The Marvel Cinematic Universe is expanding at a phenomenal rate, 2017 seeing three new films - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok - keeping the franchise in our consciousness.
How has Marvel kept us coming back to the cinema? Quality. Almost every instalment has been met with rave reviews, only two not being ‘certified fresh’ on Rotten Tomatoes.
But, which one is best, I hear you ask? Avengers? Captain America: Civil War? Iron Man? Well, here’s The Independent’s two-cents on the matter as we rank every MCU film instalment so far.
14. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
There was always going to be a worst film, and - unfortunately for director Alan Taylor - it’s Thor: The Dark World, one of only two ‘rotten’ MCU films. The film’s plot was entirely by-the-numbers while Chris Hemsworth’s fish-out-of-water comic potential was squandered, along with Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith who barely got a word in. Following the Avengers just one year prior, there was also a certain amount of Tom Hiddleston overkill.
13. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Robert Downey Jr. was born to play Tony Stark. That’s what we’re told, at least. Unfortunately, the second Iron Man film spent so long setting up the forthcoming Avengers film we barely saw our beloved hero shine. Jon Favreau attempted to juggle multiple villains, giving neither Justin Hammer or Ivan Vanko the depth Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane had, all while introducing the world to Black Widow.
12. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
A controversial choice to have so low. Joss Whedon’s second instalment in the Avengers franchise was a monstrously weird beast, containing so many set-up storylines, it was difficult to keep up. Thor has nightmares, setting up Thanos; Tony Stark and Steve Rogers begin to fall out, setting up Civil War; The Hulk ends up flying off, somehow ending up in space for Thor: Ragnarok. There was barely time for Ultron to appear, let alone there be an ‘age’ of Ultron. When Hawkeye is the standout character among Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, and Thor, you knows there’s something amiss.
11. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Perhaps the Hulk just doesn’t work on the big screen (see Ang Lee’s disappointing 2003 Hulk). There was something flat about The Incredible Hulk, director Louis Leterrier deciding not to explore the more thought-provoking questions inherent to the Jekyll and Hyde story, instead concentrating on action. However, despite being another by-the-numbers action film, there were some positives, the main one being William Hurt’s General Ross. Quite frankly, The Incredible Hulk’s not as bad as its reputation would have you believe - the film being the other ‘rotten’ MCU film. Still, that’s not saying a whole lot.
10. Thor (2011)
Chris Hemsworth’s first outing as Thor was fine, opening up the Marvel universe to intergalactic concepts and the idea of S.H.I.E.L.D. randomly popping up in every other film. Yet, Thor feels like a missed opportunity. The God of Thunder being a well-spoken Nordic God who doesn't’ understand Earth’s mannerisms but feels somehow attached to the planet is intrinsically funny. Unfortunately, Sir Kenneth Branagh never quite delivered on the humour. Fingers crossed Thor: Ragnarok - which is ditching Natalie Portman’s flaccid character - will be slightly more interesting.
9. Doctor Strange (2016)
Doctor Strange is basically Iron Man but with magic: an arrogant, witty man with no powers ventures to a distant land and realises their superhero potential. In fairness, the psychedelic imagery is phenomenal, but Doctor Strange doesn’t have the same tight writing as some of its Marvel counterparts. Like those mentioned above, there are issues with the villain, but Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Wong and Tilda Swinton carry the film along nicely. Also, that final battle is great; well played Scott Derrickson.
8. Ant-Man (2015)
Again, Ant-Man is basically Iron Man, just with a smaller suit. Paul Rudd, Michael Peña, and Michael Douglas give solid, hilarious performances, even if the film contains another mediocre villain who has the same powers as our hero. Nice to see Marvel trying to do a heist film, even if we wish Edgar Wright’s version existed.
7. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Nick Fury, and The Incredible Hulk, all coming together for a phenomenal showdown with Loki and his legion of faceless villains. The action was fun (perhaps a little too quip-tastic at times) and the characters mainly given their own spotlight. Unlike some of the other Marvel instalments, there wasn’t much depth to the entire affair, but that didn’t hold back the Avengers from being a great popcorn flick.
6. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The First Avenger was a great WW2 film that set-up Captain America almost perfectly. A young man who gets genetically altered and then beats up Nazis; what’s not to love? Like the Avengers after, The First Avenger was hugely fun despite centring on Captain America, who - on paper - could have been the dullest hero of the franchise. Luckily, Joe Johnston proven us wrong.
5. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
What’s remarkable about Avengers 2.5 is how The Russo Brothers managed to have Iron Man, Black Widow, Ant-Man, Black Panther and Spider-Man while remaining first and foremost a Captain America film. The titular hero struggles with deceit following Winter Soldier and reconciling with the Bucky all while fighting Stark and being manipulated by Zemo. Civil War also contains the best fight scene in Marvel history so far - the airport scene. We really can’t wait for Avengers: Infinity War.
4. Iron Man (2008)
The film that kickstarted it all; Iron Man entered cinemas with such assured swagger there should have never any doubt over whether the film would be a hit. Robert Downey Jr. proves why he was born to play Tony Stark, balancing arrogance with charm and managing to be an entirely likeable asshole. Helped by a formidable villain - something the Marvel universe has struggled recreating - Iron Man set a high standard for all Marvel films to beat.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The second Captain America film was an adrenaline-fuelled conspiracy thriller that managed to hit almost every beat. Despite another bland villain, the S.H.I.E.L.D/Hydra twist was pulled off spectacularly while asking some interesting political questions. Again, The Russo Brothers did remarkably well to make sure the tender moments were moving and the CGI never seemed too much. Together with Civil War and The First Avenger, the Captain America trilogy really has been quite superb.
2. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Some diehard fan absolutely hate the third Iron Man film, but really Shane Black’s superhero flick is a tonne of fun that brings Tony Stark’s character to a wonderful conclusion (perhaps to a point where he should have been left alone). Watching the genius, billionaire, playboy, and philanthropist deal with PTSD and struggle with his own creations is emotional and highly entertaining. Best of all, Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery is utterly hilarious, the Mandarin twist being completely effective.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Who would have thought a rag-tag bunch of a-holes would make such a wonderful, universe saving team? Each character has their time to shine in James Gunn’s fantastic universe-hopping adventure, and when together there’s so much chemistry. Taking Chris Pratt from being the tubby lad in Parks and Recreation to Hollywood leading man was an inspired idea, as was Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer. Hopefully, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will meet the high mark set by this utterly wonderful flick.