With the release of Captain Marvel, Marvel films now have 21(!!) inter-connected movies, and this is a perfect time to re-post my thoughts on their ranking. While they all contain iconic, indelible moments, are all re-watchable, and fans most likely own them all, some are definitely better than others. In that vein, Top Marvel Films countdown:
21) The Incredible Hulk – Props to Edward Norton for taking the big green guy seriously, but the movie is a bit too serious and saps the fun of the character proven when finally done right by Mark Ruffalo in ‘The Avengers’ . . .
20) Thor: The Dark World – Immensely watchable when Loki is on-screen, but the main villain is unfortunately just pure menace. Hemsworth is still perfectly suited, but I like this one a little less than the original . . .
19) Iron Man 2 – Despite some cool scenes (suitcase armor!), kudos for introducing Black Widow, a riffing Downey Jr., and featuring the indomitable Sam Rockwell as the sleazy Justin Hammer, the movie fizzles towards the end with a repetitive ‘anti-Iron Man’ villain battle and no solid theme . . .
18) Ant-Man and the Wasp – A fun and funny diversion to the serious stuff happening in the MCU proper, the film never rises above fluff, despite all of its winning performances, Evangeline Lilly’s turn to shine, and issues of loss in the form of Michelle Pfeiffer’s return to superhero movies . . .
17) Avengers: Age of Ultron – Derided by many, there’s plenty to enjoy about this sequel to one of the biggest movies of all time. From the Hulkbuster battle in Africa (vibranium!) to Ultron’s crazy plan in Eastern Europe, the film placed the team on a truly global scale, setting up conflicts that would pay off thematically in later films (see Sekovia Accords). It’s way too busy for its own good, and mainly exists as connective tissue to the overall story . . .
16) Thor – This was the movie comic fans were most leery of, but Brannagh was able to create a captivating Asgard and a plausible entry into the cosmic side of the galaxy by utilizing the classic culture-shock trope, dropping the main character on Earth, stripped of power . . .
15) Ant-Man – The MCU’s version of a heist film has great fun introducing a smaller stakes side of the franchise. Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, and a great Michael Pena spice up a tried-and-true origin story by injecting tons of humor. Rudd’s everyman take on the character is truly welcome, particularly when he’s featured alongside the rest of the heroes . . .
14) Captain Marvel – This one’s real fresh, and it may move in rank with future viewings, but it’s a solidly tweaked version of an origin story, more of a real mystery narrative. Brie Larson has real chemistry with Sam Jackson’s de-aged Fury and her power-set is truly awe-inspiring. Like Captain America’s first film, it’s a period piece (this one wears its 90s nostalgia on its sleeve differently, but just as folklore-ish as Cap’s 40s-set feature) that also forms the roots of the MCU at large. It remains to be seen if she can likewise become the ethical rock of the team and the films of the future . .
13) Doctor Strange – The MCU goes mystical in a freaky, trippy origin story that opens up a whole other side of the universe. Magic has now emerged in the person of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sorcerer Supreme in a stylish film with the most inspired special effects in the series. While the movie still suffers the generic villain plague of many of the others, the climax of this one is truly mind bending . . .
12) Iron Man 3 – Downey at his best with comic-action’s finest, Shane Black, at the helm. There’s been much griping of the handling of Stark’s arch-villain (I have a feeling some fans may have similar reactions to events in ‘Marvel’ above) but in the end this was an inspired choice – centering the movie back to the man himself and his struggles with PTSD fallout from the Battle of NY, was smart as well . . .
11) Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – Very funny and surprisingly poignant sequel that kind of lives in its own galaxy (pun intended). Although the team is at its best together, each member grew and changed in this film before it somewhat devolves into a CGI punch-out. James Gunn has crafted his own little wild corner of the universe that has had a profound effect on the main (see ‘Infinity War’) – he would have been sorely missed . . .
