Good morning readers and welcome back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe Rewatch! In his post about Part 1, Michael Munoz takes us back to 2008 and begins our journey with our neighborhood friendly genius, playboy, billionaire and philanthropist Tony Stark, in Iron Man.
He then introduces us to Norton-Hulk, Thor, Captain America and several other important members of The Avengers. Phase 1 of the MCU served as a staging ground for what would become a more than decade long franchise that has seen our heroes prepare for a day they didn’t realize was coming when they face Thanos in The Avengers: Infinity War.
Phase 2 begins with the 2013 release of Iron Man 3, in which we meet an older, perhaps more jaded Tony Stark. Have things gotten a bit out of control? How much power is too much power. What does this mean for the future of The Avengers?
Please sit back, relax and enjoy Part 2 of:
7. Iron Man 3 (May 3, 2013)
“Iron Man 3 occupies a kind of strange spot in the MCU. It’s sort of a send-off for Tony, but of course he’ll be sticking around for several films after, so the farewell notes fall kind of flat. Still, because the ending is written almost as a goodbye, it’s strange this movie didn’t come at least a little later in the MCU’s timeline. It’s less of a wrap-up for Iron Man than Civil War or likely Infinity War, both of which will feature the hero very prominently.
Like Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3 is jam-packed with a few too many elements to be a really great movie. Killian & AIM emerge as the main baddies late in the game—yeah, that’s right, M.O.D.O.K. AIM! Unfortunately, the organization is not nearly as important to the MCU as it is to the Marvel Comics Universe. And despite Killian being the true villain, we spend most of the movie dealing with the Mandarin—or, as I like to call him, Fandarin (Fake Mandarin). Going with the fakeout was a gutsy move, as Mandarin was probably Iron Man’s only well-known foe from the comics. I personally wasn’t as annoyed with it as many people were, as Sir Ben Kingsley’s comedic moments were actually pretty enjoyable, but I can certainly understand the frustration. Luckily for die-hards, however, a Marvel One-Shot establishes that the real Mandarin is likely out there somewhere in the MCU (no, Killian and his weird fire breath don’t count).
In terms of greater MCU importance, Iron Man 3 doesn’t do much. In fact, it’s kind of puzzling that we see Tony destroy all these suits only to have apparently revamped the entire operation by Age of Ultron. Like I said, this is a weird one. But it does end the Iron Man franchise, so there’s that!
8. Thor: The Dark World (November 8, 2013)
There’s really not a whole lot I can say about Thor: The Dark World. Sure, it introduces another Infinity Stone in the Aether. And, to this movie’s credit, that’s actually handled fairly well. The comics’ Reality Stone has always suffered from a vague powerset. Logically, you would think “power over reality” pretty much covers everything, but it doesn’t really work that way. By avoiding the name “reality stone” and using the Aether as a gateway between the realms, The Dark World takes what would be a tough-to-sell concept and makes it about as believable as an eons-old, semi-sentient magic liquid can be.
On the plot front, The Dark World isn’t as successful. There’s a lot of time spent on the supporting cast, none of whom are super compelling. The villain, Malekith, is probably the blandest MCU baddie this side of Emil Blonsky. And, perhaps most importantly, this is definitely the worst iteration of Thor’s hairdo. For shame!
But hey, we got a really cool end tag with the Collector so it was worth it.
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 4, 2014)
And with Captain America: The Winter Solider, the MCU sequel curse is broken. This movie takes full advantage of the MCU’s long history, dealing heavily with the past (SHIELD, Hydra, Bucky), and how it ultimately plays a huge role in shaping the future of the MCU (SHIELD is Hydra!). In terms of game-changing MCU moments, the Hydra reveal is certainly up there, especially if you watch Agents of SHIELD. For real though, it’s no exaggeration that Winter Soldier saved that show. In fact, four years later, Agents of SHIELD is still dealing with Hydra fallout.
The Hydra reveal also sets up a nice underlying plot thread that will pervade the movies through Civil War, really giving the MCU that sense of connectedness that’s become its hallmark. In fact, the greatest thing about this movie is that it makes so many of the MCU movies that precede it and so many of those that follow it that much better. After watching Winter Soldier, you see SHIELD in a whole new light and their activities in Thor, Iron Man, and The First Avenger don’t seem so innocent anymore. What’s more—and I’ll get into this in a bit—Age of Ultron really only makes sense in light of Winter Soldier.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention Alexander Pierce. He’s a top-notch MCU villain because, kind of like Killmonger, you sort of understand him. The dude genuinely believes Hydra is the key to world peace and, even though he is part of the evilest organization in the MCU, he doesn’t come off as a one-dimensional cartoonish villain.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1, 2014)
If anyone ever argues that you can’t successfully establish a supergroup in just one movie with none of the characters having solo films, just show them Guardians of the Galaxy. On my rewatch, I realized just how well this movie holds up, both as a universe-expanding comic book movie and as a standalone sci-fi/action flick. Even four years later, it feels remarkably fresh, probably because it eschews the grimdark/gritty version of space most modern sci-fi uses in favor of a colorful, zany atmosphere.
