Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective: Phase Three, Part One

To cap off the Infinity War saga, we have Phase Three, which featured almost as many movies as Phase One and Phase Two combined.  Storylines were sewn up, more characters were introduced, and the end of this 22 movie inter-connected story had finally drawn to a conclusion.  In the first part of Phase Three, the Avengers broke up, old characters got a makeover, and long-gone heroes were finally introduced into the MCU fold.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Synopsis: After the introduction of the Sokovia Accords, the Avengers split into two, with one side headed by Captain America, and the other led by Iron Man.

A lot of people are fans of this movie, but I am not one of them.  While I did enjoy the introduction of the Black Panther character into the series and I will acknowledge that the airport fight was one of the best action sequences staged in the MCU, I found the character choices inconsistent with previously established personalities and the logic gaps too large to ignore.

For instance, why is Thunderbolt Ross now the Secretary of State, and who would listen to a man spout about public endangerment when he created the Abomination in the 2nd MCU film, a villain that threatened the lives of the entire New York population? Why would devil-may-care Tony Stark, who ignored Congress when they wanted to take his Iron Man suit suddenly worry about collateral damage and want to play ball with the government? Just because some random character mentioned that her son died in Sokovia? Were the Avengers actually dumb enough to believe that no innocent bystanders died in their battles?

Civil War is a disappointing and unnecessary entry in the MCU catalogue.  It only is there to drive the heroes apart, making you wonder if they will come back together, and then they do just that for Infinity War/Endgame.  It’s a cheap tactic, one that is not needed and has zero payoff by the end of Phase Three.

Doctor Strange (2016)

Synopsis: After a terrible accident inhibits the use of his hands, neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange travels to a Tibetan school of the mystic arts, where he learns magic.

Now this movie, I liked.  Benedict Cumberbatch is awesome, he plays an arrogant twat who is humbled and finds redemption perfectly, the movie is a nice mix of seriousness and humour, the effects are good, and the cast is great.

If I have any criticisms of the movie, it’s that I don’t find Mad Mikkelsen’s character very threatening to Doctor Strange.  This is no slam on Mads, who is excellent in whatever role he chooses to take (none more so than his turn as Hannibal Lecter), but I just didn’t find his villain all that intimidating – it seemed more like Dr. Strange had to deal with Dormamu’s minion for most of the movie instead of a bonafide threat.  Also, Strange’s mastery of the mystic arts seems a bit rushed. While I know they show a lot of him learning and practicing his craft, it seems we jump from a scene where he is struggling to master magic to one where he has mastered it.  He uses the time stone on the first try without hesitation – I liken this to Rey’s ability to master the force in five minutes in The Force Awakens. It just seems too much of a leap.

However, these aren’t major gripes, as the movie is still solid, and Cumberbatch establishes the Strange character as one of the best in the MCU.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Synopsis: The Guardians travel to the planet Ego where Quill meets his father.

As Guardians of the Galaxy is my favourite MCU movie, I was bound to be let down by the sequel. And oh boy, was I.  Let’s get to the best parts first, though.

Guardians 2 is still a rollicking fun ride.  The characters are all there (mostly) and the introduction of Kurt Russell as the villain was a major plus.  Kurt just oozes charisma, and he is one of those actors that I can just watch for hours on end. The other standout characters are really Nebula and Yondu. Both get a lot more depth to their characters in this one, evolving from one-dimensional characters from the first film into something more.  Michael Rooker’s sacrifice is one of the most emotional moments I had watching the MCU movies, a testament to both the actor and the director’s handling of the character.  Nebula was so good in this that her return in the Infinity War/Endgame movies was welcome.

Okay, I’ve gushed about the positives – now, let’s look at what doesn’t work.  First, the movie is too damn long.  There is this whole middle section where Starlord is talking to Ego, and we are slowly learning his plan.  It’s just too long, and it’s obvious Ego will turn out to be the villain, so it’s unnecessary.  Then we get to Rocket and Drax.  Rocket stealing the batteries is one of the dumbest things ever – it’s just a stupid move, again for no reasons.  It’s just an excuse to add conflict, and it’s just really bad.  Drax serves absolutely no purpose in this movie other than comic relief, his jokes mostly fall flat, and he loses whatever menace he established in the first film.  Really just disappointing.

In the end, this isn’t a horrible movie, but definitely flawed and disappointing.  It would have been better if James Gunn had devoted less time to fleshing out secondary characters like Nebula and Yondu and spent some of that time making sure the actual heroes of the movie got their due as well.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Synopsis: Following the events of Civil War, your friendly neighbourhood web-slinger has to contend with the opportunistic Adrian Toomes, aka “The Vulture, who plans to steal tech from the battle of New York.

After the flaming heap of garbage that was The Amazing Spider-Man movies, him coming back into the arms of Marvel was a blessing.  Not since the first couple of Spider-Man movies has the wallcrawler been given this type of solid treatment and it’s a breath of fresh air after the last three films that came before it.

Tom Holland is perfect as Spider-Man, and we thankfully get an actual young person as Spider-Man, not a young-ish actor trying to play young, an actual bonafide guy closer to the age he’s trying play. Michael Keaton’s Vulture may be the best portrayal of a Spider-Man villain on screen, Keaton is dangerous and driven, but you understand why.  His fight at the end with Spider-Man is great, and for once, there was no big plot that affected the entire world, it was a guy just trying to make a profit.  As a long-time Spider-Man comic book fan, this was a nice change-of-pace, because it’s rare for the Spider-Man rogue’s gallery to have these big plans – they’re mostly just thieves.

I will admit that I did not like the Ned character finding out that Spider-Man was Peter Parker. While I understand they wanted to give the hero a sidekick and it’s easier to do so if he knew his secret identity, the whole point of the Spider-Man character is, no one knows his secret identity. For him to find out this information so quickly was kinda weird.

Overall, one of the best movies in the MCU and one of the best Spider-Man movies, period.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Synopsis: After the death of his father Odin, Thor ends up in on a distant planet, where he must fight to return to Asgard and stop Ragnarok.

After the first two Thor movies were all-right (first one) and kinda lame (second one), I wasn’t too excited for Thor 3.  I wasn’t quite sure what they had left to do with the Asgardian God of Thunder and thought that they should be spending their time either introducing a new character or giving us a follow-up on a more interesting predecessor (like Ant-Man).

Imagine my surprise then that this turned out to be a pretty fun and entertaining movie. There is a lot more humour, a lot more fantasy, and a lot more colour to this one – obviously an inspiration of the Jack Kirby comics. The action scenes were impressive, I really enjoyed the gladiator battle between Thor and Hulk, as well as the final battle on the bridge between Hela and the heroes. They really went out of their way to make Hela a badass, destroying Thor’s hammer and taking his eye as well.

There really isn’t much negative for me to say about the movie.  The soundtrack is great, loved Jeff Goldblum in the Grandmaster role, I found Tessa Thompson as the Valkyrie to be okay – I guess if I were more of a Thor comics fan, I would have been outraged by the fact that Thor’s hair was cut, or his eye was taken or his hammer was destroyed.  I’m not, though, so it didn’t really bother me.  This is easily one of the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and leaves the other Thor films way back in the dust.

Final Thoughts

Much like the two Phases before it, Phase Three had it’s ups-and-downs at the beginning.  While Thor was revitalized and we had great entries for the Doctor Strange and the Spider-Man characters, some of the other long-time characters in the MCU didn’t fare so well.  I will take a look back at the entire Phase with the next entry, Phase Three, Part Two!