A fond look back at the MCU as its biggest movie opens
Feature | by Stephen Whitworth
Sometimes the world is a turd. While I was writing this feature, a killer drove a rented van into Toronto pedestrians killing at 10 and injuring 15 more, and four black people were killed at a Waffle House by a naked white jackass because American racists have become so bold they don’t wear pants on rampages anymore. Meanwhile, a new study says one in eight birds — including beautiful snowy owls and adorable fluorescent-beaked puffins — could go extinct soon, while a new Chinese mega-dam is set to wipe out a species of great ape that was only discovered six months ago.
Closer to home, my nephew’s Winnipeg school was locked down when police raided the house across the street on a gun warrant and my beloved Columbus Blow Jackets blew a 2-0 series lead and got bounced from the playoffs by the Capitals.
Oh yeah, and news media — that foundational institution of open democratic societies as well as my ill-chosen career — is being crushed by decades of self-destructive mismanagement by monopoly ownership, armchair social-media outrage and a business model that’s collapsing faster than Sergei Bobrovsky in the NHL playoffs.
All this is to say that I for one am in desperate need of quality escapism right now. Perhaps you, a fellow occupant of this depressing planet, are too? As luck has it, a new movie promising all the brightly-coloured mayhem anyone could possibly want currently occupies a full 27 per cent of Saskatchewan’s multiplex capacity. It’s called Avengers: Infinity War and it’s gonna be stupid, overblown fun. It won’t change the world it seems likely to make it tolerable for its 149 minute run-time.
That said, not all of us have memorized the plots of every MCU movie to date. Frankly I can’t remember half the crap that’s happened so far, so I’ve written this re-cap of every movie in the series. I hope that what it lacks in accuracy it makes up for in uselessness. Let’s do this!
- IRON MAN (2008) After the success of the Fox-owned X-Men franchise and Sony’s Spider-Man trilogy, Marvel had an idea to bring together a group of the mildly remarkable characters it still owned the movie rights to, to see if they could become something more. More profitable, that is. Thanks to the brilliant casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, it worked. The MCU’s first movie shrugged off a mediocre script about arms dealers and moral redemptions (not to mention a lame villain) to become a smash hit. Audiences were blown away by Downey, who broke the superhero mold by telling the media, “I am Iron Man” — tossing the ubiquitous “superheroes have secret identities” cliché into the trash with the grace of a Stephen Curry three-pointer. A post-credit “stinger” which teased future movies was a huge innovation, and this first one introduced everyone’s favourite bad motherfucker, Sam Jackson, as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. — a secret government agency putting together a super-team. Fun stuff!
- THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008) Marvel’s second film starred Edward Norton as a Bill Bixby-esque Bruce Banner struggling to calm his inner gamma radiation demons through meditation and pharmacology. The movie skipped an extended origin sequence, since that had been thoroughly covered in Ang Lee’s noble failure of a Hulk movie a few years back, but suffered from an over-edited final cut that put action before acting. Not that anyone wants an Ingmar Bergman movie about angry green monsters but, y’know, a little bit of acting and a few slow scenes would be nice once in a while.
- IRON MAN 2 (2010) Rushed and not very good. Introduced Scarlett Johanssen as the Strong Female Character Black Widow, though. That was nice.
- THOR (2011) Snooty godlike alien comes to Earth, falls in love with Natalie Portman instead of the much more fun Kat Dennings and learns humility. We meet a special forces dude, code name: Hawkeye, for the sole purpose of “world-building”. Kinda forced but other film studios could’ve learned from it.
- CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) Opinion is split of this World War Two-set story about skinny guy with a big heart Steve Rogers, who is chemically transformed into America’s most buffalicious hero. Haley Atwell is excellently cast as special agent Carter. Due to an unfortunate plane crash, Captain America is frozen in ice for 70 years, but on the bright side it means he’s ready for the upcoming team-up movie!
- THE AVENGERS (2012) “Shawarma.” Hahahahahaha. Also, Mark Ruffalo takes over as Bruce Banner and it works incredibly well. Good movie, nice to see loveable bad guy Loki get absolutely pummelled. Oh and we finally catch a glimpse of Thanos, the MCU’s top “Big Bad”. Took long enough. Only six more year until he’ll finally meet the Avengers face to face.
- IRON MAN 3 (2013) Director Shane Black finds some great comedy in this highly uneven movie with a stupid sublot about nano-macguffins. Robert Downy Jr. was injured for much of the filming, so a lot of his scenes involve his head being put on another actor’s body. Nobody noticed, which is a bit alarming.
- THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013) Something about elves and spaceships. Basically a mess. The teleportation fight is pretty good, though.
- CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014) This is generally considered the best MCU film so far, so it’s promising that its directors — the Russo brothers — are handling Infinity War. A timely plot about government surveillance and the inevitable corruption of military institutions is anchored in themes of friendship, loyalty and duty. Robert Redford makes every other actor in this film look bad, unfortunately, but you can’t blame him for being so damn good I guess.
- GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) A space racoon and a tree walk into a bar and make $800 million. Hey look, it’s Howard The Duck!
- AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015) My second-favourite MCU film is an overstuffed epic about Robot James Spader and the folly of mad scientists. Oh wait, being a mad scientist is good? Well all right then. Director Joss Whedon left the MCU after this one, but like I said, I think it’s a hoot.
- ANT-MAN (2015) Marvel fired original director Edgar Wright, presumably because he kept telling Marvel its ideas were stupid. He was right, they were wrong. You should check out Wright’s Baby Driver. It’s a lot of fun, despite Kevin Spacey being evil now.
- CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) There’s a 30-minute superhero-on-superhero battle that’s the single best thing Marvel has done so far. Spider-Man makes a spectacular return to the Marvel universe. Great movie that delivers on its high ambitions.
- DOCTOR STRANGE (2016) Sucks.
- GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017) Disappointing. They kill off the best actor, too.
- SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017) In my opinion, the MCU’s best film by far. Somehow the Spider-Man story is the most multicultural superhero movie in history. A home run with a pretty good villain in Michael Keaton. Also, I think there’s one death in this movie, which is really low for Marvel, which despite a family-friendly perception has crammed a ton of death into 18 movies.
- THOR: RAGNOROK (2017) Lots of fun, have you seen it yet?
- BLACK PANTHER (2018) Turns out a movie about black superheroes CAN make money. Oh racists, your tears are the sweetest nectar.