Marvel Phase Two: The Road To Infinity Wars
WELCOME TO THE POST AVENGERS WORLD
Marvel’s The Avengers capped of a truly historic collection of films known as Phase One. Six films changed blockbusters forever and set a high standard for future superhero movies. When The Avengers stopped the Chitauri invasion, Marvel fans immediately began speculating on what would come next. Thankfully, we got this teaser:
With that short scene, Marvel introduced the most dangerous being in the universe and launched Phase Two. The ambitious slate of films featured sequels to established franchises along with the introduction of new heroes and villains.
It was a bold plan and many questions were raised before Iron Man 3 kicked things off.
Could characters like Iron Man, Thor & Captain America thrive on their own without The Avengers? How will the films connect to each other? When will we see Thanos in action?
I don’t think anyone was prepared for Marvel to play such a patient game as they carefully constructed their Cinematic Universe. Thing got off to a bit of a slow start but, in the end, Phase Two was an incredible achievement.
IRON MAN 3
Iron Man 3 was an incredibly strong start to Phase Two. Marvel proved that you can tell a standalone story while still acknowledging the events of Phase One. Indeed, the battle of New York weighed heavily on Tony Stark.
Plagued by nightmares and uncontrollable anxiety, Tony reacted like a normal human being. How else do you deal with an alien invasion that could have destroyed the Earth? That’s not the kind of thing you just sweep under the rug.
Before the first act ended, it was clear Marvel was quite capable of splitting The Avengers and maintaining strong character driven stories. But that doesn’t mean Iron Man 3 was a flawless sequel.
My main issue is The Mandarin. I’ll concede it was a clever twist but it was pretty disappointing when we met Trevor Slattery. Suddenly, the movie became the Aldrich Killian show and that was… Just okay.
However, I’ll give credit where credit is due, this was by far the best third act in any Iron Man movie. The final confrontations against Iron Monger and Whiplash felt rushed. “I’m the bad guy! …….. Ahhhhhh I’m defeated……”
Killian may have been corny but he put up a good fight. Not to mention the giant army of Iron Man suits Tony deploys. (Of course, I’m ignoring the fact that the suits could have come in handy at ANY point sooner in the film…)
I think Iron Man 3 told a fantastic Tony Stark story but fell a bit short on larger implications moving forward. I was thrilled that a standalone adventure was possible but let’s face it, The Avengers spoiled us. I know I’m not alone thinking Iron Man 3 would serve as a launch pad for all of Phase Two.
Even with the third act/villain issues, I still consider the original Iron Man the best in the series. I have high hopes the REAL Mandarin will appear someday but we will have to wait and see.
Next stop… Asgard!
THOR: THE DARK WORLD
I must admit the first Thor adventure was my least favorite film of Phase One. Even though the film was responsible for setting up many key elements (Loki etc…) of The Avengers.
Unfortunately, I thought Thor: The Dark World was about equal with the original. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Thor and the mythology surrounding him. I actually thought this was a solid film but once again, I’m stuck on the villain.
So Malekith wants to destroy the universe using the Aether. He looks cool. He sounds cool. The final battle is certainly entertaining… So why does he come across as boring?
I think Thanos is the answer. His notable absence leaves much to be desired even as Thor and the Dark Elf tear up London.
In a post Avengers world, we want stories to connect more intimately. Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World belong in the same universe but I would argue they belong in Phase One. With the exception of The Aether and a well placed button scene featuring The Collector, both movies operate outside the main Thanos narrative.
Having said that, studios develop these films for a long time. I would wager the stories for the first two installments of Phase Two were far along before The Avengers changed the game.
Then came what many call the first sequel to The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier…
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Marvel redefined their cinematic universe with the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Finally, we were given a story that directly impacted films going forward. The collapse of shield was a storyline that did two things remarkably well. First, it was a logical continuation of the events of The First Avenger. Second, it was a fantastic way to shake up the MCU. (Something it desperately needed)
The events of The Winter Soldier will be felt in all of Marvel’s movies set on Earth for a long time. And it did so in a completely different genre than fans were used to. We are also given a phenomenal supporting cast including Nick Fury and Black Widow to further connect to The Avengers.
And then there’s The Winter Soldier. One of the best villains in all of the films combined. Again, he connects to the first Captain America film and also sets the stage moving forward. (Will he pick up the shield someday?)
In addition to a solid story, Directors Joe & Anthony Russo delivered one of the best looking, action packed films Marvel has every produced. Their film truly established Phase Two and planted seeds for Phase Three behind the scenes.
Marvel was so impressed with their work (not too mention critics and fans worldwide) that they handed them the keys to the universe. The Russo brothers will now bring us Captain America: Civil War & The Avengers Infinity War Part 1 & 2. So basically THREE Avengers movies!
Thanos may have been absent from the film but Captain America: The Winter Soldier definitely launched Phase Two. (And made Marve’s Agents of Shield relevant and cool)
That momentum skyrocketed when fans were introduced to Guardians of the Galaxy.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
When Marvel announced James Gunn would direct Guardians of the Galaxy, it seemed like a big risk. A director known for smaller budget gems and a property not widely known in the mainstream.
All those concerns disappeared when we met Star Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon and Groot.
Guardians of the Galaxy stunned audiences around the world with it’s humor, action and heart. Indeed, Marvel proved they could launch an unproven property to great success. It was the second Phase Two film in a row that was ‘standalone’ yet directly impacted the larger narrative.
We FINALLY got to meet Thanos two years (and 3 films) after he first smiled at us at the end of The Avengers.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier changed the MCU for our heroes back on Earth. Guardians of the Galaxy introduced us to Thanos and his quest for the Infinity Stones.
