To read my introduction to this set of rankings, go here.
I’ve broken the twenty-three movies from this franchise into tiers of irregular size. I still have a fairly firm ranking in my head for each of them, but I include the tiers to give a sense of what movies roughly match each other in terms of quality. We’ll be starting at the bottom and working our way up. For the sake of the scroll, I’ve broken this into two parts. Films 9-23 are below, and you can find 1-8 here.
Tier 8: Use the Time Stone to go back in time and murder the Lumière Brothers
23) Doctor Strange – 2016, dir. Scott Derrickson
I don’t know if this is literally the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but if you asked me to come up with a shortlist I’d have to include it; we are in Paul Haggis’ Crash territory. In a franchise where virtually every new kind of guy is just a different kind of Iron Man, Doctor Strange is the one with the least interesting Iron Man. It’s 2021, and it’s long past the time to give up on Benedict Cumberbatch as an even passable leading man. Thanks to the voice and slightly off-kilter good looks, Cumberbatch has had the career that we might be able to imagine George Sanders having in our own time. What Cumberbatch is missing that Sanders had is presence—the idea of Cumberbatch holding up half of Journey to Italy or looming over Anne Baxter in All About Eve is laughable—and thus the performance of an arrogant jerkwad who Eats Prays Loves his way to Tibet to get his hands fixed is the stuff of midday soaps. Simply put, a voice does not a leading man make. Likewise inadequate is the role given to Rachel McAdams, who literally says the words “I can’t watch you do this to yourself anymore.” (Somewhere, Natalie Portman rejoices that Jane Foster is no longer the most useless love interest of the MCU.) Add in an ending in which our hero wins because he basically annoys some omnipotent being into capitulation and the basically pointless kaleidoscope CGI landscapes, and you’ve got one of the worst two-hour experiences I’ve ever had as a moviegoer. One of the themes of the developing MCU is the quiet voice of its directors (“vulgar auteurism,” amirite), and if Scott Derrickson’s suggestions on Twitter as to what ingredients ought to fill a movie have anything to do with his approach to the material, well, this one was DOA.
Tier 6 (I remember what the last tier was, this is not a typo): Bad movies
22) Captain Marvel – 2019, dir. Anna Fleck and Ryan Boden
Brie Larson’s Best Actress win for Room is probably the most puzzling victory, in terms of context, in that category since Sandra Bullock won for 2009. In a year where Charlize Theron was not even nominated for Mad Max: Fury Road, Larson got the win over Cate Blanchett in Carol, Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years, and Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn. You could talk me into saying those are three of the top ten performances of that entire decade, and Larson’s performance, while adequate for the film, is hardly exceptional. Captain Marvel is kind of the perfect Larson vehicle, for there’s something likable about the person covered up with a Canadian blandness. This film, which is quietly one of the twistier entries in the MCU, needs a strong presence up front to captivate us. Larson is not that person under normal circumstances, and she is emphatically not that person when the character herself is confused about who she is. The ’90s setting is more about emphasizing signifiers for a Millennial crowd dying for any kind of nostalgic jolt than it is about, like, why a ’90s setting for the story might be interesting. (Our forefathers used to wipe their butts with the Sears catalogue; we squeal like hogs at the sight of a Blockbuster.) If there’s an epitaph for this movie, which all of us know exists so its main character could have fifteen minutes of screentime in a three-hour movie, it’s that the whole thing is so safe. I have no idea if Anna Fleck and Ryan Boden have ideas or a style or what, because this thing is so oppressively MCU that they must have made this sucker in handcuffs. Of course, after Captain Marvel I don’t know that I’m inclined to find out, either.
