[Note: this post includes NO spoilers from Avengers: Endgame]
Avengers: Endgame isn’t the end of Phase Three in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (that distinction belongs to Spider-Man: Far From Home), but it’s the possible end of the line for Chris Evans, who sounds like he’s done playing Captain America, and maybe Robert Downey, Jr. RDJ has been there since the beginning, so for that reason, Endgame does feel like the end of… something. Most of us — critics excepted — won’t know what that “something” is until we see the movie, either last night/today if we’re lucky, or sometime in the next four months when Endgame is still playing in third-run theaters. But! There is an activity everyone can take part in right now. Arguing about which of the original Avengers — (presented in alphabetical order) Black Widow, Captain America, Hawkeye, The Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor — is the best Avenger.
This is a spoiler-free zone, and a Guardians of the Galaxy/Doctor Strange/Black Panther/Captain Marvel/War Machine/Wong/Spider-Man-free zone as well. I’m sticking to the OG heroes, the ones who joined forces in 2012’s The Avengers. Feel free to assemble your hate and tell me why I’m wrong in the comments. But, c’mon, we all have the same sixth-place “super” “hero.”
Hawkeye gets a bad rap. SNL made fun of him, he has a goofy weapon, and when you Google “worst avenger,” a page-one result is, “Who is the worst Avenger and why is it Hawkeye?” The world is so anti-Hawkeye that I want to defend him — and will, but only comic book Hawkeye. Movie Hawkeye is the guy in the office who gets along with all his co-workers, but no one would notice if he took a two-week vacation. “You were gone?” Jeremy Renner struggled with finding an “in” for the character. “In the first Avengers, I was just getting to know who Hawkeye was, and then zap, I go round like a zombie, I’m like Loki’s minion, and I’m still not even sure who Hawkeye was,” he said. “I’m a little frustrated because I was so excited to figure out who Hawkeye was.” Renner even faked having heart attacks so producers could easily kill him.
But the real reason Hawkeye ranks last is that he’s the only OG Avenger to not appear in all four Avenger movies (the Hawkeye family stuff is good, though).
5. Black Widow
Marvel’s official website describes Black Widow as a “super spy” with a “checkered past” who’s also a “deadly assassin” and skilled at karate, judo, kung fu, wrestling, gymnastics, acrobatics, and ballet. That sounds like an interesting character! But Black Widow hasn’t really stood out in her recent MCU movies (her finest moments were in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers). Why is that? Black Widow works best in more-grounded storylines; she’s recognizably human and, therefore, suffers slightly in an ensemble with an angry green giant, an actual god, and a man out of [checks notes] iron. Like I’ve always said, magic sword > guns. That’s why I’m excited for the Black Widow solo movie, which is hopefully more Winter Soldier spy-thriller than “we have to stop the evil artificial intelligence from destroying all humans.” It’s about time we got the Elizabeth Jennings cinematic experience, sponsored by Marvel.
4. The Hulk
The Hulk is the hardest of the six Avengers to rank. He’s underdeveloped in The Incredible Hulk, a punch line/stuck in a bad romance in The Avengers/Avengers: Age of Ultron, and sympathetic in Thor: Ragnarok. Hulk, as a character, is frustratingly inconsistent, but when he’s good and Ruffalo is working with a director who understands that he’s playing a flesh-and-blood person trapped in a monster’s shell (this is also a Taika Waititi appreciation post), he has the potential for greatness. Not that I don’t love a Hulk Smash.
Oh yeah, that’s the good stuff. Hulk is the only Avenger who might rise or fall after Endgame. The others are locked in place.
3. Iron Man
So far, I’ve referred to every character by their superhero alter-egos. They’re the Hulk, Hawkeye, and Black Widow, not Bruce Banner, Clint Barton, and Natasha Romanova. That’s because the personas are more interesting than who they actually are. The opposite is true of Tony Stark. Iron Man is the title, but Tony Stark (and the actor who portrays him, Robert Downey, Jr.) is the reason Iron Man was a hit, launching the MCU in the process. He’s the anti-Batman in that sense: the Bruce Wayne scenes kill time before the Dark Knight shows up, whereas Tony is more engaging when he’s out of the suit. Which is nuts when you think about it, considering he’s a billionaire playboy. So relatable! And yet, he resonates because he’s flawed and often seems tired in fights, which, same. He’s also smoothly transitioned into an emeritus role, guiding young Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Iron Man/Tony Stark has never been my favorite (his quips always come across as smug rather than endearing; also, Gwyneth Paltrow), but it’s hard to imagine the MCU without him.
2. Captain America
Captain America should be a total snore, a patriotic dip who calls the cops if he smells even the faintest hint of marijuana (which he, of course, calls “the weed”). But Chris Evans has done a terrific job of adding levity to the character. He’s the guy who says rah-rah things like, “You get hurt, hurt ’em back. You get killed, walk it off,” but to eye-roll at Cap is to love Cap, beard or no beard. He’d be the easiest Avenger to hang out with, assuming he has time to grab a (light) beer after his three-hour workout. I’ve always thought of Captain America as the Paul McCartney of the Avengers. He’s the team leader (RDJ has said as much), someone who’s a little old-fashioned and corny but also big-hearted and well-meaning. It’s not “cool” to like Captain America, but Paul McCartney wasn’t the cool Beatle, either, and he wrote “Hey Jude.” That song rules. So does Cap.
Is Thor number-one because of this and this alone?
No. But also yes. Thor has gone through some growing pains — Thor: The Dark World (which isn’t the worst Marvel movie (Iron Man 2 is) but it’s not great, either), the weird cave scene in Ultron, etc. — but Thor: Ragnarok was a game changer. The fish out of water stuff in the original Thor was amusing, but Chris Hemsworth wasn’t allowed to show off his comedic skills until Taika Waititi joined that MCU. Ragnarok is a funny comedy that also happens to be a superhero movie. That’s not an easy balance to pull off and he’s, honestly, the only Avenger who’s tried it. Besides one-liners like “There’s nothing wrong with women, of course, I like women,” though, Thor is number-one because, 1) he’s the sole Avenger from another world, and yet he’s still willing to risk it all for dumb Earthlings, 2) he has the coolest weapon(s), and 3) he’s surprisingly complex. Thor is “at times hilarious and at times tragic,” as co-director Joe Russo put it; if he leans too far towards the comedic beats or the inherent stoicism of being a LITERAL GOD, the character becomes one-dimensional. It’s Thor’s ability to do both that has him at the top of the ranking.
Also, he has the best SUPERHERO MOMENT in a movie full of them.
That scene owns so hard.