Hello and welcome back to my rankings of the 25 feature films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). We are cracking into the top 10 today, so if you haven’t already I strongly recommend that you check out my other articles here, here, and here.
Remember that this list represents my opinion, which is in no way authoritative (though, I’d like to think I know a little bit about what I am talking about), and this numerical order is really just a convenient formality. On some days I may feel more strongly about some of these films than others, and what I think makes them better or worse than their peers ebbs and flows. I just want to talk about these movies as an educational experience, for any hopeful storytellers out there with blockbuster aspirations themselves.
With all that in mind, let’s get on with entries 10 through six:
#10: Iron Man 2
Consistently ranking in other lists among the bottom of the MCU, Iron Man 2 is a movie people love to hate. And why shouldn’t they? Mickey Rourke’s accent is farcical, the second act resolution is the biggest jump-the-shark moment of any Marvel film, and the sexist script frequently and unnecessarily uses women’s bodies as either props or punchlines. Just for that last reason alone, I should be ashamed to have this movie so high on my own list. I know having it here is a sort of betrayal to every proud woman in my life, and each one I admire.
But here’s the thing: Iron Man 2 is just so much movie. It’s the big, loud sequel of big, loud sequels. The characters are dynamic, with clear personality and arc (Sam Rockwell’s insecure, try-hard anthesis to Tony, Justin Hammer, remains a favorite villain to this day), and the action is absolutely iconic (no one who’s seen it could ever forget the racetrack fight).
Iron Man 2 showcases the flaws of presenting this kind of information in a ranked order. Yes, there is a lot I don’t like about the movie, but so many of these MCU films are lumped murkily together for me, so many of their pros and cons shifting them nebulously in any one direction. Let’s chalk this one up to a guilty pleasure.
Though not a perfect movie, the original Ant-Man is nevertheless a real fun time. It understands what it is, doesn’t try to take itself too seriously and as a result it’s one of the most satisfiably structured films in the entire MCU.
My biggest complaint for the film is probably what draws so many audiences to it in the first place: Ant-Man is funny. A lot of the time, it succeeds at this naturally enough. But if you produce and market a movie on its “funniness,” then there’s the chance it will try too hard (and fail) to meet that descriptor. Ant-Man is peppered with lots of little jokes with no big punchlines, ultimately detracting from the story.
And it is a great story, filled with plenty of clever twist and plants and payoffs, and the Hope and Hank relationship is absolutely endearing. Ant-Man has plenty of heart.
#8: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
This second entry in the fan-favorite series goes big and goes home, as Peter Quill and co. travel to the planet of his alien father… which is also his father.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has director James Gunn’s fingerprints all over it, and that’s a good thing, providing audiences with two things that so many of the other MCU movies find lacking: voice and vision. Gunn’s second turn with the eponymous misfits is a distinctly stylized adventure, filled with lots to laugh at.
But like Ant-Man before it, and much of the comedy of the whole MCU, Vol. 2’s jokes can run on a little too long, ostensibly to punch up a script that was already funny enough to begin with. The story meanders and the relationship between Peter and Ego is paper thin, but there’s just enough here to forgive the film for its faults.
#7: Captain America: The First Avenger
Marvel Studios has never made a more compelling hero than Steve Rogers as he appears here in this film. Steve is a relatable underdog, persevering in spite of his deficits but still when at a moment denied his dreams he falls into crushingly sincere self-aware doubt. Sound familiar?
Steve Rogers might be you. You’re a good person, aren’t you? If given the chance and all the power to do it, you’d make the world a better, more just place to be–right? Coupling this incredibly relatable arc of character with some sharp supporting characters and some really legible visual language is what makes The First Avenger so damn good.
If the film has any faults though, it’s that it stutters after the end of that absolutely sentimental first act. Who does Steve need to become once he’s Captain America? What does he need to learn next? There’s no clear answer, and in the final 20 minutes the film really forsakes its story in favor of actionable plot.
But just as compelling as Steve is Peggy, and even more so is their love for each other. It’s the best romance Marvel’s ever done.
#6: Thor: Ragnarok
The god of thunder finally gives us a little shock factor with this third installment in the troubled series. Part of what made Ragnarok work so well is that it wasn’t afraid to push its characters and their world into bold new directions: Odin dies, Mjolnir is destroyed, the Warriors Three are killed, Thor is maimed and Asgard is obliterated. Couple that with fantastic performances and the usual impressive production design, audiences are left with one of the strongest films in the MCU to date.
So, why not place it higher? Two reasons, chiefly. First is that writer-director Taika Waititi, rightfully embarrassed by the previous Thor films, decided to recast the characters in a far more humorous light. While it works for the film, when considering Ragnarok as a continuation of characters already established it is a bit dissonant to see so many of them, previously speaking in more “high born” tongues, suddenly talk so casually. One wonders if Waititi could have brought in the lighter tone and still have been honest to past dialogue fingerprints.
Secondly, and this may be the only thing that the first two films have over this charming third, is that Thor’s emotional arc is not reinforced for much of the story. By Ragnarok’s climax, it is clear that Thor has his doubts about defeating Hela without Mjolnir at his disposal, that he feels like less of a hero without it. However, this idea isn’t much explored for the first acts. Thor is too busy trying to escape Sakaar for any serious introspection (plot over story), and anytime Mjolnir does come up, it’s typically brushed off with a joke. Had we seen a bit more of Thor’s angst, this may have been a mightier movie.
‘Nuff Said… For Now
That’s all for today. Come back soon (real soon!) to see which five movies made the top of my list. Excelsior!