It has been 10 years in the making -- Avengers: Infinity War is finally hitting theaters. I am going to see it tonight and I thought it would be fun to rank the 18 films that make up the MCU right now.
So, without further ado, here is every MCU film ranked.
18. THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008, dir. Louis Letterier)
It's not nearly as bad as everyone says it is, but The Incredible Hulk was extremely disappointing upon release (especially following the incredible Iron Man) and it has not aged well. Most of its issues stem from an unfocused narrative and drastic changes in tone that feel sloppy. Edward Norton is also not great in his role. It doesn't help that he reportedly re-wrote every scene he was in, too.
Fun fact: director Louis Leterrier wanted Mark Ruffalo in the role, but Marvel forced him to cast Edward Norton. It seems like they've realized their mistake.
17. Thor: The Dark World (2013, dir. Alan Taylor)
Another example of behind-the-scenes issues affecting the final product. Thor films have always suffered from tonal inconsistencies (until Ragnarok directors seemed unsure whether they wanted Thor to be funny or dark and brooding). The Dark World just isn't that interesting, unfortunately, and has one of the most forgettable villains in the MCU.
On top of that. Natalie Portman was reportedly very mad about how Marvel and her lack of enthusiasm can definitely be seen on screen.
16. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Age of Ultron is the most noticeable sufferer of "over-stuffing." Not only does this film bring all of the Avengers together to fight Ultron, it also set up films in the next phase of the MCU, hinted at the demise of the Avengers, had a post-credit scene that set up Infinity War (which was still 3 years away from release). Even with its 141 minute run time there was just too much in this film.
Over-stuffing can still be okay if the film itself has a solid core (Return of the King is the perfect example of how a film can work even if it's bursting at the seams with story), but most of Ultron felt messy and half-hearted. Even Ultron, voiced by James Spader, didn't work as the sinister villain he was marketed as.
15. Iron Man 2 (2010, dir. Jon Favreau)
Iron Man 2 had a lot of potential to be good. Despite losing Terrence Howard, the film boasted a cast of Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, and Scarlett Johansson and had Jon Favreau back in the director's chair.
Unfortunately, Iron Man 2 is stuffed with too many elements; Rourke's character is underdeveloped and one note and Rockwell is severely underutilized.
14. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011, dir. Joe Johnston)
Captain America: The First Avenger is not "bad" by any stretch, but it leaves a lot to be desired. It's an effective origin story and does a great job of fleshing out Steve Rogers as a character. Hugo Weaving wasn't as great as Red Skull, though, and the narrative isn't as memorable as the other two Captain America films.
13. Thor (2011, dir. Kenneth Branagh)
Thor worked because of its incredible cast (including Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman). Unfortunately the writing and the direction doesn't complement the dynamism of the cast, leaving the narrative feeling one-note and conventional.
If there's one thing I think the Thor films really dropped the ball on, it's the how underutilized Anthony Hopkins is as Odin. In the first two Thor films his writing is very bland, and in Ragnarok he doesn't have much screen time (though the screen time he gets is great). It's just an unfortunate waste of an incredible talent.
12. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Homecoming is definitely my third favorite Spider-Man film (right behind Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man, respectively) as it gets the manic energy and the endearing nature that makes Peter Parker so interesting. Yes, he's a superhero but he's also a teenage kid (something both The Amazing Spider-Man and Raimi's Spider-Man films did not capture very well). Homecoming makes Peter Parker a more dynamic, more fun character.
I was hopeful that Michael Keaton was going to be an interesting villain, but he's unfortunately very one-note here. He has his moments (the scene in the kitchen, for instance) but for the most part his motivation and actions seemed ridiculous.
11. Doctor Strange (2016, dir. Scott Derrickson)
Doctor. Strange has, arguably, the most distinct and jaw-dropping visuals in the MCU. Its script is also rather smart (especially the end with Dormammu). Benedict Cumberbatch is pretty good in the lead role, though he didn't wow me in the same way that other casting decisions have.
The other issue with Doctor Strange is the conventionality of his origin story -- a rich, arrogant man goes through a life-threatening experience and chooses a life of servitude over a pursuit of power and money; he has the same arc as Tony Stark.
Still, though, Doctor Strange is fun to watch and boasts a pretty awesome cast.
10. Ant-Man (2015, dir. Peyton Reed)
Ant-Man isn't perfect, but it does effectively blend comedy and action in a satisfying way. Paul Rudd is perfect in the lead role, and he has a decent supporting cast behind him. The visuals are also extremely impressive.
I will always wish we were able to see the Edgar Wright version of Ant-Man, but Peyton Reed wasn't too bad in the director's chair.
9. Iron Man 3 (2013, dir. Shane Black)
Yes, I was mad about the Mandarin bait-and-switch, too. It felt like a cheap marketing gimmick and it undercut a lot of potential that this film could have had.
