Column: Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective: Phase 1

The Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out in a few shorts days, so let me take you through a history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to make sure you are all up to date before the superhero team his the big screen for the second time.

You think you’re the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.

With just one line of dialogue, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was born. Currently consisting of 10 movies, with one more due out in just a few days and 11 further films already slated all the way through 2019, it is hard to argue the success of the inter-connected superhero franchise. The ten released films have already grossed over seven billion dollars, despite varying in quality, and one would have to think that the second all-star team up film, Avengers: Age of Ultron, will be grossing at least a billion itself. But before we get to that, let’s take a trip down memory lane and take a look at where this all started, what has happened and even what might be coming soon, to a theatre near you.

(Although my personal viewing order begins with Captain America, let’s do things in release order of the films.)

IRON MAN (2008)
Without The X-Men or Fantastic 4, and Spider-man swinging around in the web of another company, Marvel needed to bring something new to table. They did this, and with aplomb, with 2008’s Iron Man, the origin story of the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist Anthony ‘Tony’ Stark. Robert Downey Jr. drew the lucky straw, and I would argue that his portrayal of the fast-talking Stark is the best of the cast so far.
I enjoyed the film, thanks in no small part to Jeff Bridge’s depiction of Obadiah Stane, the Iron Monger, the primary antagonist to Tony Stark, both physically and mentally. Throw in some references to the criminal group The Ten Rings, and one Agent Phil Coulson of a group known as ‘S.H.I.E.L.D.’ and the seeds were planted for more than just a single, stand-alone movie.

It was Samuel L Jackson’s debut as Nick Fury in a post-credit scene, however, that told viewers there was going to be much more to see, and that Iron Man was not the only hero in the world. More to see, with “the Avengers imitative.”

A film that has become something of the forgotten child of the MCU, 2008’s The Incredible Hulk was another origin movie, this time for Doctor Bruce Banner, and his giant, green alter-ago, The Hulk. Edward Norton (a personal favourite actor of mine, no less) portrayed the good doctor, while some fancy CGI work and the voice of Lou Ferrigno once again helped bring the Hulk to the screen. Liv Tyler had the role of Banner’s love interest, Betty Ross, and William Hurt and Tim Roth rounded out the core cast in the shoes of Army General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and Emil Blonsky, aka the monstrous Abomination.

The film was… not bad, per se, but not particularly good either, and is currently the lowest grossing film in the MCU. I admit that the character’s literal transformations and the explosive action was incredible (it’s in the name, see), but overall it was just not very appealing. One potential problem, in hindsight, is that the film was trying to do too much in terms of laying the seeds for future developments. The relatively recent ‘Hulk‘ film in 2003, not a part of the MCU, may have been another factor. Or, maybe, Hulk standalone films are just not what people want to see.

Becoming something of a trend in Marvel Studios films, it was none other than Tony Stark, Iron Man himself who showed up in a post credits scene, further tying the films together into one cohesive universe, and telling the audience there is a team being put together.

IRON MAN 2 (2010)
Nearly two years to the day that the silver screen Marvel-verse began, Robert Downey Jr. was back in his fancy suits as Tony Stark aka Iron Man. Nick Fury returned, as well, in a more prominent role, and Scarlett Johansson was added to the cast as the Russian super spy, Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow. Don Cheadle replaced Terrence Howard from Iron Man as Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, along for the ride in his War Machine armour suit, and Sam Rockwell took the reigns as iron Man’s foil, Justin Hammer, a rival weapons manufacturer. Playing second in command (for a time) to Rockwell’s Justin Hammer was Mickey Rourke as an amalgamation of the comics’ characters Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo, another (another!) tech-expert in his own suit, equipped with some electrified whips (it’s in the name, see) to cut Iron Man’s suits into pieces. This film was also the first to directly reference a previous film, as footage of the Hulk from his own film was played in the background, during a conversation between Tony Stark and Nick Fury.

Following the success of Iron Man in 2008, Iron Man 2 was, in my opinion, something of a letdown, focusing on action and explosions over substance, and the whole film felt more like a long winded trailer for the recently-announced Avengers film. But it was this film that gave me my personal fan-gasm, when the post credits scene showed an artifact which had fallen into the middle of a New Mexico desert; a large hammer, inscribed with some ancient runes.

Find out who this other-worldly hammer belonged to, and how these films all came together, on page 2.

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