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Fun with Franchises EXTRA: The Marvel Universe – Ranking the Heroes

All right. So over the last ten weeks, we went over all the Marvel films. (Not counting Age of Ultron, since that’s too new. So all as of 2014.) We watched them, we made fun of them, we did our usual thing. And now, since this is a formidable universe, we’re gonna rank them. Like we did with Bond, and like we did with Disney.

I’m not doing this because I consider them on par with either of those two, but because it’s Marvel, and apparently that’s like web traffic gold. So, while we work in a Fun with Franchises break to allow us to get ready for the next set of franchises, I’m gonna throw up some of this bullshit, because I’m not opposed to whoring myself out for small periods of time. Look, it was either this, or nothing gets posted. I don’t have a problem with turning tricks on Hollywood Boulevard, but you don’t get to see that for free.

Today we’re gonna rank all the heroes in the films.

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20. Fandral

Colin:

Is this guy worth remembering? They changed the actor between movies and nobody noticed. I really don’t know why this guy was in the movies, except maybe to give us someone to look even whiter than Thor. He’s useless, forgettable, and only really turns up in bad movies. How does this guy stand a chance?

Mike:

I openly hated this guy and his stupid moustache in the first movie. And then they wisely recast him, and he went from outright disdain to, “Oh, yeah, that guy’s still here.” Completely useless in all of these movies. They didn’t even have the decency to write him out of a movie like they did the next guy on the list.

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19. Hogun

Colin:

I don’t hate Hogun, he’s just so inconsequential, he can’t go any higher. I mean, in Thor 2, they literally put him in the beginning of the movie only to remove him from the rest of it. Because I live in Japan, I’ll always appreciate the way he behaved in Thor, which was pretty solidly Japanese. He was the only one who wasn’t giving Loki crap when he was on the throne, instead looking around and being careful not to get stabbed. But unfortunately, he’s not really in the movies enough to matter.

Mike:

He just does nothing. He’s there, looks around a bunch, is pensive, and then that’s it. Occasionally they cut to him during fights. He’s so inconsequential they wrote him out of the second movie. He just goes back to Space Asia and chills for an entire movie. Honestly the only reason he’s not #20 is because I didn’t openly hate on him.

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18. Agent Hill

Colin:

Was she in movies? I mean, she was, but was she? Because Cobie Smulders is all over the promo stuff and all over the red carpet with all the A-listers, but she’s barely in the movies anywhere. We met her in The Avengers, right? No sooner? This is how bad it is, that I have to think about whether or not she was even in Iron Man 2. And in Avengers, she really just shoots guns a few times and wears a tight uniform.

I have no idea why this character even exists, or why Marvel thought we’d care about her. I have nothing against Cobie Smulders at all — she seems great with what little they give her, but…what the hell kind of character is this? Can’t you satisfy your gender quota more effectively than this?

She does show up in Avengers, not sooner. And no, she doesn’t really serve a purpose, but she’s around enough to know that she’s there. I was thinking about possibly putting her higher, but then I realized — what does she do? In Avengers, she does nothing. They actually have to work in moments of her walking around just to make it look like she’s doing stuff. And then Winter Soldier, she gets to show up in the van and knock out some guys, and then have one moment where she backs up in her chair and shoots a guy. Not really enough to consider her any higher than this. Maybe they’ll develop her more in the future, but until now, she does pretty much nothing except look like Cobie Smulders, which… there are worse things this character could be doing.

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17. Falcon

Colin:

I like Anthony Mackie. I really do. Why did this character have to be who he was? Why did he have to be the SECOND black sidekick from the military? Why did he have to randomly already sort of be a super hero before we even met him? Those wings are absurd, as is his part in The Winter Soldier.

If he was really used well, he’d have been the guy who really helped Steve Rogers to focus during the movie, when Steve became slightly confused or discouraged about how SHIELD was proceeding. He’s a veteran who shares the same values — his place in helping Steve is supposed to be psychological, or moral in its nature. He has no place putting on rocket wings.

Had he been the vet who helps Steve see things in perspective, he’d be the perfect replacement for Bucky, which would work thematically as Captain America tries to deal with that old friend as an enemy. But no, he puts on wings and helps to shoot guys on helicarriers. Mmkay, Marvel.

