Thirteen films later with countless more on the horizon, Marvel Studios has taken over the film industry with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, producing standalone movies and crossovers alike with many of their most popular characters, and even some more obscure ones as well. To date the films have grossed well over a billion dollars around the world, and continue to remain popular with comic book fans and casual moviegoers.
While Marvel does not have the film rights to all of its most famous characters as a result of licensing out film rights to other studios, they do retain the rights to most of the legendary characters that they have created comics for over the years. In recent years, the MCU also expanded into television, comics, and even one-shot “mini movies.” This is an ongoing franchise that truly shows no signs of letting up. In celebration of the recent release of Captain America: Civil War, this fan thought it was high time to go back and look at the films that comprise the MCU so far.
A few things before we begin looking at the movies:
Firstly, accuracy to the comics is not a factor being taken under consideration here; we are looking at the movies as standalone works and part of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. I do not follow/read the comic books and have only the most basic of familiarity with them, and will not use this as criteria in deciding whether or not a film is good.
This article also ONLY covers the Marvel Cinematic Universe and NOT other Marvel movies that were put out by other studios in the past or as parts of other continuities (the earlier Sony/Columbia Spider-Man movies, Twentieth Century Fox’s X-Men and Fantastic Four movies, Ghost Rider, Daredevil/Elektra, Blade, etc.) These will most likely be covered at a later date in a separate article.
Additionally, this article is only covering the films themselves, as they stand in their original, basic theatrical cuts/versions. Things like DVD bonuses, deleted scenes, spin-off media, related one-shots/TV series and how they tie into things are not factors in determining all of this. However, shows and such will be mentioned if there IS a tie-in/relation between them.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the movies!
NOTE: This article contains MAJOR spoilers for all of the films. DO NOT read if you do not want them spoiled.
Iron Man (2008)
-Director: Jon Favreau
-Villain: Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger (Jeff Bridges)
-Stan Lee Cameo: Mistaken for Hugh Hefner at a party.
-Mid Credits Scene: No.
-Post Credits Scene: At night in Tony Stark’s Malibu home, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) approaches Tony Stark regarding “The Avengers Initiative.”
Wealthy, arrogant weapons developer Tony Stark is captured and held by a terrorist group during a demonstration in the Middle East. With the help of a fellow captive, he manages to develop a powered suit of armor to escape captivity. Seeing the atrocities committed by terrorists who have somehow attained his weapons, he opts to leave the weapon production industry and focus on other technologies, including further development of powered suits that he can use to fight crime and terrorism. But his rash actions in leaving weapons production behind do not sit well with Obadiah Stane, a longtime executive of Stark Industries, who has other plans for the company and the man in charge.
With some tweaking and further development, Stark manages to perfect the design of his Iron Man suit and does battle with terrorists and eventually Stane, piloting a much larger suit developed from pieces of Stark’s original in the Middle East, which had been recovered by the terrorists that captured Stark earlier. Despite numerous unexpected challenges, including Potts being placed in the line of fire amidst the duel, Stark triumphs, defeating Stane and his Iron Monger suit. At a press conference, despite being urged to do otherwise, he reveals to the world that he is the “Iron Man.”
This was the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first film, and even eight years in, it still stands as one of the best. Even though people were questionable and skeptical of the casting of Robert Downey, Jr. as the titular hero, he steals the show with his witty one liners and a performance for the ages, beautifully setting the template for everything to come. The plot is simple and straightforward yet effective, and Jeff Bridges makes for a memorable “first villain” in the MCU; he is far more memorable than a number of the ones to come down the line. Supporting performances from Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark’s secretary Pepper Potts, director Jon Favreau as chauffer Happy Hogan, and a breakout performance from Clark Gregg as SHIELD agent Phil Coulson, who would go on to become one of the MCU’s most memorable characters, are all welcomed with open arms. Terrence Howard as the Air Force-affiliated James “Rhodey” Rhodes gets some great moments due to his chemistry with Downey’s Tony Stark, though we do not get to see this character (played by a different actor) pilot a suit of his own until the next movie.
Admittedly, the film is not perfect, though I was glad to see the movie take the time to develop Stark, and not simply give him the suit right away. It was actually pleasantly surprising to see the film put character development above action. There are hardships and realistic demons on display, and fortunately, most of it turns out good in the long run. All these years later, it still ranks as one of the best movies in the MCU.
-When Stark is intercepted by jet fighters in his suit on the way home from the Middle East, they are using the call sign “Whiplash.” This is a reference to the Iron Man enemy of the same name, who would actually be a villain featured in the next Iron Man film.
-Rhodey contemplates taking the old MK II Iron Man suit to help Stark in his battle with Iron Monger, ultimately opting not to, and sticking to Stark’s plan. This is a reference to him eventually becoming War Machine, which happens in the next movie.
-Paul Bettany voices the artificial intelligence JARVIS, which is Tony Stark’s “virtual” butler that automates his house and, later, his Iron Man suit. The character was changed from a real life butler to an AI for the MCU to better differentiate the character from Batman’s butler Alfred.
-This was not the first Marvel film for actor/director Jon Favreau; he had previously portrayed Franklin “Foggy” Nelson in the 2003 Daredevil movie put out by Twentieth Century Fox.
-This is the only film in the MCU in which Terrence Howard portrays James “Rhodey” Rhodes; he is replaced by Don Cheadle in all subsequent films.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
-Director: Louis Leterrier
-Villain: Emil Blonsky/Abomination (Tim Roth), General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt)
-Stan Lee Cameo: Consumer drinking a beverage contaminated with Bruce Banner’s blood.
-Mid Credits Scene: No
-Post Credits Scene: No
Years ago, during an experiment gone awry at a university laboratory, Dr. Bruce Banner was blasted with intense gamma radiation. Instead of dying as a result of this, his body absorbed the radiation, but transformed him into the Hulk, a massive creature fueled by rage. Being forced to transform into the creature when anger consumes him, Banner retreats to South America, hiding out from military personnel who want to capture him and weaponize the Hulk. When he is discovered he must go on the run again, hiding out and trying his best to keep his anger in check, avoiding transformations if it can be helped. He sets his sights on a scientist in New York that may be able to fix his Hulk problems once and for all.
