Film discussion

Set The Tape staff rank the Marvel Cinematic Universe*

*not including Thor: Ragnarok… yet!

In a recurring feature, we at Set The Tape are going to present updated Marvel Cinematic Universe rankings every time we get a new movie, but only *up* to that movie. So the following aggregated ranking covers 2008’s Iron Man through to this summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. Where will Thor’s latest sit? Ask us in a few months once Black Panther arrives…

16 – Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Of course its last! Almost universally slammed by the team, either last or almost last for everyone who voted, Alan Taylor-directed Thor: The Dark World is a car crash of a sequel. Dour, dull, Natalie Portman looks bored, the climax is lifted wholesale from half a dozen other Marvel movies, Christopher Eccleston is wasted and it utterly lacks any of the charm or cod-Shakespearian gravitas of its predecessor. We fart in its general direction.

15 – The Incredible Hulk (2009)

Whoever let Louie the terrier off his leash deserves a quiet word in their shell-like after The Incredible Hulk. You can almost forgive Kevin Feige & co here given this was so early on in the Marvel project, but in trying to counterbalance Ang Lee’s more artful, pre-MCU take on the character, it becomes an utterly vacuous excuse in noisy, thinly plotted excess. Its no wonder Edward Norton jumped after this and that our staff have it almost as good a kicking as The Dark World.

14 – Iron Man 2 (2010)

You know that party where your uncle, who thinks he’s cool with his leather jacket and sports car, turns up drunk and makes everyone feel uncomfortable? Iron Man 2 feels a lot like over two hours of that, with Robert Downey. Jr becoming very close to making us genuinely dislike Tony Stark as they darken his character arc and have him face two anaemic villains in Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash & Sam Rockwell’s equally smug Justin Hammer. Not even Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury & Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow can save Jon Favreau’s awkward misfire.

13 – Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Shouldn’t be this low, should it? I mean, it deserves to be, don’t get me wrong, but after the glorious beauty of the first Avengers picture, Joss Whedon got it *so* wrong for the follow-up. Ultron, voiced with dripping sadism by James Spader, is above reproach and its not without moments of invention and levity, but it just becomes bogged down in trying to set up a million future films that it completely loses sight of itself. No wonder it almost killed Whedon and saw him baulk from Marvel.

12 – Thor (2011)

Are you thor (said the man with the lisp)? Sorry. Terrible puns aside, Kenneth Branagh’s opening salvo for the Asgardian royal chap with a big hammer could in some circumstances bump a shade higher up the list, as its not a bad picture, but its facing a growing wealth of much stronger movies bearing down on it. Thor sets up Chris Hemsworth’s hero and his alien province well, Branagh grounding the piece in a real level of theatrics which fit the mythological world of Asgard. It just lacks the wow factor.

11 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Another case of “what went wrong here, then?”. James Gunn’s first Guardians film was a real sideswipe, blowing everyone away with an eccentric brace of loveable, Star Wars-esque chutzpah alongside Marvel theatrics, but he can’t prevent Vol. 2 suffering–as so many of these pictures do–with sequel bloat. Kurt Russell gamely plays on his own persona as Chris Pratt’s father, and its again got a killer soundtrack, but the magic of that rarefied original just isn’t there. Did we always expect too much from this one?

10 – Ant-Man (2015)

Much as its low down on the overall list, did anyone expect Ant-Man to be anything other than a spectacular car crash? The debacle over Edgar Wright jumping ship due to those classic ‘creative differences’ with Marvel, and the hiring of largely untested Peyton Reed as his replacement meant everyone expected a wobbler, but thanks to a fun script, great effects, zippy direction and a fine central comedy performance by Paul Rudd, this gave us a fresh, fun light take on the MCU.

9. Doctor Strange (2016)

In some respects, as much as gamble as the original Guardians of the Galaxy was, attempting to prize open a new corner of the MCU and broaden the range of the superhero genre into some trippy, dimension-warping areas. Arguably, it doesn’t have the same iconic magic of that movie; Doctor Strange has some fine visuals, but there’s some awkward whitewashing, Benedict Cumberbatch feels miscast, and you kind of feel like Inception did a lot of this better almost ten years ago. Still, it holds plenty of promise to grow and improve in sequels.

8. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

You wonder if the MCU would ever really have become what it is had Joe Johnson not hit a home run with Captain America’s first outing, The First Avenger. For the entire portrays of the Avengers to work, they needed to get Cap right, and Chris Evans utterly embodies Steve Rogers from the get go. Some wobbly CGI aside, Johnson delivers a rip-roaring mix of historical wartime adventure, Indiana Jones-derring do, and all the foreshadowing for stories to come never feels forced. Even for the weakest of the Cap trilogy, it’s still one of the best MCU pictures.

7. Iron Man 3 (2013)

There was both a mix of excitement and trepidation about Iron Man 3, wasn’t there? Jon Favreau, for whatever reason, got the mixture wrong for the last movie but after how great RDJ was in Avengers Assemble, and hiring king of cool Shane Black as writer-director, IM3 was always going to be a better concoction. On the whole it was, though it often hugely divides people – some feel its a great conclusion to Tony Stark’s original arc yet some find it all over the place, with again too many villains. How can anyone hate what they did with The Mandarin, though? That was a stroke of genius.

6. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

An ironic title in many senses of the word, we all wanted Homecoming to be a truly great Spider-Man film, and we were almost unanimous on staff of its place just under the top tier. Following a Sony leak and endless wrangling, Tom Holland’s new Peter Parker became part of the MCU in Civil War and in Homecoming, we see what could be a definitive take on Spidey. Sure, some of Sam Raimi’s trilogy was great, but a lot has long been overrated and while Homecoming isn’t perfect, it feels so true to the character. The score is also pretty magnificent too.

5. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Aka Avengers 2.5. Let’s not kid ourselves, this was an Avengers sequel in all but name, the Russo brothers cheekily building off their success with The Winter Soldier to incorporate the classic ‘Civil War’ comic storyline into the ongoing MCU narrative and Cap’s own trilogy arc involving Bucky Barnes and the remnants of HYDRA. It shouldn’t work given the bloat of storylines and characters but the Russo’s have such a deft touch of spectacle, character moments and a core conflict between Cap & Tony that by the end you really feel the universe has changed. A real thrill.

4. Iron Man (2008)

The film that started it all and its very heartening to see among staff that most people still agree it’s one of the best, because people forget just how good Jon Favreau’s first Iron Man film was. Single handedly sending Robert Downey Jr into the stratosphere after a very difficult decade or more, it set the template for the entire MCU that followed – a balance of dry wit and spectacle, big action sequences, hammy villains and the post-credits sequence (here introducing Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury, still one of the best). Don’t forget the importance of this movie to the MCU and modern blockbuster cinema as a whole.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2013)

For many of the staff, it was between the next three for the number one spot, and you can honestly see why. The Winter Soldier was a hell of a sequel and its still, arguably, the strongest second movie within the MCU to date. The Russo brothers come in and quite superbly change up the entire texture of Cap’s universe, he catapulted into the modern day from a wartime adventure story to a modern, technological conspiracy thriller. With some tremendous support from Jackson’s Fury and Johansson’s Black Widow, its easily the strongest of the Captain America trilogy and a thrilling ride in its own right.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

There ain’t no mountain high enough in film to touch it in places, as Guardians of the Galaxy almost instantly has you hooked on a feeling that nothing else quite like it in the MCU exists, or will exist. You may have fooled around and fell in love with other films in the franchise, but Guardians was like a surprise bomb exploding in our senses, coming out of nowhere to come and get our love. It goes all the way to becoming an instant classic and we all agree on staff, many naming it as number one, we want it back in some form every few years.

1. Avengers Assemble (2012)

Had to be, didn’t it? There’s something about Joss Whedon’s Avengers Assemble that feels embedded in modern pop-culture, from memorable scenes such as Hulk punching Thor, to that rotating shot of the entire Avengers team facing down an alien horde in New York. Goosebumps even thinking about it, set to Alan Silvestri’s rousing score. In many respects equivalent to the first Star Wars in 1977, Avengers Assemble is funny, moving, spectacular, thrilling and comes together in a way few movies of any size or shape do. It’s a masterpiece and we can only hope Infinity War and beyond come close to replicating its magic.

There’s our list so far. Where should Thor: Ragnarok sit? And let us know your ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe…

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