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    The biggest film of the year is, for most, undoubtedly “Avengers: Endgame.” It’s the culmination of eleven years and twenty-two films of a shared universe.

    The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the revolutionary franchise that was one of, if not the, first set of films to form a collected universe and achieve constant critical and box-office success. The films began in 2008 with “Iron Man” and have continued to this April’s “Avenger’s: Endgame.”

    The series is divided by three phases, called Phase One, Phase Two, and Phase Three, respectively. This week, I’m going to rank the first phase of the MCU, which is comprised of: “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Iron Man 2,” “Thor,” “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and “Marvel’s: The Avengers.”

    Seeing as this was the jumping-off point for the most lucrative and risky film franchise of all time, some of the films are a bit rusty. However, it may be surprising to learn just how well most of them have held up over the years.


#6 – “The Incredible Hulk”

    The only MCU film to be released by Universal Pictures, “The Incredible Hulk” is the most visible outlier of the entire series. It stars Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, Liv Tyler as Betty Ross, and William Hurt as General “Thunderbolt” Ross.

    The film starts off insanely slow, skipping the origin story and finding Norton’s Banner hiding in another country and working at a soda factory. Of course, madness ensues, and he’s caught in a cat and mouse game with the U.S. Government and their team of assassins that are led by a horribly miscast Tim Roth as a soldier who will later turn into the Abomination.

    Jesus, this movie is just so boring it kind of hurts me to talk about it. The plot is so generic, it could’ve been lifted from one of the classic television episodes.

    There’s also the problem of too much fan service, from the appearance of purple sweatpants to a particularly bad Stan Lee Cameo. Most of this film just doesn’t work.

    Sure, Norton is a capable hero, but Liv Tyler is wasted here in a badly written, badly performed damsel in distress role. What makes this one even worse is that it directly follows the fantastic “Iron Man,” so it comes off as severely underwhelming.

    Also, not much of this one, apart from Thunderbolt Ross, comes into play with the later films. If you’re anything but a die-hard Marvel fan, I’d skip this one.


#5 – “Iron Man 2”

    The rushed follow up to the surprise massive success, “Iron Man,” is a bit of a mess. Jon Favreau has gone on record as saying that Marvel Studios forced him to come out with a product that he deemed rushed and a bit unfinished. That being said, the second Robert Downey Jr. superhero film can be a lot of fun.

    Marvel continues their (mostly) impeccable casting as they include Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, introduce Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, recast Terrence Howard’s Sergeant Rhodes with Don Cheadle, and feature Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke as the main villains. The sequel also features Gary Shandling, who is always a delight to see on screen.

    This one focuses on Tony Stark’s continued irresponsibility, his tussles with the government and Mickey Rourke’s vengeful Whiplash, and his blood poisoning by way of his arc reactor. One gets the feeling that maybe there’s a little too much stuff in here to deal with in one film.

    RDJ is great again as the hero, and the continuing relationship with Gwyneth Paltrow is a fantastic side plot. The real issues come with the film’s near-complete lack of stakes and the absence of a Jeff Bridges like villain as the main offense of the plot.

    Overall, this one’s an easy, if unsubstantial watch. If I were you, I’d check it out if just for Sam Rockwell and the really cool showdown at the Stark Expo at the climax of the film.


#4 – “Thor”

    Before this year, I had only seen the first “Thor” film once. I was sort of dreading the prospect of watching it again.

    After a second viewing, however, I actually quite enjoyed it. The cast is awesome. Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, and Natalie Portman all perform admirably.

    However, Kat Dennings is my main problem with this movie. She seems to think she is hilarious, but no one else, including the characters in the film and the audience itself, does. She spews off idiotic one-liners to the point where we wish she would just get taken out by a random lightning bolt or something.

    Now that we’ve gotten past that, “Thor” is a helluva enjoyable time at the movies. The story, involving Thor’s banishment from Asgard and Loki’s attempt to steal the throne, is compelling. There are real stakes here, and that’s ultimately what makes a superior MCU movie.

    It is lighthearted in all the right ways and is only action-packed when it has to be. I hate it when a movie includes action just to please the audience, and “Thor” is not guilty of that.

    All in all, this is a solid, if unspectacular, film in the Marvel franchise. It’s one that was easy and enjoyable to revisit.


