Another year (another season) and yet again, we’re facing down another Marvel release, this time with the wildly enjoyable boundary pushing Black Panther which has already begun to demolish records. With its release and considering Marvel’s pretty fabulous run in the past year with Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok and now this (with not one of them feeling like carbon copies of one another despite their aggressively shared universe) and with and The Avengers: Infinity War coming out in really just a few short months, we thought we’d go back and rank the releases so far. Myself and a few other film writers who managed to see the latest MCU installment early re-worked our first list from mid-2016. There has been some changes, some notable drops and some films that simply didn’t stand the test of time as well as our immediate excitement may have lead us to believe they would, but for the most part, the baseline is there. Let us know where the newest releases would’ve fallen on your lists!
18. The Incredible Hulk
I can’t be the only person who sometimes forgets this film exists right? I certainly can’t tell you what the hell happens in this film without referencing the official synopsis, which has to be the most damning aspect of the film – it’s utterly forgettable. Edward Norton is fine as Bruce Banner, Liv Tyler could have been excellent as Betsy and William Hurt was clearly okay enough to be invited back for the upcoming Civil War, but the film further explores just how difficult it can be to make a movie about the Hulk. While he works beautifully in an ensemble and was the clear standout in The Avengers, when the character is both the hero and the antagonist, how do you wrap a superhero film around that? I’m not saying it can’t be done; it simply hasn’t thus far.
Ant-Man is a wonderful showcase for Paul Rudd to mix his charm in with a more physical performance as he becomes as reluctant a hero as they come in the Marvel universe and completely captures the audience’s attention in his very first moments. With some stand out fight sequences – especially in the third act – and the promise of a future team up between Ant-Man and the Wasp, Ant-Man works so well because it brings the superhero story to the micro scale (heh), all the while playing with a familiar origin story format. However, despite how enjoyable it was in the moment, Ant-Man is ultimately too forgettable to land any higher on our list.
16: Thor: The Dark World
I’m guessing that we all would have preferred to watch a full length intergalactic roadtrip between the bickering Thor and Loki than the drab, humorless film we actually got? The only moments where the film doesn’t suffer from its own stepping stone mediocrity is whenever Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is on screen, particularly when it’s focused on the demi-god brothers. A shame since it’s the first time Thor himself has felt like a real, tangible character who isn’t just the bumbling, quippy jock in the background. Far from being an downright poorly made movie as there are some gorgeous imagery (a funeral procession is a particular highlight), but maybe even more than Iron Man 2, it felt like a pit-stop on the road to better things. And it was.
15. Iron Man 2
Some (meaning me) might go as far as to say that this was unfairly maligned upon its release when in reality it’s perfectly serviceable as a popcorn flick. However, it certainly lacked a strict narrative thread as it disposed of more intriguing storylines such as Tony’s addiction and the idea that the very thing that had saved him was now killing him – for set up for the larger universe. An unforgivably forgettable villain, a third act that played like an after thought and the criminal poor utilization of Sam Rockwell sticks this at the bottom of the list. It’s a great film to flip to during commercial breaks and as a piece in the larger Marvel puzzle, but not much else.
As the introduction of the mystics to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange feels strangely familiar in its story structure, and where the derivative nature of the “Iron Man Origin” formula became most apparent for the common viewer, especially as the lead character, Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) almost too closely parallels the personality, trials and redemption factors of Tony Stark’s arc in the 2008 film. However, the character’s legacy of bridging the ideologies of science and spirituality shine through in Scott Derrickson’s adaptation alongside a myriad of visual effects that make an effective composition out of the incomprehensible, and do a shockingly good job of bringing Steve Ditko’s vision of the multiverse in the comics to life. Additionally, I find the climax of the film to be a great flip, both literally and figuratively, on what has come to be expected from third act battles in the genre. At the end of the day, however, it’s a safe bet origin story and an introduction to yet another piece of the quest for infinity stones in the Marvel Universe. – Evan Griffin
Joss Whedon clearly was feeling a bit lost while writing Age of Ultron, and it shows with weird subplots involving Hawkeye’s home life and the Bruce Banner and Black Widow romance. Despite this, as time has passed following the films release, there are some shining aspects that carry on the film and make it an increasingly interesting film of the Marvel lineup to reflect on. The film very easily could have begun to feel a bit bogged down by too many things going on at once. It’s saved however in the bleaker turn it takes in showcasing real consequences for its characters as their inner strengths and weaknesses of these heroes are revealed.
