• Michael T. Christensen

The Marvel Cinematic Universe - Movie Rankings So Far (2019/2020 edition)

I'm still kind of bummed that we're not getting a new Marvel movie this year, but I also appreciate that it's ultimate a good thing for several reasons. First, nobody should release films exclusive to theaters during a pandemic (glares at Christopher Nolan and New Mutants, respectively). Second, I'm sure more pre-production for these films is always good. And third, all of my friends who are burnt out on Marvel can use the quarantine as a break from them before they return.

But that's now how my brain works, so I'm going to rank the films as they currently stand, and list a few quick thoughts on how I feel about them all.

A quick but important caveat: none of these films are perfect. Even my favorites have flaws, and for some of you, those might be movie-breaking issues. That's totally fair, feel free to feel what you feel. These rankings are my own.

23. Captain Marvel

More than most of the others on the list, I hope you like this movie, I really do. And I absolutely don't want to take anything away from anyone who did like it, and anyone that feels an important connection to the film. In all honesty, I'm not the target audience, and that's okay.

I really wanted to like this one. Instead I thought it was predictable, underwhelming, and the only Marvel movie where they forget to give the main character a personality.

Nick Fury and Talos are the best parts, but who is Carol? What would she do when put in tough situations? How does she treat her friends in everyday life? I know this answer for Tony, Steve, Thor, Peter Q., Peter P., Stephen, and T’Challa. After two hours, I don’t know Carol.

Also, Nick Fury losing his eye to a cat is funny for about 5 minutes, and then you realize how underwhelming that is.

In Winter Soldier, Nick Fury said, “Last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye.”

There are shapeshifters in this movie.

I think they wasted a cool opportunity to do something interesting with what they were given.

22. Thor: Ragnarok

I’m well aware I’m in the minority here, but I don’t think this movie works that well for me. I love a lot of moments, but I think it goes too hard for jokes and undersells or rushes through a lot of important dramatic beats. I like a lot of the jokes individually, but once we are on Sakaar it feels more like set-up/punchline jokes rather than banter or fun observations about the world. It feels like a sitcom.

I wish I liked this movie, but so much of it just feels flat. Everything with the Grand Master feels like something out of a sitcom, complete with cardboard-looking backdrops and props, and jokes that go way too long.

I think Thor as a character is great, and I do like him in this film. Same goes for the Hulk, Loki, Valkyrie, and Korg. But it undersells a few important moments that should have weight.

The moment in Grand Master’s chambers when Thor breaks his chains and calls himself God of Thunder, and then there are just sparks... man, it just doesn’t work. Chris Hemsworth looks like an actor executing awkward blocking and direction, not like Thor trying to break free.

Also, Hela is great in theory but underwhelming in the film. I really dislike the “What were you the god of again” moment because that’s only something you say when you’re giving the hero a cool set-up to do cool things.

Bruce hits the rainbow bridge and seemed to be paralyzed instead of becoming the Hulk. It’s predictable because I know this movie wants to take the piss out of “expected” movie moments. (Also, they used a very similar gag in the Incredible Hulk. Liked it better there.)

I do love the line, “Are you the god of hammers?” I love a lot of lines in the movie. I just don’t think it hangs together well.

21. Doctor Strange

This film has three of my favorite Marvel scenes:

A) Strange snapping at Rachel McAdams when he’s at his lowest point, and sending her away. It’s a great bottom-of-the-barrel moment that gives him somewhere to build to through his arc.

B) Strange correcting the Ancient One that he’s a doctor, and remarking that he just killed someone and broke his hippocratic oath. More moments like this in MCU movies please.

C) “Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.” It’s a fantastic Dr. Strange moment.

The rest of the movie is, you know, fine. The action is good but the movie looks flat, and it’s not nearly as funny as it thinks it is.

20. Iron Man 2

We are officially into the region of movies I like. Iron Man 2 has too many subplots and it’s way too interested in making sure you know the Avengers is coming, but I think the action scenes are excellent (except for the final Whiplash fight).

We also get the introduction of Howard Stark as a character played by John Slattery, and a better sense of Tony’s relationship with him. And considering it seems to be resolved in this film, it’s surprising how much future drama is still mined from what’s established here.

Whiplash works until right after the Monaco scene, but he gets what he wants too early. He’s entertaining to watch, but not a strong enough character to drive the final fight.

