Captain America: Civil War opens tonight and that marks the beginning of the Marvel cinematic universe’s third and final stage. I figured it was time we ranked each Marvel movie, so here we go.
12) Thor: Dark World
Marvel movies are notorious for not developing their villains—this will be an ongoing theme—but Thor: Dark World went a step further with under developed villains. You could omit the movie’s villain and not miss a thing. It takes a special Marvel movie to have a meaningless villain (the dark elves, not Loki, as they were the main villain). The rest of the movie didn’t fare much better. Natalie Portman fought through a script she hated. You couldn’t tell she loathed the film from her performance but her alleged ire was the only thing that was memorable.
11) Iron Man 2
The next two films could switch places, and often do on a regular basis for me, but Iron Man 2 earns the lower spot on the list, despite trying to develop its villain. It’s a mess. Tony’s alcoholism was touched, his illness took center stage after a while, and Ivan Vanko’s backstory dump through expositional dialogue was no dynamo. The movie put too many story threads into two hours and ended up flat. There was little chance the sequel could recapture the excitement of the original, but where’s the joy?
10) Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 had more humorous moments than Iron Man 2, but it also had more issues. Seriously, these last two movies could switch places. I hate revisionist history, and Iron Man 3’s villain, set up as the mastermind behind everything Iron Man through flashbacks, played like revisionist history. Renaming a well-known Marvel group like AIM to The Ten Rings was a cheat, and Marvel had one larger than life role for an Asian actor (The Mandarin) and decided to make him a punchline. Hollywood has only cast an Asian or Asian-American in 50% of their TV shows and movies in the last several years (per The Screen Actors Guild), so a buffoonish Mandarin was a terrible look. Oh, and I don’t like having a figurehead villain with a real villain pulling the strings behind the scenes, even if the figurehead villain wasn’t the Mandarin. It’s been done. It’s not clever; it’s a lazy attempt to be clever.
9) The Incredible Hulk
It’s a testament to how little I think of the previous three movies that The Incredible Hulk doesn’t make for a compelling lead character; he’s too overpowered. He’s great as a side character, a force of nature, or another loose end the Avengers have to tie up. Ed Norton Jr. did an adequate job as Bruce Banner, and Abomination was developed as well as a one-note villain can be, so this movie made it this high on the list despite its hokeyness.
8) Captain America: The First Avenger
Ever wonder why Captain America movies always have subtitles? Those subtitles are what the movies are called overseas. That has nothing to do with the movie’s quality, I just thought it was interesting. Anyway, the first Cap movie was good. Chris Evans made a convincing Steve Rogers, the origin story went off without a hitch, and I liked Bucky and the addition of the Howling Commandos, but I’ve never seen a character portrayed by Hugo Weaving come across as flat as the Red Skull, one of Marvel’s best villains, and he was a huge, under developed yawn. There’s that term again: under developed.
7) Avengers: Age of Ultron
I could’ve swapped Age of Ultron and The First Avenger, but oh well. Avengers: Age of Ultron was yet another Marvel movie that didn’t develop its villain—big shock, I know—but I can’t blame it. The film stuffed as many characters as it could into one film and the bloated cast resulted in Ultron getting twenty to thirty minutes of screen time for a movie that bears his name. Age of Ultron also suffered from the law of diminished returns. We’ve seen these scenes—or similar ones—before and the movie needed more than Marvel’s tried and true CGI goodness. Hawkeye had some great moments, while the relationship between Black Widow and Hulk was a head scratcher.
Despite being the final movie in the Marvel cinematic universe’s second wave, Ant-Man shrank down the plot’s scope—pun intended—and delivered a film akin to earlier Marvel films. It made characters the heart of the story. The film couldn’t quite capture the same magic of the earliest Marvel movies, but it came close. The humor was welcome. It presented a fun, super-hero twist to the heist movie genre. And Paul Rudd and Michael Pena were a joy. Sure, the main villain was under-developed—like most Marvel movies—and a greater Hydra threat loomed in the background, but the focus was on family and that made the characters relatable. I’m not sure how many more character-driven movies remain in the Marvel cinematic universe, but Ant-Man was one of them.
Loki has daddy issues. It’s a common trope and colors him as a character in broad strokes, but the God of Mischief has had more character development than most Marvel cinematic universe villains, and that’s a great thing. And it’s not the only thing Thor does well. I’m not a huge Thor comic book fan, but the movie does a great job setting up character relations and developing them through actions instead of expositional dialogue. Okay. There was a lot of exposition, mostly from Odin, but a lot of other movies only build their characters through dialogue, and Thor uses the snot-nosed son of Odin’s actions as the main characterization vehicle.
This one is a spectacle. I marvel at how they balanced the character’ screen time in this one. Folks were thinking Avengers was an impossible movie to make because of the sheer number of characters needed on-screen, but Joss Whedon pulled off a miracle. I would’ve rated this movie a little higher, but viewers need context for this movie. You can’t watch Avengers without first watching at least two or three other movies—you’ll see this argument come up again real soon—and some of the scenes are a little hokey, but man, Avengers was a great popcorn flick. And I love the Hulk as comic relief.
3) Iron Man
I had to give the movie that kicked off the Marvel cinematic universe some respect. Iron Man also holds up really well, unlike its sequels. This is another movie where the character’s actions define who he is. Iron Man could’ve spent a lot of time having Tony ponder the meaning of life—and he does a little bit of this while he’s in captivity—but that’s not who the character is. Iron Man doesn’t tell as much as it shows who these characters are, and that’s wonderful. It also helps that Robert Downey Jr. was born to play the role and he’s a delight.
2) Captain America: Winter Soldier
When this one was out in theaters, I couldn’t get enough of it. Winter Soldier shook the Marvel cinematic universe to its core. It developed its characters really well and took secondary characters—like Black Widow—and elevated them. Winter Soldier was also the most faithful adaptation of a comic book to the silver screen. It’s amazing. But this is where the context issue comes into play. While you could say that every Marvel movie—except for Iron Man—is a dependent film, Winter Soldier suffers the most from lack of context. I showed Winter Soldier to someone who said that they love Marvel movies. It turned out that they hadn’t watched Iron Man 2, the first Cap film, or many of the other ones on this list, and they had no idea what was going on. Winter Soldier changed the Marvel universe but it’s also dependent on the rest of the Marvel universe to make any sense. Still, it’s fantastic.
1) Guardians of the Galaxy
I really should switch these top two, but I showed Guardians of the Galaxy to the same guy who hadn’t seen Winter Soldier, and it was a much different experience. Similar to Winter Soldier, the Guardians were well developed. But while Winter Soldier leaned heavily on plot twists, Guardians of the Galaxy had more memorable moments. Each character—with the exception of the patented Marvel movie underdeveloped villain—had their own moments to shine. Guardians is also the movie that made me yearn less for a Star Wars sequel—no offense, The Force Awakens. That’s not bad for a group Stan Lee forgot was a Marvel comic.
I know that was a long post, but there’s a lot of Marvel movies. These rankings are subject to change. In fact, I may change them soon. There are so many great Marvel movies. Let’s enjoy this comic book movie renaissance. Thanks for reading.