Friday, 20 October 2017

Marvel Cinematic Universe - From Best To Worst


Remember when I made that list of every Pixar movie from best to worst and said how there was going to be a lot more of those kind of lists in the future? And then remember how I did that Christopher Nolan best-to-worst list? Of course you do. How could you forget?

Well, here I am, continuing to make good on that promise/threat with list #3 AKA The Definitive Ranking Of The Marvel Cinematic Universe From Best To Least Best.

Anyone who knows me knows I love me some Marvel. From the comics through to those weird disc things they were giving away at the supermarket, I'm all about the Marvel. As a fan and a film critic (something I actively try to keep separate in my head while reviewing), I've found the majority of the MCU films to be a success on numerous levels (and most other critics agree with me on that). The movies reward the dedicated die-hards with their interwoven universe, but they largely work as standalone pieces of cinema. More importantly, they're good, solid films by almost any measure (most of the time).

With Marvel now pumping out three films a year, I'm going to keep this list updated fairly regularly because you've got to give the people what they want. Apparently. Not that anyone was specifically asking for this. And it's not like there isn't a million of these lists floating around the interwebs.

But whatever. INSERT NAME OF LATEST MARVEL MOVIE is out and it's time to celebrate. List party!


1. The Avengers

One of the most impressive aspects of the MCU has been its constant ability to prove people wrong. "You can't make a movie about a dumb god like Thor/stupid character like Ant-Man/bunch of unknowns like the Guardians Of The Galaxy", they said. In the lead up to The Avengers, doubters were questioning how the film was going to wedge its six key heroes into a convincing plot that gave each of them solid arcs and decent amounts of screen time, but it managed to do exactly that (aside from Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye getting seriously short-changed). Turns out balancing big ensemble casts is Joss Whedon's superpower, as is his knack for dialogue, character, humour, emotion, and interactions. So in between the alien onslaught and CG smackdowns, we get an impossibly tight superhero movie that ticked all the boxes, and delivered a stand-up-and-cheer piece of fun. Oh, and it was very funny.


2. Guardians Of The Galaxy 

Read my full review here.

Proof again that Marvel can do anything (so far). Having seemingly rested on their laurels with a third Iron Man movie followed by Thor and Captain America sequels, they rolled the dice on a largely unknown space-bound superhero team and handed the reins to predominantly unheralded director James Gunn, who was coming off the back of excellently received B-movies Super (really great, you should watch it) and Slither. Gunn's hilarious script and energetic direction, combined with pitch-perfect casting (Dave Bautista's Drax steals the show in a cast full of showstealers), made this an incredible success. So intoxicating and enjoyable is Guardians Of The Galaxy that if I'd seen this at the age I saw Star Wars, this would be my Star Wars. If that makes sense.


3. Iron Man 


It's hard to imagine anyone else in the role of Tony Stark other than Robert Downey Jr., so it's easy to forget what a risky proposition he was. Yes, great actor, undoubtedly, but at the time he'd never led a blockbuster and struggled to get cast because of his drug history (even Marvel was reluctant to sign him on). But without him Iron Man would not be anywhere near as awesome as it is, and by extension the MCU would not be as awesome as it is, so bravo Jon Favreau for sticking to his guns on RDJ. On top of that career-defining performance (which is saying something because the dude can act - did I mention that?), the film set the tonal template (and the bar) for every MCU film that followed - funny but solid emotionally, with a flawed hero on a typical but well-made journey toward redemption or understanding. Bridges gives good villain, the action scenes are quality (how good is Stark's escape and subsequent return to the terrorist base?), and everything falls into place, with lots of credit to Favreau who pulled together two different scripts to find the ultimate take on Iron Man.


4. Avengers: Infinity War

Read my full review here.

Devastating. Epic. Surprising. Exhilarating. Even after 18 movies, the MCU still somehow manages to offer up a giddy thrill on a grander-than-ever scale. But aside from its ability to suckerpunch you, the coup de grace is Thanos. He is a masterful creation, bordering on anti-hero, almost willing us to empathise with him. Watch the film from his perspective and it seems like a much more normal superhero movie than the one you just saw. Infinity Wars real skill is its effortlessness. From the script to the cast to the directors, everything seems comfortable and in control, as if there was no way they could ever screw this up. And thank Thor they didn't.


5. Captain America: Civil War

Read my full review here.

Taking the basic idea of the Civil War comic (Captain America and Iron Man go head-to-head over moves to register and control superheroes), this end to the Cap trilogy is the anti-Avengers. With the team split into two and double the amount of characters to deal with, the directing Russo Brothers went next-level, delivering a compelling and star-studded superhero adventure that explored the nature of heroism, government, war and freedom. On one side, Tony Stark's assertion there needs to be rules - on the other side, Steve Rogers saying you can never fully trust the rulemakers. By itself the film works, but these two characters are driven by what has gone before in the MCU, helping further weave the cinematic universe's rich tapestry. Stark messed up in Age Of Ultron and realises he's not the be-all-and-end-all of justice, while Rogers rolled out of The Winter Soldier not knowing friend from foe. It's character-driven action, and that's one of the keys to Marvel's success. If you want to see what happens when you get all these ideas horribly wrong, watch Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice (or just read my review here).


