To paraphrase the classic American comedy "Threesome," Marvel Studios movie are a lot like pizza... Even when they're bad, they're still pretty good. So with that in mind, and on the eve of the release of "Avengers: Age of Ultron" on May 1, here's our definitive ranking of every Marvel Cinematic Universe film, from sardines to pepperoni.
"The Incredible Hulk"
You wouldn't like him when he's just okay... The jade giant gets his second outing on screen from Marvel (after Ang Lee's "Hulk") and you can tell the studio hadn't quite figured out its formula yet. The battle in Harlem with Abomination at the end is fun, and there's in jokes aplenty, but it would be a few more years, and a new actor before Marvel got Bruce Banner and his other guy exactly right.
"Thor: The Dark World"
Believe me when I say I stan for Chris Hemsworth's thunder god like nobodies business, but this movie is a bit of a mess. The Dark Elves are okay as villains, and the plot with the Aether is a bit confusing for the layman. But they also don't gel well (though they try) with the "Crocodile Dundee II" plot sending Jane (Natalie Portman) to Thor's homeworld (island?) of Asgard. That said, Hemsworth gets a chance to be even more hilarious that usual, and Tom Hiddleston is awesome as always as Loki.
"Iron Man 2"
Speaking of messes, the severely underrated "Iron Man 2" is nowhere near as bad as you remember, it's just a little all over the place. Marvel was just figuring out how to tackle a connected series of movies, so while you've got Tony Stark's (Robert Downey, Jr.) plot going on one side, you've also got set-up for "The Avengers," some stuff with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Mickey Rourke with a bird.
But despite all of that, Downey Jr. is great as always, Sam Rockwell is hilarious as the "evil" Justin Hammer, and even if all of the gears aren't oiled, it's exciting to see them start turning.
The movie that started it all! And by all, we mean a series of other movies, not literally everything in creation (though sometimes it might feel that way). The original is still great, but the "Iron Man" series -- and all the other Marvel movies -- have gotten only more complex over time. On rewatch, it's a blast, and RDJ is awesome; but it does fall apart a bit in the third act. Except, of course, that last, awesome line.
"Iron Man Three"
Hope you guys were looking forward to "Lethal Weapon" in the Marvel Universe, because like it or not, that's what "Iron Man Three" is, as you can feel director Shane Black's fingerprints all over the thing. And that's one of the joys of the threequel, that unlike some of the lower tier Marvel movies, this distinctly feels like the work of a director's voice, versus the (albeit brilliant) cacophony of Marvel's producers and staff.
It also has a twist that's seemed to only get more controversial with time, but I at least would argue is one of the more brilliant twists in movie history: that the vicious, evil Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) the whole series has been building up to... Is nothing but a third-rate actor. And third-rate is being generous. Throw in some excellent action, and a great arc that picks up where every other Marvel movie left off, and you have a satisfying end to the "Iron Man" trilogy.
"Captain America: The First Avenger"
Repeat viewings of Cap's (Chris Evans) first outing emphasize what was immediately apparent on first glance: Evans is brilliant as Steve Rogers. Add in Joe Johnston's superb direction (particularly in the first half of the movie, which jumps between action, comedy and pathos with equal measures), and you have a classic.
Still, once Cap finally embraces his destiny and realizes who he is, the movie flattens out. Things happen -- Bucky "dies," Cap "dies," The Red Skull "dies?" -- but Cap has already decided who he is, and that leads to an arc-less second half.
Oh, one last piece knocks this points up on further viewings: the romance between Cap and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) has become a classic love story for the ages, and the best in the Marvel Universe... Other than Tony and Bruce (Mark Ruffalo), of course.
Repeat viewings of Joss Whedon's sequel might kick it up a notch (or down one), but this is a complex, confident sequel that builds effortlessly on 10 (!!!) previously movies. It's eminently crowd-pleasing, the best team dynamics in superhero movie history, and sets the stage for an incredible finale. Only downside? Whedon gave himself a hard act to top with the first movie, so he went in different directions. Which is exciting for the characters, but we're already past that first flush of excitement over the team finally getting together.
Disagree all you want (you're wrong, by the way), but "Thor" might be the best Marvel movie. I realize we didn't rank it that way, but where the rest of the films went huge, "Thor" went small, focusing on the brilliant interaction of Thor and Loki, as well as the earth-bound romance of Thor and Jane. It's funny, extremely well directed by Kenneth "Did Someone Say Dutch Angles?" Branagh, and also introduces the most important character in the MCU: Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard). Okay, fine, whatever, but we love him anyway.
"Marvel's The Avengers"
The movie is nothing but build. It's all climax for Marvel's Phase One, finally bringing together Earth's Mightiest Heroes into a fighting team... And that last hour is pretty much as perfect as movies get. You've got a great villain, excellent performances across the board, and instant classic scenes. So what if some of the characters get shoved to the side (sorry, Hawkeye)? It's great, and if I only watched one hour of a movie for the rest of my life, the Battle of New York would be it.
"Guardians Of The Galaxy"
How good is this movie? So good, it's better than "The Avengers." Yeah, that's right. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and company are now officially some of the most indelible characters in movie history, catapulting themselves to the height of pop culture. You may not know everything about Thor, but who doesn't know, "I am Groot?" Plus, "Guardians" has something the others lack... Or at least, don't hit as hard: real, gut-wrenching, sob your eyes out emotion. From Peter Quill's arc, to, "We are Groot," I'm sobbing just thinking about it.
Add in an incredible soundtrack perfectly paired with the movie, and you have one of the best movies of all time. Except for...
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier"
Yep, this movie is pretty much perfection. Deeply complex, emotional, incredibly timely, and with bigger events that perhaps either "Avengers" movie, the "Captain America" sequel is an incredible achievement that makes me supremely happy directors The Russo Brothers are at the helm of the climactic "Infinity War." This movie is huge in scale, but doesn't forget to set up some brilliantly choreographed action sequences. Oh, and also, if that wasn't enough? It's a superb Black Widow movie.
"Winter Soldier" isn't just a great movie, it's the epitome of everything superhero epics should strive towards: entertaining the audience, while also reflecting the world outside through the lens of superpowers. And always, always, throw in a TV-man for good measure.