21) Captain America: Civil War – 2016, dir. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Civil War is one of those movies which is so bad that I’m almost too staggered to know where to start with it. I think every superhero movie, franchise, what have you, eventually has to try to cope with a couple problems. If there are superpowered beings in our midst, how should they be governed? If there are superpowered beings in our midst, how can we trust that they will not eliminate us weak plebes? That concern is in Watchmen. It’s in The Incredibles, too. And politically speaking, there’s something uncomfortably right-wing about any superhero movie, just about, because they will almost always favor the right of the strong to continue doing what they do over the right of the weak to speak up against it. If you watched Wall Street or The Wolf of Wall Street and thought that Gordon Gekko and Jordan Belfort, rich and powerful Manhattan elites breaking the law and making the world to their perverse preferences, were bad: how can you not be a little queasy about the Avengers, who have the power to kill with their bare hands and lay waste to armies? It’s appropriate that Tony Stark’s sense of noblesse oblige comes out in Civil War, but the discussion that he and Captain America have (which turns into a discussion which is done with fists by I don’t remember how many costumed freaks) is shrill, not incisive. How is it possible that two basically reasonable, intelligent men cannot have this discussion without one turning into the other’s hunter? I understand the appeal of Civil War, which is the same thing that made Secret Wars so appealing back in the ’80s. It’s fun to watch some incredible number of superheroes beating up on each other, because to be perfectly honest, if we wanted to watch these people develop as people we could just DVR This Is Us. I don’t mean to be a scold, either. I got Secret Wars out of the library multiple times as a teenager. But like Secret Wars, there’s no art here, just merchandising. This is a fight at an airport., and not just any airport, but a greenscreen airport. It looks terrible. It’s a noplace, and just calling it “Germany” hardly makes it exotic. Dumb ideas plus ugly cinema are a lethally bad combination for a movie, but because there is no justice, this movie made over a billion dollars and people blame Heaven’s Gate for murdering United Artists.
20) Avengers: Age of Ultron – 2015, dir. Joss Whedon
This movie is making a whole bunch of choices, and it’s just hard to think of one that works. The buildup to the accidental release of the Maximoff twins takes an awful long time for what is, in the end, a pretty slight payoff. Quicksilver dies later in the movie (which is more “That’s a shame” than “That’s sad”) and no one ever really figures out what to do with Scarlet Witch, whose superpowers I still don’t know that I could define much further than “magic taillights.” I actually kind of like the idea of Ultron as a villain (although the “we have to destroy everything to save everything” concept is so tired that I’m yawning just thinking about it), but every scene that he’s in is a chore to get through. James Spader isn’t miscast as his voice, precisely, but it’s such a distinctive voice that it’s more funny than anything else while he goes on about creating an extinction event; what Spader does in this movie makes me all the more grateful for Paul Bettany. After the relative specificity of New York City under attack from aliens, the purposeful blandness of Sokovia is genuinely pretty disappointing, even though I think that some of the action in that last act is generally okay. All in all, I think this is one of those movies that is just less than the sum of its parts, and there wasn’t much going for the parts they were layering in already. My preference for elevating a movie if some part of it works even if it’s got holes like the Titanic at 2:00 a.m. on April 15th (as is the case for one of my movies in the top ten!) rather than giving props to a movie for not fumbling through its runtime is showing here, because while I think this might be more even throughout than some of the movies ahead of it, that evenness just does not take it anywhere; more than any other MCU movie, and not least because of the ugly history of Joss Whedon, I’d love to see how this one might get filtered through a different director with more visual flair and less of a need to create buddy-buddy hangout moments that have no staying power.
19) Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – 2017, dir. James Gunn
That first scene with “Mr. Blue Sky” is a huge delight, and a fairly clever little conceit. Everyone else is fighting that ridiculous monster (and Drax’s strategy is not a good one!), and there’s Baby Groot, who is absolutely doing what I do whenever I hear “Mr. Blue Sky.” I also can’t help but be charmed by Baby Groot doing a very bad job of fetching Yondu’s fin, or by his desire to press the wrong button on a detonator. To put this in other terms, I love Baby Groot. I am a simple man. He is baby, and he is Groot. At the same time, I try not to overrate movies because they have a cute animal in them, because then you end up giving those movies the Oscar instead of The Tree of Life and look what a mess you’ve made. Frankly, I can’t think of anything else this movie does well short of the occasional Drax bon mot (“YOU MUST BE SO EMBARRASSED”). The Gamora/Nebula relationship is one which I’ve never though Karen Gillan had the chops to pull off effectively, not that you can actually tell what anyone’s facial expression might be under all the makeup. Rocket being a real jerk is fine, seeing as that’s kind of Bradley Cooper’s sweet spot anyway, but there’s also nothing funny about the character in this movie unless you’ve been whipped into laughing at “Taserface.” The soundtrack which made Vol. 1 a sly delight is the kind of thing that could really only work once, because as much as I love Fleetwood Mac and “Brandy, You’re a Fine Girl,” I know how this film is going to pull a penny from behind my ear. Most of all, everyone’s need to have a dad—Peter Quill goes through two of them! Good Lord!—is self-defeating self-hugging. I’d say this is a waste of Kurt Russell, but that guy seems allergic to decent movies anymore; it is kind of a waste of a good performance from Michael Rooker, who I do blame neither for having the entire weight of this dumb script thrust upon him nor for the movie’s insistence that I think him whistling an arrow around is cool.
18) Thor: The Dark World – 2013, dir. Alan Taylor
The murkiest, dingiest color palette I think I’ve seen amplified in a movie like this, at least until Endgame. I honestly cannot believe how much hazy gray and translucent beige they squeezed into this movie, and I have no idea how that could possibly have seemed like a good idea. (Counterpoint: it was five years after The Dark Knight and we were all still pretty enthralled by the idea of superhero movies being played in semi-darkness to match the characters’ semi-darkness.) For those of us who care about the villains in these movies, and you’ll be able to tell from my top ten or so that I do not give a rip, what’s-his-butt from this movie is a real bummer. Most of this movie really struggles to get into gear. There’s a lot of tsuris about keys, and a lot of Kat Dennings that I’m not sure anyone could justify, and a lot of Natalie Portman having learned her lesson from the Star Wars prequels that no one will give you credit for trying in a garbage movie. But what this movie does have is an uneasy alliance between Thor and Loki, and while eventually Loki’s inability to stay on one side or another took on the same quality as Chang trying to join people’s paintball teams in Community (“I’m super loyal!”), we’re not all the way past that post yet. Also, giving Thor and Loki mommy issues instead of lingering too long on the daddy issues, with a very decent performance from Rene Russo, got my attention. This is a bad movie, but it’s not frequently offensive in the way it’s bad, and compared to the stuff beneath it, that’s a win.
17) Spider-Man: Far From Home – 2019, dir. Jon Watts
I’m getting ahead of myself, so to speak, given that Homecoming is one spot above Far from Home, but I am really interested in Marvel’s house directors for two very different characters in Spider-Man and Ant-Man. Ant-Man has been Peyton Reed’s since the great Edgar Wright kerfuffle, and although that character’s movies frequently sound the “do we really need this?” alarm in a way that’s exceptional even for a franchise with twenty-three movies in it, they are entertaining and deft, and presumably they are given enough latitude to be sort of doofy and strange because it’s the terminology in them as opposed to the people who matter. (After the role the quantum realm played in Endgame, and with several of the marquee characters down for the count here, one wonders what changes will come about in Quantumania.) But like Peter Parker is handpicked by Tony Stark to take over in his role as the Earth’s foremost Avenger, Spider-Man has so clearly been picked by Kevin Feige and his fellow C-suiters to take over Iron Man’s role as the MCU’s foremost piece of IP. Jon Watts’s direction in this movie is much less static than it was in Homecoming, a tepid movie at best. There are sequences here which I think really explore movement in a way that’s intelligent and striking. Leave aside MJ’s web-swinging ride or the drone’s eye view, both of which are a little cute, and let’s think about the way that Spider-Man’s body must feel the Gs as he swings on that web beneath the Tower Bridge and those drones swarm into a pursuit. That moment is seductive with its promise of velocity. So too is that lengthy scene where Mysterio isolates Spider-Man in that wall of “illusion tech,” backing him further and further up, confusing him with a constantly shifting environment that he cannot ever ground in something real. There’s magic to that scene, in which I was a little disoriented myself but never confused by the action on screen. I wonder if there’s more of that in Watts’ DNA, though if he keeps making these bloodless Spider-Man movies I can’t imagine we’ll ever find out.
