So probably the biggest movie of the year, Captain America Civil War, is now officially out. I haven’t seen the movie yet but many critics are calling it the best super hero movie ever made. While this is being billed as a Captain America movie, with the huge lineup of characters it feels much closer to a new Avengers movie, except that our heroes are fighting each other.
That got me thinking about the 12 movies leading up to this moment, the beginning of Marvel’s Phase 3. So I’m going to rank all of Marvel’s movies, 1-12, to craft a list to show just how far Marvel has come since 2008 and the very first Iron Man.
12. Iron Man 2
The sequel to the movie that started everything off almost became the point that ended up ruining everything. Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk had already hinted at Marvel’s plans for a bigger world but in Iron Man 2 they went full force with world building, featuring a lot of Nick Fury and the introduction of Black Widow. Fans reacted poorly to the blatant advertisement for the future movies, but the real misstep was the handling of Tony Stark’s down spiral due to the negative effects of his chest implant, which is painful to watch. Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell put in good performances but the final battle left a lot to be desired.
11. Thor: The Dark World
I really like Thor and what Chris Hemsworth brings to the character. Tom Hiddleston is fantastic as Loki and I also really like Natalie Portman in most things. Even with all of that, this movie is kind of a mess. The death of Thor’s mother lands with a thud, even though it’s supposed to hit us really hard. The villain has essentially no character whatsoever and the final action sequence is hard to follow and not all that interesting. I’ve also always hating seeing Stellan Skarsgard, a great actor, return as another bumbling fool after spending the entirety of The Avengers under Loki’s spell and acting like a bumbling fool.
10. The Incredible Hulk
At this point in the list we get past the movies that I don’t really like that much. That’s saying a lot of how good the Marvel movies have been so far. The Incredible Hulk is a fun movie that sits so far down my list just because of how inconsequential it feels to the rest of the universe. It’s the black sheep of the family that Marvel pretty much wants everyone to forget, not because it’s a bad movie but because outside of a Robert Downey Jr. cameo at the end it has practically nothing connecting to the other movies in the universe.
9. Captain America: The First Avenger
The first Captain America movie is basically a tale of two movies. The first half features wimpy Chris Evans who has a huge heart but nothing else to back it up. Him going into basic training and eventually becoming the titular hero is an entertaining journey. His first action scene as Captain America is great. Then the movie, for some reason, goes into montage mode, showing a bunch of sequences that look like they are really cool but for some reason we don’t get to see any of. Red Skull as a villain works well for most of the movie but eventually, like most of the movies at the bottom of my list, the final sequence becomes kind of a mess.
8. Iron Man 3
So Iron Man 3 has probably the most hated individual thing of any of the other Marvel movies: the handling of The Mandarin. Ben Kingsley plays a great Mandarin for most of the movie…right up until you find out he’s just a British actor instead of a terrorist. What I’m sure was intended to be a great twist comes off more as a middle finger to the fans. However upon revisiting Iron Man 3, already knowing the twist, it’s not as big a deal and you can enjoy the rest of the movie, which actually features great action and new, interesting bad guys to fight.
7. Avengers: Age of Ultron
The best part of Age of Ultron is James Spader and the fantastic job he does as the titular antagonist. That first speech he gives as a busted up robot is fantastic and he only gets more interesting as the movie goes on. This was also the first movie where we really start to see the entire Marvel universe come together. This movie features almost every Earth-bound character in the franchise and seeing them just hanging out during the party and binding together to fight Ultron at the end is amazing. It’s still hard to believe that Marvel is actually pulling all of this off. Age of Ultron does lose some points, however, for a muddled story surrounding the creation of Ultron in the first place, the creation of Vision, and whatever that weird pool thing that Thor went into (seriously though what the hell?) Also the Hulkbuster fight is awesome.
