As Avengers: Age of Ultron comes to theaters, I decided to revisit the 10 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) so far. Here I evaluate them in order of release, with a ranking at the bottom:
1. Iron Man (2008)
The good: This is the one that launched this whole crazy endeavor. It definitely nails the tone of all of the Marvel films, with a mixture of earnestness and lightheartedness that make them perfectly suited to be popcorn fare.
The bad: Tony Stark still has a long way to go to be a hero beyond acting in his self-interest. It feels like a redemption story, but it actualy takes a while for Tony Stark to truly live up to his promise.
The loose ends: We still don't know if the Ten Rings are at all connected to The Mandarin.
Post-credits: A tradition begins: Only die-hard comic fans knew who Nick Fury was when this came out, and just hearing the word Avengers uttered on screen was like a dream come true for this lifelong fan. (Nerd score: 4/5)
2. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The good: Established the Hulk's status quo and introduced the supporting cast without being an origin story. A clear sign that Marvel Studios was headed in the right direction. I also really liked Ed Norton’s take on Bruce Banner, a man truly driven by rationality and science, but trying to do some good even while on the run.
The bad: The story has just enough momentum to get by, and Louis Leterrier’s direction is uninspired.
The loose ends: Before rewatching, I had completely forgotten that Ty Burrell was playing Doc Samson. Not to mention the on screen origin for Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) to become The Leader. We’ve heard mention of Thunderbolt Ross and The Abomination here and there, but haven’t seen them, and who knows how long they will remain on Marvel’s backburner.
Post-credits: Seeing Robert Downey Jr. show up as Tony Stark in a film twice in the same summer was a treat, and while the scene is a funny beat, it took another short, The Consultant, released on the Thor DVD to make sense out of it. (Nerd score: 3/5)
3. Iron Man 2 (2010)
The good: While this film is kind of a mess, there are still some fun moments. It shows Marvel filling in some back history, with the Stark Expo, the Vanko family, and the further development of the universe. The scene with Robert Downey Jr. sparring with Garry Schandling at a Congressional hearing is delightful, as is Sam Rockwell as ineffectual Stark rival Justin Hammer. Actually, the best part of the film might be Rockwell facing off with Mickey Rourke.
The bad: So messy, and the film completely loses whatever momentum it has with a giant info-dump in the middle of the film. The underdevelopment of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, is a major flaw, but at least she gets a great action scene. Tony Stark’s birthday party, culminating in Rhodey fighting in middle of Stark’s Malibu mansion is the worst scene in a Marvel film to date.
The loose ends: We could always use some more Sam Rockwell.
Post-credits: Agent Coulson reports in on Thor’s Hammer. Serviceable. (Nerd score: 2/5)
4. Thor (2011)
The good: The comedy on display here is perfect, and works well in conjunction with the most far out setting Marvel had attempted to date: Asgard. While it looks underpopulated, the overall design is spot-on, and a great introduction to the Nine Realms. Director Kenneth Branagh was a perfect choice, marrying the Shakespearian speech of Thor and Loki to the quippy Marvel Cinematic Universe. The cast is wonderful, with Natalie Portman's Jane Foster a great scientist as well as romantic lead, Kat Denning's underrated Darcy, and of course Tom Hiddleston as Loki, elevating the character to new heights. Also, the sound design of the Destroyer is just perfect.
The bad: It’s a bit small-scale, with all of the Midgard action taking place in a remote New Mexico town, but it’s a minor quibble.
The loose ends: All of the cool looking stuff in Odin's treasure vault was one of the few things not expanded upon in The Dark World
Post-credits: Sets up Doctor Selvig working with the Tesseract for S.H.I.E.L.D. while Loki influences him. Pretty cool since we haven't seen the cube before. (Nerd Score: 4/5)
5. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The good: This is the Captain America I always wanted. A period film that combines World War II with secret, crazy history. Chris Evans gives the best performance of any lead actor in a Marvel film, and the technology to create pre-Cap Steve Rogers is impressive. Hugo Weaving's Red Skull and Toby Jones' Arnim Zola are note-perfect as the film's villains, and to date the longest lasting effect on the overall MCU plot.
The bad: While it makes sense to take this film all the way to the end of Cap's WWII adventures, I just want more.
