-A 12 through 1 ranking of all MCU films prior to Civil War.
Two points before we begin:
- This list is all opinion about the individual films and may not obey the assumed critical consensus.
- It does not include Civil War, as we will have a review of that this week. THERE MAY BE SPOILERS ABOUT THE ALREADY RELEASED FILMS.
Director: Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Dead Again, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Colm Feore
with: Kat Dennings, Anthony Hopkins, and Idris Elba
RT Score: 77%
-The 2011 Thor film just doesn’t really work for me. While it’s directed by a perfectly capable director, especially when directing dialogue that differs from modern English, the central conflict and mechanisms behind it never really pays off. Kenneth Branagh is known for directing excellent cinematic Shakespeare adaptations, and he handles this action film in a similar way, trying to make the outsider dialogue work, and he has limited results. I’m just not sure that Thor can really carry his own film, and I’ve been openly critical about Tom Hiddleston in this role as well. That’s why #11 is:
Director: Alan Taylor (The Emperor’s New Clothes, Episodes of: ‘Game of Thrones’ ‘Mad Men’)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard,
with: Anthony Hopkins, Kat Dennings, Christopher Eccleson, and Idris Elba
RT Score: 66%
-Continuing some of my reasoning with the first ‘Thor’ film, the characters that are integral to this universe just aren’t all that interesting. Chris Hemsworth is good for comic relief and self-seriousness in the Avengers movies, but here, carrying a film on his own is much harder. The use of Natalie Portman is questionable, but the action improves in this installment, which helps both the watchability and the lore. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend either of the Thor films except for completing the information stashed in the MCU. I’ll still watch Thor: Ragnarock, because it looks like it could be interesting, but I haven’t been a fan of the other two.
Director: Peyton Reed (Yes Man, The Break Up, Bring It On)
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily, Corey Stoll, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena
with: T.I., Judy Greer, and Bobby Cannavale
RT Score: 80%
-This is an unpopular pick, and that’s understandable. Ant-Man was a critical and audience darling in 2015 after comedy guru Edgar Wright presided over much of production, only to be replaced by a solid director in Peyton Reed, who has made two pretty underrated 2000s comedies in The Break Up and Yes Man. Paul Rudd was also a perfect pick to play Scott Lang, but the film fails to keep a consistent tone and doesn’t get the most out of Evangeline Lily, Corey Stoll, or Michael Douglas. Overall, Stoll’s villain seemed rushed an incoherent, and Lily’s character felt often unnecessary. These comedy-driven, “indie” films of the Marvel Universe that don’t have the highest stakes or feature the most well-known characters often struggle in the villain department. This is no exception. I just didn’t find it funny enough to make up for the plot problems.
Director: Jon Favreau (Iron-Man, The Jungle Book, Elf, Chef, Zathura)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwenyth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke
with: Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson, and Paul Bettany
RT Score: 72%
-The weakest of the three Iron-Man films, Iron-Man 2 struggles with a consistent villain presence as well. While the first film was a complete origin story, this one shows a corporate man and his hired gun trying to take out Tony, and that part of the plot isn’t that interesting. What saves the film, however, is the impending doom of Tony, who is suffering from the implant in his chest. Scarlett Johansson gets an expanded role in this one, as does the relationship between Tony and War Machine, played by Don Cheadle. There’s a sense that this was the film that really started building up the ‘Avengers’ initiative, so the actual plot of the film is a bit light, but it’s not as bad as a lot of people say. It’s enjoyable.
Director: Joe Johnston (October Sky, Jurassic Park III, Jumanji, Honey I Shrunk the Kids)
Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Sebastian Stan, Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones
with: Hayley Atwell, Toby Jones, and Domonic Cooper
RT Score: 80%
-This origin of Captain America is very strong through a majority of its run-time, in fact, it may be the most underrated/overlooked movie of the entire Marvel canon. While it doesn’t endure the same kind of occasional hate like Iron-Man 3 or Avengers 2, it rather gets overlooked because of the two Cap sequels, which have been gigantic. The Red Skull, at the time of this release, was the best villain that Marvel had seen to date, and the way that the film does the war scenes is very effective. While we wish we could’ve gotten more out of the Steve/Bucky relationship for future installments, it’s hard not to applaud this film for doing a strong war-based Hero film.
Director: James Gunn (Slither, Super)
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper
with: Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, and John C. Reilly
RT Score: 91%
-Now, this was basically Ant-Man done correctly. It takes the comedic, not so well-known Superhero idea and turns it on its head, creating a fun, funny, solid two hours at the movies. Chris Pratt, although I’ve criticized him frequently, is very good in this role, and the animated characters of Groot and Rocket Raccoon, done by Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, are lifesavers in this film. It manages to fit into the arc of the Marvel Universe while still really understanding what makes these films funny and good for families. The comedy really works here, and surprisingly, I had a great time with Guardians. Here’s the problem, Ronan, the villain, is a complete mess and any actual conflict in this film outside of the origin stories of the team, feels really contrived and messy. This film works as a comedy with a good soundtrack, it fails as a large-scale action movie, which is why it’s not higher on this list.
