I originally wrote this article back in 2015, but post-Infinity War, it seemed a good moment to update it and include the Marvel films that have been released in the interim. Marvel has generally got stronger over the years, so the weaker part of this list is mostly unchanged as most of the new films have slotted into the middle or top tiers. So without further ado, here’s my ‘updated’ list of Avengers films ranked last-to-first in order of quality – expect a few surprises…
Warning: Some spoilers! And definite controversy.
I’m ignoring the 2003 Hulk film – because 1. I haven’t seen it. 2. It’s reputation isn’t great. 3. It isn’t technically part of Marvel’s phase one even if the Incredible Hulk is a sort of follow-up to it.
19. Iron Man 2: No surprises here. Iron Man 2’s reputation has never been good. It’s villains are notoriously weak (the OTT Whiplash and the dull/unthreatening Justin Hammer), the plot isn’t much different from Iron Man (someone trying to steal/reproduce Stark’s technology and use it for their own purposes) Gwyneth Paltrow is irritating throughout and the action sequences are generally by-the-numbers. The one exception is the thrilling Monaco Grand Prix sequence where Whiplash attacks Stark. Other plus points? Robert Downey Jr. is as good as ever, and Scarlet Johannson as Black Widow livens things up considerably. Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
18. Iron Man: Probably the most overrated Marvel film, the initial Iron Man outing might have seemed a breath of fresh air back in 2008, but looking back on it’s shortfalls are obvious: its by the numbers villain isn’t very memorable, Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t get an awful lot to do as Tony’s love interest (though as its Gwyneth Paltrow maybe that’s a good thing!) and barring the sequence where Stark battles a couple of American fighter planes in his Iron Man suit, the action sequences aren’t anything special. All that said, there’s nothing terrible here and Downey Jr… (you get the point, the guy is easily the best thing about any of the Iron Man films so i don’t need to praise his performance again). Fun to watch but a very average superhero film. Rating: 3 out of 5
17. Iron Man 3: This should have been so much higher up the list. The first hour was pretty brilliant. And then one plot twist ruined everything. Way to go Marvel, the Mandarin-is-actually-an-actor plot twist is still the worst fuck-up you’ve ever made. The film itself is actually decent enough despite this, especially Downey Jr., but Guy Pearce is not in Ben Kingsley’s league as the replacement villain. Had Kingsley been the real Mandarin, and had they killed off Gwyneth Paltrow at the end rather than copping-out, this could have got 5 stars. A monumental missed opportunity! Rating: 3.5 out of 5
16. Thor: The Dark World: A very entertaining film. Just not a great one. The most undeveloped villain of the series (a criminally wasted Christopher Eccleston as Malekith) is pushed to the sides by Loki (though I’d argue this film makes best use of Loki of the three appearances he’s had). Chris Hemsworth is far more likeable as Thor this time around, and the supporting characters are all a joy to watch. Good soundtrack too. But it’s all too familiar to get a high rating – I left the cinema hoping Thor: Ragnarok would take a few more risks and have a better villain alongside Loki. It did, but as you will see next, things don’t always change for the better… Rating: 3.5 out of 5
15. Thor: Ragnarok: Like Iron Man 3, this was such a missed opportunity. If there’s one storyline that should be played straight, and not for laughs, its Ragnarok. But Marvel screwed up again and played this film ENTIRELY for laughs which robs it of almost any tension. Odin dies, Mjolnir is broken and Asgard is destroyed but none of them have any impact (because one was shown in a trailer, one is done in a very underwhelming way and one is undercut by a crap joke straight afterwards). The film still works because of the likeable cast, the creative way Hulk is used and some entertaining action sequences but tbh I would have much preferred it if they just played it straight for the last hour at least. Cate Blanchett steals every scene she’s in as Hela but the tone of the film prevents her from being truly menacing. To sum up, entertaining but dumb, this would have been a perfect fit for Marvel’s phase one, but I expect better from them now. Rating: 3.5 out of 5
