Road to Endgame: Phase 2
Welcome back to Road to Endgame, a series of articles where I, Brent Jackson, reflect back on all the MCU movies and my life as we journey our way to Avengers: Endgame. Last week we looked at the Phase 1 movies and how my life changed along with the MCU, and now we head to Phase 2. It is interesting to note that by today’s numbers the early MCU movies didn’t make huge dollars, especially The Incredible Hulk and Captain America: The First Avenger. Then after Avengers hit everything seemed to increase. They were a success, but not by today’s numbers. Phase 2 starts with Iron Man 3 and ends with the surprising Ant-Man, so let us jump on in!
Iron Man 3 (2013)
A lot of lofty aspirations were pinned on Iron Man 3, the first MCU movie to come out after the mega-hit Avengers. It wasn’t great, but not as terrible as everyone reacts to it. The main thing I remember about Iron Man 3 is the whole Ben Kingsley and the Mandarin debacle. Watching Iron Man 3 for the first time, I thought it was hilarious. I found the twist pretty comical. I mean, really, who cares about the Mandarin? Yeah, he is a main Iron Man villain, but come on, who cares if they made him a joke? I remember my wife showing me a post from a friend about how he was upset about the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 and that was my first inkling people started taking the movies way too seriously. I liked that we got more into Tony and Pepper’s relationship in Iron Man 3 and Pepper getting in on the action was fun. Not the most memorable MCU movie ever but still some fun stuff.
Iron Man 3 also happens to be the first MCU movie I and my wife saw as a married coupled (April 27, 2013). This was also when my wife did not work on Fridays, so we started a tradition of me getting off work early or taking a vacation day and seeing the earliest showings on Fridays. It was great because we both hate crowds and like sitting toward the back of the theatre. I was also surprised by how much money Iron Man 3 made; it definitely had that Avengers surge to its box office.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
I think for just about everybody Thor: The Dark World is ranked either last or second to last in MCU movies. I am staying positive on all these, but the second Thor outing is not that memorable. Ha, I am actually struggling to remember things about it. I remember more about the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode where they referenced it than the film. But some bright spots still remain. Like, the Reality Gem makes its first appearance, and that fight scene of Thor and Malekith flying through realms was great. We also get a great tease of just how weird Guardians of the Galaxy will be, in the end credits scene. I guess my life was pretty boring at this time, as well. Nothing really crazy-memorable off the bat about this movie. I mean, the cast was still great, just nothing jumps out about it. Maybe I need to go and re-watch it again?
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The second Cap film is my—and a lot of people’s—top MCU movie, and I have a lot of things to love about it. I was extremely hyped for Winter Soldier. I loved the storyline in the comics and it had the most epic trailer. It just had a fantastic “spy-thriller” vibe to it! We get our first introduction to Sam Wilson, the Falcon, played by the wonderful Anthony Mackie #cutthecheck. So many fun things with this movie. Obviously, the biggest, with the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D., was crazy surprising, as it had become a staple of the MCU and had its own TV show “Hail Hydra”. That really launched Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into becoming a great television show.
Winter Soldier boasts the best fight scenes in the MCU. That whole highway chase/fight scene is incredible. This movie cemented the Russo brothers as the people to take over the MCU. UFC champ George St. Pierre even had a part as freaking Batroc the Leaper! Highlight of the movie: the elevator fight scene. Cap himself even says it’s his favorite “one question before we start”. It even has my personal favorite Captain America costume with the “stealth suit”. I could go on and on about what I adore about this movie. Oh, and teasing Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver!
My wife probably got extremely tired of me rewatching this when it came out on home release. It is probably the movie I have rewatched the most out of the MCU. Something also messed up with the movie screen (another early Friday showing) and we got a free movie ticket out of the deal. So Winter Soldier was a great movie and we got a free movie out of it as well!
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier was like this hard-nosed ’70s spy thriller film, so what does Marvel follow it up with? the complete opposite in Guardians of the Galaxy! When Guardians of the Galaxy was announced as Marvels next MCU film the first trailer summed it up perfectly… who? Marvel took a gamble by putting their B/C-list heroes on the big screen at the start of the MCU, but the Guardians of the Galaxy? You had to be a hardcore comic nerd to even know them. Then this Guardians team didn’t even resemble the ones found in Marvel Comics at the time, or ever.
I distinctly remember, before seeing the first trailer, thinking this is the one where Marvel fails. I think that has been repeatedly said for years. But it really felt true at this time. Then that trailer hit and it was on. James Gunn brought to life all these obscure characters and really set up the cosmic side of the MCU with this film.
