Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe introduced us to all the superheroes we now know and love. The series proved so successful that Disney even purchased Marvel before the release of the team-up movie The Avengers. Collectively, the six films of Phase One have grossed $3.811 billion, against a budget of $1 billion.
With Phase Four set to kick off this year, I’ve decided to have a reflective look back over the Marvel films. I will be ranking all three phases, as well as the television series attached to the MCU. They are all personal rankings and may cause some debate, but it’s purely my own opinion. Without further ado, below is my ranking of the MCU’s Phase One.
6. Thor (2011)
Kenneth Branagh directed Thor’s introduction to the Marvel world, after taking the reigns from Kick-Ass director, Matthew Vaughn. It is the fourth film in the MCU and is basically perfectly cast. Chris Hemsworth seems comfortable in the title role, but certainly comes into his own after a few more films. Tom Hiddleston is the break-out here, proving himself to be a great villain we love to hate. And the supporting cast includes Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard and Rene Russo, so it’s hard to go wrong there.
There’s really not a lot wrong with Thor, it’s just the weakest of the six movies. It’s major downfall is that the culmination of the film feels like it comes with Thor battling against the Destroyer, a mindless robot, rather than facing off against his brother, Loki.
5. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Iron Man 2 gets a lot of slack, but I admire it for its world-building. The MCU feels like one long story where each chapter is necessary to understand the next. With Iron Man 2, lots of things that need to be introduced are and without it, the world wouldn’t feel as real. Remember, this is the film that brought us Black Widow!
Jon Favreau returns to direct this sequel from a script written by Justin Theroux (other than being an actor, Theroux also wrote the screenplays for Tropic Thunder and Rock of Ages). As well as Scarlet Johansson, Iron Man 2 also brings us Don Cheadle who takes over the role of Rhodey from Terence Howard. Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke are criminally under praised as the villains Justin Hammer and Whiplash, respectively.
4. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Another film that feels unfairly abandoned is the second entry of the MCU, The Incredible Hulk. Directed by Louis Leterrier, The Incredible Hulk is probably most known for its casting of Edward Norton in the lead role. Norton would later be replaced by Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers.
Norton brings a moodiness to the role of Banner, one that is never really touched upon again with Ruffalo. The action is great and Tim Roth’s portrayal of the Abomination is another performance that is under looked. Roth’s return to the role would be a welcome one.
3. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
It was impossible to predict back in 2011 how loved and iconic Chris Evans’ portrayal as Captain America would have become. This adaptation was originally planned for release in 1997, but it wasn’t until 2005 that things really got into motion.
Joe Johnston of Jumanji fame directs Evans in this World War 2 superhero epic. Johnston captures the era well and succeeds in delivering some solid action. Evans is wholly believable as the underdog turned super solider and Hayley Atwell is easily enjoyable as his love interest, Peggy Carter. Although Sebastian Stan’s Bucky is underused, it’s understandably difficult to give him more screen time when this is Steve Roger’s origin story.
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2. Iron Man (2008)
The film that started it all. Everybody is on form here, with Robert Downey Jr already owning the role that he will be remembered for, forever. It’s one of the best origin stories Marvel has done. Tony Stark’s escape from the hands of terrorists is a powerful opening and gives so much reason behind Stark’s heroic turn.
Jeff Bridges’ provides the right balance as the villain of the film. Bridges’ plays Obadiah Stone, aka the Iron Monger. This villain was chosen so as not to overshadow Tony’s story, but Bridges’ talent allows the character to remain an omniscient threat. The Iron Monger was chosen as the antagonist over other characters, including the Mandarin and the Crimson Dynamo.
1. The Avengers (2012)
It’s hard to say anything about The Avengers that hasn’t already been said. Joss Whedon’s film brought together all the characters of the franchise and the past six films and cemented the MCU as a powerhouse of entertainment going forward. This film nearly grossed half of Phase One’s profit alone (it did $1.519 billion in ticket sales).
Whedon successfully balances all the central heroes – Hawkeye starts off slightly wasted, but gets some of the film’s best moments in the climactic Battle of New York. Whedon also imbues the film with a great sense of humour and dynamic between the team, resulting in the trademark tone that many MCU films going forward will follow. The choice of Loki as a villain too, pays off his appearance in Thor and adds emotional gravitas to Thor’s involvement in the battle.
Please do let us know what you think of this ranking in the comments. A personal ranking of Phase Two will be coming soon!