Image: Marvel Studios

“Part of the Journey is the End”: A Recap of the Marvel Cinematic Universe


By Skyler King

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11 years ago Robert Downey Jr. took on the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man, and with his infamous line “I Am Iron Man”, a cinematic universe was born. The idea of taking all these individual characters, and finding a way to connect them all to form this larger picture just seemed like it couldn’t be done – at least not well. Yet here we are, 3 phases and 21 films later, Marvel Studios did exactly that. They were able to tell individual stories about a character and simultaneously connect it to another story in the franchise. You could fall in love with Iron Man as you watch one of his films, and see that he’s also connected to Captain America in the Avengers films and the Captain America films. Each film was made with the purpose to not only tell a great story, but add to the many layers that would in the end build something amazing and epic. Phase 1 films were the build up to Avengers. Phase 2 films were the build up to not only Avengers: Age of Ultron, but the third Avengers film, Avengers: Infinity War. Phase 3 films were the build up to Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Now we’re at the end, all the final layers are done and it’s time to see what they will amount to. Surely something epic and amazing with Avengers: Endgame. When you’ve reached the end, it’s always a good thing to look back at the memories and see just how did we get here. What led to the Endgame? That’s what we’re going to do, we’re gonna take a look at the 3 phases that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Phase 1

Image: Slash Film

Phase 1 began with Iron Man released in 2008, followed by – The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, Iron Man 2, and The Avengers. This phase was the foundation for the universe to come, introducing us to all original members of The Avengers. Tony Stark, a.k.a Iron Man, the eccentric billionaire learning how to go from selfish to selfless. Steve Rogers, a.k.a Captain America, the super soldier with a good heart adjusting to being a hero in a new era. Thor, the demigod learning what it truly means to be worthy. Bruce Banner, a.k.a Hulk, learning how to see the Hulk as more than just a curse. Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a Black Widow, an assassin looking to be a hero. Finally, Clint Barton a.k.a Hawkeye, looking for some good ol revenge after being mind controlled by Loki of Asgard. Most importantly this is the phase where our heroes learned to become a team.

Many say this is what made the MCU so successful, they took the time to make individual films for these characters that way we can get familiar with them and begin forming an emotional attachment to them. They could’ve easily just skipped to The Avengers, but in order for an extravagant endeavor like this to work we need characters to attach to in order to want to stick around. In order to feel something, for them to truly become our heroes. They gave us exactly that, and plenty of iconic moments, the most occurring in Marvel’s The Avengers. The Avengers was the first time we had ever seen a team-up of this scale on the big screen, and they executed it almost perfectly. A Rotten Tomato score of 92%, and a box office total of 1.5 billion dollars, it was quite the success. This was the movie that showed us the MCU is capable of taking separate films, finding a way to connect them all, and make something amazing. It’s always fun to rewatch and see how Tony Stark’s sarcastic humor interacts with the stern Steve Rogers. The Avengers also introduced to the big villain of the entire Universe, Thanos the Mad Titan. Thanos isn’t seen until the end credits scene, but we do know that he sent Loki, Thor’s brother, with an army to attack Earth so Loki could rule Earth in exchange for the Tesseract. Moving on from phase 1 it was only going up for the MCU, and with that I take us to some highlights and then Phase 2!

Highlights of Phase 1!

  • “I am Iron Man” – Tony Stark, Iron Man
  • “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” ~ Tony Stark, The Avengers
  • “I am Loki of Asgard, and I am burdened with glorious purpose.” ~ Loki, The Avengers
  • First look at Thanos – The Avengers
  • “Doth mother know you weareth her drapes” ~ Tony Stark to Thor, The Avengers
  • “I understood that reference” ~ Steve Rogers, The Avengers

Phase 2

Image: New Yorker

Phase 2 was the sequel period for all our origin films in phase 1, excluding Iron Man 3 which concluded the Iron Man trilogy. Phase 2 films include – Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: The Dark World, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and Avengers: Age of Ultron.  This phase introduced us to the Guardians, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Scott Lang/Ant-Man, Vision, Sam Wilson/The Falcon, and the Infinity Stones which will become the pinnacle of phase 3. Guardians of the Galaxy was the biggest surprise coming out of this phase, hardly any fans of the MCU (including myself) had heard of these heroes before, and skeptics were sure this film would flop. It was the complete opposite of a flop. Coming out of nowhere it was hilarious, fun, did a great job introducing us to the infinity stones and giving us a little more on Thanos, and was a box office success. Guardians of the Galaxy is a personal favorite for me.

