Over 13 years and 25 movies and counting, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still doing alright. Across this cavalcade of almost two dozen movies are a wide variety of iconic superheroes, grand stories, impressive visual tapestries, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and the occasional entry that manages to be just not bad. We all have our rankings for the very best and the very worst of the Marvel series, but now JoBlo officially has the MCU movies ranked from The Incredible Hulk to the absolute best of the bunch.
Perhaps the reason why The Incredible Hulk often ranks at the bottom of viewers’ MCU barrels like it does here is because where the 2008 series entry, Iron Man, signified a bold step forward for the genre as a whole, this one feels like a relic. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings There’s nothing particularly spectacular about this second crack at Bruce Banner and Big Green (Edward Norton), and it feels right at home in the early era of many comic book movies that play simply like over-priced action movies. While Norton is fine in the role as a Banner on the run looking to find a way to control his rage, there’s nothing exciting about his journey, or a reason to care about anyone else he comes into contact with. With the exception of the final fight between Abomination (Tim Roth), the spectacle is a bore, and director Louis Leterrier’s approach is very by-the-numbers, checking off boxes to deliver a simply not-terrible Hulk movie that clears the very short hurdle set by Ang Lee’s take in 2003. That hurdle will be just as small should the corporate overlords decide to greenlight a new solo Hulk movie, but until then, Incredible Hulk is the best we’ve got.
24. Thor: The Dark World
You wouldn’t think that a planet-trotting action blockbuster with evil space elves and more of a Thunder God could be a total snooze, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and yet, that’s what we got in 2013. Thor: The Dark World is proof that even after succeeding in setting up the MCU with several movies and the massive hit of The Avengers at its back, Marvel was still capable of missing the mark. On a technical front, there are few things the sequel to 2011’s Thor had going for it, like some solid costume design, visual effects, and great work from Brian Tyler on the score. Factor in yet another entertaining performance from Tom Hiddleston as Loki, and you have a movie that can at least be a distraction. But should you actually try to pay attention, you won’t get much back for that mental exercise. On a narrative and character development level for the title character (Chris Hemsworth), Dark World is a dud that seems to exist solely to introduce another Infinity Stone, all while wedging in Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster and a villain even an actor like Christopher Eccleston can’t make the least bit interesting.
23. Iron Man 2
Like a puppy peeing on the sofa, it’s hard to be completely upset with Iron Man 2 simply being the movie it is. Despite teasing big things at the end of the first movie, Marvel still didn’t quite know what they were doing with their film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings franchise, so with a sequel where they were juggling an expanding cast of characters, exploring heavy-duty subject matter for Tony Stark, and trying to recapture the magic of the first entry, you kind of had to expect it wouldn’t turn out amazingly. The action sequences are kind of cool, Robert Downey Jr. is just as excellent as Stark, and there is some somewhat important stuff happening to his character that impacts who he is as a person going forward. But then there are all the symptoms of “sequelitis” on display – such as too many villains who don’t spend enough actually doing anything, and a bunch of characters balancing for screen time. Iron Man 2 isn’t necessarily a bad movie – and it’s actually a solid summer blockbuster on its own – but compared to the rest of the series it’s definitely an example of how Marvel was still very much finding its feet.
As far as Shakespearean dramas wrapped up in cosmic summer blockbusters go, 2011’s Thor isn’t too bad. Director Kenneth Branagh did the work of exploring the complex dynamics between the cast of otherworldly gods like Thor, Loki, and Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the effects of which continued to impact the characters going forward. He did equally efficient work with the fish-out-of-water, romantic elements between Thor and Foster, crafting a sweet, funny story to match the more spectacular elements. But that doesn’t stop Thor from being uninspired-looking, and sluggish in the spectacle realm, and Branagh couldn’t quite nail the blockbuster excitement with loud, ham-fisted action sequences fumbling otherwise effective character work. But, on the whole, Thor was a decent if flawed start for the God of Thunder with a cast of characters well established against an unremarkable backdrop.
21. Captain Marvel