Banner eventually reaches New York with the help of Betty Ross, General Ross’ daughter and Banner’s own estranged love interest. But the villainous Emil Blonsky, working with General Ross, ultimately is transformed into the villainous Abomination, losing all sense of reason. This forces Banner to become the Hulk again. He ultimately triumphs over Abomination, who is subsequently taken into captivity, but Banner is forced to go into hiding again as a result of these events. By this time, he has seemingly gotten the Hulk under control.
This is often regarded as the “black sheep” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though it is certainly not a bad film. It is definitely bleaker than a good deal of the other movies in the series and far less comical; whether these are strengths or weaknesses will ultimately be up to the viewer. The movie still manages to serve up its share of intense action sequences and gripping drama; it is in all ways a step up from Ang Lee’s Hulk from 2003.
Apart from the Hulk himself and General Ross (who later becomes a Secretary of State), none of these characters have appeared in any later MCU movies, despite the fact that there are some pretty strong hints of them potentially coming back. The performances in the movie are all generally good, Edward Norton handles his one-off as Bruce Banner surprisingly well. It would be great to see SOME of these characters make a return; Tim Roth’s Abomination and Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross seem like they could play a substantial role in further fleshing out the MCU, but only time will tell. The Incredible Hulk is not the greatest film in the MCU, but definitely deserves a second chance.
-This is the only film in the MCU distributed by Universal; it has been speculated that legal complications with Universal having the movie rights to the Hulk character are the reason that there have not been any more Hulk solo movies in the MCU to date.
-Lou Ferrigno, who portrayed the transformed Hulk in the 1970s television series, voices the transformed character here. He also cameos as a security guard in the movie, which he also did in the 2003 Ang Lee Hulk movie.
-Contrary to popular belief, this film does NOT contain a mid-credits or post-credits scene. There is a scene at the end of the movie with Tony Stark approaching General Ross about "a team" being put together, but it is actually the last scene of the movie proper and NOT a scene that occurs during or after the credits. As such, it is the only MCU movie to not contain either a mid-credits or post-credits scene. However, this scene is somewhat elaborated upon in The Consultant, a Marvel One Shot.
-This was Edward Norton’s only time portraying Bruce Banner on screen; he was replaced by Mark Ruffalo for subsequent films.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
-Director: Jon Favreau
-Villain: Ivan Vanko/Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell)
-Stan Lee Cameo: Mistaken for Larry King at a party
-Mid Credits Scene: No
-Post Credits Scene: Agent Coulson arrives in New Mexico and sees a crater containing Thor’s hammer.
Several months have passed since the events of the previous Iron Man film, at which time Tony Stark came out to the world, revealing his secret identity. Unfortunately, prolonged usage of the Iron Man armor with the arc reactor in Stark’s chest has slowly been poisoning him, with these factors remaining detrimental to his health and setting him on a path to self-destruction. As if these things were not bad enough, Stark has government agents and the military trying to get their hands on his suit designs. Meanwhile, elsewhere, Ivan Vanko, the son of a former collaborator of Stark’s father, is building his own arc reactor to power a deadly weapon to settle a personal score with Stark himself. And he eventually gains major resources in the form of one of Stark’s top business rivals, Justin Hammer.
Stark is eventually able to overcome his suit and reactor problems by developing a more efficient and less dangerous element, and learns more about the history of SHIELD and his father’s role in establishing the organization. Teaming up with Rhodey, now piloting a revamped version of an older Iron Man armor redubbed the War Machine, the twosome take on Vanko’s drones and Whiplash armor, narrowly managing to defeat him. Stark’s potential future with SHIELD is also discussed as well.
Iron Man 2 had a lot to live up to; its predecessor was the best comic book movie in years, and the one that jumpstarted the MCU in such fine form. Even if the sequel delivers more of the same and is not quite the gem that the original film was, the good still manages to outweigh the bad.
Any film with Robert Downey, Jr. portraying Iron Man is good for that reason alone; no one else could have played this part with such wit. There are hints of a darker side to his life on his path to self-destruction here, and such scenes are handled surprisingly well, not just from his angle, but seeing how it impacts his friends and allies. It was also interesting to get a look into Stark’s family history and the early beginnings of SHIELD, as well as expanded roles for Nick Fury, Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan, Phil Coulson, and the introduction of the Black Widow in the MCU.
The villains are interesting enough, but they never quite top Obadiah Stane from the first movie. You can clearly tell Mickey Rourke is having fun with the part of Whiplash, and Sam Rockwell is entertaining as a less moral version of Tony Stark (is that possible?) But these characters never quite get the development they need, and feel “shoe horned” in. They both get their moments but you cannot help but feel like something may have gotten lost in the overall editing of the movie.
Iron Man 2 is what it is, a competent and mostly well-made sequel. The action scenes deliver, and Stark’s one liners still steal the show. The minor shortcomings certainly do not deter this fan from recommending it.
-This is the first MCU film in which Don Cheadle portrays James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine, inheriting the role from Terrence Howard. The exact specifics of Howard not reprising the role tend to differ from source to source, with likely culprits being a pay dispute, drama behind the scenes, and the constant editing of Howard’s scenes in the first film.
-DJ AM has a cameo in the “Tony Stark’s Birthday Party” scene as the one playing music at the party. He passed away of from a drug overdose prior to the film’s release; it is dedicated to his memory. Prior to his passing, he, along with Blink 182’s Travis Barker, were the only two survivors of an airplane crash.
-Sam Rockwell later reprised the role of Justin Hammer in the All Hail the King Marvel One Shot.
-Director: Kenneth Branagh
-Villain: Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Laufey (Colm Feore)
-Stan Lee Cameo: Truck driver who unsuccessfully tries to get Thor's hammer.
-Mid Credits Scene: No
-Post Credits Scene: Nick Fury shows Dr. Selvig the Tesseract and reveals that it may be the secret to unlimited energy. Selvig is apparently being controlled by Loki.
