Happy Premier day, readers! Welcome back to the special three part Marvel Cinematic Universe Rewatch series. If you are just joining us, be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the series before you see The Avengers: Infinity War. You don’t want to be the only person in the theater who hasn’t read through the posts, after all.
Before we begin, here is a note from the author:
“To anyone who read all this, thank you for indulging my ramblings. Watching these eighteen movies in rapid succession was a labor of love and something I am not likely to repeat—that is, until Avengers 7: Doom. The MCU is a truly unique franchise and it’s astounding that it’s been able to produce 18 movies that feel different enough to keep drawing audiences. The ramp-up in quality post-Ultron is a good sign for the franchise’s longevity and if/when the rumored Marvel/Fox deal goes through, I don’t doubt they’ll be able to keep making these movies for the next twenty years. If that happens, look out for another of these write-ups in 2028.”
And now, on to Part 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Rewatch Series!
13. Captain America: Civil War (May 6, 2016)
Hooray! It’s finally time for Avengers 2! Wait, you say Age of Ultron was the Avengers sequel? Huh, funny that.
Joking aside, Civil War is a darn good Avengers sequel. And on top of that, it actually manages to be a pretty solid Captain America sequel as well. Some have argued—and I tend to agree—that Civil War represents the end of Phase 2 even better than Age of Ultron does.
In this movie, we get introduced to the fresh faces that, I assume, will carry the Avengers’ torch after some of the veterans retire or (more likely) meet their ends at the ends of the big purple guy in the chair. Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Ant-Man are brought into the fold here, as is the now-mostly-healed Bucky. It’s not hard to picture these four, along with new Avengers Scarlet Witch, Vision, and Falcon headlining the Avengers squad post-Thanos. There’s just this sense of transition in Civil War that Age of Ultron lacked, making this the real spiritual successor to the Avengers’ 2012 debut.
On the Cap side of things, we get quite a few interesting developments. Agent Peggy Carter dies, posthumously giving Cap’s famous “No you move” line from the comics and, in a way, egging on the conflict between Tony and Steve. This movie also sees Steve’s “man out of time” storyline really come to a head, as he has to help his old best friend (it works on multiple levels) escape the wrath of his new best friend. This adds a complex personal dynamic to the superhero civil war that the comic event lacked until pretty late in the story. And it checks off our daddy issue requirement with Tony’s discoveries about Howard Stark, Bucky, and SHIELD.
Speaking of the superhero civil war, I’m of the opinion that Civil War actually gives us a better civil war story than the comics (SPOILER ALERT for the original Civil War comic event for the rest of this paragraph). In the comics the whole Superhuman Registration Act is motivated by the New Warriors, the B-est of B-teams, accidentally blowing up a school full of kids while fighting some baddies for their superhero reality show. What follows is a pretty one-sided (at least for readers) conflict between pro- and anti-registration heroes. I say one-sided because the pro-registration camp in the comics (again led by Stark) is pretty flagrantly painted as the “wrong” side: they build a murderous Thor android who kills Goliath in cold blood, put a bunch of heroes in an interdimensional prison in the Negative Zone, hunt down a bunch of kid heroes, and team up with the likes of Venom and Taskmaster to corral the resisters. With that resume, you can’t help but root for Cap and his ragtag group of vigilantes, who spend most of their time just fighting crime. (END SPOILERS).
In the MCU’s Civil War, meanwhile, you can sympathize with the pro-registration camp. New York was almost leveled by aliens fighting superhumans. Sokovia killed tons of people. SHIELD, Earth’s superhero-adjacent protector, turned out to be evil the whole time. You’ve got a former Hydra affiliate running around with chaos magic. The Hulk is…well, the Hulk. With all of these events happening in such rapid succession, regulating superheroes makes some sense. The merits of the anti-registration side are evident as well: How can you trust some multigovernmental agency after SHIELD, the ultimate “good guy” group, was compromised? And isn’t the whole point of superheroes to have someone not beholden to potentially oppressive powers? These questions, all of which have been built up over the course of several films, make Civil War superior to its inspiration (which was still pretty good!). That and that crazy fun airport battle, of course.
14. Doctor Strange (November 4, 2016)
Doctor Strange is another of those MCU movies that I didn’t initially enjoy a whole lot but grew to like on my second viewing. Like Guardians before it, this movie opens up some major new doors—and potential recurring plot points—in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The psychedelic visuals cue us in early on that things are different when it comes to the soon-to-be Sorcerer Supreme. Those visuals and the movie’s willingness to delve into the truly strange (pun intended) are the highlight. We get bombarded with crazy mystic lingo and names (did you catch the reference to the Staff of the Living Tribunal? How about the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth?), which again firmly plant us in uncharted territory.