This movie shares the same basic problem that Age of Ultron has in that the movie is making all these choices and none of them seem to make the movie better. From a design angle, the Elementals are flabby and generic, and we’ve seen the Mysterio action (glowing shapes above hands for attacks, floating about, etc.) done with Doctor Strange in basically identical ways. Holland’s performance is Lubbock flat, and Zendaya’s MJ is unbelievably obnoxious for someone who we’re supposed to pull for. The fake news angle is stapled into the middle of the credits, so we know how seriously we’re supposed to take that little critique. The writing is shockingly close to “Dany kind of forgot about the Iron Fleet,” never really animating reasons why a cadre of ex-Stark employees would want to cause this kind of destruction or, just as importantly, why Peter’s spider-sense would disappear and then come back just…because. The most interesting thing that happens in this movie is the potential look into a world where everyone is recovering from the “Blip” (who chose that term for it?), but unfortunately, the movie’s not really interested in that. It would almost be better for Far from Home to just ignore it altogether, but if they did that, then how else would we power the waterworks for Happy’s realization that Peter is just like Tony?
Tier 5: A face only a fanboy could love
16) Spider-Man: Homecoming – 2017, dir. Jon Watts
I’ve written enough words on this movie to kill a horse already, so I’m just going to reiterate my basic problem with Homecoming instead. If you believe the marketing, this is like what would happen if you gave John Hughes a superhero movie. If you believe your eyes, this is basically Gidget for superhero movies, but Tom Holland has none of Sandra Dee’s geeky charm. It’s bright, it’s sunny, it’s friendly. It cost $175 million to make, but apparently that wasn’t enough to buy this picture a personality.
15) Avengers: Infinity War – 2018, dir. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Another one where how I feel about it is presented copiously, if not beautifully, in the link above. For obvious reasons, Infinity War and Endgame have to be talked about together, but while I think Endgame is the better movie (by a slim margin indeed), Infinity War has energy that Endgame doesn’t replicate. An awful lot of what happens in Infinity War is pretty stupid, because for as many ways as there must have been for Thanos to actually win all of those Infinity Stones, the movie wastes no opportunity to ensure that he gets all of them. The energy and the stupidity go hand in glove, because the sheer rush of “Thanos wants” and “Thanos must not have” makes for a movie in which everyone’s hair is on fire across the universe. Granted, in 2021 it’s impossible to watch this movie without knowing what will happen (unless you’re my wife), but it reminded me a little bit of Return of the Jedi. At the end of that movie, there’s a battle in space, a battle on Endor, and a battle inside the second Death Star. In Infinity War, there’s a battle in Wakanda and a battle on Titan, as well an axe-forging session on Nidavellir after a quick check-in to Knowhere. Aside from sounding equally silly, the cuts between each location heighten the tension. None of these conflicts are really interesting or new enough to deserve ten consecutive minutes or something—I love the space battle in Return of the Jedi, but there’s no way that works in ten-minute chunks—but going from one to another to another and then back again is fun. The problem is that instead of being fun like Return of the Jedi is fun, it’s more fun in the way that like, driving go-karts on a track is kind of fun. It’s loud, it rattles, it feels dangerous, and then you get out of the little car and you smell the gasoline and you ask, “Was that it?” Infinity War is a single-use movie. I cannot imagine this holds up to a rewatch even a little bit (which is admittedly true of most of these, but you get the point), and there’s an entire movie that was made to negate the vast majority of this one.
14) Avengers: Endgame – 2019, dir. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
I have an aside first, which is that five years go by, everyone looks slightly older, and then Paul Rudd pops out of the quantum realm and he is exactly the same age as he was before. I don’t care if this makes what happens to Michelle Pfeiffer Ant-Man and the Wasp completely insensible, because this is an absolutely incredible joke.
