So that’s pretty much that.
For the record, I failed in my mission to re-watch and review every Marvel film before the release of Civil War; missed it by a little over a week. I’m not going to beat myself up too badly, however, because… well, why would I? Because like most people, I’m incapable of giving myself a break, quick to point out my shortcomings rather than my successes? Not this time. I did it, and if you’ve read, say, at least three of these, then thank you. We did it.
But before closing this particular chapter of this new blog, I wanted to revisit the MCU one more time and rank the films we’ve just gone through. My rating system was a little over the place (and indeed, I ditched it altogether with Ant-Man), so this should give a clearer idea of how these films stack up against each other. Sort of a Civil War, if you will. Subjective or not, this is a definitive ranking system, and if anyone disagrees with me then just know, this is a hill I’m prepared to die on.
13. The Incredible Hulk: No surprises here. I complained about this thing for the entire rewatch. I never shut up about it, the entire time. What’s particularly striking in retrospect is just how jarring this movie is in comparison to all that comes after. The only dim pleasant memory I have of this thing is Tim Roth. They brought back Genreal Ross for Civil War, I’d love it if they could bring him back for Infinity War.
12. Thor: Fuck you and your dutch angles, Kenneth Branagh. Also, both Thor and Loki’s hair is too short in this movie. Looks stupid.
11. Iron Man 2: Another one that lost a lot of value as time wore on. Even though I remember it clearly, I’m hard-pressed to pull anything memorable out of it. Also known as the one where Iron Man’s chest piece becomes a triangle instead of a circle.
10. Ant-Man: After seeing this movie, I’m convinced that this concept, and this character, and this cast can do much better than they did here. There’s a lot to love in this movie, but it’s just not on par with most of what’s on offer in the MCU. I’m legitimately excited about the prospects of a sequel that can jettison the burdens of an origin story and a troubled production and hit the ground running.
9: Thor: The Dark World: Honestly, this movie should be rated worse than both Ant-Man and Iron Man 2, but I have an intense weakness for Thor and Loki, and I couldn’t bear to bury both films in this franchise. That, and the world-bending, ‘fuck physics’ of the final fight make this a better film than it has any right to be. Also, spooky, spooky elves. I love them.
8.: Guardians of the Galaxy: Not even James Gunn’s relentless hatred of women is enough to sink this film, but, in this reviewer’s opinion, it’s enough to keep it out of the upper echelons of what the MCU has given us. Though there were so many things I loved about it (the Space Opera tone, the Infinity Stone maguffin, that amazing, amazing soundtrack), in the end what we have here is damaged goods . The arc given to Peter Quill is probably one of the better ‘hero’s journey’ in a Marvel movie; it’s just unfortunate that so much of it comes at the expense of Gamora. I am guardedly optimistic for the sequel, even if the actual success of this movie makes me think James Gunn will simply double down on what he thinks worked in this film. Time will tell.
7: Captain America: The First Avenger: Look at it this way: this is the only movie where Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter kiss. It should actually be rated higher for that but, origin story, and also, that weird pacing thing that happens by crashing the contents of two films into one.
6: Avengers: Age of Ultron: Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter do not kiss in this movie. Which is a shame, too, because it would have meant there was kindof a point to his dream sequence, which, so far as I can tell, there was not. Missed opportunity, Joss Wedon. Honestly, this entire film is a missed opportunity, and it remains one of the primary reasons why I subscribe to the notion of parallel universes.
5: Iron Man 3: A terrific example of a character-driven story, and a wonderful opportunity for Robert Downey Jr. to remind us again why he’s the cornerstone of the entire MCU and entirely deserving of the dumptrucks full of money he receives for each film. Stick it to the man, Robbie. Yet another movie wherein Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter do not kiss, it gets a pass for having neither of those characters in the actual film, but then gets that pass revoked for not having Steve Rogers even mentioned in a movie where the President of the United States is threatened with assassination.
