Phase Two of the MCU was certainly ambitious. Launching two new franchises, neither of which should have worked and flipping the entire infrastructure on its head was no small task. But it turned out to be nothing compared to what Marvel and Disney had in store for Phase Three, which will comprise 8 movies over a three year period.
That’s right, nearly half of what will comprise the Marvel Cinematic Universe will have been released over a three year period.
Now, two of them we can’t discuss, because just like Phase Two, the third go round will end with and Avengers film and then an Ant-Man film. As you’re (probably) reading this we’ve arrived at the former and a few months away from the latter. Early word is that Infinity War is what it needs to be, and Ant-Man & the Wasp looks every bit as fun as the first film.
So, let’s talk about what got us here to this point in Phase Three…and boy did it start with a bang.
Captain America: Civil War was another entry (maybe the last) into that franchise that wore its plot in the title, at least for comic book fans. But like The Winter Soldier it wound up not mattering at all. It also could have just been Avengers: Civil War, because every damn body is in it, including a few new characters to the MCU, Black Panther and Spider-Man.
Once again directed by the Russo Brothers, and much like its predecessor, it’s an almost perfect film. It features a villain who may rival Loki for drawing our empathy, a morally complex story that divides our heroes and makes it nearly impossible to choose sides, and in old-school Marvel fashion, heroes that fight each other while the bad guy pulls their strings. At this moment it is arguable the crown jewel in the MCU crown.
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 remains one of my favorite superhero films, but it’s impossible to argue with Tom Holland’s portrayal of Peter Parker. He is this brilliant amalgamation of every version of the character, complete with (for the first time ever) a Brooklyn accent. He’s also the audience surrogate, a kid who cannot believe what he’s seeing and what is happening.
Then there’s Black Panther, whose reveal got a reaction from my opening night crowd like I’ve never heard. As if everyone had been holding their breath right up until the moment he leapt onto screen, and that tension was released in overwhelmingly loud screams of joy. The astounding box office of his solo film may have surprised some, but I knew then and there it was going to be massive. But that’s another movie…
Civil War is a film that delivered in every possible way, and flipped the MCU upside down once more. Even in an escalating series of films where we’d “never seen anything like it before,” this upped the ante in a way no one even thought possible.
How do you follow that? Well, the best way possible, by slowing things down.
Not that Doctor Strange is a lesser film, but like so many of the first solo efforts it doesn’t have to carry the entire weight of the entire MCU. But it definitely makes its mark thanks to director Scott Derrickson and his writing partners John Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill.
The character of Stephen Strange had a brief mention in The Winter Soldier, which made it seem like he was already established as a known entity. At least to SHIELD. And that may be the case, but it was still nice to have them go back and give us a sort of origin story.
Benedict Cumberbatch is pitch perfect, like most of the MCU casting, as is his supporting cast. It definitely opened up the spiritual world of the MCU, somewhat melding it with the cosmic stuff we’d gotten from Thor and GotG. It doesn’t play as big as most of the other MCU films, but that might be why it’s so endearing to me. It’s just a solid, fun entry into the canon, and that’s perfectly fine.
In 2017 we got our MCU first; three films in one year.
Starting with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a fairly divisive follow up to the first film…but one I think is far superior. Sure, it retains a fair amount of the goofiness from the previous film, but it expands so much of the cosmic side that a lot of that’s over shadowed for me.
We get the intro of the original Guardians from the comics (known as the Reavers here), teasing the Watchers, giving us Kurt Russell as Ego the Living Planet, the Sovereign, the Adam Warlock tease…and so much more. Add in the already established group dynamic and it’s just a wall-to-wall blast.
But it would hold a candle to the two films that followed it…
To say Spider-Man: Homecoming was a breath of fresh air would be the understatement of the year. But not fresh air for the MCU, for the character itself, and boy was it needed.
Just how Peter Parker got to come play in the MCU is a long, weird, somewhat sordid tale. I’ll let you go down that Google/Wikipedia rabbit hole on your own, I’ll just say that it proves something good can come out of almost anything.
Sony, Marvel and Disney teamed up to finally give us a Spider-Man true to his roots. Not only was he a hard luck hero, but he was up beat, a perpetual teenager, conscious of the people around him, sometimes to a fault. And the did it by recruiting a solid director, Jon Watts, and putting a well-crafted script together from a team of writers. They didn’t let nostalgia for what has happened to the character dictate their tale, and wound up giving us a film that honors all of it.
Next to Loki and Zemo (in Civil War), Michael Keaton’s Vulture is one of the MCU’s best baddies to date. Like them, he’s relatable; it’s hard not to be empathetic to his plight. And it’s incredibly fun watching his cohorts get taken down one by one.
