As I’ve written before comics are my constant. Other than my family comics are the most consistent part of my life. I first began collecting comics in the late ‘70s and they quickly took a hold of my imagination. From pre-school to today there has never been a time when I wasn’t reading and collecting comics. I learned to read on comics. My comics helped me get through my awkward teen years and were always there when times were bad. Over the course of my love of comics I’ve witnessed many attempts by the film industry to capitalize on the world of superheroes but rarely did anything ever come of it. The Warner Brothers Superman franchise was the first to capture my attention, and yes I did believe that a man could fly. The ‘90s saw the release of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies and one of my personal favorites, the Rocketeer, both of which I really enjoyed but they were independent super heroes that really never captured my imagination on the comic page. I remember the attempted Dolph Lundgren Punisher, a movie I still wish to forget and I resigned myself to the fact that periodically there may be a good super hero film but it would never be like the pleasure I got from reading comics.
Then something happened. Well two things happened. First came 1998 and Blade. At the time I was blown away with the film and Wesley Snipes as the main character. I remembered Blade as an ancillary character from Tomb of Dracula and then the whole Midnight Sons subsect of Marvel Comics in the early ‘90s. The important facet of Blade was that it was a super hero film veiled in Vampire Horror movie and it showed that the world would accept a super hero film. A year later Twentieth Century Fox released X-Men and the world took even more notice. I am of two minds when it comes to Bryan Singer’s X-Men. I think it is incredibly important for the current zeitgeist of the super hero genre but I personally didn’t like it that much. Sure it was cool to see the Uncanny X-Men on the big screen but they didn’t really feel like the X-men to me. They looked more like bikers with powers then the X-Men I knew and loved. X-Men was a hit then Sony finally released their Spider-Man movie that had been promised for years and I enjoyed it more than X-Men(I actually liked 2004’s Spider-Man 2 the most of this time period) and Spider-Man felt like a superhero film but there was something missing. Then 2008 happened and I figured out what was missing; the shared universe.
To me the brilliance of the MCU is that Marvel Studios decided to just do super hero movies like they create comic books and viewers are allowed to suspend their disbelief and just enjoy the heroes for what they are. Also the MCU is a conjoined Universe just like Marvel Comics has been since 1963 and everything and everyone was interconnected. The MCU has become an enormous success, with all 22 films taking in nearly $20 Billion. The MCU has become a phenomenon not just to comic fans but to everyone as people anxiously wait for the next entry into the cinematic universe. To me the MCU became nearly as important as the comics had been in my youth and I have enjoyed and appreciated every single entry (Yes, even Doctor Strange) but some more than others have played a significant role in my comic life. As we near the Release of Avengers: Endgame I thought it would be fun to stroll down memory lane and re-watch the MCU and share my highlights of the buildup to the ‘end’ of this phase of the MCU.
Iron Man (2008)
My life fell apart in 2008. At least it felt that way as my marriage disintegrated and I was suddenly alone without a clear reason why. As I had done before when my life was turned upside down, I retreated to my comic books as I spent my now lonely nights reading issue after issue of comics from my pull list and delving into long boxes as well as my graphic novel collection that took up an entire wall of my basement. Then May happened and after seeing trailers and reading about it all over the internet Iron Man was finally released. I was such a fanboy I took a personal day from school so I could see it on opening day. It didn’t take me long to realize that Iron Man was everything I wanted in a superhero film. No, it’s not the best Marvel film and yes it has its flaws but at the time it was exactly what I needed. Jon Favreau, yes Gutter from PCU, put a comic book on film. He didn’t feel a need to change the look, to put Tony Stark in some sort of non-comic fan friendly outfit or even change the classic color scheme. The Iron Man of the comic books was the Iron Man on the big screen and I loved it. I saw it twice on the first day and as I was walking out of the second show, I noticed one of the theatre workers looking at me funny and he finally asked “why I wasn’t staying for the end?” My naïve look prompted him to point me back into my seat and I about lost it when Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury popped up in that first post credit scene. “Holy F#&*!” Now I know that Jackson’s Fury looked nothing like the historic Nick Fury but I was a huge fan of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s the Ultimates and Hitch based his Fury on Sam Jackson and seeing him and then hearing “the Avengers Initiative” I about lost it. I also then realized that Iron Man was more than a super hero movie, it was the beginning of a super hero world. The Incredible Hulk came out that summer and seeing Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark pop up in the film entrenched the idea that these movies were going to be connected. That they all mattered was a beautiful thing to behold to a longtime Marvel fan. I couldn’t wait to see what came next.
