My friends, we are fast approaching the day when Avengers: Endgame is unleashed upon the world. This film will encapsulate more than a decade of film-making and universe-building. Even if the movie ends up sucking (and I don't think it will), it's still an incredible accomplishment. A hundred years from now, students in Film Studies classes will study the MCU in great detail. I don't know what's going to happen to the MCU after Endgame, or to the superhero genre as a whole. One has to wonder if this is the film that bursts the bubble. But whatever comes next, I'm just amazed that we're here and that I've been around to see this entire journey. It's been quite a ride!
I really love the MCU. It's made with such love and care. Even its worst movie is well made. I've seen all of the films (and all but 2 of them in theaters). I've been to midnight premiers of a handful of them. I've seen the majority of them multiple times. I will continue to re-watch them for years to come. I've spent some time recently reflecting on these films and the path that lead us here. Consequently, I decided to rank all of these films from my least to most favorite. Remember, this is just how I personally view these films. This list doesn't necessarily represent the order of the quality of the films. Also, as I wrote this blog, I realized how ridiculously long it would be. Too long, frankly. At the suggestion of my lovely wife, I am dividing the blog into two entries. This will look at films 21-11. Part 2 will look at my Top 10. Obviously, you'll be able to figure out what is in the Top 10 by process of elimination, but I hope you'll stick around with me for the next part regardless.
Now friends, join me as we look back on these films. And please share your thoughts on them in the comments below! Let's dive in! Oh, and quick warning. I won't shy away from spoilers for any of these films. So skip over any film you haven't seen and are concerned about having spoiled.
21-Thor: The Dark World
Even Chris Hemsworth has described this film as "meh." I think that's a pretty accurate and succinct review. All the filmmakers and actors did a fine job. But ultimately, this film is just supremely forgettable. It's not even bad. In fact, bad would be better. It would at least be memorable. This film is not.
It's also a case study in how escalating the scale of the stakes in a film doesn't make it better or more memorable. Technically, the threat in this movie is greater than any other MCU film. The villain is going to obliterate all of reality. All of it! There could not be a bigger threat. But, that ultimately means very little to the audience. It's still just a bland villain and a weak climax.
I think the core problem with this film is that it's just so serious. Everyone is so dour. Tom Hiddleston looks like the only actor that had even a shred of fun while they shot this. This is an issue that will be more than resolved later in the series. But we'll get to that.
20-Iron Man 2
It's really interesting to watch this trailer now. It's been a few years since I last watched this movie. It's kind of funny how the later MCU films retroactively make this movie more interesting. Prime example is Tony Stark. In this movie, he is vehemently opposed to the government interfering in his superhero work. This is in contrast with Civil War, where he firmly backs government oversight with the Sokovia accords. It's quite a character arc!
But let's talk about the film in isolation. On paper, this movie has a lot going for it. It has Sam Rockwell! It has Mickey Rourke hamming it up. It dives into Tony's greatest enemy: alcoholism. It gives us War Machine. Tony and Pepper's relationship evolves and is totes adorbs (is that still a thing people say?). It introduces us to Black Widow and she is fiiiiiine (side note: how did she not ger own movie immediately after this? She was awesome!).
And yet.... this movie is boring. It's just kind of a slog to get through. I think it's a combination of the pacing and the non-existent stakes. But whatever the cause, it's hard to re-watch this movie and remain conscious the whole time.
I do think this film is really interesting as it relates to Disney. If my timeline is correct, this was the first film Marvel put out after being purchased by Disney. This seems to have had a huge impact on the movie. First, Favreau paints Tony's father Howard as Walt Disney. He is this visionary futurist. He basically tries to build Epcot, but he dies before vision can be fully realized. I think this is actually an interesting direction for the character.
On the downside, however, this movie was made very..... PG. If you watch the climax, you'll see the Hammer Drones flying around and shooting into crowds of people. But if you pay even a little bit of attention, you'll notice that no one dies or even really gets hurt. It's so weird. I don't understand how you can use drones to open fire on a massive crowd of people and miss literally every single one. It doesn't make any sense. I was really afraid that this is how all future MCU films would be under Disney. I assumed that this was a Disney mandate. No one can really get hurt or die.
My goodness, was that assumption wrong!
This film is carried by the unstoppable likeability of Paul Rudd. If they had cast pretty much anyone else, this movie would not have worked.
Ant-Man is... pretty dumb. He shrinks. To the size of an Ant. And.... he can control ants. Cool. But the movie uses his powers in fairly creative ways. It also makes sense that a superhero with this particular power would be useful in a heist.
