I just saw my second ranking of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, and thought it was about time I make my own. Which is harder than it sounds considering that I pretty much love every one of them!
But rank them I did, and there wasn't anything truly unexpected to come out of it. Except for perhaps a new appreciation of the original Iron Man film.
And away we go...
- The Avengers (Score: A+). This is the film that came along and made every comic book geek's wet dream come true. Finally. After suffering through the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises with their shitty stories, weak-ass villains, and nonsensical plots, we get an actual comic book team-up that's worth watching! Joss Whedon miraculously managed to weave a cohesive story that gives each character an equal share of screen-time. And having Loki as the villain was not only true to the comic book origins, but a flawless foil for Earth's Mightiest Heroes thanks to Tom Hiddleston's spot-on portrayal. Add in a jaw-dropping battle to repel a full-scale alien invasion and you've got a film I've watched more times than I can count. And am not done with it yet. Not by a longshot.
- Guardians of the Galaxy (Score: A+). I held out very little hope for Guardians of the Galaxy from the minute I heard that Marvel was so foolish as to try and bring it to the big screen. I mean, come on... a talking tree and raccoon? How in the hell is that going to work? But thanks in no small part to the utter genius of James Gunn's vision, we ended up with what's probably the best Marvel film to date (even though The Avengers got there first for me and claims my top spot). Rocket and Groot not only made a flawless transition to film, they were essential to what made the team work so well. Mind-bending action and effects, a serious threat to overcome, some of the funniest ideas in a super-hero movie ever, and a faithful take on the source material makes this a movie that's almost too good to be true.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Score: A+). The first Captain America film took an absurd, antiquated concept and somehow made it work. Beautifully. But now that we've left World War II, how could they possibly bring Cap to modern times and have him be relevant or a character to take seriously? By pulling at the threads of what is supposed to make America be "America" and having Steve Roger's unique viewpoint deal with the unraveling. This film wasn't just great... it was painfully so, reflecting on current events in a way I never thought possible from a comic book movie. As if that weren't enough, we got Falcon and more glorious Black Widow screen time. And Robert Redford.
- Iron Man (Score: A+). The movie that started it all. What made Iron Man so revolutionary is that it was such a fantastic translation from the comic book... faithful almost to a fault. But what really sold it was Robert Downey Jr. as Stark. Probably one of the most brilliant casting decisions in cinematic history, his performance set the tone for everything that followed. Getting Jeff Bridges to turn in one of his best modern performances as villainous Obadiah Stane was just the icing on the cake. I don't think Jon Favreau gets nearly enough credit for the founding of the Marvel Cinematic Universe... and all it takes is a fresh look at his film to see exactly why he is so deserving.
- Captain America: The First Avenger (Score: A+). I was beyond nervous for this movie, fearing that a flag-waving super-soldier would translate badly to the big screen. But Joe Johnston made all the right moves and it turned out far better than I had dreamed it could have. First, he was true to the source material and set the story in World War II. Second, he convinced Chris Evans to take the lead role (let's face it, the guy is Captain America). Third, he did an amazing job of reigning in such epic scope to such a beautiful, personal story. Bonus: Cap's costume here is hands-down the best cinematic super-hero costume I've ever seen. A wondrous melding of World War II gear with the iconic flag design that defines Captain America. Sadly he'd get a massive downgrade in The Avengers, but things got much better in Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron.
- Iron Man 3 (Score: A+). Yes, I gave this movie an "A+" which technically means it ties with the five movies above... but somebody had to end up at the bottom of the stack and it feels as though Iron Man 3... great as it is... should be there. And I can't quite put my finger as to why. I liked the story very much. I loved the action. The performances (featuring yet another Robert Downey Jr. stunner) were top notch. The humor was as witty and sharp as ever. And I was so very, very grateful that we didn't go down the "Demon in a Bottle" alcoholism storyline from the comics (and hinted at in Iron Man 2) that Shane Black could have done almost anything and still got my stamp of approval. So what is it that sets Iron Man 3 below the rest? Thinking about it, I'm guessing it could be two things. 1) The whole Ben Kingsley Mandarin reveal felt awkward and forced, even though it made better sense than the racist stereotype Mandarin from the comics. And 2) The post-traumatic stress syndrome plaguing Tony in the aftermath of The Battle for New York was handled about as good as it could have been in the context of the film... but still felt a bit out of place in the grand scheme of things. The fact that it's completely disappeared come Age of Ultron just reinforces this. All things considered, however, it's still about as good as a movie gets for me and did not disappoint.
