With Avengers: Endgame dropping this week, I decided to finally finish this post. Don’t bother trying to argue with me, because I’m 100% correct on all of this. Rotten Tomatoes scores added so you can see how wrong everyone else is.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (RT: 90%) Still the best of the MCU, with terrific villains, interesting locations, and a plot you give a shit about. Steve Rogers is a man who isn’t sure if he should continue to serve, and discovers that he should be giving orders, not taking them. Plus, the strongest parts of these movies are the relationships between the heroes and the people they love. Excellent movie.
2. The Avengers (RT: 92%) A strong contender for the first spot, with only a couple of glaring flaws holding it back. “I’m always angry” feels like a placeholder line in a moment that needs something stronger, and I suspect Whedon et al underestimated just how much of a sex symbol Tom Hiddleston’s Loki had become. In other words, no one wanted to hear him say “mewling quim.” But the characters bounce off each other and to keep things interesting, and the action scenes (all but two involving Avenger v Avenger conflict) are top notch. Love it.
3. Thor: Ragnarok (RT: 92%) This one is a real surprise, because I would not have expected to place a Thor movie so high on this list. But T:R tears down everything that defined the Thor movies up to now and replaces them with color, humor, production design, and a new way forward for Loki and Thor. So much fun.
4. The Black Panther (RT: 97%) This movie is pretty much tied with the one above, slipping into fourth only because so many of the interesting bits went to the villain and T’Challa was stuck doing the traditional first-MCU dance with an enemy who had his same powers (but was stronger) and daddy issues. Also, both T:R and TBP had ritual combat, but only the fights in Thor made any sense. I refuse to believe that such an advanced society would choose a leader via MMA bout. I know, it’s just a movie, but every moment that I have to forgive is one that disappoints me a little. Still, rhino cavalry! So much joy in this movie. I really did love it.
5. Doctor Strange (RT: 89%) Did I mention villains with the same powers as the hero, but stronger? Well, in a constrained setting like this one, a choice like that becomes invisible. I know people were annoyed by the white-washing of The Ancient One, but it was that or risk losing $110mil from the Chinese market for having a Tibetan character. While the humor on this one fell a little flat, no other MCU film comes close to matching its spectacle, and the journey Stephen Strange takes from arrogant jerk to “It’s not about you” is probably the most meaningful one in the whole series of films. Still, lets see some ranged attacks in the sequel.
6. Spider-man: Homecoming (RT: 92%) Every time I look at how high this places in my list, I think it’s too high. Then I look for something below that I’d rank above it and come up with nothing. It’s funny. S-m:H has become sort of a litmus test for me as I search out a film discussion to take the place of Every Frame a Painting. So many self-proclaimed savvy film theorists turn their attention to the MCU and pick out this film as an example of movies where the main character doesn’t change or grow. Baffling, but I’ve seen it three or four times now from people who ought to be good at this. Anyway, great performances, excellent villain, and the most engaging film version of Peter Parker since… ever.
7. Iron Man (RT: 93%) It’s easy to blah blah about what a massive deal this first film was, the huge effect it had, and the massive risk it represented for pre-Disney Marvel. What can’t be denied is that the first two acts are impeccable. The structure, the performances, everything. If the ending, where Marvel established it’s “Like the hero, but stronger” format, feels a little soft, its all forgiven when Tony Stark blows off the idea of a secret identity. And then Nick Fury? Loved it.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (RT: 84%) The MCU seems to be a playground for jocks with impeccable comic timing. Dave Bautista is the heart of this weird-ass movie, and I’m ready for a Drax trilogy. Maybe it’s time for Peter Quill to grow the fuck up, so GotG3 can score a higher spot on the list. Also, the ending feels a little long. It’s not, probably, but it feels that way. For the future, more Drax and Mantis, less Quill.
9. Iron Man 3 (RT: 79%) The first of these films to score below 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, and while I’ve heard plenty of complaints about this movie, I am there for it. Tony flew a nuke through a wormhole to save the Earth, and now he’s fucked up with anxiety. This is pretty much exactly what I wanted from a superhero movie and I didn’t even know it until I sat down in the theater. Stark gets to be extremely Tony Stark throughout, and the movie makes the wise choice to take away his armor for a big part of the second act. This, maybe, if the first of the movies listed that has a genuinely weak villain, but maybe if they’d stuck with Rebecca Hall instead of switching to Guy Pearce (for “merchandising”) I wouldn’t have had to type all that out.
10. Captain America: Civil War (RT: 91%) I wasn’t terribly keen on the Civil War storyline in the comics, but making it a Captain America movie meant making it about Bucky, and that centers this big, over-stuffed film on that unbreakable friendship between them. As for the central question of the film: In the real world, Tony was right. In the world of the film, Steve was right. Cap didn’t want to sign the accords for two reasons: what if they send the Avengers someplace they shouldn’t go, and what if there’s a problem they need to address but can’t get permission to go. The government that Cap is supposed to be signing on with does both of those things. They send a kill team to assassinate Bucky, who’s been framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and they refuse to let Cap go to Siberia. Thanks, movie, for arranging things so our hero gets to be right.