I’m cool with Mackie being here, but giving him the wings so soon was really just a wasted opportunity. Introduce the wings at the end of the movie, and I’m way more interested in his character. I honestly want to put him lower than this, because I just dislike how they set up this character and utilized this character, but I honestly can’t put him any lower than this. Plus, he does manage to shoot and fight some guys, so he does prove to be somewhat useful. Still, though — he’d have been way better served as a character, like Colin said, as a friend to Steve who can then transition into a superhero later.

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16. Volstagg

Colin:

He eats things. He’s sort of the Dave Bautista of the Thor movies, but really, I only appreciate him for when he’s around as the Marvel version of Titus Pullo, the character from the series Rome, also played by Ray Stevenson. He just wants to drink and eat and sleep with random women, but he’s loyal and a badass fighter. That’s all he’s here to be.

Space Gimli. He likes cheese and throws glasses on the floor. Honestly, the two negatives to him are not enough screen time and character development and honestly too much similarity to Gimli. You honestly don’t know anything about him as a character except that he’s Space Gimli.

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15. Hawkeye

Colin:

Can we believe this guy’s an Avenger? He does nothing. He watches Thor on Earth and doesn’t fight him, which was a bizarre non-use of a character. Then in the next movie, he’s mind controlled and does nothing major until he gets bonked on the head and has twelve percent of a moment with Natasha.

I really can’t understand why this character is a thing and why he makes it into movies when he’s nowhere near the other Avengers in terms of image, skill or appeal. There’s a reason he hasn’t had his own movie. The sad part is that I really like Renner in like everything I see him in. 

I will say — if we’re doing this list post-Age of Ultron… he probably goes a little higher. Not much higher, but a little. If you think about the sample size we have of him until now — he shows up to stand around and do nothing in Thor, and then is a bad guy for half of Avengers. Sure, in the second half, he gets to hit a lot of things with unnaturally perfect accuracy, but at that point, we don’t feel for the character, so it’s not awesome in any way. I take solace in the fact that Renner openly shit on how he was used in that movie. But seriously, what is he as a hero except a dude with great aim who occasionally gets one-liners?

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14. Sif

Colin:

They didn’t really develop her in the first movie, huh? They only really got to it in the beginning of the second movie, that Thor should really be banging her instead of Natalie Portman. And even after they got to that, she’s only in the movie for a short while before she puts herself out of it, so…the only reason that she ranks any higher than Hawkeye is that she’s hot. 

That is true. She doesn’t get much to do in the first movie, though you can totally read into how much she wants to bang Thor. The second movie is where she gets more. And I do like, in theory, the idea that she’s a female warrior in a male-driven society, has held her own, and also openly jokes around with Thor and clearly wants to fuck him. I like that dynamic. And she’s good looking. That does help. I’d have tried to put her higher if she had more to do. But she hasn’t so far.

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13. War Machine

Colin:

I like Don Cheadle. I’m really glad this wasn’t Terrence Howard as War Machine (the Iron Patriot?). But he really only kicks ass in the second movie. In the third movie, he’s Rhodey, not War Machine, or even the Iron Patriot. I rank him here because in Iron Man 2, he provides some good character work in contrast to Stark’s Iron Man.

I know that’s generous, but he takes the suit to start, proceeds to load it up with more weapons, and makes Tony look out-gunned. The ending is proof that it’s not just a metal suit with weapons that can fly — it’s the guy inside that really matters, and that’s why he’s the sidekick, even if he does have a minigun shoulder dick.

I don’t really love how they’ve used this character. But I can’t rank him any lower, since he does have usefulness within the plot. The Terrence Howard version was used as a good comic foil to Tony, and that worked. And then Cheadle was used as a dramatic foil to Tony, and that worked too. Then he became War Machine and really didn’t get to do much. At least in the second movie. And then in the third movie… also, not much. But the interplay between him and Stark is good, and he has shown an ability to hold his own in battle and not be a total fuck up, so that’s good. I’m excited to see how they use him going forward.

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12. Gamora

Colin:

Man, was she boring. I mean, she’s a main hero in this franchise, and she was still boring as shit. It really goes to show how bad Marvel is at making women characters. I think her boringness is the inverse of Quill’s appeal. She has to be against him all the time, and since they made him funny, she has to be the straight man. Woman.

Anyway, she’s mostly scowling for the whole movie, becomes inexplicably helpless at times for plot reasons, and has a weird thing about hating her adopted father that doesn’t really give her the type of clear motivation we’d like. The weakest link in the Guardians chain.

