With the upcoming release of Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron I figured I’d throw my hat in the ring and attempt my own Marvel Ranking. Below you’ll find my list of the Marvel movies in order of quality from worst to best. It’s something that a lot of websites do so I thought it’d be fun to give this some thought and share my opinion on how these stack up against one another. If you haven’t seen these films then there will be significant spoilers throughout.
Iron Man 3
It’s no contest, this is by far the worst of the Marvel movies for me so far. Everything was looking great in the trailers and other marketing with Ben Kingsley’s chilling performance as long time Iron Man villain The Mandarin but the end result left a lot to be desired.
The first half of the film starts out really well with Tony Stark coming apart at the seams after his experiences in The Avengers. He has developed an anxiety disorder and is furiously building more and more Iron Man suits in preparation for a threat that he feels is coming. The Mandarin seems like a credible threat and it all seems to be building to something really interesting.
Once the -admittedly well hidden- twist is revealed everything starts to go downhill. Having the Mandarin be an actor presenting the image of a terrorist threat is a moronic twist that I can never support. It’d be like if in The Dark Knight the Joker turned out to be a failed circus clown hired by criminals to cover up what they were doing. As far as I’m concerned this twist does a disservice to the character of the Mandarin.
Not only that but the anxiety disorder completely disappears and the film culminates in an action climax that is a mess of flying metal. So much potential completely wasted in this film.
Thor’s first solo outing is a bit of a disappointment for a variety of reasons. It starts off really strongly with a look into Thor’s life in Asgard as he is about to be crowned King by his father Odin. Asgard looks amazing and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is definitely very arrogant but in a charming sort of way.
After the point he disobeys his father and is punished by being sent to Earth without his powers it goes downhill. I just found much of the story on Earth to be really boring with endless scenes showing how out of place Thor is on this -to him- primative world. I couldn’t really get behind the fact that Thor manages to go from arrogance to humility in the space of a long weekend.
The romance with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster feels really forced with very little chemistry between her and Hemsworth and the plot just takes too long to get back on track. Once he gets his powers back it gets a little more exciting but it had all but lost me by then.
As villains go, Loki worked really well here but there wasn’t really enough of him. I could see that it was supposed to be a brotherly conflict but the plot didn’t focus on this enough. On a personal note I didn’t like the loss of Thor’s secret identity from the comics. It’s something that could have made the Earth segment of the film work a bit better for me.
Iron Man 2
A sequel that should have been great turns out to be oddly disjointed in its execution. Too many subplots and an absence of a strong main plot prevent this film from living up to its obvious potential.
There was scope for a memorable villain in Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko but he was largely sidelined by a narrative that was more focused on setting up the upcoming Avengers movie. The idea that Vanko was the other side of the coin for Tony Stark was an interesting one and there were shades of a stronger antagonistic relationship in there but their lack of shared screen time didn’t let this resonate in the way it was supposed to.
Tony Stark’s self destructive nature following the knowledge that he’s dying acts as an adaptation of the famous “Demon in a Bottle” arc from the comics but fails to grab attention in the same way. It all plays out as a succession of missed opportunities really
Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel’s attempt to try something crazy and different was a slam dunk with audiences and critics alike. The commitment to making a rousing space adventure is fully evident on the screen and brings a cast of colourful characters to life in a really fun and exciting way. Who could have predicted that a sentient tree and a talking raccoon like alien would prove to be among the most memorable characters of the year.
While I appreciated the characters and storytelling I had my problems with the overall tone. It was presented in a more comedic light but the comedy wasn’t really to my tastes so I found myself having difficulties with the frequency of the jokes throughout the film. One or two worked for me but on the whole I couldn’t connect to it. I do realise that it’s a very personal reaction but that’s why this is my list.
All of the characters are well cast with Chris Pratt really stealing the show as the reluctant hero Peter Quill/Starlord. Zoe Saldana capably adds one more franchise to her collection as the green skinned Gamora. Dave Bautista brings impressive physicality to the role of Drax and the voice talents of Bradley Cooper as Rocket and Vin Diesel as Groot help bring these colourful characters to life.
