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MCU Review - Phase 1

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Many fans of the MCU  are celebrating the release of its biggest movie yet with a re-watch of all the movies that came before it. In 2016 my friend Saff and I watched all the MCU movies from Iron Man to  Captain America: Civil War and it took over 24 hours to complete, while I have no intention to do that again, it's interesting to re-watch all the movies including the new additions. 

This post will contain spoilers for the whole of Phase 1.

Iron Man

Image result for iron man poster There is a reason many people consider Iron Man one of the best MCU movies. It was released 10 years ago and it still holds up. It has to be mentioned that this movie really works because of Robert Downey Jr. His casting as Tony Stark is pitch perfect. He is Tony Stark. His chemistry with the rest of the cast is captivating.

Another reason this movie holds up is due to the fact that it's grounded, Jon Favreau took a concept that doesn't sound realistic and made it believable. The movie feels organic. It's well known that the script was not complete when filming started and the fact that a lot of the actor's lines were improvised gives the film a feeling of authenticity.
Another reason this movie works so well is the fact that it's a standalone movie. There are no ties to the larger Marvel Universe because it didn't really exist and that allows the movie to stand on its own without being weighed down by the ties of a bigger universe.

Obadiah Stane as the Iron Monger may be my least favourite element of the movie. The seeds are sown in an organic way as you can see the twinges of resentment and jealousy when he looks at Tony. However the complete 180° he does in the middle of the film is kind of jarring as he wasn't so nefarious and willing to kill people without a second thought.

Overall Iron Man is a movie, that is very well acted and well directed. It deserves all the praise that it gets, Tony Stark is rude and arrogant but you can't help but love him. This movie started the MCU as we know it. It has that magic we have come to expect from Marvel Studios and it set up one the most expansive franchises in the history of cinema. The line at the end "I am Iron Man" and the end credits scene where Nick Fury is in Tony's house and talks about the Avengers Initiative never fails to get me excited.

The Incredible Hulk

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This is my least favourite MCU movie, I find the movie hard to watch, mainly because I find it very jarring. A lot of the themes, ideas, and characters that are established here are completely ignored later. The only call back to this movie is the return of Thaddeus Ross in Captain America: Civil War, without this connection you wouldn't be mistaken in thinking this movie wasn't part of the MCU because it feels so removed from the rest of the MCU that is usually so tight-knit.

This movie as a whole to me is fine, it has it's good and it's bad. As I watched it for this review there were moments where I switched off completely as those moments aren't very engaging. The recasting of Edward Norton in subsequent Marvel movies isn't something that bothers me as much as I thought it would, maybe because this movie is so detached from the larger universe. It's clear that Marvel hadn't found their footing here. It's hard to see any of these characters interacting with the Avengers even though Ross and Tony Stark have some interactions in this film and Civil War. The cast in this movie though doesn't have a lot of chemistry Edward Norton and Liv Tyler aren't very believable as two people who care deeply about each other.

One element I did like was the story. It shows Bruce Banner coming to terms with the Hulk after months of trying to get rid of it. He seems to have accepted it, even trying to induce the Hulk without being provoked and that's something that is really interesting.

All in all, there isn't much to say about this film. It is one I considered skipping but that didn't feel right. Regardless of its issues, this film has merit and moments I enjoyed. Even though it is largely forgotten, it is canon and should be treated as such.

Iron Man 2 

Image result for iron man 2 poster In my opinion, this is the weakest Iron Man movie. At times it feels like it's juggling too many things, trying to continue the Iron Man story in a way that is familiar to the characters established in the first one while bringing in easter eggs and setting up more of the universe. (The Thor and Captain America easter eggs in this movie were very well done)

The cast led by Robert Downey Jr. is as excellent as they were in the first one, the chemistry in this one is very evident, however not as organic as some of their lines were a little clunky. The movie suffers from what I call sequel-itis, trying to one-up the original without being too radically different but it doesn't really work. The villain in this movie Ivan Vanko, also known as Whiplash, is one of the most forgettable in the MCU, however, he does have clear motivations that are scaled down. He doesn't want to take over the world, he just wants revenge for what Howard Stark did to his father. The other character that can be considered a villain is Justin Hammer who at times seems like he is trying too hard, almost like he wants to be Tony Stark. It's an interesting dynamic that Justin and Tony have, almost like a little brother trying to get out of his big brother's shadow. Both of these characters don't leave a lasting impression after the credits roll.

This movie also introduced us to one of the most badass women in the MCU, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. The twist that she was working with SHIELD is well placed and is a genuine surprise and that hallway scene in the third act is insane.

This movie had scenes that I felt were too long and the movie does slow down significantly during the second act when Tony starts acting up more than usual and SHIELD steps in.

Iron Man 2 goes towards the bottom of my MCU ranking, not because its bad, but because there are better movies that come before it. It doesn't really do anything new with the characters even though it introduces some new themes and characters.

