Iron Man premiered in April 2008, and with it something bigger was born: the universe.
Today, when DC, Star Wars, and Harry Potter are all 'cinematic universes', it almost seems like an obvious thing. But when Marvel launched its ambitious universe, the closest thing to it was the Lord of the Rings trilogy, three movies that were planned and produced simultaneously, which actually decreased the cost per movie. Marvel productions are done one-by-one, with budgets – and accordingly, with risks – that are north of 100 million dollars a piece. And it works, and not just in the financial sense: because the Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn't delivered even one really bad movie. It makes my life as a critic a bit complicated, but here we are – time to rate all 18 MCU movies, from worst to best:
18. Thor: The Dark World, 2013
After a 'Shakespearean' first film (2011's Thor), Marvel changed direction – and went generic. Meaning, I assume that that’s not what super-producer Kevin Feige asked director Alan Taylor to do, but this is what turned out:
The Dark World is such a generic super-heroe movie that it requires a google search to remember what it’s about. (it’s the one with the mysterious Aether. Doesn’t ring any bells? Exactly).
17. The Incredible Hulk, 2008
One good thing that can be said about this version, director by Louis Leterrier and starring Edward Norton: it’s not as bad as Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003), starring Eric Bana. Not that that’s saying much, but still.
Leterrier tried to make Hulk fun, a noble attempt, but the Hulk is no fun; he’s probably the super-hero you would least like to be, which makes him a nonstarter in Marvel’s ‘good clean fun’ universe. No wonder this was the last try to base a whole film on the green dude (and luckily, Mark Rufalo took over from Norton after it).
16. Black Panther, 2018
I respect what director Ryan Coogler tried to do in this movie, but there’s almost nothing I like about the way he does it.
Black Panther is so weighed down by its historic significance as a black superhero film celebrating black culture, that it’s just not very interesting as a movie.
15. Iron Man 2, 2010
Many people hate this movie, after which Marvel decided to take away the Iron Man sub-franchise from director Jon Favreau, who also directed the first film.
I think that Iron Man 2 is a very cute film, and that Robert Downey Jr.’s performance reaches Jack Nickolsonian peaks, but there’s no doubt it is also a flawed movie – first and foremost because of the lame bad guy, played by Mickey Rourke.
14. Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015
Joss Whedon’s last Marvel movie before he moved to the competitors at DC, is also the weakest one of this talented man - creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, and also the first Avengers, that was a success on all the fronts its sequel failed on.
There are quite a few good scenes in Ultron, but as a whole, the movie succumbs under too many sub-plots and characters, in addition to the fact that the amount of computer animation makes it look less like Marvel and more like Shrek.
13. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, 2017
If Ultron didn’t sufficiently make the point, 2017 proved that the Marvel ensemble movies just aren’t delivering in round two.
Director James Gunn, just like Joss Whedon, went overboard in this sequel, with unnecessary characters (I still don’t understand Silvester Stallone’s role here) and over the top scenes (Pac-man? Did we really need Pac-man?). It’s not a bad movie, it’s just too much.
12. Ant-Man, 2015
Just before I have to start choosing between good and better, Ant-Man at #12 is one of my biggest Marvel disappointments – not because it’s bad, but because it had so much potential.
Suspicion first arose when director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) was replaced by Peyton Reed, and even though the result wasn’t as upsetting as Wright’s many fans expected it to be, it’s a classic case of a short blanket: not funny enough, not sweeping enough, not exciting enough. Just not enough.
11. Thor, 2011
This movie has always been a tough one to crack. Visually, it’s a muscular version of Asterix; storywise, it's the story of a demigod who suffers from the well-known superhero problem of too much power.
Director Kenneth Branagh took all these tricky materials and blended them into a mix between Shakespeare and a soap-opera, and I still admire him for being able to make this whole mess work. Not to mention Tom Hiddleston’s casting as Loki, a stroke of genius that continues to serve the Marvel universe.
10. Iron Man 3, 2013
This might be Marvel’s most underrated film. After the babble-fest that was the second movie, director Shane Black took over from Jon Favreau, and brought his known and loved style:
fun, funny and silly – in the good sense of the word – action movie. Black, who wrote Lethal Weapon and directed the great Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys, turned Iron Man 3 into a great comic book movie.
9. Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011
I really liked this movie when it first came out, but re-watching it subdued my enthusiasm a bit. It’s still a beautiful origin story, maybe the most touching one in the Marvel universe, but Joe Johnston’s direction is a bit too routine, and the Nazi villains are just uninteresting.
On the other hand, watching it *after* watching its sequels is a bit unfair.
8. Spider-Man: Homecoming, 2017
After Marc Webb’s two Amazing Spider-Man movies, whose super-power was to make the viewer miss sam raimi’s version (with Tobey Maguire), the spider returned from Sony to Marvel – and, no wonder, Jon Watts’ version with Tom Holland was as rewarding as could be expected.
However, the question still remains: why did we need three different spidermen in one decade? And that I cannot answer.
7. Captain America: Civil War, 2016
Speaking about corrective experiences, that is exactly what Civil War was for Ultron. Director-brothers Joe and Anthony Russo have in fact created 'Avangers 2.5', and it came out great: a movie that on one hand, took the fantastic action they made in The Winter Soldier (2014) a step further, and on the other, managed to be a much better ensemble movie than Ultron.
Its only fault is the little unnecessary part in the middle, when Spiderman gets in the picture and a long, unnecessary battle ensues between the superheroes, but to be honest, this is just being petty.
6. The Avengers, 2012
It all boils down to a single shot: Joss Whedon’s camera circles all of the original Avengers, a moment before the beginning of the big battle on New York, and for the first time we see what Kevin Feige envisioned when this monumental project was first conceived.
The fact that Whedon was able, even under these grand circumstances, to make it a light, fun and funny movie – has always been a miracle to me.
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014
This is not only Marvel’s best action movie, but one of the best action movies of all times. The Russo brothers are old-school, they use physical effects instead of computer ones, and they possess a perfect rhythm. When this movie is in its ‘flow’, it reminds me of the The Raid movies: such exciting and believable action that sweeps you right in.
It’s only because of the writing, that is not as good as its stylistic features – in addition to Chris Evans’ chronic lack of ability to be something other than just and angry/just and not angry – it’s not placed higher on the list.
4. Thor: Ragnarok, 2017
Marvel’s best comedy is, in my eyes, one of its greatest moments, and also one of its wackiest: a campy, funny indie New Zealandic film, with a 180-million-dollar budget.
Taika Waititi’s work on this film proves, yet again, that Marvel excels in their choice of directors.
3. Doctor Strange, 2016
I’ve seen this film four times already, and each time I was more impressed.
The story is not very exciting, but that fact is disguised by the great writing, humor, Benedict Cumberbatch’s fun performance, and some mind-blowing movie making.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014
This movie came out a year before The Force Awakens, and I remember myself thinking, ‘this is what a Star Wars movie should look like’.
James Gunn created a perfect combination of utter silliness, honest nostalgia, wild action, and artistic and imaginative design. The result is a movie that is just pure fun.
1. Iron Man, 2008
Not because it is the one that started everything – but because it’s just so good. I recently watched it again, and couldn’t help but be impressed – by Favreau’s witty writing, by Downey’s perfect performance, by the countless lovely visual inventions, and above all – by its conciseness.
If most Marvel movies are somewhere between Formula 1 and a semi-trailer, the Iron Man is a GTI car. No unnecessary weight, no unnecessary scenes, no unnecessary sub-plots. A simple superhero origin story, no more, no less. And as such, it stands in line with the greatest of all times: Superman (the original, of course) and Batman Begins.