Spidey Lives

Spider-Man: Far From Home was the break we needed after the biggest event in superhero movie history. As the twenty-third installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man: Far From Home is basically a 2 hour epilogue for Avengers: Endgame. Despite the massive book closing scale of Endgame, Far From Home was like Ant-Man in how it officially ended Phase Three. Both of which have been referred to as MCU palette cleansers. I enjoyed Spider-Man: Homecoming a lot more than I was expecting, but Spider-Man’s European Vacation sounded a little pedestrian. Especially after something as crowd pleasing as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I was once again skeptical, but for different reasons. My only concern was how they seemed to be handling their choice of villain.

Despite Sony continuing to keep their sticky fingers on the franchise, their influence wasn’t as obvious as Homecoming. Jon Watts is still the director, but Marvel Studios producer Kevin Feige continued to guide the high school franchise similar to Harry Potter. Which is why the sequel came out only 2 years after the first solo movie. Putting the marketing team in the tricky position of promoting Far From Home without spoiling the circumstances of Spidey’s return. The first teaser made no mention of Endgame. The second trailer released after Endgame made the ironic decision to have notable big mouth Tom Holland warn the viewer of spoilers. Far From Home ended up being an undemanding follow up with enough surprises to make it memorable…

49. Spider-Man Far From Home

Spider-Man swings with MJ

Spider-Man: Far From Home isn’t nearly as game changing as Spider-Man 2, but it’s a vast improvement over The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It actually has more in common with Iron Man 2 for a variety of reasons. Both sequels were closely released in their respective MCU Phases and both deal with drone warfare. The title Far From Home made it clear that every film in this Spider-Man trilogy was going to use the word “Home.” It was a weird decision, but I’ve come to embrace it. Just like I slowly started to embrace the changes Sony made to the Spider-Man mythos. It’s still not the comic accurate version I wanted, but the cast is just as funny as they were before. Even if Sony continued announcing every single ethnically diverse student in Peter’s class, regardless of importance. As well as make several contractually obligated references to the MCU. Just like Homecoming, Spider-Man: Far From Home begins with the Sony & Columbia Pictures logo before showing the only Marvel Studios characters they were able to secure.

Nick Fury & Maria Hill finally make another substantial appearance after gradually decreasing in importance. Neither appeared in Captain America: Civil War, but they were at least turned to dust in the Infinity War after-credits scene. Cobie Smulders continued making appearances on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, while Samuel L. Jackson had a digitally de-aged co-starring role in Captain Marvel. They both had a quick cameo at Stark’s funeral, but their role in the MCU was never clarified. They seem to be continuing some form of S.H.I.E.L.D. business when they track a disturbance in Ixtenco, Mexico. It’s there that classic Spider-Man villain Mysterio finally makes his grand debut. In the comics, Quentin Beck is a disgraced Hollywood special effects genius who uses high tech illusions to start a life of crime. I’ve been wanting to see a live-action Mysterio for years, since he’s another iconic Stan Lee & Steve Ditko creation who’s debut is as old as The Amazing Spider-Man #13. His costume was tricky to pull off, but they manage to make his green spandex, purple cape, and goofy fishbowl helmet look cool on the big screen. The only thing added was a golden chestplate.

Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t known for blockbusters, but he actually has a long history with the Spider-Man franchise. Fun fact: Gyllenhaal was originally meant to replace Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man 2 if he didn’t get over his back problems. They also coincidentally played brothers in the movie Brothers. So Gyllenhaal was due for a Spider-Man role. He makes a surprisingly convincing villain, but the trailers tried very hard to convince you otherwise. Unless you’ve never cracked open a comic book, I was waiting patiently for the big reveal. Until then, the extremely obscure Elementals were passed off as the main villains. Unlike the comics no one’s ever heard of, the movie uses elements from existing Spider-Man villains to create the Elementals. Wind is modeled after Cyclone, Earth is modeled after Sandman, Water is modeled after Hydro-Man, and Fire is modeled after Molten Man. Their CGI appearances are a lot more monstrous than any of their loose comic counterparts. Hydro-Man’s alter ego Morris Bench is the only one explicitly mentioned.

The Wind Elemental has already been defeated, so Mysterio magically disposes of the Earth Elemental in Mexico before the Marvel Studios logo is shown. Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” plays over an “In Memoriam” of all the fallen Avengers. Despite the generally breezy lighthearted tone, Far From Home couldn’t ignore the immediate aftermath of Endgame. Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, and Vision are all acknowledged along with the Snap, which will forever be referred to as the Blip. This movie treats it more like a joke with students vanishing, then reappearing in awkward positions. It’s still very tragic, but good humor can come out of it. Betty Brant and her co-anchor also explain what the 5 year interval means for the students who weren’t snapped out of existence. Peter Parker, his best friend Ned Leeds, crush MJ, bully Flash Thompson, and other students are the same age they were, but some students are 5 years older. Notably Peter’s romantic rival Brad Davis played by Asian actor Remy Hii. Flash should probably be the one vying for MJ’s affection, but he’s still a snobby rich kid.