She’s a hot green space assassin who is responsible for murdering hundreds of people. That’s pretty cool. Plus she holds her own in situations that she should not make it out of, and straddles the line between having worked for villains, having a villain for a father, and also aligning herself with the heroes. She unfortunately has to play straight man a lot to the rest of the group, which is a shame, but I’ve got a feeling they’re gonna find better ways to use her in the future.

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11. Heimdall

Colin:

Who knew we’d all love Idris Elba in color contacts so much? He’s barely even a hero, but he’s totally boss, which is why he has to go here. Like, what little he’s in these movies is pretty much all good. He throws shade, assists in treason and then takes full responsibility every time. I think he warrants a spot here just for the time he jumped off the bridge to stab an invisible spaceship with a sword. 

He was the one I wasn’t sure how much to count as a hero, but he does take down that entire cloaked ship, and does help thwart assassination attempts, so a case could be made. I can’t put him top ten though, because his job is actually to not be a part of the major plot, most of the time. But he is a guy who can see everything in the universe, which is cool. And he’s the only guy in the franchise who is openly breaks the law and comes out ahead despite turning himself in. He also hulked out of being frozen. Which is cool.

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10. Hulk

Colin:

Cracked the top 10, did you? I can’t imagine too many people are going to be happy about this, but the Hulk is a pretty shitty hero. We’re not talking about Banner — Hulk is the hero, and he stinks. Probably literally. But don’t get me started on him in his own movie. Darkness, dumb villains, whatever fights. He’s nothing good. Then for MOST of The Avengers, he’s just something for other characters to deal with.

The only moments people liked were, “Hulk. Smash,” which wasn’t even his line, him destroying Loki with the ‘puny god’ line and him catching Stark. Three moments that constitute an inordinate amount of love for a character who can only be said to have depth because you were wearing 3D glasses in the theater. And yet, still not the worst Avenger. Oh well.

I like Hulk as an idea, but it’s the way they used him that feels underutilized. He really doesn’t do a whole lot in his own movie. And then in Avengers, he gets funny moments, and moments designed to be badass, but that’s pretty much it. He’s good for action sequences, but you can’t love him purely for that. He just gets mad and smashes things. He, as a hero, doesn’t get character development. Banner gets the character development. Which is why putting him that high on a list is pretty weak.

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9. Thor

Colin:

Man has his moments. Mostly, I like when he smashed the coffee cup. It’s sad, but that’s still his highlight for me. I think it should really tell you something that this character being around is a liability for the franchise. Like, you see him zapping shit coming out of the portal in New York, and think, “Damn. Do that like two more times and we’re GOOD.” But they know that’d be too easy, so they send him around to other places to hit things with his hammer.

It’s too bad that so much of his dialogue has to be with boring people and that he’s gotten so much more serious as the franchise continues, because Thor’s at his best when he’s taunting enemies, or calling humans ‘petty.’ Anyway, you really can’t rank him higher than this because he’s predictable and compares poorly with his brother for amusement.

The best decision they made with this character was making him unaware of Earth customs. Outside of that, he really doesn’t have a whole lot going for him. (Though he does get good moments in Age of Ultron, I will give them that. I feel like he might have come out of that movie the best of any character.) His problem, though, outside of his own movies, is that he’s too strong. They actually have to write him out of the Avengers movies because he can end all the threats immediately with some lightning. And then, his own movies aren’t great, so he’s left with shitty threats and very little to distinguish himself.

Though, honestly, the character of Thor is so campy in the actual comics, having him this high is a big step forward for him.

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8. Rocket Raccoon

Colin:

He made Chris Pratt steal a prosthetic leg. That should be all I need to say to justify his place here. I guess he’s funny, but not crazy funny. Like going in, I thought he was going to be the obvious comic relief. I was wrong. He’s good, but he’s middle of the pack for the Guardians.

He’s a criminal raccoon that steals things and is really good at breaking out of prison. It’s also amusing, like Colin said, about him doing the leg and eye things for fun. But really, what I like most, is that he gets character development. The scene where he’s drunk and has a really emotional moment. Thor doesn’t get those moments. Banner doesn’t get those moments. So I like that they were willing to allow us to feel empathy for this character on top of how entertaining he is.

