The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is now at nineteen films. I’ve not spoken to one person who fully agrees on the order these films should be ranked in, and my wife is still giving me crap about where I’ve put Iron Man 3.
So it’s always a good topic for discussion.
Part 1 ranks 19-11!
18 – The Incredible Hulk
The 2003 Eric Bana Hulk was an odd beast. But with Iron Man doing well Marvel must have felt confident that with Ed Norton in the main role and a strong supporting cast they’d be onto another winner. Not quite unfortunately.
I liked Norton but the Hulk didn’t reflect him in appearance, plus they’d taken away his ability to get bigger as he got angrier, which was something I always thought was cool. Rather than fighting giant dogs and an energy blob this time the Green Goliath battles Tim Roth’s Abomination. Emil Blonsky’s fascination with Hulk and his thirst for a similar power is both interesting and gruesome.
The main issue with this film though is it’s disconnect with the rest of the MCU. Hints haven’t been followed up on (The Leader for instance), and bar a one-shot we’ve heard nothing of the captured Abomination since. So as much as I enjoy seeing two monsters beat the crap out of each other on ITV2 (who are always repeating it), it’s a bit of a misfit and almost seems forgotten in the grand scheme of things. Ross’s welcome appearance in Civil War brings it slightly more into the fold but it doesn’t help much.
17 – Thor: The Dark World
You’ll have heard before that ‘a hero is only as strong as their villain’. Well, The Dark World falls flat on its face on that front. Christopher Eccleston was clearly unhappy with the amount of time his character Malekith received on the press tour and it’s easy to see why. He’s underdeveloped and really quite dull.
Apart from that the film only really livens up when Loki and Thor are together on screen. Hemsworth and Hiddleston are comfortable in their roles and have great chemistry, whilst Natalie Portman is more a plot point than a character.
TDW has got better with repeat viewings, but overall is merely fine when the rest of the MCU has more to offer. It may have the best villain the MCU has to offer involved but it also becomes the perfect example of what the studio has done wrong with its other bad guys.
16 – Avengers: Age of Ultron
At first viewing I thought AoU was great, with plenty of action, far better treatment of Hawkeye (as if they were making it up to him) and tonnes of Avengers banter. Oh, and Veronica.
But the more I think about it the more issues I have. It’s extremely crowded, Spader is wasted, and some of the CGI looks really iffy.
It’s extremely entertaining, and Whedon once again nails the dialogue. But it feels like a missed opportunity with such an interesting villain.
15 – Iron Man 2
The curse of the sequel! Instead of focusing on what made the first film so strong and naturally growing the story, Marvel threw everything at IM2 in their rush to build towards The Avengers. There are plenty of threads, and all them could have been the focus. Stark’s health. The military’s interest in the Iron Man tech. Whiplash’s vengeance. Justin Hammer’s jealousy.
Instead it’s all thrown together and doesn’t focus on any of it, which is a real shame as it has some very cool moments. Sam Rockwell is gloriously in over his head and arrogant as business rival Justin Hammer, whilst we have the introduction of Black Widow as well as Agent Coulson getting more screen time.
The absolutely coolest part though is War Machine. Don Cheadle replaced Terence Howard and brought with him much stronger chemistry with Stark….and a bloody big chain gun. Does it get much cooler than Iron Man and War Machine taking names? It does not.
It has improved each time I’ve seen it but it’s still a very busy sequel.
At the time a Norse God was seen as a big risk, with Marvel only dealing in technology and science up to this point. Could the burgeoning Marvel Universe hold up to the more cosmic end of things?
Kenneth Brannagh was a great choice, his steady hand making the grandeur of Asgard and its inhabitants work. Hemsworth was suitably arrogant and massive in the title role but Tom Hiddleston’s Loki was the real star. Deceitful, emotional, and a lovable little tinker that you wanted to hate but just couldn’t.
Though it delivered on introducing audiences to the greater Marvel universe it had one big issue. Thor changed his tune bloody quickly. Over a couple of days in fact. Quite an about turn and a bit rushed. This took the edge off the story as a whole for me, but it is entertaining.
Ant-Man’s focus on family sets it apart. Before AoU the heroes didn’t appear to have family, so this feels much more personal.
You could say the film deals with things on a smaller scale in general! How they’ve managed to make Ants cute, and their loss lamentable, is very impressive.
The bigger MCU connections don’t feel that forced to me and are enjoyable, but once again the villain is side-lined. Come on Marvel, these characters could all be popular and longer lasting if you gave them the attention you gave Loki.
Pena nearly steals the show, but Douglas and Rudd are great together as the old and new Ant-Mans. A visually interesting and amusing movie that opens up a lot of possibilities.
12 – Doctor Strange
For the first time I wasn’t filled with excitement going into a Marvel movie. This was due to a very specific fatigue.
However! Mainly due to an extremely lean story bolstered by a series of amusing moments, fitting character questioning and some intensely trippy visuals, Doctor Strange not only managed to liven me up, but also left me leaving the cinema knowing that Marvel can still pull things off when Cap and Iron Man aren’t around.
The aforementioned lean story verges on underdevelopment. I prefer to think of it as treating us with some respect. We can fill in things without having to be told. We’ve seen egotistical characters change before. It doesn’t need to be dragged out.
I had my concerns that Mikkleson would fall prey to the ‘Marvel villian that isn’t Loki’ curse. He isn’t a top tier bad guy but he isn’t meant to be. Instead he’s a catalyst. For our understanding, for Strange’s transformation, and for some more unexpected character shifts.
A great looking film with humour and action in good measure, Doctor Strange also contains the coolest cape this side of Batman.
11 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2
I really struggled to place this one. Like it’s predecessor it has a very different feel to everything else in the MCU. It’s still got the attitude and the music. But we’re more familiar with it this time. Perhaps it’s that familiarity that prevents it from making the same impression.
This time however there is a lot more emotion. With the team fully-formed it was time to add in some real drama, and it does so in spades. Kurt Russell fits the mold of Peter’s Dad fantastically, whilst the additions to the cast fit in seamlessly.
Baby Groot is hilariously cute and the ending could have you in tears. So it’s a damn good film, but it hasn’t had the same impact.
10 – Black Panther
The MCU has a well-recognised villain problem. Mirror images of the hero that are only there to help the on their way to being what we expect. With that in mind I was fully prepared to lump in Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger with the Whiplashes, Yellow Jackets, and Abominations of this world. But he’s much more than that. Like the best villains, he’s got a point, and it’s pretty damn valid one. Disagree with his methodology for sure, but can you say he’s 100% wrong? I’d be surprised if you could. Add in the fact that Jordan has charisma and presence for days and you’ve finally got another great MCU villain.
For all the stunning Afrofuturism on display there are some problems. Popping two guys in dark costumes and then having them duke it out in a dark area with choppy edits does not make for entertaining or easy-to-follow action. Considering other scenes in the films, and Director Coogler’s very own Creed, this seems like an odd misstep.
At no point during the film did I feel blown away, but every time I reflect on it there’s a hell of a lot to like. Black Panther brings so much, I can’t wait to see what else it has in store for us. Now we finally know something about that dot on the map in Iron Man 2!
Check out Part 2 for entries 10-1!!