MCU Phase 1 (2008 – 2012)
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 2
Captain America: The First Avenger
It all began with an iron man. I’ve read Iron Man comics since I was 11 so I was really jazzed and kind of surprised he was being given the treatment he was; Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau…and then the reviews started coming in. I don’t recall where it landed, but it was running at about 94% positive on Rotten Tomatoes when I saw it and it was joy. Marvel comic geeky joy. A great film. But then it happened….THE SCENE. Out of the dark walks Nick Fury with a profile on The Avengers Initiative and my head exploded. This was going to be a Marvel Universe. AN ONSCREEN MARVEL UNIVERSE! The inside of my head was being made into movies! Really GOOD movies! Let it begin, let it begin!
The people who read comics are familiar with the DCU and the Marvel Universe. They’re not limited to one character. Heroes overlap and intersect; they team up and date; they break up and fight; all of it is existing at the same time in this universe you visit (if you’re like me…visit a lot). But film? Films were islands. Films were contained bubbles. You were lucky if one hero franchise could keep its own storyline straight, let alone have films overlap, intersect, and lead to EVENTS. Love ’em or hate ’em, events happen usually once a year where something so huge, so world threatening occurs that everyone has to get together and fight it. They’re the summer blockbusters of comics. But nothing like that could ever happen in the movies; mostly because of rights disputes.
The film rights to Marvel characters had been spread all over the Hollywood firmament with limited and spotty results. Fox had kick-started the current era of superhero films with X-Men. Sony had huge success with Raimi’s Spidey trilogy. Not so much with Fantastic Four or Daredevil…or Elektra…or Ghost Rider…or, well you get it. As film rights would lapse though, Marvel would quietly begin taking them back and then they had enough of them to build a corner of the Marvel U. The Avengers.
Once Tony Stark showed up at the end of The Incredible Hulk (which would have been about a 9/10 if they’d listened to Edward Norton and kept the 30 minutes they chopped out of the movie…seriously, watch the deleted scenes) it became clear that we were building toward something huge. An Avengers movie.
Iron Man 2 was saddled with having to make this abundantly clear and tie-in and coalesce a lot of plot threads, so it gets widely regarded as the weakest of the films. I don’t think that’s true, but it left a sliver of doubt. That doubt was hammered into the ground by the mighty wielding of Mjolnr (I am, yes, a FREAKING gigantic geek). Thor remains, to this day, my favorite Marvel film. I don’t know if it’s as fun as Avengers is, but I think the story is the strongest, the acting the best, and the visuals stunning. How could they make the Rainbrow Bridge not look dumb? Ohhhhhh. Thor also gave us our clear villain for this phase, appropriately the one that brought the Avengers together in the comic: Loki. The end credits scenes were just getting geekier and geekier. I think Marvel knows that there will be one person in the audience who screams something like, THAT’S THE FREAKING COSMIC CUBE, as I did at the end of Thor and leave it to people like me to then explain it to everyone else. So what if they call it the Tesseract in the Avengers. It’s still the Cosmic Cube. The last piece of the puzzle was to bring in the leader of the Avengers: Captain America. Cap is really tough to do and while I loved Chris Evans as Cap, I didn’t love the movie when I saw it. I liked it much better the second time around, but they’re going to have some tap dancing to do to slide into phase 2 with his solo film. I think one of the key hooks to that character is how out-of-place he is. He’s 70 years from his present. Everyone he knows is dead. He barely recognizes the country he fought for. Those are some really meaty things to dig into, and they really haven’t yet with him. But I digress because now we come to it….
Then it all came together in The Avengers.
This was going to be a gigantic balancing act. So many icons onscreen; so many actors used to headlining their own films. You have to give everyone a plot thread while not turning it into an Iron Man film with other people in it (though by popular acclaim it did sort of become a Hulk film with people around Hulk). Joss Whedon, who has managed huge ensembles before and loves the material, was the perfect man to steer Earth’s Mightiest against Loki’s plan to use the Tesseract (still the Cosmic Cube) and a borrowed army to subjugate the planet. Big, amazing EVENT fun. Every actor has their character down cold and everything culminating in the Battle of New York brought Phase One to a glorious end (and making enough bank to be #3 all-time didn’t suck either).
