Ranking the First Ten Marvel Cinematic Universe Films

If I were to go back to May of 2008 when I was a freshly-minted twenty-one year old deep in the heart of film school and brimming with the idea I garnered more knowledge than I actually did my rankings of the following films that have come out over the past seven years and created the most colossal machine in movie-making would look very different than the retrospective I'm about to outline for you. I certainly wouldn't expect to start where I do given the third film in the MCU is basically where things really got going while the first two entries are more or less setting the tone for what Marvel might do given these first efforts paid off in the right way. We all know now that at least that first effort paid off in a big way thanks in no small part to Robert Downey Jr. (who still owns this brand with something of a sadistic glee) which meant taking the MCU's only break in 2009 before spitting out a rushed sequel in 2010 that would put the end goal of The Avengers in motion. While I admired those early films in the MCU for at least having an ambition unmatched by any other franchise they have now become something of a TV series on the big screen that comes with its own challenges of having to individually stand on their own while owing much to the larger moving parts. This aspect has made the films both unique in the way we consume them while somewhat devaluing the individual stories as there is always the "what's next" question lingering as soon as the credits roll. And so, seeing as the MCU has now produced ten feature films with their eleventh, Avengers: Age of Ultron, opening tonight domestically it seems as good a time as any to recap where each of them stand in my humble opinion. Ranked mostly by their rewatchability factor with other facets considered for good measure here are the ten MCU films so far ranked from worst to best.

10. Iron Man 2

Year: 2010
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Justin Theroux
Characters Introduced: Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).
Villain: Ivan Vanko/Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), Senator Stern (Garry Shandling)

As alluded to in the introduction the original Iron Man was such a runaway success in a way even Kevin Feige likely wasn't even sure how to react to that the rush to capitalize as well as begin officially expanding their cinematic universe came in the form of Iron Man's sequel. The perfectly enjoyable, but rather scatterbrained Iron Man 2 was put together so hastily they didn't even stop to consider a subtitle. The continued adventures of Tony Stark saw the kajillionaire weapons manufacturer doing many things. Chiefly, he was repositioning his company to align with its new mission statement made at the end of the first film by hosting the Stark Expo that opens the film. This also links us to the theme of legacy that is prevalent throughout as Tony both deals with a villain connected to his fathers past and a serious health issue that brings his own legacy to the forefront of his mind. Among these main ideas though are the overstuffed aspects of Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer who is actually a solid villain in the vein of being the bad version of our hero while the necessary inclusion of Nick Fury and the introduction of ScarJo's Black Widow for future installments clouds much of the films primary narrative. By the time we get to the point of Tony's birthday party that pits he and Rhodey (Don Cheadle) against one another with Rob Base's "It Takes Two" serving as the the backdrop it's clear things have gone slightly off the rails.

The thing to understand with this list as a whole is that I don't necessarily dislike any of the MCU films that have come out so far, but more I find the ones I enjoy the least are those that don't incorporate the larger universe in a fluent and inherent way while being able to sustain themselves on the individual story the given movie is telling. Iron Man 2 simply suffers from being the film that was put under the circumstances of really kicking this whole thing into gear and it suffers overall because of that. It is arguable that Iron Man never returned to the glory he enjoyed with the first film given the divisive nature his third solo outing created, but there is almost no debate that Iron Man 2, despite being the one to really begin to champion these elements and this kind of cinematic universe, is the weakest link in the series. I don't mind the film as it has some solid action and any time we get to see RDJ do his thing as Stark it's a treat, but there are simply nine other films in this universe I'd rather watch again before resorting to Iron Man part deux.

9. Thor: The Dark World

Year: 2013
Director: Alan Taylor
Writer: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Characters Introduced: All returning cast sans the two-dimensional villain
Villain: Malekith (Christopher Eccleston)

Unfortunately, when taking a step back to look at the bigger picture that is the MCU Thor is the one who ends up with the short end of the stick. Neither of his solo outings have been exceptional, but they are mindlessly diverting if not doing anything beyond serving their most basic of purposes. While Iron Man 3 is technically the first film to come after The Avengers, in many ways The Dark World feels like the first film to really deal with the repercussions of the events at the end of Phase 1. Maybe this is due to the direct link with Loki as Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth's chemistry is easily the highlight of both Thor films, but what is so desperately missing from this second entry is the focus on the singular task at hand. I am completely enthralled with seeing films overlap and build on one another, but we have now reached a point in our culture where we are taking in these films with such rapid consumption that we don't give them the individual focus they sometimes deserve. We are of course excited to see Iron Man and Thor back on screen again, but more times than not these feel like films intended to hold us over until the next Avengers movie rather than essential viewing making the challenge for each of these individual films to overcome that audience anticipation for "what's next". The Dark World succumbs to this challenge worst of any of the Marvel films.

