Marvel Cinematic Universe – Phase 1: A Ranking
It's been nearly ten years since "Iron Man" premiered. A movie that, on the surface level, resuscitated Robert Downey Jr.'s career and established Jon Favreau as a high-profile director.
Most importantly, however, it was "Iron Man" that gave birth to what is now known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which encompasses all the superhero movies released under the Marvel Studios label.
The six first movies released by Marvel Studios became the so-called Phase 1 of the MCU. Looking back, it was evident that the studio had huge expectations – some that paid off, others that didn't do so great.
Here is my definitive ranking of Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
#6 - "The Incredible Hulk" (2008)
While I enjoyed Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner and believe that this was a far superior movie to 2003's Ang Lee-directed "Hulk," "The Incredible Hulk" came out the same year as "Iron Man," and it just did not hold up to the huge success that the former gathered. So much so that Marvel Studios has chosen to conveniently ignore "The Incredible Hulk" as being part of the MCU, even though it officially fits into the universe's timeline.
The highlight of "The Incredible Hulk" was seeing my country of Brazil as being part of Bruce Banner's journey to mastering his inner monster. But a lot was wrong with the film, like the boring villain, the overuse of still-not-great CGI, and having to go through the hero's entire origin story when we had seen it just five years ago in "Hulk."
#5 - Thor (2011)
In my opinion, the two first "Thor" films are just fine. Chris Hemsworth does an incredible job at making us believe in the cinematic version of this hero, and the rest of the cast is equally stellar: Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, and freaking Anthony Hopkins! I mean, wow.
But aside from Loki's wittiness and wonderfulness as a villain, the first "Thor" just never hit the spot for me. It's hard to find obstacles for a guy who is literally a god, with flying abilities and out-of-this-world strength. His love story with Dr. Jane Foster also lacks chemistry and believability. It's an overall just ok movie whose relevance is supported by its fit inside the grandiose puzzle that has become the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
#4 - Iron Man 2 (2010)
"Iron Man 2" is great, but it's just not as great as the first "Iron Man." The stakes didn't feel necessarily higher. Tony Stark didn't feel necessarily better, worse, or changed. There was nothing fundamentally different or special about "Iron Man 2." Its awesomeness rested on the fact that this was now a beloved hero who was being portrayed by an outstanding actor.
But it is still pretty awesome. If "Iron Man" was the film to accidentally start the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then "Iron Man 2" was the movie that took it even further and really jumpstarted an everything-is-connected standard that Marvel Studios followed for many years to come. It's an unmissable and very exciting episode in the journey of Tony Stark.
#3 - Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
It was a long time coming for Captain America to have his own live-action film, and "Captain America: The First Avenger" was interesting in more than one way. First, it took the Marvel Cinematic Universe back in time (to 1942, more specifically), and it was the first time a superhero's origin story movie didn't take place in the present or in a very recent past. Also, the film deconstructed the Cap's long-standing image of pure strength and reminded audiences that he had once been a huge loser, who was bullied, beat up, and rejected.
Like Thor, Captain America came with a huge risk of being horribly adapted to the big screen. And a lot of credit goes to Chris Evans for making the hero believable and not just a caricature of his comics. While "The First Avenger" would later become the less incredible movie of Captain America's trilogy, it is still a quite great origin story to a beloved American superhero.
#2 - Iron Man (2008)
The one that started it all for Marvel Studios, "Iron Man" was everything and more. Maybe when kids watch it back, in the future, it just won't hold up the same, but this movie changed the game back in 2008. It was the same year that DC Comics released Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight," so needless to say, it was a defining year for live-action adaptations of comic book heroes. Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark was funny, witty, charming, despicable, lovable, and definitely someone audiences wanted to root for. This actor/character match was one of those cases when all of the stars aligned. RDJ was born to play Tony, and Tony could not have come to life without RDJ.
"Iron Man" was a fantastic movie that took us through a modern-day Hero's Journey and transformed a lesser known superhero into a cultural icon almost as big as Spider-Man. It solidified Tony Stark as the originator (and later, the center) of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
#1 - The Avengers (2012)
A team-up cinematic event of superheroes who had each come from their own individual movies culminated into "The Avengers," something that had never, ever happened in cinema history. Sure, we had seen Batman and Robin act as a team on screen, we had seen the X-Men get together, we had seen the Fantastic Four transform into who they are, but we had never watched five solo movies tease one singular giant event that would bring them together to fight a world-threatening alien invasion. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Nick Fury, and even Loki – they were all there.
"The Avengers" was exciting, funny, different, and most importantly, it brought Phase 1 to an end that delivered to audiences the pay-off they needed. The very best part of MCU's Phase 1 is, undoubtedly, its own phenomenal conclusion.