In anticipation for the release of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), I will be recapping each of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies that precede it. While I would love to write a full length recap of each and every one of these movies, given my own self-proclaimed expertise on the subject matter,there are almost twenty movies to go through with barely a month left before Infinity War‘s release, and I’m only human. Instead, I will be providing a trilogy of recaps of Marvel’s cinematic “Phases”. The phases go as follows:
Iron Man (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The Avengers (2012)
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Doctor Strange (2016)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Black Panther (2018)
Yeah, a lot of movies, a lot of content. So I’ll get right into it. Below are my recaps of Marvel’s PHASE ONE films – enjoy and be sure to come back for recaps of PHASE TWO & THREE.
Iron Man‘s legacy will be how it completely changed blockbusters and franchising in not only the superhero genre but in Hollywood filmmaking as a whole. Robert Downey Jr. has the greatest comeback since John Travolta in Pulp Fiction (1994), but other than that the movie is fairly vanilla. It is great that the origin of Iron Man is just the origin of his suit, really adds meaning to it as opposed to a jumpsuit he puts on for the heck of it. Overall, I was sort of bored during this rewatch and it may just be because I’ve seen the movie well over five times now. Gwyneth Paltrow and Paul Bettany shine as the real means of keeping Stark Industries afloat, and Jeff Bridges plays a good enough villain to get from plot point A to B. This is one of those few movies that has me less concerned with the treatment of the villain, given Iron Man’s overall anonymity in pop culture before this movie. Nowadays you can’t walk into any store without seeing something with Iron Man/RDJ’s mug on it. While Iron Man may be cut-and-dry superhero bait compared to the influx of the genre we’ve been witnessing since, with the creation of the universe system and the dawn of post-credit scenes to link films together (if you could see my eighth grade self when Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury shows up after this movie), 2008 was more than a year that changed superhero movies; it changed the world.
Favorite Quote: “Give me a scotch. I’m starving.” – Tony Stark
The opening in Brazil is incredibly well done and a great introduction to Bruce Banner’s lifestyle. The action is solid and I enjoy Tim Roth‘s ambition as well as William Hurt‘s take on Thunderbolt Ross, but Liv Tyler is laughably bad in this movie. She offers nothing as Betty Ross to push Banner’s arc forward or even establish herself as the intelligent and resourceful character she is in the comics. The Harlem showdown between Hulk and Abomination is entertaining but it ends as abruptly as the movie itself. This is definitely a movie that could have benefited from being longer and more fleshed out. I didn’t mind Edward Norton’s portrayal of Bruce Banner, but after seeing his replacement actually interact with the MCU’s characters and play a bigger role, it’s hard to miss him. Norton’s presence makes the film feel irrelevant to the rest of the universe, despite an epilogue that includes Robert Downey Jr. – only due to the success of Iron Man and some last minute pick ups. It’s only when William Hurt returns in Captain America: Civil War (2016) that the movie is resuscitated into the MCU. If you look hard enough, there are mentions of Captain America due to the serum used on Tim Roth deriving from it and the failed attempt by Banner to recreate it. It’s more evidence of world-building, but other than that and a deleted scene featuring Cap’s shield, the movie doesn’t offer much else for the MCU. However a fair share of callbacks to the Lou Ferrigno Hulk TV series certainly make the watch a bit more worthwhile.
Favorite Quote: “Me in a metal tube, deep underground with hundreds of people in the most aggressive city in the world?” -Bruce Banner
The cold open makes Mickey Rourke‘s Whiplash look like he’s going to be the baddest villain yet in the MCU, but he is underutilized to a fault and there’s way too much coverage of Rourke’s weird fingernails. The most frustrating part of Iron Man 2 is that they try to adapt a comic arc in which Stark struggles with his alcoholism, which leads to depression and even an adrenaline-addiction. It’s one of the quintessential story arcs for Stark in the comics and director Jon Favreau PG-13’s it and boils it down to one party scene where Stark pisses himself in his Iron Man suit. I feel like this movie had a lot of potential to let RDJ show his range (not to say he’s bad in this at all), and Don Cheadle is a far better James Rhodes than Terrence Howard in the first installment. Ultimately the movie is more of a bridge to The Avengers (2012) given all the Nick Fury cameos and the omnipotence of SHIELD. The Mark V suitcase armor is awesome but the Mark VI with the triangle on the chest plate is probably my favorite Iron Man suit in the entire MCU run. The movie isn’t B A D, but it’s nice that it precedes two of the strongest films in the MCU. Everything with Tony and his Dad is solid, and I love when Howard Stark/Roger Sterling shows up randomly in MCU flashbacks, and it adds a layer to the MCU that makes it feel all the more lived in. The post-credit scene teasing Thor’s arrival is ranked in my top three Marvel-post-credit-scenes because it does exactly what it needs to do: it effectively sets up the next beat for Phase One while not being essential to the viewing experience as a whole. When we get further down the road, Marvel takes advantage of its audience knowing full well they won’t leave their seats until the lights come on in the theater.
