Its almost here. Avengers: Infinity War is released in the U.K. on Wednesday 25th April. I’ve already got my IMAX ticket booked. I generally only see two films a year in IMAX, and try to save it for big event movies, and Infinity War is as big as it gets. It’s also the first Marvel movie to be shot entirely on IMAX. Originally billed as a two parter, the second movie is now only known as Untitled Avengers Movie. The two movies are still connected, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo have stressed that they will both feel like their own complete movie, whilst the title is under wraps to not spoil any of Infinity War’s surprises. Although only marking the end of Marvel’s Phase Three of their cinematic universe, these movies represent the end of an era. There’s a sense that the previous 18 movies, all sheperded to the screen by producer Kevin Feige, have been leading up to this, and that afterwards it will be a fresh start, with many of the main actors contracts coming to an end. Marvel will carry on afterwards, but it’s unlikely we will be seeing Chris Evans’ Captain America, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, or Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man again. Of course this is partly speculation, and when Disney rock up to each stars repspective mansions with a garbage truck full of cash, they might all sign another 6 picture deal. For now though, this seems as close to an ending as we are going to get in Kevin Feige’s 18 movie story. It’s been an unprecedented run, and one which has seen every other studio attempt to create their own cinematic universe to varying degrees of success, but none have come close to Marvel. So, on the eve of Infinity War I thought I would rank the previous 18 movies from worst to best. As always, this list is highly subjective, and only represents my opinions at this moment in time. If you do have differing opinions be sure to let me know by commenting. Enjoy.
18. The Incredible Hulk
There is no doubt in my mind that this is the worst movie in the MCU. It’s not that the movie is completely terrible, actually I think it has a lot of redeemable features, it’s that it feels so inconsequential. When I first introduced my other, and frankly better half to the Marvel universe, I actually left this movie out. You just have to give a brief synopsis of what The Hulk is, and that’s it, they’re set for the rest of the 16 movie run. I did enjoy the first 30 minutes of the movie, and Edward Norton does a good job, but Mark Ruffalo has nailed it since. The rest of the film is just forgettable, middling blockbuster rubbish. The post-credits sequence is worth watching though, as it’s the first crossover between movies in the MCU with Robert Downey Jr. talking to William Hurt’s General Ross at a bar. Hurt’s General Ross was also bought back for Civil War, so there is hope that some of the better elements of this film could be cherry picked and enfolded into the rest of the MCU.
17. Thor: The Dark World
Thor: The Dark World is arguably Marvel showing all their bad habits. After the runaway success of the first Avengers movie, this one feels more like a stop gap until Age Of Ultron. Gone was the fish out of water comedy from the first movie in favour of something darker, and all together more boring. It did nothing to develop Thor as a character or to expand the world he inhabits. It also featured one of the blandest villains the MCU has ever produced. Worth a watch because of the introduction of The Aerher, or the reality stone, but for little else. They also squandered Tom Hiddlestone’s Loki, a breakout from Avengers, and was the first time I started to question whether Marvel did have a plan for this universe.
16. Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2 is a tough one to place. It does a lot of groundwork for what is to come, but also shows that in the early days Marvel didn’t get everything right, and have thankfully learnt from their mistakes. Jon Favreau returned to direct, and it had, surprisingly, Justin Theroux on Screenplay duties. There are great elements in the movie, the Monaco Grand Prix sequence being one of them, but it just didn’t hang together as a whole. Sam Rockwell is also fantastic, but given little screen time as Marvel had other things on their mind. Those other things were laying the foundation for Avengers, this meant that plot threads which seemed to go nowhere were introduced, like Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Phil Coulson, Nick Fury, and S.H.I.E.L.D. These are all important bits of exposition for the MCU, but left Iron Man 2 unsatisfactory as a standalone movie.
15. Doctor Strange
Part of me feels a little bad putting Doctor Strange so far down on this list, but it’s the only Marvel film I haven’t been drawn back to re-watching. I own all the currently released Blu-Rays, and this one is still in its wrapping. It’s not a bad film by any means. Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast, the visuals are fantastic, and director Scott Derrickson creates an interesting finale by cleverly subverting expectations. The problem is the story, it’s a generic origin story that came at a time when audiences had already seen so many. It’s a well made film, but it’s a film that’s hard to love. Of course, if in the future Marvel go down the route of a multiverse, than this film has paved the way for those stories, and it also introduced us to both magic, and the time stone.
14. Avengers: Age Of Ultron
Age Of Ultron is a mix bag of Marvel at their best, and at their worst. It can’t be understated how much expectation was on this movie either. When the first Avengers movie came out, nobody knew what to expect. It was a gamble. Iron Man had set the box office alight, but Captain America and Thor weren’t runaway hits, so when Avengers broke the $1 billion dollar mark, the anticipation for the next team up was at fever pitch. There ar elements of this film that I love. The opening sequence is pure comic book joy, and it’s always fun to watch the character interactions. The problem was that it was supposed to be the big event but felt too much like treading water. Joss Whedon had his hands tied with trying to set up too much for future movies. Marvel have since loosened the reigns with their directors, but this felt like a movie where nothing really happened. Ultron was a disappointment as well, James Spader did good voice work, which helped elevate an otherwise forgettable villain.
