As my way of celebrating the impending release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, here’s my personal ranking of the ten films and three TV series that form the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) so far.
13. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Pros: The first film to move beyond hinting at a broader universe and start fleshing it out. Also it introduced us to Black Widow, and Don Cheadle is a better James Rhodes than Terrance Howard.
Cons: It’s all set up and no pay off. The filmmakers seem to have purposefully avoided anything too interesting lest that prevent them being able to use it later on. Perhaps because of this the story and script are a mess. Also, it wastes Sam Rockwell (a serious crime) but gives us plenty of Gwyneth Paltrow (an even worse crime).
Summary: The film that sacrificed itself for the good of the rest of the MCU.
12. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Pros: Nothing in particular.
Cons: Nothing in particular.
Summary: It’s really forgettable.
11. Thor (2011)
Pros: The scenes set on Earth are mostly fun.
Cons: Despite having superthesp Ken Brangh directing, the faux Shakespeare stuff doesn’t really work. That’s unfortunate because that’s most the scenes and in particular the most dramatic ones.
Summary: A film where some physicists taking readings in a backwater town in New Mexico is more interesting than the action sequences. That’s mostly not a good thing.
10. Thor: the Dark World (2013)
Pros: Loki only really came into his own when Whedon’s writing injected him with some menace and panache. The improvement carries over into this film, with by far the best scenes being the Whedon penned sparring between Thor and Loki. They are a joy to watch.
Cons: I really could not care less whether Thor manages to prevent the Dark Elves unleashing the Aether at the centre of the convergance.
Summary: Ideally Thor: Ragnarok will just be Tom Hiddleston delivering Whedon one-liners.
9. Captain America: the First Avenger (2011)
Pros: The by no means straightforward evolution of Steve Rodgers into Captain America is well played with nice twists like how the military’s first instinct is to use him for propaganda. The best part, however, is Hayley Atwell managing to elevate Peggy Carter from a generic supporting role to the core of the film.
Cons: The actions scenes are bland beyond words. As a result, the film actually tails off as it reaches its climax. Also Tommy Lee Jones gives the most “where’s my cheque?” performance of all time.
Summary: The first film to hint that Marvel was capable of doing smarter things. However, it gets the basics wrong and largely falls flat as a result.
8. Agents of Shield (2014-15)
Pros: It took a while getting there but this is now genuinely good telly. It’s pacey, delivers plenty of cliffhangers and has found interesting character dynamics to explore. It has also begun serving as a harbinger of the future development of the MCU.
Cons: Very little good can be said about the first sixteen episodes. It was corny with terrible CGI and a meandering story arc. It’s got a LOT better but it still has weaknesses. The most grating of which is overuse of on the nose exposition.
Summary: If I’d judged the two series separately then the second would have been higher placed. The first might well have been bringing up the rear.
7. Iron Man (2008)
Pros: Started the whole MCU, revived Robert Downey Jnr’s career and made post-credit stings a thing.
Cons: It’s a bit hammy in places.
Summary: If you ignore what it lead to, it’s a pretty generic blockbuster. Naught wrong with that mind.
6. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Pros: Impressive stripped down action sequences, a plot that makes sense and a good ensemble cast. And as much as it annoys comic purists, the twist is hilarious.
Cons: Gwyneth Paltrow is still in it.
Summary: Proved that Marvel could live up to the standards it set itself with the Avengers.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Pros: Rivals Scott Pilgrim as the funniest comic book film ever. Plus the sheer boldness of making a film with a racoon and a tree at its heart.
Cons: Marvel loves its McGuffins almost as much as its underwhelming villains. This film has two of the latter chasing after one of the former. It’s an indication of how good this film is that this only mildly undermines the fun of the movie.
Summary: If you didn’t enjoy this, I despair of the possibility you will ever be entertained.
4. The Avengers (2012)
Pros: Successfully married sci-fi epic and office comedy with phenomenal results. Created a new sub-genre: the superhero ensemble. In Mark Ruffallo, we finally get the movie Hulk we deserved, who let us not forget at one point destroys a massive alien spaceship with a single punch.
Cons: The plot is occasionally a bit thin (*cough* failsafe *cough*) and it introduced Thanos which on the evidence of Guardians was a mistake.
Summary: Whoop, whoop!
3. Daredevil (2015)
Pros: All that juicy weighty morally ambiguous darkness. In particular, Vincent D’Onofrio as a villain we can believe in and therefore get really scared by. Also the simultaneously beautiful and horrifying fight choreography.
Cons: Marvel’s young fan base should definitely not be watching this. If you know any of them who are, report their parents to social services.
Summary: Daredevil is to Marvel, what Daniel Craig’s 007 is to the Bond franchise.
2. Captain America: the Winter Soldier (2014)
Pros: Another great ensemble. Fight scenes inspired by the Raid and a car chase based on the French Connection. I love how it adopts of a Seventies political thriller and the fact that it uses the space afforded by having a lead character called ‘Captain America’ to highlight the fact that not everything the American government does is desirable.
Cons: You can knit pick the plot and the massive battle scene at the end rather undermines the more grounded feel of the rest of the film.
Summary: In my initial review, I described the Winter Soldier as Marvel “coming of age”. I stand by that.
1. Agent Carter (2015)
Pros: A smart plot, a great lead performance, supporting actors who are almost as good, its wonderful evocation of the 1940s, a deliciously twisted villain, real pathos, a feminist message and its style.
Cons: Sometimes it feels a little like its rushing to get everything into the eight episodes it has. Other than that I really can’t think of anything.
Summary: Even in a golden age of television, there’s little else on at the moment that’s this entertaining.