And honestly, I would probably like The Dark World more if I gave it another go around, but at this point I've probably seen it three times and the last time was in between the releases of Winter Soldier and Guardians so I feel rather justified in putting it this low on the list. If not for anything else, but for having the weakest of the consistently weak villains featured in these movies. Sure, it could be argued that Loki is still the prime antagonist here, but the film makes it clear from the outset that Malekith is intended to be the big bad with his plot to destroy everything by taking advantage of some kind of planet alignment that will send the worlds into chaos as the driving plot. Delivering nothing of substance for us to really invest, Malekith is given little justification for his actions and is forgotten because of it. Moreover, the main plot of The Dark World feels more like an excuse to center another movie around the God of Thunder while (you guessed it) setting up Loki for he and his brothers third and final act. In talking about Loki and his storyline comes the even uglier fact about the films of the MCU being that all of these films are almost completely inconsequential. While adequate, Thor: The Dark World serves as prime evidence that this kind of filmmaking can eventually lead to being content with quantity over quality.

8. Iron Man 3

Year: 2013
Director: Shane Black
Writer: Shane Black, Drew Pearce
Characters Introduced: Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), Savin (James Badge Dale), Brandt (Stephanie Szostack), Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins)
Villain: The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley)

I want to like Iron Man 3 more than I think I actually do. When I wrote my initial review I gave it a solid four out of five stars, but even at that time I knew it deserved more like a three and a half. There was simply something about my reaction that couldn't buy into the fact that the direction they'd gone with the character was necessarily the one that would actually be relevant to the rest of the MCU and in trying to accept the truth of the situation I overcompensated with how much I wanted to like it. In retrospect, Iron Man 3 may be the film that irritates me most in regards to the MCU, but taken simply as a film on its own terms it's actually pretty solid. Without taking the comics, other entries or continuity into consideration Iron Man 3 has the opposite problem of The Dark World in that it spends its time truly focusing on the story at hand rather than the large universe surrounding it. The stronger films of the MCU strike the right balance between these two factors with those falling on further ends of the spectrum feeling either less congruent or overly-reliable on the overarching goals. While many fans cried foul at the twist the film offered up around the major villain the marketing touted I have no attachment to the source material and therefore found both Shane Black's writing and his intention with the character to be rather bold. Given the focus ended up being more on Tony Stark the man rather than Tony Stark the superhero saves the film and makes what is the odd movie out of the MCU necessary in that it gives the teams innovator a kind of closure.

Thankfully, Iron Man 3 understands that Tony Stark and his solo Iron Man stories have pretty much run their course. The conclusion of the film brings a sense of peace and makes the film feel, on its most basic level, as personal as any Marvel film since the maiden voyage we took with Mr. Stark five years prior. For the first time since that first film we feel we get to see the real Tony Stark. Stark as he was when he was searching for his place in the world and how imperative that oft-repeated legacy he's created is to keep intact. In this third go-around Tony knows who he is, he knows what he is supposed to do, but all of that has been called into question after realizing he isn't the most talented guy on the block, let alone the only superhero. Iron Man will continue to return in these Marvel films at least until Infinity War draws the curtain on what I suspect will be Downey Jr's last fight in the tin can, but while Iron Man's story will continue, the thing Iron Man 3 gets right is the closure it gives audiences on Tony Stark's mentality for the unforeseeable future.

7. Thor

Year: 2011
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne
Characters Introduced: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Frigga (Rene Russo), Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), Heimdall (Idris Elba), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), Fandral (Josh Dallas), Sif (Jaimie Alexander), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández)
Villain: King Laufey (Colm Feore) and the rest of the Frost Giants.