My brother and mom came into town opening weekend and my wife and I took them to see it. We all laughed and had a great time. My wife instantly adored Groot (especially Baby Groot dancing), and what a soundtrack! Rocket Raccoon, Drax, Star-Lord, Gamora, and Groot became household names overnight! Plus it revealed a lot about Thanos in the MCU. Best scene in the movie has to be “We are Groot”. Such a goofy movie with a big heart. It is crazy that Guardians worked at all. It was nothing like the MCU had ever produced and it was a real game-changer for what films could come after it. Making a talking raccoon and tree popular characters—anything is game after that!
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Age of Ultron got a lot of hate when it first came out that I think has simmered down now. It had a lot of expectations, being the second team-up film since Avengers made all the money. We got a lot of stuff that actually sets up Infinity War and Endgame. Keen-eared fans will notice Tony says “Endgame” a lot in this film.
I love the Avengers just hanging out in the newly-minted Avengers Tower. That scene and the farmhouse scene brought them together as a team. James Spader is fantastic as Ultron. We got, also, not our first reference but first “clear/blatant” reference to Wakanda in the MCU. I freaked out when “Klaw” lost his arm; he was always a favorite villain of mine! Best scene has to go to Hawkeye giving Scarlet Witch “the speech”, just a great all-around scene, and when she busts out the door it is delightfully awesome. I love the scene of the “new Avengers” coming together and Cap almost delivering the iconic line. Plus the teaser scene of Thanos grabbing the Infinity Gauntlet was that “Oh crap!” moment!
I remember really digging Age of Ultron. I have rewatched it several times and enjoy it more and more. It was another good team-up film and I feel it really brought the Avengers together. It made them all feel like a “team”. My wife, for one, really loved Scarlet Witch’s debut. This movie, as noted before, sets up a ton of stuff going forward in the MCU, from the Vision and Scarlet Witch’s relationship to Hulk flying off setting up the third Thor movie. Also, how could I forget how great Paul Bettany is as the Vision!
So, Marvel has the gall to follow up Avengers: Age of Ultron with a freakin’ Ant-Man movie to end Phase 2 of the MCU! I remember people saying, even after Guardians of the Galaxy, “Ant-Man, seriously?” You can’t blame them, but in the MCU we trust! I think everybody had that general consensus, though, after Guardians worked. Like “I don’t know if this is a good idea, but hey, Guardians of the Galaxy worked!”
Look, I love Paul Rudd, so Ant-Man had me won over from his casting alone. He brings that Paul Rudd charm to Scott Lang, and Ant-Man is a fun heist romp. I liked the toned-down, simple feel of Ant-Man; after all the craziness of Guardians and Avengers: Age of Ultron we get this “small” little movie. The highlight of Ant-Man is Luis and the criminal gang of misfits; they get the biggest laughs out of the film. Also, the size-changing abilities are used to awesome effect throughout the film. It is funny and action-packed. Plus we get our first look at the Quantum Realm that is now a huge factor in the MCU.
I remember just having a lot of fun watching Ant-Man. In hindsight, it was pretty smart of Marvel to follow up all these huge, weird movies with a much “smaller” film. Focusing on a small heist and Scott Lang’s family helped keep things grounded a little bit in the MCU and set new things up with a “simpler” story.
Phase 2 Complete
So, that wraps up Phase 2 of the MCU. We journeyed through Iron Man 3 all the way to Ant-Man. Thinking back on these years and movies, man, I went through all kinds of things during Phase 2. Obviously, the biggest thing is, my wife and I got married right before Phase 2 kicked off. It is also fun to see how my wife had gone from never caring about comic books or the movies to wanting a Groot t-shirt. Captain America: The First Avenger was her first MCU movie and she went from knowing nothing to being a pro. It is also nice to see it from her perspective. She is not immersed in the comic book world like me. She just sees whatever previews I show her and the movie. Also, she does not look at stuff online or know about any controversies or really what the stories are based on, so I always like seeing her perspective on the films.
It is also crazy to see how the comic book film world changed after Avengers came out. Now every film wanted a connected universe. It was also nuts to see so much random superhero stuff you could get. Characters that you never thought would see the light of day were getting t-shirts and merchandise started popping up everywhere.
That was Phase 2 of the MCU. Hope you enjoyed, and stick around for next week as we journey into Phase 3 of the MCU. We are going from Captain America: Civil War through the MCU’s newest movie, Captain Marvel. Let us know what you thought about Phase 2 of the MCU and see you back here next week!