The problem with this movie it feels very by-the-numbers. The only risk the movie took was existing in the first place. The story itself isn't challenging or suprising at all. All that said, it would have been very interesting to see how Edgar Wright's version of the film would have gone. Would it have been better or worse? We'll never know.
Another thing is the lack of Wasp. There is absolutely no good reason that we don't see Wasp suit up here. The suit exists! Hank Pym has built it! We see it! But she doesn't use it because...... reasons? It's dumb.
I will say that the final fight scene on the train set is delightful.
I am just amazed that they got Anthony Hopkins to be in this. He is a top-tier actor and this feels like something he wouldn't normally do. But I'm so glad he did.
Prior to this film, I had only seen Chris Hemsworth in one thing. He plays George Kirk in Star Trek 2009. I love that movie. And the introductory 12 minute sequence starring Chris is a masterpiece. It could be its own short film and be the greatest short film ever made. But I digress. Point is that Chris was a solid actor and I'm glad he was cast. I'm also ecstatic about Tom Hiddleston. He was a total unknown to me but I love him now. He is my man-crush.
This movie has lots and lots of exposition and talky bits. It feels like too much. I get why it's there. But it's too much. And the final fight is.... kinda lame. But the film did some great world building. It had some solid character dynamics (particularly between Odin and his two sons). It's a fine movie. Just not very thrilling.
17-Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: Dumb Subtitle showcases the impeccable casting abilities of the fine folks at Marvel. Hayley Atwell is flawless. Stanley Tucci is great. Tommy Lee Jones is always welcome. Hugo Weaving puts forth a great performance in spite of hating the role. And Chris Evans perfectly embodies the goodness and heart of Cap.
This movie totally works! It probably shouldn't. It should be either way too corny or too self-serious to be watchable. But it works! They struck an amazing balance of tone here.
However, I have found that I enjoy this movie less every time I watch it. I have actually sworn off watching it. I won't do it again. If I watch it again, I will likely end up hating it. I don't want that. I want to like it.
The movie just kind of tears at the seams upon repeat views. I think a really good example is Cap's primary power in this movie. Jumping. Seriously. Take a shot every time he jumps in this movie. You won't make it through the film. It just gets really old watching him jump and not do much else. And the finale. It feels so tacked on and contrived. It doesn't feel earned in any way. It just felt like, "Well, we need a way to freeze him for 70 years. Put him on ice. I don't care how you do it." So he crashes this plane and the whole thing feels avoidable. It's just odd.
But I will give massive props to the effects and make-up department and anyone else involved in making Chris looking like he does at the start. Small, frail, and weak. It's a truly incredible transformation.
I will never comprehend the choice to have Benedict Cumberbatch adopt a vague American accent. Why can't Doctor Strange be British? I don't get it. But he was excellent casting. He can act circles around almost anyone.
The visual effects of this film are arguably the best in the MCU. Even if some of it feels lifted directly from Inception. I mean, if you're gonna steal, steal from the best. I love the climax with Dormammu. It reminds me of a particularly phenomenal episode of Doctor Who, and that's a massive compliment.
The human villain here is so detached from the film. I don't understand who he is or why anyone should care about him on any level. I gather that there was a prequel comic that told his story, but I shouldn't have to read that to appreciate this film.
I think the biggest missed opportunity here lies with Baron Mordo. He is clearly set up as an antagonist in future films, but we just don't spend enough time with him. He and Strange should have been together in nearly every scene. We should have got to know him. His relationship with Strange should have been further developed. They should have been like brothers by the climax. We should have understood why he feels the way he does at the end of the movie. But.... we don't. It's a shame.
15-Ant-Man and The Wasp
We finally get a female superhero headlining a film in the MCU. I can't believe it took so long. And Evangeline Lilly is great. I love LOST.
This movie just silly fun. And that works! I can't imagine going any other direction with Ant-Man. However, this movie just feels sort of pointless. Especially watching it right after Infinity War. It was unfortunate release timing. After the ending of Infinity War, it's just so hard to care about what's happening here.
And the movie doesn't really justify its own existence. If Ghost just sat down and had a good chat with the Ant-squad, this movie wouldn't happen. The plot needs her to not communicate with the good guys, because otherwise there wouldn't be a plot. She would explain her situation. They would help her. That's it. So we go through a 2 hour rigmarole for what should have taken 5 minutes. It's all fun! But it all feels meaningless.
14-Avengers: Age of Ultron
This movie made me actually like and care about Hawkeye! That's a miracle.
There's some good stuff here. James Spader is awesome. The party scene is delightful, especially when they fool around with the hammer. I like Scarlet Witch a lot (I like her even more in later films when her accent is toned down). Watching Hulk vs Hulkbuster will never get old. I really like the introduction of the Vision. He's great. Having him pick up Mjolnir was perfect. And I just really like Paul Bettany. He's one of the best parts of A Knight's Tale, which is one of my all-time favorite movies.