Up until his latest film, it would seem that Thor isn’t a favorite character around TYF, but in total fairness, he has been the toughest character to nail. Kenneth Branagh did his very best creating a world that’s fantastical and fun, but we have to wonder if it could have been made any better if they’d just gone and embraced the full, campy nature of the character. It’s not much better on earth, but there’s plenty of humor derived from the fish out of water mentality as Thor is completely out of his element. Such is the case with its sequel though, it’s Tom Hiddleston’s Loki who ends up being the film’s greatest asset. With his nuanced and quietly enraged performance as the ultimate trickster, he became Marvel’s biggest breakout to date.
11. Captain America: The First Avenger
As tricky as Thor admittedly can be, Steve Rogers’s Captain America certainly has its hurdles as well. Namely being the Superman complex – how does a film make a natural do-gooder, boy scout interesting? The answer is to show him pre-serum and then also show him making the ultimate sacrifice at the end. Aided by having the most touching, longing romance to date, no matter how fleeting, between Peggy and Steve (helped immensely by Hayley Atwell’s terrifically layered performance), The First Avenger isn’t a perfect Captain America movie, but it sets the stage as to why we’re going to become so invested in Steve Rogers and his story.
Despite valiantly trying to rally around Shane Black’s take on the character (including this one), Iron Man 3 ended up on the lower scale of or list. Divisive, clearly, the film both won and lost fans due to the darker places it takes Tony Stark’s character as he battles PTSD after the events in New York and the more satirically comedic places it takes the villain, the Mandarin. Distinguished from how often Tony isn’t in his Iron Man suit, the story takes an overall more personal tone and that mixed with Black’s signature style makes Iron Man 3 a perfect ending to the Iron Man trilogy.
The success of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a sequel to one of the most amazing risks in blockbuster filmmaking of the 21st century, is largely thanks to the fact that writer and director James Gunn loves the cast of heroes just as much as the fans of the film, if not even more. It’s argued that Vol 2 of the Guardians of the Galaxy story doesn’t hit the same milestones as the first because the characters felt a little stagnant or not as fleshed out as they were as individuals in the first film, but apart from this, Guardians 2 draws audiences in spades because it’s not only consistently fun and hilarious, but because there is true emotional resonance in characters that would never be expected like Rocket Raccoon and Yondu, and Peter’s abandonment issues that surface when he encounters his biological father, Ego (Kurt Russel). The fact that a film that is largely computer generated action sequences and jokes also has the most compelling sibling relationships and father figures and concludes on the shot of a raccoon crying, and the audience cries too is something really special. Also, Baby Groot is life. – Evan Griffin
Joe and Anthony Russo’s directing of the on screen adaptation of a story as ambitious as Civil War is a small miracle. It’s not only a proper sequel to Captain America The Winter Soldier, and if anything improves on the spy thriller tone within it, but it’s also a proper follow up to Age of Ultron, with an even bigger cast of heroes than in any previous team up films in the series, and it introduces both Black Panther and Peter Parker’s Spider-Man to the MCU, all within a reasonable run-time. Despite running the risk of feeling as overstuffed with content and characters as Age of Ultron, Civil War is somehow able to create emotional and ideological stakes for each member of the cast on both Steve Rogers’ and Tony Stark’s side of the argument, while still delivering on some of the best action sequences in the superhero genre. It’s a perfect exercise in a balancing act in telling a cinematic story, as well as being insanely entertaining from start to finish. – Evan Griffin
7. Iron Man
It’s the movie that both re-launched Robert Downey Jr.’s career as a bonafide movie star as well as the film that became the springboard for the current superhero mania. As stripped down as a Marvel movie will ever be, Iron Man established Tony Stark as a character within moments – egotistical, aloof and then deconstructed what we knew about him in the next 20. Before we got to meet Iron Man the superhero, we met Tony Stark the genius mechanic. John Favreau was smart to show us just how clever Tony was to make him more than a rich guy in a suit, and then further explored his tinkering nature in some stylish sequences of the first stages of building Iron Man. The push and pull dynamic between Tony and Pepper is instantly engaging, but 90% of why the film works to the extent that it does is all due to Downey. Imbuing a character who very easily in other hands could have been insufferable (ahem Joss Whedon) with a sense of vulnerability despite his larger than life persona. It might still be the finest bit of casting Marvel has ever done. Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man.
