Marvel Cinematic Universe Rewatch – Phase 1

This is the first installment of my Marvel Cinematic Universe Rewatch which will take a look back at the MCU movies released between 2008 and 2012, usually referred to as Phase 1.

Wait, what is this about? Check out the intro post here.

Iron Man (2008)

The Good:

  • Perfect casting for Tony Stark. Robert Downey Jr.’s personal story and battle with his demons fits perfectly with the journey Stark went on in the comics in the late 70’s.
  • The entire cast had good chemistry with each other with the exception of Terrence Howard (Rhodes), but that would be corrected in future movies.
  • Tony’s relationship with Yinsen in the caves in Afghanistan brought a good humanity to him.
  • Iron Man’s heads up display (HUD) in the suit is so awesome looking and probably one of my favorite things in the MCU.
  • Nick Fury. Holy crap what a reveal that was at the end of the movie. If you knew your comics and were sitting in the theater you understood what this meant and what was coming.

The Bad:

  • Stark is still Stark. After his experience he’s still arrogant and mostly goes at it alone – except for the fact that Pepper dispatches most of the movie villains throughout the series.
  • Much like a lot of future Marvel movies Iron Monger is a weak villain. Why does Stane turn on Stark? Because he took over the company that was his birthright ten plus years before the movie started? It’s a weak premise. That said, Jeff Bridges was great.
  • Terrence Howard is not Rhodey. He’s definitely the weakest part of this movie which thankfully we didn’t have to continue with after this movie.

Overall Thoughts:

Iron Man had the burden of going first. This movie was risky in so many ways. At this point Iron Man was a B-level super hero at best. Comic readers definitely knew who he was, but casual fans or non-comic readers? Unlikely.

However, this risky bet ended up being wildly successful which then kicked us off on this amazing 10 year journey we’ve been on since. This movie holds up incredibly well.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The Good:

  • Instead of making us suffer through another origin story, the filmmakers decided to show Hulk’s origin as a montage in the opening credits. This was definitely the best part of the movie.

The Bad:

  • The cast: Ed Norton, Liv Tyler were not great for these roles. Norton, while a great actor, is notoriously difficult to work with and the strangest casting choice in the movie.
  • Script rewrites. Multiple rewrites. Ed Norton famously rewrote the script several times over, including during shoots. This definitely shows in the final product.
  • The villain (General Ross) – This is the second movie Hulk where the US Army is trying to find and capture Bruce Banner/The Hulk.  It’s overplayed.
  • The villain (Blonsky/Abomination) – Not really sure why he’s here other than he’s a hired gun brought in to satisfy Ross’ inescapable desire to capture Hulk.
  • The computer graphics for the Hulk were not terrible, but they don’t hold up as well as Avengers four years later. The CG on Abomination was even worse.
  • Much like Iron Man movies that will mostly be men in metal suits fighting other men in metal suits, Hulk movies will always be monsters fighting monsters.

Overall Thoughts:

I feel like this movie suffered from being shoehorned into the MCU. The script probably existed before Iron Man was written and filmed. Besides the last scene in the bar where Stark walks in to talk to Ross there’s no real universe building here.

This was obviously a tack-on scene after Marvel had the runaway success with Iron Man and were going full in on their plans.

Every Hulk movie will be the same movie. He’s better as part of an ensemble like Thor: Ragnarok or the Avengers movies.

This is easily the worst MCU movie.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

The Good:

  • Sam Rockwell was great in this movie. One of the few actors who could go toe-to-toe with RDJ’s Stark.
  • The Senate Hearing scene was great. I loved Garry Shandling as Senator Stern. Like Rockewell, Shandling was a great actor to riff with RDJ.
  • RDJ fully came into the Stark character. His performance during the Senate hearing was peak Stark.
  • Don Cheadle – the first (of very few) recasts for the MCU. He definitely fits in better as Rhodey and has real chemistry with the rest of the cast. I buy him as a lieutenant in the Air Force much more than I ever did Terrence Howard.
  • The suitcase suit in the Monte Carlo sequence was nice nod to old comics where Stark literally carried the Iron Man suit with him in a suit case.
  • We saw hints of Demon in the Bottle in this movie, though it didn’t go into the darkness of alcoholism, which would have felt out of place in the MCU and would have put the movie on a totally different path.
  • The Stark Expo was great. It gave RDJ another chance to “perform” as Stark. The expo also has call backs in the first Captain America movie which definitely helps make these movies all feel connected.
  • Tony working on the new element in his lab is awesome. I love movie montages like these where we see smart people working in their element (think Apollo 11 or The Martian) solving difficult problems.

The Bad:

  • Another MCU movie, another weak villain. Ivan Vanko’s back story is very weak, and quickly forgotten. He’s essentially a goon hired by Hammer.
  • The storyline – it’s just weak. The movie has a lot of great moments, but they don’t string together well.
  • Like I mentioned in The Incredible Hulk write up, Iron Man movies will almost always be men in suits fighting other men in suits.

Overall Thoughts:

One of the rare re-casting of a Marvel characters with Rhodey (Terrence Howard to Don Cheadle) and Howard Stark (Gerard Sanders to John Slattery) and both worked very well. Sanders as Howard Stark was only shown briefly, mostly in flashbacks/photos, but Slattery was brought back a few times (Ant-Man and Civil War).

Iron Man 2 was the first “true” MCU movie that really kicked off the universe building with roles that will carry throughout other solo franchises and team-up movies.

While this movie had a ton of stuff I liked, it does appear in the bottom of my MCU rankings because of the weak story and villain.