- The Avengers: Age of Ultron (Score: A). A great film that could have been genius if only it had the discipline to be more focused... and had Ultron being the terrifying villain he was made to be. But instead the story wandered all over the map (literally) with a series of story beats that seemed way too random... and Ultron never once felt like a threat, even when he was trying to destroy the world. So no A+ here. And yet... still a mind-blowing film that lived up to the unprecedented hype that had been built up around it. The Vision may have felt shoe-horned in (and his cape looked like shit) but we have The Vision! Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch may have powers that didn't maintain consistency and felt weirdly deus ex machina to the plot, but we have Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch! And the action sequences? Amazing. The special effects? Mind-blowing. There was just too much good stuff here to deny, and we got the sequel we all deserved. It's just that it could have been better... should have been better... and that will haunt the movie every time I watch it.
- Thor: The Dark World (Score: A). Truth to tell, I didn't really think this was a better film than the first one when it comes to the character of Thor. It's just that it came together in such a fantastic way in the grand scheme of things that I couldn't help but give it higher marks. It was a much bigger film since it didn't have an origin story tied to it, but that was expected. What wasn't expected was the little things that were so perfectly realized that make Thor be Thor. First of all, I absolutely loved how Thor's hammer was portrayed. The enchantment that makes it always return to Thor's hand was just so beautifully depicted as Thor went tumbling through dimensions that I felt as though I was actually watching THOR instead of a movie version of him. Second of all, Thor is a cosmic hero that goes far beyond earthly confines, and we finally get to see that here. And thirdly, Asgardians are in an entirely different world... literally... and though we didn't get as much as we probably should have, I think it was communicated much stronger in this movie than the first film (and absolutely The Avengers)... for that alone, I really enjoyed the film. Yes, the Dark Elves plot was a bit weak and we could have used a much stronger villain, but at least the antagonists in this film were consequential to the story, which can't really be said for most comic book villains at the cinema. And we got more of Hiddleston's Loki... that's always a good time.
- Iron Man 2 (Score: A-). For the life of me I don't understand the critical reception this movie got. Critics and fans alike lambasted it as a bad film, but I loved it. Great action beats, a compelling story, a fun villain, the introduction of Black Widow and War Machine... what's not to love? Yes, it's probably more "comic book" than "cinematic event"... but is that really such a bad thing for what's supposed to be a comic book movie? I took off half a point because it rambled a bit and didn't seem as tight as the first film... but Robert Downey Jr. once again brought Tony Stark as only Robert Downey Jr. can, and that compensates for just about any sin you can find in Iron Man 2.
- Thor (Score: B+). Don't get me wrong... I absolutely loved this film. Kenneth Branagh took the mystical side of the Marvel Universe and not only made it work in a way that surprised me, but somehow managed to both ground Thor as a man, yet elevate him as a super-hero. His characterization of the Asgardians (not to mention the stunning rendition of Asgard itself) approached a majesty that truly made them gods on-screen. The story was note-perfect. The special effects... especially in icy Jotunheim... were amazing. Where the movie fails and loses half a grade is the timing. The main storyline in the film takes place over what seems like two days, and it just doesn't add up when you factor in all the things that happened. Loki's false reign as king has almost zero weight when you consider he was on the throne for all of five minutes. Thor and Jane's romance seems even more implausible when you realize they're head-over-heels a day after she hits him with her car. Thor was made mortal for less than a day, and yet he somehow completely changed his views from arrogance to compassionate because of it? Yes, if you can put the timeline out of your head, this is a fantastic film (hence the B+) but I can't help but think it could have been so much better if they had just taken care to show the passage of time so events could breathe... rather than piling them all on top of each other in a ridiculous mishmash of happenings.
- The Incredible Hulk (Score: B). I honestly thought that Ang Lee's 2003 movie would nail The Hulk perfectly, because he seemed to grasp the concept that makes the character so compelling in the comics during his interviews about the film. Unfortunately, I didn't care for his take at all, and thought it was was a step backwards from even the Bill Bixby television show. The re-boot in 2008 was tied to the Marvel Cinematic Universe thanks to a cameo by Tony Stark, so it gets included here, but a part of me doesn't think it really belongs. For one thing, the ending of The Incredible Hulk was a weak-ass mess that pretty much sabotages the entire flick... which is very un-Marvel-like. For another, Hulk was done so mind-blowingly brilliantly in The Avengers that it's tough to look back on this effort as being the "real" Hulk. Still, it has some shining moments and very good performances married to a decent script (up until the end, that is), so it makes a better than passing grade and is worth your valuable time to watch.
And there you have it. Next up? Ant Man! Which, unless I am totally taken by surprise, will end up in the middle of the pack. I can't wait.