October 27, 2020

MCU Films Ranked

With the global pandemic pushing back the next phase of the MCU, and with so many of the MCU films now available on Disney+, now is a good time as ever to give them a rewatch. The question is in what order do you watch them? By release date? Chronological? Well, if you want to watch by quality, guest contributor Lauren Hill weighs in to rank them for you.

23. THOR: THE DARK WORLD

Almost universally derided, I really can’t think of a single positive thing about this movie other than some of Thor and Loki’s banter. The movie has an incredibly bland and forgettable villain, and many of the flaws from the first film really grew here (Natalie Portman having no romantic chemistry with Thor and feeling out of place, none of the Asgard characters being interesting). This was just a story no one connected with, and I’ll even go so far as to say it’s the only movie in the MCU that I just flat-out don’t enjoy. Every single other movie below, despite the criticisms I make of them, I do find on some level entertaining, but not this one. Overall, just a plain bad movie; the short scene in ENDGAME where Thor and Rocket revisit these events had more emotion than this entire movie did. (Available on Disney+)

22. THE INCREDIBLE HULK

An early installment that doesn’t even feel like the rest of the MCU, given Edward Norton leaving and none of the story events set up here ever paying off later. William Hurt as Gen. Ross is pretty much the only connective tissue with the later movies. But even putting that aside and judging it as a stand-alone film, it’s just a generic superhero movie of the late-2000’s. Bruce Banner spends most of the movie running away, he barely gets any screen time as the Hulk, and Tim Roth plays a very bland villain. I still prefer Ang Lee’s HULK, which wasn’t perfect, but was more emotionally resonant than this. (Available on VOD)

21 & 20 (Tie). ANT-MAN & ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

I’m putting these two together because, while these movies have a cutesy, breezy tone, I just don’t really connect with Ant-Man. Which is a shame because I like Paul Rudd as well as many of the other actors here. But this series has never really stood out to me. I think Scott Lang/Ant-Man is a character who works better when part of a team than in a solo-adventure, and I’ve heard others say the same. (Available on Disney+)

19. CAPTAIN MARVEL

I really liked the camaraderie between Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson; the two make a good team. I just found Carol Danvers’s backstory to be a bit convoluted (she’s living on an alien planet Kree with amnesia only then wind up on Earth in a fish-out-of-water comedy only to then discover she was actually originally from Earth all along only to then discover that she’s been on the wrong side and the Kree are actually villains). That’s A LOT to throw at you all at once, and it doesn’t leave much room for character development. Being a prequel also hurts the stakes of the story. But Ben Mendelsohn is great and a nice surprise. (Available on Disney+)

18. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

A good introduction to Steve Rogers/Cap, but otherwise, this isn’t a movie I think about too much. As a WWII-themed origin story about fighting generic Nazis after a magical MacGuffin, this story is adequate and on-the-nose. Red Skull is a campy little villain, but overall, this lacks any of the complexity or depth of later MCU entries. I also have never really liked Joe Johnston as a director, so that may be part of my issue. This movie is best summed up in a review I heard: “It’s a good Origin Story, but not a good Story Story.” (Available on Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video)

17. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

There’s a lot of good stuff here, but I think many of us were expecting more. The first AVENGERS felt like a culmination of all of Phase One, and INFINITY WAR/ENDGAME felt even bigger. AGE OF ULTRON should have felt like the culmination of all of Phase Two, and it never quite feels as climatic as that. The best thing about AGE OF ULTRON is introducing Scarlet Witch and Vision. The seeds were set here for what should have been the beginning of the Avengers falling apart, but instead that got pushed back to CIVIL WAR while this film feels like it gets tied up a little too neatly and lacking in stakes. (Available on Disney+)

16. SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME

From a storytelling standpoint, this is more cohesive than its predecessor, but I still prefer HOMECOMING for its stronger villain. This one feels a lot breezier and is mostly a comedic road trip through Europe, and the villain was adequate with, in my opinion, a very weak motivation. What I most enjoyed about FAR FROM HOME were the moments focusing on adolescence, like Peter and MJ’s budding romance, and I wish this same story had been told with a more serious tone and allowed these moments of Peter’s maturation to breathe a little more. And coming directly after the heavy emotional catharsis of ENDGAME, this had the potential to have had more depth; I wish how “the Blip” had affected society had been treated more seriously instead of just joked about. Still, it’s an entertaining and well-constructed movie, and I had fun with it for what it was. (Available STARZ through Amazon Prime Video)

