Marvel Movies, Ranked (Part 1)
As quarantine stretches on interminably with no end in sight, all of us are looking for more entertainment possibilities. So, dear readers — my cousin and I rewatched all of the Marvel movies! Over a month I watched all of these movies, and only became a little bit smooth-brained as a result. And I ranked them all, so now you know which movies are good!
If you’ve seen my Star Wars rankings, you know the deal — these are the completely accurate, 100% correct rankings. Art is subjective and your opinions are valid, but if you disagree with my rankings you’re wrong!
Up first in part 1, the eight movies that are not good! Now, to be fair, this isn’t like the Star Wars movies (or, god forbid, the X-Men films) — there aren’t really any MCU movies that are truly bad films. But yeah, these are some of the weaker entries in the MCU pantheon. Read on!
23. The Incredible Hulk
Okay, so there’s one MCU movie that is truly bad. I did not rewatch this movie, and I don’t feel bad about it. I saw it once many years ago. It’s bad. Don’t watch it.
22. Thor 2: The Dark World
Directing is a funny thing. For instance, Emmy winner Alan Taylor is an extremely accomplished TV director. His resume includes several of the best episodes of Game of Thrones (“Baelor,” “Fire and Blood,” “Valar Morghulis”) as well as critically acclaimed work on The Sopranos, Deadwood and Mad Men. And yet, his film directing is so bad! He directed Terminator: Genisys! He directed The Dark World! For some reason, whenever Alan Taylor is given more than 60 minutes things go completely off the rails.
The entire first half of this movie is so painfully slow. It’s like they realized that the best parts of Thor are Thor and Loki, and then did the exact opposite. There is so much focus in this movie on Thor’s weakest side characters, which why? Why would you do this? Huge chunks of the movie follow Jane, Erik and Darcy in London on just the most boring adventure. The movie tries to throw in a love triangle between Lady Sif, Thor and Jane, which what? Who comes to watch a Thor movie to see a love triangle? Why are you making me watch this? What the fuck Alan?
It’s so frustrating because the last third of the movie is so much better, and shows exactly what this movie could have been. From Frigga’s death onwards, The Dark World is really fun! This movie has some of Tom Hiddleston’s best work, as he expertly teases out the subtle vulnerability behind Loki’s snark. It’s super fun to watch the god of mischief bounce off Thor, and seeing the two brothers work together is a delight.
Then, the final battle of the movie is an insanely gleeful portal fight scene that’s a ton of fun. This is really good! Why weren’t we doing this the whole time? So, in honor of Alan Taylor’s TV directing experience — just pretend that you’re watching TV and only watch the last hour of this movie. Because yeah the rest of this movie sucks.
21. Iron Man 2
Okay— this movie isn’t as bad as I remember. There are some real strengths here! Robert Downey Jr. continues to be completely magnetic, charming and infuriating as Tony Stark. Iron Man 2 has the first real scenes with Nick Fury, finally putting Tony up against someone he’s forced to at least partially respect. And the introductions of Black Widow and War Machine are handled very well.
But man, this movie just tries to do way too much. The main conflicts of the film involves the Senate trying to seize the Iron Man suits, Justin Hammer’s corporate scheming, Tony dying from palladium poisoning, connecting with his dad via hidden films, and fighting off Ivan Vanko (who wants revenge for what Howard Stark did). This is SO MUCH, and these A-plots are barely connected to each other. In terms of long-term impact, the plot thread centered around Howard Stark is the most important. Unfortunately it’s also the silliest, forcing the audience to believe that Howard left behind a diorama that depicts the structure of a completely new element. The fuck?
Meanwhile Sam Rockwell is very charming as Justin Hammer but his character isn’t a threat, while Mickey Rourke sleepwalks as the utterly forgettable Whiplash.
The volume of A-plots also means the B-plots — Rhodey/Tony’s friendship being tested and strengthened, Pepper/Tony’s romance — get even more rushed and underdeveloped. Pepper and Tony’s understated, flirtatious chemistry is a real treat in Iron Man. But in Iron Man 2 Pepper is reduced to yelling at Tony as he jets off to do something insane, then completely falling for him when he expresses his feelings for her. The writing doesn’t do Gwyneth Paltrow any favors, and although she tries her best, it really does not work out.
