Captain America: The Winter Soldier is still riding high, and Guardians of the Galaxy is coming soon. Now is the right time to look at the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and see how they compare to each other. But this is a completely subjective list. In six years, the studio has produced 9 films that are all pretty good. Some may disagree, but Marvel’s track record is pretty damn impressive.
9. IRON MAN 2
A lot of people online hate this one. And some love it. In the aftermath of Iron Man 3, perhaps the most divisive of the series, fans were quick to defend part 2. But the film is a mess. A nice mess, to be sure. There is a lot to like in the film from the Mark 5 suit reveal to the action at the end. But it just meanders and Stark is just TOO much. It’s a film that makes mistakes but it’s still interesting and never truly awful. How can it be when the people are so good at their roles that you’re fine just spending time with them?
8. THE INCREDIBLE HULK
This is the most superfluous of the MCU films, for sure. But it still has value. It doesn’t wallow in the origin story. Instead, it tells us what happens after the Hulk is already a thing. That’s nice. And the favela scenes are epic. But the film drags in the middle and the portrayal of Hulk as a beast that the government has to hunt down isn’t so much fun. Hulk is cooler when he is a guided missile being used by the good guys. Sure, the internal struggles are fun, but Hulk as a fugitive is tiring.
Yes, it feels small. But it gets the world of Thor just so right. I have a bit of a soft spot for this. I like the humor. I like the characters. The plot is a nice change of pace from the deluge of origin stories. Thor is Thor. He just needs to learn a lesson. And there are some great bits. Regardless of how you feel about the scope of the film and the production, you have to admit they did a hell of a job translating such a strange concept for film. And looking back, it looks so obvious that this is how it had to be done.
6. THOR: THE DARK WORLD
The first film did the fish out of water thing. This one embraced what makes Thor so different from the rest of the MCU heroes: he’s a fantasy character in a world that is both high tech and low tech. This is a fun adventure film, but it feels a little slight. It’s funny and nicely plotted, though, and the characters are clearly defined. Plus, the Loki and Thor interplay is dynamite. Marvel had done well by keeping Loki around for so many films. He’s easily one of their best characters, hero or villain.
5. IRON MAN
It’s amazing how bare this film is now. It’s still great, but it has certainly been surpassed by the other MCU films. That’s not to say it’s bad. It’s not. But there are a lot of online fans who still rank this very highly and I just can’t. It’s awesome and we owe it a lot, but Marvel has done better.
4. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
This is my favorite of the first phase of Marvel’s cinematic releases. It nails the story of Steve Rogers by understanding who he is right away. He’s a hero even before he has super strength. And because of that it wins. My only issue is that I would have preferred two or three movies in World War II before the inevitable ice ending. The need to get to that point does hurt the ending a bit, but it’s played so beautifully from a character perspective that I can’t be too critical of it.
3. THE AVENGERS
How does this movie even exist? Every time I watch it, I have to wonder how this came to be and why it is so good. It starts shakily but it soon wins you over. It understands the characters, it has a clear and easy to follow story and it knows how to use these people together. Plus it’s just incredibly fun and rewatchable.
2. IRON MAN 3
I love this one. I know plenty of people hate it because it feels too much like a Shane Black film or because they think the Mandarin was shit upon or because they don’t understand how he doesn’t wear the armor all the time. But that’s why I love it. It’s the best plotted of the three Iron Man films and has the most satisfying conclusion. Tony Stark is feeling the fallout of The Avengers and he is motivated and he drives the plot this time. Is it perfect? No, but it doesn’t have to be.
1. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Right now, this movie has made roughly 400 million dollars outside of the US. A Captain America movie has made half a billion dollars from foreigners. That is awesome. Know why? Because it’s actually a really good movie. It’s the best of the MCU films, a tight spy thriller that understands how to use its characters and their setting. What better character to comment on the state of the world than a man out of time? The guy from the greatest generation. It also helps that the movie is funny and has some very satisfying action. It’s also a great example of Marvel understanding their characters and placing them in films of different genres. Superhero isn’t a genre by itself, it’s something more. This is a thriller with a James Bond who wears a costume.