I feel a little bad for Endgame. I know how perverse that is. But this poor movie is not really a movie anymore so much as a culmination. It’s the same problem that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 had, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and The Dark Knight Rises. Return of the King doesn’t actually have this problem, even though it’s inevitably brought up this way. People want all of that time and emotional energy to mean something more. It can’t just be a good ending, nor can it just be a thorough ending. It has to be one that makes them laugh and cry, soaring on dizzying emotional thermals. Endgame takes three hours to do that, and if you’re a fan of this series, I’m sure that you want a three-hour Endgame. Harry Potter fans couldn’t imagine Deathly Hallows the novel in a single movie, and so I think most of them were fairly excited about the prospect of two entries there at the end. For the rest of us, the three-hour Endgame is torpid in the beginning and end, too slow in the immediate aftermath of the Snap and slightly endless about the death of Tony Stark, the aging of Steve Rogers into Joe Biden, and so on. The final battle is not the Battle of Minas Tirith (“we fight to save everything we know”) but the Golden Globes (“could we get the camera on this star for a second just to show they were here?”). Once again, Nebula is a huge waste of space but also kind of essential to the plot. I feel like I understand Thanos less now that I’ve seen this movie. But it culminates. It lingers on Tony, it lingers on Steve. What is Tony’s funeral if not the Golden Globes in black? Natasha gets thrown off a mountain; somewhere Bill Shakespeare is writing down “force person to kill their most-loved person to save universe, creates hella drama.” I still have to put this one ahead of Infinity War on general principle. I enjoyed Infinity War much more than Endgame, but even if the work is shoddy or pointless or only meaningful for people who have connected to these characters over the course of many years prior, I think Endgame is at least making decisions which have their basis in building character.
Tier 4: Has moments which shine a light on what this subgenre would look like if its reason for existence weren’t quite so cynical
13) The Incredible Hulk – 2008, dir. Louis Leterrier
Since January 1, 2018, I’ve watched almost 2,000 movies. I am having a hard time coming up with a movie I’ve watched since then that has been as unfairly maligned by so many people as The Incredible Hulk. Now, out of those movies, this is undoubtedly in the bottom third. The writing in the back half of the movie gets a little purple for a movie about green dudes, and you can sort of watch Tim Blake Nelson try to figure out how he’s going to say this stuff. Edward Norton and Liv Tyler seem like a match made in hell, and just as badly, William Hurt is all bark and more barking after that. (Leterrier doesn’t do the movie any favors here, although I think the problem may have been he just didn’t have enough takes he liked; there are a bunch of inserts that feel like he’s making up ground he can’t quite cover otherwise.) I don’t know that I care for much of the action, either, which is a little half-baked, a little too interested in throwing cars around instead of developing a rhythm. But there are things in this movie that I really appreciated. The design of the Abomination is genuinely a little unsettling, maybe the closest that any superhero movie I’ve ever come across gets to a true horror vibe. I’m fond of Mark Ruffalo’s sort of doofy nerd thing, but I thought Edward Norton on his own, afraid of his own pulse and hoping the government can’t track him down, was remarkable in the first third of the movie. He is so slender, a little bit ratty, and he looks a way first before he speaks it into existence. This is a movie which feels realistic and likely enough when it’s not blowing up the set; the New York where the Abomination and the Hulk square off is a very confined zone indeed, and I audibly asked if anyone actually went to college on that campus where the military tries to give Hulk the full Kent State. I don’t know that the MCU could have persisted forever in this mold where its heroes are this reluctant, but The Incredible Hulk is thinking about the Hulk as more of a problem than a solution. In almost every scenario, he is a profound danger to innocent people. There’s a reason the MCU has never gone back to Hulk for a full movie, or has softened Hulk considerably with more dialogue; he doesn’t seem like a lot of fun in this movie, but I’ve also never been so interested in the character as I was here.