But, the movie is not without its flaws. And that flaws name is Iron Man.
The Spider-Man part of this film is a joy, but it seems like all parties involved in production we so worried the Wall-Crawler could not carry a film that they had to overly insert the MCU’s favorite son.
Yes, it’s a convenient and fortunate use of the character to have him be the financier of the Web Head. It’s one of the most worrisome parts of the Spidey origin; how could he afford to do these things? Problem solved. So let’s just have him solve it again and again.
Part of the charm of Peter Parker is his ingenuity, and to hamstring that with a constant reliance of Tony Stark, or at least to have him constantly ASKING for help, is somewhat of a betrayal. And I say somewhat because there was definitely a run of early Spidey stories that involved him looking for a superhero team to be a part of. Still, it’s a phenomenal reboot for an already tired franchise.
Next up was another rebooted franchise, of a sort, Thor: Ragnarok.
The powers that be brought in director Taika Waititi and teamed him with a group of usual suspects on the writing side (Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Chris Yost) to revamp the God of Thunder. The result was truly spectacular.
Yes, the film still relies heavily on the charms of Hemsworth hand Hiddleston, and this time it adds Mark Ruffalo to the mix, and it embraces the humourous aspects of Marvels Norse gods. It’s also Ruffalo’s first chance to truly shine as both the Hulk and Banner. Banner’s just a prevalent as the Jade Giant, and they give the Hulk more personality, allowing for some truly hysterical jabs.
Along with the returning cast the film also boasts Cate Blanchett doing her best Julie Newmar, with a homicidal twist. Easily the most memorable villain of this franchise not Named Loki, I think she’s constantly upstaged by the bumbling-yet-fierce Skurge, played by cinematic chameleon Karl Urban. Dude has more geek cred than probably any other actor in the MCU. He’s Caesar from the Xena/Hercules series, Eomer in LotR, Vaako from the Riddick flicks, Bones in Star Trek…he’s Judge frakking Dredd. And he’s excellent as Skurge. There’s also Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster, Tessa Thompsons brilliant Valkrie performance and Korg, voiced by director Waititi.
It’s a funny, poignant and thrilling action adventure which sets the stage for the War to come. It lives up to its name, forever changing the character of Thor and his entire world. It elevates the Hulk from cgi puppet to legit presence, and makes Matt Damon part of the MCU.
Then came Black Panther.
Director Ryan Coogler, hot off Creed, reteaming with frequent collaborator Michael B. Jordan, and a script co-written with Joe Robert Cole…could they pull it off? Sure, he was quickly a fan favorite out of Civil War, and the buzz was strong from the minute they started production. But it also got a February release, the first Marvel film not to premiere in peak-movie going season. It’s a slot that could either mean a lack of confidence, or a lot of faith. A few years before Deadpool had raked it in with a Valentines Day premiere. I imagine the hope was for Black Panther to do something similar. Instead it broke the bank.
To date it has grossed over 680 million in the US, and only slightly less worldwide with over 643 million. That’s $1.3 billion at the box office. The only other Marvel film to do better worldwide was Age of Ultron, and it currently ranks at #3 on the US box office all-time. Impressive isn’t even the right word… I don’t even know if there is one.
I’m not going to go into too much about the film, it’s still pretty fresh, and believe it or not, not every one has seen it. There are plenty of wait-for-video folks out there.
I’ll say this, Boseman is amazing, but (broken record here) it’s the supporting cast that makes this such a wonderful film. Every actor feels so fully commited to these characters, and each one feels so unique and realized, despite such short screen time, that I wanted to see an 90 minute film on each one of them. The word about Infinity War is that it’s going to involve a lot of Wakanda, and a lot of these characters. Good.
While the Cap films remain my favorites of the solo films, they are so entrenched in the rest of the MCU that they become difficult to separate. Black Panther is a film that exists on its own, and while it does involve the rest of the MCU, it doesn’t need it. In fact it does world building inside the already established world, something we don’t really ever see in films.
It may be the most important, and is certainly the most relevant film in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
There’s been a lot of hand wringing (by me for sure) about what comes next. Real world contracts will expire, actors will want to move on, and there has to be someone to carry the torch. Captain America is the heart of this world, and while the moniker will probably continue on, we know Chris Evans will hang it up soon. Whom ever takes his place will be fine, but I think we’ve already seen the new heart of the MCU. And his name is T’Challa.
But that’s a ways up the road. Right now we have Infinity War. Thanos versus every hero (and villain, you watch) we’ve seen on screen for the last ten years. They don’t stand a chance.