I'm still rather nervous about Ant-Man. Nevermind all the directorial issues and script re-writes that happened on the eve of production after Edgar Wright's unfortunate exit, but more the unnerving feeling I get every time I see a trailer that can't help but to hint this might be Marvel's first foray into flopdom. Of course, I hope I'm wrong and I hope the Paul Rudd-led Ant-Man defies expectation in very much the same way Thor did back when it became a reality that this Avengers thing was actually going to happen. Thor could have been bad. I mean really bad. I remember going to see Battle Los Angeles in March of 2011 and seeing the last trailers released for Thor and feeling the same way I do right now about Ant-Man. It was with great relief as I walked out of the theater in May that things had turned out much better than expected. It was by no means great, it was no exception to the rule that hit me with the kind of "wow" factor the original Iron Man did, but it captured the same tone rather well and that felt key. What allowed Thor to succeed rather than becoming a laughable piece of the puzzle was the guidance of a prestige director and a cast more than capable of making all these other-worldly semantics seem plausible. Kenneth Branagh picked an unknown Chris Hemsworth at the time to embody the titular Norse God perfectly and then fleshed out the supporting cast with Oscar caliber actors such as Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman. It is in this commitment from the cast and skilled direction from a man seasoned in Shakespearean verse that Thor ultimately owes its salvation.

Thor never takes off with an expectation-fulfilling quest that most films with such bombastic heroes do. In fact it is quite a simple movie, stripped down to its basic conflicts of Thor being cast out from his Asgardian home and the adjusting of his new Earth surroundings to the possibility of these Gods from other worlds and galaxies actually existing. While establishing Thor in the realm of our home planet in order to set up his involvement with Tony Stark's super secret boy band the film introduces the internal family conflict between not only Thor and Loki, but Loki and Odin. While there is no major villain of the piece and the whole Destroyer robot feels more forced into the script so as Thor has something to fight during the climax what I appreciated most about Thor, but what also makes it feel anticlimactic is the fact the whole movie feels like the first act of a larger movie. The film ends with the bifröst destroyed and Thor unable to return to earth as Jane (Portman) searches for him. When Thor returns to earth with no problem in The Avengers and fails to address what happened in between it only made Thor feel all the more incomplete. It's as if the film got off to a good start and slid smoothly into a strong middle before cutting off just before things really started to get going. I like Thor, but in terms of MCU films it is the most basic and while that does well to pass the time it certainly isn't enough to garner the God of Thunder's introduction a higher spot on this list.

6. Captain America: The First Avenger

Year: 2011
Director: Joe Johnston
Writer: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Characters Introduced: Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), James "Bucky" Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones)
Villain: Johann Schmidt/Red Skull (Hugo Weaving)

So far we've only discussed two Iron Man and Thor films, but now we move into some new territory as I seem to be in the minority that finds the first Captain America among one of the better entries in the MCU. While I initially rated this with a lesser score than both Thor and Iron Man 3 The First Avenger has become one of the few films in the MCU that I can return to time and time again with no qualms. Maybe this is due in part to the fact that it didn't really have any strings attached to it in dealing with the larger universe Marvel was setting up or that it is wholly an origin story with real world implications and a vital threat that makes the scope and tension feel all the more mightier, but whatever it may be I can't help but to enjoy this film more and more every time I see it. What stands out each time I watch the film though is just how involving the core story is. The way we are introduced to Stever Rogers, his earnestness shining through, how he is picked for the super soldier program and eventually becomes Captain America, but is first utilized more as a symbol than the soldier he hoped to be. The plan of the menacing Red Skull always lingering and tying in the Tesseract without it feeling obligatory adds a sense of adventure to the second half of the film as Rogers fulfills his destiny that comes to pass with a genuinely emotional climax that leaves just enough time in the denouement to set-up how Cap will come to play the leading role in The Avengers. It all works so harmoniously together that it's hard to complain.

