It’s been eleven years and more than twenty films, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe is closing its third and final phase. This week, GeekDad is looking back at Marvel’s superhero franchise, and today we’re focusing on phase three. If you haven’t seen the phase one and phase two recaps, go check them out. This is our retrospective of each film’s place within the greater MCU and the specific aspects that may make it relevant to the tapestry that Marvel has woven with their storytelling. There will be spoilers for the films, so if you haven’t seen all the films in the franchise, tread with caution. And if you’re not planning to go back and watch many, then perhaps the following will refresh your memory on a number of MCU happenings.
Captain America: Civil War
For a long time, I was debating about whether this was my favorite Marvel film. Just after seeing it, I got home and realized that so much had happened over the course of the movie that I couldn’t even remember it all. Crossbones tries to steal a biological weapon in
Sokovia Lagos, and the team stops him, but collateral damage destroys a government building, leading to the Sokovia Accords and the primary conflict. The movie also functions as an origin story for Black Panther, leaving the standalone movie to focus elsewhere. Also a Spider-Man introduction. And adds Ant-Man to the mix.
There were so many great moments. From Spider-Man and Cap’s Queens/Brooklyn rivalry to Falcon’s badass bulletproof wings to Spider-Man quipping during the fight “Aw, you’ve got a metal arm? That is so cool!”, to my personal favorite Stan Lee cameo (“Tony Stank?”), there’s no shortage of epic content. I especially liked the brief fight between Hawkeye and The Vision which let Vision show how he can casually handle most mortals like an adult would handle a cranky child.
The last thing I’ve got to mention is a brilliantly written speech during Peter Parker’s MCU introduction. We’ve all seen Spider-Man movies ad nauseam. We didn’t need to see uncle Ben killed again, and we didn’t need to hear “With great power comes great responsibility” for the hundredth time. So they rephrased it the way a high-schooler might say it. “When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t… and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.” Bam. Blink and you miss it, but he just casually stated Spider-man’s core tenet.
A classic origin story, not too unlike the first Iron Man. Arrogant jerk has a tragedy, learns new abilities, saves people, becomes a superhero. It was a good movie, like all the Marvel films are, but for our purposes today, it’s mostly notable for its introduction of the Time Stone.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
As good as the first Guardians film was, James Gunn was going to have his hands full putting together a worthy sequel. It wasn’t until my third time watching that I really began to get it, and to fully appreciate that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was really very good. And it’s mostly because of the movie’s theme, which is family. Families take all different forms, but in the end, it’s not just blood relation that determines who’s your family. Gamora and Nebula reconcile and embrace their sisterhood, Yondu does the right thing and earns his place among his Ravager family, and Quill realizes that while Ego may have been his father, Yondu was always his daddy.
I loved seeing Adam Warlock teased, and I loved that Sylvester Stallone, Michelle Yeoh, and
Michael Clarke Duncan Ving Rhames showed up as Ravagers at the end. You know we’ll see them all in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 if they don’t show up in Avengers: Endgame.
Having introduced Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War left Marvel free to follow other plotlines in this standalone film. And while it’s perhaps on the low side of average for an MCU film, it was still the best Spider-Man film ever made.
In the flashback to the immediate aftermath of the original Avengers movie, we see Michael Keaton and his team cleaning up after the battle of New York. Then, Damage Control comes in and kicks him off the job. Flash forward to years later and he’s found himself a niche selling the illegally recovered alien tech. He doesn’t want to take over the world. He just wants a fair shake and feels that he’s been wronged. His final plot to steal gear (Megingjord!) from the Avengers during their move from Stark Tower to their new upstate New York facility was a worthy third act.
It was nice to see The Shocker in the action and to see the future Scorpion. I wonder if perhaps The Sinister Six is somewhere in the future.
After how underwhelming the first two Thor films were, I don’t think anyone expected Thor: Ragnarok to be in the very top tier of Marvel movies, sitting alongside The Avengers, Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy as the best of the MCU films.