In the mythical realm of Asgard ruled by Odin, his sons Loki and Thor vie to be the ones that will one day inherit the throne from him. During a mysterious attack on Asgard, Thor and his allies invade the realm of the evil Frost Giants, violating a centuries long peace treaty that has existed between the two. For his disgrace, Thor is stripped of his abilities and banished to Earth, where he is discovered by a group of scientists, including Dr. Jane Foster, who quickly becomes fascinated by him. His mythical hammer, Mjolnir, is also sent to Earth, but only someone deemed worthy can wield it. Upon discovering his own origin, Loki sets out on a personal quest for vengeance to inherit the throne of Asgard for himself, as Odin falls victim to an illness.
Loki wants to be sure that Thor is permanently rid of, so he sends a Destroyer sentinel to Earth to kill Thor. Thor’s closest allies come to Earth to find him and are forced to do battle with the Destroyer. While they are fighting a losing battle, Thor’s selfless actions in defending the town and his friends result in him regaining his God powers and the ability to wield Mjolnir, enabling him to easily defeat the Destroyer. He returns to Asgard only to discover Loki’s plot to kill the Frost Giants, thus winning Odin’s favor. The plan is foiled when Thor uses Mjolnir to destroy the bridge between worlds, but Loki is seemingly lost in the process, as is the connection between realms.
Thor was an interesting film when it came out because it was so different from everything else in the MCU up to the point. Instead of a gamma mutated monster or technological weapons, this film introduces the mythological and godly to the bigger picture. Asgard is an interesting locale and the performance from Anthony Hopkins as Odin is some of the best casting in the MCU. Supporting characters/roles fare nearly as well. Be it on Earth or Asgard, the movie keeps your attention, fluctuating from a mythological epic to a fish out of water story that is as comical as it is disheartening.
Chris Hemsworth is fantastic as the title character, giving Thor strength, humility, ego, and in a number of the Earth scenes, unintentional humor. Seeing him interact with “regular” human beings is half the fun here, but he definitely steals the show in action scenes as well. Tom Hiddleston makes his MCU debut as Loki here, definitely coming off as more developed than a good deal of the villains in other movies in the series, and teasing his future role in the franchise as well.
The major weakness of the film is that there is no real central antagonist; it is clear the film seems more interested in developing Loki for his future in the MCU in that regard. The Frost Giants are fun for the action scenes, but really seem like fodder for Thor’s gang in their first encounter with him, and not much more; Laufey never lives up to his potential as a result and comes off as a somewhat forgettable enemy.
The minor flaws do not stop Thor from being a fantastic addition to the MCU. Part mythological adventure, part fish out of water story, it brought a lot to the universe, and remains a strong entry overall.
-Kenneth Branagh directed the film. He is perhaps best known for his film adaptations of the works of William Shakespeare.
-One of the other people to audition for the role of Thor was Chris Hemsworth’s brother Liam. Liam Hemsworth is perhaps best known to audiences these days for playing Gale Hawthorne in The Hunger Games film series.
-Odin is portrayed by Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins’ best known role is most likely that is serial killer Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
-Director: Joe Johnston
-Villain: Johann Schmidt/Red Skull (Hugo Weaving)
-Stan Lee Cameo: A general in the audience of an awards ceremony.
-Mid Credits Scene: No
-Post Credits Scene: A trailer for The Avengers.
In the 1940s, World War II has just broken out. Steve Rogers is a young man with courage and heart, but is small and lacks strength, and had constantly been turned away from military service, despite wanting to come aboard and serve his country. When a scientist that fled Germany discovers Rogers, he gives him a chance to become the world’s first “Super Soldier,” with a procedure that enhances his size and strength drastically. But when Rogers becomes something of a publicity stunt rather than a real soldier, he must find a way to get himself in the war to help his friends, which includes teaming up with Peggy Carter and Howard Stark.
Meanwhile, in Europe, the villainous Red Skull has broken off from the Nazi Party, forming his own HYDRA group in a quest for world domination. Rogers puts together a multi-ethnic battalion to go after HYDRA bases, but despite his best efforts, his childhood friend and ally James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes is apparently killed in action when he falls from a speeding train during a mission. Rogers and his team set forth to take out the Red Skull and foil a plot to unleash deadly weapons on the United States. Following a lengthy battle aboard a flying wing, Rogers triumphs over the foe when the Tesseract, powering the craft, overloads and apparently transports him into another realm. Howard Stark recovers the Tesseract but is unable to find Rogers, who ends up frozen under the ice for nearly seven decades. He is eventually thawed out by SHIELD in the present day and meets Nick Fury who has a new mission for him.
Captain America: The First Avenger brilliantly recreates the world of the 1940s with period appropriate atmosphere and some of the MCU’s most interesting characters. This is the first movie in the series to really look deeply into the origins of what would become SHIELD, and we even get to meet two of the organization’s major players, Peggy Carter and Howard Stark (the father of Tony Stark/Iron Man). The Red Skull is an intriguing villain, and the origin of his powers and how it ties into the birth of Captain America is especially interesting.
Chris Evans’ Captain America has become one of the most popular characters in the MCU, and his first performance in the role is one of the best. Largely awkward and a product of his era, something that shows in every frame of the movie, it is interesting to see him embrace his newfound powers and put them to good use. The film is fairly straightforward with only the occasional unexpected twist, but the setting and intriguing characters and plot make it a strong movie.
Ultimately, Captain America: The First Avenger stands as a fitting introduction to one of Marvel’s biggest and best heroes on the big screen. Chris Evans’ portrayal and the attention to detail in a fun retro setting help this to remain one of the most appealing and entertaining movies in the MCU.
-Joe Johnston is an appropriate director for the film, has he has extensive experience directing “period” films including The Rocketeer and October Sky. His most popular mainstream film as a director prior to his involvement here was most likely Jurassic Park III.
-Tommy Lee Jones portrayed Colonel Chester Phillips. He had previously portrayed Two-Face in Batman Forever, making him one of the actors to play a role in a Marvel film and a DC one.
-Peggy Carter’s role in the MCU is further fleshed out in the Agent Carter television series on ABC, and the Marvel One Shot of the same name.
