28 August 2015

Ranking the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

To say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is anything less than a resounding success is to deny the billions of pounds taken at the box office, the vocal critical acclaim many of these films have received and the over-whelmingly positive reception audiences have had to this universe. If that somehow doesn't convince you, take a look at the number of studios that are now attempting to set up their own cinematic universe - they say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, after all.

Now that Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is completed, I've decided to rank the Marvel Cinematic Universe films in order of quality. This list is by no means anything other than a subjective list of which Marvel films I like the most, from worst to best. As such, it is 100% correct and if your opinion differs even in the slightest then you are wrong, scientifically. Do with that what you will.

12. Iron Man 2

The worst of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films so far, Iron Man 2 suffered from poor pacing, a badly written story and a need to "set up" the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which led to an overly long middle section that just about gets by on the charm of Tony Stark alone (and an admittedly strong opening). Devoid of much of what made Iron Man so good, Iron Man 2 remains Marvels only major misstep to date.

11. The Incredible Hulk

Although by no means a bad film, The Incredible Hulk lacks the fun and humour that the other Marvel films all thrive on, instead telling a more serious story that never quite hits the right notes. Regardless, this flawed film contains some of the interesting character work and good sense of pacing and universe building that would come to help define the Marvel Cinematic Universe for what it is, despite being potentially the least well connected film overall.

10. Thor: The Dark World

Despite having one of the weakest villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, Thor: The Dark World still has a great finale containing some really funny moments, expands on the interesting relationship that Thor and Loki share and further strengthens the connection of Asgard and Earth, an interesting dynamic that I hope to see played up further in the future. But that doesn't make up enough for the dull middle section and somewhat uneven pacing, problems that make Thor: The Dark World the weakest of the 'good' Marvel Cinematic Universe films.

9. Thor

There are a lot of people that dislike this film thanks to the 'fish out of water' comedy it relies on for the majority of the running time and the fact that it is mostly set on Earth rather than in the other 8 realms that could be explored, but I actually like Thor quite a lot. The humour is pretty much spot on when it needs to be, and I like most the scenes set on Earth - but whenever the attention turns back to the cheesy, flat looking Asgard, I begin to lose interest. The human side-characters are much better written than the Asgardian side-characters and the film is paced better than Thor: The Dark World, just giving it the edge over it's more ambitious but less concise sequel.

8. Iron Man 3

The first of the Phase 2 films, Iron Man 3 concludes the Iron Man trilogy in a surprisingly effective way, further building on the surprisingly complex character arc of Tony Stark over his previous films and Avengers Assemble. Shane Black takes over directing duties from Jon Favreau here and you can really feel his presence throughout the film, giving the franchise a breath of fresh air after Iron Man 2. This film pretty much split fans down the middle thanks to a controversial plot twist regarding the main villain, and although the film does lose some of it's momentum thanks to the reveal, it recovers quickly. Well written and unique while still fitting into the Marvel template, Iron Man 3 started Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a bang.

7. Captain America: The First Avenger

The final film before Avengers Assemble in Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe introduced us to Steve Rogers, the ultimate good guy - a Nazi punching, soldier saving moral compass, before flinging him through time into the present day right at the end of the film. This is one of the strongest Phase 1 films thanks to the well-written characters, the period setting and the introduction of the Tesseract, linking it strongly to both Thor and Avengers Assemble. Despite the third act being the weakest part of the film, the character of Steve Rogers was handled perfectly by both the script and the actor who plays him, Chris Evans, pushing this to near the top of the Phase 1 films.

6. Iron Man

2008's Iron Man introduced us the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in what was at the time a huge gamble for Marvel Studios. Based on a second tier superhero and starring an actor who was still trying to get his career back on track after well documented substance abuse problems, the script of Iron Man wasn't finished when filming began. A lot of what you see on screen in the final version is improvisation, and the result was a critical and commercial success that kick-started a multi-billion dollar franchise and made the term "Cinematic Universe" the new buzzwords for film executives everywhere. Despite being released 7 years ago, the film still holds up now thanks to the great characters and interesting character based plot, and it remains one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

5. Avengers: Age of Ultron

A difficult one to place thanks to the varying quality throughout, Joss Whedon's return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe was always going to be interesting - many wanted to see if he could top the level of greatness achieved with Avengers Assemble, and although he never quite manages to reach those heights, the reuniting of The Avengers as they face their greatest threat to date, a villainous AI called Ultron, is still a fast paced, action packed, colourful, smart and funny film filled with the kind of moments and character work that made Avengers Assemble the phenomenon that it is. The films main flaw comes in the form of the amount of set up it has to do for later films, but when Avengers: Age of Ultron has time to be the film that Joss Whedon no doubt intended, it works just as well as anything in Avengers Assemble. You can read my full review of Avengers: Age of Ultron here.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy

The biggest risk of Phase 2 had us explore the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time, introducing a new team of alien heroes including a sentient tree and a talking raccoon. Despite a slightly loose first act and an undercooked villain, Guardians of the Galaxy ended up being one of the best films released in 2014 - hilarious, adventurous, unique and (maybe most importantly) a boat load of fun, showcasing both the best of what Marvel Studios can do and the risks that they are willing to take. You can read my full review of Guardians of the Galaxy here.

3. Ant-Man

The post-credits scene of Phase 2, Ant-Man acts as a much needed break from the increasingly huge stakes and scale of the rest of the Phase 2 films, instead delivering a carefully paced heist movie that is more focused on delivering some solid laughs and creative action sequences than it is saving the world. Many people were sceptical of how good Ant-Man could be after Edgar Wright, who had been attached to the film since 2003, dropped out just weeks before filming was due to begin, but replacement director Peyton Reed manages to deliver a film that isn't just surprisingly good, but is in fact genuinely great. Creative, imaginative, hilarious, and most of all, fun, Ant-Man is potentially one of the most perfect films that Marvel Studios have released to date. You can read my full review of Ant-Man here.

2. Avengers Assemble

The conclusion to Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers Assemble was fun, action-packed and full of great character moments. Reintroducing and using all the main characters from previous Marvel Cinematic Universe films, seeing these characters interact on screen was incredible to watch, each one of them consistent with the character presented in the previous films. Director Joss Whedon somehow managed to believably combine the fantasy world of Thor with the realistic world of Iron Man, to great effect - Avengers Assemble remains one the best superhero films ever made, and grossed nearly 1 and a half billion dollars worldwide. Infinitely rewatchable, Avengers Assemble made Marvel Studios and the Marvel Cinematic Universe a force to be reckoned with.

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Tonally quite different from the other Marvel Cinematic Universe films, Captain America: The Winter Soldier offers a more subversive looks at both modern day warfare and government, with themes of privacy, patriotism and corruption running throughout. This film has some of the best action scenes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a sequence set near a motorway in the middle of Washington being a real highlight. Steve Rodgers is again both well written and well acted, and the relationship between Falcon and Captain America is handled perfectly, as is Caps relationship with Black Widow, never getting overly romantic or predictable. Packed with great action sequences and character moments, Captain America: The Winter Soldier improves on it's predecessor in nearly every way, delivering a film that changes the layout of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for future films in the best possible way.

So there you have it. I can't wait to see how this list will change in the next few years - the upcoming Phase 3 seems to be the most ambitious yet, starting with my most anticipated film of 2016, Captain America: Civil War, before a whole host of exciting sounding films (Dr Strange! Black Panther! Spider-Man!) continue to add to this already rich universe. I'm confident that the next few years are going to be great for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe like myself, continuing the high level of quality that people now expect from Marvel Studios and hopefully concluding in the biggest, boldest and most bad ass two part finale the world has ever seen.

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