Ranking the MCU: 23-17

We’re closing in on the culmination of everything the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been leading up to since it started in 2008. Because “Avengers: Endgame” is right around the corner, here’s a look back at the rest of the MCU, ranked from bottom to top.

23. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Chris Hemsworth as Thor in “Thor: The Dark World.”

After more than a decade and over 20 films, “Thor: The Dark World” remains the worst Marvel film. Was it the worst movie that year? No. But so much of it was average at best and largely forgettable.

This was mainly because of the supporting characters. Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard are wasted here in lame comic-relief roles. Thor’s friends, known as the Warriors Three, meanwhile, have little in terms of character depth when compared to side characters like James Rhodes from the “Iron Man” series. The weakest character, though, was Malekith, the film’s villain. The character was so stock and Christopher Eccleston offered nothing to enhance the villain’s screen presence.

The three leads in the film, Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Tom Hiddleston were fine, and there was a neat climactic battle that utilized traveling through portals to make things unique. However, the writing and many of the characters just didn’t work.

22. Thor (2011)

Chris Hemsworth as Thor in “Thor”

I was quite underwhelmed with the original “Thor” film. The first thing I noticed about it was how it felt somewhat small in scale. The first two “Iron Man” films and “The Incredible Hulk,” had a few different locations, whereas this took place in just a small, random town. I get what it was going for, having Thor learn to be a bit more humble in small town, but I do feel like Thor could have been more epic by taking place in some other locations, which could have raised the stakes.

The film also had a poor introduction to the Warriors Three, offering them very little personality besides archetypes and the romance between Thor and Jane was never quite convincing. Plus, Thor’s story of becoming more humble seemed a bit rushed. Overall, it seemed a little shallow.

21. Iron Man 2 (2010)

Iron Man 2 showcases Air Force world-wide
Iron Man and War Machine in “Iron Man 2.”

Oh, “Iron Man 2.” The hype on this picture was incredible. It was the first sequel in the Marvel universe and the secret agency SHIELD would be more prominently featured. It could be a game changer. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

The simple fact is that “Iron Man 2” bit off way more than it was able to chew. It wanted to cover Tony Stark’s arc reactor affecting his health, but it didn’t have enough time to dig into the issue. The same could be said about Stark’s alcoholism, SHIELD’s plan for the Avengers and corporate espionage with the character Justin Hammer.

This sequel tries to juggle all of these, but it’s apparent that it’s just too much. With that said, there’s still enough to push it over the “Thor” pictures. For example, talented performers are brought back with Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow. Plus, new great actors and actresses are featured, including Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell.

20. Iron Man 3 (2013)

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in “Iron Man 3.”

It’s the biggest deal maker or breaker in the film so let’s just get it out of the way. So, spoilers for this part. The Mandarin twist, in my opinion, doesn’t work. Not only does it ruin what could have been a great villain in Ben Kingsley, it also completely wastes the opportunity for a great opponent for Iron Man to fight. The actual Mandarin from the comics is supposed to have 10 rings with magic powers.

That would be perfect, magic vs Iron Man’s tech, a new issue to overcome. I understand the cultural issues with adapting the Mandarin character, but the magical ring element could have been salvaged.

But nope, instead the Mandarin turns out to be an actor, pretending to be a terrorist, all because Aldrich Killian (played by Guy Pearce) is upset that Tony Stark forgot to listen to his science presentation, a la Edward Nygma from “Batman Forever.” The film also has maybe the biggest plot hole, as Iron Man dares a terrorist to attack his house, but doesn’t send out his army of suits to protect his home, or call an Avenger.

Plus, the movie seems to slow way down when Tony meets a young kid who has to help him repair his suit.

Downey Jr., Paltrow and Cheadle are all fine, and the special effects are especially impressive. I remember in my initial review giving credit to how well the final battle sequence looks, showing off all the moving parts in Tony’s suits. There are good things here, and as a whole, it’s better than “Iron Man 2,” but only just so.

19. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

A team of superheroes, the Avengers, unite for their second film, “Age of Ultron.”

Things start off well enough in “Age of Ultron.” The opening battle does a good job in showing that the team is now well organized and quite competent in their operation. The same can be said where they’re interacting at a party.

However, the film starts to struggle as the story becomes unfocused and convoluted. This is because on top of its main tale it’s trying to tell, the movie also has to make room to introduce Skarlet Witch and QuickSilver, showcase how Vision is created and follow Thor’s side-quest of investigating the Infinity Stones.

Additionally, I felt the stakes were a bit low here, and that may have been because the humor was kept up in a lot of scenes, even with the more serious moments. When the Hulk is fighting Iron Man in the Hulkbuster suit, Tony Stark spends a bunch of time making quips, despite the potential casualties all around. The same can be said about the villain Ultron himself. I thought James Spader did a solid job with the voice, but they made him joke around too much. I don’t mind some comedy, but this over did it.

Still, the film did have some entertaining moments, and the picture is benefited by the chemistry of the team.

18. Ant-Man (2015)

Paul Rudd as Scott Lang in “Ant-Man.”

So, for “Age of Ultron,” I wanted the comedy a bit dialed back. However, here in “Ant-Man,” it worked. This was a very self aware movie, the filmmakers knew the premise was a bit silly, and decided to run with that.

This is accomplished both with a fun cast of characters and some great moments of using unconventional battlefields (such as a miniature train track), which really pushes the entertainment value. The movie also works by incorporating a heist concept.

Some of the detriments, though, is an underdeveloped, shallow villain and a rushed romance.

17. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The Hulk fighting Abomination in “The Incredible Hulk.”

This film is notoriously underrated. Now, I think Mark Ruffalo has made a better Bruce Banner than Edward Norton and the CGI in the film doesn’t look as good in today’s standards. However, that’s really the only criticism I can find.

Plus, while I think Ruffalo is better, it’s only by a thin margin. Norton was great here as the troubled Dr. Banner, who’s trying to get his life under control while dealing with the danger of the Hulk. Norton’s acting is spot on, as he portrays Banner using his scientific methods to see if he can prevent becoming the Hulk while also learning meditation to prevent the Hulk from appearing. There’s a significant amount of desperation that Norton gives the character, with Banner appearing as rather isolated. But at the same time he still has very human, relatable moments, too.

It was also a good move here to not have this be an origin story, either. After a brief montage at the start showing how Banner received the Hulk powers, the film picks up a while later. This was especially important as this came out just about a month after the 2008 “Iron Man.” It showed how the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be diverse in its presentation.

Instead of an origin story, this is more of a fugitive, man-on-the-run type action film, making the pace feel very quick as the protagonist can’t stay in one place for too long. Things are still capped off with a great battle scene,, where Banner becomes the Hulk and battles the film’s primary antagonist. It’s a great fight, highlighted by the Hulk ripping apart a police car and using the two halves as boxing gloves.

The film’s cast is also well rounded with Liv Tyler, Tim Roth and William Hurt.

Photos courtesy Marvel Studios.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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