6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Read my full review here.

The Russos cleverly tapped into a '70s conspiracy thriller vibe, sticking Steve Rogers and his tricolour shield amid the 'All The President's Men grey' of Washington and leaving him uncertain as to who he can trust. Because if Captain America can't trust America, then something is very wrong in the US of A, and it's this core ideal that makes the film work, asking what does Cap (and by extension America) really stand for. And amid the "Hail Hydra"s and crashing helicarriers (those things always crash), it's really about friendship, which is kinda sweet. After everything Cap has seen, he still can't give up on his old mate Bucky - another aspect of this tautly directed and gripping superhero thriller that would inform Civil War.


7. Captain America: The First Avenger

Read my full review here.

As Winter Soldier digs into the vibe of Three Days Of The Condor and the like, The First Avenger is the spawn of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Director Joe Johnston served as an art director on Indy's first outing, so he knew what he was doing. It's all there in the rollicking Nazi-smashing sense of glee, the winking sense of humour, and the unrelenting action-movie fun which makes it such a joy to behold. On top of this, the casting directors are again the stars. Chris Evans, who thankfully said 'yes' to the role after saying 'no' three or four times, is perfect as both CG-diminished runt and indestructible super-soldier, while Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, and Hugo Weaving's supremely under-rated turn as Red Skull are all spot-on.



8. Black Panther


The secret of this film's strength lies in the differences and similarities between it's hero and villain. T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Killmonger (Michael B Jordan) are two sides of a coin as they debate Wakanda's place in the world. But even more than that, they are talking about the black man's place in the world. It's a fascinating discussion and by far the meatiest theme to inhabit an MCU film to date. This thoughtful tussle is played out against some beautiful production design, and while it's final act fights let it down, its James Bond-influenced top half and a poignant sunset moment are among the best things Marvel have thrown at the big screen to date.



9. Thor: Ragnarok


Yep, it's funny. Maybe even too funny. But goddamn, it's funny. And what else does Ragnarok have going for it, beyond its adorable Antipodean sense of humour? Well, there's the giddy glee of seeing Thor and Hulk get a rematch, the warped wonder of Jeff Goldblum sticking his head into the MCU, and director Taika Waititi making Korg out to be like a Polynesian bouncer. Throw in Cate Blanchett's scenery-chewing Hela, a relaxed Hemsworth, good bit roles from everyone else, and you've got a movie that's just plain old good fun. And funny. Did anyone mention how funny it is?


10. Thor

Read my full review here.

Among the many Marvel movies people said would never work was Thor, both as a character and as a film. After the misfire of Iron Man 2, many wondered how Marvel would balance the godly majesty of Asgard with the world of Agent Coulson and SHIELD. In director Kenneth Branagh, they found the way to make it work. He takes a sharp script and taps into what makes the character of Thor work best - the arrogant son who must prove himself worthy to a disappointed father, all the while being undermined by a scheming half-brother. It's, dare I say, almost Shakespearean, hey Branagh? Oh wait, every single reviewer ever said that. But they were right.


11. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Read my full review here.

This may go up or down the list on repeat viewings, but for now, as impressive as it is, it didn't blow me away like the first solo films of Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man. But it's still great, don't get me wrong. But maybe, after five other Spidey films, it's hard to wow. Having said that. in Tom Holland the MCU has found the best Peter Parker to date (sorry Tobey and Andrew) and in Michael Keaton's Vulture we find a new Spidey villain that is nicely shaded in grey and impossible to hate outright. Again, this is all about the tone, which is beautifully balanced and evident in the much-discussed teen movie vibe, the golden sense of humour, and the excellently judged mentor-mentee relationship between Stark and Parker.


12. Avengers: Age of Ultron

Read my full review here.

Marvel baddies get a bad wrap. Outside of Loki, you don't hear a lot of people talking them up. But I rate James Spader's Ultron, and he's one of the strengths in this at-times cumbersome sequel. Whedon crams a lot in here, including some things he didn't want to put in (Marvel forced him to include the nonsensical bit where Thor goes swimming for a mystic vision ... pun intended). But to his credit he gets the majority of it to work. Stark's egomania is spot on, Ultron's quest is an under-rated bit of AI "what if?", the Hulkbuster battle is great, and the arrivals of Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver don't feel too shoe-horned. But what I really love are the quieter moments - the Avengers playing "who can lift Mjolnir?", Hawkeye's ranch life, and the relationships between the characters, particularly Black Widow and Hulk. A sequel that's better than it has any right to be.


13. Ant-Man

Read my full review here.