11. Avengers: Infinity War (RT: 85%) This is another one of those movies that make me think “Eleventh? Surely it should be higher than that” but nope, nothing above feels worthy of being swapped out. I’m not sure why they pulled that whole bit with Hulk losing a fight to Thanos and then hiding away for the rest of the movie (unless they wanted him to keep him from tearing apart the Children of Thanos like cardboard cutouts). I’m also not sure why they wrote Doctor Strange’s dialog the way they did. He’s a neurosurgeon, not a Gandalf from another dimension. “What master do you serve?” sounds bad and is bad. Still, this film did the best job yet of juggling that huge cast of characters, and I’m 100% ready for WandaVision, or whatever they’re calling it.
12. Captain America: The First Avenger (RT: 80%) This is probably the first movie where the main character doesn’t really have a personal journey. He goes from the weakling who wants to do right to the hero who actually can. It’s a solid movie and I just rewatched and enjoyed it a couple weeks back, but without Chris Evans this thing would have gone nowhere.
13. Captain Marvel (RT: 78%) Once again, this seems like a low ranking for a movie I saw in the theater three times (and would have gone a fourth with my niece if family obligations hadn’t interfered). All the Carol and Fury stuff is great, and while I’ve talked already about some of the character moments, it’s also a bummer that Hala and the inside of the Skrull ship look basically like 20 year old TV scifi. Compare the alien tech in this with Thor: Ragnarok and the production design on CM looks like a placeholder that no one swapped out. And then you get to that third act, which is just all-out superhero fun. That first shot of Carol flying gave me goosebumps. Three times. I’m convinced this picture was a billion-dollar earner because, in part, of that bravura ending.
14. Guardians of the Galaxy (RT: 91%) Remember when this was new in theaters and people were talking about it as a herald for the death of grimdark? The movie that opens with a little boy watching his mother die of cancer, then a space man dancing through the ruins of a civilization, kicking the local fauna? I think folks missed that all the humor in this movie was masking a lot of pain, and this wasn’t the bright and upbeat jaunt they’d originally thought. But there was also the space net of space ships, which is not what you’d call the best idea ever, and “Even this green whore—” which was not a winning move. A fun movie on first viewing, I don’t think it really holds up.
15. Ant-Man and the Wasp (RT: 88%) This movie is fine. It’s enjoyable. It hits the right beats, nabs an imaginative sequence from Dave Made A Maze, introduces Black Goliath, gets plenty of genuine belly laughs, and gives fans the Wasp they’ve been waiting for. But it’s time for Walton Goggins to play other characters, because he’s not carrying the “Head Baddie” mantle the way he should. Somebody cast him as the con artist with the heart of gold that we all want him to be, and put someone scary into the roles he’s been getting. Anyway, A-mATW has solid performances, trippy cgi nano-realms, funny jokes, and a solid structure. But I don’t love it and no one can make me love it.
16: Thor (RT: 77%) If you were put a bunch of these movie titles in a list and show them to me in 2007, I would have guessed this one to land at the very bottom. It doesn’t, solely on the strength of the relationship between Thor and Loki. Thor’s love for his brother keeps this thing afloat, even in the face of the Warriors Three and the Odinsleep. Frankly, it was a stroke of genius to establish Mjolnir’s rules about being worthy by having the lead character declared unworthy, then earn it. But it was such a weird movie, and only that brotherly relationship made it work.
17. Ant-Man (RT: 82%) This film is haunted by the Edgar Wright picture it could have been. It’s also haunted by the specter of The Wasp, who should have been part of the plot from the beginning. Honestly, a super-hero heist movie is a no-brainer and ought to be a massive win, but this movie felt like a jumble of fun ideas and weak ones.
18. Avengers: Age of Ultron (RT: 75%) Someone online described Spader’s Ultron voice as a retiree who took a part time job at Home Depot, and yeah, it just doesn’t work. Ultron is one of the scariest of the Avengers’ villains, but this version of him never comes together or feels real. One thing I will say, though, is that it’s funny to remember all the criticisms of this film that said it was overfull with superheroes. Later movies were more crowded, but they made it work. I also question the choice to make Stark the guilty party here. He’s investigating the space spear. It jumps into his computer. Why does that have to be his fault.
19. Iron Man 2 (RT: 73%) The first Iron Man was so wonderful and this was such an amazing misfire. I liked Sam Rockwell quite a bit but they forgot to give Mickey O’Rourke’s character a personality beyond Pissed-Off Guy. And the villains vanish for the middle 45 minutes of the film. Not recommended.
20. Thor: The Dark World (RT: 67%) Oh, look, it’s the movie that drove Natalie Portman out of the MCU. Odin, who spends the whole first movie advocating peace turns into a raging war monger. And the villains, who have great character design, turn out of lack every other aspect of character. Like personalities and motivations. They still hadn’t realized that Chris Hemsworth has excellent comic timing, and this alien invasion of an alien world is ponderous when it could be a sword and planet romp.
21. The Incredible Hulk (RT: 67%) Nobody knows how to make a Hulk movie. He’s a gothic monster. Everyone hates him, including himself, and that loathing sometimes makes him lash out, but he’s good at heart. This film played up his first appearance as though he was a monster, moving in the dark, stalking his victims. It’s the most effective part of the film. Unfortunately, it spins out farther and farther, losing momentum until the big (but unconvincing) fight against “Like The Hulk But Stronger” Abomination in Harlem. Too bad. There’s a gothic monster storyline for the Hulk that could make a gangbusters film
I’ll be seeing Avengers: Endgame this weekend, and I’m curious to see where it will slot in.