NerdgasmRants

MCU Rewatch : Phase 1.

I was extremely sure when I began this blog that I would lose interest and give up in a couple of weeks as I usually do with most things that I don’t “have” to do. Here we are three years later and this is my 96th post. I am awfully sentimental – of people, places, things – this blog is no different, so I can’t shake off this nagging feeling to make the 100th post something poignant and special. I’ve promised way too many people that it’d be about them and clearly can’t fulfil all of them. For all the people I disappointed, from the bottom of my heart, I’d like to say, “My bad.” People have a tendency to change, or worse, leave. I don’t want to look back on this post down the line and feel the wrong kind of nostalgia. You know who will always love you back just the same? The Avengers. Can’t possibly go wrong with that choice. 

It’s April of 2019. I’ve been waiting for an enormous amount of time for this and I’ll be damned if I let this month be about anything else. I did finally get an admit to a physics program abroad which is a huge gamble and a big change in direction for my future and could make or break my career and with it, essentially my entire life but we don’t have to focus on that now. This month is all about Endgame. Twenty-two interconnected movies coming to an end, half the universe turned to dust and possible time travel shenanigans – how could I write about anything else?

Here’s the gameplan – I have tickets for Endgame on the 26th. Captain Marvel isn’t out on DVD yet, so I can’t watch that which won’t really make a difference because I’ve very recently watched it thrice at the cinema. So if I start on the 5th, watching one movie a day, it should perfectly lead up to Endgame. I can write three posts sort of like thoughts on the three phases and the 99th post could be something like plausible Endgame theories, maybe? Write-up number 100 will be all my heart pouring out the evening of Endgame’s premiere but will probably be published a bit late because I cannot talk about a movie without spoiling anything. It fits my 1 post a week deadlines, sort of, and gives me an excuse to talk Marvel, so everybody (Me) is happy. It is the 10th today and I just finished phase one with the Avengers and here are my thoughts (Not reviews. Mostly incoherent fangirling) on phase 1.

I am Iron Man.

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There are no arguments here, the first Iron Man is the best Iron man movie till date. Not many people knew the existence of Iron Man previously and to start their saga with such a character was a rather bold move. Casting Robert Downey Jr. was another bold move that the studio was initially vehemently against of. They didn’t really “Disney-fy” the character as well; barely fifteen minutes into the movie, Tony Stark is rolling on the bed naked with a reporter. Lots of bold decisions. Pretty damn good movie.

I once read that Stan Lee created Iron man after being challenged to make a superhero out of someone no one would really like and Tony Stark lives up to that definition perfectly. He’s almost like what could’ve been if Dan Bilzerian ended up with Elon Musk’s brain – a relentless line of women and booze amidst mind-blowing tech. But redemption soon follows. Underneath all that indifference, there does exist a moral compass and Iron Man merely lets us glimpse at it. It’s the beginning of his character arc, whether that amounts to anything at all is left to the next two sequels. I didn’t watch the movie initially when it came out and all I remember is a newspaper article that went something like, “Are we setting good examples for our kids with these billionaire-playboy superheroes?” and had a picture of Christian Bale’s Batman and RDJ’s Iron man side by side. They did have a point though. The superhero scene once thought exclusive to children, had begun embracing stronger themes and were bleeding out of the skin-tight-spandex stereotype and that must’ve been rather confusing for most people. Iron man and Man of Steel, a few years later, were perfect examples of that executed rather spectacularly.

Hulk Smash.

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The name “Bruce Banner”, a quirky behind-the-screen meta reason for naming the Hulkbuster armour as Veronica, General Ross’ return in Civil War and a post-credits scene with Tony Stark is EVERYTHING that links this movie to the greater MCU. Barring that, The Incredible Hulk is pretty much completely on its own. Which, in hindsight, was actually the right move given the “universe” was just a movie old and we saw what rushing a universe did to other studios. It was fun to see Ty Burrell show up ’cause I’ve never really seen him outside his Dunphy mode. While the movie didn’t really have a strong Bruce Banner, it had some glorious Hulk sequences. Abomination followed Marvel’s origin-movie-villain-template of having the exact powers of the hero but evil and was more or less bleh but seeing Hulk walk up against the sonic waves or clapping the fire away from the helicopter at the end was super cool. In all his other appearances, in Avengers, Ultron and Ragnarok, Hulk pretty much smashes. This movie had a nuance to his fights at least to some extent. The only other Hulk fight I can think of that felt like a “fight” was maybe when Thanos whooped his ass in Infinity war. Of course, one could argue given that he’s enormously overpowered, he doesn’t really need to karate chop anyone and smashing recklessly is his thing; but then again its a movie and it would be nice to see something inventive.

