I love comic books, and I love comic book movies more so. The cream of the crop in terms of superhero films lay heavily with Marvel Studios, having produced 13 fantastic films to date. There is something to enjoy in all of these movies, even your least appreciated one. This is a testament to the amazing content the studio produces. However, some features are better than others, and I've decided to rank them.
13. Thor 2
It's the least memorable film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and for good reason. The movie was too campy, the villain was stale, and the comedy was tiresome. One of the only redeeming qualities of Thor 2 is the return of Tom Hiddleston as Loki post-Avengers and seeing the fallout of his actions. The shot of Loki caged in his cell makes even me swoon.
12. Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 is a good superhero flick and an even better Christmas movie, but it falters as a Marvel film. Like Thor 2, it's not very memorable and it's partly because there is no severity in the plot, even as a contained story, yet alone in the overarching MCU. The other problem with this movie is Iron Man's arch nemesis is bastardized from his comic book counterpart. The Mandarin is to Iron Man what Green Goblin is to Spider-Man, and the plot twist that Ben Kingsley's character was not Mandarin and in fact a bumbling actor was more of a slap in the face than a service to the story.
11. Captain America: The First Avenger
It took a recent re-viewing of The First Avenger for me to appreciate it more, especially after seeing Civil War. Seeing where Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes came from, their ideals, morals, and friendship to where they end up in Civil War make watching their character progression in this film more special. It is also an impressive feat to take a tale about a character as campy as Captain America and make it work as a film where you're invested. Even if The First Avenger is in your 13th slot when ranking all the MCU films, it's worth sitting through just to hear Chris Evans deliver the closing line: "I had a date." It hits every time.
Thor took an approach to storytelling I didn't see coming, which was to make it a fish out of water movie where by all accounts a god is learning to live with humans. It would have been easy to make Thor a full-on paint by numbers 300-esque action film, filled at the brim with "male power fantasies", and over-the-top action, but it's almost the exact opposite. Go back and count how many times Thor is sexually objectified in the movie, it's a lot. It's funny and overall campy, but in a way that works better than its sequel because, well, a formula that works for a film usually only works the first time out (see Hangover 2).
9. Iron Man 2
There are moments of Iron Man 2 that are spectacular, like the fight against Whiplash, exploring Stark's alcoholism, or Rhodey finally getting the War Machine suit. While on the topic of Rhodey, it's also great seeing Downey and Cheadle having such great chemistry considering the latter was a recast for Terrence Howard. However, Whiplash didn't have the pleasure of being the film's main antagonist, that role was bestowed upon Justin Hammer. The choice to make him the main villain is what hurt the film the most. People already felt like there would be no stakes in the movie with Avengers right around the corner, but at least Whiplash appeared to be able to give Iron Man a run for his money. Making their only clash happen once and for it to be so early in the film solidified the absence of stakes in my opinion.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy
I didn't love Guardians as much as the rest of the world claimed they did, but it'd be complete sophistry if I attempted to argue it not being a great movie. It takes characters and a premise completely out of the normal range Marvel is used to playing around in and makes it work. You fall in love with each character for individual reasons, you're invested in the plot because of it, and it's scored with one of the best soundtracks in a film since Boogie Nights. What's not to enjoy? I just so happen to enjoy superhero dynamics from Marvel better than space operas.
7. The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk is the redheaded stepchild of the MCU, and it's mostly because Edward Norton is a hard actor to work with and as such, his role as Bruce Banner had to be recast. But don't let Marvel have you forget the greatness of this film. It's a movie I feel is highly underrated, and despite my love for Mark Ruffolo's take on the character in future films, Edward Norton was the better Bruce Banner. Aesthetically, I buy Norton being Banner over Ruffalo. I also feel Norton is the better actor, and possesses a range that's needed when playing a character with such complex emotions. The Hulk going against Tim Ross's character pre-Abomination is one of my favorite Marvel fights of all time. The agility and power in his movements made me yearn for a similar take on how Captain America fought, since I found his movements and ability stiff and basic before the Russo Brothers began directing his films. Also, the way The Incredible Hulk handled its origin story was short, sweet and simple. Hopefully, Spider-Man: Homecoming will follow suit.