-Hugo Weaving portrays the Red Skull. He is probably best known to audiences as Agent Smith in The Matrix and its sequels, and Elrond in The Lord of the Rings franchise.
-During the “Star Spangled Man” montage, some kids can be seen reading a Captain America comic book, which features a picture of Cap knocking out Adolf Hitler. This was not made up for the movie; it was actually the real cover of the first ever Captain America comic book.
-Actors Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones would later co-star in The Hunger Games film series as announcers.
The Avengers (2012)
-Director: Joss Whedon
-Villain: Loki (Tom Hiddleston)
-Stan Lee Cameo: Old man in park denying existence of superheroes.
-Mid Credits Scene: Thanos contemplating the future in the wake of Loki’s defeat.
-End Credits Scene: Avengers eating in a Middle Eastern restaurant.
Loki is back, and with the aid of Thanos the Mad Titan, has a staff that gives him immense power and the ability to control minds. Having gained command of the Chitauri, a powerful alien race, he wages war on Earth, seeking to conquer the planet. Nick Fury and Phil Coulson do their part to unite the most powerful heroes on the planet and beyond, enabling them to come together and do battle with this new menace and the powerful army that he has gained control of.
Despite some initial quarreling and differences of opinions, not to mention discovering SHIELD may have a secret agenda of its own, the team comes together and decides to fight as one when Loki’s actions result in Phil Coulson’s death. The heroes join forces in New York to combat Loki and his army. Despite a long and drawn out battle, the team narrowly wins the battle, with Thor capturing Loki and returning him to Asgard for punishment.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has served up no shortage of great films, but with an ensemble cast, a charismatic villain, and action sequences that put other film franchises to shame, The Avengers just might be the best one of all. I can honestly call this one my personal favorite in the MCU thus far, and not surprisingly, many others share this view as well. The action scenes are plentiful, with a third act that is more or less our heroes wreaking havoc on the enemy. But it is paced well, with good portions of the movie being used for character development as well. It could have descended into mindless action with no depth and undeveloped subplots, but thanks to director Joss Whedon, none of this happens.
One of the biggest weaknesses of other MCU films is that the villains are fairly one-dimensional and uninteresting. With Loki, this is certainly not the case. Having been fleshed out in Thor, we know who this guy is, and that he has his reasons for wanting something of his own, even if he has to resort to less than honorable means to get it. This story and development helps him to remain a compelling foe; something the MCU needs more of.
With so many heroes on screen at once (who thankfully all get the proper emphasis) this film could have been a complete and utter disaster. But it stands as what is arguably the strongest entry in the entire MCU. You are not likely to find any major fault with The Avengers; it is a fantastic film that more than lives up to the years of hype that came before.
-In the UK this film was retitled Avengers Assemble. This was done to avoid confusion with a classic spy/secret agent franchise that is also called The Avengers, which has no relation to Marvel.
-The security guard who finds Bruce Banner in the ruins of a building and brings him his pants is portrayed by Harry Dean Stanton. Stanton is a legendary actor who has appeared in films for decades, including The Godfather Part II, Alien, Christine, Pretty in Pink, and The Green Mile. His quote of “are you an alien?” to Banner may be a reference to the movie of the same name in which Stanton himself appeared.
-The aftermath of the Battle of New York depicted in this film is somewhat elaborated upon in the Marvel One Shot Item 47. That short also leads into the Agents of SHIELD TV series, which features the return of Phil Coulson.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
-Director: Shane Black
-Villains: “The Mandarin” (Ben Kingsley), Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce)
-Stan Lee Cameo: A beauty pageant judge.
-Mid Credits Scene: No
-Post Credits Scene: Tony Stark finishes telling his story; he was telling it to Bruce Banner, who fell asleep while listening.
Following the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark is something of a broken man. Flashbacks of his participation in the Battle of New York haunt him tirelessly. To cope with it all, he continues to build new Iron Man suits, but this has put a strain on his relationship with Pepper Potts. When Happy Hogan is wounded in an attack by terrorists serving “The Mandarin,” Stark sets out to wage a one-man war against these new villains, but they get the jump on him. Meanwhile, James “Rhodey” Rhodes serves the United States Military in the War Machine armor, which has since been rebranded the Iron Patriot.
Stark uses his Iron Man suit to narrowly escape the destruction of his Malibu home, and befriends a young boy from a broken home in a Midwest town, but is now stranded due to the armor’s failure. Nonetheless, he continues to investigate and do battle with soldiers enhanced by Extremis, a highly volatile and explosive (literally!) solution. Stark and Rhodes eventually reunite, discovering that “The Mandarin” is actually an actor, and the real villain carrying our killings in his name is industrialist/scientist Aldrich Killian, who with the participation of the Vice President, kidnaps both President Ellis and Pepper Potts, injecting the latter with Extremis.
Iron Man and War Machine converge on Killian and his army of Extremis soldiers, and although the bad guys seem to have the upper hand, Stark surprises everyone with the arrival of automated Iron Man suits to aid and assist the heroes. Killian is killed by the Extremis infected Potts, and the Vice President and Mandarin actor are both arrested.
The first Iron Man was the first movie in the MCU and jumpstarted the franchise in fine form. Iron Man 2 had its share of problems and felt like an inferior clone of the first movie in many regards, but still was not bad. Iron Man 3, on the other hand, feels like a completely and radically different movie for a number of reasons. And while certain elements of the film may have alienated viewers, this is ultimately a strong sequel that keeps the audience both entertained and guessing. A brilliant script co-written by director Shane Black keeps things moving along in fine form.
Who would have thought that an Iron Man movie with Iron Man separated from his suit for a good portion of the film could be this good? Seeing Stark’s relationship with the young boy that he befriends in the Midwest town could have come off as campy or as an excuse to try to win over more of a youthful audience, but these scenes work surprisingly well. Of course, the true highlight of the film is Stark taking this young man’s advice to “build something” as a way of coping, prompting him to visit the local hardware store and build very crude weapons with which to infiltrate the Mandarin’s lair. These scenes are worth the price of admission alone, and thankfully never wear out their welcome.
