Ranking Phase 1 of the MCU
The beginning of a franchise that changed the film industry landscape forever
It's crazy to think it's been 12 years since Iron Man premiered in Sydney. It was the eighth-highest grossing film of 2008: an uncommon event now as a Marvel picture usually takes the top spot each year.
The convenience of a global pandemic has meant that there is no better time to enjoy the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially with the release of DisneyPlus, where the entire set is available to stream freely (bar The Incredible Hulk, which is a strange one, and Spider-Man: Far Frome Home).
So I've decided to use my time (wisely?) and rank the films of each phase, starting with the introductory phase of course. It's likely that you're not going to agree with my selection but we live in a world of free speech and opinion so you'll just have to deal with my poor choices.
Six films. 743 minutes of superhero goodness. It was difficult but I've made my final decision:
6. The Incredible Hulk
Oh, Edward Norton: you were dealt a bad hand. Comparing the level of storyline and special effects in this movie compared to the rest, it's no difficult decision as to why The Incredible Hulk takes last place. Granted, this reboot was a million times better than Universal's Hulk (2003) but there's a time and a place for the number of action sequences found in this film. Don't get me wrong, high-octane violence and cringey battle scenes are what make Marvel movies however The Incredible Hulk is just oversaturated with them. Norton is, of course, his own version of the green, angry giant and his performance is generally very good. I think I would have preferred to see more characters become an invested part of the narrative instead of simply focusing on Banner, Betty Ross, Abomination and Thaddeus Ross for the majority of the film - I think The Avengers series has proved that ensemble main casts work very favourably for Marvel. It's just a shame that Norton and Marvel clashed (he didn't agree with the final edit and therefore decided not to promote the film) which led to Bruce Banner's recasting. Whether we will see another standalone Hulk picture in the future is unknown but this one will not be hard to beat.
5. Iron Man 2
The second instalment in the Iron Man trilogy finds fifth place. Marvel had big shoes to fill following the huge success of Iron Man but, alas, it didn't trump its predecessor. Again, Robert Downey Jr plays Tony Stark with ease, not losing the essence and quintessential quirkiness of the playboy billionaire. Don Cheadle does a lovely job replacing Terrence Howard as James Rhodes and the introduction of Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff was a resounding triumph. Plus, I can't lie, who doesn't love a bit of Phil Coulson (his inclusion was very fun). But the pacing of Iron Man 2 felt really slow. A legal battle between the US government and Tony as to who owns the Iron Man suit, to me, just felt boring. It's only when Tony begins his path of self-destruction does the film start to get a bit more exciting. The movie's villain wasn't entirely thrilling either. Or was there two villains? Both weren't all that electrifying. Another reason why the plot was a bit unorthodox. While the musical score, again, was amazing, and the action sequences were very cool, it didn't quite reach the ranks of Superman and Spiderman whose sequels outclassed their original films.
4. Iron Man
The one that started it all. The blueprint for superhero movies for years to come. Iron Man. After nearly 20 years of development at three different studios, Marvel and Paramount Pictures put their faith in Jon Favreau to bring the metal-man to the screen. While Marvel and Favreau disagreed with the casting choice of Downey Jr as Tony Stark, there is simply nobody else who can play Iron Man like he can. The great thing about this movie is the story and the action sequences. Favreau was so focused on these aspects that he allowed the cast to create their own dialogue which probably explains the fun back-and-forth banter between Tony and Pepper, as well as Tony and James. And the suit (THE SUIT!) was a first for the superhero genre: a combination of rubber and metal versions of armour and computer-generated imagery. It proved that a superhero's costume could be so much more than a cape and tights. The American Film Institute picked Iron Man as one of the best films of 2008, a title it definitely deserved, and it was also nominated for two Academy Awards. Marvel proved that they weren't messing around by using a cheeky and sarcastic Avenger to construct one of the largest and most profitable franchises ever made.
Kenneth Branaugh did a pretty good job with Thor. The Norse God of Thunder embodies power, arrogance and heroism however Marvel introduced a new, additional portion of wit and charm (that's all thanks to Chris Hemsworth of course). Tom Hiddleston is eerily loveable as Loki, and Thor's ragtag team of warriors are a lot of fun. The triad family dynamic between Thor, Loki and Odin is striking: Anthony Hopkins is totally ruthless and albeit quite intimidating as the ruler of the realm. Speaking of Asgard, the depiction of the Nordic celestial dimension is magical and truly breathtaking (a win for the CGI team) which makes the scenes set on Earth not so impressive. The tiny, populated town where Jane and Selvig undertake their research looks scarily like a film set (coincidence?) which makes the battle between the destroyer and Thor not as epic as the creators thought it might. The only highlight of the Earth storyline is Darcy Lewis. Kat Dennings is superb as the wonderfully-weird character and helps to make scenes with Jane a bit more entertaining (because let's be honest, Jane's a bit boring). You may disagree with my choice to place Thor above Iron Man but it climbs that little bit higher due to its exceptional special effects and Thor's (literal) God complex.
2. Captain America: The First Avenger
In the era of the first phase, Captain America was, by far, my favourite avenger (his first place spot has now been taken by Spider-Man but I'm sure he'd still be very happy with second place). Captain America: The First Avenger is totally brilliant: a war epic that is proper, old-fashioned blockbuster entertainment. Chris Evans is utterly swoon-worthy as Steve Rodgers. Cap's chivalry, individualism and moral centre make him an ideal superhero in any time period. The 1940s narrative is a nice change from the previously seen metropolitan cityscapes and the use of nazis as the film's villain is clever and nostalgic. The film tells a more well-rounded story than Thor or Hulk: you get the full backstory about the main character and watch him progress into the Avenger he becomes. This is what makes The First Avenger a bit more beguiling. The chemistry between Rodgers and Peggy Carter is electric (your heart really does break when Peggy sobs next to the monitor after Steve goes quiet when diving the plane into the sea) which is why it's such a huge shock the first-time round when you realise Cap has been asleep for 70 years and won't ever see her again. Like Iron Man, Marvel used The First Avenger as the template for its future pictures, realising that a developed backstory works effectively when introducing a brand new character.
1. The Avengers
The world hadn't seen a superhero team that would outrank the X-Men or Fantastic Four yet Marvel was teasing a set of crusaders unlike no other. Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye joined forces to create a picture that would make the company it's first billion in ticket sales (it still stands as the third-highest-grossing film of all time). Within the film's first ten minutes, it proves to be serious business (destroying an entire research facility against an awesome, underground car chase), illustrating that The Avengers was going to be much more than Iron Man trying to blast Loki to death. It raised the bar for not just Marvel movies but movies across the superhero and science-fiction genre. The capability of visual effects, the emotive use of music, the performances from an overpowering ensemble of characters, the film became so much more than a blockbuster flick. It proved that a superhero movie didn't have to be so serious: it could inject humour and hilarity. A film's biggest objective is to provide escapism but I had never seen it done in such a monumental fashion like The Avengers did (and still does no matter how many times you have watched it). Joss Whedon, Kevin Feige and the team at Marvel Entertainment reconstructed and reestablished the superhero genre, not only with this film but the entire first phase of the MCU. They altered the film industry landscape in such a way that you will be unable to find any person on the planet who doesn't know The Avengers.