Good day friends and welcome to the first ever movie related post on The Codex: Online. This special three part series not only promises to serve as a fun walk down memory lane, but it comes just in time for the release of the latest movie in the MCU “The Avengers: Infinity Wars.”
The walk through will comprise of a new post on Tuesday, another on Wednesday and the last on Thursday. Each article will feature 6 of the 18 movies in the MCU, in the order in which they were originally released and then rewatched. Please enjoy this exciting count down to the release of The Avengers: Infinity Wars, set to release Friday April 27th, 2018.
Not only are you witnessing blogging history before your very eyes, but you are doing so to the beat of a very talented writer, long time Marvel fan and the first guest contributor (and hopefully future contributor) to The Codex: Online! Please give a warm welcome to Michael Munoz!
Now, without further adieu: It is my extreme pleasure to present to you Phase I of the Marvel Cinematic Rewatch.
“There was an idea—called the March to Infinity Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Rewatch. The idea was to spend 40 or so hours in the month of March watching a group of remarkable (and some not-so-remarkable) films, see if, when viewed back-to-back, they became something more. See if they withstood the test of time. To prepare for Avengers: Infinity War.
Forced Nick Fury references aside, I recently made it my goal to watch all 18 MCU movies before the premiere of Infinity War. Many of these movies I had only seen once, and with a decade-long story coming to an end (of sorts) soon, I thought I would revisit the individual movies in release order and see what I could glean. So hold on and enjoy this write-up, which, by the time I’m done, should be about the length of six of those Chitauri space whale things.
1. Iron Man (May 2, 2008)
The one that started it all. This was easily the Phase I movie I was most looking forward to, and I’m happy to report that a rewatch actually made me appreciate it more. I recently found out that Tom Cruise almost played Iron Man and, man, thank God we dodged that bullet. Robert Downey Jr. (hereinafter reverentially referred to as RDJ) was a huge gamble, but boy did he pay off. It’s no exaggeration to say that the MCU would not be what it is without RDJ. His quick wit has become a staple of the Marvel films and makes them more than just blockbuster action films. Also mad props to Jon Favreau for taking a chance on a little-known superhero and borderline forgotten actor to establish one of the greatest film franchises of all time.
More important, though, was how this film laid the groundwork for Tony Stark as a character. Perhaps more than any of the other heroes (Cap comes close), Iron Man has been consistently characterized and has really developed over both his individual movies and the team films. In this debut film, we get glimpses of the guilt-ridden weapons inventor who hides his concerns behind a veneer of humor and referential sarcasm. Early on in Iron Man, Tony sees the harm Stark Enterprises has caused in the world and makes efforts to remedy it. As it turns out, this desire to undo his (and, to a large degree, his father’s) past mistakes will remain the driving force behind everything Tony does, with Tony facing his greatest fear in Avengers: Age of Ultron (more on that later) and again in Captain America: Civil War.
A few other things stood out to me on the rewatch. Obadiah Stane, the antagonist played by the great Jeff Bridges, is kind of underutilized. We’re told he’s like a father figure to Tony, but we don’t see that relationship beyond a backhanded remark here and an angry phone call there. I wish we had gotten more of this, as Bridges can play stone-cold in a way that would’ve contrasted well with RDJ’s portrayal of Tony. But alas, the Ironmonger would be the first in a line of many underwhelming and underutilized Marvel villains.
2. The Incredible Hulk (June 13, 2008)
The Incredible Hulk: the forgotten, possibly-adopted half-brother of the MCU. Distributed by Universal and starring a dude who is no longer the Hulk, this movie occupies a strange space in the continuity.
I may lose some cred here, but I actually don’t think I had seen this movie in its entirety before my rewatch. Yeah, I knew Liv Tyler was in it and maybe I had seen the scene where Norton-Hulk fights a bunch of tanks, but that was the extent of my experience with this movie. After sitting through it, I see I wasn’t missing much. This is easily the weakest MCU entry, and I think there are a few contributing factors.
First, this movie suffers from reboot syndrome. Because it was preceded five years earlier by Eric Bana’s Hulk, The Incredible Hulk only gives us the most abbreviated version of Bruce Banner’s origin story. In fact, we only get the whole gamma experiment in a weird, blurred flashback played behind the opening credits. By the time the movie begins, Bruce is already on the run and we are sort of just supposed to care about him and his relationship with Betty. The fact that there’s no meaningful buildup of this relationship, it comes off as sort of empty.
Also, for some reason The Incredible Hulk seems older than Iron Man. It’s still very much closer to early 2000s generic action flick family than the bright, fun MCU. The film’s priorities seem to be in the chases-and-explosions department at the expense of any real character development.
Finally, and maybe this is a hot take, it would take some serious skill to make a compelling standalone Hulk film. After all, the character is half nonverbal rage monster and half brooding loner. Additionally, beyond Red Hulk, his rogues’ gallery has few superstars. In my opinion, Hulk works best in a team, where he is forced to play nice with others and Bruce Banner has a chance to display his neuroses in front of a crowd.
