Marvel Cinematic Universe Retrospective: Phase Three, Part Two


This part of Phase Three started off with a bang, with the first MCU movie nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. It then moved to possibly the most important movie in the entire franchise – Infinity War.  After re-visiting the world of Ant-Man and introducing the world to Captain Marvel, we capped it with the largest grossing movie in history (to date), and finished up by checking in with the latest adventures of the youngest Avenger.

Black Panther (2018)

Synopsis: The King of Wakanda’s newly minted reign is threatened by a challenger to the throne with family ties.

When I first saw Black Panther in the movie – I liked it.  Didn’t love it, didn’t think it was a Best Picture contender.  I dug the Black Panther character, but I found the movie to be too dark (literally, not thematically), and I wasn’t drawn into that world as much as everyone else seemed to be. Now, watching it again, I realize that I may have missed the boat a bit with this movie.

Black Panther is one hell of a great movie.  The cast is terrific – everyone brings their A-game, regardless if they are the lead, the villain or a supporting role.  The Black Panther character himself is terrific, a thoughtful, intelligent protagonist who you want on your side. I really dig Michael B. Jordan as the main villain and Andy Serkis is a terrific secondary antagonist.

My problems with the movie I had when I saw it in the theatre evaporated when I saw it on home release. The dark scenes seemed brighter, and the story really draws you in.  The effects are great, and the battle scene at the end is memorable.  This is a movie with a lot of heart and a lot of depth that a lot of the MCU movies don’t really approach; you feel that the decisions in this movie are more personal than the other ones, and the repercussions more meaningful.  To people who whine that superhero movies have no meaning, I invite them to check this film out and then talk to me afterwards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Synopsis: Earth’s mightiest heroes try and stop Thanos’ quest to acquire the 6 infinity stones on multiple fronts.

No movie in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe had the impact that this one.  This movie had the highest stakes, the direst consequences.  The fact that they allowed the movie to end as it did, with no sense of a happy outcome was shocking; I had read the Infinity Gauntlet story which this movie was very loosely (and I mean VERY LOOSELY) based on, and I knew how the story went – I never thought they would have the guts to do it, though.

What is most surprising about this movie is that it focuses mostly on – the villain? Thanos had popped up in a few of the other movies, mostly in a cameo role, but he was mostly just a talking head, a guy who sent other people to do his dirty work.  In this one, he shows up in his full glory and is probably the most full-rounded villain in the MCU.  Masterfully played (or should I say motion-captured) by Josh Brolin, he comes across as the most formidable challenge the Avengers have ever faced (as he should be).  Immediately he bests the Hulk, which shows he comes to mean business.  Marvel really needed Thanos to come across as a legit threat, and in this movie, they succeeded.

The movie is appropriately epic, as you have almost all the major heroes from all of the franchises within the MCU.  There are multiple memorable scenes – the confrontation in New York, the battle on Titan, the war in Wakanda.  Never has the MCU felt more fully realized until this film.  The fact that the heroes lose in the end makes it all the more meaningful. Although you know that the good guys will find a way to undo what transpires in this event (more on that later), you would think that would render the events in this movie irrelevant.  After watching it again, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like in this movie, the entire franchise changed forever.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Synopsis: Scott Lang is drawn back into the world of the Pyms as they attempt to retrieve Hank’s long-lost wife from the Quantum Realm.

After the previous two movies released in 2018, you would think that Marvel would figure out a way to keep the momentum going for the sequel to the popular Ant-Man movie.  I don’t know after Infinity War, with all its weighty events, a smaller, more comedy-laden entry was really the smartest idea. After all, we went from seeing half the universe wiped out to a painfully unfunny sequence where Paul Rudd is shrunk to the size of a child.

Ultimately, Ant-Man and Wasp isn’t really all that good.  Rudd is okay in the lead role and making Evangeline Lilly the Wasp was fine, but Michael Douglas just seems to be a cranky old man in this one.  It gets even worse, though — Michael Pena and company are not funny, the Ghost character just doesn’t work as a villain, I’m not even sure why either Laurence Fishburne or Walt Goggins are in the movie – it’s just a mess.  The movie just doesn’t work, either as a comedy or a superhero movie.  It’s just a flat, mediocre film, lacking the fun and heart of its predecessor.

I wish I could say there was a great action sequence or something to really make me recommend some aspect of this movie to someone who hasn’t seen it, but unfortunately, I can’t.  There are a few action sequences, I guess the shrinking is neat, but we’ve already seen it done in Ant-Man, so no, I can’t even say that.  This just feels like a very paint-by-the-numbers, uninspired entry and after what we had just seen in Infinity War, that simply won’t cut it.

Captain Marvel (2019)

Synopsis: A Kree Warrior discovers her human roots and becomes a hero in 1995.

Captain Marvel is a weird movie.  On the one hand, I really like Brie Larson in it.  The Nick Fury character has never been better.  I like Talos.  Marie Rambeau is good in a limited role.  Jude Law is cool as the villain.