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7. Nicky Fury

Colin:

I feel like this is us reaching a bit and trying to convince ourselves that he really DID say ‘motherfucker’ all those times we feel like he totally did. But he didn’t. Usually, Sam Jackson would be way higher, but he’s here because he only really shot people and said things. Which, now that I’m thinking about it, is what Sam Jackson should do in EVERY movie.

But they mess him up by using him for universe building and by making him totally cool with the evil stuff going on around him. Like, he was totally cool with the helicarriers and everything until he found out someone might try to use them. Not super sure about that.

He’s a flawed character, but they don’t really play with the flaws until Winter Soldier and at that point, not for very long. His whole lack of trustworthiness is inconsequential in The Avengers. His only contributions to that movie are saying the words “stupid ass decision” and shooting an RPG at a plane taking off. 

This is totally a Samuel L. Jackson ranking. But honestly, he shows up in most of these movies. Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, Avengers, Winter Soldier. They don’t get into his complexities until the last two. Before that, he pretty much gets to be Samuel L. Jackson in an eyepatch. But he does get entertaining moments. “I’ve got my eye on you.” And that entire car chase in Winter Soldier. I think we’re being generous where we put him, but he wouldn’t have dropped much lower than that anyway. I like the idea of this character, and wish they gave us more of him. He would do well with his own movie. Because it can be lo-fi. It can be a straight mystery plot with practical action sequences and no crazy special effects. You can do lower budget Marvel movies that further characters in between the spectacles. I’m surprised they haven’t tried doing that yet.

Also… we are still all alone on the Motherfucker Train.

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6. Groot

Colin:

I get the Groot hype. He’s a sweetheart. That’s what it is. He’s the only member of the Guardians who is a hundred percent innocent. What’s he ever done to anyone? Sure, he put a sack over Chris Pratt’s head, but he thought Pratt was a criminal, and he was right. No, Groot’s only ever nice to people, and his final sacrifice was touching. I really didn’t expect a character with three — technically four — words total in the film to grab me the way he did, but Groot’s another case of restraint producing something great. And I did enjoy baby Groot dancing to the Jackson Five. 

It’s impossible to not love Groot. He’s enjoyable, he has a bunch of great moments built into that movie, and you feel for him. Put it this way — they made you love a tree. That’s not easy to do. There’s something great about the innocent giant, capable of murder, but also simple enough to eat his own flower acne.

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5. Star-Lord

Colin:

I really only want him at number five, because you want to call him a top five, but BARELY. His introduction is brilliant, yes. As a kid, he gets our sympathy, and as an adult, he makes us laugh by being a total jackass (like his father?). I wasn’t completely taken by his motives, and I’m not sure I understand the split with Yondu in the beginning, but none of that matters too much when you have him making black light jokes and forgetting the name of the woman he just slept with.

I think he could have been better if he was more focused because they seemed to be playing around with a few different tropes at once. He’s the thief with a heart of gold who sleeps with many women (Jack Sparrow? Han Solo?) but also has mommy issues as an orphan and wants to help people but will murder people…I don’t know.

I was getting major Kirk vibes at the end as he gets ready to take a new spaceship out and Zoe Saldana tells him they’re ready to go. Like, shouldn’t that be plagiarism? He even has the same first name and last initial as Chris Pine. The face and delivery as he said, “Bit of both!” was Kirk all over. So yeah, I like him, but I don’t know exactly who he’s supposed to be and how he isn’t an amalgam of a lot of other heroes.

I think he’s so high for me because he’s the outlaw archetype. This is the closest we have nowadays to actual cowboy. He’s willing to double cross people, be ambivalent in the eyes of the law, likes to drink and screw random women. What more can you ask for? Him turning into a self-sacrificing hero isn’t the best, but that’s what Marvel does to even the best of them. And, like Colin said — they set him up well. They make you connect with him emotionally, then give him the sense of fun, then turn him into an outlaw — by that point, you’re completely on his side for all of it. And deep down, he’s still just a kid looking for where he belongs. Which is nice. Curious to see where they take him in the second Guardians, and if that’s gonna be a plus or a minus for him.

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4. Black Widow

Colin:

What an underused character. I want her to be doing interrogations and shit, but they mostly just have her fight. That one scene between her and Renner after he gets brought back had some actual dialogue and interesting shots going. Or what about when she’s interrogating Loki? Or when she’s talking to Steve Rogers in the car?

