Ranking the Marvel Movies
If you’ve ever read the About page on this website you’ll realise that I am not a man of conviction. My word, it seems, means less than squat. It’s on the about page that I say pretty emphatically that I wont ever give star or numerical scores in film reviews. That lasted about a month. I now totally give numerical scores to films. I also said that I wont do lists. No top ten lists, no ranking films, no lists period… So without further ado here’s my list ranking the Marvel Universe Movies from worst to best.
IRON MAN 2
Iron Man 2 is just a mess. It’s a case of trying to shove too much into a film with out finding a reason for it to actually be there. Nick Fury and Black Widow (her first appearance) turn up to get us pumped for an eventual Avengers movie, but don’t service the story they are currently telling in any way. They just bog it down. The whole film plays like this. Stuff happens along side other stuff that is happening but nothing gels or connects in any meaningful way. Plus Mickey Rourke as Whiplash is just bizarre. Rourke gives him a bunch of tics but they don’t add up to a character. The only bright spot is Sam Rockwell as rival arms manufacturer Justin Hammer, who I wouldn’t mind seeing again (actually, he does pop up in the Marvel short Hail to the King which is definitely worth checking out).
The Incredible Hulk
I haven’t seen this since it was out in theaters and I can’t imagine any reason why I’d ever watch it again. It’s biggest sin is that it is painfully dull. Which is an insane thing to say about a Hulk movie, but there it is, a film in which a giant green man uses cars as boxing gloves is boring. The film makers don’t find anything new or interesting to say about the Hulk or Banner, and the film just goes through the motions until it ends. Plus Ed Norton does nothing for me as Banner, and I was pleased to hear he’d been recast for The Avengers.
This movie launched it all, and it’s importance cannot be overstated. Without the success of this film, which almost entirely falls at Downey Jr’s feet, there would be no Marvel cinematic universe. It was here, in the first Iron Man, that Marvel showcased their greatest talent: Casting. Tony Stark is a man who appears flippant and arrogant but has also known true darkness and can summon unexpected depths of feeling. Robert Downey Jr IS Tony Stark and it’s apparent from the moment he is one screen. RDJ sells every dialogue exchange, every thought process, every beat of every moment in the film, and took a B list character and made him an A list star. The fact the film around him is also solid doesn’t hurt either. There is a surprising amount of depth to this film, with a timely message about how our reliance on weaponry is surpassing our ability to control it. A strong film. The fact it is so low on the list only speaks to the quality of what follows.
Honestly, the first Iron Man is the better film, but Thor just edges in front for me because it is the harder sell. Iron Man is a fairly straight forward origin story but Thor has to introduce a whole new world, race, and culture. It has a lot more balls to juggle, and while it certainly drops some, it keeps the most important ones up high. Yes the film looks a bit cheap. Yes most of the film takes place in a cardboard town in the middle of the desert. And yes Natalie Portman looks really, really bored. But it gets Thor, a character that could have very easily fallen flat or seemed too over the top, and gets him perfectly right. Marvel’s eye for casting pays off yet again as Chris Hemsworth imbues the character with the exact amount of ego and heart. But it is Tom Hiddleston who steals the show. Actually, he steals the entire Marvel Universe, being the only Marvel villain to have any sort of personality and make an impact on the audience. Plus, it has a few killer gags, “I need a horse!…”
Thor: The Dark World
Improves upon the original in many ways (except in the villain department), and gives each of the three central characters some interesting material to work with (so much so that Portman actually looks like she gives a damn… but this time Anthony Hopkins really doesn’t). It is a strangely paced film, not really coming alive until Loki turns up, but once he does the film retains an energy and sense of fun until its finish. Marvel know we have developed such a bond with Thor and Loki that we could happily watch them bicker for most of a movie, and that is pretty much what they give us. It places character first and plot a distant second.
Captain America: The First Avenger
When this first came out I didn’t really like it. I thought the first half had a great sense of who Steve Rogers was, but then the second half didn’t do anything with it. It just descends into one long sub par action montage. And that’s exactly right. But on repeat viewings I love that first half so much that I can’t put it anywhere lower on this list. Steve refusing to stay down against the bully. His numerous attempts at enlisting. When he solves the flag pole problem. And the scene when he dives on the grenade. All fantastic moments that show clearly and concisely why Cap is the man to lead the Avengers. He’s a hero through and through and this film, despite all its problems, understands that above all else.
