Column: Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective: Phase 2

The Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out in just one short day, 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.

The Avengers. That’s what we call ourselves; we’re sort of like a team. ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ type thing.

After 6 films showing their individual origins, the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have teamed up to defeat the villainous Loki and save the Earth, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is in full swing. 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 to 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 what the superhero groups have done since their grand meeting, and is coming soon, to a theatre near you.

(Unless I have missed obvious clues, it is not entirely clear just what order the Phase 2 films take place in, so once again let’s stick to release order.)

IRON MAN 3 (2013)
The first film of the post-Avengers world fell, once again, on the metal shoulders of Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr. returned in the lead, along with Don Cheadle as Rhodey / War Machine for his second film, and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, for her third time. Guy Pearce played Aldrich Killian, a shady businessman-scientist, and Ben Kingsley brought real terror to the Marvel-verse as The Mandarin. The plot saw Tony Stark in his civilian guise come under attack by The Mandarin, but in a plot twist, it turns out that Guy Pearce was the real Mandarin all along and Ben Kingsley was just a hired actor. There was a grand finale with dozens of empty robot suits, with plenty of explosions, and it was Pepper Potts that got the killing blow on Killian.

What did I think of the film? I’m mad. I will always be mad. When Iron Man 10 comes out in twenty five years, after two decades of watered down, badly acted crap starring some Z-list actor no one has ever heard of in their first film role, it will be the bullshit Mandarin twist in this film that will be the low point of the series. I understand exactly WHY they did the twist, but it was stupid. Ruining a fantastic, legitimately scary character for the sake of a laugh is stupid, and I will never accept it. Otherwise, I feel like I need to repeat my thoughts on Iron Man 2; it was too much action and not enough substance. Stark’s breakdown was a great way to attempt to get to the heart of his character,  but too many silly plot holes and twists for the sake of twists have ruined what could have otherwise been a great addition to the franchise. Box Office numbers seem to disagree with my opinion, though, as this solo entry managed to earn nearly as much as The Avengers did, at over $1.2 billion.

The now obligatory Marvel post-credits scene was also just a stupid comedy segment; Stark is seen to be telling the story of the movie to Bruce Banner (in a nice Mark Ruffalo cameo), but nothing was added to the universe of films.

As to be expected from these second phase entries, Thor: The Dark World saw the return of the same cast as the previous films; Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, Stellan Skarsgård as Dr Erik Selvig and Tom Hiddleston as Loki. The important newcomer to the cast, Christopher Eccleston as Malekith, a dark elf from a dark world (it’s all in the name, see) who posed a threat to all reality, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (another favourite of mine for many years) played the role of Malekith’s second in charge, Algrim / Kurse.

Another by-the-book blockbuster, this film felt more like a romantic comedy that just happened to feature a hammer wielding Asgardian. Portman in particular seemed to not want to be there at all, and Eccelston’s dramatic chops were wasted, as a villain with hardly any weight behind him. Loki as the will-he-won’t-he not-quite villain seemed to get all the focus, due to this breakout popularity from the first film and Avengers. The whole film seem to be building towards a grand spectacle for a finale, but the final battle was neither visually impressive or particularly important in the grand scheme of things. This film also opened another can of worms; if there is a world ending battle taking place, why was it only Thor that showed up, after it has been established that the Avengers would always be ready (I understand the real-world reasons, but in universe it was not made clear). This film is, unfortunately, rated the lowest on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, and that is probably accurate.

This film also introduced the notion of both a mid-credits scene then another after the full credits, usually as an important scene then a scene more related to the film just shown, respectively. The mid-credits scene sent things further into space with the introduction of The Collector, and a cryptic reference to a group of powerful items this figure wanted.

But what does this mysterious man mean for the coming movies? Find out on page 2!

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