Many debated the “Mandarin” plot twist, but I personally thought it was hilarious and something totally unexpected. This is something that continues to divide audiences, but to each their own.
With unexpected surprises that differentiate it from earlier installments, gripping action and drama, and just about everything else in between, Iron Man 3 stands as one of the unexpected surprises of the MCU. Needless to say, this one is essential viewing.
-This is the first Iron Man film not directed by Jon Favreau, although he briefly reprises his role of Happy Hogan. Director Shane Black’s past film writing credits include the original 1987 Lethal Weapon film.
-Despite the film taking place in the Winter/Christmas season, it was released in the Spring, well after Christmas.
-Ben Kingsley reprises his “Mandarin Actor” role in the All Hail the King Marvel One Shot, which is arguably more hilarious than his role in this movie (if that was even possible).
-Joan Rivers has a cameo in a scene discussing the Iron Patriot on TV; it was one of her final roles prior to her death in 2014.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
-Director: Alan Taylor
-Villain: Malekith (Chris Eccleston)
-Stan Lee Cameo: Patient in a mental ward.
-Mid Credits Scene: Thor’s allies take the Aether to the Collector for safe keeping, which ties into Guardians of the Galaxy.
-Post Credits Scene: Thor returns to Earth, where a creature from another realm is still wreaking havoc.
Following the Battle of New York, Loki is imprisoned on Odin’s orders. Thor and his allies bring balance to the Nine Realms, winning battles and defeating foes, restoring the worlds to peace amidst a rare convergence. But the peace is to be short lived. Jane Foster finds the Aether, a mysterious ancient weapon that was once used by the evil Dark Elves, which infects and penetrates her amidst portal activity on Earth stemming from the convergence.
Malekith, leader of the Dark Elves, invades and attacks Asgard in an attempt to reclaim the Aether. While the Asgardians manage to fight them off, Thor’s mother is killed protecting Foster. Thor urges his father to retaliate, but he refuses, opting to wait for the Dark Elves to return. This prompts Thor to do the unthinkable – free Loki and use his knowledge of other portals between worlds to stop Malekith on his home world. The attempt to destroy the Aether after it is withdrawn from Foster’s body fails, and Malekith attains its power, heading for Earth to fulfill his plan of returning the universe to darkness. Thor and Loki battle several of Malekith's henchmen, including a superpowered second in command, with the two holding their own. Unfortunately, Loki is mortally wounded and left for dead, prompting Thor and Foster to return to Earth to confront Malekith head on.
Reuniting with Dr. Erik Selvig, our heroes use teleportation devices in an effort to battle Malekith, teleporting between realms in an epic battle. Malekith is (presumably) killed when he is crushed by his spaceship during an instance while the Aether is not within him. When Thor returns to Asgard, he is congratulated and praised by Odin, but upon Thor’s departure from the throne room, it is revealed that this was not Odin at all, but Loki disguised as him.
This film has been torn to shreds by the critics, and while it does have its shortcomings, it is not a bad movie. There are better films in the MCU; that I will not deny for one second. But this one is still worth viewing.
As far as strengths, all of the performances in the film are fantastic. Chris Hemsworth continues to shine as Thor in nearly every scene of the film. Kat Dennings reprises her role of Darcy, giving the movie much of its comic relief. But the scene stealer here is Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, who keeps the audience guessing, and actually manages to come off as sympathetic and even heroic at times. The scenes with him and Thor together are, far and above, the highlight of this film.
Unfortunately, many of the complaints leveled at the film are valid. Malekith and the Dark Elves just are not that interesting of villains. They look awesome and have some interesting technology, but they just do not have that much depth outside of the flashback story at the beginning of the film. It has been stated that the film was heavy re-edited against director Alan Taylor’s will following filming, and this may account for the shortcomings in that department.
The biggest weakness of Thor: The Dark World is that, ironically, it is not “dark” enough. For some reason, the writers felt the need to turn Dr. Selvig into comic relief, something that was already brilliantly done by the Darcy character in the first movie (and something she continues to deliver with here). The finale feels rushed, though not entirely unsatisfying. It is a shame there were not more of the “Thor and Loki” scenes, and that said portion of the film is nowhere near as long and fulfilling as it could have been.
Thor: The Dark World is far from perfect, yet is better than many of the naysayers would lead you to believe. It is not likely to become your favorite MCU film, but there is certainly enough here to entertain audiences and fans of the franchise.
-Chris Evans reprises his role of Captain America in a brief cameo in which Loki transforms into him. Evans based his cameo here on an impersonation of him that Tom Hiddleston did.
-The Rock Monster that Thor fights early in the film in another realm was the first monster that Thor ever battled in a comic book, in his debut appearance in Journey into Mystery back in the 1960s.
-Due to his bad experience with the heavy editing of the film in post-production, director Alan Taylor has expressed dissatisfaction and does not wish to direct another MCU film.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Director: Joe and Anthony Russo
Villain: The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford)
Stan Lee Cameo: A Smithsonian security guard.
Mid Credits Scene: HYDRA agents have Loki’s scepter and have used it to give powers to two mysterious people, one with super speed, and one with psychic abilities. This ties into the beginning of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Post Credits Scene: A (presumably) reformed Bucky visits the Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian to learn about his past.
The Battle of New York was won, and Steve Rogers is adjusting to living life in the present day after having missed out on the past 70 years due to his being frozen. When SHIELD secrets are infiltrated and the security or the organization is no longer what it once was due to the rise of HYDRA sleeper agents from within their ranks, Captain America and Black Widow must go on the run, and make every effort possible to clear their names in the midst of these rough and unexpected events. HYDRA has one other deadly surprise in the corner – The Winter Soldier, a mysterious assassin under their control. Teaming with the ex-military Sam Wilson, who becomes the Falcon, the team must find a way out of these difficult circumstances if they are to foil a plot entailing the use of SHIELD helicarriers to target anyone around the globe deemed a potential threat.
