Thor: Ragnarok, the seventeenth movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, flies into theaters on November 3rd, so now feels like the perfect time to delve into ranking all the films in the MCU, from worst to the best. I assure you, though most the list follows the order you would expect, I have a few surprises up my sleeve where I disagree with the common consensus of which film is better than the other. But, never fear, I explain my reasoning. Because I’m not crazy, there is a reason for everything and all the movies are in their proper place.
Warning, there are possible SPOILERS ahead for any film EXCEPT Thor: Ragnarok.
17. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The second film released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is by far the worst. In 2008, the same year Marvel Studios proved themselves as understanding the future of the superhero genre with Iron Man, they also took a giant step back with The Incredible Hulk. Back before Marvel knew how to handle the Hulk, we got a depressing film, lacking Marvel’s trademark amount of humor and levity, about a Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) who cared more about himself than any sort of heroics, too similar to Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk.
Sure, the film has its moments, like Banner warning, “You won’t like me when I’m hungry” in Spanish, but overall, this film is a dud with poor writing, a terrible villain, and a pathetic finale with two CGI monsters simply bashing each other. It doesn’t help that the recasting of Banner going forward makes this film feel like it’s not even apart of MCU continuity, more so than any other recasting Marvel Studios has had to undertake. The main positive: William Hurt is expertly cast as General ‘Thurderbolt’ Ross and is utilized later in the MCU narrative in an important role.
16. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) was funny in his first outing because he was a fish out of water, with all the hilarious misunderstandings one would expect from the would-be king of Asgard trapped on Earth. Thor: The Dark World seems to lose all the humor of the first, making Thor and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) more boring and flat than in their first appearance. Jane as a fish out of water in Asgard is not really that interesting.
This is the darkest Marvel film of all, and that’s not a good thing, as similar to The Incredible Hulk, Thor: The Dark World takes itself way too seriously. And Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) is simply the worst villain the MCU has ever featured, and the MCU is known for underwhelming villains. Were it not for an appearance from the MCU’s most charismatic character, Loki (Tom Hiddleson), including a brilliant cameo featuring him turning into Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), this film would be a bigger dud than The Incredible Hulk.
15. Thor (2011)
Apparently I’m just not that big a fan of Thor, unless he is interacting with other Avengers, which is when his “fish out of water” comedy chops truly shine. As previously mentioned, this type of humor carries the film, which, like Iron Man 2, one could accuse of setting up S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers more than being a satisfying standalone film. Most of the casting is great with side characters that continue to impress including Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Idris Elba as Heimdall, Jamie Alexander as Sif, and Stellen Skarsgard as Erik Selvig.
And then there is Loki, Thor’s greatest strength and savior of the MCU villains. On the other hand, Kat Dennings as Darcy is simply the most annoying character in the entire MCU. So, while Thor does some great world building with the introduction of Asgard and further exploration of S.H.I.E.L.D., this is still Marvel Studios in their early phases, trying to figure out the right tone and flow of what their superhero films will eventually become.
14. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Iron Man 2 is not as bad as you remember. Yes, the plot is a bigger mess than Thor (but not Thor: The Dark World or The Incredible Hulk), and it too feels like a commercial for S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as a venue to set up Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), more than a completely standalone flick. This seems to be a common thread that Marvel Studios couldn’t seem to balance in their early days, Iron Man 2 being only their third film. Mickey Rourke is terrible as Ivan Vanko/Whiplash, right down to his damn bird. But there is some great stuff in here.
Though her character is as flat as they come, Black Widow’s first appearance still set a new standard for action scenes choreographed for women; an action style that has been repeated again and again in films like Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and Atomic Blonde. Sam Rockwell is brilliant as Justin Hammer, perhaps the most underused character in the MCU. The comedy he brings to the film cannot be understated, with his desire to be as cool as rival Tony Stark, but with none of the charm or charisma. Nothing beats watching Hammer crack jokes and dance at the Stark Expo in the finale, a bit of showmanship that earns him nothing but crickets. Everything that worked in Iron Man continues to work here, and the recasting of James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes (this time played by Don Cheadle) is actually an improvement and isn’t as distracting as the recasting of Banner in The Incredible Hulk.
13. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
This movie’s biggest weakness is trying to cram all of Steve Rogers’ escapades across WWII into the second half of a film. Heck, it feels like we see several years go by in a simple montage of Cap’s Howling Commandos attacking Hydra units and strongholds. The first half of the film is brilliant, with an uncredited but very noticeable rewrite by Joss Whedon, making the dialogue crisp, fun, authentic, and emotionally charged as Steve Rogers goes from 90-pound scrawny wimp into real life sized Chris Evans.
The effects used to create scrawny Rogers are phenomenal, the first time Marvel Studios attempted such techniques, as is much of the casting including Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Dominic Cooper as young Howard Stark, Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Philips, Stanley Tucci as Dr. Erskine, Sebastian Stan as Bucky, and Toby Jones as Dr. Armin Zola. Though not all of these characters return, those that do are established well enough in this first film to really pay off in spades in Captain America: The Winter Solider. Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) is better than your average MCU villain, and it is a shame we have not seen him return – I still stand by the interpretation that he wasn’t killed by the Tesseract, but rather transported halfway across the galaxy, as the visual effect used is remarkably similar to that of transporting via Bifrost in Thor. Again, we have a film that feels like a set-up for The Avengers, not helped by the poor decision to open the film in the present as S.H.I.E.L.D. locates Steve Rogers, but it doesn’t suffer from this imbalance as much as Iron Man 2 or Thor.
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