6. Age of Ultron
Age of Ultron had problems. But those problems hardly made it the colossal failure internet fanboys like to claim. An obvious rift between director Joss Whedon and Marvel Studios can be seen in the way the film is cut, the forced addition of characters and plot, as well as the villain Ultron himself. Furthermore, the movie was plagued by unattainable standards and overhype. Nothing will quite be as magical as seeing The Avengers band together for the first time. However, seeing these heroes gathered around to try and lift Mjolnir exchanging great dialogue, seeing Hulk vs Hulkbuster, and watching Hawkeye's character develop has merits of its own that should not be ignored. Polished action from its predecessor, pre established character relationships and dynamics coming from the team make Age of Ultron stand out to me.
5. Captain America: Winter Soldier
Captain America: Winter Solider is a functioning spy thriller in the way Dark Knight is a crime drama, it just so happens there are superheroes involved. In terms of how a film is shot, scripted and choreographed, Winter Soldier is leaps and bounds over than what's expected in your typical superhero movie. Seeing such a stark contrast from its predecessor and observing how the genre of the film has flipped is more than impressive. The plot strikes at the core of what makes Steve Rogers the idealistic patriot that he is, and it carries over so well in AoU, as well as Civil War. The introduction of Sam Wilson is great, Scarlet Johansson as Natasha is great as always, and it takes the characters and situations of the comic book and presents them in a mature, serious tone.
Ant-Man was the film everyone thought would end Marvel's hot streak of releasing amazing content, including me. Now, it's my fourth favorite Marvel movie of all time. It's by far the funniest Marvel movie of the bunch, and also throws in a bit of heist movie qualities to expand on the many different genres the studio has proven they're able to tackle. Paul Rudd's Scott Lang is the single most likeable and grounded character in the MCU, and his everyman approach benefit the film's on-screen size-shrinking spectacles from feeling disconnected and less grandiose than they actually are. Lang isn't an Avenger with Super Solider Serum or any substantial combat action. He's just a guy in a suit pressing buttons to change his size, communicating with insects. Because of this, watching him take down Falcon was all the more satisfying. Let's not forget the comedic genius of Michael Pena, either.
3. Captain America: Civil War
What's there to say about this movie I haven't already? It is a dramatic, mature take on superhero content put to screen, very much so like Winter Soldier before it. Despite the film taking itself so seriously, there are so many fun beats in it from nearly every performer of this ensemble cast. Want to refer to Civil War as Avengers 2.5? Fine. But it doesn't take away from Civil War being a feature that brought together several different plots, created a few, and bookended more in dramatic fashion without making the movie feel like anything less than a Captain America film.
2. The Avengers
This is the film all the other Marvel movies had been building up to. From 2008 to 2012, fans had been watching these films, having their anticipation risen release after release for the Avengers. Shared continuity between films were still new to us, cameos were still heartstoppers, and most of all, we weren't all completely jaded and 'fatigued' yet. Loki, Marvel's greatest villain to date is the main antagonist, we got to see the Hulk as well as Ruffolo's first appearance, we got to see Thor, Cap, and Iron Man go at it. We speculated on the seeds planted in the film, during the film. From Rogers and Stark's tumultuous relationship, to the appearance of Thanos after the end credits, and it's paid off. It's a reverent feeling in pop culture we will never be able to relive again, not even the addition of Spider-Man in Civil War was quite enough to recapture that magic of seeing a camera 360 degree spin around the five heroes that started it all.
1. Iron Man
Iron Man is the first installment of the MCU, and still remains to be my favorite of them all to date. I don't know where to begin. I could start with the beyond perfect casting of Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts. I could espouse upon the well-paced, witty dialogue shared between every character on screen, or the on-screen chemistry of the leading actors. Maybe even give kudos to the nods of the character's source material like his alcoholism (literally the first shot of Tony Stark is his hand holding a glass of brown liquor!), or poking fun at the Iron Man's Tony Stark's bodyguard angle from the books. It's all done so organically. The ending line "I am Iron Man" still give me goosebumps, and the end credits of Nick Fury talking about the "Avengers Initiative" continues to send shivers down my spine. It is one of the greatest superhero films ever made.