MCU Review - Phase 2

Image result for mcu phase 2
All the movies in Phase 2 have the monumental task of trying to follow the Avengers after it made over $1 billion at the box office while expanding on their existing stories. And for the most part, it does.

 This post contains spoilers for Phase 2 of the MCU

Iron Man 3

Image result for iron man 3 posterI like the symmetry in this movie. Tony ends this film by saying "I am Iron Man" the same words he used to end the first Iron Man film, both carry weight but they mean different things. In the first movie, Tony used those words to tell the worlds that he was the man in the metal suit. In this movie, Tony is telling himself that he is more than the man in the metal suit.

 In my Iron Man 2 review, I called it the weakest Iron Man sequel and after watching this movie I stand by that statement. This movie takes place after the Avengers and shows Tony dealing with his PTSD in the only way Tony can, building more Iron Man suits and hiding behind them rather than actually dealing with the problem. This film carries over established themes in a way that the previous Iron Man movie didn't do.

Many superhero movies don't deal with the hero's emotional and mental state, they usually walk it off at the end of the day with nothing to show for it save for a few injuries. That's what makes Iron Man 3 good, Tony's motivations in this film stem from his fear and anger.

The Mandarin twist in the third act was incredibly divisive. Personally, I didn’t mind it, I can say that it cheapens some of the tension in the film especially the minutes leading up to that revelation when Tony sneaks into the mansion where he is being held. My main issue with the reveal is that the motivation of the actual villain isn't very clear when you find out who the Mandarin really is. Many people saw it as a fake-out but I was and still am curious as to what Aldrich Kilian's plan actually was.

The stakes in this movie are higher than previous Iron Man films as Tony is dealing with an international terrorist rather than someone who wants revenge or is jealous.

The end of the film shows a real growth in Tony’s character, he’s still witty and arrogant but he’s determined to protect the things he cares about. Marvel also started to sow the seeds of Infinity War here as Tony mentions a threat that is imminent, at the time we didn't know what it was but upon re-watch Tony's more erratic behaviour is understandable. He is a man who went from a science-oriented world to something out of a sci-fi movie with aliens and other dimensions and as Tony puts it "I'm just a man in a can."

Iron Man 3 had the unfortunate position of being the first MCU movie after the Avengers and the expectations were very high and I think it meets 70% of those expectations, there are moments where you are expecting more from the film but as it goes on it becomes clear that  the real crux of the movie is Tony dealing with what happened to  him while trying to  keep every other aspect of his life in check.

Thor: The Dark World

Image result for thor the dark world  posterI’ve called this movie a good way to kill two hours and I think that’s an accurate assessment. It's that film that you find while you're channel flipping and won't change the channel. This film falls into the same category as The Incredible Hulk, where it is an okay film, however, I find it is slightly more enjoyable.

Asgard is a little more fleshed out in this movie, you see more of its way of life and like the last Thor movie, some of the best parts of the film take place on Asgard. The politics of Asgard is an important aspect of this film as Odin wants Thor to be king but he's still trying to find out what it means to be worthy and protector of the 9 realms as well as how to deal with Loki who becomes more of an anti-hero in this film before his death.

I have two issues with this movie, the villain, and the cast. The story is one of epic proportions and it involves the 9 realms in danger as a dark elf named  Malekith wants to plunge the universe into darkness with the help of the Aether. For such a large scale plan you would think the villain would be more substantial, especially because, the last two films with Thor having such a brilliant antagonist in Loki but he falls flat. This film is more about the politics of Asgard and Thor's relationship with Jane, as Malekith takes a back seat.

Therein lies my second problem, the cast, Chris Hemsworth, and Tom Hiddleston seem to be putting in a lot of effort but it doesn't seem like enough, especially when they're next to  Natalie Portman who is a great actress but just looks and feels very low energy. When the stars of the film have different on-screen personalities, it doesn't sit well with me as I watch the movie.

The best scene of the movie is the scene where the Asgardians attend the funeral of Thor's mother. What makes this scene good is the emotional weight of it. No words are spoken but with the framing of the scene and the score, you feel what all the characters especially Thor, Loki, and Odin are feeling in that moment.

