As of today, there are 9 movies in the current iteration of The Avengers franchise (no, we’re not counting that questionable Hulk from 2003). This makes for an impressive movie marathon each time a new one comes out, which seems to be happening at the rate of 1-2 per year (almost as quickly as Chuck Palahniuk seems to be able to write new books). At the same time, maybe not everyone can devote as many hours to ‘catching up’ or ‘rewatching’ and they just need the quick and dirty guide to the most (and least) awesome ones. Well, I’m here to help. Here’s my personal guide based on as objective an appraisal as any one person can make based on such limited film knowledge. Below this list, there are a few other lists, based on other criteria.
Addendum: To be fair, if you don’t see all of them, you will not understand the whole universe. Even having seen them all multiple times, I’m still not sure I do. But, if you just want to watch the good ones, this can guide you.
Nine. The Incredible Hulk, 2008, dir. Louis Leterrier
Let’s be real: they lost any chance at doing well on this list when they changed Bruce Banner for The Avengers. Actually, it was more like, why would you hire the guy who nearly always sounds like Fight Club to play an iconic character who’s difficult to portray convincingly no matter which way you slice it? Additionally, more than most of the movies on this list, it’s difficult to suspend disbelief that this movie, like Man of Steel last summer, doesn’t deserve scorn for the sheer body count alone.
Eight. Thor, 2011, dir. Kenneth Branaugh
I have a serious problem with Thor for several reasons: 1. Natalie Portman is completely undercast, and she’s too damn good to be playing the damsel in distress. 2. Most of this movie feels (aka is literally) completely fake, and is back story that’s not really related to the universe moving forward other than to say that Loki is an asshole. 3. Six minutes of narrated exposition at the beginning of a movie does not a complete universe make! It took Peter Jackson three movies to build the universe of Middle Earth, and I’m sorry Anthony Hopkins but you just ain’t got that kind of skill.
Seven. Iron Man 2, 2010, dir. Jon Favreau
Mickey Rourke is pretty amazing in most movies, but I just can’t get into Iron Man 2. It lacks character development, seems erratic, and pieces together several stories into a weak arc that serves to fill a year (and seats in the theaters) where we weren’t quite sure what Tony Stark was up to. While it’s incredibly awesome to get both Iron Patriot and Iron Man together kicking ass, and it’s always a pleasure to see Robert Downey Jr. be Robert Downey Jr., there’s just not enough meat to chew on to make this movie worth your time.
Six. Thor: The Dark World, 2013, dir. Alan Taylor
From this point, I need to be clear that while this looks like it lays preference to certain characters rather than certain movies, this is not the case. Admittedly, some of the characters take more work to bring to the screen in an engaging and convincing way, but the real reason that The Dark World is so far down this list is that one God Awful Scene where Chris Hemsworth has his shirt off just so the ladies have some reason to be in the theater. Wait, did my vagina preclude my being interested in a dude’s story because it has dudes in it? To be fair, Loki is the best character in this movie, and it wasn’t until I saw The Dark World that I understood why there’s this gaggle of people who think Tom Hiddleston is the best thing since s̶l̶i̶c̶e̶d̶ ̶b̶r̶e̶a̶d̶ Benedict Cumberbatch. The writing for Loki’s character earns this movie a much higher position on one of the lists below.
Five. Iron Man 3, 2013, dir. Shane Black.
I can’t get enough Shane Black, and I think he does some amazing stuff with the Iron Man 3 story, not the least of which is making Tony Stark more human, more real, more superhuman, and more really awesome. Could anyone else fail to keep from geeking out at the ‘house party’ fight? Could Ben Kingsley have been in a better role? Could Gwenyth Paltrow have been any skinnier? Okay, so maybe there are some areas for improvement, but I find myself generally pleased to watch this movie every time I sit down for it. It’s witty, sharp, and action-packed. Perfect brain candy.
Four. The Avengers, 2012, dir. Joss Whedon
I feel like they more or less timed The Avengers perfectly within the franchise. We knew some characters well, some had been only cameos up to that point, and with a stable basis for most characters, nearly anyone could watch this movie and appreciate how many moving pieces had to come together in order for the story to work successfully. The interplay between this team of actors is great—it’s clear that the chemistry you see on screen comes from a respect for each others’ characters up to that point, and it’s all the more convincing for it. I could have done with a little less collateral damage (why doesn’t anyone fight in corn fields anymore?), but heck, that seems to be what’s selling lately.
Three. Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011, dir. Joe Johnson
I personally find Joe Johnson’s Zack Snyder/comic-book-esque style to be perfect for the Cap. Especially since this movie exists in a past that many people in the audience are knowledgeable about (and must accept the huge historical alterations of), I found that treating this as a straightforward but incredibly beautiful-to-look-at character development story was a really nice choice. Few bells and whistles, a strong as hell breakthrough performance from Chris Evans, and some excellent nods/complimentary roles played by other Hollywood powerhouses make this a solid favorite.
Two. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014, dirs. Anthony & Joe Russo
Why do they even list these guys as the directors? When I see two directors, I think animated Disney movie and check out. But, what you fail to realize until about 20 minutes into this movie is that the guy holding the camera (Trent Opaloch from District 9 and Elysium fame) has a hell of an eye, and you’re going to be in for an incredible ride. Aside from the cinematography, which I am always partial to, the hand-to-hand combat scenes are incredible, and I’d argue that this is one of the best action movies I’ve seen in years. Full stop. No asterisk saying “but it’s a comic book movie so discredit it.” This is One Of The Best Action Movies I’ve Seen In Years. Chris Evans (whose face has aged quite gracefully to wear the weight of the 95-year old Captain quite well) is still on par, it’s cool to see Scarlet Johanssen and Samuel L. Jackson finding their stride in their roles, and the setup (SPOILERS) is pretty solid. I’ll be back for the next one.
One. Iron Man, 2008, dir. Jon Favreau
Okay, okay, I’m totally biased in favor of Tony Stark, I admit it now. But he was the guy who made it all possible: the avenger whose story captivated the nation enough to justify the millions of dollars spent and earned on this franchise. Robert Downey Jr. (re)made himself with this role, the story is flawless, the action is enjoyable, and I could literally just watch this movie on its own and be perfectly satisfied (in fact, I do so whenever I feel bad about being single, because Tony Stark is the perfect one-night boyfriend). Jon Favreau gets the Avengers ship out of the harbor with a steady hand, and that’s a hell of an accomplishment. This movie is, aside from the franchise, a must see.
Best Action - if you just care about carnage (best to worst)
Character Development - if you like feeling things, you weirdo (best to worst)
Directing/Cinematography - if your eyes matter to you at all (best to worst)
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