12) Thor: Ragnarok – 2017, dir. Taika Waititi
The single biggest surprise of my MCU watches and rewatches. The first time, every joke was a whoopee cushion, and the final battle was this sludgy little slog which proved, once again, that someone could very quickly become the king of the Nine Realms with the kind of gear that Three Percenters bring to Burger King on the regular. The second time around, most of the jokes were whoopee cushions and the final battle was, well, the same. But I watched it with an eye on the postcolonial aspects of the movie, which my podcast partner Matt (that’s right, you can find us at our website) was more attuned to than I was. I am a little hesitant to give the movie that much credit, but there is some sort of glorious wish fulfillment in watching a hegemonic power destroyed under its own weight. Hela is another sort of weak villain, but boy do I love Cate Blanchett bringing the world’s campiest weirdboner energy to the role; without overstating things too much, she acts kind of like a comic book villain. I don’t know that the movie sticks the landing on this—I can imagine woke Andrew Jackson trying out “north Georgia is a place, not a people” circa in 1830—but after having seen all of these, I think it’s reasonable to say that this is one of the bolder choices that any of these movies make. When they said “Ragnarok” in the title, I was still genuinely not prepared for them to do, y’know, Ragnarok. Personally, my second watch was made significantly more fun via Mark Ruffalo’s dazzlingly concussed performance as a man who has been stuck inside a green monster’s body for multiple years and who is now very shellshocked. I’m less sure that this movie does a lot to further Thor as a character, let alone Loki, who should probably be getting serious therapy from whatever godly analysts they’ve got in Asgard. I do know that “He’s a friend from work!” has the kind of blithely joyous bluster that I so often want these movies to have in place of yet another joke that’s just a pop culture reference or excruciating detail passing itself off as funny; I also know that Bruce’s lament that it’s like they designed an entire planet to stress him out is a mood which I think might define the entire century thus far.
11) Captain America: The Winter Soldier – 2014, dir. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
In that poll I’ve been running about these MCU movies since before publication, I’m not sure that there’s any MCU movie where the fidelity to it has been as surprisingly strong to me as the affection for Winter Soldier. It’s been holding steady with an easy spot in the upper third almost since I first released the survey. I don’t think this movie has anything in common with the paranoid ’70s thrillers that it claims to have drawn inspiration from, but I do think that there are elements of your Jason Bourne or Richard Kimble here even if this movie is not on the same planet as your Damon-as-Bourne movies or The Fugitive. When this movie works, it’s focusing on Steve and Nat on the run. The chemistry that Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson have in this movie is the real McCoy. I find the “let’s pass Natasha around to just about every male Avenger and see which one she belongs with” vibe that’s definitely there in these movies to be more than a little sexist. I think that’s here in Winter Soldier as well, though it ratchets itself back to friendship in a way that I don’t think any of the other movies ever try to trade on later. It’s too bad! I think watching Steve and Nat pose as honeymooners in an Apple Store is about as charming as these movies get, even more so than anything in the more actively comedic pictures. These movies are not like, say, the Claremont X-Men; they have no capacity to slow down. Winter Soldier does for a few minutes, and honestly, that’s enough to push it into the upper half of my rankings. What keeps it out of the top ten is Bucky, who is neither played by an interesting actor (is there an anti-charisma particle that Sebastian Stan and Brie Larson got in their steroids?) nor written in such a way that he’d be compelling as a mystery. For so much of the movie where he’s actually trying to eliminate Captain America and Black Widow and so on, it makes no difference to the story whether he’s your friendly neighborhood Bucky Barnes or if he’s some sadistic “Winter Soldier” who was manufactured in a secret Black Forest lab. Then at the end of the movie, when he saves Captain America from drowning, I really cannot believe that it would be somehow less satisfying to give Cap a flotation device in his suit than to find that Bucky is just human enough to save Steve.
