Credit: Marvel Studios
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. If you missed out check out the Phase One Retrospective and the Phase Two Retrospective.
Captain America Civil War (May 6th, 2016)
Kevin Feige said in an interview, “We know they’re (the Avengers) gonna face Thanos, we’ve been setting that up since Avengers 1. How do you do that in a way that is unexpected, that pits the Avengers against somebody who is more powerful than anyone they’ve faced, and yet make them completely unprepared to face him? Well, tear them apart. Which is why we did Civil War before Infinity War.” With Infinity War being the movie that will unite all our heroes in one single film, we see that the only way phase three could have begun was with Civil War. The Russo brothers show us here why they are the perfect directors to take on the finale. They manage to balance all the previously seen characters, and a couple new ones, in a narrative that is still very focused on Captain America’s relationship with Bucky. If what Feige said means anything, this film does more to set up Infinity War than any other phase three film. Its post credit scenes set up two of the biggest films of this phase, Spider-Man Homecoming and Black Panther. The first of the two gives us our first real look at Wakanda, as Bucky is being put back into cryogenic stasis while the Wakandans try to find a way to rid him of the Hydra mind control. The second scene gives us one more quick look at Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, which was one of the highlights of this film.
Doctor Strange (November 4th, 2016)
Like Ant Man, we get introduced to another character that will carry us into phase 4 and beyond. Benedict Cumberbatch plays world renowned surgeon turned sorcerer Dr. Stephen Strange. As we come to the close of many of the actors contracts, Marvel had to set up some new Avengers to carry the mantle into the future of this franchise. The sorcerers have protected the world for thousands of years going all the way back to the mighty Agamotto, the first sorcerer supreme, who could manipulate time itself. The artifact he passed down to subsequent sorcerers accomplished this because it actually contained the fifth infinity stone, the time stone. Doctor Strange uses this power to defeat Dormammu, an inter-dimensional being and ruler of the dark dimension, who wants to conquer all realities. This film also introduces the idea of the Marvel multiverse, which will likely be a big deal in phase four. Thor makes his first appearance in a post credit scene that sets up his sequel, and the fact that Doctor Strange will cameo in it. Thor clearly underestimates Earth’s sorcerers, calling them wizards, but nonetheless need their help. The second post credit scene sets up Mordo as the villain for the sequel. Mordo comes to believe through the films story that Earth has too many sorcerers breaking the rules of reality. He takes it upon himself to fix this problem.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5th, 2017)
The sequel to James Gunn’s smash hit also marked the start of Marvel releasing three films a year. Gunn continues to be Marvel’s go to guy for building the galactic side of the MCU. This movie doesn’t do much to set things up beyond its own story. Within that narrative, however, it brings in several concepts that will be essential to the cosmic side of things in the future. This film seems to confirm the existence of the Watchers, a group of inter-galactic scholars who in the comics document the great events that shape the multiverse. The scene also confirms a long held theory that Stan Lee is one of them. He appears to be telling the Watchers of his cameos throughout the many MCU films. We get introduced to a group of Ravagers that Yondu used to run with before they banished him for breaking the rules of their order. This team represents the original Guardians of the Galaxy led by Sylvester Stallone as Starhawk, Michelle Yeoh as Aleta, Michael Rosenbaum as Martinex, Ving Rhames as Charlie-27 and Miley Cyrus as the voice of Mainframe. They reunite in one of the post credit scenes. Another fantastic post credit scene introduces us to Adam Warlock, a new life form created by the Sovereign. Warlock, like Thanos and the Guardians, is a huge part of the galactic universe in the comics. In the books he is most often associated with the Soul Stone. In the aftermath of Infinity War, something will have to be done with the stones, and it very likely will involve Adam Warlock. The rest of the post credit scenes are just various jokes.
