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Abigail Nussbaum @NussbaumAbigail
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Hey, you know what would be a totally original way to prepare for #AvengersInfinityWar? A ranked list of all the MCU movies thus far! Here they are, from worst to best!
18. The Incredible Hulk (2008) – There’s a reason most people forget this was even an MCU movie. It’s exactly the kind of superhero movie that made the genre such a heavy lift in the 90s and 00s, and which Iron Man so refreshingly broke away from.
17. Thor: The Dark World (2013) – A complete waste of an interesting world, not to mention Loki and Christopher Eccleston. Extra demerits for killing Thor’s mom and giving Jane Foster nothing to do.
16. Iron Man 2 (2010) – I rank this slightly above Thor 2 because Pepper gets more to do, but otherwise it’s a shapeless mess that wastes both Downey and Sam Rockwell.
15. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – I enjoyed this well enough in the theater but still walked away unsatisfied, and in hindsight hardly anything about it works. The fact that Tony (and Bruce and Wanda) suffer no real consequences after this movie dings it even further.
14. Captain America: Civil War (2016) – No MCU movie has aged as badly as this one. Handles its large cast and action scenes better than Ultron, but that’s the only point in its favor, and against it you have risible politics, and the fact that it has made me dislike Steve Rogers
13. Doctor Strange (2016) – What should have been a grand cosmic adventure becomes a by the numbers Harry Potter ripoff with a lead who is Tony Stark without the charisma. Also the movie that made me think poorly of Tilda Swinton, which is unforgivable.
12. Ant-Man (2015) – Paul Rudd and Michael Pena are charming as hell, but that doesn’t quite make up for the uninspired (and massively sexist) script.
11. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) – There’s enough of what made the first film work here that it’s fun while you’re watching. But the more you think about it, the clearer the film’s mean-spiritedness becomes. The Gamora/Nebula plot is the only one that really works.
10. Avengers (2012) – The movie that rescued Hulk & Black Widow from their initial poor handling. And it has some fun moments. But mostly it suggests what the other team-up movies have proven – this sort of thing is more impressive for being attempted than for its limited success
9. Thor (2011) – This one has grown on me in hindsight, mainly for its handling of Loki (and for refusing to coddle him as subsequent MCU movies have done). A lot of the things Ragnarok has been praised for were already present here, and in some ways more subtly handled.
8. Iron Man (2008) – It can be hard to remember how thoroughly this film bucked the trend of previous superhero movies. A lot of that is down to Downey’s performance, but the other characters and the setting are also doing a lot. It’s been superseded, but it’s still a good movie.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – OK, so it uses music to tell you how to feel and the jokes aren’t really that funny, but this is the movie that proved the MCU could be silly and zany and brightly-colored, and still have a hell of a lot of heart.
6. Iron Man 3 (2013) – This one doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It gives Tony a great character arc, has interesting villains, and a subtly subversive political message. Age of Ultron later tramples over a lot of this, but in itself it’s still one of the better MCU entries.
5. Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – Especially post-Civil War, this film’s irreverent approach to its heroes was a balm. I’m not as in love with it as some, but the diversity of its casting and visuals is really refreshing, and helps to bolster ideas that the script doesn’t quite support.
4. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) – I enjoyed this in the theater, but it has really grown on me since. The modest scale and stakes end up making it one of the most affecting MCU movies, and the subtle criticism of Tony and the Avengers comes not a moment too soon.
3. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – The film that made me an MCU fan. My favorite hero, my favorite love-interest-who-is-herself-a-hero, and a total willingness to be earnest. Also a reminder that superhero movies often work best as period pieces.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – The follow-up to this movie has broken my heart, reminding us the MCU can only ever pretend at subversiveness. But it’s still a damn clever spy movie, with the franchise’s best action scenes, and great roles for Steve and Natasha.
1. Black Panther (2018) – The action scenes aren’t as good as WS, but in every other respect, this is a whole new level for the MCU. The world, the villain, the characters – in particular, multiple female characters with important roles. Sets a standard that will be tough to meet
A couple more thoughts: one, for all my criticisms of this franchise, it’s still an astonishing accomplishment. Hardly any of these films are bad, and even the ones I don’t like are entertaining. To maintain this quality in 18 films over 10 years that all tie together is amazing.
Two, there’s been a huge step up in quality in phase three, directly linked to letting creators have more freedom to strike their own tone and not take their characters or universe too seriously.
Three, and relatedly, the team-up movies are consistently the least satisfying efforts, and the ones that tend to drag the characters through the mud. They make tons of money so we’re going to keep getting them, but I’d much rather see more standalones. And yes, that includes IW.
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