Another List to Please List God
My, oh my, in the year since I wrote my last Marvel ranking, we have had FOUR more films released by the company. With such a major output coming to us from the studio, and the fact that Avengers: Infinty War has expanded or disregarded key pieces of several films I’ve referenced, I figure it’s just as good a time as any to take stock of Marvel Studios’ output. And what better day than today, May 2, 2018, ten years to the date this whole experiment kicked off. So without further ado, here come the rankings…
#19. Thor: The Dark World
Still the absolute worst one. Nope, the film isn’t even worth viewing for discovering what the Reality Stone is supposed to be. Compared to every other film on this list, and ESPECIALLY after the third Thor film, The Dark World has a big bag of absolutely nothing to work with. The comedy is at its weakest in this entry, the characters are positively forgettable here save for Loki, and the main villain of the production is so damn forgettable that I can’t be arsed to look up his name. I know he was a Dark Elf and…he apparently wanted to cover the galaxy in darkness because….reasons? Honestly, Thanos makes this villain look even worse by comparison. For people, dying to see Infinity War, but want to catch up on character histories, do yourself a favor and skip this one. Even more tragic? Patty Jenkins, the director of Wonder Woman, was supposed to direct this entry, but due to studio interference with an executive (who is no longer connected to Marvel Films any more), she exited the project. Her departure is also a reason Natalie Portman did not want to work with Marvel again. The fact that this film could have been something interesting, is what cements this film to maintain the title of very worst Marvel Studios film.
#18. Iron Man 2
I know several fans of the Marvel film series consider this to be the absolute worst one, but I still maintain Thor: The Dark World is considerably worse for the reasons stated above. But I get why people thought it sucked: there was a rushed development schedule, major casting change from Terrance Howard to Don Cheadle, and a severely unfocused plot that couldn’t decide on a main villain with Mickey Rourke as Whiplash, Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, the U.S. Government, or hell, just Tony Stark himself. The film was just crammed with references to the future Avengers films, and was widely derided as one long trailer that you had to pay money to see in theaters. The only reason it gets a bump up from The Dark World, was that I could tell Jon Favreau was trying to do something with this plot as a bizarre adaptation of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged…seriously. Also, Scarlett Johanson’s debut as Black Widow was particularly memorable with that stylish climactic fight in the end. It’s just enough to make me give a shit. Just.
#17. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
I’ll repeat what I said last year: this film wasn’t half bad, but it just hasn’t aged well in the following years. On one hand, this movie was at least a healthy antidote to whatever the hell Ang Lee’s Hulk was apparently trying to do. And I still do admire Edward Norton’s performance as well as his own attempts to mess with the script in order to forge a Bruce Banner that was both sympathetic and complex without ever getting so dour. Granted, Mark Ruffalo has won my heart as my favorite interpretation of the characters of Hulk/Banner; but Norton’s work is still to be commended. But the movie has some really nasty pacing issues that can’t be ignored, and those special effects haven’t aged well in the past decade.
#16. Avengers: Age of Ultron
A big crack in the Marvel making machine, that I still found reasons to like back in 2015…but I must confess that with Infinity War and the rest of the Cinematic Universe’s Phase 3 output, the film has only tumbled in terms of approval from me. It’s not the worst thing ever, I mean it’s not Batman v. Superman, but it’s a mess of a film from a storytelling perspective. The film tried to set up plot points that wouldn’t become relevant until Infinity War, Thor: Ragnarok, and Captain America: Civil War, so we basically got a repeat of the same mistakes that afflicted Iron Man 2. Joss Whedon left the Marvel film project shortly after the release of this film, which combined with Edgar Wright’s departure from Ant-Man, forced Disney’s hand in restructuring Marvel Studios to give Kevin Feige more control away from the toy division of the company that was demanding shoehorned plot points. The only reason it gets a leg up from the preceding films was because of the interactions between the Avengers is still entertaining to watch, particularly with the after party scene and the farm scene. As I’ve mentioned in countless reviews for these films, what keeps me coming back to these movies are the characters and the various relationships between them.