Spider-Man Homecoming (July 7th, 2017)
Spider-Man, having made his glorious return to Marvel in Captain America Civil War, gets his solo outing, and brings us the best film we’ve ever seen from the wall crawler. Marvel shows us immediately why they should be the ones to bring their characters to the screen. Tom Holland does a fantastic job bringing the high school version of Peter Parker to the screen. This film was obviously heavily influenced by the Ultimate Spider-Man comic by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, which spent its time with Peter and his friends in high school. Tony Stark becomes a father figure and mentor to a version of Peter that wants nothing more than to be an Avenger. This film, like Guardians, spends most of its story just setting up future Spider-Man films. It introduces us to the Vulture, played excellently by Michael Keaton, and the possible team up that will become the Sinister Six, a villain team that unites to take down Spider-Man. In addition to the Vulture, we are also introduced to the Tinkerer, the Shocker and Scorpion in a move that proves you can introduce a bunch of villains without detracting from the narrative. It also seemingly confirms the existence of Mile Morales in the MCU. A move that has had many fans speculating about whether or not Miles will replace Peter in the future. Not too soon though, as it looks like we will follow Peter through high school over the course of the next two films.
Thor Ragnarok (November 3rd, 2017)
Chris Hemsworth returns as the titular hero in what will possibly be his last solo outing, and it proves to be the best yet. At its core, the Thor universe has more in common with Guardians of the Galaxy than it does with the earth dwelling heroes. Taika Waititi embraces this concept and brings us a grand galactic adventure with a fantastic Planet Hulk story right in the middle of it all. Like Civil War before it, Ragnarok does its best to set up the forthcoming Infinity War. Ragnarok is an ancient Asgardian prophecy about the end of their world. When Asgard falls, this changes the status quo of the cosmos forcing our heroes out into the universe where they will likely meet up with the Guardians and return to Earth to face Thanos. During the events of this film, we finally say goodbye to Anthony Hopkins’ Odin, giving rise to Hela, Thor and Loki’s long lost sister. She claims the throne by force and plans to take over the universe. Thor and Loki once again team up to save the day. Thor realizes along the way that his true power lies within, and he uses this newfound realization to take down his sister by bringing about Ragnarok. Thor, as the new ruler of the Asgardians, is forced to lead his people across the cosmos in search of a new home. The post credit scene shows them running into trouble in the form of Sanctuary II, the flagship of Thanos fleet. This leads right into what will likely be the opening scene of the forthcoming Avengers film. Loki once again gets his hands on the Tesseract, which we’ve seen him passing of to a mystery figure that is likely Thanos in the Infinity War trailer. This will finally close a story thread that dates all the way back to the first Avengers film. Loki has been trying to outrun Thanos since failing to procure the Tesseract for him. In the process he also managed to lose the Mind Stone, which was the only Infinity stone that Thanos had in his possession at the time. Time will tell if Thanos decides to forgive this transgression or destroy Loki.
Black Panther (February 16th, 2018)
We come to it at last, the final film before the Infinity War. Ironically, this movie does nothing to set up the ongoing story, and instead focuses entirely on its own. This is not a bad thing, as Black Panther might be the finest film that the MCU has ever made. We do know from trailers for Infinity War that a massive battle will take place right on Wakanda’s doorstep. This has led many to speculate that the meteor that carried the Vibranium to earth also contained the Soul Stone, the sixth and final infinity stone. T’Challa and Killmonger both take a trip to their own versions of the afterlife. These distinctions between the two trips have got many fans, myself included, to think that this is the stone connecting them to their dead loved ones. It is quite possible that the Wakandans are not even aware of this connection. Also, when it comes to the ongoing MCU narrative, the first post credit scene has the nation of Wakanda revealing itself and its technology to the United Nations. This could lead Wakanda to become a central location in phase four and beyond. The second post credit scene gives us a callback to Civil War. Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister, has finally eliminated the mental conditioning in Bucky’s brain and unfroze him. The local Wakandan children are calling him the White Wolf, who in the comics becomes Wakanda’s head of security. Black Panther brings us full circle, and finally concludes the journey to Infinity War that Marvel began back in 2008 with Iron Man. It has been a long road and if the trailer is to be believed we have an amazing finale to look forward too in Avengers Infinity War. As the most recent film in the MCU, you can read my review of Black Panther here.
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