Screen Gems: Ranking the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

"Marvel's The Avengers" (Courtesy: Marvel Studios)

On the eve of the premiere of "Captain America: Civil War," which launches Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I thought I'd take a moment and rank the previous Marvel movies, from worst to first.

To be honest, I've enjoyed all of the MCU films to varying degrees, and they have had more hits than misses. But some films just work better than others. I'm interested to see where "Civil War" winds up on this list. Beware, there are some spoilers ahead.

Here are my rankings:

12. "Iron Man 2" (2010)

This one was a major disappointment following the success of the original "Iron Man." The story is muddled with and the villain is underwhelming. Mickey Rourke's Whiplash employs a bad Russian accent and bizarre behavior. It does have the advantage of introducing Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow and Don Cheadle as Col. James Rhodes, but Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark and Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts can't rescue the lame premise or save the story from a very weak bad guy.

11. "Iron Man 3" (2013)

I love Iron Man. Really, I do. But this third chapter of his solo trilogy is very average. Tony Stark's armor resembles tissue paper as it's repeatedly destroyed in a number of ways. Yes, that's right, armor which survived the fury of a thunder god is made weak and brittle solely to advance the plot. The story has promise, featuring Iron Man's arch-enemy the Mandarin,. But a mid-movie shocking reveal completely disrespects the character. There are many plot holes, ranging from Tony's inexplicable public challenge to a terrorist, which includes broadcasting his home address, to leaving dozens of remote-controlled suits of armor in the closet while he's under attack. This one has good moments and made a ton of money, but overall it's a big letdown following the massive success of "The Avengers."

10. "The Incredible Hulk" (2008)

After a less-than-stellar debut of the character in "The Hulk," Marvel reboots the jade giant's story, with Edward Norton stepping into the role of Bruce Banner. This movie integrates the gamma-powered hero into the MCU with an appearance by Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark, but it has the same problem which many Marvel movies must overcome. The main villain is just too weak. The Abomination provides muscle and an impressive sparring partner as he and the Hulk tear through Harlem, but the character isn't compelling. And Tim Roth's portrayal of his human version is average with unclear motivations. This is also Norton's only appearance as Banner. He was allegedly very difficult to work with during filming and unhappy with some studio decisions, so the actor and Marvel parted ways.

9. "Thor: The Dark World" (2013)

Chris Hemsworth returns as everyone's favorite Asgardian in this second solo outing for the character. He's joined by other members of the original cast, including Natalie Portman's Jane Foster, Tom Hiddleston's Loki and Anthony Hopkins' Odin. This time around, Thor must battle Christopher Eccleston's dark elf Malekith, who wants to plunge the universe into darkness. There are some great battle scenes, and Hiddleston steals the show once again. But Portman looks bored and ready to be finished with this series. And yes, once again, the bad guy is generic and not very exciting. It's an entertaining film but it doesn't stand up to the rest of the MCU's offerings.

8. "Ant-Man" (2015)

A perfectly enjoyable chapter which introduces Paul Rudd's pint-sized superhero Scott Lang into the MCU, "Ant-Man" also has the benefit of a very strong performance by Michael Douglas, who plays Hank Pym. He's the inventor of the Ant-Man shrinking technology, but he needs Lang's help to defeat his former protege'. Corey Stoll's Darren Cross wants to sell the tech to the highest bidder and plunge the world into chaos. It has good action sequences and humor, plus you'll find yourself grieving over the death of a single ant. It's a fun romp which doesn't have the usual end-of-the-world stakes of many Marvel movies. However, it's touching and sincere and I enjoy it quite a lot.

7. "Thor" (2011)

How in the world was Marvel going to introduce a god into it's scientifically-grounded universe? Actually, they do a pretty good job and manage to pull it off quite well. Kenneth Branagh was the second director to tackle the project after the first choice bowed out, and he came up with a tale which echoes the works of Shakespeare, with lots of fighting and stuff. Chris Hemsworth gives a charming performance as a god forced to learn humility, and Natalie Portman is engaging and sweet as the mortal scientist who captures his heart. Tom Hiddleston's Loki schemes and plots to snare the throne, proving he is far and away Marvel's best bad guy.

6. "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011)

Now we're getting into some great movies. Chris Evans' Steve Rogers is just a kid from Brooklyn who wants to do his part to help defeat the Nazis. But he's puny and frail and the Army won't take him. But Rogers volunteers for an experimental super-soldier program which turns him into the world's greatest fighting machine. It's a good thing, too, because the Allies will need him to defeat Hugo Weaving's Red Skull. He's the Nazi version of the super-soldier who has found a powerful artifact which threatens to tilt the conflict's balance of power. Filled to the brim with wonderful performances by Evans, Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones, director Joe Johnston creates a rip-roaring throwback to the action movies of old. It's sincere without sarcasm and Captain America's pure motives aren't mocked or laughed at. A great start to the adventures of the star-spangled hero.