Shakespearean actor/filmmaker Kenneth Branagh was tasked to make a superhereo movie out of Norse mythology. To be perfectly honest, this film is likely the greatest result from combining such weird elements together. Succeeding where Iron Man 2 failed in setting up future movies, Thor was far more concerned with serving as a traditional fish-out-of-water story than as an extended trailer for The Avengers (2012). Featuring a pretty unique main character that develops a complete narrative arc by the end of the film that feels satisfying, as well as one of the most charismatic antagonists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; Thor is still an enjoyable experience despite the fact it only teases the weirdness of cosmic side of the comic universe as opposed to just reveling in it. While Thor: The Dark World failed to deliver on the reveling, it wouldn’t be until several years later that we would get the promise of what Thor was teasing.
The final nail in the coffin that shackled the production company to the toy and comics arm of the company, Edgar Wright’s high profile departure from this project forced Disney to make a much needed restructuring which has lead to more consistently entertaining films from here on out. While some nerds bemoan the loss of their beloved Edgar Wright, many of the final product’s best moments came from the replacement director, Peyton Reed, who did such an impressive job that he was immediately offered the chance to direct this film’s sequel in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Between it’s charming comedic moments, a thoroughly likable protagonist, and even a resolution to family drama that rarely exists in the Hollywood blockbuster scene; there’s a lot to enjoy here that many people don’t give the film as a whole enough credit for. And I will still be that guy who likes Michael Pena in this. Don’t @ me, bro.
#13. Spider-Man: Homecoming
It’s a little strange that we are on our THIRD film actor portraying Spider-man in ten years. But after Sony Pictures’ disastrous handling of the character, to the point they wanted to create a “Spider-verse” with spin-offs featuring the Web Head’s rogues gallery, people were ready to write the character off completely. Thankfully, after one too many mistakes by Sony, Marvel was able to take creative control of the character once more and provide audiences with a fun new take on the character in Spider-man: Homecoming. While missing the ever important aspects of responsibility and guilt that has defined the character for years, this film’s light-hearted tone was necessary after the gloomy Amazing Spider-man films nearly torpoedoed the character’s good will in the eyes of the public. And I do understand that some fans were let down by this version, there was still so much that was done right in this movie: showing off a charming “Friendly Neighborhood” Spider-man with a charismatic new actor, giving the hero a new supporting cast that feels engaging in his life, and providing us with Michael Keaton in a deeply layered antagonistic role that made him more frightening than many other superpowered villains stomping around the MCU.
#12. Iron Man
The one that started it all. Who would have thought back in 2008 that comic book movies were going to be a pop culture phenomenon and that Robert Downey Jr. was going to be a major bankable star again? But both events came to fruition and one would not exist without the other. Downey truly sold you on the idea that he was Tony Stark while giving audiences at the time a hero they truly never heard of or even seen before. Granted, time has dulled the sheen off of this first film, partly because other films (including Marvel) have ripped off various elements from the production in better ways the original wasn’t meant to handle. And yes, the third act really falls apart compared to the intense energy that preceded with the first two acts. Still, I got to show it some love for introducing people to a new side of a comic book universe people were unaware of.
#11. Doctor Strange
Despite the fact that its plot shamelessly rips off the plot of the first Iron Man, this is still the most visually arresting production Marvel has conjured up to date. And despite the gorgeous effects, the film also packs some clever writing and dialogue exploring the supernatural in a fun, pulpy kind of way that I seriously wished more studios would implement in their genre fiction. But that’s what you get when you hire a horror writer and director in C. Robert Cargill and Scott Derickson, pure fantasy love. Complimenting this wonderful style is a solid performance by Benedict Cumberbatch as the Sorcerer Supreme alongside several other hugely talented thespians taking the ethereal concepts as serious as anyone could while still finding time to give you a laugh here and there.