James Gunn’s work in Guardians is no small feat. Cosmic Marvel was not traditionally a place for blockbuster heroes—the most well-known “cosmic” heroes in Marvel comics are probably the Fantastic Four whose rights are (were?) tied up with Fox. So Gunn took the Guardians, a B- or C-team by any measure, and made them into the MCU’s cosmic headliners. I think being free from the expectations of all but the most hardcore of Marvel comic fans (Guardians comics did have a good run in the mid-late 2000s) really let this movie become what it is. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, it has fantastic music, and it establishes Marvel cosmic as a zany, out-there scene for later movies to explore.
In the grand scope of the MCU, Guardians obviously does a lot, although, unlike some of the other movies in this list, it isn’t painfully obvious in doing so. The Power Stone of course is the main MacGuffin of the movie, tying the far reaches of space to the Infinity Stone conflict that began to touch Earth in Avengers. We also get our first look at Josh Brolin’s Thanos here and he’s pretty intimidating—even though he doesn’t leave his chair for a second. Also, for you non-SHIELD folk, look for Ronan’s Kree to play a bigger role in the upcoming Captain Marvel movie, which will feature a conflict between the shapeshifting Skrulls and everyone’s favorite blue-skinned tyrants. Or, if you’re a really big Kree fan, watch Agents of SHIELD. I promise this write-up isn’t just an extended ad for the show, readers. Believe me.
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1, 2015)
Age of Ultron is a bridge movie. It tried to be Empire Strikes Back, but ended up being more of a Desolation of Smaug situation (although not nearly as dull!). The movie is fine, but a little too much time is spent making references to past MCU events and teeing up future ones for it to be a truly good movie. Put simply, it doesn’t really stand on its own two feet very well, and that takes away from the enjoyment. Although most viewers now come into MCU movies with plenty of background information, Age of Ultron requires a pretty thorough knowledge of past events to be enjoyable. You’ve got the SHIELD/Hydra thing still playing out, Loki’s scepter from Avengers, some light Wakanda setup, the whole Vision/Mind Stone situation, and that weird Thor cave scene foreshadowing the Thanos conflict. It’s a lot to handle.
That being said, Age of Ultron does give us our first look at the new MCU paradigm post-SHIELD. Tony, feeling responsible for the myriad dangers that have plagued Earth since Iron Man and seeing the power gap since SHIELD’s fall, takes up the mantle of Earth’s protector. And of course, you know what they say about the best laid plans. Age of Ultron is by far the peak of Tony’s hubris; he thinks that he’s the one that should be entrusted with mankind’s survival and is willing to meddle with magic, sentience-imbuing space rocks to do it. Speaking of magic space rocks, one of the coolest parts of this movie is Vision, who brings a much-needed sense of zen objectivism to the often-chaotic Avengers team. Scarlet Witch, a very tortured and complex character in the comics, also gets some screentime, although I expect/hope they’re saving some of her best moments for Phase 4 and beyond. And Quicksilver…well, he’s there too.
The one piece of Age of Ultron I’m most conflicted about, however, is the titular robot. In general, I like James Spader quite a bit. But I think his Ultron may have watched a few too many James Bond films during his pre-birth scouring of the Internet. I mean, the guy quips like Tony Stark (which makes sense—daddy issues), monologues with the best of them, and has a grand plan that literally involves levitating a city and then dropping it. Now, my Bond knowledge isn’t great, but that scheme has Ernst Blofeld written all over it.
12. Ant-Man (July 17, 2015)
With Ant-Man, Marvel enters Phase Dad. Seriously, with the exception of Doctor Strange (and even there a case can kind of be made), the next seven movies all prominently feature father-son relationships, so look out for that. In this movie, there’s a whole slew of father-child relationships: Scott-Cassie, Hank-Hope, and (in a surrogate father way) Hank-Scott.
Ant-Man is a fun movie, even if (and possibly because) it has no major MCU repercussions. It requires little to no previous MCU exposure, although there a few callbacks and references (Howard Stark, Hydra, and that terrific Falcon scene) that tie this movie into the greater cinematic universe in a fun way. It’s also a good standalone heist film and finally gives us a solo hero who’s less about bang-bang action and more about stealth and guile.
That being said, the movie’s villain, Yellowjacket/Darren Cross is pretty one-dimensional and forgettable. He, like many MCU villains before him, is almost cartoonishly evil. In this movie, it’s explained away as a side effect of long-term Pym particle exposure, although Hank isn’t like that, so the explanation comes off as kind of lame. Hope van Dyne is also not portrayed in a terribly flattering light. She spends a lot of the movie being grumpy and jealous and then is shoehorned into a romance with Scott because of Hank/Janet parallels, I guess? I get a feeling the character will be redeemed in a big way in Avengers 4 and/or Ant-Man and the Wasp, so look out for that.
While it might not seem like the most important MCU movie, I think Ant-Man introduced a few very important little nuggets into the cinematic universe. In the comics, Hank Pym’s whole thing is regret for pretty much every event in his life, so I’d bet Pym particles will come up in a more sinister way somewhere down the line in the MCU. Additionally, that Quantum Realm stuff was too ominous-sounding to just be used in one movie. You can expect to see that in Ant-Man and the Wasp, but maybe also before during the war with Thanos as Ant-Man’s big trump card.”
What was your favorite Phase 2 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, Thursday April 26th for part 3 of this special MCU series!
And as always, thanks for reading!