As with most Marvel films the villains are heavily underdeveloped. Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser has some really shaky motivations and never really feels like a significant threat. Karen Gillan’s Nebula fares a little better but suffers from a severe lack of screen time. Marvel really need to sort their villains out.
The film does set the cosmic stage very well and gives a little more information on future big bad Thanos. Once the Marvel Cinematic Universe really starts dealing with the cosmic implications of everything they do it should be really compelling stuff. Let’s not forget that it has a really killer soundtrack.
Thor: The Dark World
Thor’s second solo outing is a vast improvement on the first. This film is probably pretty close to what you get if you mix Lord of the Rings with Star Wars. Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor was the perfect choice to bring this blend of fantasy/sci-fi to life in a visually compelling way. There are a couple of standout sequences involving large scale assaults and one on one battles.
I’ve always thought that Thor was a fairly silly character and this film fully embraces it with a reliance on the more comedic aspects of his character. Unlike Guardians of the Galaxy a lot of the jokes really worked for me and I had a good time with the overall silliness of the film.
Perversely the real star of this film is Loki who completely steals the show as ever. Tom Hiddleston reaches new levels of menace in his performance and as ever keeps Loki an intensely likeable character despite his propensity for domination. He definitely blows Christopher Eccleston’s thinly written Malekith the Accursed out of the water.
Of all the second phase Marvel movies this one probably feels the most disposable. There’s evidence of a longer cut within the narrative with alluded to subplots that appear and disappear quickly. It works pretty well as a standalone romp but in terms of depth and significance it’s somewhat lacking. Thor’s romance with Natalie Foster’s Jane Foster still feels a bit limp and the Earthbound characters are all pretty insufferable. It’s enjoyable while it lasts but pretty forgettable.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America’s first outing is pretty solid all round. If you consider the mandate that was probably given to screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely before writing this film it’s amazing that it turned out watchable. It can’t be easy to be given the job of a single film that needs to tell Captain America’s origin while showing his career in World War II and end with him being thawed out in the present day in preparation for his appearance in The Avengers.
One thing this film absolutely nails is the character of Steve Rogers. Cap’s inspiring determination is firmly on display and his integrity and morality are at the root of everything he does and says. His beliefs come across sincerely and his innate goodness never seems to be corny. Chris Evans definitely imbues him with a strong sense of humanity.
Evans’ supporting cast are no slouch either. Tommy Lee Jones as a sarcastic Colonel is always fun and Hayley Atwell’s strong willed Peggy Carter is a delight to watch. I’m glad she managed to get her own sequel TV series. The limited use of the Howling Commandos with notable roles played by Sebastian Stan and Neal McDonough was pretty great as well.
The film covers a lot of ground and as such it manages to sag in the middle quite a bit. There are at least 3 montages showing Cap’s progress throughout the war so it starts to feel a bit like a clip show after a while. Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull was good while he lasted but there wasn’t enough of him and there was no real sense of him being an effective foil for Cap. I think Cap really needed 2 films prior to his appearance in The Avengers. There’s definitely enough here to keep interest but there was a lot of ground that there wasn’t time to cover.
The Incredible Hulk
The often forgotten addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains one of the best outings. After Ang Lee’s ill conceived Hulk in 2003 the Hulk had to be rebuilt from the ground up and taken in a completely different direction. It was a film that was retooled into an addition to this universe a little later on so it really does function as a self contained story.
Edward Norton does a really good job as Bruce Banner. He plays him as being really strung out and constantly in fear of what he’s capable of when he changes. If you couple this with the stress of constantly looking over his shoulder then it adds up to a good recipe for a Hulk story.
Taking some cues from the famous Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno TV series Bruce Banner is on the run and drifting from place to place. There’s lots of emphasis on his attempts to control his anger and keep the Hulk buried inside his subconscious. Naturally the military being constantly on his ass doesn’t make this easy and there are some really impressive Hulk sequences.