Strange’s supporting cast is also pretty strong. While Tilda Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One caused some controversy, she does a fine job in the role and is the source of this film’s mentor issues when her darker side is revealed. Wong is great as well and certainly much more than the goofy man-servant he originally was in the comics. We can expect him to be important given how prominently he’s featured in the Infinity War promo materials.
And while Kaecelius isn’t anything to write home about, Doctor Strange does some neat set up on two other villains. The big bad, Dormammu, rears his ugly head for what I hope is not the last time late in the movie. But what most viewers should be excited for is Karl Mordo’s villainous turn in the last moments of the movie. Given how sympathetic he is (Chiwetel Ejiofor is pure gold), I bet he’ll be a Killmonger-tier villain once Doctor Strange 2 rolls around.
Finally, the movie subverts the typical superhero battle trope with a scene where the main villain is defeated not with brute strength, but with perseverance and wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey stuff. The Dormammu-Strange faceoff plays out almost like a Greek myth, an unexpected and truly different approach for a final super showdown. It also gives us a look at just how powerful the Time Stone is, which should make us all very, very worried should Thanos get his hands on it.
15. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5, 2017)
This one will be short (whew) because I don’t really have a lot to say about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It’s a fine movie, even though it tries too hard to replicate the magic of the first at times. The fatherhood theme is super prevalent here, with the big bad being Peter Quill’s biological father and one of the breakout characters being his adoptive father. And, despite the movie’s flaws, you’ve got to hand it to James Gunn again for not holding back and adapting Ego the Living Planet, a super weird, somewhat obscure comics character, into a blockbuster villain.
The Yondu plot line is especially touching in this movie and really gives depth to a character who was kind of just this prickly blue dude in the original. Another breakout—coincidentally, also a bit prickly and blue—is Nebula. Her issues with Gamora are resolved a little too quickly for my taste, but this movie drops quite a few hints that she’ll be important in the quest to defeat Thanos. Without venturing into Infinity Gauntlet spoilers, I’ll remind comics-readers how Nebula factors into that story and ask them to keep in mind her repeated references to how much she hates Thanos. Hating Thanos is pretty much her drive in life, so look for her to be very, very driven to take him out in Infinity War.
Also, I really don’t know how to lead into this, but the Adam Warlock mid-credits scene is a big question mark in the future of the MCU. James Gunn has claimed Warlock won’t play a role in Infinity War, but given his part in Infinity Gauntlet, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Adam Warlock could show up sooner rather than later—after all, I don’t think Gunn has said anything about Warlock not showing up in Avengers 4…
16. Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7, 2017)
Remember all those Spider-Man cartoons you watched as a kid and those Spider-Man video games? You know, the ones where Spidey was a wise-cracking goofball who seemed only mildly capable of holding his life together? Well, that Spider-Man has finally made it to the big screen and it’s marvelous (no pun intended that time). Spider-Man: Homecoming captures Peter’s youth in a fun, realistic way; the whole movie has a very “young” feel that immediately makes viewers feel Peter’s sense of wonder with the new super world he’s become a part of. And by keeping the story on the street level, it stays true to the webslinger’s origins as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Homecoming is a near-perfect Spidey origin story. Vulture is a small enough villain that it’s low stakes, but the late-game identity reveal makes him compelling. Keaton’s Vulture is much more than a goofy old guy in a bird suit—a birdman, if you will. Like the best cinematic villains, Toomes is sympathetic. He’s a guy who feels wronged and stepped on by the big guy and is trying to eke out a place for himself in a world where the extraordinary has become ordinary. And, in true Spider-Man fashion, Peter doesn’t take the guy out in the end, instead opting to web him up and leave him for the authorities. Of course, this may have some negative consequences if/when Mac Gargan (Scorpion and later a very violent Venom) learns Peter’s identity from his new co-prisoner Toomes.
Pre-release, people were worried that Spider-Man would focus too much on Tony Stark. However, while Tony is an important, father-like presence, he doesn’t dominate the movie in any way. Seeing Iron Man, the first MCU hero, interact with the franchise’s newest hero sets up the inevitable torch-passing that is likely to occur post-Avengers 4. It’s also nice that the movie highlights how much of himself Tony sees in Peter and how he seeks to avoid both the mistakes of his own father and his mistakes with the Avengers when dealing with the kid. Homecoming Tony, while still superficially sarcastic and light-hearted, is actually pretty deep, providing the nice touch of gravitas that every superhero needs.
