Sunday, April 21, 2019

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe (So Far)

With Avengers: Endgame on the horizon, we at Trophy Unlocked have decided to celebrate the previous 21 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by attempting to rank them based on their general quality. However, instead of a straight list, we've decided to rank them by Phase to make it easier to digest (and easier to write). Without further ado, here's our ranking:

The movies of Phase One are primarily origin stories for the various heroes who would later make up the Avengers and the general approach to film making involved a bit of experimentation on part of Marvel Studios, who were still proving themselves in the cinematic landscape. This is also the only Phase where the stories of each movie can still be viewed largely independently of each other and the threads connecting them are a bit more subtle.



1) The Avengers
2) Iron Man
3) Captain America: The First Avenge

Out of the movies in Phase One, these three have truly stood the test of time. Iron Man was a fresh, fun take on the genre that's still enjoyable in its own right today, even if some aspects of its story would get abused later by other movies. Captain America: The First Avenger placed the genre against a WWII backdrop that still felt like part of the story and provided a hopeful figure in the form of Steve Rogers. As for The Avengers, a crossover on its scale had never been attempted before and the end result is still a fun, rewarding watch.

In the Middle

4) Iron Man 2

While not the best of Phase One, Iron Man 2 isn't the worst either. It was tolerable during the buildup to The Avengers, but it seemed to ignore Tony Stark's character development and even the fact that Genndy Tartakovsky, of Samurai Jack fame, storyboarded the movie can't prevent it from taking this spot in the list.



5) Thor
6) The Incredible Hulk

Thor and The Incredible Hulk aren't necessarily bad movies, but are certainly on the low end of Phase One for their own reasons. Thor featured a rather sterile-looking Asgard and the core characters felt uninteresting in comparison to their depictions in later films. The Incredible Hulk is certainly better than Ang Lee's Hulk, which it could be viewed as a sequel for, but it's not something we would immediately want to watch again.

Phase Two is generally a low point for the MCU, with more misses than hits. The quality suffered the most here, as Marvel Studios seemed unsure what direction to go in, but that doesn't mean we didn't still have fun. It's also here that, with the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy, the storytelling becomes more intertwined and increasingly reliant on the audience having seen other movies in the franchise.



1) Guardians of the Galaxy
2) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Among the movies in Phase Two, these two stood out the most. Guardians of the Galaxy provided a lot of fun while effectively introducing an entire dysfunctional team of heroes and telling the only story from Phase Two that can be enjoyed entirely separately from the rest, even with minimal connections to the MCU. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, on the other hand, provided a more serious story and reintroduced Bucky Barnes in a memorable way. As a bonus, the film can be enjoyed as a spiritual adaptation of Metal Gear Solid.

In the Middle

3) Ant-Man

Ant-Man may not be one of the better movies of the MCU, and was initially an anticlimactic end to Phase Two, but it's still clever and fun and injected some much-needed levity back into the franchise after Age of Ultron. The characters are hard not to like and Ant-Man's size-changing gimmick is taken full advantage of for both serious and comedic moments.

Worst (3-Way Tie)


4) Iron Man 3
4) Thor: The Dark World
4) Avengers: Age of Ultron

These three films are easily among the worst in the entirety of the MCU. All of them feature very forgettable stories, save for some specific imagery, and an over-reliance on special effects to move the plot along, not to mention the fight against Ultron lacked much of the same energy as the fight against Loki due to an overly bloated script. Their lack of memorability in their own ways is such that they all kind of blend into one bland mess and, for that reason, they all tied for last place.

After the disappointing Phase Two, Marvel Studios seemed to get back on track with Phase Three. The general quality of the writing went back up and they seemed to experiment a bit more with their approach to character, tone and style. Though full enjoyment of the movies is still dependent on the audience's loyalty to the franchise, that loyalty now feels more rewarding than in Phase Two.



1) Avengers: Infinity War
2) Thor: Ragnarok

When creating this list, these two films immediately came to mind for the tops spots in Phase Three. Avengers: Infinity War perfectly blended an appropriately serious story with occasional moments of levity and managed to make the investment into the rest of the MCU feel completely worth it. Thor: Ragnarok also managed to finally give Thor a good movie, with engaging characters, a better implementation of Asgard, the right amount of comedy and an absolutely masterful use of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song."

In the Middle


3) Captain Marvel
4) Black Panther
5) Captain America: Civil War
6) Ant-Man and the Wasp
7) Doctor Strange

As there are five movies at this point on the list, we'll need to give a more thorough explanation.

Captain Marvel is one of the better Phase Three films, but comes in at a rather odd point in the franchise, sandwiched between two halves of an epic space opera in the form of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. That said, the only thing that really holds the movie back is that feels like a Phase One movie, for better or worse.

Black Panther became a phenomenon on its own and not entirely without reason. It managed to bring in a new audience for Marvel movies, including from those who had never seen one before, and managed to win three Oscars, as well as score a nomination for Best Picture, a first for the genre. It's a very well-made film, but as people who have seen every single MCU film to date, we don't quite agree with the general sentiment of its quality. A good Marvel movie, but not even one of the best ones that year, as our placement of Infinity War demonstrates.

Captain America: Civil War is definitely middle-of-the-road in quality. It's written as a turning point for the MCU, and a stealth Avengers movie, with the Avengers fighting each other over their ideals and setting up alliances and rivalries that would carry over into subsequent films. This film would also formally introduce Spider-Man and Black Panther into the mix, whose later standalone entries relied on Civil War as part of the background for those stories.

As a follow-up to Ant-Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp works well in carrying that story forward, although there are some issues with the execution, primarily with the character Ghost. The fights also have much of the same creativity as before and the special effects are done very well. Like Captain Marvel, this film is also in the awkward position of releasing between Infinity War and Endgame, but managed to tie into the events of the former rather effectively.

As for Doctor Strange, it's a well-acted film with absolutely amazing special effects that help sell the mysticism, which helps considering the story also introduced actual magic to the MCU. The only thing that really puts it in this spot on the list is that it felt like school. We watched Doctor Strange more because we felt like we had to, not that we necessarily wanted to.



8) Spider-Man: Homecoming
9) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

These two films aren't bad films on their own, but they are disappointing in comparison to the rest of Phase Three. Spider-Man: Homecoming certainly doesn't live up to the Sam Raimi trilogy, or at least Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004), but the biggest issue is that they made the character too technological. Instead of letting all of Peter Parker's powers come from a radioactive spider bite, most of his abilities come from a suit that makes him more of a teenage Iron Man. The only real saving grace, however, is Michael Keaton's stellar take on the villain Vulture.

As for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, it was funny like its predecessor, but not as laugh-out-funny, with jokes that don't quite land the same punch. Ego the Living Planet was an interesting villain, but that's not enough to make up for the rather "safe" approach the rest of the film takes with its story and characters. Where we had started excited about more of these characters, we're now not as excited about the now-delayed third entry.

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