It’s widely known that the scene above was tough to fit into Guardians narrative but it’s important nonetheless. It ignites a massive struggle to possess the power stone and what a ride it was.
Guardians of the Galaxy features a fantastic villain who is a tad underused but thankfully it worked in this instance. The Guardians themselves are irresistible as a team.
It took four films for The Avengers to assemble. James Gunn managed to pull together his dysfunctional team in two hours. All while delivering an amazing space opera featuring giant action set pieces AND meaningful connections to the MCU. That’s especially difficult given the fact this film takes place on the other side of the galaxy.
We interrupt Phase Two to bring you a very important announcement…
MARVEL UNVEILS PHASE THREE!!!
At the end of October 2014, Marvel stunned comic book fans by unveiling Phase 3 in it’s entirety. It was a move that delighted many who speculated endlessly on the future of Marvel movies.
At that point, the only confirmed release dates were the remaining Phase Two films; The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. Beyond that, fans had no idea especially after Marvel left Phase Three out of their 2014 San Diego Comic Con panel.
Here’s the complete announcement in the always popular ‘person holding a cell phone’ video format:
One by one, they announced an epic lineup of films that far exceeded fan speculation:
Captain America: Civil War
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Spider-Man (Announced later)
Avengers Infinity War Part 1
Avengers Infinity War Part 2
Finally we got a road map and a good idea of how Thanos will impact Phase Three. However, there was an issue with this announcement. Personally, the the idea of Infinity War is far too exciting to set aside in favor of Ultron and Hank Pym.
I believe, this announcement took some of the wind out of the finale Phase Two releases. People were already looking beyond Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. That doesn’t mean those films were doomed. They were giant success stories but I would have tackled that announcement differently.
I would have announced Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange & Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and stopped there. Let Phase Two play out and then blow up the internet with the announcement of the remainder of Phase Three. Civil War on it’s own would have been enough to excite fans as it’s essentially an Avengers film.
I suppose I’m accusing Marvel of generating TOO MUCH excitement. It’s not really a complaint because Ultron was just around the corner to cause havoc in the MCU.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Joss Whedon took on the monumental challenge of creating a follow up to the franchise defining event that was The Avengers. He succeeded.
Age of Ultron was an action packed adventure that continued the story of the original team while setting the foundation for an all new Avengers lineup. Ultron was a perfectly worthy adversary who posed a very real threat to the world. And so our heroes were assaulted physically, mentally and emotionally as they struggled to keep their team together.
As if that wasn’t enough, the sequel also revealed the soul stone and it’s connection to the Infinity storyline. Thanks to a realization by Thor, Thanos is finally on The Avengers radar even though he remains a nameless blip. But an important blip nonetheless.
In the end, Thor, Iron Man and Hulk are scattered leaving us with a brand new Avengers team and enough questions to fuel the future of the MCU.
The film also gave us an end credit scene that essentially launched Phase Three as Thanos decides to take matters into his own hands. It’s an important moment as we still have yet to see Marvel’s big bad in action.
All that and Joss was also responsible for created a coherent follow up to one of the most successful movies of all time.
That’s a lot of pressure but I believe he delivered an amazing chapter in the journey to the Infinity War.
Phase Two. Over…. Oh wait we still have Ant-Man?
Ant-Man was an entertaining after thought. A movie that had many doubters after the exit of Edgar Wright. But Scott Lang’s tiny tale took many by surprise with it’s entertaining action and humorous moments.
I believe Ant-Man is a welcome addition to The Avengers. But I don’t think another standalone adventure is needed. He’ll do just fine in a Hulk type role appearing only in the big ones as a strong supporting player.
THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE
PHASE TWO AWARDS
And so, Phase Two comes to a close with the MCU completely transformed. The seeds of Phase Three have been planted and I’m looking forward to the epic blockbusters to come.
Phase Two was an enormous success that grossed over 5 billion dollars for Marvel. The studio delivered 6 films and three years of incredible superhero moments, heart, humor and FUN!
WINNER: The Winter Soldier
Ultron and Ronan had BIG aspirations and significantly evil-er plans then Bucky but his emotional storyline and raw power played brilliantly opposite Captain America. He’s going to be a huge part of the MCU moving forward.
RUNNER UP: Ultron, Ronan The Accuser
WINNER: Captain America
Captain America fought his enemies, he fought his (former) friends and he fought a ghost from his past. All while he tries to get used to life in the present.
RUNNER UP: Star Lord, Vision
WINNER: Vision, Iron Man & Thor vs Ultron
In my opinion, the coolest shot in all of Phase Two. Combining forces to take down Ultron was gorgeous visually and powered by a score I’ve come to adore.
RUNNER UP: Bucky vs Cap Street Fight, 12% of a Plan
WINNER: Captain America: The Winter Solder
The runners up may contain more Infinity references but the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D was a game-changer.
RUNNER UP: Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron
Here are my Phase Two rankings:
6. Thor: The Dark World
4. Iron Man 3
3. Avengers: Age of Ultron
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
1. Captain America: The Winter Solder
LOOKING AHEAD TO PHASE THREE
Captain America: Civil War launches an all new era for Marvel in 2016. Sequels to Thor & Guardians of The Galaxy are poised to push the Infinity War story forward in big ways! Newcomers like Doctor Strange, Black Panther & Captain Marvel look to further expand the MCU and finally, Thanos takes center stage in the Infinity War!
Will all the build up pay off when Thanos finally takes action and faces off against Earth’s mightiest heroes? How will Marvel’s cosmic and magical heroes factor in?
Phase Three is by far one of the most ambitious film undertakings in history. The build up to Infinity War can’t be stalled or built up anymore. The road begins in 2016.