Thor comes from an era where Marvel were still finding their feet. I would argue that it’s not until recently that Marvel have really nailed the tone of a Thor movie, not to say that this movie isn’t enjoyable. Kenneth Branagh does great work in the directors chair, bringing a Shakespearean tone to comic book genre. There’s great world building in th creation of Asgard, and the cast are universally fantastic. It’s probably the most laughable of all the Marvel premises, but they pull it off well. By placing the action on Earth, and introducing Thor in a fish out of water story, it enabled Chris Hemsworth to be able to play it completely straight, whilst mining the ridiculousness of the situation for laughs, and not coming across as too po-faced.
12. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2
Guardians Of The Galaxy have so far been the most self-contained movies in the MCU. That’s all about to change though, as Infinity War is promising the team up of The Guardians with The Avenegrs. It’s not all been smooth sailing though, as this film shows. At times it felt like too much of a re-tread of the first films greatest hits, whilst the excursion to Ego almost derailed the entire film, becoming too meandering and venturing into boring territory. It still had plenty of laughs though, and the soundtrack was still great. It also operates on a much more emotional level than the rest of the MCU, and the emotional whollop that this film packs will guarantee that there isn’t a dry eye in the house.
I feel like this is the point in the list where my focus starts to shift, it gets harder from here as I’m now choosing which film I like more, rather than which film I like less. The last seven movies all have things I dislike, whereas from here I generally really enjoyed the films without reservations. Ant-Man follows on from The Winter Soldier where Marvel started crafting indiviual identities for their movies, and moved away from Comic Book Movie as a genre, and made genre movies with comic book characters. Ant-Man is a heist movie, just where the heist revolves around the protagonist having a suit that can shrink him to the size of an ant. Rumoured as a troubled production, it showed no signs of this on the screen. Paul Rudd was great, and there were some ingenious uses of the shrinking technology. Ant-Man fighting Yellow Jacket to The Cure’s Plainsong is still one of my favourite moments in the MCU.
10. Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 marks the point where Marvel started to take over the cinematic landscape. After the runaway success of Avengers, it was only fitting that the man who started it all would be the one to kick off Phase Two. By bringing in writer/director Shane Black, we were given a more complex Tony Stark, and some great buddy comedy moments with Downey Jr. and Cheadle playing excellently off each other. Some people hated the Mandarin twist, but I loved it and thought it worked well in the universe that the Iron Man films had established. It’s a hard line to walk, balancing what makes an Avengers film, and what makes an Iron Man film. Whilst it does take some time for Iron Man to actually appear, it did allow for a deeper exploration of character, which gives Stark’s actions in films like Civil War more resonance.
9. Captain America: The First Avenger
It’s funny how some films get better with age. Captain America: The First Avenger is definitely one. At the time some felt it was too camp, but I’ve always really enjoyed it. The way in which director Joe Johnston subverts the iconography which could have made Captain America cheesy into a parody of propaganda is great. The casting of Chris a Evans is only matched by RDJ as Iron Man, in the way the actor seems to have inhabited the character, and made him his own. Although it didn’t seem like it at the time Cap’s first outing has become the lynchpin of the MCU; the introduction of the Tesseract leading straight into Avengers, and with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely being the most consistent MCU writers. They went on to write Winter Soldier, Civil War, and are on screenwriting duties for Infinity War and Avengers 4. This consistency enabled them to build Cap a proper story arc, and provides the truest throughline for the MCU. The call back in Civil War of the line “I can do this all day” only happens with the same writers, and if Captaim America is going to die, I bet it will be in a self sacrifice along the lines of Steve Rogers jumping on a dud grenade.
8. Thor: Ragnarok
If you had told me this time last year that I would be putting a Thor movie in my top ten, I would have laughed at you, but such is the magic of the work Taika Waititi has done on this movie. It’s the first time we’ve seen Marvel hand over the reigns completely to one directors vision, and we get an acid-tinged comedic trip of a movie. The visuals are stunning, the jokes are hilarious, and Chris Hemsworth finally owns the role, proving his ability as a comedic actor. Not everything lands; Cate Blanchett looks fantastic and does her best, but her villain Hela is underused. The comedy does also hamper some other scenes By undercutting their importance. If you’re a fan of the previous Thor movies there are some key elements which are perhaps discarded too casually.
7. Spider-Man: Homecoming
If his cameo in Civil War got you excited, Homecoming was the Spider-Man movie you had been waiting for. Tom Holland did something that no other actor had previously achieved, which was to nail both the role of Spider-Man and Peter Parker. His performance elevates this movie above what had come before. It also used the MCU as a smart way to avoid telling another origin story, we all know how Spider-Man got his powers, but by inserting Tony Stark we still got the father figure which is key to Peter Parker’s motivations. Director Jon Watts used the John Hughes formula to create a fun and enjoyable diversion from the main MCU story, capitalising on all the elements which make Spider-Man a fan favourite.
