The waiting is nearly over. We stand on the edge of what Marvel has been working on since what feels like the dawn of time. Of course, the MCU actually first came into existence in 2008 with the release of Iron Man, but ten years is a long time in movie-land.
Avengers: Infinity War promises to shape everything that follows in the MCU and hopes to build on its rather average predecessor Age of Ultron, in almost every way. It’s longer (at 149 minutes), has more characters than anything else like it and is one of the most expensive films ever made, costing an estimated $400million.
Anthony and Joe Russo, who directed the rather fabulous Captain America: Civil War certainly have their work cut out. Here however, I’ve been working on this project for a good few weeks, re-watching all of the MCU and conducting some mini reviews. Without further ado, this is the ultimate, definitive ranking of the entire MCU, perhaps the most vast movie universe ever put to celluloid. Read on to find out the best and worst Marvel movies. The Marvel movie collection is constantly growing, so I’ll be adding to this franchise review as new films are released. And I do believe a spoiler warning is in effect.
Marvel Phase One
Iron Man (2008)
Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book) helmed Marvel’s first foray into creating a mass-market, shared universe with wonderful results. The casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was inspired and Gwenyth Paltrow was a great choice to play Pepper Potts.
The film still holds up to this day with great action sequences, cracking special effects and a decent story to boot. Negatives? Well, Jeff Bridges’ villain is a little underdeveloped and quite frankly, a bit dull (something Marvel still struggles with to this day), but Iron Man is the one that started it all and it’s a great film.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
A lot of people forget this film is even part of the MCU, I do as well! And there’s a reason for this. Louis Letterier’s version of the great green behemoth is a decent film in its own right, but a little bit boring and nondescript.
Edward Norton and Liv Tyler are fine, if lacking a little in any on-screen chemistry and the story really disappoints. The special effects too, whilst better than Ang Lee’s Hulk, just aren’t up to scratch, especially considering Iron Man was released just two months earlier. This film threatened to derail the MCU before it had even got going. Thankfully that wasn’t the case.
⭐ ⭐ 1/2
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Iron Man 2 was incredibly over-hyped, simply because of the stunning performance of its predecessor. Sequels are rarely better than the original and this is a fine example of that. Jon Favreau lost his way a little with this one as we get to see an immensely dislikable Tony Stark frolic his way through the first half.
Whiplash, the film’s main villain, is catastrophically underdeveloped and one of the MCU’s worst, despite an entertaining performance from Mickey Rourke. Thankfully, the special effects are good and the finale, while derivative, is fun and very well filmed.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Kenneth Branagh was an inspired choice to direct the live-action adaptation of Thor. With his Shakespearean roots, he added some much needed drama to the story of the god of thunder. Chris Hemsworth’s introduction as the mighty god was fantastic and he remains one of my favourite members of the Avengers. Witty and handsome, he is the ideal choice.
Of course, we can’t forget about Tom Hiddleston’s performance as Loki – the best villain the MCU had and still has. He absolutely embodies the god of mischief persona and is perfection. Natalie Portman fares less well with a dull, phoned-in performance as Jane Foster and the bright lights of Asgard are disappointingly underused.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The MCU was in full swing during the summer blockbuster season of 2011. Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III, Jumanji) helmed this adaptation of the comic with his usual confidence. Chris Evans has now become a staple of the MCU and his origins story is definitely one of the most interesting.
The villains, well, they suffer here and are frankly a little ridiculous, but the special effects are on-point and it has a great score by Alan Silvestri. All in all, a pretty average first outing for the First Avenger, but one to build on with the two sequels that followed.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The Avengers/Avengers Assembled (2012)
Avengers Assembled is a film filled with amazing performances, great special effects and fantastic direction from long-time comic-book fan, Joss Whedon. He manages to craft a great film and considering the size of the cast, that’s no easy feat.
It lets itself down throughout the finale in which the audience is subjected to a Transformers-style alien invasion across New York City that could have been lifted straight out of any Michael Bay-directed flick. A great end to Phase One of the MCU, but not the classic everyone remembers it being.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Marvel Phase Two
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Shane Black’s take on Iron Man 3 angered and delighted fans in equal measure. Which camp you belong to mostly depends on how you feel Black handled the film’s main villain; The Mandarin.
In my opinion, Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of the iconic badass was a little wasted. The revelation that The Mandarin was a character created by Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian creates yet another poor MCU villain. Had Kingsley indeed been the real Mandarin, he could’ve rivalled Loki for MCU villain supremacy. As it stands, Iron Man 3 is a brave film and that in itself means it should be applauded. It also has a great finale and beautiful cinematography.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
The departure of Kenneth Branagh and the subsequent trouble finding a director landed Thor: The Dark World in hot water before filming had even commenced. Helmed by Alan Taylor who went on to direct Terminator Genisys (oh dear), Thor: The Dark World is one of the weakest films in the entire MCU.
