:

    1. Guardians of the Galaxy
    2. Iron Man 3
    3. The Avengers
    4. Thor: The Dark World
    5. Captain America: The First Avenger
    6. Iron Man
    7. The Incredible Hulk
    8. Thor
    9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
    10. Iron Man 2

    1. Guardians is seriously close to being the best, it's hard to choose. I've only seen Guardians the once, so maybe I'll reconsider once I see it again ;) Love the list Chris, again Thor 2 getting lots of love! Thanks for commenting :)

  4. Good stuff, here. Haven't seen Guardians yet so I can't speak on that one. Otherwise, my biggest differences with your list is I'd have Iron Man 3 much nearer to the bottom, like just ahead of IM2. I just feel that while RDJ gives his best performance of the character it's in service of a movie that isn't very good. Way too many plot holes and implausibilities, even for a superhero flick. And don't get me started on that dumb ass twist. Also I'm not sure I'd have The Avengers at the top. It might take me another viewing or two to confirm, but The Winter Soldier might have it beat.

    1. I think you're right there - the twist certainly brings IM3 down after a couple of viewings. I appreciate that the Mandarin is a complex character to get right, but it just seems a bit too goofy after the third viewing. I think I'd have to see Winter Solider and GOTG again to see if they rank as better than the Avengers. I've seen the latter god knows how many times, and love it from start to finish. Thanks for commenting!

  5. It's a tough thing to rank the Marvel films, especially since for many people even the lowest movie is a 7 out of 10 or higher so they're really just shades of awesome. It also helps if you have the time to re-watch some of the earlier entries. I re-watched Incredible Hulk a couple months ago and it actually does hold up pretty well for the most part, I still say that if they had gone with Edward Norton and Jennifer Connoly they would have had something special. I re-watched the Avengers just the other day and it actually has a bit of a spotty first half outside of some of the fights, but once they hit the streets of New York, it's on until the credits roll. It's also interesting to think about how the nuke strike could easily have been ordered from the Hydra half of S.H.I.E.L.D. I think I was less of a fan of the first Cap than you, and a bigger fan of the second Thor than you, but aside from that it's all just nitpicks anyway. Nice list, and nice reasons for them.

    1. I think you're right there, it is certainly harder to determine best to worst with Marvel than say, Star Wars or Alien. I only rewatched a couple recently (Thor 2, Iron Man 3), plus GOTG at the movies. I think that build-up with the Avengers is good though, it sees the team come together and the initial tension between the massive egos. I hadn't actually thought about which areas of SHIELD were controlled by HYDRA in the Avengers, interesting to think about :) Thanks for commenting mate, love your blog!

  6. Great list, man!

    I've never actually sat down and ranked the Marvel films, but I know I would have The Avengers on top and Iron Man 2 on the bottom. Off the top of my head:

    1. The Avengers
    2. Captain America: The First Avenger
    3. Guardians of the Galaxy
    4. Iron Man
    5. Iron Man 3
    6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
    7. Thor: The Dark World
    8. The Incredible Hulk
    9. Thor
    10. Iron Man 2

    1. Nice list Tanner - not too removed from mine, which is cool :) Can't wait to see where Age of Ultron slots in!

  7. I'm so glad to see Iron Man 2 and Thor here. i love these two movies and they seem never to get mentioned in list like those - my favorite thing about Marvel flicks is the humour and these two have so much of it.

    1. Very true! Thor especially has a lot of great humour in it, Hiddleston and Hemsworth have some great chemistry. Thanks for commenting Sati!



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