6. Iron Man
The film that launched a cinematic universe. It’s hard to imagine now, but back in 2008 Iron Man was considered a b-list title. It was Marvel’s first movie as a studios, and they hadn’t been bought by Disney yet. Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t the star that Iron Man would make him, and it was considered a risk hiring him for the role. It came out the same year as The Dark Knight, but it was by taking these risks, and a more colourful approach which made it a run-away success. It still sets the high watermark for making a great origin story. It’s rumoured that the end tag which introduces the idea of The Avengers was only added after successful test screenings. Which is perhaps a note other studios need to take, you create a successful universe one good movie at a time, not by assuming that people will turn up. Jon Favreau also came of age as a blockbuster movie director with this film, and some of he choices he made were truly inspired and still echo through the MCU.
To think that in the U.K. This was titled Avenger Assemble to avoid confusion with the long running TV show of the same name is almost laughable now, and is just evidence to how far this franchise has come. People forget how risky this movie was, how much of a feat it was to pull off a movie this ambitious, you only have to watch Age Of Ultron or Justice League to appreciate how well Joss Whedon captured lightning in a bottle. The logistics of this movie, and balancing characters who had never met before, all with their own mythology and back story must have been a nightmare, but Whedon pulled it off with a lightness of touch. Blending character moments with some stunning spectacle, and arming his characters with the best quips since Buffy, Avengers sent the MCU into the stratosphere, turning it into a true pop culture phenomenon.
4. Captain America: Civil War
If you felt that Age Of Ultron felt a little to meandering, a lot of action but not a lot of forward momentum in terms of character arcs, Civil War was the film to reignite your faith in Marvel. The subtle cracks that appeared between the team in Age Of Ultron exploded open here. Some billed it as Avengers 2.5, but what makes this film really work is that it remains all the way through a Captain America film. It’s his relationships with Bucky and Tony that become the driving force and emotional centre for the movie, and the way that the themes of Winter a Soldier are carried forward here makes it the finest sequel to a marvel film so far. It also proved that the Russo brothers could handle juggling this many characters, whilst fantastically introducing audiences to Spider-Man and Black Panther. It’s a skill that will have come in handy when they directed Infinity War.
3. Black Panther
If Avengers was a pop culture phenomenon, then Black Panther is nothing short of a cultural movement. Already having grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, this film became a juggernaut. Marvel let director Ryan Coogler tell the story that he wanted to tell, and the result is the first Marvel movie which actually has something to say. It’s also the first movie in the MCU to have a black lead, shattering the notion that only white actors can sell movies. It works as both excellent popcorn entertainment, whilst still being socially relevant. Filled with instantly iconic moments, and characters, Black Panther is one of Marvel’s best standalone movies, and finds them pushing the MCU into a higher gear. It’s the last movie before Infinity War, and I couldn’t think of a better lead in.
2. Guardians Of The Galaxy
In terms of purely standalone Marvel movies, Guarians Of The Galaxy is the best. There are no ties to any of the past movies, and besides the inclusion of Thanos and the Infinity Stones, has no relation to other events in the MCU. If Iron Man and Avengers seemed like a risk, Guardians was a property that even comic book fans were surprised by. Add to the mix a director best known for b-movie schlock, the schlubby boyfriend from Parks and Recs as the male lead, a talking tree that only says ” I Am Groot”, and a wise cracking talking Racoon. Everyone was fully expecting Marvel to have their first flop. James Gunn had other plans though, injecting the film with the giddy excitement you had when first watching Star Wars, and matching it with one of the best soundtracks ever compiled. Chris Pratt buffed up, and cinema found its new Harrison Ford. It was simultaneously Marvels best adventure film, and its funniest. Gunn grounded it all with a whole load of heart, making it thee most emotionally engaging movie in the MCU.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
My number one choice, after a lot of deliberation is Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There are so many Marvel films that I love, but this is the one I keep coming back to. The first MCU movie to really break the comic book genre mouldy by staging the film as a modern day political thriller. It was the introduction of Anthony and Joe Russo as directors, and has been the key to everything Marvel have done since. It perfectly carried on the thread from Avengers, and built towards Civil War. The genius move here was to pair Steve Rogers with Black Widow, and watch these two characters with differing ideologies bounce off each other, and become friends. This is Marvel at the top of their game, creating character driven spectacle. The Russo’s also gave weight to the action, and for the first time you actually felt the hits, in both a physical sense, and an emotional one. They also made Captain America cool, which is the films crowning achievement.
So, there you have it. My ranking of the MCU thus far. Of course, it’s not definitive, as I want to leave myself room to change my mind, but on the eve of Infinity War, this is how I feel the journey has gone. Disagree with me? Great. Leave a comment and let me know what your favourite movie in the MCU is, the only condition is that you have to tell me why. I’m hoping to re-assess this list before Avengers 4, but until then enjoy Infinity War.