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MCU Rewatch : Phase 2

Kevin Feige said that all the phase one movies happened over the course of a few weeks and eventually led to the Avengers and that was perfect because it allowed the movies to completely stand on their own without neckbeards raising questions like “Where was that hero when this hero was in trouble?” and so on. Phase one puts that freedom to excellent use and only hints at the greater universe in short nods and background detail. Each movie is very different and very much standalone. Phase 2 continues that but then the lines are definitely starting to get blurred.

Iron man Iron man Iron man.

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Screenwriters love talking about how it’s much more fulfilling to tell a story where the hero is weak and can fail, where he has everything that he holds dear taken away from him. Captain’s arc is basically his core beliefs and faith in the government being picked apart movie by movie, as well as his sudden conflict of interest whenever Bucky’s involved. Thor had his hair, hammer, friends and pretty much everything else taken away in Ragnarok. However, such an arc will not ideally suit Tony Stark because he is a man who simply doesn’t care. He started out not being attached to anything and him developing a vulnerable side and meaningful connections will ultimately conclude his arc. But perhaps due to Iron man 2 not faring well with the audience or critics, Iron man 3 does the exact same thing that the previous movies did but with more fanfare. The movie is entirely on Tony and maybe Jarvis. He has this great support group who are all nice people and polar opposites of him – Pepper, Happy, Rhodes and so on but almost all of them are instantly shelved in the first 15 minutes of the movie. One could argue that he did fall pretty hard for Pepper at the end of Iron man 2, he basically goes after the Mandarin because Happy was hit, he has PTSD after New York – so perhaps there is some degree of humanization of Tony. Iron man 3 definitely does have more man than iron up until the climactic battle. Nonetheless, Iron man 3 was still a deliberate cash grab.

Tony gets stranded and paired off with this oh so sweet little kid and there is banter and laughter, he goes full home alone on the Mandarin’s mansion with his DIY weapons and in the end, there are thirty suits from various moments in the comic books warming the hearts of loyal fans everywhere. It worked though. All of the above combined the momentum of Avengers pushed the movie way high up on the box office collections. Considering that this movie only ends Tony Stark’s standalone trilogy and not his complete arc in the MCU, which is still ongoing, I wouldn’t stress too much about the movie not giving him a fitting end.

For the sake of Aether.

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That’s literally why this movie exists – to introduce the reality stone to the MCU. In spite of a change in directors, the movie still carries forward the same motifs of the previous Thor movie and it carries forward directly from the end of Avengers. Just like the first Thor, Loki manages to be the most charismatic character in the movie stealing any scene he is in. We don’t really see any side of Thor we haven’t already but we are, however, introduced more in-depth to Loki’s relationship with Frigga and his change of heart to help out Thor which actually allows us to grieve when he dies but then turns out he isn’t dead at all. Wow.  Loki vs Odin, that would’ve been one hell of a fight, or maybe it wasn’t a fight at all and Loki just somehow managed to trick the Allfather and successfully banished him to Earth. Nevertheless, that is huge and cannot be done off the screen! We wanna know! How did he do it?

It was nice that Jane Foster travelled with us all along the movie, although still playing the damsel in distress. It even ended well with Thor returning as promised this time without breaking off the Bifrost which turned out to be not the only way to get to Earth. And he does brag about her in Age of Ultron, so they were somehow keeping in touch. And then she is never spoken of again. True to its name, the movie did end up being a dark world in the universe of Marvel.

But redemption awaits in Ragnarok.

Because fuck Agents of Shield, that’s why.

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I loved The Winter Soldier but as I watched it I couldn’t help but wonder what havoc this would wreak in my favourite Marvel TV show – Agents of SHIELD. What are they going to do now that SHIELD was revealed to have been HYDRA all along? They did manage to write it into their plot beautifully, but that’s a topic for another day. 

TWS gave us Falcon, Bucky Barnes and of course cemented the status of the Russos as badass directors and Steve Rogers as one hell of an ass kicker. Sure, the elevator fight is amazingly shot but my favourite moment will always be Captain taking down a Quinjet on his own with Henry Jackman’s score blaring on the background. The plot in itself is hard to pull off. To declare that Hydra has been secretly growing inside Shield for such a long time without anyone having a clue only to suddenly surface with Project Insight being their greatest weapon takes some airtight storytelling to come across as convincing. I mean, they approved Fury’s Avengers Initiative without any hiccups, someone high up must have known it would most definitely bite them in the rear one day.

Well, that is indeed the case and the fall of Shield marks the first crack on Captain’s belief system eventually leading him to choose autonomy in Civil War. Given that the powers of Steve and Bucky are just that they are super strong and the supporting cast of Black Widow and Falcon don’t exactly have “super” powers, this movie has some of the best hand-to-hand combat across the MCU. TW does not feel like a superhero movie at all and has some of the highest stakes in MCU without being your usual-“the world is about to be blown up”-type situations. There’s a lot of dialogue, perhaps the most since Iron man 1, adding to the intense tone of the movie, which I loved. It’s a common trend in all of Russos’ movies.

