Ranking a Decade of Marvel Movies: The Also Rans

We did it people. By giving Marvel our hard earned cash to see almost 20 movies over the last decade, featuring all the superheroes that we love and several that we had no clue existed, we aided and abetted the creation of an unstoppable juggernaut. With Avengers: Infinity War being released in a few short days after a decade of building towards Thanos’ showdown with the galaxy’s mightiest heroes, that train is not slowing down anytime soon.

But it hasn’t all been the smoothest journey through this shared universe. There are more than a few stops along the way that, if not for having the Marvel Studios banner safeguarding them from irrelevance, would’ve been immediately cast out and forgotten. I suppose that’s understandable. When you have 18 at-bats, you’re probably not going to knock it out of the park each time. Part three of this post will feature the eight Marvel films that I consider to be home runs, so by baseball standards the MCU has been more than cleaning up at the plate.

However, we still have to talk about the times when they struck out, grounded into a double play or popped out to the catcher (which as a former little leaguer, I always hated more than striking out). To be clear, I’m not referring to this first group of films as “The Also Rans” because I think they suck. While there will be a couple of rants and plenty of criticism, you can still watch most of these movies and be entertained. I just never feel a strong desire to do so outside of taking on another marathon of all the MCU films (which is getting very long, by the way) and one of them just happens to be the next one on the list.

But since these are my opinions and I may very well just be a cynical bastard, I’m including some feedback from both Kevin and my girlfriend, Natalie. If I’m being too hard on any of these films, they’ll let you know about it.

Not Ranked: The Incredible Hulk

I have fond memories of seeing the last standalone Hulk film in the theater with friends. I was relieved that they improved upon the shitpile that was Ang Lee’s Hulk and I laughed when the guy behind me yelled out, “Ohhhhh they’re gonna do it!” when Tony Stark walked into that bar and announced that a team was being put together. So why am I not ranking the second entry of the MCU? Well, because I don’t think it has much of a connection to the rest of the universe anymore.

Most of the characters in this movie were dropped, never to be seen again. And although Thunderbolt Ross shows up as the Secretary of Defense in Captain America: Civil War, he may as well be a new character for how seldom he references the Hulk (only once, since I was keeping count). Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of Bruce Banner is vastly different from Ed Norton’s, which is a good thing since it’s more true to the character, but still. On top of that, not only haven’t we gotten a sequel, but the next time Hulk appeared in a non-Avengers movie he was palling around the galaxy with Thor and Loki.

Suffice to say, The Incredible Hulk has become the bastard child of the MCU. And although it remains a perfectly functional comic book movie, that’s why I’m not ranking it here.

Kevin’s Musings: Alright Jesse, it’s the first entry and you have already irked me. How do you rank the 18 films of the MCU and start it off by not ranking one of the films of the MCU? It might not fit in with the rest of the universe but it is technically canon and it did come out after Iron Man and it counts! You can leave it at 18 but it should at least make the list! This is like making a list of your favorite 18 children, in order, and deciding, “I don’t like our second eldest, let’s just drop him from the list”. Talk about needing family therapy.

The Girlfriend Verdict: I have seen this film exactly zero times (it was left out of our recent MCU marathon and I did not see it in the theater), so I plead the fifth on this one.

17. Iron Man 2

Here’s a riddle for you: what do you get when you combine an excessive amount of improv, a couple of lackluster villains and a script that has to carry the burden of setting up the first Avengers movie?

Answer: an extremely disappointing sequel.

I liked this movie the first time I saw it. I was very much drinking the Marvel kool-aid and because I was so excited that Iron Man, War Machine, Nick Fury and Black Widow were all sharing the same screen, I easily overlooked the flaws that were apparent in nearly every scene of this film. Or maybe I was just a young, stupid kid who had no idea how to properly critique a movie. There are multiple explanations.

Regardless of why I didn’t come to this conclusion earlier, I know now that Iron Man 2 is easily the worst offering from Kevin Feige and co. Robert Downey Jr. and his fellow actors probably did the best they could with what they were given, and I don’t envy the monumental task of having to direct this misfire that fell into Jon Favreau’s lap. “Hey Jon, not only do you have to follow up the blockbuster smash hit that was the first Iron Man, but you also need to make a movie that’s just as good and set up all these characters that we want to have in The Avengers. Good luck man.” I’m not sure that any director could’ve pulled that off, but Favreau’s decision to let the actors improv their way through the two-hour runtime certainly didn’t help his cause.

More than anything though, what tanks Iron Man’s second outing is the embarrassingly pathetic villain duo of Whiplash and Justin Hammer. Whiplash is easily defeated by Tony during their first battle, then spends the second half of the film manipulating Hammer into providing him with a new suit and an army of drones (since Hammer is apparently the dumbest rich guy since Mr. Deeds), only to be soundly beaten a second time by Tony in the climax of the film, with a little assistance from Rhodey.

Yeah, that’s some real compelling shit right there.

Kevin’s Musings: I was not pleased with this until the “dumbest rich guy since Mr. Deeds” line. You may proceed.

The Girlfriend Verdict: Iron Man 2’s fatal flaw was that the only tanned oiled abs we saw were Mickey Rourke’s.