Maybe it’s hard to be inventive with Hulk because he isn’t exactly in control and it’ll be odd to choreograph his moves but just the simple acts of him using two halves of a police car like boxing gloves or punching the ground to get abomination to slip instead of just smashing his face over and over again were pretty cool to see. That’s all I expect. All the movies have treated Banner’s ability to become the Hulk or how much he’s in control when he’s the Hulk rather ambiguously. It is quite beautiful that puny Banner is the stoic, logic-driven man while the buff muscleman Hulk is purely driven by emotions.

Irony man.

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This movie begins with Tony’s usual brand of pizzaz and makes you wonder if his entire character development from the first movie has been undone but then they tell you he’s actually dying and is just enjoying his last days. Nice save. He still feels far from humble, especially in the Senate hearing scenes. We got a new Rhodey and now it’s hard to imagine anyone else don the War Machine suit. Once again, the movie expands on the character arc of Tony Stark that to have a villain almost feels unnecessary. One of the defining traits of Tony is his “legacy”. He constantly speaks of what he will one day leave behind in almost every movie he appears in. In Iron man 2, “one day” seems to be far too close because the reactor in his chest is also poisoning him and he rushes to make Pepper CEO, donates their art collection and even Rhodes taking a suit is pointed out to be Tony’s deliberate decision in his conversation with Fury and Nat. Perhaps his dad leaving behind a new atom in a diorama of a future city hoping that Tony stumbles upon it is way too far fetched even for a superhero movie, nonetheless, I do enjoy watching Tony going full “hardware mode”. His words, not mine.

Natasha Romanoff is more or less portrayed as the “sexy secretary with a skillset” and really only comes into her own later in Avengers and then the Winter Soldier. Tony fawning over her relentlessly seemed to negate the development of his relationship with Pepper but somehow she doesn’t seem to mind. So that’s cool, I guess? The best part about Black Widow is that her entire thing is she’s a good agent. That is it. Everyone else has powers, even Hawkeye has his whole “Just can’t seem to miss” thing going on with a whole variety of arrows but all Black widow has is that she can stand next to all these men and do super precise stunts. So obviously, with just the exception of Winter Soldier, Widow gets the best solo stunt sequences every single time in every movie she’s in and I believe Iron man 2 did a great job is setting up the language of how her character fights.

The movie is pretty much over when Tony figures out his daddy issues, to an extent, and saves himself with the new element he invented, just like that. The final “showdown” with Whiplash is just for the sake of it and gets over in a matter of few minutes, thank god for that. It’s a pity that we don’t get all that many Tony-Rhodey combos anymore in any of the other movies.

Bleached brows bro.

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Thor just makes me appreciate Ragnarok so much more. Every aspect of the movie feels extremely removed from the Thor we’ve grown accustomed to in recent times. Asgard shines in all its golden glory, everyone talks like they are in a Shakespearean play, Heimdall’s voice self echoes…somehow… and every time the Bifrost is summoned there’s like a mini tornado and dust clouds and shit and most importantly, Thor has bleached eyebrows. The visual templates are different, the soundtrack by Patrick Doyle is gloriously regal but unfortunately doesn’t really make a reappearance until the ending of Ragnarok. Thor was definitely imagined to be a very much God-like legendary hero and I don’t think we could’ve gotten Ragnarok if it wasn’t for Hemsworth.

The movie gave us our first look at Hawkeye and he literally does not do a single damn thing. Shame. The movie does give us a brilliant Loki though. Frankly, Thor, Avengers and The Dark World could be considered a Loki trilogy much more than Thor’s. Ragnarok, Infinity war and Endgame can then be the actual Thor trilogy. The purpose of the movie is to make Thor learn to be worthy again and basically become more humble and less of a warmonger. He does get there towards the end but why? Because Loki tells him Frigga banished him forever and Odin’s dead? Or because he falls in love with Jane Foster? He has a change of heart somewhere in there but the deets are still rather ambiguous. While the movie wasn’t exactly terrible, how could it with both Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings, Thor didn’t exactly become anyone favourite avenger at least until the first Avengers movie.

The First Avenger.

