I wanted to write up a post about the "Phase Two" Marvel Cinematic Universe films now that we're moving into Phase Three, and I think a "Rank 'Em" post makes the most sense so I can talk about all six films in relation to each other. The last time I ranked the Marvel films was in 2013, after "Iron Man 3" but before "Thor 2," so there's not going to be much crossover. Here we go, from best to worst.
1. Ant-Man (2015) - The more I think about this film, the more I like it because it gives us something different. The hero is an ordinary guy with a different set of concerns than any of the other heroes we've met so far. His shrinking powers open up a whole new visual landscape. We've also got a real mentor-student relationship going on between Scott and Hank, which is an interesting new wrinkle. There are some serious flaws, and I maintain that it's not the film that it could have been in different hands, but "Ant-Man" is more than good enough. They didn't solve the villain problem, but they did offer a fantastic new variation on the third act final battle sequence, which I appreciate so much.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) - Come and get your love. I was pretty harsh on this one last year when I found out it wasn't kid-friendly, but I have to give it due credit for its wildly imaginative sci-fi universe and a strong cast of characters. Chris Pratt's dudebro Star Lord, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot are especially fun additions to the Marvel pantheon, and the retro soundtrack is priceless. If the rest of the offworld Marvel movies look like this, fans shouldn't have anything to worry about. Again, points get knocked off for poor villains, poor treatment of the female lead, and a couple of jokes in poor taste that I'm not sure how they got away with under Disney's nose. It's a fun movie, but one that left me with my guard up.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) - I came away from this one so impressed with the direction of the Russo brothers, and I can see why they've been chosen to helm the upcoming "Avengers" movies. The nods to political thrillers of the '70s were nice, and it was good to see Robert Redford, but this was still a superhero movie through and through. Having action scenes more reminiscent of the "Bourne" series was a welcome change of pace, but we still ended up with the same, dull world-in-peril finale we've seen so many times before. Also, I came away with no particular attachment to either the Falcon or the Winter Soldier, which is probably going to be a problem for the upcoming "Civil War" storyline.
4. Iron Man 3 (2013) - I'm surprised that I liked this so much more than the majority of viewers. Maybe it's because I actually prefer Tony Stark out of the suit, and I really enjoy Shane Black movies. The Mandarin bait-and-switch worked fine for me. So did the kid sidekick and superpowered Pepper. I actually like "Iron Man 3" about on par with "Winter Soldier," except that I didn't buy Tony's character arc or the ending of "Iron Man 3" at all. Seriously, we all knew he was going to be Iron Man again for "Age of Ulton." No, it doesn't live up to the original and I would have much rather have had a straight adaptation of "Demon in a Bottle," but after "Iron Man 2" I wasn't expecting this to be nearly as good as it is.
5. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) - So many things here just didn't work for me: smarmy Ultron, underdeveloped Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, and most of the business with the Vision. Joss Whedon made a valiant effort, but this movie was too long and overstuffed with too many characters and obligations. It felt like an entire series of a television show crammed into a single feature. Individual sequences were great - I loved everything involving Hawkeye's family and many of the action sequences - but I don't think this works as a film. I'm hopeful that a stronger villain and a two-part structure will alleviate some of these problems for "Infinity War."
6 Thor: The Dark World (2013) - The first "Thor" was near the bottom of my previous list. The sequel didn't manage to improve on it in many ways, and in others is quite a bit worse. Some of the Thor and Loki friction is enjoyable, but the main villain is a terrible waste of Christopher Eccleston, the romance is as tepid as ever, and the humor continues to fall flat. This movie exemplifies all the common complaints about filmmakers trying to use copious amounts of CGI destruction to hide the lack of interesting characters and a decent plot. It feels like they weren't even trying this time.