It was surprising to many how well the Marvel Cinematic Universe began with the first Iron Man, which explains why Marvel fast tracked a sequel. Unfortunately, in doing so, it became incredibly clear just how much marking time the film was until the Avengers. Save for the arrival of Black Widow and that really cool team-up scene between Iron Man and War Machine, there’s just not a lot to write home about here. Aesthetically, Thor 2 is one of the coolest looking films in the whole business, combining high fantasy with sci-fi in a way that feels near seamless. On the other hand, the waste of a villain and weird pacing makes it hard to recommend, unless you love Loki or wanted to see what Portal across different planets looks like.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe struck big with the first Avengers, and everyone was hoping Joss Whedon would make lightning strike twice. While AoU isn’t as bad a film as some would have you believe, it doesn’t function well as a sequel, primarily because it serves as a stopping point for several franchises. James Spader as the titular baddie is a delight, but even he can’t make the film’s running time not wear thin. A monster movie in the MCU should be cool, but the first foray in this universe for the Green Giant makes you think otherwise. Tim Roth is fine as Abomination, but otherwise, there’s no reason to seek this out unless you’re bored and it happens to be on FX.
Trippy visuals aside, Doctor Strange feels like a Phase 1 film that got promoted to Phase 3 status for some reason. The supporting cast sells it, but Cumberbatch just isn’t entirely there (his accent is…not good), and that’s without bringing up the whitewashing surrounding the film. Age of Ultron had a lot of bloat, no denying that. Thankfully, Ant-Man dialed things down to a much more personal affair for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and in doing so, became a surprise hit in the whole enterprise. Yes, this movie is just Paul Rudd being Paul Rudd, but the ants are too adorable and the heist setup is so fun that it just adds to the silliness that comes with its title hero.
There’s a genuine sense of wonder and amazement in the opening moments of Thor that the rest of the film doesn’t entirely live up to. Hemsworth and Hiddleston do their best as Thor and Loki, but there’s also not a lot that happens up until the very end, and by that point, you’re just wondering why all that uninteresting stuff happened. The very first film of the MCU is still really damn awesome. Yeah, okay, nothing really happens after Tony Stark puts on the suit and fights the terrorists in that village, but just the act of him getting to that point is such a high that it makes up for that deficiency.
No one was expecting just how kickass the second Captain America film would be by shifting its focus from WWII film to spy thriller, and it turned out to work like gangbusters. With one hell of a second act twist and plenty of awesome fight scenes with dynamic characters at their disposal, Marvel made an American hero into a bonafide powerhouse for his solo films. Six heroes from four different films brought together for a mega event felt like an impossible feat. True enough, the first hour is kinda torture, but man…seeing them together and punching aliens is still fucking great in every sense of the word, and a perfect cap to the first phase of what would eventually become a global phenomenon.