#10. Captain America: The First Avenger
Out of all the various series under the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Captain America films are hands down my favorite of the whole bunch for being both consistently enjoyable and amazingly thought-provoking. Further, much like Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man, the cinematic version of Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, would simply not work without Chris Evans. The charisma, the physique, and the overall attitude of Captain America are perfectly captured with the casting choice alone. Add in some solid writing and direction courtesy of Joe Johnson, director of the severely underrated The Rocketeer, the love of 1940’s era heroics shines through as The First Avenger takes on you on its pulpy thrill ride in a traditional one good man versus unabashed evil. And while some still bemoan Captain America for being a goody two shoes boyscout, that is the element I love most about this character. He’s a self-sacrificing man who just won’t stop idly by as bullies make a mess of things, with a profound sense of justice that is still so damn inspiring for me at the ripe old age of thirty years old…shit I mean, thirty-one years old. Jebas.
#9. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Quite surprised how divisive this film has been received in the previous year. While some were turned off by the unfocused plot, this film now holds the distinction as being the only Marvel film that came close to getting me to tear up. A high feat that few films over the years have accomplished. And that’s mostly thanks to the fact both this film and its predecessor did such an amazing job in getting me emotionally invested in the lives of a talking raccoon with serious trust issues, a walking baby tree, two cyborgnetic assassins that had abusive childhoods, a borderline autistic lunatic, a redneck mercenary, a vulnerable empath, and a Han Solo-wannabe desperately learning to be a better man. The film’s best moments come from the fact that these characters are trying so damn hard to escape their torrid pasts as they try to connect with each other as a dysfunctional but nonetheless loving family. And now that the song “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens also starts making me weepy as a result of this movie, well I just wouldn’t be doing my job in appreciating fine art if I didn’t praise this movie to the heavens.
#8. Iron Man 3
Happy to see this film has slowly been more well received as the years have gone by, because many people hate this film upon release (and these people were, are, and always will be absolutely wrong). People keep bemoaning this film as “bad” simply because the film pulled a bait-and-switch with the main antagonist as the Mandarin to be played by Ben Kinglsey, when that wasn’t the main focus of the production at all. This was a film all about dealing with PTSD; with our main protagonist coming to grips the fact that not only did he almost die in one of the worst ways imaginable, but his new family is at risk with dangers that he never predicted could exist. Once again, Downey Jr. is in top form here as he works through his emotional baggage in order to save the day leading to a much stronger emotional payoff at the end of the film. Coupled with some of the smartest writing that has graced the MCU courtesy of Shane Goddamn Black, and it’s easy to explain why this film is one of my favorites.
#7. Avengers: Infinity War
For a film that I had just seen less than a week ago, and to be so far high up on this list? Yeah, it’s actually pretty damn impressive. My non-spoiler review is in that hyperlink, with a full-on spoiler discussion here. While the critiques that this film, more than any other, requires homework before watching it are entirely valid; I still maintain that Infinity War truly exists in its own little standard separate from common film critique. As I pointed out in my review, watching this film without having seen other Marvel properties would be akin to watching Return of the King, Return of the Jedi or witnessing the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones without having seen everything that lead up to these specific properties. While irritating to some critics, I still found quite a bit to enjoy here, though this mandatory preparation does force me to not consider this film higher on this list.
#6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Whereas the first Captain America film was a war movie, it’s sequel was curiously a spy thriller. The huge shift in tone pays off in gangbusters with a movie that drops the biggest story bomb affecting this series of films in ways that forces the audience to rethink some of the interactions they saw in previous installments, while also setting up an absurdly satisfying climax across three different locations. This is also where I felt Scarlett Johansson really shined as Black Widow compared to her many other appearances, and its all thanks to the Russo Brothers’ incredible mastery of the actors and sets to give you a suspenseful thriller that still manages to impress me every time I see it. Between this film and its sequel, it’s easy to see why they were tapped to handle Infinity War and Avengers 4.