4: Iron Man: Strictly speaking, Iron Man 3 is the better movie, but you gotta give credit where it’s due: this movie is OG. There are any number of things that could have gone wrong, that miraculously didn’t, and I am forever grateful. One thing that did go wrong however, was the casting of Terrence Howard, and having gotten really attached to Don Cheadle’s dry delivery as Rhodey, I look forward to the day where we can insert him into the film using computers and dark sorcery and correct this blight on an otherwise near-perfect film. Also, though we didn’t know it at the time, Jeff Bridges was giving us one of the more nuanced villains the MCU would ever produce, and that’s before you get into all the awesome conspiracy theories about him working for Hydra. And no, there is no kiss from Peggy and Steve in this movie (neither actor had been cast yet, and their movie didn’t exist), but I’m going to embed that gif again anyway:
3: The Avengers: I was there, when the portal opened and aliens rained down death and destruction on New York City, and by there I mean here, Ottawa, Ontario – Gloucester Silver City, to be precise. But lest you think my suffering any less than those at Ground Zero, I had to watch that thing in 3D because there was no other option for a midnight showing. I learned we were not alone in the universe while wearing stupid glasses over my glasses (I still have my over-priced, commemorative cup with Iron Man Cup topper, actually). Everything that goes wrong in Age of Ultron goes right here, and the Avengers would be the greatest superhero ensemble film ever, were it not for the inclusion of one other at the end of this list.
2: Captain America: Winter Soldier: I’m getting pretty fucking tired of these movies not having Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter kissing, but at least this movie has the decency to put them in a scene together. And it’s a heart-breaking scene, that drives home the point to Steve Rogers just how much a ‘man out of time’ he truly is. It’s also worth noting how her character serves to remind him of his best, most Captain Americaest self. She convinces him to ditch the USO show and be a hero in the first movie, and in this one lays the seeds that will grow into his decision to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. along with Hydra when she says:
“The world has changed and none of us can go back. All we can do is our best, and sometimes the best we can do is start over.”
1: Captain America: Civil War: Without spoiling too much, I can tell you that Steve Rogers does indeed kiss Agent Carter in this movie, so I guess I can shut up about that now. Oh, wait, no.
But I will shut up about it, so that I can instead defend my position that Civil War is the best thing the MCU has yet produced. Is there a bit of recency bias at play here? Possibly. Meta-cognition isn’t my strongest suit, which is to say that I mainly just think my thoughts, rather than thinking about why I have them. But I will say this: Civil War is what you’d get if the Avengers and Winter Soldier fell in love and had a baby. It’s got all the ensemble-juggling wizardry of the former, wedded to the intensely personal, real world feel of the latter. That alone would put it in the running for the best, but on top of that they give us a very good Spider-man, as well as introducing Black Panther – Marvel’s first black super-hero – and furthermore, giving him an arc. I could not be more excited for his solo film which comes out… well, not nearly soon enough, and that’s in part because Civil War has already given us his origin story. When we meet Prince T’Challa he’s dutiful and dignified, yes, but also impetuous and headstrong. But by the end of this film, having seen the destruction and manipulation wrought by Zemo, we see him emerge tempered and wise and merciful. A true King.
This movie also makes the Ant-Man film better in retrospect, and should effectively shut down anyone who doubted Marvel’s decision to part ways with Edgar Wright. Ant-Man is terrific here, and that’s in part because of the set-up done in the previous film, set-up that Wright was firmly opposed to ‘setting-up’.
And while we do have some set-up for future films here, most of what this movie is about is pay-off. Nothing comes at the expense of anything else either; the action scenes are thrilling, like actually edge of your seat, open-mouthed amazing, and the characters feel more real than ever. Characters have always been the strong suit of the MCU and that virtuosity is on display here. Tony Stark is the darkest we’ve ever seen (and that’s before the revelation that sends him over the edge), and he’s not alone: on the whole, this is a very dark film. Dark, but far from grim. There are moments of levity that don’t jar with the tone, but even more, there are heartfelt moments. Rather than detract from the spectacle, they inform it, buttressing the action with real, human relationships, so that we’re always invested in what’s happening on the screen.
Since this is the creative team that will be responsible for the next Avengers movie, it’s safe to say we’re in safe hands. This movie is one hell of an audition.
So that’s pretty much that. Thank-you again, if you’re reading this. I’ve got a long way to go as a writer, but this was a decent start, I think. And I’m such a fan of these movies, and of these characters, that it was a fun and worthwhile exercise to sit down and figure out why.
And here’s why: since it’s announcement, the MCU has always been about possibility. These are people attempting something that’s never been done, and succeeding at it. There have been stumbles, oh god yes, but the MCU shakes it off, and lumbers forward. It’s its own sort of superhero, that way.
And now we are 13 films into this franchise, and that’s simply incredible. There’s just nothing else that compares to it. And although we still have representation issues, oh, god yes, at least that’s a conversation that gets had now. Phase three will give us our first film led by a black man, and our first by a woman. We’re getting there; slowly but surely, and in this sense, the MCU is proof that the Social Justice Warriors – of which I am one – are winning the culture war.