Liv Tyler is really dull as far as love interests go and seems to only exist to tick that box. She has very little chemistry with Norton which makes their scenes look somewhat awkward. William Hurt as her father and obsessed General “Thunderbolt” Ross is incredibly memorable.
It’s a shame that this film gets so easily forgotten as it has the best cinematic villain since Loki in Tim Roth’s Emil Blonsky/The Abomination. He’s an aging soldier who is desperately trying to hold onto his combat days as that’s what he enjoys the most. Age is getting the better of him and he takes any opportunity to improve himself. His obsession leads him to become The Abomination and puts him on an even footing with the Hulk in combat. The resulting titanic brawl is amazing to watch. This is definitely one of the stronger entries in the canon overall.
The film that started it all is still one of the best. Robert Downey Jr’s note perfect portrayal of Tony Stark never stops being fun to watch and the way he inhabits this character is akin to Hugh Jackman’s signature portrayal of Wolverine. Downey Jr has the perfect mix of genius arrogance, sass and eventually humility to make Tony Stark feel like a real and fleshed out character immediately.
His supporting cast are impressive as well with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts providing an effective foil for Stark’s childlike antics. Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane is a good character too but his descent into villainy feels a little too rushed at the end. He’s still really entertaining to watch though.
Terrence Howard’s James Rhodes represents the weak link in the supporting cast for me. Howard never worked for me as this character. It might have been something to do with how he was written but something about him never quite clicked. He is replaced by Don Cheadle in the sequels and he’s a much better choice in my opinion.
The story works really well from the realisation of the pain that his weapons cause all the way through to his altered life purpose focusing on helping people rather than building things that kill them. Much of the film is spent developing his Iron Man technology. His initial efforts in the cave as he plans his escape are really entertaining and the refining of the technology scenes in his Malibu home are a lot of fun. I always get a kick out of seeing him underestimating his own tech and getting hurt as a result. Almost everything in this film just clicks together and it’s an absolute blast.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America’s second outing is nothing short of amazing. Adapting the famous “Winter Soldier” arc into a feature film was an inspired choice and having Cap work for S.H.I.E.L.D. made a lot of sense given how isolated his character is in this time period.
As with the first film the character of Steve Rogers is absolutely nailed in both writing and performance. Chris Evans plays Cap as deeply principled and fully committed to his morality. Having him work for a spy organisation that employs questionable tactics gives plenty of opportunities for his morality to be tested. The fact that he sticks to that morality and refuses to compromise says everything about the commitment to have this character be as close to his comic book counterpart as humanly possible.
Cap is a difficult character to adapt to the modern era because his old fashioned nature could come across as cheesy but it never does. Chris Evans manages to keep an air of sincerity about the character and the dialogue never really becomes corny. The story does everything it can to prove that Cap’s old fashioned morality can be applied to a modern setting and still work. In effect the character functions as something of a reverse virus that weeds out corruption and inspires others to be the best version of themselves.
Scarlett Johannson’s Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow returns from The Avengers and backs Cap up throughout the film. She is someone with a more flexible morality and comes out being somewhat inspired by Cap’s stubborn adherence to his principles. Scarlett Johansson acts as something of a secondary protagonist who is as much a part of the plot as Cap is and their pairing works really well.
Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson/Falcon was a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He and Cap have an instant connection and a genuine friendship that is always great to watch. Anthony Mackie does a great job of the role and is a welcome addition to this franchise.
Robert Redford serves as the main villain of the story and he’s as good as he always is. His motivations are clear and he absolutely comes across as a credible threat. He hides behind the bureaucracy of S.H.I.E.L.D. and is fiercely committed to what he plans to do.
Sebastian Stan’s stint as the Winter Soldier is fairly uncomplicated in terms of characterisation but there’s a sense of something deeper going on there. Most of his character is reflected in Cap who has to deal with the fact that he has to fight his best friend after making peace with the fact that he was lost. It gives Cap high personal stakes and makes the conflict all the more engaging. Beyond that there are some really sweet visuals in the end action sequence.