What made me initially concerned for the production is that it would suffer the same fate as Iron Man 2. In having to both tie-in the good ole Captain to the present world after telling his origin story as well as giving a glimpse of the root of all this evil that set the events of the future in motion, director Joe Johnston and his team had a lot on their plates. What is more apparent now with a bit of perspective is that they were able to accomplish all of this in a manner that doesn't feel rushed but rather finds its strength in investing in the characters at hand. Forget all the exterior factors that surrounded this movie and you have something very much in line with one of Johnston's previous films, The Rocketeer, the story of a masked hero from a pulp comic book that dealt in the 1930's and 40's where Nazi's were the bad guys and saving the girl through secret creations was the big goal. As Captain America is, in reality, something of a corny comic book hero it would take some skill to be able to transfer his story to the big screen in something of a credible way where comic book films are expected to be somewhat dark and gritty these days. By this time though, Marvel had already created something of a template for their films and a tone for them to stay in line with and while The First Avenger deviates largely from the lighter tone of Iron Man and Thor it maintains its own identity while inherently incorporating trademarks of the universe that allow for it to perfectly walk that line between incorporating the larger universe in a fluent way and being able to sustain itself on the merits of its individual story.

5. The Incredible Hulk

Year: 2008
Director: Louis Leterrier
Writer: Zak Penn
Characters Introduced: Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Edward Norton), Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), General Ross (William Hurt), Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson)
Villain: Emil Blonsky/Abomination (Tim Roth)

Set in motion before the MCU knew if it was going anywhere The Incredible Hulk was sure to make good on what the majority of moviegoers saw as shortcomings in Ang Lee's 2003 iteration of the character. Glossing over the origin story by conveying any necessary information in the opening credits The Incredible Hulk was more the story of a man on the run with the unenviable task of trying to literally control his inner demons. It is a fast-paced and gorgeous film to look at. The opening chase sequence through the streets of Rio de Janeiro is breathtaking in its scope and the stage it sets for the rest of the film while the actual Hulk himself is utilized more often and to a better degree than we'd ever seen on the big screen before. Again benefiting from not being overly tied down to the universe at large, but eventually weakened because of the disparage between this film and the rest of the MCU movies, Leterrier's feature acts as if the film has no beginning or end, but rather one big middle where the pace never slows. The balance of the drama and action is handled well and the Hulk himself looks pretty amazing, almost to the point I wish they'd stuck with this design for The Avengers. Throughout all of this though is the fact this is straight-up entertainment for the sake of entertainment. Leterrier has no intention of making anything deep or reflective, but rather intended to meet audience expectations and in that regard he succeeded fully. While other MCU films may be more critical to the overall evolution of the universe one would be hard-pressed to argue any of the other films are as downright thrilling as this one.

Unfortunately, The Incredible Hulk is something of the black sheep of the MCU. I, of course, don't mind Mark Ruffalo's interpretation of the character and his contributions to The Avengers are great, but if only Edward Norton had continued to play this part and the universe at large incorporated more of the set-ups introduced in this film the MCU as a whole would seemingly feel more complete. I realize many people don't even see this film as a part of this current cinematic universe, but it most definitely is with the appearance of Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark at the end of the film solidifying the continuity of what Marvel was attempting to do at the time. Why Liv Tyler's Betty Ross or her father as portrayed by William Hurt haven't warranted a mention since this film is beyond me and why Tom Roth's Abomination or even Tim Blake Nelson's Samuel Sterns who eventually becomes The Leader haven't come up seem like missed opportunities. The fact Marvel has no plans for another solo Hulk film are also disappointing given I enjoyed this one so much and know there is potential here for solid films to be made from inspecting the psychology of the Hulk further, but alas, it seems as if the time has passed for Hulk to be a major solo star and so each time I resort to this film and oddly enough, it never disappoints.

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Year: 2014
Director: Joe & Anthony Russo
Writer: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Characters Introduced: Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), Kate/Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp)
Villain: The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Hydra

The looming question after The Avengers was always going to be if movies only featuring one of the team members would suffice. With Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World feeling more like placeholders than anything else The Winter Soldier had its back to the wall in being forced to push the narrative forward as Captain America not only operates within the world most of our heroes do, but because he is affiliated with the organization that brought the super group together. Luckily, The Winter Soldier turned out to be both a solid film on its own terms and a solid entry in the Marvel canon that not only moves the story forward and reveals new, unexpected developments but also sets-up an interesting dynamic for how things might unfold in the upcoming films. As I've harped on constantly in this article so far the struggle is to make a sufficient stand-alone piece that works with what it is trying to accomplish on its own without simply leaning on the fact there is another chapter coming. By the time this film arrived in theaters last April it had become more than apparent to most viewers that these Marvel films were little more than big, expensive episodes in an ever-evolving cinematic television series and Feige and crew needed something to reinvigorate the masses. That, if these films were going to survive as singular pieces of entertainment, they were going to need to have a strong sense of individuality and for the first time since The First Avenger (sans The Avengers) it felt like one of the solo films expertly balanced a singular style and approach that separated it from its cohorts while understanding the necessities of contributing to things bigger than itself by taking actions that would have serious repercussions.

