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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that Marvel Studios and Disney will continue to print their own money with the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron today. In preparation for the movie, which has already made over $200 million overseas, I’ve been rewatching the previous entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I put more planning into this months-long marathon than I do into what I eat. I usually hope patrons will bring us cookies or something equally tasty.
Anyway, top ten lists are always fun (and it’s been a while since I did a top ten list) so, without further delay, I present my ranking of the films of the MCU.
Warning: These are only the films since, apparently, the television shows, tie-in comics and one-shots only complicate the movies.
Warning: This is only my preference. Save your nerd-rage for something else.
Warning: This list contains spoilers.
10. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
I’m probably one of the only people who enjoyed Ang Lee’s 2003 iteration of the big green monster. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen it, but I remember that it at least it tried to be cerebral. Louis Leterrier’s version, on the other hand, is bland; I feel like he only makes horribly average movies for people who hate movies (see Clash of the Titans, The Transporter and Now You See Me). He’s like a French Michael Bay. This film is clearly the black sheep of the MCU as it’s hardly ever referenced, save for the one-shot The Consultant and a line in an episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but I promised to keep this cinematic. I think it would be incredible (see what I did there?) if the Hulk just stayed in Avengers films or other team-up films in the future.
9. Thor (2011)
I think this is the only film in the MCU that I didn’t see in the theaters. I’ll openly admit that I don’t particularly care for fantasy/mythology stuff. I realize that may seem a bit hypocritical when I’m listing off comic book movies, but let’s move past that. When Kenneth Branagh was announced as the director, I thought it was a match made in heaven. For a time it seemed like Branagh was set on adapting all of Shakespeare’s plays and I’ve always felt the story of Thor is inherently Shakespearean. While the finished product never reaches the Shakespearean epic I had in mind, there are snippets of it bubbling below the surface, specifically when you watch Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston act off each other. You really feel for them as brothers and I’m not just saying that because my brother is blonde and muscular whereas I am dark haired and, well, not (see my earlier comment about eating).
8. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Again, knowing that Alan Taylor (someone who’s directed six episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones) was directing this sequel got me excited. I’ve never seen the show–I’m not that kind of nerd–but people really seem to enjoy it and it seems pretty similar in tone to Thor’s mythology. Again, I was disappointed. It’s super-close, but I’m ranking this sequel above Thor because of the Guardians of the Galaxy midcredits tag, the expansion of Thor and Loki’s relationship and because this scene had me cracking up in the theater. I could watch Tom Hiddleston all day.
7. Iron Man 2 (2010)
I know, I know, after I spoke so highly of Robert Downey Jr in my last post, how could I possibly list one of his films so low? Of the three Iron Man films, this is the one I feel like watching the least. It seems there’s a need in sequels to escalate everything so I will give credit to Jon Favreau and company for making the action of the climax less end-of-the-world-threatening than other sequels (see: Thor: The Dark World). Still, the ending was essentially the same as the first Iron Man–people in metal suits fight each other and blow stuff up. Also, Sam Rockwell was wasted in this movie, but it was a delight to see him pop up in the All Hail the King one-shot (Sorry! I’ll stop venturing from the cinematic part of the MCU).
6. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Let me say this right off the bat: I’ve never really been a fan of Captain America. I like my heroes flawed and Cap’s always seemed too good. An argument could be made that he’s essentially a junkie because he gets his powers from a series of injections, but that is a blog post for another day. Also, I agree with Tocqueville about patriotism; overly showy displays annoy me. That said, I actually do enjoy this film. The World War II setting is great because it forced the writers to deal (to an extent) with technological hindrances of the day. It’s also not a time period we normally see in these types of films and in a market that is quickly becoming saturated with comic book movies, being different is important.
