Ranked: The Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phase One

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It’s crazy to think that Marvel Studios began its cinematic universe eight years ago. Throughout these years, the studio brought Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the rest of the Avengers to the big screen, to unprecedented success. Even films based on more obscure characters, such as Ant-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy, did very well critically and financially.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far will culminate into next month’s Captain America: Civil War, which will officially kick off Phase 3 for the studio. Everything that has happened so far has been building up to this moment. With that said, I wanted to take the time to look back at Marvel’s previous films.

In this article, I will be ranking all six films in Marvel Studios’ Phase 1.

#6 – Iron Man 2

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Commonly considered one of Marvel Studios’ weaker moments, Iron Man 2 was a good, but not great follow-up to the excellent original. The sequel was light on action, it spent too much time building up for The Avengers, and Whiplash was a forgettable villain. (“I want my bird!”)

However, Iron Man 2 isn’t a complete letdown. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow makes a highly memorable introduction here. War Machine is pretty awesome. The few action sequences are top notch. And who could hate Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony Stark?

Overall, Iron Man 2 is arguably the weakest film in Marvel’s first phase. It is an example of some of this universe’s growing pains, as it struggled with expanding this universe while trying to stay focused on Tony Stark’s story arc at the same time. Iron Man 2 isn’t a terrible film by any means, but it absolutely pales in comparison to the original.

#5 – The Incredible Hulk

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After 2003’s Hulk underperformed, Universal turned to Marvel to develop a reboot of the character. The Incredible Hulk only performed slightly better than the first movie, and the Green Giant has since been reserved to popping up in the Avengers films, as well as next year’s Thor: Ragnarok.

The Incredible Hulk is often seen as the “forgotten” MCU film. Edward Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo for the rest of the MCU, while none of the other cast members have appeared in other films – except William Hurt’s Thunderbolt Ross, who returns in Captain America: Civil War. Otherwise, just a handful of references sprinkled throughout Marvel’s movies and television shows.

But Incredible Hulk is still a fun film. The visual effects are decent, the acting was good, and Robert Downey Jr.’s cameo as Tony Stark is just iconic.

In summary, The Incredible Hulk isn’t a particularly special film in the superhero genre, nor is it really groundbreaking. But it sets out to be an entertaining and mildly thought-provoking take on the Hulk, and with that, the movie succeeds.

#4 – Thor

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In my opinion, the original Thor is a criminally underrated movie. It is a successful adaptation of the iconic Avenger, complete with strong acting and stellar visual effects. Tom Hiddleston’s performance as Loki is particularly strong here. In fact, I’d argue that the “Tell me!” scene is better than any of Loki’s scenes in The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World.

Thor is thoroughly entertaining, but it also has heart. Thor’s trial and exile, to teach him humility, was a compelling story arc that I could actually relate to on a personal level. It reminds me of just how important it is to remain humble, rather than get caught-up in pride and arrogance.

My only issues with Thor come with the scenes set on Earth. These scenes aren’t near as interesting as the scenes on Asgard or Jotunheim. Meanwhile, Thor’s romance with Jane Foster felt force, and we all know just how uninteresting Darcy is.

Otherwise, Thor is an excellent movie that is often overshadowed by other Marvel films.

#3 – Captain America: The First Avenger

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The First Avenger marked a worthy big screen debut for the Sentinel of Liberty. Some cheesiness and an underwhelming Red Skull aside, this is a fun, exciting film that establishes Captain America’s place in the MCU. The movie shows just how good a man Steve Rogers is, as he is willing to sacrifice himself constantly for the greater good.

Chris Evans is perfect as Captain America, while the rest of the movie’s acting is very good. (Tommy Lee Jones is particularly great and hilarious.) The visual effects are solid, the story is intriguing, and the film does a fine job setting up The Avengers.

While The First Avenger isn’t as remarkable as The Winter Soldier, it is still a great Captain America movie that reminded me of just how wonderful the character is.

#2 – Iron Man

The movie that started it all, Iron Man is easily one of the best superhero origin films in the genre. The visual effects are stunning. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is pitch perfect. The story is thoroughly appealing. Seeing the Iron Man suit evolve through different “Marks” is so much fun. And who can forget the post-credits scene?

To be honest, my only big complaint about Iron Man is, again, the villain. Obadiah Stane is largely forgettable. He’s not terrible, but he’s just not memorable. I can say the same thing for 90% of Marvel Studios’ other villains so far. Stane is the one weak link in this film.

Otherwise, Iron Man is a thrilling and highly entertaining movie that kicked off the MCU as we know it. It’s on such a high level of quality, only a handful of later Marvel films matched or surpassed it. It’s definitely better than either of the Iron Man sequels released thus far.

#1 – The Avengers

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And finally, we have the movie that officially kicked off Hollywood’s current cinematic universe craze. After meeting them in their own films, we got to see Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk unite on the big screen for the first time. Black Widow and Hawkeye also join the team, after popping up in Iron Man 2 and Thor, respectively.

Really, what can be said about Avengers that hasn’t been said already? It’s the perfect summer blockbuster tentpole. It’s packed with jaw-dropping visual effects, good acting, plenty of humor, and a simple but engaging storyline. So, it’s no wonder that the general audience ate it up. To this day, it’s the biggest superhero movie of all time – and for good reason.

In summary, The Avengers is definitely the best movie in Marvel’s Phase 1. All the solo movies built up to this one, and it’s safe to say that it paid off.

Check back later to Not Yet Rated for our ranking of Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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One thought on “Ranked: The Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phase One

  1. Yeah, I think the list of most people would look similar…personally I like The Incredible Hulk the least, because I consider it boring (I don’t like monster movies in general, though), and Captain America better than Iron Man because while both movies kind of drop the ball in the third act, Captain America picks it back up with the heart-breaking sacrifice in the very end. I also like Cap as a character better than Tony. But the movies are so even in quality they are nearly on the same level anyway.

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