For the most part, blogging about movies is a ton of fun. Vomiting your opinion all over the internet is of course a millennials favorite pastime, and when I get to do it in honor of a medium I love as much as film, even more so. However, the gig does have its drawbacks — mainly in the form of a disheveled, hungry Kevin Feige coming to my home in the middle of the night and demanding a ritual sacrifice of Marvel movie rankings come next Avengers Eve.
Yes, I’ve heard rumblings for years that Kevin Feige installs a curse on all movie bloggers to write detailed, thousand words essays on the various films that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And, sure, I’ve heard rumblings of the cruel, perverse punishment that’s instilled upon those who don’t present their work to the internet in time to tie into the release of Avengers: Infinity War (a 24 hour, back-to-back marathon of Inhumans AND Iron Fist…in 4DX! *shiver*) And, to be fair, when I registered this domain, I read the terms and conditions, which specifically pointed out I was obligated to present my thoughts on how The Incredible Hulk and Thor: The Dark World compare to each other to, like, no one in particular at some point in the near future. I knew what I was getting myself into by creating this blog, but that still didn’t prepare me for the horrifying image of a withering Feige pressing his palm to my face, whispering “RANKER!,” and scurrying off into the night.
Regardless, the mark of the beast is now upon me, and it is my obligation to feed him in the only way I can — meaningless organization and endless bloviating. Those are my two true superpowers, and like a certain Marvel character said, with great power comes…well, he never said it in the MCU, so who the hell can remember anyways?
Without further ado, let’s get this show on the road. Here are all 18 current MCU movies, ranked.
18. The Incredible Hulk
Of all the MCU films so far, The Incredible Hulk is the only one I would say has aged poorly. At the time, I rather enjoyed the reboot (and felt it an improvement over Ang Lee’s disastrous Hulk), but upon re-watching it earlier this year…oh boy. Not only does it now feel out of place within the rest of the universe (Edward Norton as Bruce Banner makes the whole thing feel very much “out of canon,”), but it also feels stunningly old-fashioned. While conceptualizing the Hulk story as a Bourne-esque chase thriller was a novel concept in 2008…it’s mostly just dreadfully boring now. There’s some fun to be had in the smash em’ up action of the climactic scene, but even that feels rather retro in a cinematic world that includes The Battle of New York and Sokovia. There’s simply nothing fresh or, hell, even interesting about The Incredible Hulk, which has only become even more apparent in the decade since its release.
17. Iron Man 2
For years, I thought Iron Man 2 was the nadir of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But in my MCU rewatch, I realize it was not…but only because The Incredible Hulk aged worse, not because Iron Man 2 aged better. No, Tony’s Starks second adventure is as messy and unfocused as I remember it being, a cacophony of chaos that, ultimately, leads to not much of anything. It routinely whiffs on every single plot development it comes across, and not even Robert Downey Jr.’s aggressive charm can make something like the mindless, ugly climax any more interesting. Years ago, I thought my lack of passion for Iron Man 2 was because it tried to squeeze in to much Avengers set-up (like the completely boring version of Black Widow that shows up for no goddamn reason.) But now that we’re 18 films into this series…nah. Even on its own merits, the film just isn’t very good.
Ant-Man is…fine. Paul Rudd gives it his all in the central role, and some of the shrinking mechanics leads to inspiring places. But the heist movie concept never really pans out conceptually, with the superhero movie failing to ever feel like anything else but, well, a superhero movie…and a rather bland one at that. And yes, I will never not be able to think about what Edgar Wright could have done with his version of the film every damn time I think about it. Unfair, maybe. But if the film itself was more interesting, I like to imagine it wouldn’t even be an issue to begin with.
Luis is cool, though.
15. Thor: The Dark World
Thor: The Dark World isn’t as bad as everyone says it is. But that is mostly due to the fact that everyone thinks its REALLY bad. In my mind though, the film is just pretty mediocre. I like how it expanded the scope of the Thor universe, and I think the ending action sequence is a lot of fun, but the worst villain in the MCU really kills the momentum of the film dead. That being said, there’s a lot of great Thor/Loki work here, and I do appreciate the film on that front. But after the release of last Thor movie, let’s just say this one suffers by comparison.