But more on that later …
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
There were many different ways to follow up The First Avenger. While I would have liked to see a quiet character study about Cap’s struggles reconciling the world of the 1940s with the world of today, the film we ended up with is still pretty great. And it’s clear that Cap’s uncomfortable with what S.H.I.E.L.D. is doing–punishing criminals before they even commit the crime. What I liked most about The Winter Soldier was that it was essentially a political espionage thriller that happened to feature characters from comic books. This film, like Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight, proves you can tell a mature story with comic book characters; that comic book movies aren’t just for kids. This is the film that made me more than a casual fan of Cap and made me excited to see what happens next with the Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, née the Winter Soldier, in Captain America: Civil War.
4. Iron Man 3 (2013)
This one and the next one could switch places, depending on my mood. This is just a fun film and was, in my opinion, the perfect follow-up to The Avengers. It was great seeing Tony Stark stripped of his suit and still being able to save (part of) the day. It’s everything I loved about Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (also helmed by Shane Black) with a whole mess of Iron Man suits thrown into it. I’ve noticed that fanboys tend to hate on this film and while I can appreciate their anger with the twist of the Mandarin actually being an inept actor hired by the film’s real villain, Aldrich Killian, I think it works for the film. Some things in comics (or the source material for any adaptation, really) don’t always work in film and with a character with such a racially insensitive history as the Mandarin, I think what we got was fine.
3. Iron Man (2008)
I have to give the edge to this one because it launched the MCU. I can still remember being in the theaters, my butt numb from sitting through the end credits, when Samuel L. Jackson‘s Nick Fury swaggers into frame and states that he wants to talk to Tony about the Avenger Initiative. I remember that the Internet lost its collective mind. A shared universe, while not unheard of (see: Universal’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Toho’s King Kong vs. Godzilla and New Line’s Freddy vs. Jason), was never before attempted in this massive medium-spanning scale. It seemed that with that thirty-second tag, anything was possible and here we are, seven years later, seeing that it’s true. To this day, Iron Man still holds up not only as a good comic book origin story movie, but as a parallel to Robert Downey Jr’s life and career (Please don’t walk out on me for bringing up your past, RDJ!). Without this film, I’d probably be biking around the city today instead of readying myself for nearly two and a half hours of Avengers awesomeness.
2. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
I feel like I’d be cyber-bullied into oblivion if I listed this one any lower and, to be honest, I almost ranked it third. This is what we’d been building to since 2008 and it did not let us down. While some argue that certain characters didn’t get enough screen time, I can’t even imagine what it’d be like to write a script that juggles almost ten major characters, so that gets a pass from me. The best part of this film is seeing these larger-than-life characters, that we already know from their solo films, put aside their differences and egos and come together to, well, avenge. It’s a comic book come to life and its success has prompted other studios to attempt to create their own shared universes. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say this film has changed modern cinema.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Before the midcredits tease in The Dark World, I had no idea what to expect from this movie. I’d never even heard of them before it was announced. That barely ninety-second clip, however, sold me completely on the premise. The movie was everything I could have hoped for. I watched it just a few days ago and it really hits all the right notes. It’s funny, action-packed and, I’ll admit, I tear up a little bit at the end every time. It borrows from everything we love as a pop culture-consuming society (Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars just to name a few), adds a dash of 70s rock and makes it its own. It’s weird, it’s funky and it embraces what makes it so different. That’s why it gets the number one spot for me.
All the reasons I rank Guardians so highly are the same reasons I’m ANTicipating (see what I did there?) July’s Ant-Man just a tad bit more than I am Age of Ultron. Ant-Man just looks different, it’s the first origin story and non-sequel since Guardians and Ant-Man’s powers are something we’ve never seen before on screen (well, except for the grammatically incorrect Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, I guess). Plus, I have a feeling that Paul Rudd Scott Lang/Ant-Man will have just as much charisma as RDJ’s Tony Stark/Iron Man and Chris Pratt‘s Peter Quill/Star-Lord, if not more.
Now, I’ve got to run; the movie is about to start and I think the ticket taker can tell I’m smuggling in chocolate-covered raisins!
What about you? How would you rank the MCU? Sound off in the comments below!