17. Thor: Ragnarok (November 3, 2017)
Who would’ve thought that the key to making a great Thor movie was 100% commitment to 1980s cheesiness? Taika Waititi, that’s who. The previous Thor films really played down the comedy in favor of a high fantasy feel—with mixed results. Taking a page out of the Guardians playbook, Ragnarok opts for more of an AC/DC meets Back to the Future aesthetic, and it pays off big time.
Ragnarok is a fun movie that benefits from not taking the whole Norse mythology thing too seriously. In fact, it actively avoids the mythos for a good chunk of the movie, instead spending time with a charmingly goofy Thor and his weird alien buddies on a hyper-colorful gladiator junk planet. And, to top the trope subversion off, the movie ends with the literal destruction of Asgard, solidifying the Thor franchise’s new commitment to funky cosmic vibes over stuffy, pseudo-Norse pomp.
Speaking of gladiators, Hulk finally gets some material in this movie! Sticking Hulk in a Thor movie (again, who would’ve thought?) actually pays off and lets viewers get a more intimate look at both Banner and the green guy’s personalities. Hulk and Thor have had a funny little relationship since Avengers, so seeing them rely on each other and actually become good friends is nice and will hopefully pay off in Infinity War and Avengers 4.
While Loki’s role in Ragnarok isn’t super pivotal, his plot line is wrapped up in a way that makes us feel for the God of Mischief. Yet again, Thor forgives him for his transgressions and they pal around like Loki totally didn’t thrice try to invade Earth or usurp the throne in the last 5 years. Weird brotherly forgiveness notwithstanding, it’s satisfying to see him and Thor finally have a sit-down with papa Odin (fatherhood theme alert!), who expresses his love for them before dropping the secret sister bomb.
On that topic, Cate Blanchett hams it up as Hela (sometimes a little too much) and she seems to be one of the strongest—if not the strongest—MCU villains to date. Speculation is high in these days leading up to Infinity War and many have wondered whether the Goddess of Death will replace Death in Thanos’ story. I feel like the Russos will likely just drop that element of Thanos’ story altogether, although I certainly wouldn’t complain if they decided to have Hela be the object of Thanos’ affection.
Again, I’ll end on a standalone statement, but man was that Doctor Strange cameo cool. It played like a scene straight from the comics, where some important hero just pops into another hero’s story for a second. Such is the beauty of the MCU.
18. Black Panther (February 16, 2018)
Last one—and it’s a good one. Aside from being a culturally important and topical movie, Black Panther is crucial to the future of the MCU, as (minor spoilers) we know that almost all of Infinity War’s final act will take place in Wakanda. The secretive African nation is a character unto itself, and over just two hours, it’s established as something wholly different than anything the MCU has seen. That’s actually a pretty impressive feat. Over the course of the movie, we learn a good deal about Wakanda’s history, its rival factions, its technology, and its relationship to the outside world. This is arguably more than Asgard got in three whole films!
In Black Panther, Marvel finally delivers on the villain-as-foil approach. Killonger and T’Challa are two sides of a coin and the best thing about their relationship is that each has a lot to learn from the other. The movie is primarily about T’Challa coming to see some of what Killmonger sees, albeit with an eye for peace and sharing rather than war. And, in keeping with Phase 3’s tradition, both of these guys are trying to make their dads proud, although T’Challa ultimately has to come to terms with the reality that his dad was a deeply flawed ruler.
The supporting cast in Black Panther is probably the MCU’s best. Shuri, Okoye, and Nakia are all super impressive, strong female characters. While W’Kabi and M’Baku don’t get a whole lot of screen time, even they aren’t one-note (and M’Baku is surprisingly hilarious). Overall, this fun cast helps give Wakanda a sense of life and helps to establish it as a real, existing place in the MCU very quickly. Look to see a lot more of them, especially now that Wakanda has opened itself to the world with T’Challa addressing the UN, mirroring his father’s last act from Civil War.
Finally, I am a firm believer in the Heart-Shaped Herb or whatever powers it (vibranium meteor core?) being the Soul Stone. I mean, it’s either that or Thanos will just start Infinity War having it, right?
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Michael and I would like to extend a thank you to everyone who has joined us for this project. I know that Michael had a blast traveling back through the MCU in preparation for the movie, as well as with writing these posts. For my part, I’ve had a wonderful time sharing his adventure with all of you.
Thanks for reading!