The second Thor movie as I said is a good way to kill two hours. It's not the best movie in the MCU and is my least favourite movie in Phase 2 by comparison, but it is enjoyable and has more than enough heartfelt moments.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Image result for captain america the winter soldier poster This film was a game changer for the MCU, it showed that the comic book genre can have other sub-genres within it. This film is a sleek political thriller with comic book elements.  It also has two of the biggest plot twists in the MCU. The first being that  HYDRA (a Nazi science division thought to be destroyed) was still thriving in SHIELD after it was thought that is had been dismantled in WW2, and the second being that Bucky was alive but was being used by HYDRA to carry out assassination under the guise of the Winter Soldier.

This is the movie perfectly utilizes the idea of a shared universe as Black Widow who was previously in an Iron Man movie is a prevalent character in this movie. It takes a relationship that typically wouldn't work a spy who you should trust and a man who believes in doing the right thing regardless of the cost. It shows both the positives and negatives of their worldview and also creates a friendship between Black Widow and Captain America that is carried over in subsequent Marvel films.

The film from the get-go shows you how it's different. At the beginning when Cap kicks a man off a boat you know that this isn't the same Captain America from the Avengers 2 years ago. He' spent the last 2 years at SHIELD and it's clear that he is no longer heavy-handed in his approach, but still has the same morals that he has stuck with since the 1940s. The movie also shows Cap dealing with living in the 21st  century, but it's done in a subtle way, you can see it in his expressions and in the way he deciphers situations. He doesn't agree with the secrets and the lies that espionage entails.

With each movie in the MCU, the introduction of a new character is organic and you see the universe through their eyes. You see Cap, Black Widow, SHIELD and the Winter Soldier as the new addition Sam Wilson sees them.

The winter soldier leaves a lasting impression based on his presence alone. He doesn't say a lot but he conveys the anger, emptiness and sometimes confusion in just his expression. Under the control of Alexander Pierce, he isn't allowed to process anything he discovers and that makes the audience feels for him.

This another movie that many people call the best  MCU movie and that claim is justified. It revamps a character that many thought was outdated and gave him a new lease on life. It is well-acted and acted with brilliant pacing. There is no moment of this film that feels out of place or forced. May call the previous Captain America movie slightly silly and this takes him in a new direction.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Image result for guardians of the galaxy poster This is my favourite movie in Phase 2 and it's the first  MCU  movie that could be considered a comedy, all the previous movies have comedic moments but this one is funnier than anything that came before it. This was the film that made a lot of people go "I'll watch it as long as it had Marvel's name in front of it" myself included.

From the moment you see Peter Quill dancing to  'Come and get your Love by Redbone', you know this is a different movie. As someone who didn't know anything about this movie beforehand, I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued.

 I called the Avengers fun and that statement still stands but this one is even more fun. It's almost childlike in its humour and I think that's because the movie isn't bound by the earth. Thor showed us a different side of the MCU and this movie showed another side where Raccoons talk and trees are anthropomorphic.

The Guardians are like the Avengers goofier siblings that don't take life too seriously. The cast is full of surprises. If you've watched Parks and Rec, you would know that Chris Pratt is hilarious and there is no one else that would carry the movie like he does. It's interesting to see the human being the odd one for a change, usually, it's the other way around. All the references and jokes he makes about Earth are funny and relatable. This movie has actors that are usually known for different for roles like Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista who show their comedic side in this movie.

 James Gunn who directed the film said the music was written into the script and it feels organic whenever it is used. Every time I watch the movie I go back and listen to Awesome Volume Mix 1. As someone who is a fan of music, having a soundtrack that sticks with you in a movie in a movie you enjoy is amazing. 

This movie continues the trend of having a forgettable villain in the MCU as it focuses more on the Guardians and how they come together as a group. We also get out first proper look at Thanos, he doesn't do much but from the little we see of him, he is a character that is ruthless.

A Marvel space opera based on obscure characters from the 70s shouldn't work, but it does. It's funny, dramatic and emotional when it needs to be. Who would have thought that I would care about a talking racoon and a tree that only says "I am Groot"

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Image result for age of ultron poster After the first Avengers movie, the next question was when will the next one be and who the villain will be. It seemed like this movie was all anyone, myself included could think about. It's a massive undertaking and it's understandable why Joss Whedon said making this movie was a task.

