I like starting with the best and ending with the worst, so beholden behold hold, the MCU ranked, starting with;
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Winter Soldier transcends the genre of superheroes and becomes a respected and extraordinarily well made film that can stand alongside the action movies of our time like Skyfall, Mission Impossible, or Die Hard. No longer a novelty or gimmick, it stands on its own two feet and outruns many films made today outside of franchises or CBMs.
The pacing is fantastic, the action is tense, (but not frantic or unintelligible), the script is witty, well constructed, and all tied down with stellar performances from a stellar cast. Robert Redford has the most fun since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Chris Evens hits another role out of the park, (after watching his previous outings in Sunshine and Snowpiercer, I have no doubt he'll continue to do well).
Story wise, I couldn't ask for more. It's smart, fun, and full of heart, a rarity in modern day cinema, the likes of which you wouldn't expect from a Marvel movie.
Not only did The Winter Soldier restore my interest in Marvel films after an extremely lackluster Thor: The Dark World, (we'll touch on that later), it earned my respect as a movie goer by not insulting my intelligence or pandering to the comic readers by becoming filler and easter eggs for the next Avengers movie.
2. Iron Man 3
By the time a franchise has reached unlucky number three, it's pretty much guaranteed to reach new lows. Not with Iron Man 3. This movie takes everything from the predecessors and makes it bigger, and against all odds, better
While some might miss the hard rock songs that seemingly went hand in hand with Tony Stark's attitude in the first two films, I feel that the more "classical" approach to the third is a much needed symbolic approach to Tony's behavior. He's no longer as irresponsible or carefree, he's more mature, and so is the soundtrack.
The story itself is much more personalized than almost any other marvel film, and closely follows Tony as his empire collapses and the things dear to him break away, (we were discussing symmetry, so go watch Iron Man and try and tell me that discussion between Pepper and Tony doesn't come full circle in IM3 :P ). Even in the midst of a bigger picture, the main focus is always on Stark, not convoluted, and the emotional connection pays off in spades by keeping a story about an Iron superhero anything but metallic, and human to the core.
It's also my favorite Christmas movie :P
3. Iron Man
This is it. The movie that started it all. Hm? What's that you say? The Incredible Hulk? Pfffffft, that wasn't REAL... heh.
Robert Downey Jr. had very recently cleaned up his act from a world of drugs and alcohol in 2003, and was working to get back into the lime light, with roles in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Zodiac, and Good Night and Good Luck. Then along came Kevin Fiege and the role of a lifetime. Iron Man.
First off, I've got to touch on two things that stand out to me.
1. Robert Downey Jr. As Stark
This is the definition of perfect casting. RDJ IS Iron Man/Tony Stark. Just like Jack Nicholson was born to be Randal MacMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Downey was born to be Iron Man.
2. My one and only gripe about Iron Man is that it feels so different from the rest of the MCU. In my book that's a great thing, but it feels a little jarring when you go from this to galactic Thor then to the average mess that was Captain America: The First Avenger. I wish the MCU had stayed the course Iron Man set instead of going off into a jokey, overly kiddy, parody of itself, (to be clear, I enjoy the MCU movies, but because of Iron Man my expectations are almost never met. :P )
I immensely appreciated the level of care and passion dedicated to the project by the director and Robert Downey Jr. It's rather small scale, and far from the usual "end of the world" scopes we see in just about every superhero film to date, which is a beath of fresh air during repeated viewings of the MCU. It feels grounded and realistic; Much like the Dark Knight, you feel that stuff like the Iron Man suit could happen tomorrow instead of existing just as exaggerated fantasies, and as a viewer, that does a lot for the viewing experience.
While being one of the more important Iron Man, MCU and superhero movies, I give the edge to Iron Man 3 for second place for doing what the Empire Strikes Back did for a New Hope, though it could switch places on the list depending on my mood. :P
Iron Man is one of the movies I refer to, and will continue to refer to when I give an example of the perfect stand alone and franchise starter film. It continues to entertain and hold up against newer marvel films and superhero filmd, and remains a cemented member of enduring pop culture.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
The definition of pure entertainment. It's got an amazing soundtrack, it's funny, soulful, visually unique, and, did I mention the soundtrack?
Technically I don't count this as being in the "superhero" or CBM genre. This is ensemble space opera, and it's one of the most charming and awesome films in the medium.
GOTG doesn't care if you don't like space or aliens, or Pina Coladas, it's its own thing, and it's proud to be, it doesn't ask you to adore it. And if you can't accept that, then you and your friends are a bunch of A-.... a bunch of... "Mmm child things are gon get brightaaa... now bring it douwn hard!"
