HOLLYWOOD HEROES™: Now 20 films deep, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is currently at a pivotal juncture. We’ve already moved past Avengers: Infinity War, with next year’s sequel set to conclude that story. Last week, Ant-Man and the Wasp opened, showcasing another smaller part (no pun intended) of the MCU. With their 2018 slate now concluded, I figured it was a perfect time to re-rank what Kevin Feige has godfathered into existence over the past decade or so. This ranking comes up a lot, but it has been tinkered with a little bit today. I waited until I could ruminate on the Ant-Man sequel a bit, but here goes nothing. Time to run down the MCU once again…
Here is how I’d rank the MCU (with prior commentary), post Ant-Man and the Wasp:
20. Thor: The Dark World – If this is the worst that Marvel can do, we’re in a good place. Thoroughly acceptable but without much of a spark, this sequel has Thor pretty much doing the same thing as in the first one. The enjoyably larger role for Loki saves it from turning into a slog. Again, if this is the bottom of the barrel, things are just fine over at the Marvel offices.
19. The Incredible Hulk – More a byproduct of not knowing how to use Hulk properly than anything else, this shows Marvel as a studio still finding their footing in the world. The fact that it’s more or less not referred to at all in the canon of the MCU should be telling, though it’s not unenjoyable at all. Still, this and the title above are the clear weak links to date.
18. Iron Man 2 – The one film in the series that got too concerned with setting up The Avengers, there’s plenty to like here with Tony Stark/Iron Man just as fun as always. At the same time though, it’s a bare bones plot where the sequel building is unfortunately the prime focus. It’s middle of the road for Marvel in just about every way (though by proxy fairly low on this list), and definitely should have been better.
17. Thor – From here on out, the titles move to the good/very good/great range, with the God of Thunder perhaps just suffering from being their least interesting character. There’s nothing wrong with this movie, and the Hawkeye cameo is pretty cool, but it’s on the forgettable side, that’s for sure. The character is still at his best when not going solo and partnered with other heroes, if you ask me.
16. Iron Man 3 – Making this the Tony Stark show as opposed to watching him just use the suit for two hours was a top notch decision. Besides just showcasing Robert Downey, Jr. in a big way, it mixes up the formula, which was needed. If they make an Iron Man 4 (which I assume they eventually will), it’ll partially be based on the success found here, along with his evolution in more recent MCU flicks.
15. Avengers: Age of Ultron – As much as this is great summer blockbuster entertainment, I found myself hoping for a little bit more. The recent movies from Marvel (the next two down, actually) as well as the first Avengers flick really are a cut above, so to see this just be pretty good was a slight disappointment. Part of that might just be that we’ve now seen the group together already, so some of the magic is gone. Still, this is more than effective and well worth seeing.
14. Captain America: The First Avenger – A bit cheesy at times, but intentionally so, this is the most throwback of any Marvel outing to date. The ending is very solid, but up until then it’s basically an unexceptional World War II tale. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, but it’s put to shame by its sequel (now its two sequels), as you’ll be seeing below within this particular list.
13. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – I’ve seen this sequel a few times, and while there are diminishing returns from the first one, it’s still massively entertaining. It does way more right than it does wrong, including finding an interesting way to have one of Marvel’s more creative villains. The charm is in full effect, and while it does the lest to advance Phase Three of the MCU towards its conclusion next year, it remains a welcome change of pace. Oddly, it might prove to be a divisive flick. Already, some seem to love it as much as anything out of the MCU, while others were a bit let down. Me? Well, I’m clearly somewhere stuck in the middle.
12. Ant-Man – One of the sillier Marvel outings to date and a riskier one too, this probably shouldn’t have worked, or at least not as well as it did. The original combination of Paul Rudd working with Edgar Wright had many pumped up, but Wright obviously left the project, ultimately leaving it in the hands of Peyton Reed. At times Reed lets things get a little generic, but the script is still partially credited to Wright and it shows. His clearly influenced moments are by far the best, but it’s a fun flick throughout. It’s at its best when the ridiculousness of the idea isn’t being shied away from. Plus, it’s just enjoyable to watch MCU fight scenes done on a totally different scale.
11. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – An out of nowhere spy thriller that could have almost come out in the 1970’s and been about the Cold War, this was one of the MCU’s most pleasant surprises. It’s no shock that the filmmakers here have been given the keys to the Marvel kingdom from here on out, taking over the upcoming Avengers sequels. The Winter Soldier has only gotten better as time has passed too, making this an underrated gem in the universe.