20. Ant-Man and the Wasp
Ant-Man and The Wasp is so overwhelmingly stupid. I give these films a lot of leeway on their plots because they’re silly superhero movies, but still — this movie is aggressively, insanely dumb.
Every single character besides the main trio is a moron. Laurence Fishburne plays a quantum physicist who is literally the dumbest villain in any MCU film. Ant-Man’s idiot friends are completely, hilariously pointless. There’s a whole subplot with the FBI just being idiots over and over again. Boyd Crowder is in this movie for some reason? The writers put the words “quantum” in front of everything, which is not how physics works. The evil villain’s plan is to suck the “quantum energy” out of Janet to put into Ghost, which, what? What is this movie even?
Ant-Man and the Wasp is somehow still halfway watchable, but it’s all due to the charisma of the main cast. Paul Rudd could make reading the dictionary charming, and his chemistry with Evangeline Lilly is a nice, cute romance with actual connection. I’m also a huge sucker for Hank Pym, a wise old mentor figure who’s a total dick to everyone. Halfway through the film I realized Hank Pym is actually the villain in this film? So that’s fun.
The visuals are cool, and the fight scenes between Ant-Man/The Wasp and Ghost are also great. But man, this movie is so stupid. Ant-Man and The Wasp makes me feel like Michael Pena post-truth serum — just mindlessly babbling and grinning as my brain turns to mush.
Okay yeah, Thor’s extremely goofy. But whatever, I love it! All the previous Marvel Movies (Iron Man, Captain America) tried to ground their heroes in something resembling science, establishing Tony and Steve as characters who are recognizable in (respectively) 2000s or 1940s America. With Thor, Kenneth Branagh looked at that playbook and punted it out the window. Thor is a completely ridiculous movie that asks you to accept the premise of Norse gods in space as the main characters. It careens from New Mexico to Asgard to Jotunheim with a deranged grin, hoping you will be able to keep up.
And thank god it does! Thor is a perfect match for the centerpiece star, the glorious Chris Hemsworth. Of all the talented actors in the Marvel universe, Hemsworth might be my favorite. He’s just such a gloriously goofy dude who is having the time of his life onscreen! Thor’s plot involves him growing from an asshole into the ur-ideal of a himbo — a massive, jacked dude who has no idea what is going on at any point, but is gleefully dedicated to doing the right thing and helping his friends no matter what.
Chris Hemsworth’s goofy golden retriever energy makes him a perfect foil for Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, one of the few Marvel villains to have any staying power. Crafty where Thor is oblivious, subtle where Thor is direct, the slight, quick-witted Loki is a perfect mirror of the large, loud Thor. It’s so apparent how both brothers are shaped by each other and Odin, and it’s as delightful to watch Loki set up intricate traps as it is to watch Thor punch through them.
Unfortunately, this movie has a LOT of filler characters. Basically any time Thor or Loki isn’t onscreen, this movie sucks. Later Marvel movies will eventually realize that the best parts of Thor are Thor and Loki, and quietly sideline every other character. But hey, at least they gave us Thor and Loki!
18. Captain America: The First Avenger
This is a movie that rides or dies on the charisma of Captain America. Captain America is a deeply dorky, earnest hero who is by design out of touch with the current cynical age. Captain America isn’t cool, or fun, or silly in the same way Iron Man or Thor are. Why should we care about this lame nerd?
Luckily, Chris Evans is more than up to the task! His Steve Rogers is an earnest, honest and eternally optimistic man without being stupid or blind. The movie hammers home that what makes Steve special has nothing to do with the super soldier serum — he’s always been a man who cares about the smallest and weakest people, because he used to be one of them. As outdated and corny as it might sound, Steve Rogers is in all respects a real hero.
However, the rest of the movie is pretty weak. The Red Skull is a perfect example of Marvel’s villain issue. It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with Hugo Weaving’s portrayal, he’s just— there. I don’t remember anything about him, and I saw this movie two days ago. The same is true of Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci, who are just kind of present as this movie happens.
That doesn’t mean all the side characters are zeros though! In a nice change of pace, the relationships between Steve/Bucky and Steve/Peggy are given time and space to develop. Steve and Bucky have a powerful friendship that’s allowed to grow and evolve. The scene before they both go off to take down Hydra is delightful. It gives both men the space to acknowledge that the power dynamic between them has shifted, but Bucky will follow Steve no matter what.