While on the run, our heroes are intercepted by HYDRA agents, including the Winter Soldier. During a battle with the mysterious assassin, Rogers manages to unmask the foe, revealing his true identity – Bucky Barnes, his childhood friend believed to have been killed in World War II. Despite the doubts of his allies, Rogers believes that he can get through to Bucky and win him back to the good side. HYDRA launches the helicarriers, with the heroes managing to use devices to trick them into destroying one another. Rogers faces Bucky again and is assaulted and attacked relentlessly despite trying to get his old friend to recover his memories. When the helicarrier crashes into the Potomac, Bucky, seemingly recovered, pulls an unconscious Captain America out of the river, but disappears shortly after.
With the aftermath of HYDRA’s filtration of SHIELD, all of their secrets are out in the open; SHIELD is no more. Captain America and the Falcon decide to go after Bucky, putting all of their best resources to use for this cause.
The Captain America sequel obviously could not just copy the first movie, since Cap is in modern times now. And it could not simply be a big budget, over-the-top Avengers action extravaganza. I am not sure fans knew what they were going to get with the sequel, but high box office returns and positive reviews across the board speak for themselves; this is one of the MCU’s best all-around movies.
The filmmakers have claimed that they were influenced by 1970s conspiracy films when they were making the Captain America sequel, and this approach helps to differentiate the movie from so many others in the MCU. Story comes first and action comes second, though as someone who likes deep, thought provoking cinema, I actually welcomed this change. And the action does not let up when it comes along! It is certainly fun to still see Cap trying to adapt to the modern world, and that is just one of the many things directors Joe and Anthony Russo do with a vengeance here.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier keeps the plot twists coming, sometimes a few too many, and this makes it a little difficult to follow the details of the story at times. But overall these elements work in the film’s favor, turning it into something truly unique. Even the veteran SHIELD/HYDRA agent portrayed by veteran actor Robert Redford manages to make the most of his screen time, standing as a villain that does not need cybernetic armor or alien superpowers to make an impact. Fans of Captain America and/or Marvel will love this film, arguably the most impressive of Phase Two.
-In Steve Rogers’ apartment, one of the books on the bookshelf is All the President’s Men, the story of the discovery of the Watergate Scandal. The film version of the book, released in 1976, starred Robert Redford, who appears in Captain America: The Winter Soldier as Alexander Pierce.
-Early in the film, Rogers has a notebook that he uses to keep track of the things he is meaning to catch up on. This actually differs depending on which region of the world the film is being shown in. For example, the American version references the Rocky films, the Latin American version has Shakira, and the Russian version mentions Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (the first man in space).
-One of the names mentioned as a potential threat in regards to the Zola Algorithm is Steven Strange. This is a reference to Marvel hero Doctor Strange, who is getting a movie as part of the MCU in late 2016.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Director: James Gunn
Villain: Ronan (Lee Pace)
Stan Lee Cameo: An intergalactic ladies man.
Mid Credits Scene: The newly grown Baby Groot can be seen dancing to music during the credits roll.
Post Credits Scene: The Collector sits in the ruins of his collection with two of the beings once held captive in there – a dog, and Howard the Duck.
As a young boy, Peter “Star-Lord” Quill was abducted by a mysterious flying saucer and taken to parts unknown in the universe. Having grown into a galactic smuggler of sorts, he retrieves a mysterious orb and attempts to sell it, only to have the deal be called off when it is apparent that someone called “Ronan” has his sights set on it. During a battle to keep the orb between Quill, a genetically modified raccoon, a giant tree creature with a minimal vocabulary, a blue-skinned destroyer of worlds, and a green-skinned woman with immense fighting ability, they are all captured and thrown in an intergalactic prison. Despite their initial hostilities, the quintet forms a bond and escapes, with their sights set on another mysterious potential buyer of the gem.
Upon arrival at their destination, things do not go as planned, and the villainous Ronan shows up, stealing the gem and enhancing his own abilities, prompting him to end his collaboration with evil overlord Thanos, and set out on his own for galactic conquest. Our heroes must join forces with Quill’s former group of smugglers and the Nova Corps, a galactic police organization, to halt a scheme by Thanos to destroy Xandar, a major galactic center. The team infiltrates Ronan’s craft and destroys it, though Groot is destroyed protecting his friends. Ronan emerges from the wreckage alive, but during a brief battle (and humor from Star-Lord), he is destroyed when the Guardians of the Galaxy are able to harness the power of the gem. It is then taken and put into safe keeping with the Nova Corps, as our heroes set out on their next adventure.
Of all of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far, this one was by far the biggest risk for Marvel Studios. Everyone knows the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America. But who, prior to this, knew the Guardians of the Galaxy? They took a chance on some seriously obscure characters from the annals of Marvel lore, not to mention the movie had very few ties to other properties/characters/etc. in the Cinematic Universe. Fortunately the risks paid off and then some; Guardians of the Galaxy was a massive critical and commercial success, with a solid mix of comedy, action, and everything we have come to love from Marvel at the movies.
These are some of Marvel’s most unusual heroes, and for that very same reason, some of the most memorable. Star-Lord is a fun, relatable hero whose familiarity with modern day Earth ends with the 1980s when he was first abducted to parts unknown. Rocket Raccoon is definitely the “witty” one of the bunch, who is arguably the “breakout” character that will leave the biggest impression on audiences. Combine them with plenty of interesting galactic locales and fun action sequences, and this stands as an ensemble cast that wins its audience over the course of the movie. It will be interesting to see if they cross over with the main “Avengers” heroes on Earth one day!
The only real shortcomings come from some minor pacing issues and a rather boring villain; Ronan is fairly “paint by numbers” and just feels like a plot device or obligatory “bad guy” to advance the story; he definitely is not as interesting or appealing as some of the other antagonists the series has brought us. A few things here and there probably could have been trimmed or cut for time reasons, but that is a relatively minor issue.
Further attention must also be given to the film’s soundtrack, consisting largely of late 60s/70s rock/pop tunes. This helps the movie to have its own identity, with music of some sort being present throughout the film. Not surprisingly, the soundtrack, despite being all previously released songs from the past, has been a huge hit unto itself.
Guardians of the Galaxy is an unusual entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but an unexpectedly good one. Largely standalone from the other films, there is something here for just about everyone. It is a damn fine science fiction film that deserves its unexpected praise from fans and critics alike.