#3 – “Captain America: The First Avenger”

    The first “Cap” movie is perhaps one of the most divisive of Phase One. Most people don’t think it’s very good, and those that do think it’s just okay. I for one, though, think it could hold a candle to many of the MCU movies.

    Chris Evans is my Captain America. He is absolutely perfect as the wide-eyed youngster we see at the beginning, and he becomes an absolute bada** throughout the second half of the film.

    His relationships with his friend Bucky Barnes, and his love interest, Peggy Carter, are both compelling. The inclusion of Hugo Weaving as Red Skull and Tommy Lee Jones as a hardened general are also inspired and enjoyable.

    The transformation of Steve Rogers into the jacked as hell Captain America is so much fun to watch. The cool thing is that he actually remains a compelling and relatable character even as he becomes the super soldier to beat all super soldiers.

    The old-fashioned vibe combined with solid visuals, a great score, and good pacing all combine to create a story that feels at once right in the wheelhouse of the MCU and a bit of a cool left turn for the franchise. Those expecting an action-packed powerhouse film, this is not that.

    “The First Avenger” is much more of a character study of Steve Rogers and the implication that the weight of heroism has on him. It’s one of the most personal films of the entire MCU, and it has one of the top five best endings for a superhero film ever.

    Do not skip this one. It lays much of the groundwork for what’s to come, and it creates one of the most detailed, lifelike characters of the entire series in the process.


#2 – “Iron Man”

    The one that started it all. 2008’s “Iron Man” was not expected to succeed when it was first released.

    Robert Downey Jr. hadn’t had a hit in years and was seen as a less than stellar person by way of his drug-fueled past. Believe it or not, the character of Iron Man was considered a D-list character, and Tony Stark was by no means a household name.

    Despite all this, director Jon Favreau crafted a loving, thrilling film that beat all expectations and is the sole reason for the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Consider this, if “Iron Man” was a failure, do you think “The Incredible Hulk” would’ve been enough to spawn 22 more films? I think not.

    The plot follows Tony Stark’s billionaire arms dealer who is held prisoner in a foreign cave. He must invent the Mark 1 Iron Man suit and escape.

    After his miraculous exit from captivity, he returns to America and pledges that he is done with selling weapons, much to the dismay of his employees. I won’t spoil the rest of the film, but fun and thrills, in equal doses, follows.

    “Iron Man” is one of the most successful superhero origin stories I can think of. It comes up with a new way of introducing the audience to the hero, and it’s never less than enthralling.

    Jeff Bridges is wonderful as Stark’s mentor, and Jon Favreau’s Happy is also a highlight of the film. Of course, the long-running will they won’t they between Stark and Potts is also started here. Their chemistry is part of what grounds the entire film.

    If you haven’t figured it out yet, “Iron Man” starts the MCU off with a bang. Without this film, there would be no MCU and superhero movies, in general, would not be where they are today.


#1 – “Marvel’s The Avengers”

    This was the original “Infinity War.” At the time, the idea of a shared cinematic universe leading up to a massive team-up of superheroes who were each introduced in their own standalone films sounded idiotic. Many thought it couldn’t work.

    However, with success after success coming before it, the world was pumped to see “The Avengers” in 2012. That’s why it became the third highest grossing movie of all time up until that point.   

    With the cast of the previous films all coming together to not just fight Loki, but each other, the film was a resounding success. It combines all the best elements of the movies that came before it all the while creating its own footprint by having countless A-list actors bouncing off of each other with an undeniable amount of chemistry.

    Although the movie admittedly starts off a bit rocky, after it picks up the pace, it never flags. There are stand up and cheer moments throughout. Some of the scenes will make the hair stand up on your neck.

    For superhero fanboys and casual moviegoers alike, “The Avengers” was something special. It’s rare that a company hedges its bets on something so massive as this, and it actually works out in the end.

    The MCU was undoubtedly a success before “The Avengers.” However, with the success of this movie, the Marvel brand instilled trust with its audience that has let it take countless risks, and to have most of them pay off.


    The Marvel Cinematic Universe is something special. It’s both easily accessible and insanely complex at once.

    It features some of the most entertaining films of all time, and it doesn’t look like the train is coming to a stop anytime soon. All three phases are good, but every success had to start somewhere, and Phase One is that fantastic starting point.

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