MCU Phase Two: A Retrospective

Jason O’Toole

Images Courtesy Of Marvel

As we approach the release of Avengers Infinity War and its as of yet untitled sequel it is a good time to look back on the movies that have led us to here. Each piece of the cinematic universe has helped build the ongoing narrative that has followed. It is interesting to look back and try to understand how each film has helped shape the story thus far.

Iron Man 3 (May 3rd, 2013)


The film that kicked off phase two reunites Robert Downey Jr. with Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and Don Cheadle as Colonel James Rhodes. This movie also introduces new villains Guy Pearce as Aldritch Killian and Sir Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin. This is a great character study of Tony Stark, as he is suffering from p.t.s.d. after the events of the first Avengers film. The aliens raining down from the sky shatter Tony’s reality. He gets into his head that he has to find a way to protect the world should the aliens ever return to earth. This movie doesn’t add much to the galactic narrative but does put Tony in the place he needs to be for the forthcoming Infinity War. This movie adapts the famous Iron Man story Extremis. Killian is testing a new drug that will repair human bodies from any ailment or physical injury. Many fans weren’t happy with the treatment of the Mandarin, who is reduced to a decoy to keep the world in fear so Killian can continue his research in secret. The post credits scene didn’t tease the next movie at all. Instead, for the first time, it was a joke about Bruce and Tony’s friendship.

Thor The Dark World (November 8th, 2013)


Thor’s second film is considered by many to be the weakest of the MCU movies thus far. Chris Hemsworth is once again joined by Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Anthony Hopkins as Odin and Stellan Skarsgard as Erik Selvig. While this film is far from perfect, it did introduce fans to several concepts that would be important to the overall MCU narrative. It introduces us to the Dark Elves, an ancient species who want to return the universe to one of darkness. They would achieve this goal with the Aether, an ancient powerful force that can destroy the universe. It was our first introduction to the Infinity Stones, the ultimate power Thanos wants to use to rule the galaxy. While this second outing for Thor might not have been the best, it cemented itself as an important part of the ongoing narrative. The post credit scene introduces us to the Collector, a strange man who collects powerful objects from around the universe. This scene also tells us that the Tessaract was an Infinity Stone as well.

Captain America The Winter Soldier (April 4th, 2014)


At last we come to what is easily one the best MCU outings to date. Chris Evans returns as Captain America. This movie also marked the first solo outing in the present day for Cap. He is joined by Scarlett Johansson, reprising her role as Black Widow, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and newcomer Anthony Mackie as the Falcon. Adapting the famous Winter Soldier storyline to the screen, this story brings back Sebastian Stan as Bucky. Once Captain America’s best friend, he was thought dead after the first film. Now returned to present day in the same way Cap was, Bucky is now the Winter Soldier. This movie brings the political thriller to the MCU in grand fashion. Captain America becomes caught in a fight with his old enemy Hydra, who have secretly infiltrated SHIELD. With the aid of SHIELD lost to him, Cap has to turn to Black Widow and a new ally, the Falcon, to take down Hydra. This changes the status quo of the MCU forever by eliminating SHIELD and Hydra in one fell swoop. The post credit scene give our first look at a key Hydra leader named Baron Von Strucker. We also get to see the return of the staff Loki used to control peoples minds in Avengers. Experimenting with it, Hydra is able to create two enhanced people, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who would go on to play an important role in the second Avengers film.

Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1st, 2014)


Taking a break from stories on earth, Guardians of the Galaxy takes us into the cosmos to tell the story of Star Lord, played by Chris Pratt, and his ragtag group of teammates. Pratt is joined by Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax, Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket Raccoon and Vin Diesel as the voice of Groot. For the first time since the first Avengers film, we get to see Thanos return to the screen. The character gets an official casting in Josh Brolin, who will continue to bring the villain to life through Avengers Infinity War and its sequel. He is joined by the main villain of the story, Ronan the Accuser, played by Lee Pace. Another Infinity Stone makes its debut in this movie, the Power Stone. This film does more to build toward Infinity War than any other MCU movie has to date. The Collector, played by Benicio Del Toro, makes his return once again trying to get his hands on an Infinity Stone. It was thought by many fans that this would be where the MCU films would falter, trying to introduce us to characters that most of the mainstream audience was unfamiliar with. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Guardians of the Galaxy was one of Marvel’s highest grossing films to date. Its post credit scene didn’t set up a sequel, instead it introduced us to the MCU version of Howard the Duck in great joke played on us by the films director, James Gunn.

Avengers Age of Ultron (May 1st, 2015)


At last we get to the second team up film, Avengers Age of Ultron. Once again, all of our heroes come together to deal with a threat too big for any one of them to face alone. Tony has taken his plan to protect the earth to a whole new level, artificial intelligence. He and Bruce come up with an idea for a global peacekeeping program that they have dubbed Ultron. After dealing with Baron Von Strucker and the enhanced twins Wanda (Scarlet Witch) and Pietro (Quicksilver), the Avengers reclaim Loki’s Scepter and Tony and Bruce realize that the stone within can help them complete their program. What they don’t realize until it’s too late is that the stone within is actually the Mind Stone, another of the six Infinity Stones. This leads to Ultron becoming a sentient machine bent on destroying the human race. This, once again, shows us how dangerous these stones will be when assembled by Thanos. All of this winds to an explosive final battle that introduces us to the Vision, another sentient machine that is made up of the Mind Stone and the matrix of Jarvis, Tony’s AI assistant. This film lays the groundwork for many films in phase three, including giving us our first look at Thanos with his Infinity Gauntlet in the post credit scene. In the final moments of the film Captain America’s new Avengers roster is unveiled. His new roster includes Black Widow, Falcon, War Machine, the Vision, still in possession of the Mind Stone, and Scarlet Witch without her brother, who nobly sacrificed himself in the final battle with Ultron.

Ant Man (July 17th, 2015)


While phases one and three did and will end with an Avengers film, phase two decide to squeeze Ant Man in right at the end. Regardless of where it ended up, Ant Man was a fun heist film that surprised fans in much the same way Guardians of the Galaxy did when it released. Paul Rudd shines as the titular hero in a role he seemed born to play. Scott Lang (Rudd) is joined on his journey into the microscopic world of ants by Hope Van Dyne, played by Evangeline Lilly, Dr. Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas, and his best friend Luis, played by Michael Pena. Corey Stoll joins in as the villain Darren Cross, the Yellowjacket. What follows is one the most enjoyable and heartfelt journeys we have seen in a Marvel film so far. Along the way, Lang crosses paths with the Falcon, thus setting up a post credit scene that was an actual shot from the next film, Captain America Civil War, in which Falcon talks about a guy who can help them, Lang.

Keep tuned to for the third part of this review. It will be uploaded once Black Panther hits theaters on February 16th, 2018.

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