To this film specifically, new directors the Russo Brothers continued to elevate the interest factor in arguably the MCU's most boring super hero by surrounding him with great supporting players. Anthony Mackie's The Falcon has a strong rapport with Evans while Johansson returns as Black Widow in the role of the Captain's primary sidekick allowing both he and the audience to get a formal introduction to the ways in which S.H.I.E.L.D. works. Sam Jackson's Nick Fury also gets his most screen time in a single film displaying a stronger presence than in any of the other films as he even gets his own intense and nicely stylized action sequence. More interesting than Cap's allies though are the villains at play here. Not to spoil anything, but if you ever thought Robert Redford would join a film that has been compared to the paranoid political thrillers of the 1970's and not somehow be involved in a conspiracy then you had to be crazy or misinformed. The casting of Redford is a nice wink and nod to the audience that would understand it. Further, the subtle yet clear statement that is the casting of Frank Grillo (an underrated character actor) that allows his fate to signal that of the more meticulous planning of this cinematic universe where, unlike in The Incredible Hulk, they will surely come to pay off. I don't necessarily mention the titular baddie because his role wasn't nearly as large as the title implied, but there is an interesting subplot for Mr. Barnes here that while shortchanging him in his own movie, will seemingly pay off in the long run and I didn't so much mind that here.

3. Iron Man

Year: 2008
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
Characters Introduced: Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Rhodey (Terrence Howard/Don Cheadle) Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), Jarvis (Paul Bettany), Hogan (Jon Favreau), Yinsen (Shaun Toub)     
Villain: Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), Raza (Faran Tahir)

The summer of 2008 was a glorious one. Had The Incredible Hulk actually come out the next summer it might be more well-regarded these days, but given it was sandwiched between Iron Man and The Dark Knight it didn't hardly stand a chance. Now, I realize that much of the reason the first Iron Man might be so high on this list could be due to all the nostalgia that comes along with it coupled by the fact it was the first film in the MCU, the one that started it all. And yet, basing this ranking of the Marvel films so far on the ones I like to revisit the most I stand by putting this in the top three. Kicking off that glorious summer of '08 (that also included the likes of Wall-E, Kung-Fu Panda, Step Brothers, Wanted, Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder) Iron Man was a case of seeing a second-tier super hero become the main attraction and testing whether or not Marvel's own film division could produce films featuring their roster of characters that weren't already owned by major studios. In allowing director Jon Favreau to come in and add his distinct flavor to the mix while casting RDJ in the mother of all comeback roles the stars aligned and created the perfect mix that enabled the production of not only a successful film, but a memorable one. Granted, Iron Man has its shortcomings (especially in its villain and in its stilted action), but I distinctly remember sitting down for the film in a packed theater on the Sunday afternoon after it was released and receiving a rush of coolness that if not explicitly saying they were onto something big, very clearly making a statement they weren't going anywhere soon.

It is funny to look back now and see just how much of the Marvel template and tone comes from Iron Man. Everything from the manageable gritty to fun moments that interchange with one another to the downside in general of the MCU that deals in weak villains. At the time I walked out of the screening this was the kind of comic book film that shot right to the top of my favorites list alongside the likes of Spider-Man and X2 and while with the passing of time and the added value of perspective I might not rank either the first Spider-Man or Iron Man as high as Bryan Singers sequel masterpiece, they are both still more than solid entries in a genre that has become saturated with so many attempts it truly takes something exceptional to stand out. Iron Man stood out from the pack the moment it was released and now, seven years later, it remains atop the pile of MCU films as not just the one that started it all, but the one that remains a pinnacle each new film hopes to achieve.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy

Year: 2014
Director: James Gunn
Writer: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Characters Introduced: Peter Quill/Starlord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot (Vin Diesel), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), Korath (Djimon Hounsou), Corpsman Dey (John C. Reilly), Nova Prime (Glenn Close), The Collector (Benicio Del Toro)      
Villain: Ronan (Lee Pace), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Thanos (Josh Brolin)