16. Thor

15. Thor: The Dark World

Um, Shakespeare in the park? Doth mother know your first two acts were rather dull?

A lot of people like the Thor movies. Chris Hemsworth is perfect in that role and it’s also where the Tom Hiddleston fan club started, so I can understand that. For some reason though, the filmmakers didn’t think the God of Thunder would be all that relatable unless he spent a lot of time hanging out on Earth with some humans. Some annoying ones at that when you throw Kat Dennings in the mix.

Thankfully, that line of thinking went by the wayside in Thor: Ragnarok, but we were still subjected to two films where Thor is either being an arrogant asshole or a sulking superhero. He falls for all of Loki’s tricks and falls even harder for the first woman he meets on Earth. Yeah, let’s take a second to chat about that romance. It’s entirely based on the fact that Hemsworth and Natalie Portman are two very good-looking people, so they should wind up together, right? I guess that’s enough to justify a bunch of cringe-worthy dialogue and flirting instead of having some character development. If you ask me, it’s for the best that Portman quietly walked away from Marvel so she could work on movies like Annihilation instead.

And while Loki does his best to inject some stakes and drama into the first Thor, I can’t say the same for Malekith the Accursed in the second one. I guess being a dark elf just isn’t all that fulfilling unless you can shroud the rest of the universe in darkness too (my sarcasm font was on, in case you couldn’t tell). The MCU has become somewhat infamous for not featuring the most menacing antagonists, and it’s no coincidence that my least favorite films have the worst villains. Malekith and his minions are a better fit for an episode of the Power Rangers than trying to take down an Avenger.

Also, Hemsworth’s eyebrows are dyed blonde in Thor, but not in any of the other movies that he’s in and it’s really fucking distracting to go back and look at that. Never has someone’s eyebrows bothered me as much as his do in that movie. Alright, moving on.

Kevin’s Musings: I have quite a few beefs with this. First of all, Iron Man 2 does not deserve this. Second of all, don’t dis Kat Dennings, literally the only positive I can remember from these movies outside of Loki. And third, I feel like you yourself argued that The Dark World was significantly worse than the original Thor and yet you don’t have them ranked that way. Get it together man!

The Girlfriend Verdict:  Thor’s character development is all over the place in the first two movies, and a smart lady like Jane Foster shouldn’t fall for a meathead like Thor at first glance. The Dark World was my least favorite Thor movie, again, because we see some flabby old man abs and not Chris Hemsworth’s… I know it seems like I am basing my decisions solely on the best abs, but that’s not true.

14. Dr. Strange

 If you follow our blog closely (in which case I love you because you are the most amazing person on the planet), you may remember that I did a review for Dr. Strange back when it came out. Since I originally gave the Sorcerer Supreme’s solo outing a B+, you may be surprised to see it ranked so lowly here. This is the pitfall of doing reviews, because ultimately you risk contradicting yourself if your opinion of a film ever changes over time.

All I can tell you is that I had a real good time with Dr. Strange the first time around and felt very indifferent to it the second time. Maybe I ate too many Sour Patch Kids when I saw it in the theater or didn’t eat nearly enough watching it at home. Your guess is as good as mine, but what doesn’t work for me now that I didn’t mind at first? Well, while Dr. Strange is arguably the most unique spectacle the MCU has cranked out, there was very little beneath that to grasp my attention and make me care about this film.

And here’s where the contradictions come into play. I said in my review that Strange has to start out as a douche so that he can grow throughout the film, but I don’t know that he really ever stops being a douche. His sole motivation from beginning to end is to fix his hands so that he can resume his life of genius playboy douchery, and him moving on from that to become a protector of Earth should’ve been a huge moment, but it felt very glossed over and rushed. I also mentioned that there is a fun supporting cast, but Strange’s romance/friendship with Christine didn’t do anything for me and Mads Mikkelsen is completely wasted as the villain Kaecilius. His role is more or less relegated to showing up at random times, causing some havoc, disappearing and then doing it all over again. Why does he do these things? Because he has crazy eyes?! I don’t know!

Maybe I just can’t objectively critique a Marvel film the first time and need to see it twice before telling everyone that it’s good. I promise that if I see Infinity War and come out of it thinking it’s the greatest movie of all time, I will watch it again before I commit to that opinion. I mean, I’ll probably want to see it again anyway, but I digress.

Kevin’s Musings: Full disclosure, I totally forgot about Dr. Strange before right now. But I do recall not being impressed during my first viewing. Mostly because I felt the MCU had the, “rich, kinda douchey guy with funny quips” character locked in with Tony Stark. I just have no desire to see this guy interact with anyone else in the universe. Even more so after Thor: Ragnarok where he only proved that he might be too overpowered as a character. Why doesn’t he just leave every enemy in the endless falling loop that he put Loki in? Not a fan.

The Girlfriend Verdict:  Dr. Strange had some trippy Inception type special effects, some day-after-a-heavy-night-of-drinking-eyeliner and a main character with a capable cape with great comedic timing.

For the next post…

That does it for this round, folks. Enjoying my analysis, Kevin roasting my opinions or Natalie’s focus on abs? Good news! There is more coming in part 2 of my voyage through the MCU.

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