10) Thor – 2011, dir. Kenneth Branagh
At publication, Thor is being treated like a bottom three MCU movie in my little poll, and I just don’t see it. I love the approach this movie takes to Asgard, creating a place which is Elysian and opulent without being overbearing. The architectural planning of Asgard, to place the Bifrost away from the city and emphasize the distance between the two, is a really terrific one. I also have to give Thor some credit for doing what (almost) none of these other movies do, and that’s telling a father-son story without falling all the way on its face. Anthony Hopkins is deeply overqualified for this movie, and the movie he seems to be in is not Legends of the Fall or The Mask of Zorro or something like that; it’s like watching him in Howards End or A Doll House, playing a fussy, prickly man near the end of his usefulness and who is mad about being that pointless. Odin is an immensely powerful being, but that power is largely a relic like so much else in that palace, and the fact that he can save his sons from their badly planned sojourn to Jotunheim basically on his own is a testament to his might. That he needs to spend a lot of the rest of the movie in a hot tub recovery machine is deeply convenient/bad writing, but what this does is meaningful. Odin proves himself superior to both sons, and in banishing one and going into a coma on the other, he makes himself completely impossible to surpass, supplant, or impress. In this movie, the idea of whether it’s possible to be a great man and a good man is actually getting some surgery done on it. Odin is great, but wouldn’t a good man have better sons? The one who is his blood relative is the worst kind of bully and braggart, and Odin is so disappointed by this son that he banishes him from Asgard. (Watching Thor try to pick up Mjolnir at the SHIELD compound and realizing he can’t is one of the genuinely fascinating character moments in this entire franchise.) The one who is his adopted son has always felt adopted, has always felt like he didn’t quite fit in. That vulnerability even in intimate moments is like poison, and it pushes him to act in ways which are actively deleterious to the wellbeing of his realm and of people on Earth. If the movie were more about these things, I think we’d be talking about one of the great superhero movies ever. Since it’s also about Thor, Celestial Fish out of Water and doing a lot of mumbo-jumbo tesseract work, I can’t get it higher than this.
9) Iron Man 2 – 2010, dir. Jon Favreau
I’ve talked about why I think this movie is significantly more interesting than its predecessor in that link, and while I think the execution is pretty poor—poor enough that if the ideas in this movie were any less prevalent this would be down there around Infinity War—this movie is still worth taking seriously on the kind of level that none of these movies ever aspire to again. Iron Man 2 wonders about what it would be like if superheroes lived in our world, walked among us. The first two Avengers titles give some consideration to what it would be like to be on the wrong end of such a disaster, as does Iron Man 3 to some extent; Civil War pretends that it’s about this particular idea but it isn’t actually all that interested. Homecoming has a good joke on this front with those Captain American Fitness Videos that have basically replaced gym class, and honestly it’s probably more interested than Civil War in the day to day of what it’s like to live in a world where superheroes are real. Yet for these people, “New York” or “Sokovia” or “Lagos” are not really things that the people of the films lived through, but things that people in the films remember. They are history, not current events, and the number of onscreen casualties in those disasters is vanishingly small. Iron Man 2 puts Tony Stark in front of a congressional committee not in newsreels but in the present moment, and regardless of how much of a [choose your epithet] he is in that moment, at least it feels like it’s in the moment. Long before anyone else gets to this conclusion, Iron Man 2 recognizes the way that a superhero can inspire a supervillain in the same way that an arms dealer can prod another arms dealer. The real villain of this movie is probably Tony Stark, the irresponsible dude driving drunk behind the wheel of a nuclear power plant. The most obnoxious person in the movie is Justin Hammer, who looks at that guy and is ludicrously envious. In a distant third lies Ivan Vanko, who I can see very clearly in a crossover performance with Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. Iron Man 2 is punished frequently in these kinds of rankings because it’s an enormous mess, and I don’t think that’s wrong. This is well short of a good movie! But it’s an interesting movie, and it’s working off ideas that I think these movies just never wanted to touch again because they got in the way of a much more corporate ethos that the films went on to inhabit.
Follow this link to see the rest of these rankings!