Justin Hammer is fantastic, and he’s used perfectly in the film. Wouldn’t change a thing about him.

19. Iron Man 3

I think this movie has a very strong intro, a decent second act that drags until we reach the Air Force One scene (still an MCU highlight), and a coocoo-bananas ending that doesn’t quite work for me but it’s certainly ambitious.

It definitely delivers on what was the biggest weakness of the previous Iron Man films – the action.  They did a much better job with the fight scenes this time around, and the climactic fight with the 40+ armors versus the Extremis soldiers is a delight.

This was also the first post-Avengers movie, and they did a really nice job at addressing what the world was like in the aftermath – and that’s especially true of Tony’s post-traumatic stress disorder. It feels like the logical progression of the character after what happens to him in New York, and serves a similar function as the “Tony is dying” storyline in Iron Man 2, but in a way that actually works a lot better for the story and serves the character a lot better.

Oh, and the Mandarin twist doesn’t bother me, but I do think Guy Pierce could’ve been a better villain. I think the twist would’ve landed better if Killian had filled his place more effectively.

18. The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk is somewhat forgotten these days, but I actually like this film a lot. I can’t deny that it’s certainly much more dour than the other Marvel films, which is pretty jarring when you watch them all back-to-back (as I have many times), but I think that’s appropriate for the Hulk as a character. He isn’t a billionaire playboy philanthropist, an optimistic patriot with a heart of gold, or an over-enthusiastic Viking god – he’s a man with severe anger issues he can’t control, which is treated as a disease in the film. The movie even shows a counter of “Days Without Incident” to mark the passing of time, like an alcoholic counting the days since his last drink.

One of the aspects that works surprisingly well is how much of the movie plays without dialogue (the first thirty minutes are practically all in Portuguese, and there's some amazing visual storytelling at play). Bruce spends much of the movie alone, with no one to talk to, and the movie does a really nice job of showing that isolation weigh heavy on him. It’s necessary to keep people safe, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it. It also did a really nice job of setting up Bruce’s relationship with the Hulk, in an arc of accepting his condition that continues into The Avengers.

At the end of the day, after the mess of a film that was Ang Lee’s Hulk, I think we just needed a well-told version of the “Bruce Banner: Man on the Run” story that the TV show did so well. Banner is such a great, proactive character, and his arc in the film genuinely works.

17. Thor

This movie has a great villain, a tight story, a fantastic appearance by Agent Coulson, and boy howdy is it fun. Seeing Thor rolling striding around New Mexico provides a lot of fantastic fish-out-of-water comedy, but there’s also a lot of genuine pathos and drama with Thor and his father.

And then there’s Loki. And Loki is fantastic, especially in Thor. Tom Hiddleston does a terrific job with balancing Loki’s manipulative nature with his conflicted feelings towards his brother and his father. There’s a reason Loki was the villain in The Avengers (beyond the fact that he was the villain in the first issue of the comic), and a reason he got so much screen time in Thor: The Dark World – he a fantastic villain who steals the show in every scene he’s in.

There's not a lot to say that hasn’t been said - this movie should be dog-crap but instead it is delightful.

16. Thor: The Dark World

Hey, guess what? I like this movie. The villains are crap, but everything else is A++.

Everyone raves about how Ragnarok is a comedy, but Dark World has a great balance of comedy and drama. Maybe I just like Darcy more than most, but even if you don’t like her there’s still Dr. Selvig, Loki, and Thor‘s casual acceptance of earth stuff.

It’s also the first time we see Loki post-Avengers, and we deal with the consequences and fallout of his villainy in a great way. At first it seems he’s just gonna be our Hannibal Lector, but he has a complex relationship with Thor in this story.

You don’t get Ragnarok without this movie. My second-biggest issue with the film is that Sif and Jane Foster are both dropped from the next film for no real reason. It really undercuts this movie in a huge way.

My biggest issue is how utterly wasted Christopher Eccleston and Adawale Akinnuoye-Agbaje are as the villains. Malekith and Kurse are the lamest villains of the MCU.

I also love how the film abandons science at the end, they just talk about stars, draw some lines on a map and announce they’re going to London for the climax. But then we get a final fight with lots of delightful teleportation between realms.