The main goal of Phase 2 was to introduce us to the larger scheme of things in the MCU and that is the infinity stones and Thanos. In this phase we saw the 3 out of the 6 Infinity Stones – the Reality Stone in Thor: The Dark World, the Power Stone in Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Mind Stone in Avengers: Age of Ultron. We actually saw another stone way back in The Avengers, and that was the Space Stone but it was encased in the Tesseract so we didn’t find out until later that it was indeed an Infinity Stone.
Phase 2 also informs us that Gamora and Nebula, new characters introduced in Guardians, are the adopted daughters of Thanos, so they could play a major role in defeating him later.

Avengers: Age of Ultron gave us some hints to the plot for Thor: Ragnarok coming out later in phase 3. Overall Phase 2 was a good phase, it gave us some great films, and really got us ready for what was to come. Before we can see the culmination of it all we still have some new characters to see and with that I take us to Phase 2 highlights, and then Phase 3!

Highlights of Phase 2!

  • Depiction of superhero dealing with mental illness – IM3
  • “I’m with you till the end of the line” ~ Steve to Bucky, CA:WS
  • “12% of a plan” ~ Peter Quill/Star-Lord, GotG
  • GotG in general
  • Lifting Thor’s hammer contest – A:AoU
  • Tony using his intelligence as his weapon – IM3
  • Steve’s Stealth Suit (the best suit) – CA:WS
  • Birth of Vision – A:AoU

Phase 3

Image: Syfy

Oh boy, it’s time for phase 3, the biggest phase of all and the end of our journey with the original six Avengers. Strap in, because there is A LOT. Phase 3 includes – Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man Far From Home. Honestly, this is the best phase, everything is good and some are just great. Of Course Avengers: Infinity War was the biggest event of the phase and in movie history (Avengers: Endgame will most likely break that record), it was just amazing and unlike anything else. But first let’s talk about what else we got from phase 3.

Phase 3 rounded out the trilogies for Captain America and Thor, the latter completely reinventing the character of Thor. Thor: Ragnarok gave us a more lighthearted Thor and had an overall fun, space adventure vibe not too far off from a Guardians of the Galaxy film.

Captain America: Civil War set in motion the rift between the Avengers as they argue over the Sokovia Accords. We learned that Steve knew that Bucky had killed Tony’s parents and the two engaged in a major fight leaving them to go their separate ways, along with other members of the team going off to do their own thing. Steve, Natasha, and Sam became criminals and had to flee the country. The beginning of phase 3 left our heroes scattered, and they stayed that way even throughout Infinity War.

New things came to us in phase 3 including – King T’Challa/Black Panther, Dr. Stephen Strange, Mantis, Shuri, Okoye, Wong, and Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel.

This phase also marked the return of Spiderman to the MCU in Captain America: Civil War after being under the control of Sony. This phase was critically acclaimed and has so far earned 9.4 billion dollars at the box office. We didn’t get too much more on the Infinity Stones or Thanos as both have already been introduced in the previous phase. Instead this phase was more focused on the state of our heroes before Infinity War as well as more origin stories. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 took us on a journey to find out the true origin of Peter Quill/Star-Lord and spent more time on the Guardians development as a family.

Spiderman: Homecoming was as the title suggests a homecoming to Marvel Studios, and also dove further into the Father-Son relationship between Tony Stark and Peter Parker. Black Panther made history as the first superhero film with a majority African-American cast, and first African-American lead in a Marvel superhero film. It was a massive box office success earning over 1 billion dollars, and it became the first ever superhero film to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Captain Marvel which is one of the last few films in phase 3 also made history as Marvel’s first female led superhero film, and the first female led movie to earn 1 billion dollars at the box office.