14: Captain America: The First Avenger: The first one on this list I’ve done a full review of, so I’ll keep this brief. Decent plot, decent villain and a good supporting cast, but a weak ending fight between Cap and Red Skull lets things down and theres too much goddamn patriotism for any non-American viewers. Peggy Carter is still one of the best love interests the series has produced. Rating: 3.5 out of 5
13. Doctor Strange: A visually stunning film, but every single marvel fan has seen this kind of Origin story before. Apart from the way the final confrontation is resolved, there isn’t anything new or innovative about the plot here. It’s very much Marvel by the numbers, but a great cast, including a sublime Cumberbatch and a rather underused Mads Mikkelsen, keep things engaging. The direction are design are a standout but the characters are familiar and the plot predictable as hell. Rating: 3.5 out of 5
12: Black Panther: Chad Boseman is great as Black Panther. Wakanda is vividly and believably brought to life. Martin Freeman and Letitia Wright are great supporting actors. But there’s still a sense that this could have been a lot better. Like Doctor Strange, its rather too predictable and there’s so many clichés in the plot that it just gets annoying. It’s certainly entertaining, with a car chase sequence that’s up there with the best action sequences in the MCU, but Andy Serkis is terrible as the first villain and Michael B. Jordan is unremarkable as the second. The film looks great, but lacks depth in places. There’s a lot of potential for any sequels though. Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
11: The Avengers/Avengers Assemble: Yep. Seriously. The second-most overrated Marvel film comes in at tenth. Yes it was what we’d all been waiting for. The biggest team up in superhero history. But that doesn’t make it an automatic classic. The final hour is undeniably great (but with two major plot contrivances – Hulk’s sudden ability to control his anger and the way the Chitauri all die when the wormhole closes – er why exactly?). The first half of the film isn’t anything special, seeing the heroes meet and interact is fun, but barring the fight between Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, nothing is particularly memorable. Black Widow and Hawkeye also don’t get much to do. It is a very entertaining film. But Nolan trilogy quality? Not even close, so… Rating: 4 out of 5
10. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Guardians Vol. 2 suffers from ‘difficult second album’ syndrome in the first half but pulls it together in the second. The soundtrack simply isn’t the knockout hit that accompanied the first film, and too many gags fall flat early on. Fortunately, and somewhat surprisingly, its the plot and story which rescues things, as the film gives us the second-best villain in the Marvel Franchise with Ego, Quill’s malevolent father, brilliantly played by Kurt Russell. The cast are as good as always – Nebula (Gillian), Yondu (Rooker) and Gamora (Saldana) are all made much better use of this time round, while Mantis is a great new addition to the team. Sure, I expected Baby Groot to be funnier, but you can’t have everything. Rating: 4 out of 5
9: Thor: The first of the really good Marvel films, Thor’s origin story surpasses that of Cap and Iron Man with ease. The supporting cast are all excellent, particularly Odin and Loki. Problems? The destroyer, one of the toughest foes in the comics, is defeated rather easily, and Thor isn’t particularly likeable for the first 1/2 of the film but it’s good value nonetheless. A fun, uncomplicated film which lacks depth but is the best origin story from Marvel’s phase one. Rating: 4 out of 5
8. The Incredible Hulk: If you missed this one i don’t blame you, i only saw it this summer on TV. Barring a Tony Stark cameo it hasn’t much of an impact on the series (though antagonist General Ross is set to appear in Civil War). However it’s actually a remarkably good film. It’s also by far the darkest and deepest of any of the Marvel films. Edward Norton is good as Bruce Banner/Hulk (but I’m still glad they went with Ruffalo for the Avengers because he has such good chemistry with Stark and Black Widow) and Liv Tyler is great as love interest Betty Ross. General Ross (her father) and Emil Blonsky/the Abomination (Tim Roth) are a decent pair of villains. Barring the first ten minutes or so, the film throws you into events remarkably quickly and the four sequences where Banner Hulks out are great (the effects haven’t dated too badly – unlike the 2003 Hulk film). It’s not the standard Marvel film, but it’s nonetheless worth a look. Rating: 4 out of 5.
