With the recent release of Avengers: Infinity War I thought it would fun to introduce myself to the Engen community by ranking (in my opinion) the MCU films from worst to best. Because who doesn’t love some good old fashioned clickbait? I should warn you that there may be spoilers ahead, so you’ve been dully warned.
Alrighty then, I’m gonna cut to the chase and dive right in…
19) Iron Man 2
Such a drop-off in quality from the first Iron Man. This one had so much potential. Pairing RDJ with fellow 90s comebacker (at the time anyway) Mikey Rourke seemed like a stroke of genius. But Iron Man 2 didn’t feel as grounded as the first one. What should have been a deep dive into Tony’s alcoholism felt slapstick and silly. The film also squanders one of my favourite scenes in the entire MCU: When Tony’s father speaks to him from the past through a recording. Is someone chopping onions here?
18) The Incredible Hulk
In hindsight, the journey to The Avengers was pretty rocky. While Iron Man was huge success, it was immediately followed by another dud of a Hulk movie. I wonder if we’ll ever see another stand-alone Hulk feature? Probably not. Call me crazy, but I actually kinda liked Ang Lee’s Hulk. For all its wonkiness, there was an interesting subtext of Freudian concepts of repression and Oedipal complexes. The Incredible Hulk seemed to swing the pendulum in the complete opposite direction and made a dull vanilla fare. Shame.
17) Thor: The Dark World
The biggest sin of The Dark World is that it lacked the charm of the first Thor. And the stakes are so unclear. “The Dark Elves want to plunge the universe into perpetual darkness!” What does that even mean? Director Alan Taylor, who made his bones on Game of Thrones, seemed like a great fit, but apparently the film was screwed by studio micro-managing. Interestingly, Patty Jenkins was supposed to direct, which eventually fell through. However, she would go on to helm the excellent Wonder Woman, so for that I’m grateful.
16) Avengers: Age of Ultron
Definitely my biggest disappointment in the MCU. Man, I had high hopes for this one. But what a mess. By all indications, it seems like Marvel Studios overstepped their bounds on this one and drove Joss Whedon to his breaking point. Such a shame. Trying to introduce four new characters (Ultron, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Vision) was too ambitious, especially considering Quicksilver was basically just there to stick it to X-Men: Days of Future Past. At least the Hulkbuster was cool.
15) Iron Man 3
I’m hard on the Iron Man series. Mostly because I loved the first one so much. Three is a pretty big improvement over 2, but it still suffers from a lot of the same issues. Mostly, it seems like the creators are happy to just let RDJ chew up the scenery. I did, however, laugh pretty hard at that Mandarin plot twist. Iron Man 2 and 3 are interesting case studies in what goes wrong when the MCU tips the scale a little too far in favour of humour. We don’t want self-serious Zack Snyder stuff, but we certainly don’t want Fantastic Four either.
14) Captain America: The First Avenger
Most people would probably rank this one lower, but I have a weird soft spot for this movie. For one thing, Chris Evans was an excellent casting choice. So strange that two Human Torches (Michael B Jordan as Killmonger) would turn out to be gems in the MCU. I think the first act of this movie is also excellent. The effect of making Chris Evans look small really impressed me and Joe Johnson does such a great job capturing that WWII era America so well. Unfortunately, the second act kinda meanders leading to an underwhelming finale. Also, Tommy Lee Jones and Hayley Atwell are both awesome.
Another example of a great opportunity squandered by Marvel Stuidos’ meddling. I, among many others, were looking forward to seeing Edgar Wright’s passion project finally seeing the light of day. Alas, it was not meant to be. Still, Antman is a serviceable flick. It was refreshing to watch a super hero movie with modest stakes. Ant-Man, like many other MCU movies, suffers from a lack of contrast between hero and villain. As Geroge RR Martin pointed out, the hero just fights a mirror image of himself: Antman vs Yellowjacket, Iron Man vs Iron Monger, Hulk vs Abomination. Give us some of that Batman vs. Joker dynamic (but definitely not Batman V Superman, please…).
12) Doctor Strange
Does anyone else feel like Benedict Cumberpatch is way overqualified for this role? Steven Strange here feels to much like Tony Stark lite. Despite having some of the coolest action sequences in the whole MCU, Doctor Strange felt so been-there-done-that. I mean Thor and Iron Man already did such a good job with the arrogant dude learns to grow the hell up arc. Why not find some new territory to explore? Also, as much as I love me some Tilda Swinton (and she’s great in this movie), that sorta whitewashing just ain’t gonna fly nowadays.
11) Spider-Man: Homecoming
Easily the best Spider-Man movie since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, which also happens to be one of my all-time favourite superhero movies. I liked that Homecoming was believable high school version of Peter Parker. It was as if John Hughes had made a superhero movie. My biggest issue with Homecoming was the lack of spidey-sense. People are always surprising Peter. And the interactions with his suit’s AI kinda wore on me. After all, he’s Spider-Man, not Iron Man. Still, I’m very excited to see where this version of Spider-Man goes.
