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 two. 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.
Iron Man 3
I have so many nitpicks. One might say a plethora of nitpicks. Why is it that any one of these Extremis guys can cut through Iron Man’s armor like butter with their bare hands? Why does Tony’s prototype suit fall apart any time something bumps it? And who precisely is able to power and control the Iron Man suits? We know that Rhodey’s suit has been modified since he has no arc reactor in his chest, but how exactly do the bad guys remotely pilot the president while he’s captive in the armor? Pepper controls the armor at one point as well. So little makes sense, or at least remains unexplained and confusing. Pepper got Eextremis powers but then somehow got cured of them around the same time as Tony had the surgery to extract the metal bits in his chest, I suppose?
Tony’s banter with the kid was pretty good, I guess. And that’s interesting, because that kid—Harley, I believe his name was—is going to make a return appearance in Avengers: Endgame. And Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery was pretty funny. Even the bottom-of-the-barrel Marvel films aren’t bad movies.
Thor: The Dark World
Everyone’s least favorite Marvel film did have some things going for it. Sure, the Dark Elf villains were a bit flat, and the plot is difficult to follow, but the film does introduce the Reality Stone in the form of the Aether. That’s something. The film ends off with Loki apparently dying, and then impersonating Odin, which does set up Thor: Ragnarok nicely.
And despite all its flaws, Darcy’s callback to her Mjollnir mispronunciation in the first film still cracks me up.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Whereas the first Iron Man was the best of them, and the first two Thor films were lackluster, Captain America took off in its second film in a huge way. At its heart, Captain America: Winter Soldier was an espionage film, but in reality, it was so much more. Very few films are as dense as this. When you stop and think about all the things that happened, it’s hard to find any other comparable film other than DC’s Batman: Dark Knight. It introduces Falcon, gives us a fantastic throwaway villain in Batroc the Leaper, introduces Brock Rumlow who later comes back as Crossbones, lets Dr. Zola from the first film make a virtual reappearance, and lets Black Widow continue to be an amazing badass.
Captain America: Winter Soldier is really the first time Cap comes into his own as a full-fledged superhero. I loved seeing him singlehandedly take out a carrier of mercenaries, run through a wall while pursuing Bucky, and nearly pull down a helicopter with his huge biceps. The addition of Robert Redford to the cast didn’t hurt either.
And while we’re examining each film’s contribution to the overall lore preceding endgame, let’s not forget that in the Captain America: Winter Soldier after-credits scene, we see Hydra using the Mind Stone they’ve taken from SHIELD post-Avengers to imbue Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver with powers.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Who would ever have thought that a wacky space opera featuring a raccoon, an anthropomorphic tree, and a few other multicolored rogues could find a place in a superhero franchise? I really don’t know how they did it, but Marvel went out, they made the film, and they made it excellent. I’ve heard Guardians of the Galaxy referred to as this generation’s Star Wars. And there’s a serious case to be made for that.
It’s important to remember that “the orb” everyone is fighting over throughout the movie is, in fact, the Power Stone. Ronan the Accuser loses, and it’s handed over to the Nova Corps.
Guardians of the Galaxy has some of my personal favorite supporting characters. It introduces Yondu Udanta, Kraglin, and Corpsman Rhonaan Dey, all of whom are pretty awesome. It also introduces Korath from Star Force, who makes a reappearance in Captain Marvel.
Their choice to use classic rock as the soundtrack was an inspired one. But that’s not all the film had going for it. The intro heist and escape, the tussle that ended with our heroes jailed, the characters joining up to escape prison, and the shift of the group’s thinking when they collectively put the good of the galaxy above their own profit. It was a remarkable script perfectly acted by a great cast.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
The much-maligned second Avengers film is actually a favorite of mine. It opens with a tremendous set piece that shows the whole Avengers team working together as they hadn’t since the first film. After Stark gets the Mind Stone, much of the film’s plot surrounds that.
A lot happened in Avengers: Age of Ultron. In addition to giving us both Scarlet Witch’s and the Vision’s origin stories, the awesome Hulkbuster fight, and introducing Hawkeye’s family and Bruce Banner’s relationship with Natasha Romanov, the movie showed us Ulysses Klaue, who’s a substantial side-villain in Black Panther. And let’s not forget that scene where everyone takes turns trying to lift Thor’s hammer.
One of the most confusing parts of the movie is Thor’s vision. He has a vision of a party on what looks like it may be Asgard, but it’s been theorized that this may have been Hel. This being the case, it looks like this was a premonition about his sister Hela, who appears in Thor: Ragnarok. His vision also showed him the four known Infinity Stones. Yeah, it’s all pretty confusing, and isn’t made any better by the full scene having been cut from the theatrical release.
I loved Ultron as a villain. I’d very much have liked to see him be a bigger and longer-term threat than he was, but for all I know, we might get that in Avengers: Endgame.
The movie ended with Hulk flying off solo in the quinjet, beginning a long absence for the character, and perfectly setting up his presence in Thor: Ragnarok.
Part of what had made Marvel so successful up to this point is its use of comedy in its movies. To that end, throwing Paul Rudd into the mix really worked. While Ant-Man is, in my mind, on the lower end of the Marvel movie scale, in large part due to an unmemorable villain, Paul Rudd’s comic delivery really saves much of it. And his sidekicks, especially Michael Pena as Luis, are absolutely hilarious. Luis’s rant that ended in his hilarious “he said yes” line at the film’s conclusion was my favorite bit.
It’s also interesting that Ant-Man’s raid on the Avengers facility leads to Falcon tracking him down at the end of the movie, which is what stages Ant-Man to show up in Captain America: Civil War.
That’s it for Phase Two. Stay on the lookout for our upcoming recap of Stage Three of the MCU!