There's a lot of talk out there about studio interference with Joss Whedon's vision. I totally believe it. The second act of this film is just so disjointed. It's all over the place. And there's the weird visions that are hard to follow (especially Thor's). I have a big problem with Ultron's introduction. Tony and Bruce just kind of... do it. In like 30 seconds. With no explanation to us or to the other characters. It all happens so stupidly fast. That bit needed to slow down.
The biggest tragedy of this movie, the studio interference, and the fan reaction, is that it broke Joss Whedon. That man deserved better.
13-Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
I am so glad that James Gunn is returning for Guardians 3! Also, before I say anything else, I want to recommend to you an excellent youtube video about this movie by Lindsay Ellis. Click here for that.
Anyways. I love Kurt Russell. I haven't seen all (or even most) of his movies, but I absolutely adore him whenever he's on screen. That goes for this film as well. He's just great. I like Mantis. She's a very sweet girl. I hope we see more of her in 3. Also, I love Drax and I love his relationship with Mantis. I like the explanation of Peter's heritage. It explains how he has survived all that he has (including holding an infinity stone). Makes perfect sense.
I must admit. I was a tad let down by this movie. It didn't help that I had sky-high expectations. And it's by no means a bad movie. It's just.... well. It's odd. The pacing is really strange. It isn't structured like any other superhero movie that I know of. There's a lot of slow parts. Also, the scene of Yondu massacring hundreds of dudes was... Well. That was a bit much for me. I understand why it happens in the story. I just don't really enjoy seeing mass slaughter I guess. I also felt like the main cast (especially Rocket) regressed somewhat since the first film. Like they unlearned some of what they learned previously. I was also unimpressed by the soundtrack. It was.... fine. But not glorious. I really think I just got too hyped for this movie. I need to be better about keeping my expectations in check.
Michael Keaton is great. Just like Kurt Russell, I'm always happy to see him. I dream of Michael Keaton and Kurt Russell starring in a buddy cop movie. Vulture is a very good villain. I get who he is. I know what his motivations are. I understand his relationships to the other characters. And I respect certain things about him. Primarily, that he just wants to take care of his family and the other people he is responsible for. It's his methods that are wrong, of course.
Tom Holland is magnificent. He's the best live-action Spider-Man yet. He has a youthful earnestness that instantly wins me over. I really like Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. She's great and gorgeous. I also like that she's a reasonable age and isn't more of a grandmother than aunt.
The first third of this movie drags a lot. I don't like most of Peter's peers. Ned, included. He's obnoxious. MJ is a jerk. Flash is worse (though that one's understandable). The only other kid I like is Liz, the love interest. My big problem with this movie is it just does not stand on its own. It's really Civil War Part II. If you haven't watched Civil War, you will have absolutely no idea what is happening for half of this movie. I wish it told a more contained story in that sense.
Props to not making us watch Uncle Ben die, though!
Finally we get a female superhero in her own movie (sorry Wasp, even Marvel's marketing department forgot about you)! I did not expect great things from this film. The trailers I saw just didn't impress me. With such low expectations, it was easy for the movie to pleasantly surprise me!
I really like the character of Carol. She's cool! I would hang out with her. I also love seeing more of Nick Fury and Agent Coulson. They did an insane job with the de-aging on Samuel L. Jackson. And I'll say it. I love Goose. I ain't a cat person by any means, but Goose is delightful even before the big twist of him being an alien (but that definitely helps).
Ben Mendelsohn is awesome. I've yet to see him give a less-than-stellar performance. I think the big twist of the Skrulls being good guys was elegantly executed. Caught me totally off guard. I don't understand Jude Law's character. He's Kree, right? He looks human though. Why isn't he blue? I really liked seeing Gemma Chan as one of the Kree. She is obscenely gorgeous and a talented actress.
The movie does go slightly too far on the girl power thing. When "I'm just a girl" started playing, I couldn't help but roll my eyes. That said, I know I'm not the target audience. Maybe women appreciate that in a way that I don't. I also felt the movie took the Solo route and was a little too cute about the winks to the audience. The way Fury loses his eye is particulary stupid. All this said, I'm excited to see more of Captain Marvel. I expect she'll play a big part in Endgame.
Boxman will return in Ranking the MCU Films Part 2
Next week I will release Part 2 of this lengthy blog. I hope you'll return and continue to reminisce about these marvelous movies. But for now, please let me know your thoughts about these movies in the comments. I look forard to being told how wrong I am!
Edit: Read part 2 by clicking right here.