In hindsight, I should’ve written all this down as I was watching the movies. I remember having a shit ton of very specific, deep thoughts about each movie and that is why I decided to write this in the first place. But now all that comes to mind, “oh that was cool”, “oh that was not so cool.” Like three people are probably ever going to read any of this, so I say fuck it.

Bradley Racooper and Vin Treesel.

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Nobody saw this one coming at all. I saw the first trailer with a tree and a talking racoon and thought maybe this was a bit premature on Marvel’s part. I’m aware of how crazy the comics can get and so far, MCU was very much grounded in reality and not so much on fantasy. Everything was somehow linked to something scientific, as bogus as it may be. With Guardians, all of it was chucked straight out of the window and they fully embraced the “anything is possible” attitude of the comic books. With that said, Guardians is one of the most enjoyable movies of the MCU with amazing rewatch value and maybe the most well-planned trilogy as well, thanks to the vision of James Gunn. He’s one of those directors who’s genuinely passionate about the backstory and the comic book history of these characters and loves them from the roots and it shows. The major reveal in the second movie is plainly, literally,  written on the screen in this one itself. The Guardians movies have excellent connectivity and due to them happening in the far reaches of outer space, they stand pretty much unhindered by any of the other events in the MCU. That would probably change when the third movie comes out due to their involvement in the Infinity saga though. But still, I do wanna see the MCU’s iteration of Adam Warlock after that bare minimum tease at the end of Vol. 2. Also, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel are in the MCU now, thanks to this movie. A fact that largely goes underappreciated. 

This movie is almost like they gave us a whole new Avengers movie with characters no one knows or cares about and without none of the origin story movies at first and yet it somehow works. While the movie only ever explicitly shows Peter’s trauma – his mom passing away, we are made to care for the other characters as well through properly spaced out dialogue and character moments. As opposed to briefly flashing character profiles on screen, I’m looking at you Suicide Squad. We find out Drax seeks revenge for the death of his family in a very brooding, serious moment in the prison and Rocket’s self-loathing in a drunken bar fight and the strained relationship between Nebula and Gamora almost near the climax battle sequence. Closure, however, is granted only to Quill while the others are more thoroughly fleshed out only in the sequel. Even Groot, whom we barely know anything about, steals our hearts as he sacrifices himself for the group. His entire “character development” is going from “I am Groot” to “We are Groot” and yet within the span of 2 hours or so since we were introduced to him, we are fully able to appreciate the weight of that single change in phrasing as well. As soon as The Collector mentions that long ago a group managed to hold the power of the infinity stone briefly, we know how the third act of the movie is going to end but still, the audience is kept guessing with the absurdity of the “dance-off” moments before global annihilation, and bringing back the opening scene with Quill’s mom extending her arm right at the end is a pretty neat touch as well.

Age of frickin’ cool combo stunts.

Firstly, Age of Ultron has the most brilliant combo moves. I cannot stop gushing about the combo moves. But it also has an extremely hefty responsibility on its shoulders – setting up the future of the universe. Iron man’s trilogy is over, Thor TDW didn’t add much to the greater story, Winter Soldier undid everything the first phase was about, so everything going forward will have to be a direct consequence of this movie. As a result, Ultron has a way more detailed story that you cannot really appreciate on a single viewing. There’s so many hit or miss scenes and one-liners that push the story forward one piece at a time and a lot of them can go unnoticed or feel unnecessary as they are being fleshed out on screen. It is my honest opinion that Age of Ultron would’ve made a great novel rather than a movie. Wheadon mentioned in every interview that Ultron was one of his best villains and that he’s so thoughtful and insightful and you can have an extremely interesting conversation with him and so on, but while the Ultron we got did show extreme promise, he surely didn’t get enough screentime to fully develop as this intelligent character. The movie gave us Hawkeye’s family, Vision, Quicksilver, MCU’s first ‘solid’ death and Scarlett Witch who’s been a gamechanger in both civil and infinity war. I do miss their Sokovian accent though. Plus AoU gives this totally different goth/horror movie vibes to Scarlett Witch that is completely absent in any of the future movies. In her very first scene, she knocks Captain down the stairs and walks backwards and the gate shuts behind her with this whole jump-cut editing that we’ve seen in so many horror movies before. The movie also introduced us to Wakanda and Klaw, setting up Black Panther, the cool Iron man vs Hulk sequence resulting in Hulk deciding to go to space, setting up Ragnarok and I’m willing to bet plenty that the “worst fears” sequence we see as Wanda messes with their brains in Wakanda will definitely playoff in Endgame and the solo Black widow movie. I mean, Tony sees all the Avengers dead on Thanos’ space-staircase and 10 minutes later he points up and tells, “That up there, that’s the endgame.” C’mon that’s some badass foreshadowing, intentional or otherwise. Thor’s vision had Heimdall tell him, “You lead us to Hel.” which Thor literally does in his next movie. Black widow’s vision did nothing beyond explaining that she couldn’t have children, so maybe that will be explored more in the solo Black widow movie or perhaps completely retconned. Marvel s never really been shy about retconning some of its throwaway scenes like Captain Marvel did a lot. And of course, Sokovia falling to shreds pissed off Zemo and killed millions leading us to Civil war. Wheadon has also gone on record stating that the sequence of Thor’s vision in that creepy pool was much more fleshed out, even including a bit of Loki, but the studio really pushed for it to be cut down. There are a lot more deleted/extended scenes in that vision which actually give us the reason behind why Thor decided Vision was a good idea along with many nifty “prophecies” about the events of Ragnarok, Infinity war and hopefully Endgame.