Plagued by a dull script and another phoned-in performance by Natalie Portman, it lacks the humour and sheer sense of madness that the god of thunder’s story requires. Christopher Eccleston also wins the prize for the MCU’s very worst villain – Malekith. May god help us all.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
I’ve always said that the best Marvel films are the ones that feature a different genre, rather than just ‘superhero movie’. Case in point with The Winter Soldier. Directed by the Russo brothers, this second outing for the First Avenger is almost heist-like in its presentation.
With a great cast and some absolutely breath-taking action sequences, it remains one of the very best films in the MCU with very few negatives. If I had to criticise, I’d say that Henry Jackman’s score is a little forgettable but this is a very small point in a film filled with surprises.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
“Marvel has gone mad.” This was the kind of reaction that many film-fans greeted the news of a film adaptation of Guardians of the Galaxy, one of the comic-book company’s lesser known band of heroes.
Thankfully, the film is an absolute masterclass. With the best ensemble cast of the entire MCU, some crazy set design and a great soundtrack, James Gunn’s MCU directorial-debut is practically perfect in every single way. We even get a decent villain in Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser. Plus, it’s got Glenn Close spouting absolute nonsense and Vin Diesel getting paid a ridiculous amount of money to say three words over and over again. What could be better?
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Joss Whedon missed the mark with Age of Ultron and I think he knows that too. Whilst absolutely competent in every way, it lacks the first film’s lightness of touch. It’s all a little unoriginal with too many characters vying for screen-time.
The special effects are fine, if a little underwhelming and it all feels like it was made to sell tickets, rather than the passion project of the first Avengers movie. Whedon himself said that the film broke him, one of the main reasons for him not returning to direct Infinity War.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Paul Rudd’s introduction to the MCU as Scott Lang still remains one of my favourite Marvel films ever. The Friends actor was the ideal choice to team up with Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas in a film that exceeded all expectations upon its release.
Of course it had a troubled production that saw director Edgar Wright leave the project and Peyton Reed drafted in, but an intriguing premise, great humour and some of the best performances in the entire MCU means it’s a great watch for all the family.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2
Marvel Phase Three
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The Russo brothers returned to the MCU with their Captain American follow-up, Civil War. It’s a long film but the zippy pacing means it doesn’t feel that way and the great premise and introduction of Black Panther lend it some real gravitas when compared with its MCU stablemates.
The airport scene was one of the best action sequences of 2016 and also saw the introduction of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, by far the best iteration of the character we have seen on film. It’s a cracking film that so successful, it bagged the Russo’s the Infinity War gig. No pressure guys.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2
Doctor Strange (2016)
Perhaps the hardest film in the MCU to see the light of day, Doctor Strange is one that requires a rather greater suspension of disbelief. Sure, we can get to grips with gods and superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but a wizard? That was a harder pill to swallow for many and it resulted in one of the lowest box-office takings for any MCU movie.
What it does have in its favour however is a great performance from Benedict Cumberbatch and another powerhouse role from Tilda Swinton (despite the white-washing controversy). At this point however, the MCU had been churning out films so much better, which means it falls towards the bottom of the pile for solo outings.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
A victim of its own success, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was always going to find it hard to live-up to the incredible standards set by its predecessor. It starts off very well indeed and features some great new characters in Mantis, but the finale is quite frankly, poor.
Another great soundtrack and a witty script can’t mask a film that is fairly mediocre when it comes to plot. The end is spoilt by needless and constant CGI, something that continues to blight most blockbusters these days.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Thank goodness Marvel got the rights back for Spider-Man. Spider-Man: Homecoming cements Tom Holland’s place as the best iteration of the webslinger ever put to film. Where Andrew Garfield was a great Spider-Man, he was a poor Peter Parker and Tobey Maguire was the reverse. Here, Tom Holland gets it absolutely spot on.
Plus, Michael Keaton’s villain, the Vulture is second only to Loki in the MCU. One scene in particular in which our antagonist realises Peter’s identity will leave you with chills. It’s nicely filmed, has a great soundtrack and a great Spidey suit. What more could you want?
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Jeff Goldblum’s performance in Thor: Ragnarok is surely worth 3 stars on its own, right? This third solo outing for the god of thunder shows exactly what the previous two films should have been like. Directed by Taika Waititi, Ragnarok is funny, endearing and full of colour.
It’s also the closest we’re going to get to a solo Hulk movie for Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner. Have I mentioned Jeff Goldblum yet? Oh yes! The Grandmaster is sure to go down in MCU history as one of the most bonkers, and best characters in the whole series.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Black Panther (2018)
For me, Black Panther exceeded expectations when it was released in February 2018. The trailers were rather uninspiring and painted a picture of a film that utilised far too much CGI, but the reality was quite different.
Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is an entirely believable villain with a backstory that makes you feel for the character, something rarely seen in any film, never mind one from the MCU and Chadwick Boseman is an excellent king of Wakanda. Andy Serkis is a little under-utilised, but the film is progressive and visually stunning, despite some lapses in CGI towards the end.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Which film is your favourite of the MCU? Do you agree or disagree with any of these rankings. Let us know, we reply to each and every comment!
Avengers: Infinity War hits UK cinemas on April 26th.