15. DOCTOR STRANGE

A mixed opinion on this one. As a movie, I think it’s just okay. But I do really like Benedict Cumberbatch and think Dr. Strange is a good character. Like with Ant-Man, I think I might enjoy him more when he’s part of a team, but I’m open to having my mind changed on that. I’m looking forward to the sequel as I think there’s really potential for this character and his mythology to really grow on me. (Available on Disney+)

14. IRON MAN 2

The MCU was still figuring itself out here, and I feel like IRON MAN 2 is more about laying the groundwork for future films than it is its own story. We get shout-outs to Capt. America’s shield and Thor’s hammer, we learn more about Nick Fury and what S.H.I.E.L.D. is properly, and it’s a nice debut for Scarlett Johansson and Don Cheadle to the franchise. But as its own story, Mickey Rourke is a so-so villain and the action scenes are very stock. Robert Downey, Jr is always great in every single one of these films, so he always elevates any material he’s in, and his banter opposite Gwyneth Paltrow is always a highlight. But this entry just isn’t one of my favorites. (Available on Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video)

13. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

An enjoyable, lighter entry in the series. Tom Holland is good, the comedy is strong, and Michael Keaton is definitely the best thing in the film, playing a villain with depth. If the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield movies had never been made, this would have been an odd introduction to the character. But since everyone already knows Spider-Man’s origin story, this movie is able to dump the exposition and just jump right in. It’s not the greatest story ever, but it’s fun. (Available on VOD)

12. THOR: RAGNAROK

So, after THE DARK WORLD, I get why it made sense to take the THOR series in a new direction. This entry is more comedic and campier than the first two, which works to Chris Hemsworth’s strengths. I also like teaming him up with the Hulk. There aren’t many dramatic moments, but I don’t think they were trying to have many. It’s basically a straight-up comedy. So, taking it as just a fun ride, I enjoyed it. (Available on Disney+)

11. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

This is the movie that I think AGE OF ULTRON was trying to be. It raises the stakes by having the Avengers be at war with each other and watch their team cohesion fall apart. There is also great acting by everyone. But I don’t think it’s a perfect movie; it’s a little cluttered with so much going on, with the airport hangar fight being the scene that best stands out. (Available on Disney+)

10. BLACK PANTHER

This movie creates an entire culture, making Wakanda itself feel like a character. It also has a complex villain who, as we discover, is a direct parallel to our hero, having an ideology that challenges him. The result is a story where our hero learns, and we question who is in the right. Great performances all around, and I would call the movie both fun and smart. (Available on Disney+)

9. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

WINTER SOLDIER is a seminal film in the MCU. It’s the first time I really came to fully engage with Steve/Cap as a hero and character I really liked, and I think made audiences in general start to see Chris Evans every bit as iconic to this franchise as Downey. It’s also the first entry directed by the Russo brothers, who soon became the MVP directors on this franchise. Even though the MCU was already well-established by this point, I feel like WINTER SOLDIER was a solid steppingstone, and almost every film that came out afterward has owed something to it. (Available on Disney+)

8. THE AVENGERS

The perfect culmination of Phase One, this movie successfully merged all the movies that had come before it while also introducing a new version of Hulk. The best part of the movie is really the last forty minutes, with the battle of New York being the event that feels like the real birth of the team. The movie as a whole is not perfect, but this was the one where all of us sat back and went “Congratulations, Marvel. You actually pulled it off.” (Available on Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video)

7. IRON MAN

The one that started it all. It really is amazing to revisit this film years later and see how much Downey had the character nailed from the start and how much of the MCU character-driven humor was already in place. Also, nice to see Terrence Howard in his one-time appearance as Rhodey; his friendship with Tony is the emotional backbone of the film. The only thing that always brought this movie down for me is the third act. I love Jeff Bridges in general and think he makes a good villain, but I wish he had just stayed an evil CEO. Once he gets his own suit and turns into Iron Monger, it just turns into a stock action climax. A very good first installment, but the best was yet to come. (Available on Disney+)

6. THOR

Ranking this one so high will probably be the most controversial choice on here, but just hear me out. This has always been my favorite Phase One movie and one of the ones I’ve watched the most times: I absolutely love Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. I like that Loki was more tragic in his first appearance and wish they had retained some of that going forward. I like Kenneth Branagh as a director, Asgard is a visually interesting place, especially the Bifrost Bridge, the scenes of Thor on Earth are funny, and we have Jeremy Renner’s first appearance as Hawkeye. The film’s main flaws are what would become much more pronounced in THE DARK WORLD: the lack of chemistry with Natalie Portman, and the other Asgardians being dull characters. But this first entry is able to overcome that just because it’s successfully doing so much world-building. Even judging it as a stand-alone film, I think it tells a good story with an emotionally resonant climax (I love when the Bifrost Bridge is destroyed). This was the first movie in the MCU where I thought: “This franchise is going to be more than just superheroes fighting regular bad guys. There’s actually other cosmic worlds and more complex conflicts this is capable of.” (Available on Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video)

