A Marvel Cinematic Retrospective

Photo Courtesy of Tribune News Service
Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) fights extra-dimensional evil armed with mystic might, his Cloak of Levitation and the Eye of Agomotto.

Jacob Jardel
Voices Editor
@JJardel_Writing

The release of the movie “Doctor Strange” on Nov. 4 marks the 14th feature film release in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Since 2008’s release of “Iron Man,” the film industry, movie buffs and superhero fans alike have noticed the boom in revenue and output of features focusing on Marvel comics’ cavalcade of heroes and villains.

Before then, however, few superhero movies had lasting impacts in audience’s minds.

The MCU is more than just a collection of features from the same comic source – it is a collection of films that follow a cohesive storyline that permeates into and throughout what will eventually be 25 movies spanning a dozen years.

There is a lot to take in given this much data. So here is a very brief general recap of what went on in the movies released so far. Spoilers to some of the movies are included.

Iron Man (2008)
The film that kicked it all off, Downey embodied the persona of Stark well enough that it landed him the permanent role of the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist. It did so with an engaging story, lots of action and dialogue that kept audiences intrigued.

It eventually spawned two more sequels, the merits of which vary depending on the viewer. But what it did more than anything was set up the paradigm of Marvel superhero films from there on, using comedy, drama and action to varying extents.

It also introduced a trend of adding in mid- and post-credits scenes, some of which added an extra bit of humor or insight, with others revealing future plot plans. In the case of “Iron Man,” it was the latter, with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury informing Stark of the new “Avenger Initiative,” setting up the plot for the next few movies.

Iron Man 2 (2010)
While 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” was a part of the MCU, the shift in actors from Edward Norton to Mark Ruffalo convoluted it a bit, with the only scene of note being a cameo from Downey regarding a “team” he is putting together.

Thus, the sequel to “Iron Man” was the next major landmark of the series, regardless of opinion on the film. It introduced the canon incarnation of Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes (later known as Iron Patriot, played by Don Cheadle) and Agent Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson) to the series.

In the after-credits scene, the appearance of a mysterious hammer alluded to another potential Avenger to debut in the next year.

Story-wise, it served little purpose other than elaborating more on the origins of the organization behind the Avengers. But its character introductions did make it an important part of the MCU.

Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Both movies proved to be very vital to the MCU plot points, though both are essentially origin stories for vital characters. However, in the grand scheme of the overarching story, the two have different impacts.

For “Thor,” it introduces the Norse God (Chris Hemsworth) to the eventual lineup after he seeks out the whereabouts of his fabled hammer Mjolnir. It also features the debuts of Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the villain of the first Avengers movie, and the Tesseract, the key plot point of the collaborative movie. There was also an uncredited Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) cameo.

Captain America’s eponymous film showed audiences some of the origins of S.H.I.E.L.D., the organization behind the Avengers, alongside the origin of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as Cap. It also featured Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), both of whom would feature heavily in the future of the MCU.

The Avengers (2012)
These movies all culminated in this final movie of the MCU’s Phase One, arguably one of the series’ best. In the main plotline, the Tesseract activates and opens a wormhole, allowing Loki to reach Earth. He then takes possession of the cube and enslaves the main scientist working on the Tesseract and a few agents, including Hawkeye.

Romanoff recruits Dr. Bruce Banner (the Hulk, played by Ruffalo), Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) recruits Stark, and Fury approaches Rogers as part of the Avengers Initiative. The group works together to capture Loki and the Tesseract before Thor frees his adoptive brother, attempting in vain to convince Loki to abandon the plan. The group disagrees how to approach the problem, coming up with a solution just in time to knock sense into Hawkeye and fight off Loki and the incoming waves of aliens. There is a lot more to it, but that is the basic gist that sets up what is to come.

Phase Two Solo Movies (2013-2014)
The first movie of Phase Two, “Iron Man 3,” focused mostly on Tony Stark’s reactions to the Battle of New York and addressed PTSD and anxiety. While it was a good movie important for story and character development, it did not propel the overarching plot with new details.

Meanwhile, “Thor: The Dark World” introduced the lynchpin of the MCU: the Infinity Stones.

This second film of the Captain America franchise revived Barnes – this time as the Winter Soldier, a super-powered assassin from villainous group Hydra set to eradicate Cap and crew. With the help of Sam Wilson’s Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Romanoff, the crew eventually confronts the Winter Soldier, who has flashes of remembering his past before escaping.

At the end of the movie, with S.H.I.E.L.D. in disarray, Romanoff and Fury look to pick up the pieces while Rogers and Wilson set out to find Barnes.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The second ensemble-style movie group of the MCU, this James Gunn movie focuses on some of the lesser known heroes forming a misfit group set out to save the world. Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Batista, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, the Guardians work together to keep a potential Infinity Stone away from the main villain Ronan (Lee Pace).

On top of this, however, it furthers the plot surrounding the stones and introduces one of the greater villains in the series: Thanos (Josh Brolin). While not explicitly shown in other films up to now, the eternal superhuman will play a major role in later movies.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
This second of the Joss Whedon-directed ensemble movies brought together the heroes who would eventually come together in the next Captain America movie. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) join the crew throughout their missions.

However, the movie also sows the seeds of discontent within the Avengers that will set up the next Captain America movie. The group’s disconnect over how to approach the damage caused in their fighting will later arise in future installments.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Phase Three started with a bang with this blockbuster effort, following up with the inclusion of Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) after his solo movie that closed out Phase Two. The discord within the team led to a fracturing, with the heroes taking sides with either Iron Man or Cap.

The Winter Soldier makes another appearance in this movie in what plans to be his redemption arc. Other new players in the Avengers game include Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland). However, the end of the movie left audiences wondering if the superhero troupe had fractured beyond repair.

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