Welcome to Phase 2! If you missed my first post, I am rewatching all 20 of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). You can see my thoughts on the MCU Phase 1 here.
Honestly, I burned through these movie in Phase 2, which really varies in quality (it has the worst MCU movie and one of, if not THE best). Keep reading to see my short take on each one.
Iron Man 3 ⭐️⭐️⭐️
It has a confusing and muddled start with a lot going on, but hits its stride about 25% in. Director Shane Black wanted this to be like a 90s buddy cop movie, and it definitely has that vibe from time to time. The story takes some interesting turns, and I really like the way they have Tony dealing with PTSD after the events from The Avengers. That storyline shows how the MCU plans to carry on threads and character arcs from film to film and it works. Bonus points to the movie for using then dismantling the damsel-in-distress trope. Gwyneth Paltrow has been one of the biggest assets of Iron Man since the beginning and gets a nice time to shine in what is probably the final Iron Man standalone movie. Still has major villain problems, but at this point, do we really expect anything different from these movies?
Also, this is basically a Christmas movie, which I had forgotten about.
Thor: The Dark World 1/2
This is my least favorite MCU movie. It’s a giant mess. It feels like a lousy attempt to introduce another infinity stone, world build a bit, and sure, tell some Thor story too. But his character’s big dilemma is that he wants to be with Jane on earth instead of king of Asgard, which no one believes because Jane has zero personality. The elf villains are, of course, not fleshed out. Loki’s not even that interesting in this film. It’s just bad. All you need to know is that the red stuff is an infinity stone and ends up with The Collector (shown in a post-credits tag). Otherwise, skip this at all costs.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
The Winter Soldier and Civil War go back and forth as my favorite MCU movies. They are both directed by the Russo brothers (who did Avengers: Infinity War and the upcoming Avengers: Endgame as well). Those Russos, they know how to balance character and emotional beats with epic action and intensity. Winter Soldier plays like a 1970’s thriller on steroids. The performances in this movie are great, and I especially love the platonic friendship between Steve and Natasha.
My one critique of the movie is that the end is a little too big. It could have been a bit smaller and gotten the same point across and hit the same emotional beats. But it’s the MCU, and things must explode and the public must be in jeopardy (and they address this pretty well in following films), so it’s a minor gripe.
The best thing is that this movie has actually consequences that reverberate throughout the MCU. S.H.E.I.L.D., the agency behind everything so far, collapses and a kind of “where do things go from here?” settles over you as the credits roll. The MCU seemed to finally be hitting its stride and the Russos blow it up and change the game. I love it.
Guardians of the Galaxy ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
A fun, colorful space opera, Guardians of the Galaxy changes what is possible in Marvel movies going forward. It has a vastly different tone than any of the other movies before it. Its light, cheeky, self-aware. It makes fun of itself and takes itself seriously, without undermining anything that is going on. It does all the things Thor: The Dark World set out to do: introduce another infinity stone, world build a bit, and sure, tell some story. BUT it succeeds at every turn in ways that are unexpected and just plain fun.
Sure, the movie uses the same formula Joss Whedon used in The Avengers. A group of people with nothing in common have to team up to save a planet, building a new, makeshift rag-tag team. Director James Gunn nails the tone, the characters and paints a colorful galaxy that, by the time the credits roll, we can’t wait to return to for more.
Avengers: Age of Ultron ⭐️⭐️1/2
Age of Ultron is…..disappointing. Look, I understand it had to follow not only one of the greatest blockbusters of all time (The Avengers), but also a couple of other really good MCU movies that expanded the story and possibility of these team up movies immensely. It definitely isn’t helped by those outsized expectations that come with its spot in the release timeline. But it also doesn’t do itself any favors by trying to do too much.
My biggest gripe is, of course, the villain. Ultron takes up a lot of time, but really isn’t compelling (he is a computer program created by Tony) and his existence isn’t the biggest threat to our team in the film. The biggest threat is the fears the team has about what is ahead, and how those fears are stoked by Scarlet Witch. I know you can’t have a team up movie without a villain big enough to force our heroes together, but Ultron just doesn’t work as that threat, for me.
The movie does have some great sequences in it. One of them is the after party in Avengers tower where everyone is trying to pick up Thor’s hammer. It’s the first glimpse we get of the Thor we have seen blossom in Phase 3, and it hurts me that 11 movies in and no writer/director has figured out who Thor is yet. This scene has the feeling like we are observing the team in the depths of their friendship, no plot in the way, and I liked it.
Ultimately, the movie moves some pieces around on the board to set the table for Phase 3. We have a romance between Natasha and Bruce (which I am into btw), although Bruce has disappeared by films end. Thor is worried about the infinity stones so he heads back to Asgard to investigate, and we have a new crop of Avengers ready to be trained by Captain America. But after 2.5 hours, the movie feels like a missed opportunity to really explore more of what makes this team tic. Joss Whedon was able to bring them together, but he can’t keep them together in a way that works.
On paper, this movie should be awesome. But in execution, it’s just… well… boring. Ant-Man is introduced at the end of MCU Phase 2, and there has been a lot of weight building on each character up to this point. This is supposed to be a lighter offering, but it’s not as funny as Guardians of the Galaxy. So the result is a low stakes heist movie that is hard to invest in. The charisma of Paul Rudd isn’t enough to make you care about his thief with a heart of gold.
The movie has “world building” written all over it. It begs the question: does every Marvel hero deserve their own film? Can we not just introduce characters in a team up film?
I do love how the MCU starts playing with final battles starting with this film. Every movie can’t end with a giant city ending threat, or else the Avengers would need to show up in each film. So instead of mass destruction on a large scale, the battle takes place on a child’s train set. Pretty clever.
They really want you to know about the quantum realm in this movie. Otherwise you can skip it and not be missing much.
Average rating for Phase 2 is ⭐️⭐️3/4
This blog will return with Phase 3