10/10 Written by Peter Quill
5. Iron Man 2
CA:TWS, IM3, IM, and GOTG are what I like to call the fabulous four, (or... whatever). They're the films I'll always stand by and always love. Perfect 10/10's. After those though, the rest of the movies in the MCU take quite a dive for me, and while fun to watch, lack the brains and heart underneath that made those four great.
Iron Man 2 is where this becomes a little obvious. While not the worst or the best, I tend to favor this one out of the others for a few reasons. It's got RDJ as Iron Man, and that alone increases the watchability. The writing is fairly decent and the action well shot. All the actors have fun, the most evident being Sam Rockwell chewing the scenery as Hammer, a weapons dealer.
True, there are some interesting points touched on, Tony's alcoholism and problems with the ark reactor, Ivan Vanko's motivations, etc, but it fails to capture the charm of the original or following entry, and suffers from a very weak third act. Still enjoyable if you can get past the flaws.
I give this one a lot of slack for being so ambitious and not being a terrible disaster like most movies of this scale do. Battlefield Earth anyone?
It's a bit above average, script and camera work being a little meh but still showing off some passion and interesting cinematography. The acting, (especially by British Actors Idris Elba and Tom Hiddlestone), is the highlight of the movie, and without the charisma of Chris Hemsworth as the main character, Thor, the movie would have been little more than a better version of a made for TV movie from the Sci Fi channel.
It's solid enough to appreciate for a unique popcorn flick, and manages to have some fun in the way of entertainment. And it's not too silly at all for a story about a viking with golden hair and an immobile hammer who's banished to earth and falls in love with Natalie Portman.
7. Avengers: Age of Ultron
I like this movie because of Ultron, that farm scene, and Quicksilver. That's about it. While the premise sounded amazing, the overall product was sloppy, poorly written, and too ambitious for its own good. I've only had the chance to see this movie once, and might change my mind on further viewings, but as of now it stands here.
Entertaining, but too long and shallow to keep my attention or deserve it.
8. The Avengers
Greatest superhero movie of all time they say. *coughnopecough*
I'll say this. The Avengers isn't for everbody. This is one of the films that I feel was made for comic book fans, not movie fans, and it succeeds very well at reaching that audience. You can pick this film apart or worship it, and it's fine by me whatever you choose, though I look and only see superheroes on a flying ship for 2 hours and generic aliens. Could have been much more utilized and fulfilling of potential IMO, but that's not to say it isn't an important landmark in CBM history and pop culture. I'll watch it, but I'm not the biggest fan.
9. Ant Man
Further thinking about this movie has led me to believe it wasn't as good as I thought. There are two things I loved and that's about it. Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, and the smaller, more Iron Man-esque approach to scale. Everything else was meh, and the villain, though one could argue he acts that way because he's crazy, comes across as extremely hammy and annoying. I've got to give credit to the visuals though, it looked incredible and the action was wound surprisingly tight. I can see the direction the movie wanted to go, and I hope Phase 3 of the MCU continues to grow in that direction, but with less hiccups.
And I'll never eat at Baskin Robins agai-*gagged and dragged away*
10. Captain America: The First Avenger
Tommy Lee Jones' disgruntled face pretty much describes the way I felt watching this movie, and Hugo Weaving's over the top, melodramatic, (and highly entertaining), mannerisms describes the way I acted afterwards.
There was so much potential, and I tried liking it, but alas I could not endure. The pacing is jumbled, the lines poor and almost poorly delivered, and the style of filming looks like a poor man's version of Zack Snyder's 300, but with much less yelling and vibrancy.
The movie feels much too small for the scale it tries to be, and ends up coming across as campy, stale, and uncertain of if it's a period piece, stylistic comic book adaptation, superhero origin, or war drama. Watchable, but not exactly likeable.
11. Thor: The Dark World
With the exception of Hemsworth and Hiddlestone, this literally IS a made for TV sci fi channel movie. The action is filled with plot holes, the acting is bland, the writing is like what would happen if Walt Disney took acid, (again), and then wrote 500 knock knock jokes for a Mickey Mouse cartoon. All the characters are severely underpowered to the point where you'd think they're acrobats and strong men and women from circuses, not gods, a major jarring for the viewer. It's nonsensical, CGI driven, and silly.
12. The Incredible Hulk
THE MOVIE THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED!
Let's just say it's better than Ang Lee's Hulk, but for some reason I'm missing Nick Nolte. Ed Norton tries, but can't save this abomination. Heh, heh, see what I did there? (Derp)