However, there’s also a lot I don’t like about the movie.  First, the action is very poorly lit. I watched the move on 4K, hoping that I could see more than I saw in the theatre and nope, it’s just bad.  Half the time, I feel like the fights are taking place in an empty room.  Now, I know they probably are, but I don’t want to feel like they are.  The action is just badly staged, probably the worst in the MCU.  The directors obviously had no idea what they were doing in this regard.

I find the movie itself is just very forced and awkward.  The moviemakers seem to be trying to say how important this movie is, drawing into the origins of the Avengers themselves, but it doesn’t feel very natural.  The story is basically Captain Marvel trying to find the hero in herself, but we’re following her around as the main character, so we know she’s going to find it.  For it to take the entire movie to get the entire conclusion would be fine if the journey was particularly memorable, but it wasn’t.  It’s just Brie going around, a wise-cracking Samuel L. Jackson as her companion, trying to figure out who she is.  It isn’t exactly exciting or interesting.

Even though I like Jude Law as the bad guy, I didn’t find the story of the Skrulls or the Kree particularly compelling.  The Skrulls never feel like a legitimate threat to Captain Marvel, and Jude Law spends most the movie flying around, trying to find Vers to pose much problem, either.  This feels like a buddy movie, which is normally fine, but as Captain Marvel was set up to be the saviour of the universe based on the final scene in Infinity War, it’s a bit of a letdown. While I ultimately don’t think the movie is bad, it’s mostly average and underwhelming.

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Synopsis: The remaining Avengers time-travel to stop the events that followed Thano’s snap.

As far as wrapping things up for the 22-movie shared universe that had started back in 2008 with Iron Man, I thought Endgame did a pretty good job.  It was a satisfying ending overall, tying up most of the loose ends and giving us a fitting ending for most of the original characters.

I do like the time heist concept and though I wonder what the point was for some of the characters to go on the missions (i.e. why did Hulk need to be the one to talk to the Ancient One and what purpose did War Machine serve accompanying Nebula to Morag), it was overall well-executed. The finale is epic with almost every hero character from the MCU banding together to fight the forces of Thanos.  That they didn’t just run roughshod over the bad guys was nice, and I think that Thanos was still a good threat, needing a bit of chicanery from Iron Man to beat him.

The only problem with Endgame is a bit of the logic.  Why wasn’t Rocket Raccoon repelled by the reality stone when he tried to take it from Jane Foster (like everyone else in the Dark World except the immortals)?  How did everyone who had been gone for the past five years realize at the same time that Captain America, Thor and Iron Man needed help against Thanos? Why was Captain America finally worthy to lift Mojnir (and why did he bother getting his shield back from the past if he was already too old to be Captain America?  Just to give it to Falcon? Did Falcon really want the shield?

So, it’s not a movie that should be examined too closely, because too many questions arise.  I think it just should serve as a nice, epic, emotional farewell to the universe and some of the characters that the MCU had built over the preceding 11 years.  In that vein, Endgame is an unequivocal success.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Synopsis: Peter Parker goes on a school trip to Europe where he discovers a new hero claiming to be from an alternate Earth.

This movie is really a tale of two stories.  Everything in the first part of the movie, the plane ride to Europe, Peter walking around Europe, trying to figure out how to tell MJ how he feels, dealing with the loss of Iron Man, Ned and Betty hooking up and enjoying young, fleeting love – it’s all rubbish. Complete, utter, boring, incomprehensible rubbish.  Like, this guy is Spider-Man – I get that a big part of his character is the conflict between his civilian and superhero life.  However, it’s just so nonsense, so teen-comedy-without-the-crudeness amateur hour, it’s infuriating. There’s no Spider-Man, no excitement, just lots and lots of ugh.

Then we get Mysterio. Thankfully!  Jake Gyllenhaal knocks it out of the park as one of Spider-Man’s most underrated villains.  He’s devious, he’s charismatic, he’s perfect.  He’s the first villain in the entire MCU who actually has a large crew helping him, and I really liked the part where he gives shout outs to his henchmen – how many villains do that? He also looks perfect as Mysterio, which helps because he’s one of the best-designed characters in the Marvel library.

So, Mysterio saves the movie.  Forget all the teenage romance garbage, Mysterio vs. Spider-Man is really where this movie shines.  The sequence where Mysterio gets into Spider-Man’s head and makes him hallucinate about what’s happening?  Gold man, sheer gold.  That could have come straight from a comic.  The climax is terrific, exciting, and a fitting end to a movie that was revitalized by the appearance of the villain.

Of all the MCU movies, this one probably has the most meaningful mid-credits scene.  I won’t spoil it for people who haven’t watched it, but it is a pretty crazy reveal, and I loved seeing a familiar face finally pop up again in one of the newer Spider-Man movies.  It was a fitting end to a movie that didn’t start out so well, but ironically got saved by the antagonist of the story.

Final Thoughts

While opinions will differ on the impact of these movies (and as usual, the differing opinions go to extremes – people will either love all the movies blindly or hate on them because y’know, it’s cool to do so), in my opinion, this 23-movie series (and counting) has been one of the big ongoing movie events of my lifetime.  Whether that says anything about the state of movie-making, in general, these days, I’ll let you decide.  For my money though (and yes, as I’ve spent the coin to go see the movies, it’s my money), it’s been a mostly thrilling and entertaining ride.