A year ago, on the eve of the release of Captain America: Civil War, I wrote a ranking of the dozen Marvel Cinematic Universe films up to that point. Since then, two more films have been released — after Civil War, there was Doctor Strange — and so now that we’re at the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 (which I won’t be seeing until Monday night), I re-present that list, updated to include those two more recent films.
1. Avengers. Still the platonic ideal of the superhero team movie, as it manages to not only be the perfect first Avengers movie, but also works perfectly as the next Iron Man movie, the next Cap movie, the next Hulk movie, the next Thor movie, and also as a showcase for the various S.H.I.E.L.D. folk. Does absolutely everything right.
T-2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. A taut, impressive thriller. I have literally nothing negative to say about it.
T-2. Captain America: Civil War. Like Avengers, this manages to serve many functions — it is, at once, the third Cap film, the fourth Iron Man film, and the third Avengers film, as well as the setup for both the Spider-Man and Black Panther films — and still be an excellent movie that tells a compelling story that picks up on so many different themes.
4. Iron Man. Got the ball rolling, and showcased the perfect balance between fannishness and good moviemaking that has been the MCU’s hallmark.
5. Thor. I wish Jack Kirby had lived to see Kenneth Branagh and his team perfectly re-create his Asgard. In a milieu that has rarely screwed up any of its casting choices, this movie stands out even more, as no one in the MCU has owned their roles as overwhelmingly as Chris Hemsworth, Jaimie Alexander, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Idris Elba, and especially Tom Hiddleston. The only flaw in the film is that it was made too late for Brian Blessed to be convincingly cast as Volstagg (though Ray Stevenson does pretty well….).
6. Captain America: The First Avenger. A rollicking good World War II adventure that gives us several great characters, some superb acting, and would be worth it just for the introduction of Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter, one of the best aspects of the MCU. Plus Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones hitting it out of the park, and I still want a Howling Commandos movie starring Neal McDonough.
T-7. Guardians of the Galaxy. Had no business even being a good film, but it had heart and managed to make an ambulatory barely sentient tree and a talking raccoon the centerpieces of a story of redemption.
T-7. Doctor Strange. A solid, mid-range Marvel movie, which is not at all a bad thing, and nicely brings sorcery to the MCU. No one ever went wrong casting Benedict Cumberbatch or Chiwetel Eijofor in anything, and they bring gravitas to the roles of Strange and Mordo.
9. Avengers: Age of Ultron. A much better movie than it gets credit for being, though it does try to do a few too many things. But I love how the Avengers’ primary goal throughout is to save as many people as possible (particularly in the wake of Man of Steel‘s despicable destruction porn), and I can’t overemphasize how amazing James Spader’s voice was as Ultron. Also like the fact that the true villain of this film isn’t Ultron, it’s Stark’s ego.
10. Thor: The Dark World. A waste of Christopher Eccleston, but the Thor-Loki interaction continues to be the best thing about these films (and Avengers).
11. Iron Man 2. Whiplash is a poor choice of villain, and this is generally a triumph of set pieces (Stark and Fury, Stark and Coulson, Stark and Pepper, any time Sam Rockwell or Scarlett Johansson is on screen) over plot.
12. Ant-Man. A cute little film, but this movie only happened because of Edgar Wright’s inexplicable hard-on for the least interesting founding Avenger. The Wasp has been a significantly more important Avenger over the decades than any of Hank Pym’s various alter egos, and certainly more so than the Scott Lang Ant-Man. Paul Rudd was fun and all, but I sat through it wondering why we were being kept from the Wasp movie that would have been far more interesting than the tonally schizophrenic movie we got.
13. Iron Man 3. I love the double fake of the Mandarin, I love Stark’s PTSD after Avengers, and I love how Pepper is used, but I dislike how bloodthirsty Stark is, and the use of multiple armors just got real tiresome real fast.
14. Hulk. If only Mark Ruffalo had been hired a few years earlier, this movie might have worked better. Also the one bit of recasting from the Ang Lee film that failed utterly was William Hurt, who can’t hold a candle to Sam Elliott’s perfection in the role in the earlier flick. Oh well.