The beauty of the MCU at this point is how expansive the universe it. Story threads from previous movies in Phase 2. This movie acts like a quasi-sequel to all the previous MCU movies except Guardians of the Galaxy. Tony's fears from Iron Man 3 play an important role in his motivations and the creation of Ultron.

The cast is the same as it was in the previous film save for two new additions and the chemistry they had in that one carries over from the last one. There is growth and nuance in their characters, the scene where they all try to lift Thor's hammer doesn't feel like they were acting at all.
There is also more set up for Infinity War as well as Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther in this movie. This is the first time the words 'Infinity Stone' is said in the MCU movie rather than a post-credits scene like it was in Thor: The Dark World. The world building in this movie is a lot more heavy-handed than previous movies with more obvious Easter eggs that are outright mentioned rather than alluded to like it was in previous movies. This movie also expands locations in the MCU. The Avengers operate all over the world and this movie solidifies this.

Ultron's motivation stems from good intention as he was created to be a peacekeeping AI, but he believes that to save the world, he should end it, the Avengers included. The stakes are higher in the sense that the villain wants to destroy the planet rather than rule it, which leads to one of the few character deaths in the MCU but the villain in here doesn't leave the impression that  Loki does, but not many MCU villains do.

There are subplots in this film that are out of left field that feels out of place. The hint of a romance between Natasha (Black Widow) and Bruce (Hulk) feels like it came out of place, I'm interested to see if it will be touched upon in Infinity War. Another scene that feels out of place is the scene with Tho in the magic pool, it adds to story as it shows Thor a vision of the Infinity Stone which leads to the creation of Vision, but it does affect the pacing of the film.

When I first watched Age of Ultron I didn't know what to feel as I felt fulfilled but also a little disappointed. It's a feeling I still get now but I'm a lot happier with the film as a whole now than I was 3 years ago when I saw it for the first time especially as there was a short amount of time between my Avengers viewing and my Age of Ultron viewing.


Image result for ant man posterThis movie completely subverted my expectations. This is also another example of a movie that uses the comic book genre as a jumping off point into doing something different. It's heist comedy, something I wouldn't have expected from Marvel. It just seems so out of left field and I'm sure that has to do with Edgar Wright being involved in the project.

I like how small-scale this film is (excuse the pun) after Age of Ultron had an extinction level event, we needed something where the stakes aren't very high and Ant-Man is the movie to do that.

It's a movie with a hero who sounds ridiculous, but it uses the inherent silliness to its advantage and at times doubles down on the joke. This like Guardians of the Galaxy is funnier than your average Marvel movie and with someone like Paul Rudd, it makes a lot of sense to go with a more comedic route. Paul Rudd s great but the scene stealer is Michael Peña, Luis is absolutely hilarious, and I need Marvel to release a video of him recapping the last 10 years.

Everything about this movie is small-scale (I'll try to not do this) even the cast, with the exception of Paul Rudd, Michael Douglass and to an extent Evangeline Lily, a lot of the cast isn't well known to the average moviegoer, even though T.I. is very well known for his music.

This is also another movie that utilises the shared universe as Falcon who is primarily in Captain America movies has a cameo, even though it does feel like characters are being named dropped in this a lot like Cap, Iron Man and the Avengers who don't actually show up in this film.
The villain in this film has motivations that make sense to the viewer. He's angry at his former mentor for not trusting him and he's trying to beat him in every ay. In my Iron Man review, I mentioned how I didn't like the fact that Obadiah Stane does a 180, and the same applies here, but at least we are given an explanation though it is very brief.

Ant-Man in a refreshing movie to watch especially because the last two MCU movies have been quite large in their scale. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this and much like the first Captain America, I have a soft spot for this movie.

Final Thoughts 

It's clear that Marvel has found their footing. In many movies, there is the Marvel magi that we have now come to expect from their movies. The heroes introduced in Phase 1 are now more complex and now you know how they tick. The one issue phase 2 has is its villains, there are good ones like HYDRA in the Winter Soldier and Ultron in Age of Ultron, many of them remain forgettable with generic motivations.

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