10) Avengers: Infinity War
There was something vaguely unsatisfying about Infinity War for me and I can’t quite put my finger on it. There was something of a Death Hallows effect where there are so many character deaths that it’s hard to appreciate them individually. That being said, it’s a miracle this movie even exists, let alone that it’s pretty damn good. I have no idea where I’d even start to try and write a story that pulled together this many threads. It’s also pretty rare for me to watch a blockbuster movie nowadays and think “Holy crap, I have no idea what’s going to happen.” Props to the Russo brothers.
9) Thor: Ragnarok
I think people will be pretty surprised by this low ranking. It’s not that I didn’t like Ragnarok, there are so many great things about it, but I definitely have my issues. Firstly, the first act is bit of a mess. It’s pretty obvious that director Taika Waititi saw this part as more of a series of hoops he needed to jump through in order to get to the meat of the film: act two on Sakaar, which was awesome, indeed. I was pretty surprised by the lack of emotional heft in the deaths of several characters. Thor’s father and friends are all murdered and his hammer destroyed, but it never really hits you. Also, Cate Blanchett felt overqualified to be playing a pretty cookie-cutter villain. But, who cares, the movie’s a blast.
8) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2
“He may have been your father, boy, but he wasn’t your daddy.”
Is that not the greatest line in all the MCU? Some critics harped that Vol 2 wasn’t as good as its predecessor, which might be true, but frankly I could spend all day with these characters in this universe. It’s impossible to watch Guardians without having a good time. The special effects on Ego’s planet was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen on screen.
7) Captain America: Civil War
Most people would rank this one higher, but I have a few issues with it. Firstly, I found the tone really incongruent. The MCU has established its brand as unpretentious entertainment, but that doesn’t mean you have to undercut every dramatic beat with a joke. The big showdown at the airport felt so unsatisfying to me. Secondly, and sort of a continuation of the first point, it didn’t feel like much of a game changer. Sure the Avengers had a messy break-up by the end, but you never got the sense that this was a tectonic shift in their dynamic. Like, they had a tiff but they’re obviously going to the band back together soon enough. Definitely a lot different than Mark Millar’s source material.
In my opinion, Thor is the most underrated movie in the MCU. Many critics have praised Ragnarok for pushing Thor in a more comedic direction, but that humour was already well established here. Hemsworth does a great job as the hero. Thor’s arc from arrogant man-child feels sincere and legit. However, those dyed eyebrows were a bad idea. Also with Thor we are treated to the MCU’s first great villain, Loki. There’s no praise too much for Tom Hiddelston here. He brings a Shakespearean gravitas to Loki’s character.
5) The Avengers
The ultimate fan service movie. With three Avengers movies now, I think the right formula is to give hardcore fans what they want without alienating the casual viewers. Unlike Ultron, Avengers keeps it pretty simple, using characters we’re all familiar with and seeing how they interact with one another. While Avengers doesn’t necessarily reward multiple viewings, it is a masterclass in ensemble story writing.
4) Guardians of the Galaxy
If you said you knew about the Guardians of the Galaxy before this movie then you’re probably a liar. Guardians‘ success is a testament to the MCU brand, which by 2014 was an established juggernaut. Nonetheless, that’s not to take away from this excellent movie. Guardians tapped into something that I think had been sorely lacking in Hollywood at that time: serviceable space opera.
3) Iron Man
The MCU really hit the ground running with this one. I confess that when I heard about this project my immediate reaction was very dismissive. After all, Marvel wanted to launch a shared universe without, at the time, its most popular characters (Spider-Man, X-Men, etc.), with a washed up recovering junkie to boot. To say I was pleasantly surprised is a massive understatement. Casting RDJ as Tony Stark was an inspired move. He works beautifully in this story of personal redemption. Iron Man also successfully established a reliable (and bankable) tone for the rest of the franchise: dramatic stakes with a liberal dose of levity spread evenly.
2) Black Panther
There are so many things worth praising about Black Panther (great soundtrack, beautiful set designs, colourful cinematography, OMG non-white characters) but I want to focus on Killmonger, who is probably the best super villain we’ve seen on film since Heath Ledger’s the Joker. A great antagonist is an ideological rival for the hero, not just an adversary to punch. As well, audiences should empathize with a villain’s motives, though not necessarily condoning them. Killmonger forces T’Challa to grow as a character, forcing him to rethink his relationship with his father and Wakanda’s relationship with the world.
1) Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I first saw TWS, given the mediocrity of the first Captain America movie, but it certainly wasn’t this. The Russo brothers, who I thought would just be a diet version of Joss Whedon, blew me away with their action sequences. The script was also very sophisticated in how a popcorn blockbuster managed to address timely issues like American imperialism and an expanding surveillance state. Moreover, the writers managed to really personalize the story by mirroring Cap’s fight against Hydra with his conflict with Bucky. It wasn’t just about a super hero saving the world again, he was also trying to save his friend.