We used to have to wait for the next entry in the MCU. After the Incredible Hulk it was two years before Iron Man 2. I enjoyed the sequel but wasn’t blown away by it as I found it struggling to find its footing as it was working as both a follow up to Iron Man but also as a jumping off point for the larger MCU and it performed neither job perfectly. It was still an enjoyable film but it was a year later that my world got a whole lot brighter as the next three entries in the MCU solidified that this Cinematic Universe was everything I wanted it to be and that starts with 2011’s Thor, a truly underappreciated film in the MCU. Thor is a high concept sci-fi fantasy wrapped in the guise of super hero movie. Chris Hemsworth was the ideal choice to play the God of Thunder and truly the entire casting of Thor was done to perfection. Playing off the early issues of Journey into Mystery Odin banishes Thor to Midgard (Earth) to learn a little humility. Thor finds his humility but also a love for Midgard and one Midgardian in particular, Jane Foster. Shakespearian actor Kenneth Branagh directs a truly compelling movie that is full of drama, action, and family that is often not thought of as the same caliber as the other Phase 1 films. I walked out of Thor wanting more and more and more of this franchise.
Captain America: the First Avenger(2011)
I love Captain America, I always have and when asked who my favorite superhero is my response is always quick and direct, “Captain America”. So, I was truly stoked when I heard about Captain America: the First Avenger as it was the WWII origin story told in a period piece/war movie. They didn’t need to update the time frame, making Steve a Vietnam or Persian Gulf Vet. They kept it true to the source material and Steve Rogers was a member of the Greatest Generation and Joe Johnson turned in an excellent period piece, which seems to be his repertoire as he was also the director of the WWII super hero film the Rocketeer. Captain America: the First Avenger was a bright light on a wonderful summer. The smile on my face watching Captain America on the silver screen was contagious as I made sure everyone I knew went and checked out this incredible origin story and then the post credit scene hit. Yet again a subtle nod to the Ultimates but the title of the film finally clicked since by the end of the film Captain America was the first member of Fury’s team that would become the Avengers.
The Avengers (2012)
My giddiness and anticipation for the Avengers was palpable. Although I can’t say it was the highlight of that summer as I got remarried a month after the premiere but it was a semi-close second. To see the collection of Marvel’s heroes in a movie directed by Joss Whedon was simply mind boggling. My younger self would never have been able to fathom seeing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes collected on the movie screen but there they were in all of their glory. It was an epic undertaking and Whedon pulled it off. No character over dominated the screen time and each actor seemed to bring the best out in their fellow actors. Mark Ruffalo was dropped seamlessly into the film as the new Hulk after Edward Norton was not brought back after the Incredible Hulk and Ruffalo has become integral to the films and a highlight whenever he is on the screen. Loki was a perfect foil as was the alien invasion of the third act that truly showed how powerful the Avengers could be. I was blown away by the film and it still ranks as one of my favorite MCU films but not my favorite as that honor falls to….
Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)
Captain America: the Winter Soldieris a movie I never get sick of. Whenever it is on I stick around and watch it to the end. While Captain America: the First Avenger is an excellent film it is the Winter Soldier that defined Captain America for the MCU. Everything he is, everything has stands for is laid bare on the big screen and it is a truly amazing experience. Anyone h=whoever asks me why I love Captain America I tell them to watch Captain America: the Winter Soldier and then try to tell me why they don’t love him. Integrating the Black Widow into this techno spy thriller was an amazing idea. Now I believe that Scarlett Johanson deserves a solo Black Widow film but putting her into the film was so good, and to treat her as a co-equal lead and not just as another female love interest was brilliant. Adding Falcon to the team solidified the team around Cap and that elevator scene may still be my favorite MCU moment. Nick Fury got some awesome scenes and Robert Redford showed up in a super hero film, Robert F’ing Redford! Captain America: the Winter Soldier also was the first MCU entry of the Russo Brothers, who at this point in time have become the director of record for the MCU as we all eagerly await Avengers: Endgame. This movie also solidified that the SHIELD of the MCU is not the SHIELD of the Marvel Universe but rather the militarized SHIELD of the Ultimates, from the STRIKE teams down to the Triskelion, a base lifted straight from the pages of the Ultimates. It was incredible to see not only my favorite hero on the silver screen but also to see a nod to one of my favorite comics of all time.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
I didn’t love Avengers: Age of Ultron as much as I did Avengers. I still found it to be a fun movie and very entertaining. I’m not sure where the dissatisfaction so many fans had for this film began but I really enjoyed seeing the entire Avengers together again on the big screen. Sure there are issues (Thor’s visit to the Hot Springs to name but one) but as a whole it’s a hell of a ride with a compelling villain and a lot of great action sequences. It was also full of great world building, with the first hint of Wakanda, the push forward of the Infinity Stones, and we see the glimmering of the cracks that will eventually divide the team. I thought Robert Downey Jr. turned in one of his best performances as Tony Stark here and the entire ensemble felt like they enjoyed getting back together for this film. Whedon was back and took another cue from the Ultimates with making Hawkeye a family man and I did not expect the Black Widow and Hulk romance but now I want to see it more than ever as the ending of this film crushed me, to see the Widow so exposed and vulnerable was shocking. Luckily we only had to wait a year for….