Iron Man 3
Shane Black saved RDJ’s career with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and RDJ returned the favour by getting Black the directing gig for Iron Man 3. It is very much a Shane Black movie, from the Christmas setting, to the snappy dialogue, to henchmen getting some of the best lines, and the white guy black guy pairing. Shane Black is all over this thing, and he injects so much personality into the film. It’s wicked smart and deals with Tony’s complex issues in a wonderfully interesting manner. After the battle for New York in The Avengers Tony is suffering from PTSD. He doesn’t know who he is anymore. Is he just Iron Man, is he just a suit? Does he matter outside of the suit? The film plays with this idea by having Tony’s latest suit act without him inside it. It’s a visual representation of Tony disassociating from himself and it’s just great. The film is full of moments like this. Like Tony literally meeting his inner child and downplaying getting over the loss of his father (a swipe at the second film perhaps). His inner child prefers the name War Machine to Iron Man (because of course he does, Tony grows up to become a literal War Machine as an arms dealer). But the film’s greatest success and Marvel’s ballsiest move yet, is The Mandarin played by Sir Ben Kingsley. Most of the marketing revolved around this character and then what the film actually does with him is simply jaw dropping.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Silly, charming, fun, and full of heart, Guardians of the Galaxy is an irresistible romp through a much weirder side of the Marvel Universe. Much like Iron Man 3, Guardians is very much the product of its director, in this case, James Gunn, the nutjob behind cult favourites Slither and Super. It’s sense of humour is just the right side of peculiar, featuring dance offs, gross black light jokes, Kevin Bacon references, and a raccoon rearranging his junk. On the surface this looks like the strangest Marvel offering to date, and in many ways it is, but scratch beneath the surface and it’s doing what all the best Marvel flicks have been doing since the beginning: making us care for the characters. Peter Quill is an irrepressible man-child but you can’t help but love him. He steps up to do the right thing when it counts, but he’s still got one eye on scoring for himself. He’s at once a doofus and a charming rouge, and he’s Marvel’s next break out star. And any film that can almost bring me to tears over the relationship between a CGI raccoon and a talking tree is obviously doing something right.
Marvel’s The Avengers
Who thought this film was actually going to work? Jamming four franchises together, four lead characters into one film, and trying to service them all equally. It sounded impossible. Then Joss Whedon turned up and knocked it effortlessly out of the park. Every character gets time to shine. It made Black Widow my favourite character. It provided the single greatest Hulk moment I’ve ever seen “That’s my secret Cap, I’m always angry” (played to absolute perfection by Mark Ruffalo). It added more weight to the Thor/Loki relationship. And it gave Cap and Tony some fascinating back and forth as they both vied for the position of leader. The third act is one of the most fist pumpingly enjoyable twenty minutes you’ll ever find in a film as this rag tag group become The Avengers before our very eyes. Definitely the Marvel film I will rewatch the most.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
So here it is, numero uno, my favourite (so far) of all the Marvel movies: Captain America The Winter Soldier.
Really, you ask, more than Avengers? Yes, and here’s why.
There is no lag or excess meat. Most of the Marvel Movies have bits and pieces that could easily be trimmed without harming (in fact, it would benefit) the movie. CATWS doesn’t. It’s solid from second one to second done. The story is great. The themes timely and relevant, especially to the character of Captain America. The action is superb. The character work is insightful and revealing. The 70’s-esque espionage vibe is perfect. Everything about it is spot on. It tells a self contained story that has larger ramifications on the Marvel Universe as a whole. The stuff about S.H.I.E.L.D is compelling, giving Cap, Fury, and Widow interesting challenges and dilemmas. They have to re-evaluate who they are and how they fit in this world. Plus the villain, the titular Winter Soldier, isn’t just some random threat that wants to destroy everything for some reason. He is a character that is deeply connected to Cap. They have a history, and that informs Cap’s response to the threat. The Winter Soldier is the flip side to Captain America’s coin and that makes for a deeper dynamic to the standard Marvel antagonist (all of them except Loki really). Captain America The Winter Soldier is not just an excellent comic book movie, but a fantastic movie period.
So there you go, that’s my list.
How would you order them?