7. Spider-Man: Homecoming: Homecoming gives us something new from a Spider-man film, avoiding another boring origin story and doing a coming-of-age comedy/action flick instead. It’s a gamble, but it mostly pays off – the film is downright hilarious in places. Sure, some of the action sequences could have been directed a lot better, the script is generally very predictable and Jon Favreau is the same waste of space he was in the Iron Man trilogy, but for the most part you won’t care about these issues. Tom Holland is great as Spider-man, Robert Downey Jr. gets to play a very different side to Stark and Michael Keaton brings a sense of gravitas to proceedings as Adrian Toombes/Vulture, a nicely understated yet intense and somewhat sympathetic villain. How many of those have we seen in Marvel films, eh? A clue: just one. Rating: 4 out of 5
6. Age of Ultron: The biggest blockbuster in the bunch kicks into gear a hell of a lot faster than it’s predecessor, and the character interaction is just as fun second time around. Black Widow and Hawkeye really come to the fore here, and the Hulk vs. Iron Man (in Hulkbuster armour) fight is one of the best sequences in the Marvel universe. Ultron is a good villain, but still not as menacing as I’d have liked, and Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver don’t get all that much to do. It tries to pack too much in, but 80% of it works brilliantly regardless. Great ending though, and a promising mid-credits tease for Infinity War. Rating: 4 out of 5
5. Infinity War: The best of the three Avengers films finally brings together all the disparate characters in the MCU. It’s a rollicking, fun ride backed up by the toughest foe the Avengers have ever faced: Thanos. Josh Brolin’s performance is stunning and makes Thanos one of the most memorable supervillains of all-time. Only a lackluster soundtrack from Alan Silvestri and a predictable and ineffective final twist lets this down. It’s very good, but it should have been perfect. Rating: 4 out of 5
4. Guardians of the Galaxy: Marvel could have stumbled with this. But they didn’t and created one of the most popular superhero ensembles from characters virtually no-one knew about. Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper are great as the voices of Groot and Rocket, and Dave Bautista and Chris Pratt have shot to fame (now starring in Spectre and Jurassic World respectively) after their winning turns as Drax the Destroyer and Peter Quill (Star-Lord). The soundtrack is awesome, the action sequences engaging and the script is pretty funny. Only weak villains and a lack of complexity stop it going higher up the list. Rating: 4 out of 5
3. Captain America: Civil War: A hugely entertaining film, but one which showcases Marvel’s refusal to take any risks which might upset the audience. I’m not a comic-book fan, but I knew the civil war plotline is where Captain America dies, and while I doubted Marvel would kill him off, someone needed to die for this film to have lasting consequences and a strong ending. I’d have settled for Stark killing Bucky, but they wouldn’t even do that. The lack of any real consequences to the whole ‘war’ prevents this from getting a perfect rating. The film is still pretty great though, with the Airport Battle making for one of the best sequences in the Marvel series, and some fabulous performances, particularly from Downey Jr. and Daniel Bruhl, keeping things relatively grounded. Bruhl’s Zemo is also one of the better Marvel villains. Rating: 4.5 out of 5
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier: The first outright classic Marvel made, Cap 2 has everything, great villains, one great plot twist involving Shield and HYDRA, engaging action scenes, a good final fight between Cap and the Winter Soldier, and a great supporting cast, particularly newcomer Falcon and a more playful yet still bad-ass Black Widow. Not quite perfect – the Nick Fury plot twist is so obvious I’m knocking half a mark off out of annoyance – but it came very close. Rating: 4.5 out of 5
1. Ant-Man: The real shock on this list. I wasn’t sold for the first 30 minutes but once this hits its stride it never lets up. It was one of the funniest films of the MCU – a wise move, as playing this as a serious film would never have worked. It takes the Guardians formula and makes everything sillier but at the same time, more successful. Paul Rudd is a charismatic, Chris Pratt-esque leading man who it’s impossible not to root for. It has a good if unspectular villain from Corey Stoll as Yellowjacket, a strong supporting cast, a great cameo/fight scene with Falcon, a comedy heist crew with a ton of great one liners and its fair share of heartfelt moments between fathers and daughters. Loved it. You might not and I’d understand why but for me, this is the best Marvel has ever done. Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Will a marvel film ever get 5 out of 5 from me? I thought Infinity War could, but now i’m not sure it will happen. Marvel is undoubtedly more consistent than DC, but I just can’t shake the feeling that while DC is a LOT more hit-and-miss, it can occasionally reach heights with its films (and TV) that Marvel struggles to reach. But I’ll be very happy if Marvel’s phase 4 can prove me wrong!