With the release of Thor: The Dark World this weekend it's vital that we as a nation turn our attention to ranking the Marvel movies in an order that can bring peace and stability to the Nerd Nation. Using cutting edge science and math calculations, I have been able to create an accurate and plainly correct ordering of these films. I may have done this in the past, but those rankings are now null and void - you have to understand how things like gravimetric shifts, the polar orientation of the globe and wandering space dust all play a role in impacting the tiniest variables when putting this list together.
And so, without further ado, here are the eight Marvel Cinematic Universe movies ranked from worst to best.
Iron Man 2
I'm hard-pressed to imagine a time when this film will not be at the bottom of the list. I have to imagine it would take an apocalyptically bad film to rank lower than Iron Man 2, a movie that is flabby and boring and makes the ultimate dramatic mistake of having the answer to our hero's dilemma simply handed to him. This film contains much of Marvel's growing pains, and it's a movie whose script was never completed. You can see it in every shaggy frame. There are good things to be found in Iron Man 2, including the great scene at the Grand Prix and a cool image of Tony hanging out in the Randy's Donuts sign, but in general this film is an actual piece of shit that made me worry about the future of Marvel Studios.
Yes, Thor. I recently revisited this film on Blu and had to turn it off about 45 minutes in. While the casting is spot on and there is some fun character work, the movie itself plods in circles of abject cheapness. Asgard looks like a foamcore wonderland and is shot in constant, stupid Dutch angles. The New Mexico town looks slightly more fakey than a painted backdrop. And the whole thing is claustrophobically tiny. Agents of SHIELD is more cinematic than this movie. So on the one hand I appreciate the groundwork it laid with Loki and Thor, but on the other hand the film itself is barely watchable.
The Incredible Hulk
This one is almost tied with Thor, but a couple of things give it an advantage. For one, the opening favela chase is a lot of fun. For another, the Abomination fight is actually great, and I can't hate on any movie where the Hulk uses smashed cars as boxing gloves. Most of all this movie has a wonderful turn by Tim Blake Nelson as Samuel Stern, one day to be The Leader. This is certainly a lesser film, and Edward Norton was, in the end, miscast, but it beats the previous two films on this list simply because I can manage to sit through the whole thing.
Captain America: The First Avenger
This is tough for me, because Captain America might be my second favorite Marvel movie. I get actually choked up at some of the scenes in the beginning, where Scrawny Steve Rogers is showing that you don't need to be tough to be a good man. This movie has exactly the sense of fun, hope and adventure that Warner Bros seems pathologically unable to bring to their superhero movies. Chris Evans is perfect as Captain America, and he truly understands how to make the character unhip but not painfully square. I love this movie... but I also recognize it's full of problems, including the fact that the mid-movie montage is more compelling than a lot of the other stuff in it. I will always throw Captain America: The First Avenger on when I'm feeling low, but I do understand its place in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe in terms of quality. If this weren't a rigidly scientific article, I would place this film square at #2. As it is, this movie marks the part of the list where everything is ranging from Really Good to Actually Great!
Thor: The Dark World
What sets the Marvel Studios movies apart: the sequels (with that one exception) are better than the originals (and yes, I'm sort of assuming Captain America: The Winter Soldier proves this. The stuff I've heard indicates it does). They're building on the foundations of the first movies, and that means the sequels can get interesting and expand on characters and concepts instead of just doing the same thing again but bigger. Thor: The Dark World proves that, launching off of not only Thor but also The Avengers to truly move along the stories of Thor and Loki. What's more, The Dark World expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe in all sorts of weird directions. But most of all this is a truly fun movie, one that perfectly balances stakes and emotions with quips and a sense of adventure. If Iron Man was the blueprint for Phase One, The Dark World can be the blueprint for the rest of Phase Two.
When the Marvel Phase One box set came out I revisited Iron Man. Would the film have aged badly? Did the things that seemed fresh so many years ago become stale? Would the film's relative cheapness shine through? Well, the cheapness did a bit, but everything else still works. Iron Man was a transformative superhero film, and that transformative power remains in effect today. It's a FUN movie, an action movie you don't begrudge for its lack of action. The movie still sings, a breezy blast of excitement and joy that reminds you why you care about superpowered guys in the first place: they're fucking cool.
Iron Man 3
I hear a lot of people complain about the Marvel Cinematic Universe being a by-the-numbers, committee-oriented factory. They have either never seen Iron Man 3 or they have never seen another Shane Black movie, since Iron Man 3 is undoubtably a Shane Black movie. It's got him all over it, and it shows that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is big enough for personal voices to shine through. That bodes well for upcoming films like Edgar Wright's Ant-Man and James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy. What's more, Iron Man 3 is a great time at the movies, changing up the dynamic of the Iron Man series by robbing Tony of the armor for much of the runtime. What's more, the film deftly fixes all of Iron Man 2's horrible daddy issue shit in a couple of scenes that are great... despite featuring a child actor! And the reveal of the truth behind The Mandarin is a moment that shows Marvel is willing to screw around with their properties if it means better stories.
It's the best superhero movie yet, so of course it's the number one film on this list. The Avengers is a spectacle that I never imagined would come to pass - great heroes meeting and teaming up on the big screen to do battle on the streets of New York while quipping, having cool scenes and being friends. There are rough patches in The Avengers - I skip the opening Tesseract heist every single time I watch it now - but what it gets right it gets right on a level so fundamental that it's a miracle. This is the joy of comic books on screen, the unfettered fun of colorful, well-defined characters having their moments and having their unique interactions. Joss Whedon juggles the characters adroitly, giving everyone not just a moment but a point of view. Every character walks out of The Avengers whole, able to continue their own series, but also now part of a larger world.
I watched The Avengers again last night and it worked just as well as it did the first time. This is a unique movie that understands our affection for the characters and shares it, that knows the spectacle is secondary to the way the characters react to that spectacle. Big and fun, unafraid to be silly, The Avengers isn't just the best superhero movie yet, it's exactly the kind of movie audiences need today.