Splitting the Marvel Cinematic Universe into Tiers

I rarely write about comic book movies, for a few reasons: 1. I think they're pretty self-explanatory and most conversations amount to either wouldn't THIS be cool?, or screw you, let's fight!; 2. I'm an old-before-my-years purist who prefers comics; and 3. I'm not as passionate about these movies as most other people tend to be, so I usually just sit back and let strong feelings have the room.

But Infinity War is HUGE. It's part one of what feels like a major shift for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (part two being Avengers 4), and so I'm using it as an excuse for a rare post about the MCU, wherein I organize this mosaic of stories into tiers.  Unless otherwise noted, these tiers have less to do with quality than with content. Also, I generally enjoy all comic adaptations, which feel to me like nice bonus supplements for my favorite print stories. 

Enough preambling, let's do this!

Next Generation Tier

I know I said the tiers weren't about quality, but this first one is. Sorry. These are my three favorite Marvel movies, and I've grouped them in a tier because they feel like the future of the MCU, a future in which a talented director (or directors) is given a movie and trusted to execute a vision.

This is especially true of Taika Waititi's Thor Ragnarok and Ryan Coogler's Black Panther. It's almost like Kevin Feige saw and loved What We Do in the Shadows and Creed, respectively, and invited the filmmakers to come do that in his universe. And they did. Civil War gets a nod because directors Joe and Anthony Russo juggle so many characters without losing control, much like they did as directors on Dan Harmon's all-time great TV sitcom, Community. 

Risky Tier

It's weird to think, but these movies all took risks that evolved the MCU. Guardians of the Galaxy didn't have mega-popular characters (or actors back then, not counting voices). In fact, there were comic fans who were only vaguely familiar with the team. But Marvel executed well and fans came. Winter Solider incorporated darker complex themes, even dismantling SHIELD. Again, fans came. But it was Spider-Man: Homecoming that was probably the most risky and consequential, proving properties adapted elsewhere could be re-done for the MCU. It ignored the origin, added modern touches, threw in an RDJ cameo, and glazed over that nasty business about Uncle Ben with jokes. And fans loved it. (I'm mixed, myself).

Watch-While-Altered Tier

I've never been one for drug culture, although I used to tip a few brews when I was younger (another story), but I couldn't help but think how impressive/funny they'd have been if I had done some chemical altering before watching these movies...Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 because of the colors, Ant-Man because haha look how small he is, and Doctor Strange because obviously.

Origin Tier

I should note Iron Man is my favorite of these. I remember walking out of the theater thinking, WHAT was that? It just felt so real. But I think Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and Avengers are all solid at getting the job done in terms of introducing heroes and building a shared world. 

Skippable Tier

Listen, I know every one of these movies means a lot to someone, that's just how fandom works, and I'm not looking to criticize or attack. What I am saying with this tier is that if you were re-watching all of Marvel's movies, these are the four you could skip and probably still understand what's happening in the rest.

I should note, though, that if you do skip these, you should still watch the party scene in Age of Ultron, and also Google "Who are Vision and Scarlet Witch?" 

That's it for me. Enjoy Infinity War everyone. Depending on what I think about the movie, I may review it for you all here next week. 

Zack Quaintance is a career journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at@zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.