Welcome to Breaking Geek, a weekly column where uber-geek Nick Doll offers commentary and reactions to the most interesting news of the week, using his expansive knowledge of all things geek!
NO INFINITY WAR SPOILERS HERE, friend. Even less details than you can get from a review or trailer!
It seems like just yesterday I was adding Black Panther to my ultimate Marvel Cinematic Universe ranking. In fact, maybe it was yesterday, as many theaters are now showing Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.
A reader commented on my first ranking, I believe, when I did every MCU film through Thor: Ragnarok last November, that I really should wait until Avengers 4 is out to rank the universe. I don’t see why we can’t have some fun in the meantime, but after seeing Infinity War, it is apparent Avengers 4 is going to influence opinions of Infinity War a bit once it is released next summer.
Of course, my rankings are always adjusting slightly, with the latest film literally influencing how I rank the rest, due to shedding more light/giving more context to certain films. My tastes also change a bit; sometimes I’m in a happy Spider-Man: Homecoming mood and sometimes I’m ready to get real with Captain America: Civil War.
This is my personal ranking of MCU films, though please discuss it with me in the comments section at the very end!
I do explain my reasoning. Because I’m not crazy, there is a reason for everything and all the movies are in their proper place. So, if you are just glancing at the order and disagreeing, maybe give it a read.
Warning, there are possible SPOILERS ahead for any film EXCEPT Avengers: Infinity War!
19. 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 Portuguese, 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.
18. 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 much of the humor from 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. In fact, I’d say Foster is one of the most annoying characters in the MCU… right behind Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings).
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. 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 Hiddleston), including a brilliant cameo featuring him turning into Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), this film would be a bigger dud than The Incredible Hulk.
It just feels, that even by the second Thor film, Marvel has no idea how to handle the character. Which does change with Ragnarok… which we will get to later!
17. 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 original savior of the MCU villains. But again, 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.
16. 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.
15. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
This one keeps moving down the list every time I rank the MCU.
Oh, how a messy third act can detract from an otherwise well-made and especially emotional film. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is very ambitious with no fear of getting too weird. The film has a lot going for it for the first two acts; beloved characters with complicated relationships, Marvel’s brightest and most eye-popping visuals to date, an upped quotient of the awesomely bizarre, and the strong theme of family. There’s the family drama of Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karren Gillan), the daddy issues Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) experiences linked to both Ego (Kurt Russell) and Yondu (Michael Rooker), and the idea of the Guardians of the Galaxy themselves being a family unit, complete with a young child in the form of Baby Groot (Vin Diesel). Though Kurt Russell as Ego is a great addition to the MCU, as is Stallone as Stakar, this is really Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Yondu’s (Michael Rooker) movie.
Taking a very Empire Strikes Back approach to his sequel, writer/director James Gunn not only used the father reveal as a plot point, but splits the Guardians into two groups, just as Luke Skywalker went his separate way from Han Solo and Leia in Empire. The result is a decent A-story following Quill and co, with a far more interesting and emotional journey taken by Rocket, Baby Groot, and Yondu. Vol. 2 also contains one of the MCU’s most depressing, yet beautiful scenes, when Yondu is introduced, buttoning up his pants as his robot hooker shuts down and he stares out the window at the cold, white snow with loneliness written all over his face. It’s a shame the finale of the film is a little nonsensical with ridiculous situations arising and several plot holes concerning what Ego is and isn’t capable of. I mean, why are there pillars erupting from the core to give Gamora and Nebula a ride to the surface? I’m sure Gunn could explain it, but sure feels a little too convenient to me.
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