Yes, the first two Thor movies are really close in my mind, and I think the original is only a smidge better than The Dark World at the end of the day. While the sequel improved on the action and scope front, the original far better handles the dramatic moments, most likely due to director Kenneth Brannaugh’s experience behind the camera. While the Shakespearean tone ultimately proved to be too limiting for the character and his world in the long run, as a way of establishing his origin and setting up the tragedy of his and Loki’s relationship? It does the trick quite well. Too bad the superhero stuff surrounding it is rather weak. Even as a New Mexican who craves every ounce of acknowledgment possible, I can’t quite figure out where the decision to throw the Asgardian god of freaking thunder in Nowheresberg, New Mexico came from.
13. Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange has some really neat visuals. And, as always, I applaud Marvel on its casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as the central hero (they really know how to cast their iconic characters, don’t they?) But, man, as an origin story, this one might fall more flat than any of the other ones in the entirety of the MCU. Stephen Strange’s journey to becoming the Sorcerer Supreme is both unoriginal AND poorly defined, with a lack of real growth plaguing the character’s transformation at every turn. There’s a lot of cool abilities and skills that Doctor Strange has in his arsenal, and seeing him learn how to harness such abilities would be really fun…if the film gave a crap about that at all. Instead, Doctor Strange seems determined to plow through the character’s origins as quickly as possible, taking the titular character from asshole doctor to THE BEST SORCERER OF ALL TIME in the span of one shaving sequence (if any film is in need of a training montage, it’s this one.) On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense — all the best things in Doctor Strange (namely the inventive action sequences) come AFTER the characters training is concluded, and the movie begins in kind. But because the film failed to lay the foundation for the transformation in its first half, none of it feels as riveting as it should. The arc is simple here (too simple, if we’re being entirely honest): Strange is arrogant at the beginning, and through the course of the film, he becomes humble. Except the film fails to really show its work time and time again, primarily because it wants to squeeze in another cool action scene into the mix. But, man…are those action scenes really damn cool.
12. Iron Man
I like Iron Man! It’s really fun and, re-watching it now, you really do have to commend it on how well it sets up exactly what a Marvel movie is, and what can be done with the universe and its characters. But like all good starting points, it also allowed plenty of room for its follow-ups to grow and become even better. I don’t have any substantial problems with Iron Man, but it’s really a testament to Marvel Studios talent that this film is barely the tip of the iceberg for how great the franchise can be. But, boy, what a fun tip!
11. Iron Man 3
Now, Iron Man 3? Iron Man 3 is dope as hell, and I just want all of you naysayers out there to know how wrong you are, with your naysaying. Sure, the bad guy is a bit weak and some of the plot gets a bit muddy towards the end…but it’s Shane Black directing a Marvel movie. And that’s as positively delightful as I would expect it to be. It’s the best Iron Man movie, hands down.
Also, Trevor Slattery is a Top 5 MCU character. Nothing you can possibly say will convince me otherwise.
10. Spider-Man: Homecoming
I’ve written tons about how much I love Spider-Man as a character, but very little about what I thought about his latest movie outing. To simplify the shit out of it: I thought it was pretty great! Tom Holland is perfect, the film’s version of Peter Parker is perfect, and a lot of what it does with the concept of Spider-Man brings out everything I love about the character. It also features probably my favorite MCU villain in Michael Keaton’s Vulture character — he’s just the right amount of sympathetic and relatable, while reliably nasty and menacing when he needs to be. And the second act twist involving his character is one of the best ones I’ve seen in a blockbuster film in a LONG time (that car scene, my god.)
Honestly, the film would be a lot further down the list if it wasn’t for one element: the action sequences, which were shockingly kind of lame and unexciting. The dynamism and energy of Spider-Man lends himself to amazing set pieces (the train one from Spider-Man 2 is still unmatched in superhero cinema in my eyes), but Spider-Man: Homecoming fails to utilize his skillset to any memorable degree. I mean, the film doesn’t even have any web swinging sequences! I get it was purposely trying to stay focused on the “friendly neighborhood” angle, but having a movie where Spider-Man doesn’t swing across skyscrapers is like having a Superman movie without flying, or a Batman movie without the Batmobile…it’s just unforgivable. I can only hope that the film’s forthcoming sequel will rectify the mistake. The humor and heart of the character is there in spades, though. Throw a little “wow” factor on top, and we can end up with the perfect Spider-Man movie. Next to Spider-Man 2, of course.
9. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Look, I just wrote a fucking treatise on Spider-Man: Homecoming there, so I don’t want to spend a lot of time with Avengers: Age of Ultron. Just know I probably like it a lot more than you do, think the final action sequence is some of Marvel’s best material, and will really miss what Joss Whedon brought to this corner of the franchise. Also, Hawkeye is the MVP of the movie. Hell, the MVP of The Avengers overall, really. Don’t @ me.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy
The Chris Pratt, talking raccoon, anthropomorphic tree movie is so damn good, you guys. And I love the MCU for letting me write that sentence. Much has been said about how miraculously good the Guardians franchise is considering just exactly what it is about, but that’s the charm of the whole thing, isn’t it? The fact James Gunn was able to take this and make it A) uproariously funny B) stylistically unique and C) surprisingly riveting is one of the 21st centuries best unexpected blockbuster stories. I think the first film suffers a bit by its origin nature (and its incredibly weak villain, which comes part and parcel with that element), but boy is Guardians of the Galaxy a hell of a lot of fun. And if that’s not a defining factor in what makes a strong Marvel movie, what the hell are we even doing here?
7. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
But — HOT TAKE — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is even better. Getting the origin stuff out of the way proved to be a massive boon to the series, as its main story and characters were able to fly far higher without all the set-up baggage. The jokes come faster, the action is bigger, and the emotions hit harder — WAY harder, in fact. There was always a sneaky heart at the center of the first Guardians, but this one’s extend run time and thematic focus allows that heart to come front and center. While the brunt of Guardians of the Galaxy was spent just seeing a bunch of wacky misfits learn to work together, Vol. 2 has something to say about family and relationships and the way in which we chose to focus on the people in our life. It does that through low-brow dick jokes and pop-rock action set pieces, but also through moments of spectacular gravitas and heart. Vol. 2 builds up on what made the first Guardians great, and for that it stands as the superior movie in my mind.
6. Thor: Ragnarok
But as much as I really like the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, the space adventure comedy that really captured my heart is, surprisingly, Thor: Ragnarok. It’s the funniest movie of the MCU, while also serving as its most creative and skillfully created. Taika Waititi is one hell of a director, and in Thor: Ragnarok he finally imbues this sub-section of the MCU with the style and tone it always deserved. It’s the rare third superhero movie that actually works, and works so well that it retroactively made the ones before it worse…and made me regret that this couldn’t have been the tone of the trilogy to begin with. Mostly, I’m sad we didn’t get three movies of Korg. Please, Marvel: give us more Korg. #KorgDiesAndWeRiot
5. Black Panther
What more can be said about Black Panther in 2018 that hasn’t already been said? Undenaibly the cultural event of the year (maybe even more so than Infinity War), the best thing about Black Panther is that its completely deserving of all the hype. Ryan Coogler delivered yet another knockout with this one, and single-handledly upped the dramatic game of the MCU by creating one heck of a dramatic narrative for King T’Challa’s first standalone outing. How it combines Game of Thrones style intrigue with thought-provoking social commentary is a marvel (it’s my first time using that word in this context for the ENTIRETY of the list — give me a break!), and the story that unfolds is completely unique and riveting for the superhero genre. It might lack the strong humor of the other Marvel movies, and doesn’t have the best action set pieces of the MCU…but Black Panther honestly doesn’t need those elements. The story is good enough on its own to still shine amongst its superhero brethren.
4. Captain America: The First Avenger
As you might have noticed, most of the Phase 1 movies are towards the bottom of my rankings, something I didn’t even realize until I kicked off my MCU rewatch in the past few months. It’s not to say those movies are bad (honestly, I don’t think any of the Marvel Studios movies have sunken quite that low yet), but I do think that the MCU has developed and changed mostly for the better since the days of Thor and Iron Man. All that being said? Captain America: The First Avenger still rocks. It’s earnest as all hell and, even at the time, felt rather old-fashioned in its design. But you know what? That just made me love it either more. As you’ll see in the remainder of this list, Captain America is probably my favorite MCU character, and he couldn’t have asked for a more fulfilling start to his journey than this movie. It’s Marvel’s best origin story, and a movie that just fills me with such joy and optimism everytime I see it (even with the fantastically somber ending.) And at the end of the day, those feelings are what makes the entire concept of superheroes so great, aren’t they?