Thor: Ragnarok is arguably the funniest film in the MCU to date. From “piss off, ghost“ to “Get Help” to Thor’s snake story, it was hilarious throughout. I absolutely loved Karl Urban as Skurge, and everybody loved Korg.
Dr. Strange makes an appearance early in the film, and given Loki’s last visit to New York, he’s eager to get the brothers off planet Earth ASAP. The way he effortlessly handles Loki’s sorcery shows how far he’s come since his own movie.
In a setup for Avengers: Infinity War, Loki surreptitiously takes the Space Stone from Asgard, and then after the credits, Thanos’s ship shows up beside the Asgardian refugee lifeboat.
I’m not going to spend much time reviewing everything about Black Panther. The film was groundbreaking, won awards, and was a victory for representation. In the context of setup for Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, the biggest thing it did was set the scene for the climactic Wakanda battle which concluded with Thanos’s snap. As the most advanced civilization on planet Earth, Wakanda is the most defensible spot and it makes sense that the Avengers would try to defend the final Infinity Stone there.
Avengers: Infinity War
This wasn’t the movie anyone expected. It certainly wasn’t the movie I expected. I won’t recap, since this is the one must-watch film you’ve got to see again before going out to see Avengers: Endgame, but I do have some thoughts.
As I’ve mentioned before, Avengers: Infinity War was a hero’s journey, and Thanos was the protagonist. We see him collect his tokens and ultimately win. Interesting that a movie’s villain can be its protagonist.
When I’d first watched Infinity War, I was shocked to see Thanos outmuscle Hulk. I’d always believed Hulk to be the unparalleled strongest character in all of Marveldom. It wasn’t until much later that I realized the explanation was the one Infinity Stone that Thanos had at that point. The Power Stone. Suddenly, everything made sense. If there’s anything that could turn Thanos’s strength up to eleven, it’s the Power Stone. I’m pretty sure that you can actually see the thing glowing in its place on the gauntlet at the moment that Thanos is wrestling Hulk.
It’s also interesting to realize that by the movie’s end, Tony Stark still thinks that Thor is dead. When Dr. Strange brought Bruce Banner to see Tony, Bruce said “Thor is gone,” and Bruce had good reason to believe that. But whereas Bruce saw Thor return to Wakanda with Stormbreaker, Tony’s been away on Titan. Tony’s current situation neatly fulfills the prophetic vision Scarlet Witch gave him in Age of Ultron, wherein everyone else was dead and it was his fault.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Much like the first film, Paul Rudd’s second Ant-Man movie was very good without being top-tier for Marvel. I very much enjoyed Ghost and Goliath as villains who weren’t strictly evil, but the character I found I really loved was Randall Park’s character Jimmy Woo, the hilarious FBI agent.
The most relevant moment in the entire film was the final post-credits scene which left Scott Lang stranded in the quantum realm. It’s almost certain that the subatomic time vortexes mentioned by Janet Van Dyne will play into his escape as well as enabling some time travel shenanigans in Avengers: Endgame.
If you are planning on re-watching every one of the films, you’ll need to head back to the theater to see Captain Marvel again. As recent as it is, I won’t re-hash much—I’ll just say that I loved the film. After the tepid love stories in Thor and Dr. Strange, it was great to see an MCU film with no romantic involvement whatsoever.
I was initially confused about the Space Stone’s appearance, as I thought it had been recovered from the ice at the same time as Steve Rogers, but it looks like the Tesseract was recovered significantly earlier. Good thing, because until I saw it, I never knew how much I needed to see a flerken puking up a powerful artifact onto Nick Fury’s desk.
The capstone to the first three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is coming in less than a month. What are you most looking forward to? What are you hoping to see? Let us know in the comments. Personally, I’d love to see Rescue make an appearance, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Kamala Khan, Ghost Rider, or even Beta Ray Bill.