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
My second favorite MCU film and one that I often dub Avengers 2.5 as it really does bridge Avengers: Age of Ultron to Avengers: Infinity War. I remember the buildup to Captain America: Civil War as my daughter was due right around the time of the release & I’ll be honest, I was a little worried her delivery may hamper my undefeated streak on seeing the MCU movies on opening day (shockingly to no one it was finally broken by Doctor Strange, the only MCU movie I never saw in the theatre) but lucky for me it all worked out and I was there on opening day and completely blown away. From beginning to end Civil War is an incredibly executed film that is bursting at the seams with characters but no one feels forced and even though it is loaded with heroes it still feels like a Captain America film. Civil War also is a beloved movie since it brings Black Panther and Spider-Man into the MCU. Yet for as good as it is Captain America: Civil War is also the beginning of the end. As I watched the film, I could feel the ties that bound the original Avengers together beginning to fray. I was sad as Steve and Tony’s relationship splintered and eventually broke, although we did get that amazing airport fight that was one of the greatest super hero fights ever to make it to the big screen. In the comics there has always been tension between Iron Man and Captain America. The Russo Brothers captured this tension brilliantly on the big screen and I felt it emotionally as I left the theatre.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
“Hell Yes!” Were the words that escaped my mouth when Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song first graced Thor: Ragnarok. I didn’t hate Thor: Dark World but I didn’t love it either. It was an enjoyable two hours with a whole lot of world building, which sadly got ripped down during Thor’s third outing in a solo movie. I loved Ragnarok. Yes, it is far from a perfect movie and it has it’s flaws (most notably its killing off of the Warriors Three, the lack of Sif, and some poor comedic timing to name a few) but as a whole I enjoyed the hell out of this film. From watching Thor and Hulk throw down in the Contest of Champions (Thor won by the way!) to the evolution of Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Korg’s finally successful revolution. Hela’s look looked like it was lifted straight from Kirby’s sketchbook and Loki has a bit of a redemption, which I enjoyed since I like a Loki that isn’t completely evil. The fall of Asgard was incredible and Skurge’s final stand looked just like it had in Walter Simonson’s epic run on the Might Thor. Thor: Ragnarok was everything I wanted from a Thor movie and it is a film I can easily watch again and again.
Black Panther (2018)
It was about damn time. Ever since he first hit the screen in Captain America: Civil War I had impatiently been waiting for Black Panther and when it was finally released it did not disappoint. Black Panther is a groundbreaking film, with its diverse casting and African American director and the amount of money it took in and I appreciate all of that and applaud the doors it has opened but at its core Black Panther is just an awesome movie! Whether it’s the reimaging of Shuri or the fact that Erik Killmonger’s anger and actions are actually justified. The imagery and cinematography were breathtaking and Ryan Coogler littered the screen with greatness. I couldn’t see Black Panther enough times when it came up and I was even given the opportunity to explore the importance of the character and the film with hundreds of my High School’s student body this past Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration, hopefully turning many of them into true fans of one of Marvel’s greatest characters.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Oh the dread I felt. My stomach was in absolute knots with the fear of what was to come. After the events of Captain America: Civil War I knew that the tension in the MCU was going to be ramped up to eleven and that times were not good for the MCU’s Mightiest Heroes. That being said Avengers: Infinity War was a truly awe-inspiring film. Somehow the Russo Brothers took a series of vignettes and weaved them into a two-hour masterpiece of super hero fiction. Thanos had been teased for years but to truly see his power and determination was scary. Then to see the disassembled Avengers trying to end the threat, but not able to since they aren’t together and therefore to weak to act. I was giddy seeing the entire MCU come together and the various team-ups made the child in me smile with the memories of reading all my comics over and over again and imagining what a real Marvel Universe would be like. It would be Like Avengers: Infinity War.
Captain Marvel (2019)
Brilliance! My anticipation for Captain Marvel was intense. From the end credit scene of Avengers: Infinity War and the iconic image of her symbol I began counting the months until the March release of this film and it did not disappoint. Brie Larson was the perfect choice to embody a character as important as Carol Danvers and she never once let me down. As someone who came of age in the era of Clinton and grunge setting the film in the ‘90s was a nostalgic ride I enjoyed thoroughly, as was seeing a pre patch Nick Fury, although after watching all these movies again the writers of Captain Marvel and Captain America: Winter Soldier should have compared notes as many a person refer to Fury as Nick in the latter. Higher, Further, Faster became a catch phrase not just for fans of the comics, but for everyone and it made my heart happy to see a strong, powerful, and confident woman own the screen. I can’t wait to own this movie so I can watch it again and again, and then watch it with my daughter as she to falls in love with Captain Marvel, as I know she will.
It’s been a great eleven years and twenty-two movie run. My life has gone from rock bottom to the highest of highs and just like the comics before it now seems that the MCU has filled some of that fanboy joy I’ve always wanted in my life. The anticipation that I have for Avengers: Endgame is almost stifling as I cannot wait for Friday morning when I will finally be able to sit down and witness the end of this current incarnation of the MCU. I don’t know what the future holds for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. I hope that we are in store for another 22-movie saga (Galactus Saga anyone?) but I’m not sure that is a feet that can be pulled off again. Either way I have faith in the studio and creative talent both in front of the camera and behind and can’t wait to see what comes next but am truly grateful as a fan for what has already come from MCU.
For the Fun of it…
My Top 5 MCU Movies
- Captain America: the Winter Soldier
- Captain America: Civil War
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Black Panther