Full speed ahead!
My plan to revisit every single film in the MCU prior to the launch of Avengers: Endgame continues unabated and I’ve spent the last week diving through Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. My first takeaway is that it really is amazing how a single film can entirely transform a whole segment of the MCU.
Starting off Phase 2 with the back-to-back struggles of Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World didn’t do this part of the universe any favors, and I find it sort of funny that like a standard novel or singular movie, one could surmise that the MCU got stuck in an “Act 2 slog” so to speak. Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World are likely two of my least favorite MCU installments. For all of Iron Man 3’s “buddy cop” glory, its entirely built upon Tony’s PTSD and how he adapts to his life as Iron Man. The life-changing climax involves him destroying all of his armor and potentially giving up his life as Iron Man to be with Pepper Potts…
…which would have had a lot more meaning if the whole thing wasn’t completely whitewashed in Age of Ultron, showing that Tony not only still had armor, but had dozens of armored drones at his disposal. When asked what happened with him and Pepper, he states matter-of-factly that he didn’t stop because “he didn’t want to” which completely undermines the entire thread of Iron Man 3. Dark World, meanwhile is a film lacking in serious threat and where each solution to every problem is a matter of coincidence and convenience.
Then we get to Winter Soldier, and the whole thing is changed. Captain America: Winter Soldier is not just my favorite MCU film, but may indeed be my favorite film of all time. It’s magnificent, and this is probably at least the tenth or twelveth time I’ve watched it. So, so good. The highlights of Phase 2:
- Avengers: Age of Ultron gets a bad rap. I truly don’t understand why this film ends up on the bottom of so many people’s MCU lists. It successfully introduces Scarlet Witch and Vision, ties Vision and Ultron together perfectly in a way that pays homage to the comics, but avoids much of the intertwining backstory, and it gives us a pretty kick ass Avengers story to boot. This film is perhaps the only film in MCU history where the Avengers are the Avengers, front to back, and it does it very well.
- I can’t believe how much I love Winter Soldier and how thrilled I am that the Russos took the helm here and were then more or less given the reins to steer the MCU ship through much of its life going forward.
- I still don’t get the Guardians of the Galaxy Hype. Maybe it’s just because I don’t dig the more cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but while Guardians of the Galaxy was entertaining, the cultural and financial behemoth it became baffles me. Gunn took some super obscure characters and built a full-blown franchise out of it for the MCU which is fascinating to me, even if I’m not really in love with the films themselves. Don’t get me wrong – I love how Marvel, Feige (and in this case James Gunn) are able to do this, it truly is remarkable. But for whatever reason the goofy appeal of Guardians of the Galaxy is somewhat lost on me.
It’s funny to step back from Phase 2 and realize the only two films that I truly loved were probably Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron and realize that those two films were enough. The others in this phase were certainly not bad, but compared to the highlights they don’t feel like they quite measure up. Still, watching things end-to-end here is still a ton of fun as the puzzle pieces slowly start sliding together.
I was truly impressed and surprised by how nicely Age of Ultron sets up Civil War. You start to see the cracks showing between Tony and Steve in this film, and as a precursor to the events in the third Captain America film (as well as the entirety of Phase 3) I think Phase 2 did its job.
What truly amazes me is how seamlessly the MCU can drop new characters into the existing canon and just have it work. Phase 2 brought a wealth of them – Falcon, Winter Soldier, Scarlet Witch, Vision, GOTG, Ant Man and others, and they just slide right into place and feel natural. Because of this I find myself very excited to see where Phase 4 takes us and how we get introduced to the Fantastic Four and yes, the X-Men as well. Good stuff coming!