#5. Captain America: Civil War
When I first saw this film, I didn’t think I would love Civil War over The Winter Soldier, but time has only confirmed this installment to be the best of the Captain America films. It’s funny that I was initially impressed with how the Russo Brothers handled over fourteen major players going at each other all at once, but Infinity War now makes that number feel so quaint by comparison. But it’s really thanks to the directing duo’s talents that the film manages to give each and every single actor a chance to shine in truly unexpected ways. But what makes me rank this film higher than The Winter Soldier is the the fierce emotional fight between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. These are two guys who really, REALLY don’t want to fight each other, but circumstances and loyalty have driven these former best friends into bitter enemies that leads to a final confrontation that is just plain heartbreaking to watch. The last fight between Captain America and Iron Man isn’t just brutal to watch as these guys physically mess each other up, they’re psyches are damaged beyond all reason. For that, this film deserves all the praise it gets.
#4. Thor: Ragnarok
This film is pure, unfiltered, joy. I couldn’t sum it up any clearer than that, but Ragnarok not only upended what to expect from Thor and his mis-adventures but also surpassed audience expectations in what a good movie can become: it could not only be comedic, entertaining, exciting but it can also delve into startlingly dark concepts on how colonialism is inextricably tied to some cultures’ growth and that the only solution to move on from such terrible deeds would be to burn it all to ashes. Like I said, startlingly dark…but you could also ignore all that and just enjoy the non-stop laughs courtesy of funny man, Taika Waititi. But you should probably NOT ignore those dark elements, they are quite rewarding to ponder about.
#3. The Avengers (2012)
Only six superheroes? My how different the world has become ever since Marvel Studios’ took Hollywood by storm and basically reinvented the blockbuster business that we now see so few protagonists as an oddity. But after so many years, this film still has a special place in my heart. Not just because I can recall whole lines of dialogue perfectly six years later, when I can barely remember what I said in court last week. Not just because it was the first big team up between all these separate superheroes from various different genres. It’s because that it’s truly a sight to behold all of these characters working so well together. But with the strength of a director like Joss Whedon who understood each and every single character better than most people, he crafted together an experience that I still love to revisit again and again. His screenplay is near perfection, with tiny lines of dialogue revealing so much about each character better than some films taking whole screen times to discuss. All of this before to the balls to the wall climax that made everyone in theaters everywhere cheer. The whole experience remains as truly one of my favorite films of all time, I say that with zero hyperbole. And yet, two other Marvel films still command my respect more than this one.
#2. Guardians of the Galaxy
Last year, this film was my absolute favorite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Taking everything that I loved about the team dynamics from The Avengers and throwing it into a comical space opera, Guardians of the Galaxy is everything I love about filmmaking: creative sets, unique and complex characters, a well told story, and exciting action set pieces that continuously impress. While also serving as the best introduction to the cosmic side of this weird, the film never gets too bogged down with too much exposition and is instead far more concerned with having you care about each and every one of these anti-heroes. Add to that one of the most creative uses of a licensed soundtrack, that I immediately purchased following the film, and it’s easy to see why this was such a major landmark for me. It was only recently dethroned from my top spot by the one, the only…
#1. Black Panther
For ten years, Marvel Studios has been entertaining audiences the world over with their films. It’s absolutely astounding to me that the company is producing their best work now, after so many years and after so many ups and downs both internally and externally with multiple film studios trying to grab onto their coattails. Yet, Black Panther has claimed my favorite position by functioning as one of the best speculative science fiction stories I have ever seen. More than a mere action film, this is a movie that explores the curious scenario of an African nation untouched by colonization and being far and way more advanced than any global superpower on Earth, be it a hero or country. Featuring a fully realized cast of characters that each represent a different take on Black culture, it’s truly impressive to see how Marvel can not only entertain but pose serious ethical and moral issues to its audiences and spark a cultural phenomenon while they’re at it. All thanks to the wonderful work of damn great thespians like Chadwick Boseman, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o, and especially Michael B. Jordan, as well as the phenomenal direction of Ryan Coogler, Black Panther sits proudly on its throne as my favorite MCU film.
Agree, disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments below!