Thor (2011)

The Good:

  • A Shakespearean take on Thor seemed like the right move at the beginning of the MCU but ultimately we saw in later movies that it was a bit much.
  • Everything that happens on Earth in this movie was very enjoyable. Thor without his powers did a lot to show Chris Hemsworth’s comedic chops, something we sadly wouldn’t really see again until Ragnarok.
  • Loki is one of the MCU’s best villains. I’m really glad he stuck around as long as he did in future movies. He’s a great foil (and sometimes ally).

The Bad:

  • As a flip side to everything that happened on Earth, pretty much anything that happens on Asgard was boring.
  • Natalie Portman is a great actress but wasn’t given anything to do except be the girl.
  • Hawkeye’s introduction wasn’t as impactful as Black Widow’s. He was just kind of there. If you didn’t know anything about comics you wouldn’t even know he was an Avenger.
  • The “love story” was very weak and forced – I don’t think it was a chemistry problem, but a script problem.

Overall Thoughts:

Like Iron Man 2 in hindsight, this is a true MCU movie. Character cross over (Agent Coulson), characters who continue on in future MCU movies (Erik Selig, Hawkeye, Agent Sitwell).

Stacked up against what’s come before and what will come after, this movie falls to the bottom of the list for me. It’s not terrible, but there are definitely stronger MCU movies.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The Good:

  • Chris Evans is Cap. Just like RDJ was perfect casting, Chris Evans is right up there as a great casting choice. As he continues Cap’s journey throughout the MCU it’s clear that he was the right choice.
  • The face mapping on pre-serum Steve is great. At the time The First Avenger came out it was more believable, but looking back on it you can’t help but see it as weird because we all know that face with a strong jaw and on a much bigger person. That said, the effect holds up.
  • Stanley Tucci was really fun in his quick role as Dr. Erskine. He enforced that Steve was doing things for the right reason and helped set him on his journey.
  • The screenwriters really did a great job showing Steve’s character from the first frame forward.

The Bad:

  • Tommy Lee Jones chewing scenery. He really didn’t seem to put any effort into this movie. He was just Tommy Lee Jones – which is still entertaining.
  • They really didn’t spend enough time to provide background on Schmidt. The Red Skull is a pretty major Marvel villain, it would have been good to see some more attention here.
  • That said, Hugo Weaving obviously didn’t want to be part of this movie. He made it known that he didn’t have a great experience, and was adamant that he wouldn’t return for future installments.
  • The green screening and slow motion effects (like Cap jumping off an exploding tank) don’t hold up and look incredibly cheesy. However, this may have been intentional as a lot of this movie was a throwback to old World War II movies.

Overall Thoughts:

For some reason I don’t think I saw this in theaters, which is very strange. I can’t prove this, though. I’ve definitely seen every other MCU movie in the theater at least once.

Captain America is probably my favorite character in the MCU. His movies are definitely my favorite “solo” series of MCU movies.

This movie held up better than I expected.

The Avengers (2012)

The Good:

  • This movie continues story of one of the MCU’s strongest villains in Loki.
  • They also set the stage for Thanos really well and teased him very early. It would take us another 2 years before we saw him on screen again in Guardians of the Galaxy, and four years before we saw him in action in Infinity War.
  • We see the further build out S.H.I.E.L.D. which would pay off in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. show (which I didn’t watch for long) and into Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
  • Mark Ruffalo is a great Banner. He definitely fits into the cast in a way Norton never would be able to.
  • The Thor/Hulk banter and fight was great. The only shame is we wouldn’t see the pay off for this for six years in Thor: Ragnarok
  • Banner is “always angry”. What a great callback to tie in the ending of The Incredible Hulk and just a fun movie moment.
  • The Avengers “fanfare” theme is really the only memorable score in all 20 MCU movies. Try to hum it. Unless you watch these movies as much as I do, you may not be able to. Try to hum any other theme from any MCU movie. I bet you can’t. I can’t.
  • Hulk swinging Loki around like a rag doll is one of the best scenes in the MCU. This has a hilarious callback in Thor: Ragnarok.
  • The biggest takeaway for me in this movie is the huge effort the the Avengers made to save people in final battle. Cap, Natasha, and Clint are shown saving people multiple times, and alerting their teammates where are people are trapped. This is something definitely missed in other comic book movies, most notably Man of Steel which came out the following year.

The Bad:

  • This is kind of a nitpick as I’m sure the overarching story for Avengers: Age of Ultron or further movies were outlined, but why would Thanos give Loki an Infinity Stone (Soul Stone in the scepter) when his job was to collect the Tesseract (Space Stone)?
  • Cap’s uniform is truly awful, but it’s supposed to be a callback to the costume he wore on stage in the first movie.
  • Thor, Iron Man and Captain America fighting each other was a perfect example of the idiot plot. An idiot plot more or less means that if the characters stopped what they were doing and talked for a moment the story (or problem) would be concluded. However, the fight was very fun and gave a way for the characters to “figure” each other out.
  • The massive amount of destruction of the city in the final battle was so intense it spurred dozens of articles speculating on the cost to clean it all up. This is definitely something that bothered me when watching this, and other super hero movies (most notably Man of Steel). However, Marvel did address this damage in Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming which was a good move.
  • The safety backdoor that Selvig conveniently built into the machine powering the portal to turn it off. That’s pretty poor writing.
  • The deus ex machina of all Chitauri dying after Stark threw the nuke in the mothership when he entered the portal. More poor writing.

Overall Thoughts:

Holy crap they actually did it. Ten years and 20 movies into the MCU and I still can’t believe they pulled it off. If you told me as a kid this would be happening I wouldn’t have believed it.

The Avengers movie really had no right to be as good as it was. To combine different characters and storylines from four different movie franchises into a cohesive movie without it being four hours long was a Herculean effort.

Out of Phase 1, Iron Man and The Avengers were definitely the strongest for me, and the movies that hold up the best.

Hi, I'm Mike. I'm From the Internet.

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