Marvel Cinematic Universe: My MCU Rankings

There have been twenty MCU movies since the studio began releasing films about ten years ago. While several people have ranked them from worst to best, we need to begin with an understanding that even the worst MCU films are still vastly better than several other summer blockbuster-style films. There are several reasons for that, but I think the primary reason is that the people at Marvel Studios are fans first and foremost. They respect the intellectual properties, and rather than trying to placate audiences by hitting all the standard, acceptable plot points of a film, they allow their characters to grow and fail and grow again. Their complexities and real-grounded backstories are what make these characters who they are. It’s not always about the action (though the action is arguably the best of any movie universe to date)–it’s about the people. You really can’t go wrong with any of these. Before I get into my list, please understand that, as with any ranking system, this one is SUPER biased. My personal taste comes into play quite a bit, but I’ll do my best to remain neutral and objective in my evaluation of the film, looking specifically at the writing, since that really is my wheelhouse. So feel free to disagree. I encourage it. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on my list. Okay, here we go. *Rolls up sleeves, which is awkward since I’m wearing short sleeves to begin with). Here is how I would rank the MCU films going into Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of the greatest storytelling in a film franchise in history (there, I said it):

21. Captain America: The First Avenger—A lot of people have this much higher on their list, and admittedly, this is more an issue of taste for me. I’m not huge into period pieces, and that’s largely what this is. However, Chris Evans really shows what he can do here. I wasn’t really impressed with the Red Skull (not a huge Hugo Weaving—hard for me not to think of Agent Smith and Neo and all that Matrix stuff). As a villain (and Marvel get’s a lot of hate about having bad villains), he’s the one of the least compelling to me. He’s what my old Firsts in Fiction co-host Stephen McLain would call “Evil for evil’s sake.” I know there are people who are motivated by power, but he had no real backstory, no reason to want the power other than the fact that they needed someone for Captain America to punch. If a hero is measured by his villain, then this is the weakest Marvel movie. I did, however, appreciate the internal struggle of Captain America wanting to fight, but then being turned into a symbol rather than a soldier. His arc here was decent, but not nearly as compelling as other films.

20. The Incredible Hulk—As one of the first two MCU movies (that released about a month apart), Marvel had a lot riding on this film, and it had to overcome the train wreck of the previous Hulk film. Edward Norton does a pretty good job as Bruce Banner, and the love story with him and Betty is also on-point. Here, we saw a more faithful take on the classic character, but a lot of the film relied more on action and senseless destruction. Of course, this is where we first see Agent Coulson, so there’s that. Not a terrible film, but not exactly one I re-watch on long, lazy weekends.

19. Iron Man 3—Special effects? Check. Compelling interior conflict? Check. Compelling villain? Half a check. A lot of people have this film much higher on the list because of how it deals with Tony Stark’s PTSD after the events of the Avengers. And that part hits. But what doesn’t is the fact that they built up the Mandarin to be an incredible villain, arguably the best the MCU had seen yet (aside from Loki, of course). But then it completely undercuts that. This decision is what ruined it for me (and for a ton of other fans). This was the first MCU film I felt that wasn’t true to the intellectual property. Yes, the MCU has a long history of making small changes to character backstories etc. (most notably in Captain Marvel), but they’ve always remained true to the spirit of the character. Here, they took what could have been a chilling contemporary take on a rather silly bad-guy, and rather than taking what they had established, they tried to pull a fast one on the audience and say, “Nah, he’s just a silly actor.” The REAL villain was also poorly executed. So the great notes of Tony Stark’s troubles can’t overcome the rather silly and uncompelling villains.

18. Iron Man 2—Hard to follow a great film like Iron Man. Here, we see the MCU with all that wonderful capital they’d made from their previous films. They had dollars to throw around, so the stakes were bigger, the special effects more impressive. However, this film suffers from the same as Iron Man 3; no compelling villain. Though Whiplash had more of a personal stake in the battle, it wasn’t quite as believable. Overall, as impressive as the film is, it doesn’t seem to be as compelling as the others. Good, just not great.

17. Ant-Man and the Wasp—I’ve never been into Ant-Man. Arguably my least favorite MCU character. However, Paul Rudd is seriously hilarious. And the sci-fi heist script hits all the tropes of a thrilling Oceans Eleven type of film. Evangeline Lily’s Wasp is spot-on, and her relationship with Ant-Man is awesome. I love that she’s far better than he is at this whole shrinking and fighting deal. Along with Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer, the acting is very solid—but this comes down to a villain who, while having a good backstory and compelling story, just didn’t really resonate with me. Still, I’ll take Ghost over Whiplash or wannabe Mandarin any day. Combine that with the fact that the film is an absolute blast and its personal stakes, and this film elevates itself above some of those beneath it. Still, it can’t vault into the top half. Also, the final post-credit scene gave me some serious PTSD coming on the heels of Infinity War.

Come back in a day or two for the next round. Until then my friends, good watching.

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