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Captain America is proof just how different each of these movies can be in tone and still be believable that they exist in the same “universe”. Definitely one of the better origin stories from the MCU. So far all our heroes were rather reluctantly pushed into heroism or at least had to grow into their suits. Banner wanted to be rid of his powers, both Tony and Thor had to grow worthy of their powers but my man Steve Rogers was every bit the hero he was about to become right from the beginning. His greatest power isn’t the shield or the laboratory muscles but his ideals. Especially when you pull him out of his era and drop him back into the 21st century, all ideals intact, he becomes a rigid moral pillar that all the other ‘grey’ heroes can hold onto. The first avenger gives us a brilliant intro to who Cap is underneath the suit and shield and the rippling muscles and of course how badass Peggy Carter is. Shame we never got to see much of her after this one. Unlike the other movies, First Avenger is very unambiguous on who are the good and bad guys. Patriotic soldiers fighting Nazis, it cannot get more black and white than that. There is not even a tiny double agent to betray Cap or something, their side is all good. Such a clear divide usually makes for boring storytelling but considering that Captain’s whole “thing” is trying to navigate the modern world using his rigid moral compass, establishing that rigidity is rather an important duty of the “origin story movie”.

Assembled.

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Avengers is beautiful. It is well structured – conflict, resolution, team up against the doomsday device. It has a phenomenal score. The first half is basically a mini civil war, we get Iron man vs Thor, Hulk vs Thor, Black Widow vs Hawkeye, we almost got an Iron man vs Captain but they deemed a falling Helicarrier more important. Whatever.

Marvel decided to do the whole slew of phase one movies just because they wanted to do this Avengers movie. This movie was the original goal and this was a decision they made when they were down near bankruptcy. When you consider that and see how it’s all worked out in the end, it just feels so satisfying. Who doesn’t love a great comeback story? Even generic movie sequels usually have some sort of exposition, in the beginning, talking about the characters or summarizing the events of the previous movie(s) to not alienate newcomers and to give a sense of continuity to the returning fans as well. The Avengers just doesn’t care. It fully knows about the hardcore loyalty of its fanbase and just kicks right off into the plot. It doesn’t really take world building too seriously and focuses on itself which is a huge plus. Sure, there is the constant talk of “The battle of New York” in so many future movies, the sceptre Loki carries with himself turns out to have the mind stone but that is barely acknowledged in this one. Marvel wanted to do an Avengers movie, and they got to do their Avengers movie and they don’t really divert themselves anywhere else on this one. You could end the MCU right at the end of Avengers and it would be a pretty fitting end for all the characters introduced in Phase one.

We saw Ironman go from arrogant to less arrogant in the first two movies and in this, he pretty much sacrifices himself in the end thus proving he’s now a full-on legit “superhero”. We were shown a scared Bruce constantly on the run, removing himself from society trying not to hulk out and he finally finds himself a family of sorts in the Avengers. The arc of Steve Rogers and with him, the tesseract that fell into the ocean, comes to an end. He is now a shield soldier who will save the earth and the tesseract is safe with thor. Black Widow and Hawkeye’s friendship and their respective abilities were well fleshed out. Technically Thor ended on a cliffhanger with us not knowing what happened to Loki as he clearly wasn’t dead in the post-credits, and well, we find out what he was up to and he is stopped. Yay. Fury’s discussion with the council and his little chat with Hill at the end makes for an excellent “finale”. “The Avengers have assembled, they know how to work together now and they will again when the world needs them. They are badass and everybody knows not to mess with Earth now.” The End. Perhaps that was the plan all along and the massive reception of Avengers led the studio to deem continuing the universe to be a fair business decision as well.

Wow, I am almost at 3000 words.  Damn, I need to end this.

Considering where we are now, Phase 1 movies feel so, do I dare say, underwhelming. But that is in no way to say that they are inferior movies. Just that Marvel has gotten us used to such extreme stakes and movies so grand that seeing Iron man, Captain and Thor in their baby stages feels rather cute and the impact of these movies at the time of release is no way justified now. I can reminiscence all I want but I’m not really feeling it. Of course, we’ve grown with these characters as well and given that they just fought and lost to an alien with godlike powers that wiped out half the universe, seeing these characters struggle against threats like Warmonger, Whiplash, Red Skull and Destroyer is very tame. Phase one definitely succeeded at one thing, it kicked off the golden age of superhero movies. They got the general audience to care about these comic book characters that were previously set aside for the geek community. They were proof of concept that superhero movies can make some serious money and there’s so much potential here. People often cite that even though the first DCEU movies are generally considered bad, they still made more box office than the corresponding first Marvel movies. But what they fail to acknowledge is that this became a possibility only because of how well phase one groomed the audience. If the MCU hadn’t excited people about the potential of superhero storytelling, huge projects like BvS would have never even been greenlit by movie production studios nor have such a large number of audience gone to attend opening weekend for them to make such box office.

So in summation, phase one rules. On to phase two.

Title artwork by @h.k.artworks

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