Director: The Russos (You Me and Dupree, Episodes of: Community, Arrested Development)
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford
with: Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Grillo, and Cobie Smulders
RT Score: 89%
-If you’ve paid attention to my ratings, you’ll notice that this is higher than ‘Guardians,’ but has a lower score, and that’s correct. I will maintain the fact that my favorite superhero film of 2014 was Guardians of the Galaxy. However, this film did a lot more for the Marvel-verse as a whole than ‘Guardians’ did. It’s tough to rank it below for that reason, it’s obvious that The Winter Soldier will be playing a giant part in the upcoming films, and the conflict between HYDRA and SHIELD has become the crux of the entire series. I like the action in this film, it just often feels a little repetitive. Overall, I don’t care for this movie that much, but it’s hard not to respect the 70s spy style and the importance to superhero film-making.
Director: Louis Leterrier (Transporter, Transporter 2, Now You See Me)
Starring: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson,
with: Ty Burrell, Lou Ferrigno, and Robert Downey Jr.
RT Score: 67%
-Yes, on Rotten Tomatoes, this is the lowest rated Marvel Universe film. It also has been treated unfairly, most likely due to the fact that Ed Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo for the remainder of the series, so people forget about it. I urge people to go back and give this film a chance on On Demand or whatever, because you won’t be disappointed. It’s true that the villains never really work out and there are some cliffhangers that were left for a sequel that never came, but Norton plays the Hulk very well, and it’s a step up from the more experimental 2003 Ang Lee film. It’s similar in tone to the old shows and comics, a sense of mystery and also a sense of depression about a guy who lost his way of life due to this experiment. Hulk is one of the most interesting characters in the Marvel universe, and it was nice to go back and re-watch this.
Director: Jon Favreau (Iron-Man 2, The Jungle Book, Elf, Chef, Zathura)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwenyth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub
with: Faran Tahir, Leslie Bibb, and Paul Bettany
RT Score: 94%
-The origin story of the most consistently decent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron-Man set the groundwork for the entire series and also was Marvel’s response to the best Superhero film ever made: The Dark Knight. While this can’t really compete with the aforementioned, Iron-Man did bring about America’s love for Tony Stark, a witty and captivating hero character who doesn’t obey the common tropes of a hero. Jeff Bridges is a decent villain, and the relationship that begins between Tony and Pepper (Paltrow) really works and helps the series, giving the only true love interest that works in the Marvel films.
Director: Joss Whedon (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Cabin in the Woods, Serenity)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson,
with: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Renner, and Samuel L. Jackson
RT Score: 92%
-While the beginning of The Avengers is rough, and Tom Hiddleston is a pretty awful villain, the overall scope of The Avengers is pretty incredible. The final battle sequence is completely bonkers, as well as the chemistry among all of the actors here. They took a gamble with every person in the cast and it ended up being that they all worked out together. It’s hard to imagine replacing anyone in this cast, and that goes for even the minor players. There’s just a sense of fun and excitement in this movie that’s hard to overcome, even if the plot and villain are pretty weak.
Director: Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwenyth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall
with: Ben Kinglsey, Ty Simpkins, and Paul Bettany
RT Score: 79%
-Well, this and my #1 pick are going to be very unpopular because they are maybe the most mixed reception movies out of the whole cinematic universe. Well, try to hear out my justification. Iron-Man III was the most human movie out of the entire series because it showcases the vulnerability of a character for the first time. We’ve never really worried about any of them before this, and when everything that Tony holds dear is taken from him, he has to learn to work with nothing and aspire to be a real hero, instead of an arrogant vigilante. When he crawls back up the ladder, rebuilds his suit, and then finds that his villain is not typical terrorism, but rather someone that he harmed specifically, it gives the movie a heart and motives that go beyond the typical hero film. I don’t mind the Ben Kingsley twist, and I also think that Rebecca Hall does a great job adding another bit of depth to this movie. Take out the child actor scenes, and this movie could really be excellent.
Director: Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Cabin in the Woods, Episodes of: Buffy the Vampire)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson
with: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, and James Spader
RT Score: 75%
-Yeah, I know I’m probably going to hear it from whoever reads this list, but I actually think Age of Ultron is the best of the Marvel Canon for a few reasons. The first is that the humor works the best out of any of the preceding films, and second is that Ultron is the best of the Marvel villains. He’s dark, sinister, funny, and it plays with the Artificial Intelligence scare that many films have been playing with recently. It made my Top 25 of 2015 list, and I will stand by that choice, as the biggest two introductions for new characters in Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany’s Vision should work really well. There’s a moment midway through the movie where our characters are down and they spend some time in Hawkeye’s ranch, and honestly, it was the small moments like these, ones that show the human side of the characters, that work the best. Good chemistry and the best villain, despite the mess, I’ll take Age of Ultron.