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Best To Worst: Every Marvel Movie Ranked

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist April 3, 2014 at 4:00PM

Even by the ambitious standards of Marvel, 2014 is going to be a big year. They've got this weekend’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (review here) and hopeful franchise-starter “Guardians of the Galaxy,” while rival studios have the forthcoming “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (at Fox) and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (at Sony). No matter who is bringing them to the screen, Marvel has become a blockbuster brand, underscored by “The Avengers” scoring the third-highest-grossing-film of all time.
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Elektra

30. “Elektra” (2005)
You’d have thought that the odds of “Elektra” ever getting made were slim; not only did no one really give a shit about “Daredevil,” in which Jennifer Garner’s character first appeared, but she died at the end of it. But historically, such things have never been obstacles to poor studio decision-making, and so we ended up with this 2005 spin-off, in which Elektra is resurrected by ninja master Terence Stamp for some reason, goes on to become a contract killer, and then swiftly finds a conscience after being asked to kill hansome Goran Visnjic and his OCD-suffering daughter. It’s a plot you’ve seen a dozen times before, this time with a smattering of superpowers (highlight/lowlight: a guy who can turn his wolf tattoo into an actual wolf), and is pretty much uninvolving from the first frame to the last. Garner can be a gifted comic actress in the right role, but she’s completely adrift here, and the rest of the no-name cast can’t even match her uncomfortable level of engagement with the material. In theory, a superhero-ish martial arts film (the action cribs from then-recent wushu hits like “Hero” in places) could have been fun, but director Rob Bowman, whose “Reign Of Fire” was so guiltily entertaining a few years earlier, pretty much half-asses this throughout. When the nicest thing you can say about something is that it probably didn’t cost that much, you might be in trouble. [D-]

Punisher Thomas Jane

29. “The Punisher” (2004)
The best thing you can say about 2004’s reboot of “The Punisher,” in comparison to its predecessor is that it’s well-cast. Thomas "I Just Want My Kids Back" Jane is reasonably charismatic and handles the action well, John Travolta chews scenery (even if it’s a reprise of the villains he’d played better in other movies), and reliable character actor types like Ben Foster and Will Patton pop up, alongside a slumming-it Roy Scheider. And there’s a moderately crunchy satisfaction to some of the action, though little of it is well-handled. But otherwise, it’s something of a washout. Writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh (behind “Die Hard With A Vengeance” and “Armageddon,” among others) wanted the film to be a throwback to '70s-style no-nonsense action films, but even those had a little more going on upstairs: so much of the dialogue might as well be replaced by “bla bla bla revenge bla bla” with no real weight or emotion to it, and there’s little invention to the way the combat’s staged. More than anything, it’s just unrelentingly and upsettingly dour, not as unpretentious and unapologetic as its successor, and pretty boring to watch as a result. It could have been worse, sure, but it certainly could have been better. [D]

Fantastic Four 1994

28. “The Fantastic Four: The Movie” (1994)
Look, no one around is going to tell you that the 1994 edition of “The Fantastic Four” is a good movie. That’s what happens when you make a film on a dime in order to hang on to the rights to the character: producer Bernd Eichinger had picked up the rights to one of Marvel’s most beloved properties, but had to put something into production before the end of 1992, and he teamed with B-movie legend Roger Corman to get something done in only three months. The finished product (never officially released, but available on YouTube) is unbelievably cheaply made, probably written in less time than it would take to read, badly acted by an uncharismatic cast, and generally pretty mockable (indeed, it inspired one of the best gags in the fourth season of “Arrested Development”). But for all its “Power Rangers” production value and inadvertently funny dialogue, there’s something charming about it that elevates it above some of its more expensive and self-aware competition. You sense that, despite the craven intentions of its producers (which worked — Eichinger produced the two big-budget “Fantastic Four” films before his death in 2011), it’s been made with a certain level of love, if not necessarily competence. [D]

Daredevil, affleck

27. “Daredevil” (2003)
Blind attorney-turned-crimefighter Matt Murdoch, aka Daredevil, has always been one of Marvel’s very best characters, enabling a certain level of grittiness and heft without necessarily losing his sense of fun, so when the superhero movie was revived in the early '00s, it was natural that he’d be one of the first to arrive. It’s a shame that it was in this form, though. Writer/director Mark Steven Johnson was something of an unknown quantity, but had reportedly won over 20th Century Fox through sheer passion, so in advance, there was every reason to think it could be something fun, especially with a likable cast: Ben Affleck as the lead, Jennifer Garner as his love interest, Michael Clarke Duncan and Colin Farrell as the villains, and ringers like Joe Pantoliano and Jon Favreau in support. But Johnson’s script is superhero-by-numbers, and the execution is worse: there’s something thoroughly naff about the look and feel of the action, aiming for Frank Miller stylization, but not really committing to it. Some will tell you that the Director’s Cut is superior, but it doesn’t add much except a subplot involving Coolio. Fingers crossed the upcoming Drew Goddard-penned Netflix series gets it right. [C-]