-Peter Quill calls Rocket Raccoon “Ranger Rick” in one scene. This is the name of a popular nature magazine for kids that features a cartoon raccoon.
-Drax the Destroyer is portrayed by Dave Bautista. Bautista’s claim to fame is being a WWE wrestler.
-Vin Diesel voices Groot, having recorded the line “I am Groot” countless times in the process. He also voiced the character for foreign language releases of the movie.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Director: Joss Whedon
Villain: Ultron (James Spader)
Stan Lee Cameo: A war veteran who drinks Thor’s ancient alcohol and has to be carried out of the party.
Mid Credits Scene: Thanos gets the Infinity Gauntlet and declares he will hunt for Infinity Stones himself.
Post Credits Scene: No
The Avengers attack a HYDRA base, doing battle with two mysterious enhanced beings in the process, and reclaim the scepter that Loki was using during the Battle of New York. With this unearthly technology, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner create Ultron, a previously aborted artificial intelligence program that can perform automated peacekeeping. Unfortunately, when Ultron comes to life, the intelligence sees the atrocities committed by the human race, and the destruction over the years, ultimately declaring humanity the enemy. Ultron then sets out to get his hands on vibranium, the strongest metal on Earth, to build a perfect body with which he can realize his vision of a better world, even if it means tearing down the one that is still standing and wiping out humanity.
Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, the Sokovian brother and sister that were enhanced by HYDRA with Loki’s scepter, have a change of heart regarding their allegiance to Ultron’s plan when they see the future and the destruction and killing that will come with his goals. The Avengers manage to steal Ultron’s “perfect” body and the Mind Stone that was contained within the scepter, uploading Tony Stark’s AI JARVIS into the body, giving birth to Vision, a new hero.
The Avengers intercept Ultron and his drones in Sokovia, in an effort to stop him from raising a land mass, transforming it into a weapon that will wipe out all of the world’s population. After a long and difficult battle, the Avengers manage to thwart Ultron’s scheme and destroy him, but Quicksilver is killed saving a child in the process. The old Avengers team disbands, with Hawkeye retiring into private life and Tony Stark going off to do his own thing. War Machine, Scarlet Witch, Falcon and Vision remain with Captain America and Black Widow, prepared to become a new Avengers team.
Director Joss Whedon and the associated crew had a LOT to live up to with the arrival of the second Avengers film. The first one was one of the high water marks in the MCU to date, and Phase Two provided plenty of comparably good experiences. Age of Ultron tries to cram a lot into a single movie, but overall, the end results are quite good, delivering plenty of action and plot alike. It does not top the first film and has a few valid issues that many have pointed out in their reviews, but it does not mean the film is not enjoyable or worth one’s time.
The gang is all here. Virtually every hero you have come to know as part of the MCU comes to the forefront here, and there are even some new ones that join the battle as well. Ultron makes for an unusual and interesting villain; voice actor James Spader gives him a personality that is largely a dark mirror of Tony Stark. The evolution of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch helps to put a new spin on things as well, going from single-minded villains to part of the next generation of heroes.
That said, the movie is not perfect, and does falter when compared to the previous Avengers movie. Some elements clearly were shafted and not given the proper emphasis. A subplot involving Thor going on a journey for answers with his friend Dr. Erik Selvig really does not get any further elaboration, and we as an audience are left guessing in a few moments of the movie as a result of these happenings when they arise. An attempt at a romantic subplot between Bruce Banner/Hulk and Black Widow never really goes anywhere, and feels like padding on top of an already full movie.
Joss Whedon had his work cut out for him going into creating a sequel to the biggest Marvel movie of all (which he also helmed). While Age of Ultron falters in a few areas, it does not stop it from proving to be another landmark production from the Marvel Studios powerhouse.
-Quicksilver is the only major character to appear in both the X-Men film franchise and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, due to the complex legalities of the character. Both series have their own radically different take on the character; this Quicksilver is European, while the X-Men one is younger and American, with a radically different personality.
-First appearance of Iron Man’s Hulkbuster armor in a film. When the movie came out, people were wondering why the two characters were fighting in this respective scene.
-To date, this is the only film in the MCU to feature Thor that does not also have Tom Hiddleston playing Loki. Hiddleston filmed scenes as the character but they were cut from the film (and do not appear on the home video release as bonuses).
Director: Peyton Reed
Villain: Darren Cross/Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll)
Stan Lee Cameo: Seen during one of Luis’ flashback stories, in a bar.
Mid Credits Scene: Hope and her father discuss the completion of a new Wasp suit.
Post Credits Scene: Captain America and Falcon have the Winter Soldier in custody, and are clearly in trouble. Falcon says he might know a guy that can help them. This leads into Captain America: Civil War.
Scott Lang, who went to prison for exposing corporate secrets, has just been released from his sentence. As he struggles to go straight and find a traditional job so he can pay child support and visit his ex-wife and daughter, he meets Hank Pym, a legendary industrialist who once developed technology utilized to shrink a human being. When Pym comes under fire from the man who has taken over his company and sees what he is planning to do with his own take on the technology, he recruits Lang to wear the Ant-Man suit and foil Cross’ plans.
Lang joins forces with Pym’s daughter and a former cellmate’s acquaintances to infiltrate Cross’ headquarters and steal his prototype shrinking suit, the Yellowjacket. With numerous events going wrong during the infiltration, Pym is wounded, though he and Lang manage to get the upper hand and escape from further harm using special disks that can enlarge or shrink objects. Lang, with the help of the Ant-Man suit, pursues Cross, who wants to sell his new technology for former HYDRA agents. Ultimately, Lang wins the battle, but narrowly escapes his reactor going critical and causing him to shrink into nothingness.
Ant-Man had a troubled production, and while it does somewhat show in the final product, overall it manages to be a winner just because it feels so different from a good deal of the other MCU movies. It has dramatic moments in the form of Lang’s personal problems and struggles after getting out of prison and the moral quandaries that follow, comedy in the form of a few unexpected characters, and some of the most inventive and creative action sequences one will ever experience in a Marvel movie.
