Hey, there’ve now been 13 Marvel movies! Perfect occasion for a 13 QUICK THOUGHTS ranking of each!

So let’s just get right to it:

13. Thor: The Dark World. What’s worse, a movie that’s not very good or a movie you can barely remember and don’t care enough to see it again to find out what’s in it? I guess it’s the latter, because I have The Dark World at the bottom of the list, mostly on the grounds of “Who cares?” It could be better than that but I’ve no burning desire to check.

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12. Iron Man 2. This one’s everybody’s whipping boy, but I give it an extra notch because I remember Sam Rockwell and he’s usually hilarious even if he veers more toward obnoxiousness in this one. Iron Man 2 at least helps lay more character lines down for Tony than Dark World does for Thor.


11. The Incredible Hulk. This is actually a pretty good little movie (an odd adjective when you’re talking about the Hulk, I know) but Edward Norton takes me right out of it since he’s been replaced so crucially by Mark Ruffalo. Norton is fine but the whole thing seems snakebit.


10. Thor. I don’t have it in for Thor, I promise. But it’s a testament to the strength of this entire series that Thor bottoms out at 10. I think Chris Hemsworth is exceptionally winning in the role, particularly in his interplay with us mere mortals. And this one gave us Loki and made an international star of Tom Hiddleston. But there’s a certain flatness to this movie and I think it’s because of Natalie Portman. She’s supposed to be our eyes and ears but there’s really not much to her, is there? This is one I’ll see on TV and say “I like this better than I remember.” But then it fades again.


9. Guardians of the Galaxy. My son will kill me because he loves this one. Loves it. I like it OK. It definitely gives us more Thanos myth per square inch but I feel like it’s a movie that tries a little too hard a little too often. I might watch a Groot/Drax road comedy though.


8. Iron Man 3. There’s not enough Iron Man in Iron Man 3 but there’s still enough in this movie to like. Ben Kingsley steals the movie as faux terrorist Mandarin — and the film as a whole carries along the Marvelseries’ themes of paranoia and mistrust.


7. Iron Man. It’s funny to watch this one now because it feels like a mid-budget action flick, not the start of a juggernaut that reshaped the pop-cultural landscape. And I suppose that’s really what it is. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is perhaps the preeminent 21st century superhero — self-absorption and all. Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane doesn’t feel big enough, though, and the climactic battle seems oddly muted. But it all started here, obviously.


6. Ant-Man. Of the two jokier entries in the series, I prefer this one. Paul Rudd is instant charisma and the filmmakers do a great job of showing us just how powerful — and dangerous — a tiny hero or villain could be. His relationship with his daughter is great and the movie features what’s probably the best sight gag of all 13 movies — Thomas the Tank Engine tipping over on his track.


5. The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now, we’re getting into it. It feels a little overlong at times, but Age of Ultron moves the overall narrative forward in very important ways. Tony makes his greatest mistake (though Banner’s let off the hook pretty easily); Cap is worthy; Black Widow continues to make her case for her own series — and performs the movie’s best stunt; the world expands; the Hulk becomes even more interesting. I also like just how much they show our heroes on search and rescue, in addition to doing battle. It’s an important element of the story, even if it’s given short shrift in Civil War.


4. Captain America: The First Avenger. Marvel was so, so smart to start Cap off with a period piece. The First Avenger gives the series scope and makes the whole thing feel like an intergenerational superhero saga, which I suppose it is. Steve’s physical transformation on screen is breathtaking; Hayley Atwell is impossible not to look at; Tommy Lee Jones gets the movie’s best line (He’s makin’ me cry!”); Stanley Tucci makes the most of his brief time in the movie; we get the beginnings of Bucky and Steve’s lasting friendship; the roots of Hydra and, implicitly, SHIELD. The movie feels like a serial in the best way — with special effects that suggest what a ’40s filmmaker would imagine with the right technology and budget. And the twist ending is fantastic, even if you know it’s coming. Chris Evans makes you forget he was ever the Human Torch and makes you realize he can actually act. One beef? The Red Skull wasn’t frightening enough and a well-cast Hugo Weaving was wasted in the substandard makeup.

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3. Captain America: Civil War. I could probably make an argument for switching around any of the three top movies, depending on the weather. This is a great movie on virtually every level, maturely attacking themes of freedom vs. security in complex, even nuanced ways. As I wrote here, I went in firmly #TeamCap but came out feeling more sympathetic toward Tony than I anticipated. I even think Cap was a little arrogant by the end. Civil War does a startlingly good job of balancing no less than 12 superheroes — introducing two of them to the MCU canon — let alone a villain with motivation and a bureaucrat who is neither completely right nor completely wrong. Even Alfre Woodard is brilliant in her three minutes, though that’s hardly a surprise. Any blockbuster with pretensions of serious discourse has a new standard to live up to.


2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. So why isn’t Civil War ahead of Winter Soldier? Simple. Winter Soldier is slightly more entertaining. Maybe a milligram or two. The whole thing plays out like a ’70s paranoia-political thriller, complete with the Robert Redford casting. I even remember sitting in the theater, thinking “Jeez, this is a great movie.” It’s faster and leaner and asks a lot of the same questions. The Natasha/Steve road trip is yet another example of why Black Widow should have her own series: She’s not a sidekick. She’s a partner. There’s also a very sly commentary about the banality of evil. Arnim Zola isn’t as much a supervillain as he is a functionary with power and horrible intent, like so many Nazi collaborators. He’s like a combination of Himmler and Mengele.

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1. The Avengers. It’s not as weighty as the Cap and Avengers movies that followed, and that’s fine. This is a whiz-bang, fairly straightforward, putting-the-band-together story that was unthinkable not too long ago. The characters — and even more importantly, the actors — mesh so well together it’s hard to think of any of them being replaced, even if that’s inevitable. This movie puts into sharp relief why Cap is Cap, why Tony’s important beyond his tech savvy and how even having the Hulk and Thor on your side doesn’t guarantee victory (even though they win). There’s no dead time in the entire movie and even supporting characters like Maria Hill and Phil Coulson get their moments. Joss Whedon’s dialogue is too cutesy at times but that’s a small price to pay when you’re watching a film that thoroughly redefined what viewers can expect from a superhero movie.


Want more Cap and the Avengers? Check out our CAPTAIN AMERICA WEEK Index of stories! Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. Civil War at one
    Winter soldier at two
    Avengers get third

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  2. I think IRON MAN should be in the top three, because if Marvel had started their big budget superhero movies with Robert Downey Jr. in the catbird seat instead of Tobey Maguire, seriously, every subsequent Marvel movie would have been That Much Better: alas, perfect casting like this is an Art, not a Science!

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