Thor’s intro features him arriving on a battlefield, and then this fantastic exchange:

Sif: “I’ve got this under control!”

Thor: “Is that why everything’s on fire?” *smiles*

Rewatch Thor 2, it’s better than you think.

15. Spider-Man: Far from Home

This movie is incredibly enjoyable, but it's not very memorable. The most shocking moments both happen during the end credits, which doesn't speak that well to the film itself. Still, it's a joyful follow-up to Spider-Man: Homecoming and a nice epilogue to Endgame, and I'm glad we got it out of the way before Phase 4.

14. Ant-Man

A very fun movie, it only loses points for sidelining Hope (the plot does its best to justify it, but it’s still a bummer she doesn’t get to shrink) and for occasionally being embarrassed about a lead character named Ant-Man.

Also, Darren Cross is a slightly better villain then he is on paper purely because of how much fun Corey Stoll has while playing him. He’s forgettable, but fun to watch.

13. Ant-Man and the Wasp

These movies practically rank together, because they’re so similar. This one jumps above the first because of Hope, plus the fact that we get to see Scott and Hope as characters in Michael Pena’s drunk history segments.

Cassie is also A+ in this movie, and I love the format that Scott has to keep getting back home before the FBI catch him. It’s so simple and screwball but it works.

Just like in the MCU Spider-Man films, the stakes are so small (literally) but so deeply personal. The bad guys are Ghost and some thugs with guns, and that’s all we need.

12. Black Panther

It's hard to talk about what a profound impact this movie had on so many people, especially while we still mourn the very recent death of Chadwick Boseman. One thing that sets Marvel apart from other blockbusters is their focus on their protagonists; many of their villains are underwritten, but the heroes always stand strong and well-developed.

Chadwick Boseman brought an incredible strength and dignity to the role of Black Panther. Many names had been considered for the part over the past few decades, but I honestly don't know who else could have done what he did with the job. He translated all of the gravitas and regality the character had on the page, and brought it to the big screen. Little more can be said about this masterful performance, except for the fact that he's surrounded by an exceptional cast.

Killmonger is the third best villain in the MCU to date (second to Thanos and Loki), and he pushes T’Challa to change his ideals throughout the film. It’s the same format of the Legend of Korra, where the hero and villain are both wrong when the story starts, but the hero learns from the villain.

T’Challa takes the lesson taught by Killmonger and creates a third choice, moving Wakanda into a new era of crossovers with other Marvel movies. And while we will not be able to see Boseman play the role again post-Endgame, the lesson the film gives us is powerful and timely.

11. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

It’s got a slow start but the ending is fantastic. This movie would rank above the first one, except Drax treats Mantis like dirt and it’s played for laughs over and over. It sucks.

Still, I love the character work for this film. The moment Ego says, “It broke my heart to put that tumor in her head,” the entire audience feels what Quill feels, and the rest of the movie is fallout from that one line.

Rocket as the emotional center is unexpected but it works so well because it’s been earned.

10. Avengers: Age of Ultron

I like this movie. I like how weird and human Ultron is. I love the Tony/Steve tension that percolates under the surface for so much of the film. Love Hawkeye being the most regular-guy Avenger (this is his best film to date, second is Endgame).

I love that every action scene is about protecting civilians (at least in part), and the one that isn’t (the penthouse attack) is boring as a result. We know none of the Avengers will die halfway through, and certainly not the headliners. But we can worry that they will fail.

It also feels like a great response to Man of Steel. If Tony Stark, weapons designer and killer of terrorists, realizes he should try to move a fight out of a populated city, then Superman has no excuse for staying in Metropolis when fighting Zod.

9. Captain America: The First Avenger

The first hour is A+++, and if the second half was better, this movie would go so much higher. Steve Rogers leaps into your heart the moment he leaps onto the grenade.

Once he’s Captain America, the movie turns into a series of montages (with a few great scenes peppered throughout), and that drags the film down. But after Red Skull is gone the movie comes to life for the final ten minutes.

The heartbreaking cut to black after “I had a date” perfectly sets up Cap’s pathos through all other MCU appearances, culminating in Endgame. It’s one of the best endings of any Marvel film.

8. Spider-Man: Homecoming

I didn’t expect to rank this so high, but I really love the small-scale nature of this quiet little movie. The stakes feel smaller than every other Marvel movie and every other Spider-Man movie, but the stakes are all entirely personal.

