A year ago I made a ranking of every part of the MCU. But this being Marvel, that universe has grown by 25% since then. So to celebrate the fact Civil War is nearly here, I’ve done an updated version.
16. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Pros: The first film to move beyond hinting at a broader universe and start fleshing it out. It also 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. 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.
15. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Pros: Nothing in particular.
Cons: Nothing in particular.
Summary: It’s really forgettable.
14. 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 the bulk of 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 not a good thing.
13. 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.
12. Jessica Jones (2015)
Pros: Rytter is great as the titular hero but Tennant is even better as Kilgrave. Rather than planning to take over the world, he’s essentially a superpowered stalker, and all the more menacing for it. That allows the show to explore some weighty issues around violence against women.
Cons: The supporting characters are nowhere near as good as the two leads. And the story is stretched beyond breaking point. As a result it becomes messy and unsatisfying.
Summary: Has this been six episodes long it might have been great. At twice that length it is unsatisfying.
11. 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.
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.
10. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Pros: A great ensemble deliver great lines among some nicely done action scences featuring one of Marvel’s better film villains.
Cons: Having so many different subplots and characters pulling in different directions nearly pulls the film apart. It just about holds together but often feels meandering and overlong.
Summary: Too much of a good thing?
9. 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.
8. Ant Man
Pros: Turns its silliness to a definite advantage. Rudd is probably Marvel’s most likeable lead. And the battle aboard a toy train set is the franchise’s most inventive sequence.
Cons: The story is generic and predictable. I also dislike the use of ethnic stereotypes to make jokes.
Summary: Indisputably entertaining.
7. Agents of Shield (2014-15)
Pros: It took a while getting there but it is now genuinely good telly. It’s pacey, delivers plenty of cliffhangers and has found interesting character dynamics to explore. And surprisingly for a show that started out rather cheesy it’s become darker and more violent than the movies. It also provides some of Marvel’s best villains.
Cons: Very little good can be said about the first sixteen episodes. They were 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. It is also held back by the strange dynamic whereby it has to react to the movies without being able to influence them.
Summary: Quality wise this has been a rollercoaster: in gestation it looked like a sure hit, then it seemed like it was dead on arrival, but even more remarkably it turned itself round and is now a quiet triumph.
6. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Pros: Impressive stripped down action sequences, a plot that makes sense 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. The simultaneously beautiful and horrifying fight choreography. The compelling Punisher storyline from the second series. And most of all it has Vincent D’Onofrio as a villain we can believe in and therefore get really scared by.
Cons: The second series is weaker than the first. As I said, I like the stuff with the Punisher but that gradually peters out. In its place there is some nonsense about ninjas, which given the tone of the rest of the show comes across. D’Onofrio’s much curtailed role means he doesn’t ground the proceedings in the same way.
It’s also worth mentioning that neither series is suitable for Marvel’s young fan base.
Summary: Daredevil is to Marvel, what Daniel Craig’s 007 is to the Bond franchise.
2. Agent Carter (2015)
Pros: You know how I was raving about Hayley Atwell earlier? Well given her own series she doesn’t disappoint. It is not only funny and exciting but also has a real empathy for underdogs. In contrast to the huge movies centered on white men, Agent Carter tells its story from the point of view of outsiders – women, people of colour, immigrants and the disabled – who have to live with the consequences of the superpowered theatrics. It also manages some great humour – much of it courtesy of Dominic Cooper and James D’Arcy playing Howard Stark and his long suffering butler Edwin Jarvis – and lots of period detail and style. And it’s further confirmation that Marvel TV has way better villains than the films do.
Cons: The first season is near flawless. The second falls short of that standard. The storytelling is a bit pedestrian and it doesn’t really advance Carter as a character.
Summary: The most underappreciated entry on this list. Seek it out if you get the chance.
1. 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: The best.