I will say, though, there’s some material from this movie that could’ve been mined for later use. Yeah, I know Blonsky gets some shout-outs in Agents of SHIELD and Thunderbolt Ross shows up in Civil War. But think about what else we could have had! Doc Samson played by Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell?) The Leader played by Kimmy Schmidt’s dad? What a strange MCU we could have had!
3. Iron Man 2 (May 7, 2010)
A friend of mine recently told me “I like Iron Man, but I don’t like the Iron Man movies.” I think that statement accurately captures a lot of folks’ attitudes toward the Iron Man sequels.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Iron Man 2. There’s a lot to like—Don Cheadle replacing Terrence Howard brought a lot more life to Rhodey, Sam Rockwell was a scene-stealer, and Pepper’s rise as more than just Tony’s assistance was well-deserved. Iron Man 2 also manages to recreate that fun, flashy attitude from the first film in a way that doesn’t seem like a straight retread. Put simply, this movie could have just been about Tony & his supporting cast and I probably would have enjoyed it just as much, if not more, than I did.
Iron Man 2 has a compelling concept at its core: Tony’s recurring daddy issues and his battle with the siren song of celebrity. That’s good stuff! And on top of that, you have Tony facing off with the US government and his dark (but still hugely entertaining) counterpart in Justin Hammer. All of these are the ingredients for a great movie.
But when Mickey Rourke walks in with his laser whips, you’re kind of left scratching your head. And here’s my problem with this movie: all these great plot points kind of get sidelined because of one of the most unnecessary MCU villains in Whiplash. He’s the son of some as-yet unmentioned former Stark collaborator? And he’s mad because his dad didn’t get credit for his work, although the story we’re told later in the movie makes it seem justified? And unfortunately, Whiplash eats up a lot of screen time. He drags down the Hammer story line and makes it more about petty revenge and bang-bang action than Tony facing a mirror image of what he could’ve been had he not gone through his transformative experience in Afghanistan.
With regard to this movie’s place in the grand scheme of things, there are a few items to note. First—and I had actually forgotten this until my rewatch—this is Black Widow’s debut! Even though she is a secondary or even tertiary character, Natasha is shown to be extremely competent and offers the first big tie into the world of SHIELD (Iron Man post credits scene notwithstanding). Watching the dynamic between her, Fury, and the Son of Coul is a bit of a preview of things to come in Avengers and really sets up a major piece of the MCU landscape. And of course, SHIELD begins to really feel like a presence in this movie and it’ll play a big role in the rest of Phases 1-2. Also, and this is minor, but is it just me or does JARVIS have a better sense of humor as a disembodied voice than he eventually does as Vision?
4. Thor (May 6, 2011)
Thor, the MCU’s first off-world jaunt, really opens up the universe to the kind of world-ending threats that will characterize the Avengers films and the MCU’s other cosmic entries. For that reason alone, it’s worth a rewatch. That and it’s a pretty fun movie.
For anyone considering watching this, I’d invite you to keep Shakespeare in the back of your mind as you watch. This movie was directed by Kenneth Branagh, Shakespeare aficionado and former Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. And the Shakespeare influences show, from the main character’s growth from spoiled man-child to responsible hero to the complicated family dynamic between Thor, paragon of good, and that lovable scamp Loki, who (gasp!) turns out to be adopted. Admittedly, Brannagh’s style is a big leap from the style used by Taika Waititi in Thor: Ragnarok, but that’s sort of fun. Also, be on the lookout for Chris Hemsworth’s extremely blonde, somewhat distracting dyed eyebrows in this one. Once you notice them, you won’t be able to unsee them.
OK, so content. Thor is pretty much an insufferable meathead for the first half of the movie, but that’s the point. It’s a story that’s been told hundreds of times before, although this iteration has Marvel’s spin and a good dose of humor to help it chug along. Watching Thor in the context of the rest of the Thor movies, it’s really interesting to watch his focus shift from Asgard-oriented to more broadly oriented toward preservation of the Nine Realms. Even if that involves (Ragnarok spoilers!) blowing up Asgard. Loki, of course, is another big player who emerges from the Thor films. He’s really interesting whenever he appears, although his characterization is kind of inconsistent (more on that in my Avengers write-up).
In terms of other minor threads to watch for coming out of Thor, I wanted to point out a few things. As expected, we again get SHIELD, although this time we have them sort of X-Files-ing their way into a cosmic realm. In terms of universe impacts, Thor is huge—it’s MCU Earth’s first well-known encounter with crazy powerful otherworldly threats. These threats will motivate much of what SHIELD does over the next several films as they begin to worry that they are severely outgunned. If you’re in the mood for some extracurricular viewing, Agents of SHIELD on ABC really delves into Asgardian influences and weaponry in its first few seasons.
Finally, unlike the marketing team for Infinity War, I believe in acknowledging Hawkeye. Don’t forget to look out for him when Thor first attempts to get Mjolnir from the crater. It’s a very small moment (the first of many) for him, but it’s a nice bit of world-building. And Jeremy Renner seems to ham it up a bit with the little screen time he gets here, probably acknowledging the inherent silliness of a guy with a bow trying to take down an alien with god-like powers. But hey, that’s kind of SHIELD’s whole deal, so it’s not completely ridiculous.
