With the culmination of 11 years of films coming next month in Avengers Endgame, I have decided to go through and really think about the films that got us here. I am going rank them in order of how much I enjoyed them all. Doing all 20 films at once is madness, so this week I’m doing the films from 15 down to 11. So here goes…
15 – The Incredible Hulk
I think an Incredible Hulk film is one of the hardest characters to make a film about, let alone one that’s actually fun to watch. Louis Leterrier, someone who’s rather hot and cold when you look through his IMDB page, directed this film at a time when nobody it was linked in any way to Iron Man. A shared universe wasn’t something that even made sense to people outside of the comic book reading portion of the public. So to make a decent Hulk film and connect it to a wider universe is actually a very hard thing to do.
Incredible Hulk is by no means perfect, but I am not really sure it would have been possible to make a better Hulk movie in 2008. I actually think Eric Bana is really good in the role of Bruce Banner, and he gives it his all and takes it as seriously as Robert Downey Jr did in Iron Man that same year. The action, when it comes, is also quite well done. Now of course the action struggles to compare to the later films, and the next time we see the hulk is when Mark Ruffalo takes over in the first Avengers movie, so I think a lot of people have a somewhat low opinion of this film just because of time.
Tim Roth is arguably the only compelling villain in the opening phase of the MCU until Loki’s turn in The Avengers. His “Emil Blonsky” hs decent motivations, and is very entertaining when he’s on-screen. In the third act it falls into the trope marvel has set up of “Hero fights mirror of themselves in their first solo film” which we have seen countless times now, but this is actually a pretty fun fight. It’s like watching a fight on a video game, as the two hulking brutes smash-up the area around them. It’s an odd MCU film, in that it almost stands on its own separate from the MCU, and perhaps that different flavour is one reason I enjoy the film.
14 – Antman
Somehow Antman isn’t a joke of a film. It is the first time a Marvel film has gone for being a straight up comedy, with the action truly being a backseat. Antman plays out like a heist comedy, with a cast of characters who are all eccentric and entertaining revolving around the excellent and age defying Paul Rudd. He plays the straight man here, with the rest of the cast given license to lean into their characters oddities and it all comes together in a genuinely funny film.
Michael Douglas playing the mentor role is perfect, and the fact that an actor as lauded as Michael Douglas is in this film really adds some legitimacy to the Comic Book movie genre. He commits 100% to the role, and has done in every showing since. His chemistry with Paul Rudd is great, as is Rudd’s with Evangeline Lilly. The two have actual chemistry, something Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman simply did have not in their films which alone puts it above those on the list.
My favourite element of this whole film is the final fight, and that is why it’s at this spot above the films it’s above. Without the finale this is a decent film, with the same problems as any marvel origin film. The villain is ably acted by Corey Stoll but never particularly engaging, but the fight between him and our hero at the end is simply brilliant. The whole fight feels epic and huge, but it’s all taking place in a child’s bedroom. The creative ways they use this situation are hilarious and genius in equal measure.
13 – Avengers: Age of Ultron
Following the first Avengers film was always going to be difficult. What Joss Whedon did with this film I actually really enjoyed, but I think the expectations of fans to see something that surpassed that first film was too much. When you watch it now, in context of the MCU as we know it like one long TV series, and not as the sequel to the first Avengers, I think it’s a really solid entry.
Casting James Spader to voice Ultron is so perfect, and every scene with him in I really enjoy. I also think it gives us some great moments with the avengers all gathered around talking, relaxing with each other. That first confrontation with Ultron always sticks in my mind when I think of the great moments of the MCU. The third act and the use of quicksilver are a little odd in terms of story choice, but once you get over the ridiculousness of a super intelligent robots version of extinction being “Drop a big rock on earth”, it’s actually got some awesome hero moments.
I do think Joss Whedon struggled for too long trying to top the previous film, without focusing on just making this one its own story. The circling shot of all the original Avengers was the iconic moment of the MCU for a long time, and trying to recreate that as they did in this film felt a bit cheap to me. Those kind of moments are what make this film the lowest ranked “Team-up” movie on my list, but I still think Age of Ultron is a fun film to watch.
12 Iron Man 3
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is an awesome movie. The Nice Guys is an awesome movie. Giving the man behind those films the wheel for an Iron Man film is a bold, but I think great move. Shane Black’s films all have his style on them, and Iron Man 3 is no different. This is the first time we see Tony Stark struggle, it’s the first time we see that the man inside the suit is affected by the events we see him fly, punch and blast his way through.
Iron Man 3 showing us Tony in a different light is brave, and so is having him blow up all of his suits. What I think treads right on the line of where brave storytelling becomes stupid decision is the whole Mandarin switch that they went with here. Aldrich Killian, played by Guy Pearce, is actually a good villain in this film, just he was not the one we was promised in the trailers. Going in we all expected to see the arrival of The Mandarin, Iron Man’s traditional foe. Instead Sir Ben Kingsley is used to portray an actor who is playing the role of the Mandarin for Aldrich Killian’s company.
I completely understand all the criticisms people have of this film, but for some reason I enjoy this film a lot, almost in spite of itself. I enjoy all of the action, I like the dynamic between Tony and the kid, and seeing our heroes struggling with the after effects of their heroics is a refreshing change from the norm. I know some people like their Tony Stark cocky, confident and in his Iron suit for most of the film. This is not that film, and I really like it for that reason.
11 – Black Panther
I have had to check several times over to make sure I have this right. Black Panther is an absolutely brilliant film. and it didn’t crack my top ten. I am sure it ranks higher for some people, but I ranked this list on which films I found the most enjoyable, memorable and told the best stories. For me, Black Panther tells a nice story about the origins of an insanely cool character, but it came after Thor Ragnarok, Spiderman Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Those 3 films had a real feeling of fun, and I felt the MCU had struck an even tone in its films. Black Panther differs from that tone.
Chadwick Boseman is excellent as T’challa, playing it exactly how he should. The problem I have is that I don’t find him to be a particularly entertaining character. The supporting cast is all more interesting to me than the title character itself, including antagonist Killmonger. That antagonist plays a key role in making this essentially the perfect blueprint for a MCU origin movie. The key difference this film has is that I actually found myself agreeing with the villains ideals, just not his methods.
By the end of this film, so does T’challa, and he ends up doing that thing that Michael B Jordan’s character has been saying all along with his crusade. That different twist is very compelling and one of the better twists in the MCU. This all adds up to be one of the best MCU films from a technical perspective, and if I had brought in cultural impact into the equation I think this might be in the top 2 or 3. I am ranking on my own personal enjoyment, and for me the action didn’t quite hit and I didn’t laugh enough, and those two facets are what I love about the Marvel films.
So there we have it, the bottom 10 is complete, and goes as follows:
20 – Thor: The Dark World
19 – Thor
18 – Iron Man 2
17 – Antman and the Wasp
16 – Captain America: First Avenger
15 – The Incredible Hulk
14 – Antman
13 – Avengers: Age of Ultron
12 – Iron Man 3
11 – Black Panther