And then Peggy and Steve. In general, MCU movies aren’t great at depicting romances. Most of the time, the love interest feels thrown in to the story (and is unceremoniously disposed of in the sequels). By contrast, Peggy and Steve grow together over the course of the movie, with both characters evolving in relation to each other. Peggy and Steve have a real connection that’s allowed to develop romantically, and it’s one of the sweetest and saddest stories in the Marvel Universe. A lot of this movie can feel lightweight, but Captain America’s last line “I had a date,” is absolutely heartbreaking.
17. Captain Marvel
I mean, Captain Marvel is totally fine. It’s an okay movie.
The twist that the Skrulls are actually the good guys is VERY well-done — everything about the movie (including Ben Mendelsohn’s casting) up to that point makes you believe that the Skrulls are the villains. Jude Law is also an excellent villain. Yon-Rogg is a great example of a subtle gaslighter, someone who has been negging and manipulating Carol Danvers for so long, it takes her a while to see the true face behind all his lies. Her final fight with Yon-Rogg is awesome — for the first time she engages with him on her terms, not his, and beats the shit out of him.
The main problem with this movie is that Carol is the least compelling character in her own movie. The choice to make her an amnesiac really robs Brie Larson of any ability to put any real character traits behind her character. Is Carol a snarky badass? Is she a sympathetic leader? Is she a diligent problem solver? She’s all of those at various points in the movie, which makes it hard to get a sense of who she is as a character. By contrast, young Nick Fury is great, and Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos is the best character in the movie, the aforementioned Yon-Rogg is excellent and Maria Rambeau is a standout character as well. All of this means that although Brie Larson does her best, Carol feels like a very flat character in her own movie.
The 90s references are really over the top, and start to feel forced very early. On the plus side, the cat is excellent.
I mean, this movie’s okay. But it’s not great. Don’t @me.
16. Avengers: Age of Ultron
Age of Ultron is probably the hardest MCU movie to rank. Most of these movies are either good (Black Panther), bad (The Dark World), or medium (Doctor Strange). Somehow, this movie is all three at the same time! After directing Age of Ultron, Joss Whedon wandered off in a daze to shotgun a bottle of Hennessy and never work on a Marvel movie again. And watching this movie, I get it.
I mean, there’s a lot in this movie that’s cool! The good: Hawkeye gets a well-deserved moment in the spotlight that’s very well handled. Age of Ultron also really understands Tony — underneath all his cockiness there’s a real fear of losing everything. The first group fight scene is super fun, and the party scene is also really great!
The medium: The introductions of Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are fine. The Hulkbuster vs Hulk scene is pretty solid. The traumatic flashbacks for all the Avengers are decent. This movie does so much to set up Civil War, Infinity War and Black Panther, and most of the interwoven plot threads are fine.
The bad: The biggest issue is that they don’t know what to do with Ultron. Is he a hyperrational supercomputer set on mercilessly exterminating the human race? Is he Tony’s evil, snarky, terrible child set on destroying his father? Is he a tragic figure fundamentally alone in the world and lashing out in pain? Is he a snarky, sarcastic badass? At various points Ultron is each one of those things, and none of these different threads are ever pulled together. This means the script jumps between these so quickly that the tone is really uneven. Ultron never really feels that threatening — somehow Loki manages to be a more menacing villain. Ultron will do something really terrifying, then immediately undercut it by telling a silly joke. Why am I supposed to be scared of this guy?
The writing for everyone besides Tony and Hawkeye is also really, really uneven. Thor’s traumatic flashback means he needs to fly to England to take a bath? Black Widow’s line “I can’t have children — I’m a monster like you” should have been deleted from the first draft of the script. The pacing is also pretty uneven, which means that even though way too much is happening in this movie, it’s also kind of boring. How is that possible? That shouldn’t be possible. What the fuck is wrong with this movie? I challenge you to watch the scene of Vision’s birth, and just tell me — what is actually happening?
I’d say the rest of the movie adds context to this scene, but it honestly doesn’t. So yeah, this movie is good, okay and bad all at the same time. It’s critical to the MCU, but it also kind of sucks? Idk, I’m so confused.
End of Blog
Alright, we did it! That covers the bottom third of Marvel movies, which are okay movies but nonetheless have real weaknesses. Next up — the movies that have their weaknesses but are still pretty good!
I Am Iron Man,