The Amazing Spider-Man Emma Stone Andrew Garfield

26. “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012)
Rebooted only five years after the last Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire film (a fourth installment of that series, with John Malkovich and Anne Hathaway as villains got close to production before it was canned), Peter Parker swung back onto screens in 2012 with a new youth-friendly take, spiked with added "darkness" inspired by Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” films, courtesy of “Zodiac” writer James Vanderbilt and “(500) Days Of Summer” director Marc Webb. Webb did some things right: the casting is pretty much bang on, with Andrew Garfield making an excellent Parker and Spidey, Emma Stone a spunky Gwen Stacy, and the pair sharing plenty of chemistry together. Indeed, when it’s just the two of them hanging out (or scenes with Aunt May and Uncle Ben, nicely played by Sally Field and Martin Sheen), the film displays promise of matching or even topping the Raimi pictures. The trouble is everything else: the story (hacked up heavily in the cutting room, with entire sub-plots or characters left dangling) is nonsensical and unsatisfying, the villain (Rhys Ifans) weakly motivated and underdrawn, and the action pretty poor. If the imminent sequel were just Garfield and Stone in a rom-com, we’d be delighted, but we’re a lot warier of the villain overload promised by the bajillion trailers. [C-]

Blade Trinity Reynolds Posey

25. “Blade: Trinity” (2004)
David Goyer, the man arguably involved with more modern-era superhero movies than anyone bar Stan Lee, finally gets to direct one, and the result pretty much sunk the franchise that Goyer had helped to create. The script feels like Goyer neglected it in favor of preparing to direct, with a silly story involving Dracula (Dominic Purcell) that doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from its predecessors. But that would suggest that the film’s well-directed, and here, the action is choppy and unsatisfying throughout. Then again, given that star Wesley Snipes was apparently perma-stoned, trying to fire and/or kill the helmer, and only on set for his close-ups, it’s something of a feat that Goyer got it made at all. And there is some fun to be had here thanks to the supporting cast, most notably a scenery-chewing Parker Posey and an entertainingly smarmy Ryan Reynolds, who gets some of the best insults we can remember in modern times. If nothing else, the film added “cock-juggling thundercunt” to the lexicon... [C-]

Thor: The Dark World

24. “Thor: The Dark World” (2013)
At this point, it feels a little like “Thor” is the runt of the Marvel Studios litter, not least because the character’s second solo outing is the weakest film since the company started making their own movies. What worked about the first film —the strong performances by Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, the unexpected humor — is generally retained, and there are a few moments of spark, most notably an inventive, world-hopping final action sequence. But the much-mooted hiring of “Game Of Thrones” director Alan Taylor doesn’t do all that much to bring specificity to Thor’s homeworld of Interchangeable Fantasy Land, wastes the now Academy Award-winning Natalie Portman (and most of the other returning-by-contractual-obligation co-stars like Idris Elba and Anthony Hopkins), fails to find much good reason to bring back Hiddleston’s Loki (although he is responsible for some the rare moments when the film feels engaging), and generally has a messy, messy script. Worst of all is villain Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who doesn’t have anything resembling a personality, or even all that much screen time. [C]

Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance Nicolas Cage

23. “Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance” (2012)
Speaking of things that were made in haste in order to hang on to rights: “Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance.” The original film was, like we said above, irredeemably terrible, but appeared to perform just well enough that it was worth Sony continuing on, with “Batman Begins” writer David S. Goyer hired to pen a script. It took nearly five years to get it together, but, just before the rights were set to revert to Marvel, they went into production, with “Crank” madmen Neveldine and Taylor at the helm. And the result is something... very slightly better. The script remains as dumb as anything, and some of the casting is questionable (someone called Johnny Whitworth plays the second-tier villain, and is terrible), but Neveldine and Taylor have the right approach to material as ridiculous as this, which is to fully acknowledge that it’s silly, and get on with having fun (which is how the Rider ends up pissing flames at one point). They bring real energy to the action sequences (which also benefit from improved effects), while the only direction they seem to have given their actors is "bigger," which in this case, feels appropriate: Cage actually seems to be having fun this time. As a story, it’s eminently and entirely disposable, but there’s a lot more to like here. [C]

This article is related to: Features, Feature, Marvel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier , Iron Man, The Avengers


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