3. The Avengers
The Avengers is great, and everyone in the damn world knows it’s great. The film already has its place in the annals of modern film history, so I doubt anything I write here could do more to increase its status as a cultural milestone. Just know that the Battle of New York is purely perfect blockbuster filmmaking, and I could watch it on repeat forever. And, with luck, I can do just that come Avengers: Infinity War!
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I remember being filled with doubts about Captain America: The Winter Soldier when it was first announced. Despite my love of Captain America: The First Avenger, I was worried that a sequel to the film would could easily go the route of Iron Man 2. After all, without the setting and characters that made the first film such a winner, how could Winter Soldier succeed? Certainly not by having The Russo Brothers at the helm, two TV directors who seemed like the cheap, “work for hire” choices to bring the sequel to life. Obviously, Winter Soldier was doomed to be an inferior superhero sequel, right?
Nope — not even a little bit, in fact. Instead, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is kind of amazing, and The Russo Brothers turned out to be one hell of a movie directing pair. How The Winter Soldier takes the character of Cap and throws him into the modern age is inspired, and the whole Hydra storyline remains one of Marvel’s most captivating plot threads. The Winter Soldier makes for an absolutely spectacular little conspiracy spy thriller, and what it says about government surveillance and our inherent trust in institutions is relevant not just to the character of Captain America and what he represents, but our modern world in general. Throw on some of the best action sequences ever put to film (DAT ELEVATOR FIGHT), and you have the recipe for one of Marvel’s most ably crafted films. But not quite it’s best. As close as Winter Soldier gets to that status, it was bested by a hair just a few years later with…
1. Captain America: Civil War
If there’s any sort of running theme throughout the first ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s this — Marvel Studios is adept at taking things that absolutely should not work, and making them work in ways that you can’t possibly even imagine. Washed up movie star Robert Downey Jr. hunting down terrorists in a rocket suit (while making quips the entire time!) shouldn’t have worked. Throwing said character in a movie with four other huge characters (plus Black Widow and Hawkeye) and telling a strong story utilizing all of them shouldn’t have worked. The aforementioned Chris Pratt talking raccoon anthropomorphic tree movie (yes, I just wanted another excuse to type that phrase, humor me) shouldn’t have worked. The movie about the ant guy who hangs out with Michael Douglas shouldn’t have worked. And combining half a dozen main characters into the film of one main character, whilst making them fight, whilst also continuing the story of two other branches of a franchise DEFINITELY shouldn’t have worked.
But it did. And it did so spectacularly.
I’ve ranted and raved about Captain America: Civil War in the past two years of its release, and there was a small part of me that worried revisiting it now would curb my massive enthusiasm on the superhero epic. But…nope! I’m still as high as ever for this miracle of a movie. What the Russo Brothers created here is astounding: a superhero movie that not only serves as the perfect closing chapter of its main character’s trilogy, but also operates as the dramatic crescendo of the entire damn franchise. Civil War manages to pull on everything we know about the MCU and the characters who populate it, blowing it all up in exciting, often heartbreaking ways.
Much has been said about the grand airport battle at the center of Civil War, and of course I’m not going to disparage it much here (it truly is something to behold, even now.) But for me the real high of the film is its final action sequence, which pits Captain America, Winter Soldier, and Iron Man in a brutal, no holds barred three-way duel. It’s a hell of an action sequence, but also one that pulls on nearly a decades work of character building and relationship work. Marvel knows we love these characters, and seeing them come to blows over real, human conflict is just the kind of sting that only a dozen films worth of set-up and character development can really achieve. Thor: Ragnarok might be fun, The Winter Soldier might be expertly crafted, and Black Panther might have a strong thematic issue at its core. But when I think of just what the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be at its best, and the kind of expert films that only they could possibly craft, Captain America: Civil War absolutely takes the cake.
…But will The Russo Brothers once again be able to top themselves yet again with Avengers: Infinity War? We shall find out this weekend but, if this list is any indication, they have their work cut out for them. That’s just how consistently good the MCU movies are, at the end of the day — they truly make up a league of their own in the world of crowd-pleasing blockbusters. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Also published on Medium.