As Avengers: Age Of Ulton touches down, Ryan Pollard checks out the best films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. Who will top the list? Find out below…
Hatched from the mind of producer and president of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has reached staggering peaks since its debut with Iron Man in 2008. Going from Earth to mystical realms to the vast reaches of outer space, the ongoing franchise currently ranks as the second highest-grossing film franchise behind the Harry Potter movies, and has inspired other film studios with superhero characters to attempt to create similar shared universes, like Warner Bros is currently doing with their DC Cinematic Universe after Man of Steel.
The series has had its high points, and it has had its struggles, but nevertheless, each film still manages to consistently surprise and entertain us with each movie enjoying its own set of characters and storylines that ultimately intertwine with each other. It even managed to produce many TV spin-offs with ABC’s Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter, and Netflix’s new show Daredevil. Just recently, it had been announced that, thanks to an agreement with Marvel and Sony, Spider-Man will be introduced into the MCU with the forthcoming Captain America: Civil War in 2016, followed by a solo movie in 2017. With the release of the highly-anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron imminent, now is the best time to look back at the Marvel Cinematic Universe and rank the top 10 MCU movies. Hope you enjoy!
10. Iron Man 2 (Jon Favreau, 2010)
For about 40 minutes, Iron Man 2 looks every bit the sequel we’d hoped for. AC/DC rocking the soundtrack, Robert Downey Jr. having a ball being Tony Stark and Justin Theroux’s script brings laughs and smarts. Yet frustratingly, it dangerously veers towards Spider-Man 3 territory where characters pop in and out of nowhere, villains galore that aren’t at all compelling or interesting, and everything starts to become a mess of competing storylines and plot exposition. It all feels like a huge, extended, yet distracted, trailer for the next wave of Marvel movies to come. Yet, the comic banter between Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow is still as strong as ever, and while Iron Man 2 might not live up to the potential of the first, it’s never less than entertaining.
9. Thor: The Dark World (Alan Taylor, 2013)
Alan Taylor’s follow-up to Kenneth Branagh’s original retains its predecessor’s sense of fun and charm, whilst interspersing it with a labyrinthine Tolkienesque plot (evil elves plotting to conquer and destroy the Nine Realms with Ancient space goo) and dark, sober interludes (a mass funeral). Taylor brings in the mud, grime and glowering skies to the proceedings, especially during the action that unfolds in a rainy London town, yet the film’s core driving force is the love-hate dynamic between Thor and Loki, which is spiky and taken to another level. However, the whole thing is ultimately formulaic, as well as being too convoluted for its own good. Plus, Christopher Eccleston is completely wasted as Malekith, who’s the worst villain in the MCU to date. Hopefully next time, we’ll have fewer elves and more Loki.
8. The Incredible Hulk (Louis Leterrier, 2008)
A bold new direction for the green goliath, Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk brings in both the action and the funny, something that was not evident in Ang Lee’s ponderous Hulk. As both leading man and co-writer (for which he remains uncredited for), Edward Norton appears to slip into the role of Bruce Banner with ease, and his relationship with Liv Tyler is genuinely moving and provides the film’s true emotional heart. However, the film is surprisingly at its most entertaining when Hulk himself is off-screen; when he’s on, it becomes a typical average CGI bonanza with exploding fireballs and a climatic showdown with a CGI’d Tim Roth. It’s the best solo Hulk movie to date; yet it’s telling that the most exciting set pieces have not one fantastical monster in sight.
7. Thor (Kenneth Branagh, 2011)
The most problematic hurdle in the path towards The Avengers is cleared with ease and style, and takes full advantage of its clear silliness. Whilst there were eyebrows raised when Kenneth Branagh became director, he manages to create a wondrous and vibrant world that manages to poke genial fun at the hammer-wielding thunder god, played with energetic ease by Chris Hemsworth. Even when he’s stripped of his powers and banished to Earth, the film still maintains its witty charm, and has a very good comic romance between Hemsworth and Natalie Portman’s astrophysicist. Although its Tom Hiddleston who steals the show as the embittered half-brother, paying the part with mischievous glee. While the ending is a tad weak, Thor is a dazzling adventure packed with wit, humour and human drama.