10) Captain America – The First Avenger – While kind of sanitizing the horrors of WW2, this film effectively plays with the idea of US propaganda and what it means to have the heart of a hero. A great Cap is finally realized with the help of Tommy Lee Jones (?!), and this movie really starts tying the disparate elements of all the movies together.
9) Thor: Ragnarok – Third time was the charm for the now shorn Nordic God as Taika Watitti taps into Hemworth’s natural comedic timing and charisma. By shuttling him off to the bright Jack Kirby inspired battle world, pitting him against the Hulk, an inspired version of Valkyrie played by the great Tessa Thompson, and Jeff Goldblum (?!) in eye makeup, they reveal the prog rockstar identity of the character. Oh yeah, and freakin Cate Blanchett is Hela, Godess of Death . . .
8) Spider-Man: Homecoming – Tom Holland’s teenage version of the webbed wonder had a perfect introduction in ‘Civil War’. This teen comedy slice of wonderful centering on his awkward attempts at both having a social life and a hero’s arc works as well as a high school movie as it does a comic book one. Michael Keaton’s complex villainous turn as the Vulture and RBJ’s mentor role notch this one up as well . . .
7) Iron Man – The film that started it all and gets the deserved credit. How a washed-up, seemingly lost, yet immensely talented actor and a comedy director saved the Marvel Universe. This movie is perfectly cast and grounded in reality – the perfect vehicle to pull audiences into this crazy comic-book world to the point that they will follow this trusted brand to the other side of the galaxy . . .
6) Guardians of the Galaxy – The riskiest film in the franchise is also the most irresistibly fun, and surprisingly, emotional. Introducing this audience to the most out-there concepts (Infinity stones! The Kree! Rocket Raccoon!) using basically unfamiliar characters (even to many superhero fans), through human connection and awesome 70’s pop hits . . . And they somehow pull it off . . . Great time at the movies . . .
5) Avengers: Infinity War – They pulled off what was thought impossible, assembling the largest group of actors/heroes and making it work. The MCU’s recent string of excellent, complicated villains continued with Thanos, a digital effect that was turned from a silly thumb meme into a three dimensional bad guy who made good on his threat. At once crowd pleasing and crowd devastating, IW was able to give many characters compelling arcs by putting them into inspiring groups – an awe-inspiring feat even though it’s only half a narrative . . .
4) Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Probably the most engrossing of all the films, this sequel is a mystery in the vein of 70’s political conspiracy thrillers (and even includes a prominent Robert Redford!). Featuring both Evans and Johannsen’s best turns in character, as they (and the movie) question the very nature of the organization that brought them all together in . . .
3) The Avengers – While ‘The Dark Knight’ was the first real comic book masterpiece, it’s ‘The Avengers’ that happens to realize the true feel of superheroes on celluloid. This was the first culmination of Kevin Feige’s vision to build a cinematic version of an interconnected world. Under the guidance of Joss Whedon it deftly handled a perfect balance of wonder, humor, action, and left audiences wanting more . . .
2) Captain America: Civil War – Cap’s trilogy has been the most satisfying series within the franchise. Although many would say this entry is more of an Avengers movie because it does feature almost every player choosing sides between charter members Cap and Stark, plus very effectively introduces Black Panther and Spider-Man into the MCU. The Russo brothers utilized their small screen knack for juggling multiple personalities to incredible results in all of their contributions, and in this one illustrated how the heroes could be their own worst adversaries . . .
1) Black Panther – Stan Lee’s original conceit for Marvel Comics was to present stories that tapped into the larger issues of society in addition to telling stories of super powered individuals. Ryan Coogler’s masterpiece (and first superhero Best Picture nom) not only tells a riveting tale of kings and a secret culture of technological advancement, it has greater themes of nationalism, colonialism, and race on a global scale. Above all, an ensemble piece with a regal center, ‘Black Panther’ presents a new paradigm for a diverse audience, finally being represented in a major way . . .