I could go on about how great it is all day but I think I’ve said enough. I love this film and it manages to do my favourite Avenger justice.
The Avengers or Avengers Assemble
This one beats the previous film but not by much. It’s incredibly close but this one takes the gold medal by mere inches. It does so because it’s just so much fun and a really incredible accomplishment when you really think about it.
The Avengers is the end result of a massive undertaking that started with Iron Man and builds up through the films that follow. Every one of the previous films added a little something to the tapestry that would all pay off here.
This film brings together the characters of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury sitting in the middle trying to get this all to work. Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye also join the team.
As a concept it had so much potential to fall over but Nerd God Joss Whedon manages to keep it on point with style and panache. There’s a definite sense of love for the material in every scene and the whole thing is just a blast from start to finish.
The story is well constructed with every character -with the exception of Hawkeye- being given ample time to shine. They all interact in a really entertaining way be it the infighting that frequently happens or the friendships that start to form. Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark and new Bruce Banner Mark Ruffalo have some of the best scenes as the team eggheads who form a fast friendship on the foundation of the crosses they each have to bear.
Mark Ruffalo is a welcome addition to the cast and absolutely nails Bruce Banner. He bears no resemblance to the Edward Norton version of the character despite the fact that they are the same person. Whedon clearly wrote the character from scratch and made no attempt to invite comparison. It works perfectly and Ruffalo really makes the role his own.
Joss Whedon’s smart script manages to be funny when it needs to be, moving when the occasion calls for it and incredibly well paced throughout. The excitement of this event is never downplayed and the volatility of this group of characters coming together forms the basis for the entire film.
Loki serves as the central antagonist of the film and he is the perfect choice. Tom Hiddleston has great chemistry with every member of the cast as they all line up to have their dressing down by the mischievous God. He does become a sort of mid point of the weird recent trend of villains being captured as part of their plan but the parts of the film involving him in captivity proved to be some of the most memorable. His scene with Black Widow is especially clever.
The action is absolutely top notch on every count. Be it Iron Man’s forest fight with Thor or Cap and Iron Man’s attempts to repair the failing helicarrier engine there’s plenty of variety here. There’s also lots of fan service such as the Hulk trying to lift Thor’s hammer or Cap breaking up the fight between Thor and Iron Man because there are more important things to focus on.
Seeing the Avengers come together to defend New York in the action packed climax isn’t something I’ll soon forget. I still get goosebumps when Banner willingly Hulks Out to wail on a massive alien creature. It’s definitely an exciting fist pounding moment that cements this film as sheer unapologetic fan service. Other moments like the Hulk sucker punching Thor or the Hulk rag-dolling Loki never cease to be funny.
This whole film is basically one big celebration of its own existence and why shouldn’t it be? It’s something that ran the risk of being a massive failure but instead became a massive critical success and one of the highest grossing films of all time. It’s just non stop entertainment and I never get tired of watching it.
So there we have it, my list of the Marvel films from worst to best. Of course this is only my opinion and lots of people will disagree with me. That is of course fine and feel free to let me know your thoughts on twitter or in the comments.
I’m living in something of a dream world right now as many of my favourite characters have been adapted into successful and well made movies that manage to be really faithful to the source material. Up until a few years ago I couldn’t imagine that happening.
Marvel Studios is a juggernaut that shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. Adaptations of lesser known characters like Black Panther and Captain Marvel are on the way. On top of that Marvel are doing an adaptation of the well known comic arc “Civil War” and are set to dominate even further with their street level hero Netflix shows. Oh and Spider-Man is soon to be integrated into this universe.
It truly is an exciting time to be a Marvel Comics fan with more great films sure to follow in the next few years. The release of Avengers: Age of Ultron is soon to be upon us so let’s hope the Avengers lightning can strike twice.