With five Spider-Man movies preceding it, Spider-Man: Homecoming had a lot of competition to contend with. Thankfully, Homecoming managed to still feel like a new film even with its sense of familiarity. The movie benefited greatly by avoiding the Peter Parker origin story (and by being the first Spider-Man film in the MCU) and enriched the narrative by adding characters previously unseen onscreen. The film easily balanced the heroics of Spider-Man with Peter’s everyday high school life and even managed to combine the two coherently. The film always maintained a sense of humor without forgetting the stakes. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is awkwardly charismatic and, even though he expected big fame to come with his powers after helping Iron Man, found that staying grounded goes a long way, too. With a supporting cast that includes Michael Keaton and Zendaya, Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of Marvel’s strongest films not only because it’s fun and full of action, but because it’s also full of heart. – Mae Abdulbaki
5. Thor: Ragnarok
Thor: Ragnarok did something that it should have done more often. It spotlighted Chris Hemsworth’s comedic abilities. This made the movie that much stronger. After years of watching other Marvel films, it’s hard not to start feeling a bit fatigued, but Thor: Ragnarok brings immense joy and breathes a new energy into the MCU. Cate Blanchett’s Hela is a memorable villain, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is wonderful and kickass, and even Loki manages to be tolerable since he’s not the center of attention. Director Taika Waititi and his team immerse the audience with vibrant colors that are visually stunning. In terms of character development, Thor comes a long way in coming to terms with his position as the leader of Asgard and also reaches his true potential as the God of Thunder. Furthermore, the film is a big ball of energy, full of life, comedy, and fun. While the first Thor presented us with more of a one-dimensional and self-centered character, Ragnarok matures him in a way that the other films haven’t. Of all the other MCU films, it’s definitely one of the most well-rounded. – Mae Abdulbaki
4. The Avengers
I harp on about Joss Whedon’s one note depictions of these characters quite a bit, but The Avengers was undeniably a huge undertaking, and the result was one of the most engaging and joyful theater experiences in recent years. It was difficult not to feel like a kid again as we sat in our seats and watched the now iconic shot of the Avengers finally fully assembling. Introducing a new version of Bruce Banner in Mark Ruffalo, bringing these characters together and orchestrating an enormous alien invasion staged in downtown New York is daunting, and Whedon and co. pulled it off with skill and a lot of humor. The film never stopped feeling like the audience was experiencing an epic scale story. Maybe we can look back now and find something to nitpick (I’m guilty of it), but very few films have touched the sheer joy of seeing all of these beloved characters overcome their near hostile differences in order to save the world.
3. Black Panther
“From the moment that king T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and his entourage fly through a portal into the African wonderland of Wakanda, director Ryan Coogler pulls no punches. He’s come to show us that this sprawling technological city on a Vibranium hill does not need a surrounding cinematic universe to support it. This is a world unto itself, with a rich mythology to bask in and a sprawling calvary of characters. Where Marvel’s Thor films shuddered at the challenges of fleshing out a mysterious land with endless possibilities, Coogler embraces them with all his might. He’s created a film that goes beyond simply being about a single superhero. Black Panther is a story about culture and country that just so happens to have a catsuit enthusiast at the center.” Read Michael’s full review.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
Vibrant, hilarious and arguably the most heartfelt film Marvel has put out yet, Guardians of the Galaxy delighted surprised fans with little known characters. Following Marvel’s predicted structure in terms of where the basic narrative was going to go and when, James Gunn an co. got to have more fun with their characters and the multiple worlds they visited. Shaking off the typical color quota, Guardians luxuriated in greens, purples and pinks that grabbed our eyes and our ears with deliciously catchy pop hits that helped give the film a distinct voice. Chris Pratt proved himself as a leading man with the bad boy with a heart of gold Star Lord, while Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel shine in their respective voice performances. The film felt energized by its ability to go off the rails of its predecessors and the joy that went into the film was mirrored by those watching. With hints of The Fifth Element as well as Star Wars in terms of aesthetics and world building, Guardians of the Galaxy kicked back and ran with Marvel’s more wild side.
There are numerous reasons why what Russo brothers excelled in their first outing in the Marvel universe with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Utilizing everything that’s made the Marvel universe thrilling so far, including relationships being explored (Natasha and Steve), exciting new characters introduced (The Falcon) and action packed sequences that have you on the edge of your seat (the first stand off between Hydra operatives and Fury being a highlight), they went one step further and deconstructed everything we knew about the Marvel universe up until this point. Steve’s emotional struggles of doing what he believes to be right, his older belief in the law, the heart racing pace along with Chris Evans delivering his finest performance as the hero out of time makes for a film both emotional resonant and thrilling.