The loose ends: The Red Skull theoretically is still out there.
Post-credits: Trailer for The Avengers (Nerd Score: 1/5)
6. The Avengers (2012)
The good: The Avengers is a dream come true. Just seeing these characters…assemble (sorry!) on the big screen for the first time bring with it endless delights. And on top of that, it’s a great movie. Joss Whedon brings the dream to life in both dialogue and character, keeping each hero (and Loki) distinct.
The bad: Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye gets a couple cool moments, but not as much as the rest of the team given his Loki takeover.
The loose ends: Seemed to be wrapped up or furthered in Guardians of the Galaxy
Post-credits: There are two here. The mid-credits appearance of Thanos is a nice touch, but the post-credits silent shwarma is absolutely perfect. (Nerd score: 5/5)
7. Iron Man 3 (2013)
The good: I really admire how this film puts Tony Stark in a bad spot even before anything else happens. PSTD is somewhat rarely seen on screen, and to have a superhero attempting to deal with the emotional fallout of the previous film is a pretty great idea. While it may not be quite as exciting as having the actual Mandarin show up, the twist is very well accomplished. Also, all of the variations of Iron Man suits is very fun.
The bad: Aldrich Killian is the latest in a long line of dud villains, and never truly feels like a match for Tony Stark.
The loose ends: Killian’s evil think tank, AIM, has the coolest henchmen in all of Marvel comics. I hope they show up eventually.
Post-credits: Tony Stark is telling this story to Bruce Banner. First time Marvel acknowledges internet fandom of “Science Bros” (Nerd score: 3/5)
8. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
The good: The two Thor films are the hidden gems of the MCU. Not as popular as the rest of Marvel's output, they offer a mashup of mythology, fantasy, and science fiction that I find completely delightful. And while Malekith isn’t exactly an impressive villain, the final, Portal-esque fight is a total blast.
The bad: The best part of the first film was Thor dealing with Earth, and while the film does bring Natalie Portman to Asgard, it does very little to make this as fun as it should be. It also doesn’t do enough with the Warriors Three (Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg) or Sif for my liking, but I’d be in favor of a spinoff movie about those characters.
The loose ends: Where’s Odin?
Post-credits: The mid-credits scene is Sif and Volstagg visiting The Collector, who later shows up in Guardians. Post-credits, Thor comes back to Earth for Jane. (Nerd score: 4/5)
9. Captain America: The Winter Solider (2014)
The good: One of the best entries in the MCU so far, Winter Solider melds superheroics and political intrigue that is directly from Ed Brubaker’s run on the Captain America comic, but adding thrillers like Three Days of the Condor into the mix. Anthony Mackie’s Falcon is a welcome addition, having an easy chemistry that is lacking from the Stark-Rhodey relationship.
The bad: The only real complaint I have with this film is the lack of it’s second title character. While I am sure he will be back in future installments, he blends in to the S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra conflict a little too much.
The loose ends: I am sure we will be seeing more of Frank Grillo’s Brock Rumlow, but I also wouldn’t mind for Batroc, played by Georges St-Pierre to return either.
Post-credits: Introducing Baron von Strucker, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch, revealing the whereabouts of Loki’s staff. And the Winter Solider visiting the Smithsonian. (Nerd score: 4/5)
10. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The good: I love this movie. It’s the closest thing to Star Wars since 1977, blending space opera and damaged characters with wry humor in a way that just works. The most weird Marvel film on paper, director James Gunn treats everything outlandish as somewhat normal, and manages to give a genetically altered Raccoon just about more pathos than any other character from last year.
The bad: The tail end of the film is a bit clunky, as the quick scene with Ronan actually on Xandar feels more like denouement than climax.
The loose ends: Peter Quill’s dad, Thanos’ lust for the Infinity Stones, the whereabouts of Nebula.
Post-credits: We visit the remnants of the Collector’s lair, with a cameo by Howard the Duck. Not my jam, bring on Adam Warlock! (Nerd score: 5/5)
And here is my ranking of all 10 MCU films:
- The Avengers
- Captain America: The Winter Solider
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- Iron Man
- Thor: The Dark World
- Iron Man 3
- Iron Man 2
- The Incredible Hulk
Come back tomorrow for my review of The Avengers: Age of Ultron!