While movies like the Amazing Spiderman 2 and Batman v Superman have been largely rendered incoherent or disconnected due to their deliberate attempts to set up future events of their universe, AoU manages to weave in a comfortably linear plotline as well albeit recklessly paced. But that doesn’t mean it does that perfectly. AoU still definitely has more on its plate than it can handle and it shows here and there, like in Ultron’s big plan. This guy is in the damn internet. There are so many relaxed and cool ways to wipe out the earth using the internet. Everything is connected to the internet! While he does go straight to “nuclear codes”, fair move, once Jarvis keeps him out of there, he decides to drop a made-up meteor? Seems definitely more dramatic than practical and considering Ultron’s an AI robot, doesn’t he have to pick the most logical and optimized solution every time? We are given momentary justification through a monologue from Ultron about how “dropping a meteor is pure” or whatever but c’mon. At one point up in Sokovia, Hawkeye talks to Scarlett and says, “The city is flying, we are fighting an army of robots and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense. But I go out there and do it because it’s my job.” To me, that always felt like a very honest confession from Wheadon to the audience regarding his opinions on the movie. He definitely didn’t shy away from explaining his frustrations with the studio regarding this movie in later interviews, so I might actually be right about this one. The movie does have some very fangirly moments too, like all the combos, the whole scene with all the Avengers standing in a circle, the party scene with the Avengers trying to lift the hammer and it was pretty darn cool seeing Iron man, Thor and Vision shooting coloured beams at Ultron together, that was cool, everybody ribbing on Captain about “language” was hilarious, the return of the helicarrier and of course, the Hulkbuster. The movie was as cool as you would expect from a superhero movie, fanservice aplenty. It would’ve been cool if Alan Silvestri had returned to score for this one too but then Brian Tyler and Dany Elfman more or less built their themes around the OG Avengers score and that was good enough as well.

At this point, Marvel knows they can do whatever they want and we’ll eat it up anyway. So here’s Antman!

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If I thought a talking racoon and tree was a bit premature, imagine Antman. But this time, I’ve learned my lesson. I just know the more absurd something sounds, the more surprised people are going to be when Marvel pulls it off. These sort of innately absurd concepts become stale only when the movie tries so hard to sell it as reasonable and plausible and luckily, Antman does the exact opposite. It relishes the hilarity of the concept of an “ant” man who commands an army of ants amidst all these other legendary heroes. While they do science it up using “Pym particles”, the movie never misses a chance to laugh at itself and I love it when movies get meta. Even a little bit. My blog is called what fourth wall, so duh. 

In spite of all the laughter, the movie also makes us root for all the characters by pulling in the age-old concept of “family”. Scott Lang is fighting for his daughter, Hank and Hope are still working through Janet’s death and even the villain was someone who was so glad to be taken under Hank’s wing only to be abruptly ignored when his ambitions outgrew the greater good. Heck, they even made us feel for the death of Ant-thony, a frickin’ ant. The movie also makes a great case for how an army of ants would prove helpful to a superhero and also reminds us that the little guys can still kick some big ass with making him fight an Avenger in his very first mission. Falcon is maybe a second-tier avenger but it is still impressive. His “crew” is another remarkably surprising addition considering its a superhero movie. Let’s face it, most of the Marvel movies are funny. However, each movie brings its own flavour of humour and it is never the same type twice. I can listen to Michael Peña tell stories on and on all day long.

Given how the quantum realm is most likely to be the major plot point in Endgame, Antman single-handedly becomes the most important movie in the MCU. Michael Douglas and Kevin Feige have independently hinted in interviews that the quantum realm will be the key moving forward to Phase four. While Dr.Strange would eventually show us a more elaborate look at the multiverse through magic, Antman is proof that alternate dimensions can be traversed using scientific methods as well. I’m not sure if this implication would amount to anything, but it is still worth throwing out there.

Phase two marks the saturation point of the MCU. It’s grown wide and strong and it is impossible to deal with any of its characters anymore without the involvement of at least some of the extended roster making “standalone” movies or the addition of any new heroes a massive headache for filmmakers. However, Phase 3 introduces nearly 4 new heroes in their own solo outings and surprised the heck out of me. Onwards to phase 3.

Cover image from Mr-Saxon.

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