Iron Man will always be an anomaly when it comes to cinema between its dedication to staying simple and very much improvised, but also becoming the cornerstone of Feige’s vision and being the start to something much larger. Getting to see everything from Rhodey commenting on using the Iron Man suit, to Agent Coulson finally getting to tell Pepper Potts he was with S.H.I.E.L.D, were all well-placed breadcrumbs that were the ultimate cherry on top to an already wonderful standalone movie. After getting out of the first Iron Man movie, I knew things would never be the same and that my dream of getting to see this living, breathing world was going to be a reality
About a month after Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk came out and while it doesn’t hold up as an MCU film that fits in perfectly among the other entries, it has some great moments on its own and even some important MCU Easter eggs, including a Tony Stark cameo and us getting to see the Super Soldier Serum equipment. The Incredible Hulk would also end up giving us a reoccurring role to not Ed Norton’s Bruce Banner, but William Hurt’s General Thunderbolt Ross, almost a decade later in Captain America Civil War. That’s the great thing about how the MCU works, Kevin Feige and company have done a masterful job over the years at making sure every movie can stand on its own, but also would continue to push the universe forward.
While Marvel Studios are not able to make a solo Hulk film, that would be up to Universal, they have managed to have Hulk appear in multiple MCU films in significant roles. This MCU entry stands up well against the rest and I strongly recommend checking it out if you haven’t. The final Hulk and Abomination fight is one of the longest final fights I’ve seen in a movie, but it still holds up today as one of the best MCU fight scenes.
With the unexpected success of Iron Man, Marvel Studios decided to go all in on expanding the MCU before The Avengers with Iron Man 2. While this sequel will always feel partially like a prologue to The Avengers, at least as far as setting up S.H.I.E.L.D goes, it has one of the better casts assembled in an MCU movie and did its job to juggle a lot of stories and characters. Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash was an interesting take on the sins of Howard Stark’s life, something that would be addressed in plenty of MCU media going forward, and Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer was a perfect play on an evil Tony Stark and a character I would love to see explored more in a future MCU movie. Jackson’s Nick Fury and the introduction of one of the most badass female movie characters to date, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, both had me itching to see the expanded world of the MCU and what would come next. Don Cheadle replacing Terrance Howard as James Rhodes was not something that sat well with me at the time, but Cheadle has more than proved he was a better fit for the character. By the time the credits rolled on Iron Man 2, I was somehow even more excited than I already was for this universe I used to only create in my head growing up, and the post-credits scene showing Thor’s hammer only helped to let a hype build more than I had ever experienced.
Speaking of, the next film on the Avengers build-up docket was Thor. Marvel’s Thor wasn’t someone I had dug into too much growing up but knowing that he was a founding member of The Avengers, and his adopted brother, Loki, was such an integral part of the formation of the team, I was really looking forward to the MCU being something much more than earth-bound beat ‘em up movies we had seen so far. While to a lot of people Thor would sit at the bottom of their MCU rank, I stand by that Thor is one of the most important MCU films to watch if you’re just getting started. Thor expanded the MCU cosmically that wouldn’t be seen too much again until The Avengers, and then later on in phase 2.
Feige and company went in a near perfect direction of not making Asgard a place full of gods and old English, but a mixture of what we see as Norse Mythology and aliens. Odin explained the 9 realms in the movie and really busted open what the MCU could be for years to come. Making the, for lack of a better word, origin movie for Thor being centered around him already being the God of Thunder but becoming too arrogant and having to spend time in a small town in New Mexico. This being one of my favorite aspects of the movie and really sold me on how these god-like people could exist among humans. It was also the beginning of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor being used for comic relief regularly in his many appearances to come. Audiences were surprised with Hawkeye making an appearance, The Destroyer was used as a worthy foe for Thor to have to take care of in his most desperate time, and Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster ended up being one of my favorite human characters in the MCU with her smarts, and her amazingly funny team. Thor is definitely one of the more artsy, low budget feeling MCU movies, but it's hard for me to dismiss its importance to the MCU as a whole when I really break it down.
The last film audiences were exposed to before the first Avengers movie was Captain America: The First Avenger. Captain America had a particularly interesting tightrope to walk because it was set before any of the events of the movies before it, during WWII, but was also able to plant a lot of seeds for the future of the MCU amongst its characters. Steven Roger’s origin story was adapted faithfully as a young man who yearned to go to fulfill his American duty to serve during a time of war but was not able to due to his physical limitations. Rodgers not ultimately hesitating to do what he felt was right, and always try to keep pushing forward is what makes Captain America such an important part of The Avengers roster and a born leader.
We had seen plenty of times where a seemingly average person was gifted with extraordinary powers on screen before, but it was different with Captain America: The First Avenger. The secondary cast of characters including Peggy Carter and Bucky Barnes have consistently had important stories to tell within the MCU after this film, with Agent Carter, an excellent female-driven TV show, and Bucky Barnes becoming one of the most popular characters of the last 20 years in Marvel, The Winter Soldier. I’ll never forget sitting in the theater enjoying this movie but knowing there would be some sort of a post-credits scene afterward that would tease The Avengers, and the best part was, we ended up getting a sizzle reel for the movie. I had gone a few years expecting to be blown away by six of Marvel’s greatest teaming up for a film, but it seemed as though my excitement would not be able to hit a peak.
Part 3 coming soon...