Favorite Quote: “If you try to escape, or play any sort of games with me, I will taze you and watch ‘Supernanny’ while you drool into the carpet.” -Phil Coulson
This movie actually held up better than I expected. Marvel loves their Shakespeare parallels and this movie has it in spades when it comes to dramatic irony. Tom Hiddleston blows every previous villain in Phase 1 out of the water as Loki, whose clear-cut motivations make his character not only complex, but sympathetic as well. Hawkeye has a great character introduction, and while Anthony Hopkins could care less about the role, he does it enough justice to keep the narrative together. This is a great example of fish-out-of-water and stripping a hero of his powers. It’s also bold to do this in the first installment of Thor‘s eventual trilogy. Chris Hemsworth is as beautiful as a norse God ought to be, but he never lets his looks compromise his characterization. By containing the movie in smalltown New Mexico, the filmmakers surprisingly add more weight to the scope of the MCU. This is a town that can be trashed without any drastic repercussions until later down the road. If Thor’s climax took place in New York City, you’d have another Man of Steel on your hands, in which the public eye sees the hero as a villain due to the mass destruction left in their wake. I still hate Kat Dennings, though, she’s not funny.
Favorite Quote: “This mortal form has grown weak. I need sustenance!” -Thor
It’s cheesy, it has heart, the action is great, and every talent is the best version of themselves (not to say Hugo Weaving is PURE evil). What sticks out for me the most in The First Avenger is that Steve Rogers is everything Superman should be in a live action movie. Steve thinks with his heart and always makes the “right” decision. He’s what America SHOULD be and what it craves to be: honest, true, and loyal. It’s a shame they only gave Hugo Weaving one chance to play the Red Skull, but boy does he knock it out of the park. It’s honestly the type of casting I like to call, “Perfect on every level.” Even Tommy Lee Jones owns his role as Colonel Chester Phillips. There’s a ham-radio vibe to the entire movie and it blankets the world in an almost satirical Brooklyn-noir setting. If Stark is the brains behind the MCU, Rogers is undoubtedly the heart that beats right below it. Chris Evans makes Cap the most likable protagonist who never wishes to kill and only does what he does because he doesn’t like bullies. With the political climate going on right now, it seems like a time that the world should be motivated by someone who doesn’t care for bullies – no matter their power. The movie also ends in total heartbreak, but it still leaves you ready to follow Captain Rogers into the fight, like a true avenger should. “Yeah, I just… I had a date.”
Favorite Quote: “I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies; I don’t care where they’re from.” -Steve Rogers
There’s no denying the success of The Avengers (2012) from a numbers standpoint: four years of cinematic universe-making, something barely even attempted in Hollywood franchising outside of sequels and threequels, and a cast of some of the biggest and up-and-coming names in the business. With a lot riding on the success of The Avengers, it not only received stellar reviews from critics across the globe, it also ranked as the fifth highest-grossing film of all time. It took Marvel another six years to produce a movie giving that title a run for its money. It plays like most superhero teams-ups, but after watching each of these characters develop in their own films and come together with their clashing personalities, it better fleshes out those tropes. There’s a beam in the sky and a disposable army in the final act, but this is a rare instance where it feels warranted: Loki hypes up the Chitauri army from the get-go of the movie and the Tesseract, the movie’s MacGuffin, is an object that creates a wormhole in space/time. That’s as canon as it gets in Marvel Comics, which is why it works. It’s not a device the bad guy concocts out of nowhere, and the Tesseract has served the same purpose since its introduction. The character introductions really stood out for me in this movie. Everyone gets a chance to shine and establish themselves in a world with other superhumans, and after seeing them develop on their own there is a sense of satisfaction that “it paid off”. Loki was the obvious choice for a villain, and his presence raises the stakes of Earth’s role in the universe as a whole. I only wish he had the depth to his character that he carries in Thor. In The Avengers it’s clear he is a pawn in a bigger scheme, and I think Loki is a far more compelling villain when working on his own. The Avengers is a juice certainly worth the squeeze, despite its plot lines feeling a little dated due to the over-saturation of comic book movies. It paves the way for the remainder of the MCU and what’s to come… Which is just so, so much.
Favorite Quote: “It’s good to meet you, Dr. Banner. Your work on anti-electron collisions is unparalleled. And I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.” -Tony Stark
That’s all of PHASE ONE, be sure to check out my recaps of PHASE TWO & THREE as they roll in.