I would have never guessed that coming out of last summer two Marvel movies that I would have enjoyed Ant-Man the most. Hell I would have probably guessed that Ant-Man had the best chance to be the first really bad Marvel movie. Instead we the most comedic of the Marvel movies with a premise that, despite still being incredibly silly, actually ends up working pretty well. The small-size action culminates in a fantastic set piece inside of a briefcase and among a bunch of toys, Ant-Man is the smallest Marvel movie in scope (no pun intended) but that only lends itself well to the humor. Paul Rudd’s personality is perfect for the role of Ant-Man and Michael Douglas is great as Hank Pym, but the real bright star is Michael Pena, who steals pretty much every scene he’s in.
I already know that the fact that I have Thor so high on my list is going to rub people the wrong way, but hey whatever it’s my list. Despite introducing movie-goers to the grander Marvel universe, Thor feels like a smaller, more personal movie. Chris Hemsworth is great as Thor and his many “fish out of water” moments are highly amusing. The cast of Earth characters are similarly fun. It also introduces Tom Hiddleston as Loki, who does such a great job that he became the main baddie for the full Avengers movie. The Destroyer scene has a lot of emotion riding on it and the finale is one of the better ending sequences of all of the Marvel movies.
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Winter Soldier proved that Marvel could craft a different kind of movie. Sure there’s a life-threatening catastrophe that Cap needs to repel and the finale takes place aboard the giant helicarriers but overall the movie feels more like a political thriller than the standard Marvel summer blockbuster. That’s not to say that the action scenes are bad – they are in fact great – but the twists, shocks, and mystery weave together to make the best overall story so far in a Marvel movie. Not only can The Winter Soldier stand as a great movie in its own right, but the results of the movie sends shock waves throughout the entire Marvel universe with the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the sudden resurgence of Hydra.
3. Iron Man
The one that started it all still stands as one of the very best Marvel movies. Riding almost entirely on the pure charm of Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man takes a fantastical character and grounds him in reality without making a movie that is gritty and dark like the The Dark Knight trilogy. Instead Iron Man is a joy ride through the brilliant mind of Tony Stark. Watching him design and test his suits with glee and wonder never gets old. Iron Man set the playful tone for the rest of the Marvel universe that has made everything so successful. Plus when it’s time to have action, the movie delivers. Iron Man also contains my single favorite moment in all of Marvel’s movies: ‘The truth is…I am Iron Man.”
2. The Avengers
When I was a little kid I used to imagine what it would be like to see live action movies featuring the X-Men or The Avengers. When Marvel started to lay the ground work for the first Avengers movie with a bunch of stand alone hero movies, it all seemed like a pipe dream. Now four years later the entire cinema landscape has changed because of the massive success of The Avengers and for good cause. The Avengers is an amazing movie. The playfulness laid out by the previous movies gets full work here as we get to see these huge stars meet and interact for the very first time. Little things like Stark calling Thor “Point Break” and Cap understanding a flying monkeys reference all add little bits of humanity to the mighty heroes. In addition to seeing an amazing group of heroes we also get a full serving of Loki at his most evil and most ambitious. The Avengers is also no slouch when it comes to action. The fight in the woods, the helicarrier attack and the amazing finale when everyone is fighting in sync all deliver perfectly.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
I’ll be perfectly honest, I was in on Guardians of the Galaxy from day one. Why you ask? Because I was a huge fan of Parks and Rec and when saw that first trailer featuring Andy Dwyer and a giant talking tree, I was sold already. Even still, I never imagined just how great Guardians of the Galaxy would end up being. Each member of the squad is portrayed perfectly. The highlights are Rocket Raccoon and Groot, the duo who most would have never thought would work in movie. Somehow Marvel figured out how to make a talking raccoon and a walking tree not only believable but some of the best characters of all time. Toss in the humorless Drax and the bad-assery of Gamora and you have a main cast that knocks it out of the park. I mentioned that Ant-Man is the most straightforward comedy but even with that caveat, Guardians is still a funnier movie. The action however is also top notch with a bunch of really cool scenes where we get to experience the vast differences between the different members. Plus the soundtrack is completely kick ass and something I still listen to regularly, even almost two years later. I mean the bad guy is essentially defeated with a freakin’ dance battle. A dance battle. Guardians is just flat out amazing.
Thor should be way lower but I can get on board with everything else.
My Top 3 in no particular order:
Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain America: The Winter Soldier