Late one night in 2013, Marvel, while drunk on its own power, proclaimed "Fuck it, let's make an Ant-Man movie". The MCU brains trust felt indestructible. Nothing could stop them. And godsdammit, they were right. They found a great angle into a ridiculous character, not only by turning it into a heist film but by making Paul Rudd's Scott Lang the second Ant-man. It was a genius move, giving us some nice master-padawan stuff between Lang and Michael Douglas' Hank Pym, while also making the MCU instantly richer, historically speaking. Oh, and it was funny, largely thanks to Rudd and Michael Pena. But deep down inside, I can't help but hate the universe (and Marvel) just a little for not giving us the Edgar Wright version of this, because we all know Wright would have given us something worthy of a top three spot on this list. Maybe even top two. Probably.


14. Doctor Strange

Read my full review here.

Fourteen movies into the MCU, Marvel can be forgiven for repeating themselves. Because Doctor Strange is essentially the magical version of Iron Man, with Benedict Cumberbatch's Steven Strange following a very Tony Stark-like transition from superjerk to superhero. But Doctor Strange can't be entirely written off as an Iron Man repeat. For one, Cumberbatch is great, but the big pluses here are in the visual audacity of the film. Sure, we've seen the whole city-bending stuff before in Inception, but the jaw-dropping final battle between Strange and Kaecilius (a solid Mads Mikkelsen) in a backwards-flowing timestream is one of the best CG-based set pieces I've ever seen. The "Dormammu, I've come to bargain" bit is pure gold as well, and even Strange's cape gets some nice moments. The film looks good, but more importantly it looks different to the rest of the MCU - no mean feat 14 films in.



15. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

Read my full review here.

And read about the Easter Eggs you may have missed here.

Yeah, we're at #12 but we're still dealing with highly enjoyable and incredibly well made films here. We're definitely still at three-and-a-half-star territory in my book. In fact, it's probably only by comparison to its predecessor that Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 suffers. In its own right it's still enjoyable, just not as enjoyable. But there's so much to love. Despite the father-son dynamic of Starlord (Chris Pratt) and Ego (Kurt Russell) slowing the film down, it's a strong and interesting part of the film, with familial relationships explored further and in even more interesting detail between Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Starlord, and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). And then there's Baby Groot. It's all further evidence of James Gunn's skills as someone who understands the power of relationships and character, as well as being a masterful storyteller and a filmmaker with flair (cos there's still plenty of spectacle here).


16. Iron Man 3

Read my full review here.

The Mandarin fake-out ticked off a lot of people, but I love it. Throw in Stark's PTSD (which is a tad underdone but it'll do), some nice reworkings of the Extremis storyline, the always excellent Guy Pearce, and one beautiful moment when a henchman has a "this job ain't for me" epiphany, and you've got a very different but enjoyable Iron Man movie. Director Shane Black (who co-wrote the script with Drew Pearce) gets a slightly edgier tone going and makes it work. The ending leaves a little to be desired, but if this proves to be the final solo Stark outing, then it's a worthy conclusion.


17. The Incredible Hulk

It's a shame Edward Norton couldn't continue as Bruce Banner because his turn in The Incredible Hulk is supremely under-rated. So is the film itself - it's a neat capsule of what the not-so-jolly green giant is all about, and it tells its story well. Skipping the origin story bit thanks to a clever opening credits sequence, it moves along at a good pace and climaxes with a cool showdown between Hulk and Tim Roth's Abomination. But best of all is Norton's characterisation of Banner. His edgy portrayal sits nicely between Eric Bana's tortured turn and Mark Ruffalo chill science bro, and for mine is the best Banner to date (even though Ruffalo is also great).


18. Thor: The Dark World

Read my full review here.

After the success of his first outing, it looked like Thor could do anything. But his sequel was a serious disappointment showcasing some of the key criticisms levelled at Marvel movies - forgettable villain, lazy chase-the-MacGuffin plot, no real sense of risk, all spectacle no spark. The final act is pretty good though - Loki and Thor working together (with a neat little piece of audience deception thrown in), a crazy Dr Selvig, and the climactic cross-dimensional battle between Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and Thor are all fantastic. It's just a shame the rest of the film doesn't pack the same punch or give a sense that something is actually at stake.


19. Iron Man 2

Read my full review here.

If they taught us nothing else, Spider-man 3 and Batman & Robin showed us you shouldn't cram too much into a superhero movie - you need to ease up on the number of new characters and various backstories and subplots they bring with them (unless you're Joss Whedon making The Avengers, in which case, go hog wild). But Iron Man 2 is the Spider-man 3 of the MCU. It's an overstuffed Xmas turkey that explodes when you put it in the oven and you're left with a disappointing Xmas dinner. If they'd just thrown Whiplash into the mix, it probably would have been fine. But also adding Justin Hammer and Black Widow, while completing Rhodey's transformation into War Machine ... it all just became too much. The script repeatedly strains under the weight of its subplots and additional characters, and it becomes a noisy idea of what an Iron Man movie should be, instead of being an actual Iron Man movie. The whole Demon In A Bottle idea is seriously underdone (much like the PTSD in Iron Man 3), but then again so are many of the pieces floating around in this disappointing sequel.

2 comments:

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  2. Great list, similar to what I would choose, only that Spiderman might be a couple spots up but I guess it is still fresh so in the long term it will be looked at better as an origin film, nice work!

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