She can be fun, and she has great deliveries, but I feel like Marvel wastes her with stupid action scenes and dialogue that gets cut short. We have to put her at four because there’s not enough to warrant a top three, even though she totally has that potential in my eyes. And she’s hot, so there’s that.

I never thought of her as being that high, but honestly, she is. She’s one of the few characters who has shown an ability to handle her shit. She also adapts to whatever the situation is. Iron Man, she gets to be the hot assistant who can also murder people. (She HANGS A GUY in that hallway.) And then in Avengers, she gets the nice introduction with the Russian general guy, and then has the nice moment with Loki where she gets the information out of him. And then in Winter Soldier, she gets to be both playful and a boss. She tears through rooms full of guys and destroys them all. And then will stop and tell Steve he should fuck the chick in accounting. I need more concrete character development from her before I can consider her any higher. (And not the bullshit I got in Age of Ultron.)

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3. Drax the Destroyer

Colin:

Was that his name? I’m sorry, I still consider him to be just Dave Bautista. He was a huge surprise for me, watching that movie for the first time. You’re expecting a muscle-bound moron, and you sort of get one, but for the first time, they added something to it. His speech and his inability to understand metaphors makes for simple enjoyment. I feel like he spoke the way we often do on the blog. “My creature won, as I win at all things! Let us put more of this liquid into our bodies!”

He’s genuinely sad about losing his family, but he acts the fool and almost dies, which is why he has to join the team and eventually finds friendship. The man has a proper arc and is funny at every point along the way. I can’t not place him up here as a result, and I would gladly watch a movie with him in it again. Not necessarily as the main character. I don’t think we need a Drax movie. But movies do need a Drax.

This character has it all. First off, he’s a killing machine. That much is assumed and accepted before we even meet him. Then he’s got a backstory we can understand and connect with — his family was killed by the villain and he wants revenge. Gladiator, dozens of movies. And then, he’s just fun as shit. He doesn’t understand metaphors, is completely literal, and has the ability to be the perfect punchline to any scene. “I saved Quill.” “We just established that wasn’t saving me.” “I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening.” That’s funny. Bautista came off the best of anyone in this movie. And I’m really excited to see what they do with Drax from here on out.

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2. Captain America

Colin:

He’s an interesting character, just because of the age. I’m not going to say that his movies are perfect, but they’re pretty decent as Marvel goes because they’re basically war/espionage movies with him at the center. Granted, I’ve always felt that they took a wrong turn in The Avengers by not really making him the guy who feels dejected or demoralized at how things have gone wrong in the years he was frozen. They had a chance to make it about more than just how to fight or who to trust — he could have provided commentary on the rest of American society and offered up an alternative that reminded us of what made the Greatest Generation so great.

I have issues with him because they aren’t consistent with his character. He starts out trying to be smart about things and never sacrificing when you don’t have to, with the flagpole, but then he’s all about self-sacrifice when it doesn’t seem necessary. If they’d have been a bit more careful or given us some wider significance than just punching and shooting people, we might have had a character to rival our best without even having to drink.

The two characters with the best emotional set ups in this franchise are Steve Rogers and Peter Quill. They’re the two whose motivations you completely understand. Rogers is a scrawny kid who just wants to prove that he can contribute and stand up to the bigger kids. They actually spend the first act of his movie developing his character. Which pays dividends over the rest of them. And then there’s the whole romance with Peggy, which is nice. And then the Matter of Life and Death ending, which is a good end to the character in that movie, even though I still don’t understand the whole martyr thing he has. And then they have to bring him forward 70 years in order to have him interact with everyone else. Which adds a wrinkle to the character.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t get too much more development in the second movie. Mostly it’s him adapting in a story way, and not a character way. You know what I mean? He has to adapt to SHIELD’s method of doing things, which is not how he does things. We don’t see him adapting to being home, and having been taken away from Peggy and all his friends and from his era, really. He’s a man out of time. And we don’t really see that. But still, of all the characters — he has a backstory, he gets development, he gets great moments of action, and most importantly, he tally hos off of everything. Which is just great.

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1. Iron Man

Colin:

C’mon, buddy. Who’d you expect, REALLY?

And we’re just talking about the hero and not Stark here. Iron Man is still the best. He built this entire franchise, and is responsible for all of this. He’s the only one who keeps growing and changing as a hero throughout all the films. There’s no way he’s not number one.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tomorrow, the villains.

(See the rest of the Fun with Franchises articles here.)

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