6. Captain America: The First Avenger (Joe Johnston, 2011)
Being more about individual pluck than national pride, Marvel successfully brings the most old-fashioned superhero to life with pulpy action aplenty, a cool retro vibe, and a handful of fine performances. Chris Evans successfully captures and embraces the shiny-smiled hero with real passion and commitment, whilst not taking it too seriously. Hugo Weaving is superbly OTT as the villainous Red Skull, and Hayley Atwell is excellently kick-ass as Agent Carter, so it’s certainly no surprise she currently has her own spin-off TV series. Like Thor before it, it embraces its knowingly camp humour and silliness, despite it being set in WWII, and the design is nostalgically eye-catching with the effects suitably action-packed. The endnote does seem like pure exposition setup for The Avengers, but it’s certainly huge fun while its there.
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5. Iron Man (Jon Favreau, 2008)
The point when the Marvel Cinematic Universe began, Iron Man is buoyant, bright, and constantly snappy. It was the film that made Robert Downey Jr. a superstar, and the fact that the character of Tony Stark/Iron Man works so well is all down to him. Plus, his comic banter with Gwyneth Paltrow is vibrant and witty, and not at all grating. The film boasts great FX work, sharp writing, and solidly committed performances from the cast, even though Terrence Howard was slightly miscast and underused. Although the film heads into Transformers-style territory when Downey Jr.’s Iron Man takes on Jeff Bridges’ Iron Monger in the final act, the film is immensely enjoyable and is a solid start for what comes after.
4. Iron Man 3 (Shane Black, 2013)
The best and most controversial solo outing from Iron Man to date, Iron Man 3 is funny, twisty, and hugely thrilling. After nearly crashing down after Iron Man 2, director/co-writer Shane Black gets Iron Man back up and running, creating the most exciting, yet the most serious, of the Iron Man films. It neatly deals with the aftermath of The Avengers with Stark struggling with his own demons, which brilliantly allows the relationship between Downey Jr. and Paltrow to be taken to deeper and more personal levels, and his relationship with the kid, Harley, is humorous, yet touching. While it’s not overly complex or deep, Iron Man 3 is the shell-head’s most entertaining solo outing.
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3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony and Joe Russo, 2014)
Going for a more realistic and serious approach than its predecessor, especially with it now being set in the modern world, Captain America: The Winter Soldier draws cues from the conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s whilst still maintaining action-packed set pieces. The film manages to portray a man out of time and trying to fit in with a modern society, whilst having to contend with SHIELD and the prospect of oppressive security networks. Chris Evans is as good as before, Scarlett Johansson still kicks butt as Black Widow, and Robert Redford is suitably slimy as the calculating government official. The Winter Soldier himself is criminally underdeveloped and I would’ve preferred more character development to the endless rocket-powered action, but it’s nevertheless an intriguing and entertaining game-changer in the MCU and promises better things to come.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn, 2014)
Marvel’s riskiest blockbuster to date, Guardians of the Galaxy had the potential to be a bad movie, yet surprisingly, it’s anything but. It’s hugely enjoyable and immense fun, GOTG is an extra-terrestrial-comedy with inventive and witty characters and creatures that get into funny antics and talk to each other in a way that is consistently laugh-out-loud funny. Plus, that cameo in the end-credit sequence was brilliantly handled and felt very personal to me. It was witty, sharp, cine-literate, and loaded with wonderful retro music. The cast are all having a ball (especially Chris Pratt as Star Lord), and even the completely CGI characters of Rocket Racoon and Groot still manage to be as lively and engaging as their human co-stars. Guardians of the Galaxy is funny, exciting, touching, and completely engages with its audience.
1. The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012)
Was there ever any doubt? The culmination of everything the MCU set up in Iron Man, The Avengers was always going to be the most difficult to handle, especially when uniting all the heavyweight heroes together for one big blockbusting event. Yet, writer-director Joss Whedon is a genre filmmaker who completely understands and respects both the source material and the fan culture that has surrounded it. This cements him as one of Hollywood’s heavy hitters as he brilliantly combines strong character development with huge spectacular action set pieces. All the heroes get their moments to shine (bar Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye) with Robert Downey Jr. at his wisecracking best, Scarlett Johansson brilliant as ever, and Mark Ruffalo providing real depth to the Hulk, and even the CGI’s green goliath is fantastically realised. Yet, it’s Tom Hiddelston’s Loki that still manages to steal the show, playing the part with serpentine menace and glee. Whedon took on the impossible and triumphed, creating a film that managed to live up to its hype with great characters, superb action, well-rendered FX, and iconic moments. But most of all, it’s one of the best superhero movies of all time, raising the bar for future Marvel movies to come. Roll on the sequel!
So that’s my official top 10 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but what are your personal favourites? Which one stood out for you the most? Which ones didn’t satisfy you? Also, are you looking forward to Avengers: Age of Ultron and the other movies planned in the franchise? Let me know.