10. Doctor Strange – Easily the weirdest outing in the MCU to date, this is also definitely the most visual as well. Benedict Cumberbatch makes a great superhero and Tilda Swinton is a scene stealer. The odd look of the film is really what’s best here, but it’s also one of Marvel’s more effective origin stories as well. It’s all just a fun mix, giving you something a bit different. Even more so than usual, I’ll be eager for another adventure with this hero.
9. Ant-Man and the Wasp – What a pleasant surprise. Everything you like about the first installment is still in effect here, only better. This is also one of the most female centric MCU outings yet. Rudd’s comedic portrayal of a hero is totally on point too. With smaller goals than in probably any other outing for the company, there’s more opportunities for fun. The result is a blast in just about every way. Ant-Man is now a character I’m even more eager to see more from.
8. Thor: Ragnarok – Simply put, this movie is hilarious. It already seemed like a winner considering how it was teaming up Thor with Hulk, but the fact that filmmaker Taika Waititi fuels this with laughter is a stroke of comedic genius. Letting Jeff Goldblum go to town as well results in some great moments, including one of the funniest post credits scenes in the MCU yet. The whole tone just works. When it becomes more of an action outing, it’s a bit more generic, though still livelier than previous Thor flicks. The movie is supremely entertaining, easily cracking Marvel’s top ten
7. Guardians of the Galaxy – The biggest gamble Marvel has made since actually setting forth with the MCU concept, this turned out to be one of their biggest and most purely entertaining success stories. Taking their universe and truly making it universal, this space opera of sorts is as much Star Wars as a miniature version of The Avengers. It’s just so much fun, and has stayed that way on subsequent viewings.
6. The Avengers – It was all leading up to this one, so it was a joy to see just how well the meeting of Black Widow, Captain America, Hawkeye, Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor ultimately was. Probably the biggest superhero movie ever (at that point), it was lighter than the Batman franchise it was opening up the same year as, and while not quite as amazing, still more than blew audiences away. It may not 100% hold up to the euphoria we had when first seeing it, but it’s still definitely an iconic moment in Marvel history, and overall just a great time.
5. Captain America: Civil War – This is only a tiny step down from the top spot here, which makes it the best Marvel outing since the end of Phase One. In fact, it might be the best of the lot after a revisit or two. At the very least, it’s right on the level of the first Avengers film, which I’m currently slotting a minuscule bit below this one. This builds on The Winter Solider and oddly enough functions as somewhat of an across the board improvement on the recent Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The main set piece battle is outstanding, but the story is just perhaps the best that the MCU has had to date, including finally having a villain that’s not easily dismissed, which has been something Marvel has occasionally struggled with.
4. Avengers: Infinity War – A spectacle unlike anything we’ve ever seen, with a bold cliffhanger ending to boot, this is something truly special. Assembling nearly the entire MCU lineup in a deeply satisfying way, the film is also unafraid to have a body count. The stakes are high, the humor is on point, and the action sizzles. Depending on how the follow up goes next year, it could either enhance or ding this one. For now, consider it a temporary placement. The sequel will truly conclude this version of the MCU, so that’s the movie upon which this all rests. We have a year to wait…
3. Iron Man – It’s hard to beat the one that started it all, and up until now, nothing had. RDJ is just perfection as the title character, setting up everything that has come since. If he hadn’t been at the top of his game, none of this would have turned out the same. For that alone, it’s worth heavy praise, but this is also a nearly perfect superhero film, helping to set the tone for what would come next. It stood tall among the MCU titles so far, though admittedly a few of the recent titles have closed in on it, but it took a certain webslinger and just recently a King to finally top it.
2. Black Panther – In time, this could easily become Marvel’s best. In fact, it probably is, but I want to sit on it for a bit. Black Panther stands out for many reasons, notably for both being their most auteur driven work (kudos to Ryan Coogler) and for giving the MCU perhaps their best villain ever (bravo Michael B. Jordan). Aside from some slight repetition and occasionally generic action, this is damn near perfect work. Everyone involved should be very proud.
1. Spider-Man: Homecoming – Yes, this newer MCU outing is the best yet. As much a high school comedy as an action epic, this is another nearly perfect superhero film. By combining their sensibilities with Spidey’s, it makes for something really different. Traditionalists might be split on how Peter Parker and Spider-Man are portrayed here, but I loved this take. Tom Holland is phenomenal too, blowing both Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire (and they were each terrific in their own right) out of the water. Integrating Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and even a bit of Iron Man into things fits the character into the MCU, but this is a much lower fi character, even with a Stark enhanced suit (which provides a ton of comic relief as he learns how to use it). It all just works. You’re in for a treat…
Ant-Man and the Wasp (as well as Avengers: Infinity War and still Black Panther) can currently be found in theaters everywhere!