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Every time a new Marvel Studios movie opens in theaters, there’s an urge to look back at what has come before it, partly because the films are growing increasingly inter-connected, but also because most of them are a ton of fun.
With the debut of “Thor: The Dark World” in the U.S. on Friday, we’re taking a look back at the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far, including the latest installment. We saw the Avengers fight side-by-side last year, but what happens when they’re pitted against each for an ultimate Marvel ranking?
8. “Iron Man 2”
What’s the worst way to follow up a surprisingly fun and fresh superhero movie with a likeable hero? Make an overly serious sequel that doesn’t keep the spirit original alive. Marvel Studios’ first “2” felt too much like a follow-up in any other series, more of the same without anything to add to the conversation. “Iron Man 3” handled a traumatized Tony Stark with much more deft and humour.
7. “The Incredible Hulk”
We have to give the second crack at a Hulk movie somewhat of a break because Marvel Studios was still finding their footing in their cinematic universe, but the Edward Norton-led movie really proved how good “Iron Man” was. Too self-serious and without an ounce of humor to balance it out, “The Incredible Hulk” seemed too obsessed with winking at the camera with knowing references to find its own voice.
The first movie to feature the god of thunder was also the first movie where Marvel found its stride. Director Kenneth Branaugh told a fun, Shakespeare-inspired tale of two brothers jockeying for a seat. It was still the early days of prime Marvel and Chris Hemsworth still wore that awful wig, but the leading man quickly proved to be a star in the making and the perfect fit for this delightfully strange tale.
5. “Thor: The Dark World”
“Thor: The Dark World” works because it takes the characters that made original surprisingly good and brings them back, but everyone, especially Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston as Loki, knows the world better and looks more comfortable on screen. At the same time, the characters lost the benefit having arcs as clearly defined as they did in the first film, but by this point Marvel knows what they do and they do it well.
4. “Iron Man 3”
The third movie to feature Tony Stark proved conclusively that a Marvel movie can take any shape, genre-wise. It can even been a Shane Black-style action comedy with elements of a buddy cop movie. So who better to pull that off than Black himself? “Iron Man 3” followed in the style of “The Avengers,” allowing a filmmaker to really leave his personal stamp on a big studio superhero movie.
3. “Captain America: The First Avenger”
The story of Steve Rogers stands as one of the best examples of Marvel characterization and what makes it different from the “Dark Knights” and “Men of Steel.” Captain America’s appeal relies on his likeability, not his tortured soul, a refreshing change of pace for the genre. It also helps that the movie itself had an old-school charm complements of “Rocketeer” director Joe Johnston.
2. “Iron Man”
The reasons for the first “Iron Man’s” success are the same ones that still power the Marvel Cinematic Universe today. The studio puts a great amount of faith in talent filmmakers, even if they haven’t proven themselves on the scale of a superhero movie, and the casting department. Before 2008, both Robert Downey Jr. and the character Iron Man were unlikely candidates for the fame that would soon find them, but five years later, it’s hard to imagine any other time.
1. “The Avengers”
Part of what made the end game of Marvel’s so-called Phase One such a success was how unlikely it was. A director with one feature under his belt brought together characters in a way that had never been attempted before. And yet, Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” gives each of those characters moments that feel true to them and what has come before, making our fondness for them — and in turn, the previous films — grow.
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