You know who else made history? A little film called Avengers: Infinity War.

Contrary to my previous statement, Avengers: Infinity War was the event of the year. Smashing box office records and becoming the highest opening weekend gross of all time, it was on another level. All our favorite heroes from the past ten years of films coming together to fight Thanos and stop him from erasing half the universe. It was amazing, I can’t fully describe the joy of seeing the Guardians interact with Iron Man, Spiderman, and Doctor Strange.

One scene in particular with all of them on Titan never fails to make me laugh. They even did something unexpected by making this film about the villain, this film was told from the perspective of Thanos himself – something you do not see very often in superhero films. Infinity War was epic, the stakes have never been higher, and they lost. With the snap of his fingers, Thanos did it, he wiped half of the entire universe taking half our heroes as well.

Our heroes lost. I will never forget the silence around the theater as characters started to turn to dust, as Peter said “I don’t wanna go”, and as cap said the last line of the film “oh god”. I mean, when was the last time you saw a superhero film where the heroes lost? To top it off the film ends with a shot of Thanos smiling as he had accomplished his goal, and the end credits read “Thanos will return”. A sentence usually regarding our heroes, but this time it was all about the villain. Now, now we’re in the endgame.

Avengers: Endgame

Image: Good Morning America

As Tony Stark says in the trailer, “Don’t be sad, part of the journey is the end”, and that’s where we are now, at the end. This is it, half the universe is gone and our heroes last fight will be to bring them back. This film has already surpassed Infinity War as the biggest film event of the decade. Opening weekend showings are sold out, and have been for weeks. Everyone has to know, what are the Avengers going to do? How are they going to defeat Thanos? We don’t know, but we do know that this is the endgame. Some of our heroes are not going to survive this mission, this film is going to be the last time we see them. It’s scary, it’s sad, and it’s also exciting. I’m a bundle of nerves as I wait to see Endgame on Friday evening, because I truly don’t know what’s going to happen. I thought I knew what was going to happen in Infinity War, but I didn’t. None of us saw that coming. You think the trailers tell you what is going to happen, but these directors are ticky. The Russo Brothers have tendencies to put scenes in the trailers that aren’t even in the movie, and they’ve said the trailers makeup probably five minutes out of the three hour film. To put it simply, we are in for a wild, epic, and emotional ride then afterwards we still have Spiderman: Far From Home to close out Phase 3.

Highlights of Phase 3, so far!

  • “Hey everyone!” ~ Spiderman, CA:CW
  • Carol coming into her full powers – CM
  • T’Challa and Killmonger – BP
  • “It’s called…the Revengers” ~ Thor, TR
  • “Bring me Thanos!” ~ Thor, A:IW
  • “He’s my friend…so was I” ~ Steve & Tony, CA:CW
  • “You should’ve gone for the head” ~ Thanos, A:IW
  • *snaps fingers* – A:IW
  • “We’re in the Endgame now” ~ Doctor Strange, A:IW

That’s a wrap!

Image: Variety

Tony is right, part of the journey is the end and this has been an amazing journey. The MCU has amassed an incredible fanbase, and they’ve touched the heart of their fans all around the world. They gave us greater than life superheroes that we can somehow still relate to. Steve is man who sticks to his morals and never forgets where he came from, and Tony is a man trying to fight his inner demons. T’Challa had to right the wrongs of his ancestors and his own father in order to become a better person and king saying “wise men build bridges while the foolish build barriers.”. A lesson we can learn from during these times. MCU films are more than just superhero films, they have heart, they have joy in times of dark, and they bring us together. Fan events for the films see thousands of fans coming together to celebrate the films we love. It’s hard to think we’re going to be saying goodbye to the heroes we’ve looked up to and come to love these past eleven years. Sadly, we’re at the end and the end means saying goodbye, but it is also saying hello to something new. Marvel is nowhere near done, there are more characters to show, and more stories to tell. Our heroes are leaving us, but they’re making sure they’re leaving us in good hands with Spiderman, Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Doctor Strange sequels to come.