5. Captain America: The First Avenger (July 19, 2011)
And now we turn back time to learn the origins of the Star-Spangled Avenger, Captain America. This is another MCU film that I had definitely only seen once before my rewatch, so I was coming into it with little to no recollection. I had assumed I had forgotten it because it was mediocre, but boy was I wrong! The First Avenger, probably more than any of the films so far, really becomes more meaningful once you’ve seen the films that follow. It’s also a pretty solid war film independent of its comic book connections and is the first real “genre” film in the MCU lineup.
First off—and this is important to note for reasons that become obvious in Winter Soldier—The First Avenger is just as much a SHIELD origin story as it is a Captain America origin story. The SSR, led by Agent Peggy Carter and Howard Stark, is a key player in the war against Hydra and will evolve into humanity’s great protector by the early 21st century. The SHIELD-Hydra rivalry is born here, and revisiting this movie before Winter Soldier really makes that movie resonate a lot more—if there’s one MCU trilogy that should be watched all together, it’s Cap’s. Our early glimpse at the SSR also allows us to see Howard Stark through eyes other than Tony’s, which is really a treat. The similarities are glaringly obvious and the Cap-Howard dynamic is a fun preview of the relationship between Cap and Tony that will be an undercurrent of Avengers and especially Civil War. Also, Howard gets the MCU’s first mention of vibranium when he gives Cap his shield!
By the way, can we talk about Peggy Carter? She is the first (sorry, Pepper) MCU leading lady to really equal her superhero counterpart. So much so, in fact, that she got her own series (which I admittedly have only seen some of—shame on me!) Peggy is a powerful force in Cap’s life, both pre- and post-Capsicle. Here we see her at her best, and Haley Atwell’s performance is a real treat.
Speaking of real treats, I can’t praise Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull enough. Weaving fully leans into the absurd, uber-evil that Skull represents and provides a great foil to the almost unrealistically good Captain America. It’s a shame he got Tesseract’d so early in the MCU, as Red Skull screams for use as a recurring villain. Who knows, maybe he’s out chilling in space waiting for his next chance to strike. It wouldn’t be the craziest thing.
I’d like to close by talking about the Tesseract. Who knew that, in 2011, we’d be getting a look at an Infinity Stone in the first piece of a plot line that would take YEARS to fully pay off? Marvel played it pretty smart with this one, rooting the origins of the Tesseract in Norse mythology so as to set-up the Thor tie-in, which would, as we will later see, tie into the true origins of the Infinity Stones as cosmos-forming essences. To be sure, they play a little fast and loose with the Space Stone’s powers—super weapons powered by…uh…space energy, I guess? But still, the Stone’s powers are refined in Avengers to the point where it makes sense, so I can’t complain too much.
6. Avengers (May 4, 2012)
This is it, folks! The culmination (or so we thought!) of a bold endeavor to create a shared universe spanning several films featuring a huge cast of A-list stars. Avengers is, above all, a really fun film. It’s got huge, epic moments like the circle shot and the long pan of the team fighting Chitauri above and around New York. It’s chock-full of that token Joss Whedon dialogue and wit (the other side of that coin being the well-publicized tendency of Whedon to implement heartbreaking plot twists). And, of course, it’s got a whole lotta Samuel L. babysitting some unruly superheroes.
Much more so than the big Marvel films that follow it, Avengers tries to simply wrap up plot lines from the heroes’ individual films and tell a self-contained story with no major cliffhangers, outside references, or teases (end credits scene notwithstanding) left dangling. For that, it’s probably one of the better MCU films to watch in isolation. In just over 2 hours, the movie aptly sets up the individual heroes—including a revamped, much more complex Bruce Banner—builds a team, and has them unite to defeat a big threat. There’s none of the clear setup that plagues Age of Ultron and no need for an encyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel Universe to enjoy it.
That being said, there are of course important character relationships set up in this movie. I feel like I keep mentioning the Cap-Tony dynamic, but I’ll say it again—it’s big, and it begins here. While the rest of the Avengers put aside their differences pretty effectively early in this movie, Steve and Tony remain a little uneasy with one another throughout. Also, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Banner-Romanov romance wasn’t spun from whole cloth in Age of Ultron. While not nearly as overt here, we see glimpses of it, specifically when Nat recruits Banner in India and aboard the helicarrier. And, despite all the hate people give it, the relationship kind of makes sense. Bruce literally is a monster sometimes and Nat feels like a monster based on her past. In fact, personality-wise, they may be the most similar Avengers, so it’s only logical that they would confide in one another and end up developing a relationship a few years down the line.”
What was your favorite Phase 1 Marvel movie? Are you excited for The Avengers: Infinity Wars? Leave us a comment below and tell us all about it!
Make sure to check back in tomorrow, Wednesday April 25th and Thursday April 26th for phases two and three of this special MCU series!
And as always, thanks for reading!
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