Thor

Image result for thor posterThe first Thor movie falls into a weird pocket when I look at it. Before Ragnarok, I thought that this was as good as a Thor movie was going to ever get. Kenneth Branagh doesn't get enough credit for this movie, he took a character that on paper is very silly and made it realistic and cinematic. Before this movie, all the characters we knew in the MCU operated on earth. This movie showed a different side of the cosmos, we were shown people who live and interact with each other differently. When you look at Asgard it looks too perfect and glossy which lends itself to its more mystical elements.

The cast of this movie is interesting as it has well-known actors who playing pretty uninteresting characters with the exception of Chris Hemsworth's Thor, Tim Hiddleston's Loki and Anthony Hopkins' Odin. Other actors like Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, and Stellan Skarsgard's characters serve the story without leaving a lasting impression.

Looking at the film, the CGI doesn't completely hold up and that is an interesting and somewhat baffling statement given the fact that the movie was released only 7 years ago, however, CGI is a lot better now than it was then and I'm looking at it in lew of films that were released later than this one. The film lulls a little in the middle while Thor is on earth and a lot of the films best scenes happen on Asgard with Loki who is a complete scene stealer. There is a reason his name comes up when people talk about their favourite MCU villains as his motivations, however, twisted align with something that many people feel at some point in their life. He just wants to be out of Thor's shadow.

Without this movie, we wouldn't have the Thor we all know and love. The more Shakespearean elements of the film work more than one would think and provided us with an adequate film that was different to what preceded it.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Image result for captain america the first avenger poster I have a soft spot for this movie, I really do. There is something about this movie that makes me smile. Maybe it's seeing Steve Rogers pre-serum in his purest form when all he wanted to do was serve his country and save people.

There are parts of this movie that feel kind of forced and tacked on, the montage, for instance, seems a little misplaced and the pacing of the film dips when we get to that part. Chris Evans carries this movie, you support his boy-scout demeanour without it becoming annoying or overly grating. There are moments towards the beginning where you feel sorry for Steve because he's never given a chance even though he shows tremendous courage and wants to do the right thing.

The Red Skull is a worthy adversary and isn't just a dark version of the hero like in Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk. Although some of his motivations are on the more generic side, (he want's to take over the world and bring about a new world order) it's appropriate for the movie which is set in WWII.

There are characters who leave a lasting impression like Peggy and Bucky. Peggy is a no-nonsense woman who isn't afraid to get her hands dirty and you can see why Steve falls for her, she isn't waiting for the men to win the war and tell her what to do, she's in the room making decisions. The scene where she punches a misogynistic cadet is very rewarding. Meanwhile, Bucky and Steve's friendship is the epitome of ride or die. They both risked their lives for each other as well as the greater good.

The emotional climax of the film where Steve goes into the water feels earned as you see the sly glances between Peggy and Steve. When Steve wakes up 70 years later, you feel his shock and sadness at losing everything he ever knew.

There are moments where this movie feels like a prelude to the Avengers especially as the post-credits scene is a teaser trailer for the Avengers. Regardless of that, this movie shows some of the historical events that take place in the MCU as well as introduces characters that play an important role in the future of the MCU.

The Avengers

Image result for the avengers posterThis is my favourite movie in Phase One and one of my favourite movies ever. The Avengers is the pay off for watching all the previous  Phase One movies. The beauty of the Avengers is the fact that it works as a standalone film, but when you've immersed yourself in these stories the movie feels even more special. I kid you not I have seen this film more than 10 times and I still get goosebumps when I see the 360° shot of all the Avengers. It feels important and it is.

Seeing all these characters that have since existed in their own stories come together is mind-blowing. The villain from Thor, with the macguffin from Captain America, play a pivotal role in this movie as well as characters from Thor, Iron Man and Captain America. The story is more believable because the characters don't like each other at the start of the movie, Tony and Thor have a physical fight while Steve and Tony get very close. There is tension among these characters, that they have to put aside as well as their pride.

This film is completely engaging, for a film that is 2 hours and 30 minutes there is no point in the film that drags, the dialogue is witty and the jokes land when they are made. Joss Whedon did a fantastic job of balancing all the tones that have been previously established by previous directors while adding his own nuances. By the time you get to the battle of New York, you know where each character is coming from and how disheartened they feel after the death of Phil Coulson.

This movie is fun, that's the bottom line. The behind-the-scenes footage shows that even the actor's had fun making the movie. I first watched this movie when it came out in 2012 and I think it broke my brain a little, after seeing all these characters in their own adventures and then seeing them all together, it feels like you are witnessing something monumental and that feeling has not changed 6 years later.

The Avengers is a great movie with a great story, brilliant acting, fantastic CGI and stellar directing. I can't say enough good things about it.

Final Thoughts

Phase One of the MCU starts off very strong, you can see some of the growing pains where they try and establish a tone for each character as well as an overall tone and by the time we get to the Avengers, they found it. Something that is very interesting MCU is the number of cameos and small details that you notice when you re-watch it.

Click here for Phase 2
Click here for Phase 3

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