MCU Phase 2 (2013-2015)
Iron Man 3
S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC TV Series)
Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
At the end of Avengers, we find that Loki was renting his army from none other than Thanos! The mad titan! The death lover! This was one of those moments where myself and two other people in the theatre screamed, “HOLY SHIT IT’S THANOS!” Everyone else was wondering why the Hulk was purple. Thanos is a big deal. He’s a huge villain to plop down. He’s literally in love with the physical manifestation of death, quite mad and at one point killed half the population of the Marvel Universe. If you want his signature story, pick up the trade of The Infinity Gauntlet. I don’t know if that’s where we’re going but it’s certainly possible. Thanos is such a big deal baddie, that I cannot imagine who they’ll focus on for Phase 3.
So now we transition from the present to the near future as we’re only a few months away from Iron Man 3 and the kick-off of Phase 2. If you had told me there would be two Iron Man films before they used the Mandarin (Iron Man’s main nemesis in the books who will be played by Ben Kingsley), I’d have thought that was as unlikely as me ever seeing the Helicarrier rise up out of the sea. We live in charmed times. Iron Man 3 is said to be wholly an Iron Man film, more in the vein of the first than the second and all the trailers so far indicate that it is going to take Tony and put him through the ringer. The plot is based on the Extremis storyline so if you want to know more of where we’re headed, there’s another trade to pick up. My excitement, high though it may be, pales in comparison to the return to Asgard and the adventures of Thor. Verily. Forsooth. Thor: The Dark World comes out this November and will see Loki facing Asgardian justice for the events of Avengers and Thor facing off against the Dark Elves, lead by Malekith the Accursed. We’ve also been promised that we shall see all 9 realms in this film. Also this fall, Joss Whedon will be show-running an ongoing drama on ABC that will focus on SHIELD and it’s place in the MCU. Clark Gregg’s awesome and NOT DEAD (told you, people who know me) Agent Coulson will be the lead. Casting is done and they are shooting the pilot. It’ll be interesting to see how they use this in conjunction with the films and who may show up. 2014 is when I think we’ll really see the focus turn to Thanos. Captain America: Winter Soldier will see the return of Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Bucky. You thought Bucky was dead? Yeah, well they kind of screwed that up in the first film so I’ll be interested in seeing how they handle his resurrection story as The Winter Soldier. Chris Pratt (Parks & Rec, Zero Dark Thirty) has just been cast as the lead in 2014’s other MCU film: Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel has different corners of it’s universe and “universe” is quite literally what I mean. It has populated an entire galaxy with planets and alien species to rival any science fiction franchise. The team that deals with threats that endanger the cosmos are the Guardians. I love this area of the MU. Love it. I cannot explain it, nor will I attempt to, but at some point in this film, an anthropomorphic tree is going to scream, “I AM GROOT!” and I will do a dance of glee. It’s similar to the Snoopy dance, but less dextrous. At any rate, the cosmic nature of Thanos and the team seems like a natural segue into Avengers 2.
After the second Avengers film, Marvel is already working on Phase 3. The only film confirmed with a director and a release date is Edgar Wright’s (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim) adaptation of Ant Man, which will come out in 2015 after Avengers 2. A Dr. Strange film has long been in works and is frequently mentioned as a keystone of phase three. Spoilers about the end of Avengers 2 have made it look like the next Hulk standalone will be an adaptation of Greg Pak’s Planet Hulk storyline. Obviously there will be more announced and changes before we get this far, but I’m fairly certain that a third phase will focus on another iconic Marvel baddie and that a third Avengers film will cap this phase as it did the previous two.
Whither the MCU long-term? Will they retain a continuity akin to the comics as iconic characters are eventually recast? Chris Evans and Nick Fury signed 10 picture deals when they started, but Robert Downey Jr. is film-to-film and eventually all of the iconic parts will need to be either eliminated or recast. I think you do what they do in comics when a creative team changes. You keep going. Recast the parts as necessary. The Bond films have been doing this for 50 years and have only recently ventured into any kind of continuity, but Marvel can keep theirs if they wish. All they need to do is what has worked so well so far: hire great directors, cast Oscar-caliber actors, and draw from rich source material to tell compelling stories. It’s an experiment unprecedented in film, but one that has-so far-been a resounding success and there’s no reason to think they can’t continue that in the decades to come. Now if they could only get the rights to Daredevil, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four back…