Last summer Marvel stretched its muscles by testing the waters to see just how much audiences trusted them. It paid off big time. Instead of going with that aforementioned second Hulk solo film or establishing the Maximoff twins in their own film before their inclusion in Age of Ultron Kevin Feige and his team decided to bring a space opera based on an obscure Marvel comic that was basically The Avengers in space, to life in a way that seemed to go against the trusted brand they'd already built. Bringing in director James Gunn (Slither, Super) and a well-rounded cast that was more than game Marvel did what it needed to do by mixing up the formula that had somewhat become routine and took us out of the S.H.I.E.L.D. universe and into the cosmos for a story that most importantly was given a different style and a different flavor even if the actual plot consisted of some familiar archetypes. While I understand that right now Guardians may rank as high as it does because it feels more fresh than anything else and with a little bit more time and space between myself and the picture it may fall in the rankings, but for now this is one of those blu-rays I can pop in any time and it's a guaranteed good time.

As I've repeatedly stated throughout this (now extensive) article my main concern with each Marvel movie is the lack of any original voice coming through in conveying the necessary stories. The stories can be cohesive without the tone or style being the same and while the earth-bound Avengers began to feel more serialized in phase two, Guardians was able to break that mold not only by taking place in the cosmos but by brimming with creativity in every scene of its execution. Of the few downfalls is the fact Gunn isn't necessarily an action director and in the scenes where there is hand to hand combat this shows in some major ways. What gives Gunn a pass on the more intimate action sequences are the fact there aren't many of them which in turn is refreshing due to the genre the film falls into. In a film that is so much fun though complaints feel minor. Guardians is earnest in hitting the required beats without ever feeling like it's flippant about the content. Returning to the word refreshing feels inevitable as it seems the perfect adjective to describe the fun that perfectly identifies what this film is. Whether it be Groot getting his Hulk moment, Rocket executing his escape plan, Peter Quill dancing around wearing his Walkman or Drax and Gamora kicking ass and taking names there is always something to sit back and smile about while watching my pick for the second best film of the current Marvel crop.

1. The Avengers

Year: 2012
Director: Joss Whedon
Writer: Joss Whedon
Characters Introduced: Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner     
Villain: Loki (Tom Hiddleston), The Chitauri

It's pretty much unavoidable, right? While I am the first person to admit that upon repeat viewings the spectacle of bringing all of these super heroes together and the praise it received out of the gate was more a knee-jerk reaction of greatness rather than a fully evaluated opinion for what it was there is simply no topping the fact that writer/director Joss Whedon was actually able to pull each of these characters, who really had no right to be in the same movie with one another, into a story that made sense and justified the team-up of all movie team-ups is pretty damn great. Again, the villainous army is rather weak as they seem to appear for no reason other than to create a massive half-hour long action sequence at the end of the film rather than being an army loyal to Loki, the most charismatic Marvel villain, who was brought over from Thor to do the heavy lifting. The character development on relative newcomers like Hawkeye is sidelined by a mind control subplot that feels like a McGuffin and Captain America's suit is downright cringe-worthy, but overall the reality of seeing these guys interact with one another on screen and the banter that Whedon writes so effortlessly combined with the dynamics he mined to create friction outweigh all the shortcomings the epic includes.

While I may have come to regress on some of the hyperbole I spouted immediately following the films release the best part about The Avengers was the fact it understood its audience. This comes across as Whedon never letting himself forget who this was for and more importantly what he would have wanted to see as a viewer himself. To be given the freedom to realize this project on screen was no doubt nothing short of pure joy mixed with a large portion of pressure on the guy. For all intents and purposes this was an introduction to all of these heroes as a team and there is a sense of unknown territory to that despite being familiar with all the players. As a cinematic experience, The Avengers sits near the top. When people began making movies that were inspired by the imagination this is where they someday hoped we would be. The Avengers is the epitome of what the cinematic experience should be-it is fun, breathtaking, and completely bombastic in the best of ways. It builds to the final battle and delivered what audiences had wanted from these characters for five movies prior.

There is something extremely engaging about how all of this came together and there thankfully continues to be something magical about watching it all unfold. All we can do is continue to wonder where it might go from here now that we have a game plan of release dates and titles in front of us, but I have zero hesitation in committing to continue to follow these heroes.   

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