However, I really did love how they subverted all expectations with this film. Tony Stark has always been defined by his suit; his real superpower is his intelligence. Stripping Tony of his suit and thrusting him into a dangerous mission may not have sat right with me the first time I watched it, but I appreciate it more and more with each re-watch.
I also love Shane Black's direction and writing. A really great blend of pathos and comedy.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017, dir. James Gunn)
While it doesn't quite re-capture the magic of the first film (mainly due to its ineffective "family" theme), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 manages to remain unique, colorful, and well executed thanks to its incredible cast and Gunn's confident direction.
7. The Avengers (2012, dir. Joss Whedon)
This was the first time we saw all of these superheroes together and it was an unforgettable experience. The film was full of excellent action, great comedy, and tight character writing. The narrative was straightforward and strong. Loki was a great villain -- personable, dynamic, and funny.
The CGI is a bit spotty in places and the character work falters in spots (mainly with characters like Hulk and Hawkeye), but this one still holds up pretty well.
6. Thor: Ragnarok
As I mentioned before, other directors didn't know how to handle Thor as a character. Is he supposed to be a badass with a hammer? Is he supposed to be funny?
Taika Waititi effectively said "why not both?" with Thor: Ragnarok. While I know some people did not like how funny the film was, I thought it was a breath of fresh air for a character that was feeling increasingly one-note and stagnant. Plus we were introduced to Valkyrie, Hela, Korg, and a ton of other fun characters that helped round out this film's narrative.
Waititi's direction is very strong and the comedy is excellent. It essentially burns everything we know about Thor to the ground and births him again, more powerful and more enjoyable than before.
5. Iron Man (2008, dir. Jon Favreau)
The one that stared it all. Nobody knew what was going to happen when Iron Man was released. However, I don't think anyone would have guessed how powerful and massive the MCU would become following the release of this film.
Robert Downey Jr. is the best casting decision Marvel has made (with Chadwick Boseman coming in second as Black Panther). He immediately breaths life into the character from the opening moments of the film -- his pattern of speech, and his arrogant demeanor, feels directly ripped from the comics.
Jeff Bridges is pretty good as the villain, though he isn't given much to do here other than monologue and do evil things. Still, Favreau's direction makes it work and this film's cast could not have been more perfect.
4. Black Panther (2018, dir. Ryan Coogler)
Talk about perfect casting. Chadwick Boseman is excellent as T'Challa, but Michael B. Jordan is the true star of Black Panther with his performance as Killmonger.
What makes Black Panther stand out from the rest of the MCU is how real Killmonger feels. He may be in a superhero film, but his struggle (and his motivations) are birthed from something that is found in our own world. At the end of the day he's still the villain, so he has a world domination plan, but his motivations don't feel nearly as forced or inorganic as other villains.
The supporting cast of this film is also incredible. Everyone, from Danai Gurira, to Lupita Nyong'o, to Letitia Wright this film is perfectly cast and beautifully directed. I really hope to see Ryan Coogler come back to the MCU to direct another film.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, dir. the Russo Brothers)
It can not be understated how important The Winter Soldier is to the MCU. Not only did it set up events that still reverberate throughout the world years later, it also re-invented Captain America in an exciting way, added depth to Black Widow, made Nick Fury more than just a glorified Avenger-wrangler, and created a memorable villain in The Winter Soldier.
On top of that, it has the twist that blew everyone's mind.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, dir. James Gunn)
Part of the reason Guardians of the Galaxy is so revered by fans is because of how unexpected it was. Nobody (myself included) thought this film was going to be as good as it was. Yet James Gunn managed to pull off the unexpected: to bring some obscure characters from the Marvel comics to the big screen, make them extremely likable, and create distinct personalities for all of them.
Yes, this film suffers from a bad villain as Ronan doesn't rally have much depth. However, Gunn makes up for it by really adding a lot of characterization to Quill, Gomorra, and Rocket.
1. Captain America: Civil War (2016, dir. the Russo Brothers)
This may be a bit of a controversial pick, however I stand by it. What the Russo Brothers did with Civil War was really explore the core characters of the MCU in interesting, provocative ways. What's more remarkable, though, is how true to the past films this film is. Tony's beliefs and actions make sense when put in the context of his previous situations -- the same goes for Captain America.
While Civil War is often criticized for being exactly like the critically panned Batman V Superman, the Russo Brothers ending twist makes a lot more sense, and feels more powerful and organic, than the "Martha" moment in BvS. Not only did they set it up in Winter Soldier, it also plays better on screen because these characters feel real -- we have spent a lot of time with them and we are invested in them.
It's not perfect -- none of the MCU films are -- but it gets a lot right. There is a reason why the Russo Brothers were tapped to direct the Infinity War films.