Avengers: Age of Ultron, undoubtedly one of the most anticipated movies of 2015, was recently released on May 1st. Coming off of a massively successful first film that made shared universes the biggest fad, (as well as $1.5 billion worldwide) Age of Ultron has a lot to live up to and for the most part, it has delivered. And with the release of the new film, what better time than ever to look at and rank the 10 previous films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the first film series to take separate B and C-list characters and make them box office giants?
#10: Iron Man 2 (2010)
Iron Man 2 suffers from what I like to call the “Spider-Man 3 Syndrome.” For those who don’t know, this means that the movie tries to jam so much into its 2-hour running time that it can be difficult to separate the main plot from the numerous subplots. This movie includes so much that it feels extremely unfocused, and it’s clear that it’s just an Avengers prequel, jammed with endless references and setups that keeps it from being its own movie. Granted, it’s not terrible, but far from great.
#9: Iron Man 3 (2013)
For its first half, Iron Man 3 was actually pretty good. Its mature story is welcomed, and it featured great action scenes featuring an intimidating villain who seemed like a wonderfully terrifying menace. But then there was the god awful twist halfway through the film where the villain the Mandarin was turned into a mere actor playing a part for a bland Guy Pearce. The man promised in the movie’s advertising could have been what the Joker is to Batman, but instead the filmmakers decided to slap the fans of the comic in the face.Iron Man 3 had its chance. It could have given us something amazing, but it blew it.
#8: Thor: The Dark World (2013)
For every good thing in Thor: The Dark World, there is another aspect that could use plenty of improvement. For every great serious moment, there is uninspired and forced comic relief. For everything involving Loki, one of the few good villains in the Marvel movies, there is Natalie Portman, who isn’t given anything to do except spout exposition and get infected by a giant blob of ink. And despite the gorgeous production design, we’ve seen the plot a million times. Kat Dennings’ scenes are a pain to sit through, and the villain has virtually no personality other than he wants to destroy everything because he’s evil, I guess.
#7: The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Everything that was good about this movie seems to have been sprouted from a checklist of the problems with Ang Lee’s Hulk. Where the 2003 film wasted too much time on the origin story, this version covers all background information in the opening credits. Where the original had too much sulking but not enough smash, this rendition amps it up on the action sequences. And while the original Hulk was cartoonish, the new one is better, (But still fake looking) and Edward Norton gives an excellent performance in the title role. That said, Liv Tyler in the role of his girlfriend has close to no personality, and the finale is essentially a CGI Rock-em Sock-em.
#6: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
This is one of the first movies in the series that feels like a genuine comic book, and its Indiana Jones-style tone fits perfectly in its 1940s setting. Chris Evans immerses himself perfectly into the title character, the action sequences are very well-done (Although not exceptional) and the tragic ending can even be a little heartbreaking. However, a rather important part of the plot is covered a little too quickly in a montage, and, as much as Hugo Weaving tries to fill the role of the villainous Red Skull, he is pretty forgettable and campy.
#5: Thor (2011)
Back in 2011, Thor was quite a risky move, as introducing Norse mythology into a world full of superheroes and alien races is not exactly the easiest feat to pull off. So, to make a more compelling plot, the movie decides to take away his powers, making him easier to handle. The movie is primarily a character piece about Thor’s struggle with his new position instead of throwing out a string of brainless action sequences. The movie expertly introduces the more mystical side of the Marvel universe, and gives us Loki, who is undoubtedly the best villain the MCU has given to date.
#4: Iron Man (2008)
When 2008’s Iron Man was first released, most had no idea who Iron Man was. Marvel Studios, just starting out, realized they couldn’t rely on a recognizable brand to get people into theaters- the movie had to actually be good. And thank goodness it was, because if it had flopped, the MCU wouldn’t exist. Robert Downey, Jr. gives an amazing performance in the title role, making the movie 10x better than it could’ve been with anyone else playing the character. The origin story, which also acts as a tale of redemption, is wonderfully well-done and full of realism and grit, although still fun enough to avoid Dark Knight-territory. The special effects are great, the comedy is just as good, and it also gave us one of the best post-credits scenes of all time. Jeff “The Dude” Bridges is rather flat as the villain, but that’s one problem in an otherwise great film.
#3: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
If Thor was a bit risky, then Guardians of the Galaxy was absolute suicide. A film set almost entirely in a different galaxy, featuring D-list characters only the most die-hard comic-book readers have even heard of, and starring a gun-toting raccoon and a talking tree? This should have crashed and burned. But because of the utter absurdity of the movie’s premise, director James Gunn made it as wacky as possible, making one of the entertaining films of 2014, due in no small part to the performances from the lead actors, incredibly detailed special effects, the witty humour and a soundtrack composed entirely of pop songs from the 1970s and 80s. Unfortunately, Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser is one of the worst Marvel villains so far, coming across as both incredibly campy and with less personality than sandpaper. But what’s most important about the film is what it represents: If Marvel can take such a jeopardous project and still make $774.2 million, they should be able to do anything in the future. (Well, maybe except a Howard the Duck reboot.)
#2: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
If you have noticed the order of the previous films, you will notice that each sequel has been ranked lower than its preceding film. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the exception to this rule as one of the best superhero movies of all time. If in The First Avenger he just seemed like a boring blue Boy Scout, in The Winter Soldier he is a force to be reckoned with. The tone is darker. The action is filmed exceptionally well, with many breathtaking scenes keeping you on the edge of your seat, unsure of whether the characters will actually survive. The story, which questions who can be trusted, is an excellent metaphor for modern times, as well as providing a contrast to the black-and-white nature of the previous film. And a certain twist involving the antagonist of the movie’s title is wonderfully pulled off, as well as an earlier one revealing that the villainous society HYDRA has been growing inside of SHIELD for decades. Considering the film’s intentional similarities to 1970s political thrillers such as Three Days of the Condor, it’s nice to have some class added to the film by veteran actor Robert Redford. Its excellent direction by the Russo brothers Anthony and Joe makes this the best standalone Marvel movie yet, and it would be the best period, were it not for the existence of the following film…
#1: The Avengers
In all honesty, all this movie had to do was bring together the characters introduced in the previous films and it would be remembered just for that achievement. But the reason The Avengers is the best Marvel movie yet is simple: Writer/director Joss Whedon. Having already worked on TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, as well as the comic series Fray, Whedon is no stranger to comic book-style properties, and the film literally feels like a 1960s Avengers comic jumping right off the page. This is in big part thanks to his trademark blend of action, humour, well-written characters and dialogue. It is clear throughout the film that Whedon has a perfect understanding of and respect for these characters that he manages to effortlessly fit into his style. Added to that top-notch performances from the entire cast, (Except for Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, who isn’t given anything to do except act like a mindless zombie for ⅔ of the movie and shoot some arrows) the return of Loki, the best villain in the series so far, seamless special effects and an insanely entertaining finale, it’s clear why this is the best entry in the Marvel series to date. But with the recent release of Age of Ultron and 11 more films expected in the next 4 years alone, this lineup could change so quickly it may be almost completely different before long, and The Avengers may even be dethroned in the top spot.