5. AVENGERS: ENDGAME

I know a lot of folks would argue that INFINITY WAR/ENDGAME should be considered a single story, and that’s a valid argument. But I feel they each have enough elements to be unique. ENDGAME is an epic finale and farewell to so many characters. Many of us figured “Well, we know exactly what’s gonna happen: the remaining Avengers will just track down Thanos and defeat him.” So, it was a clever curveball to have this happen in the first twenty minutes and leave us wondering where it would go from there. After that, I think there are a few clunky moments, especially when explaining the whole rules of time travel. Also, after getting so much character development in the previous film, Thanos is never as interesting in this entry. But the movie more than makes up for all of this in its final hour, which is so jam-packed and has so much emotional depth and catharsis and is just a great tribute to these characters and their legacies. The very last shot in particular is a beautiful scene. I know a lot of people might list this as the definitive MCU movie, and I can see why. But for me, there are five I just like even more. (Available on Disney+)

4. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

I like a comment I heard someone else say: ENDGAME may be the payoff, but INFINITY WAR was the one that really felt like the franchise culmination. Making Thanos the star of the film and having him be a three-dimensional character was the true bold choice here; he was never as interesting to me in ENDGAME as he was here. Every aspect of this world we’ve seen built comes together here, keeps surprising us, and ultimately gives us a shocker of an ending. Yes, we all knew that the next movie would undo the snap and bring characters back, but that doesn’t take away the emotional impact this ending has. In fact, I would argue that up until the last ten minutes, there’s no indication that there will be a cliffhanger ending; the movie feels every bit as epic and climatic as if it is going to be a stand-alone story. (Available on Disney+)

3. IRON MAN 3

I have always absolutely loved this movie since it came out and it’s another one that I may have watched the most times. It’s fun, heavy, dark. Robert Downey, Jr has always been great, but I really think he’s at his peak here, having some of the best quips and snarky one-liners. Tony is dealing with serious issues of PTSD and anxiety, and I like how the movie keeps him away from his wealth and his suit, so he has to figure things out by just being Tony. Don Cheadle is also good here, doing a lot more than in IRON MAN 2. You have a good villain; I know the whole Mandarin twist seemed to annoy fans of the comics, but I think it’s perfectly set up and Ben Kingsley is very funny. Best of all is Shane Black adding his comedic sensibilities to the franchise, and I like Tony’s voiceover narration. The end of this movie really does feel like the trilogy has come full circle and Tony has grown as a character. Of course, we all know he would continue being Iron Man after this, but this still feels like a perfect culmination of the character. If this movie had in fact been the last time we ever saw Tony Stark/Iron Man, it would still have worked as a perfect ending. (Available on Disney+)

2. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

I love these movies. The right mix of Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic with Troma-style dark/campy humor with James Gunn’s sense of character-driven fun with a great soundtrack of golden oldies. These are five characters we really come to care about and love to hear banter off each other in a bright and colorful and quotable world. The entire opening credit sequence has become iconic to me: it starts off seeming like an ominous sci-fi movie, but the moment Chris Pratt busts a move and “Come and Get Your Love” starts playing, we know we are watching something unique. My only criticism is one everyone has: it has a very bland villain. I think the movie is still able to overcome this, since the focus is more on our heroes coming together than on the threat, but it’s a fair point. Also, maybe this isn’t a criticism so much as an observation, but a few dangling threads were introduced to be paid off in the sequel, which do slightly hurt this as a stand-alone film. And that leads me to… (Available on Disney+)

1. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2

Every single positive thing I said about the first film, but now with added emotional resonance. This time we have a villain who is not only interesting but challenges our hero. Many of the dangling threads from the last film are answered here. All the characters feel richer than before, the campy tone is still strong, that James Gunn humor is still strong, and above all, there’s Yondu. Based on the first movie, I don’t think any of us would ever have predicted that Yondu would have such a dramatic moment, and that it would be such a moving finale, but it works, and that’s thanks entirely to Michael Rooker’s performance. There are still things in this movie to nitpick, but to me, this is the best. As Shakira once sang “Don’t you see, baby, this is perfection.” (Available on Disney+)

 

Lauren Hill is a casting director for Paramount Pictures who likes Marvel and Twin Peaks. She can primarily be found either watching classic and foreign films on the Criterion Collection or at the poker table. 

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