Michael Keaton’s Vulture is also a fantastic villain. This needed to be its own point.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy

An impossible task of introducing a full cast without the benefit of individual lead-up films, and all with selfish reasons to work together, and somehow it earns the family bond the characters have at the end of the film.

Also, a raccoon with a gun (who now has a Grammy) rides on a walking, talking tree played by the Iron Giant. Movies are good.

6. The Avengers

I am willing to admit that The Avengers is not a perfect movie. The ending is a bit convenient, the amount of collateral damage is pretty shocking when examined, and Black Widow literally describes her method of freeing Hawkeye from mind control as “I hit you really hard in the head.” It’s got some flaws, sure; and if you’re not down with this one, then it’s just not for you, and that’s certainly fine.

But man, I love the hell out of this movie.

Partly, I love this film for what it represents – the culmination of a 5+ year plan to bring these franchises together into one film, and evoke the feeling that you only got from Marvel Comics in the ’60s, the excitement of an interconnected universe pay off by seeing your favorite characters standing side-by-side, bickering and fighting, and ultimately teaming up to save the day. I also just think it’s a really fun movie.

As far as character development goes, it’s in sort of an odd place, since it serves as a pseudo-sequel for most of the characters. Iron Man may not learn as much over the course of the movie as he might during one of his own films, but he still gets a very clearly defined arc. The same goes for Thor and Captain America, but it’s especially true for Bruce Banner – the Hulk finally got a real chance to shine. (Or, more accurately, to smash.)

5. Captain America: Civil War

A great premise built off of the films that preceded, culminating in a spectacular second act and a stellar airport fight. Then the focus zooms down on our heroes, and the villain clears the stage. There’s no external army to kill, just conflict.

Zemo does exactly what Whiplash tried in Iron Man 2, with some dialogue almost word-for-word, but unlike Whiplash he doesn’t overstay his welcome once the plan is complete. The Black Panther/Zemo scene at the end is also my favorite T’Challa moment so far.

Also I smile so hard when I think of Ant-Man crawling around in Iron Man’s armor. That airport scene is an utter delight.

4. Avengers: Infinity War

I’ve been nuts about this movie ever since I saw it. Thanos is an excellent villain, and he gives the heroes a proper run for their money. I don’t pretend his plan is good, but he’s a son of a bitch and he delivers on six years of hype.

The team-ups in the movie are exciting, and the characters who do get main storylines (Thor, Iron Man, Vision & Wanda, Guardians, Strange, Spider-Man, Thanos) really propel the movie and keep it moving.

3. Iron Man

The first Marvel Studios movie, and they set the pace right out of the gate. It’s still one of the strongest movies Marvel has ever delivered, and that all comes down to the characterization. Thanks to the heavily-improvised nature of the film, the conversation feels dynamic and natural, and the characters feel real. Even though most Marvel movies don’t have as much improv, they all have a similar approach to realistic characterization, and movies that put the hero at the heart of the story.

Admittedly, the third act of the film has a lot of problems, from the spontaneous supervillain to the lackluster action, but until that point it’s a nearly flawless film – and at the end of the day, it’s still pretty damn good.

Some of the best characterization in a superhero movie happens on day one of the MCU, when the world fell in love with Tony Stark.

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I love Steve Rogers, and this movie is just pure Steve Rogers. It’s not a movie about Steve changing his morals, just changing his tactics to function in a new world. And his final speech before the fight still moves me.

This movie does a great job with each character. We get more Black Widow, the introduction of Sam, and the best use of Bucky (he’s not this good again until the end of Endgame).

1. Avengers: Endgame

This film is one of the most recent, but it's also everything I want out of these movies. It balances fun, drama and heart. It’s a movie that is entirely impossible without the universe of films that led up to it, but it feels organic and logical.

I also love the time-travel shenanigans in the second act. There’s really only three action scenes - Cap vs. Cap, Black Widow vs. Hawkeye, and the final battle sequence. The rest of the drama just comes from character interaction, and from time-travel goodness.

It’s a film of callbacks and payoffs, and I love the way they’re handled. And the way it finished off the major character arcs (mostly Tony & Steve) feels organic, inevitable and beautiful.

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