5. "Iron Man" (2008)

The one which started it all. Somehow, Marvel was able to take one of its second-tier heroes and launch an entire universe. Robert Downey, Jr., who had struggled with demons in his personal life, found the role of his lifetime. He doesn't just portray Tony Stark, it seems like he is Tony Stark. The story follows Stark's fall into despair as he's captured by enemy forces in Afghanistan. Stark manages to build a crude suit of armor and escape. He the vows to hunt down the weapons his company has manufactured which have fallen into evil hands. Jeff Bridges' Obadiah Stane provides one of Marvel's more interesting bad guys. He wants to profit from Stark's inventions and steal the company away. Terrence Howard's Colonel James Rhodes is Stark's best friend, but the promise of a future pairing isn't fulfilled when Howard and Marvel bitterly parted ways following the film's release. Director Jon Favreau delivers a crackling tale filled with energy, action and humor as we watch Stark's fall and his redemption. It is an amazing opening salvo for the MCU.

4. "Guardians Of The Galaxy" (2014)

Director James Gunn introduces an entirely new set of characters to the MCU, an unlikely bunch of would-be heroes. But Marvel magic strikes again as a story featuring a gun-toting raccoon and a walking, talking tree was a blockbuster hit. Chris Pratti's Star Lord, kidnapped from Earth as a child. grows up to become a thief and a rogue with a heart of gold. He exudes charm as the leader of a ragtag bunch who come together to try and save the universe. Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista are fierce and funny as Gamora the Assassin and Drax the Destroyer. Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel provide the voices for the gun-happy Rocket and the tree of little words Groot. Although Lee Pace's Ronan the Accuser isn't the flashiest villain in the MCU, at least we get to see James Brolin's Thanos in more than just an end credit scene. This is a funny, action-packed, sentimental hit with a cleverly-integrated soundtrack infusing energy from start to finish.

3. "Avengers: Age Of Ultron" (2015)

A second outing of the MCU's super team isn't quite as polished as the first. Some critics say Joss Whedon's mammoth undertaking is overstuffed with too many characters and plot threads. I disagree. Seeing the gang get back together is thrilling and the story features all of the elements of a Whedon product. There's humor, sacrifice and there are many character moments which ring true to the foundation which was built by the first 11 MCU movies. Cracks begin to appear in the team, particularly between Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark and Chris Evans' Captain America. That sets up "Civil War" very nicely. I also enjoy the beginnings of a romance between Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow and Mark Ruffalo's Hulk, while Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye has much more to do this time around. Additionally, we meet Paul Bettany's Vision, Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olson's Scarlet Witch as new heroes are introduced into the Marvel Universe. But my favorite performance is by James Spader as Ultron. His voice dripping with saracasm, humor and disgust, Spader manages to infuse his metal man with a human personality.

2. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014)

Chris Evans' Steve Rogers returns in his second solo movie, and must once again deal with the evil machinations of Hydra. Captain America faces with a world he's not familiar with and has to discover whom he can trust. Along the way, we learn more about Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury. In addition to dealing with a Hydra-infiltrated SHIELD, Cap comes face-to-face with an old friend. Sebastian Stan's Bucky returns, but this time he's The Winter Soldier, a deadly enemy agent with no memory of their friendship. This film plays out more as a spy thriller than it does a superhero romp. Anthony and Joe Russo create a taut, suspenseful tale with the best fight scenes the MCU has ever offered. Anthony Mackie's Sam Wilson is introduced as the Falcon and Robert Redford adds gravitas to the proceedings as Alexander Pierce. It's an epic story told in an intimiate fashion and it's a triumph.

1. "Marvel's The Avengers" (2012)

This film was a majof gamble and it pays off in just about every way. Director Joss Whedon brings together the heroes from the first five MCU films to face an earth-threatening invasion. Mark Ruffalo debuts as Bruce Banner, and his Hulk is the best version we've ever seen onscreen. Chris Evans' leadership as Captain America nicely bounces off of the irreverence of Robert Downey's Jr.'s Tony Stark. We see how Chris Hemsworth's Thor interact with fellow super beings, while Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow and Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye feel more than a little bit out of their league. Whedon's screenplay is filled to the brim with the right amount of humor and action, and we meet the big bad Thanos who lurks in the shadow of stars, patiently waiting to strike. This many superheroes had never been thrown together before in such a successful fashion. "The Avengers" is a fantastic finish to Marvel's Phase One and leaves audiences hungry for more.

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