Paul Rudd is fantastic as Scott Lang, the down-on-his-luck type who eventually dawns the Ant-Man suit. The movie’s supporting cast even includes veteran actor Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, someone who definitely helps to add some gravitas to an already impressive cast. The runaway star of the movie no one was expecting, however, is Michael Peña as a former cellmate of Lang’s who becomes an integral part of the film’s plot; this guy is laugh out loud funny and steals every single scene he is in. Everyone gets a chance to shine.
The film is a bit on the uneven side in a few places; it sadly gives us a rather boring and one-dimensional villain in the form of Yellowjacket. Fortunately, the inventive and unique action sequences help the movie to rise above any shortcomings and make the end product enjoyable. It may be different than what you are expecting, but in a good way. Ant-Man should not be missed.
-In the comics, Hank Pym was Ant-Man before Scott Lang. The filmmakers ultimately decided to focus in the Lang incarnation of the character due to the darker backstory of Pym, which is only loosely hinted at in the film.
-A newspaper article in one scene contains a headline regarding the blame for Sokovia. This is a reference to Avengers: Age of Ultron, and ties into the plot of Captain America: Civil War.
-Garrett Morris cameos as a taxi driver in the film. He is a Saturday Night Live alum, having played the Ant-Man character in a “superhero party” sketch in which he is made fun of by the other better known heroes.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Director: Joe and Anthony Russo.
Villain: Zemo (Daniel Bruhl)
Stan Lee Cameo: A Fed Ex delivery man near the film’s end.
Mid Credits Scene: The Black Panther puts Winter Soldier into cryo freeze; Bucky does not want to be a danger to others any longer.
Post Credits Scene: Peter Parker is recovering from his wounds, and tests a Spider Signal gadget.
It has been a year since Avengers: Age of Ultron. The Avengers team’s actions in Sokovia coupled with a battle with mercenaries that leaves many civilians dead prompts government action, with Thaddeus Ross, now Secretary of state, presenting the Sokovia Accords, which will govern when and if powered heroes are allowed to act in crisis situations. The Avengers team is split over whether or not to agree with the terms, with Captain America leading a team against, and Iron Man leading a team in favor. Amidst it all, two new heroes show themselves – Wakandan King T’Challa, Black Panther, and Queens teenager Peter Parker, Spider-Man. Elsewhere, Zemo, a Sokovian whose life was decimated by the Avengers’ actions there, is plotting his own revenge against the Avengers team, hoping to tear them apart like no other villain has been able to.
Iron Man leads a team to intercept those who are opposed to the accords, culminating in a massive battle between the heroes. Ultimately Captain America and the recently returned Winter Soldier escape, but the other anti-registration heroes are captured and apprehended, while War Machine is crippled when his suit is struck by an accidental energy blast from Vision, causing him to crash to the ground. The twosome of Cap and Bucky sets off for Siberia, under the impression that someone is plotting to awaken other Winter Soldiers to oppose the Avengers’ team.
Upon seeing and realizing the threat, Iron Man joins the heroes, believing there to be a battle on the horizon against these other Winter Soldiers. Upon their arrival at the Siberian base, Zemo reveals that he has already killed these sleeping soldiers, and that his goal was never to awaken them, as he did not need more heroes to contend with for his plan to split the team to be a reality. Through old video footage, Zemo reveals Bucky to be the killer of Tony Stark’s parents. Shaken by this, Stark turns on the heroes and tries to kill Bucky, prompting a massive battle between the threesome. Ultimately, Bucky’s metal arm is destroyed, as is Stark’s Iron Man armor. Cap leaves his shield behind and departs. In the form of a phone message, Cap tries to make amends, for what had happened, with it being implied that the captured heroes will be freed and fighting alongside one another once again.
This was a big film with a huge cast that rivals even that of the Avengers pictures, but ultimately it lives up to the hype as one of the biggest and best movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The social commentary and plot are relevant and intriguing. The cast is one of the biggest even brought together, yet the characters are juggled well. The new characters do not disappoint, and are not in the movie so much that they steal the spotlight. The twists and turns are often unexpected and do not fail to entertain. Civil War easily ranks somewhere in the top five of the MCU’s films.
Civil War is a bit convoluted at times and juggles a bit too much from the previous movies, namely much of the Winter Soldier plot, but it does not make it a weak film. Quite the opposite, in fact. These are some of the best action scenes in a Marvel movie to date; the infamous “airport battle” between all of the heroes on opposing factions is easily the most entertaining battle scene ever seen in an MCU movie, giving the fans what they want and then some. The unexpected continuation of this battle on a small and more personal scale near the end of the film hits all of the high notes and then some. The movie delivers the action, but not at the expense of drama and story.
One of the truly pleasant surprises of the movie is its villain, Zemo. This is not some “powered” hero, an alien, or someone who is enhanced or modified. He is a regular human being whose life was shaken by the actions of the Avengers team, unintentional is they may have been. His goal is to tear the team apart, and despite a lack of any super powers or skills, he uses his mind to succeed where so many others failed through brute strength and power. In a series where there are too many one-dimensional, one-off villains, this guy is a breath of fresh air.
Overall Civil War does not fail to please in the least. This is the MCU at its best, with a huge cast and plenty of entertainment on all fronts. You will not be disappointed if you are a Marvel fan.
For the remainder of Phase Three, a number of movies are already in the works. These include a Doctor Strange movie with Benedict Cumberbatch in the titular role, Tom Holland and Chadwick Boseman reprising their roles as Spider-Man and Black Panther in their respective solo movies, a Guardians of the Galaxy sequel, a Captain Marvel film, an Ant-Man sequel, and a two-part Avengers: Infinity War set of films, with Thanos set to be the main villain. An Inhumans film had been previously announced, but it is unclear if it is still in production or planned at this point.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is in full swing, and this movie making machine shows no signs of letting down; the rest of Phase Three is going to be action packed and will leave fans curious as to the future of the franchise as well. Will Marvel reclaim the rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four? Will the current ensemble cast remain in their roles? Only time will tell for sure, but one thing is for certain:
It has been one hell of a ride, and will continue to be!
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