I’m still not crazy about their portrayal of Mary Jane, but only referring to her as MJ at least made it less distracting. She’s still a sarcastic oddball, but Zendaya is a lot more likeable in the part. Tom Holland and Zendaya have great chemistry in interviews, so I expected their characters to get together eventually. I actually love the teen romance in the sequel. Peter suddenly has a big crush on MJ and it’s all he can think about during their class trip to Europe. It’s an unexplained 2 week field trip that seems very extravagant for high school Juniors. Apart from Washington D.C. in Homecoming, this is the first Spider-Man movie to leave Queens, New York for almost the entire movie. Various European countries are explored since the MCU tends to be much more international. Peter’s motivation is the exact opposite of his motivation in Homecoming. Before he wanted to prove himself as an Avenger, now he just wants to take a break as a regular teenager. I know it would’ve slowed down the movie’s momentum, but I do wish they didn’t delete the sequence of Peter getting ready to go on vacation.

Aside from featuring the bodega, it also would’ve been the first action scene with Peter in his Iron Spider suit. Without it, almost an hour goes by without Spider-Man. Peter does however suit up as Spider-Man for Aunt May’s charitable benefits. May was also blipped out of existence, so the cliffhanger of her discovering her nephew’s secret identity hasn’t been addressed until now. Turns out she’s very okay with it. Marisa Tomei’s role is slightly expanded to include a possible romance with Happy that makes Peter uncomfortable. Although Iron Man’s story has all but concluded, Jon Favreau continues to stick around as Tony’s faithful forehead of security. Happy has become a lot less frustrated with Peter, but he does tell him not to ignore calls from Nick Fury. Despite his death, Tony Stark’s legacy is felt all throughout the sequel. Whether it’s memorials, documentaries, or reporters asking Spider-Man if he’ll be the next Iron Man. After being foolishly forgotten about in Homecoming, Infinity War rightfully acknowledged Spidey’s famous spider-sense. Aunt May unfortunately gives it the awkward nickname “Peter tingle.” She tells him to pack his spider-suit, but he decides not to put it in his travel case (with Uncle Ben’s initials written on it).

Peter’s goal to get closer to MJ goes hilariously awry on a flight to their first destination. Martin Starr was already funny in the first movie, but now Mr. Harrington is a major scene stealer. J. B. Smoove is also added as Mr. Dell, another bumbling science teacher who blames the movie’s events on witches. Despite the size of the group, only the important students get attention while on the trip. Tony Revolori continues to try his best as Flash. Admiring Spider-Man while at the same time picking on Peter is a good callback to the comics. He’s also given a live streaming subplot and a very out of nowhere moment dedicated to his absentee parents. Jacob Batalon and Angourie Rice get the most hilarious subplot when Ned & Betty suddenly become a couple. It’s an unexpected reference to the comics and ironic considering they both starred in Every Day together. Ned is still the reliable best friend, but he is more distracted by Betty. Venice, Italy is where Peter buys a black dahlia necklace for MJ, until everything goes wrong when the Water Elemental attacks. Since Peter left his suit at their crappy hotel, he wears a jester mask to hide his identity.

It’s not how I imagined Spider-Man would meet Mysterio, but it is cool to see Peter webbing a bell tower in place and Mysterio using magic against the watery beast. The name Mysterio actually comes from news coverage where the students compare him to Iron Man & Thor. Mysterio does fit comfortably in the MCU thanks to Doctor Strange making magic believable. Things get worse for Peter when Nick Fury tranquilizes Ned and hijacks their summer vacation. If Mr. Stark was the cool uncle, then Nick Fury is the mean step-dad. It’s another relationship that isn’t totally necessary, but it does add further validation to Spider-Man’s role in the MCU. He mentions seeing Parker at the funeral and supplies him with a pair of glasses that Tony left for him. The glasses contain an A.I. called E.D.I.T.H. who replaces Karen from the first movie since suit hijinks are no longer a thing. E.D.I.T.H. is Stark’s contingency operating system humorously short for “Even Dead I’m the Hero.” Peter removes his mask to meet Fury’s agents since he’s been kind of reckless with his secret identity, especially in front of the Avengers. Along with Hill, Fury’s team also includes Numan Acar as Dmitri Smerdyakov. He never becomes the Chameleon, but he does go undercover as Peter’s replacement bus driver.

Peter also meets Quentin Beck for the first time while accidentally giving him the name Mysterio. Although I knew he was deceiving Peter as a hip replacement mentor, his story is very convincing. Beck makes the Multiverse theory a lot more credible by claiming to be from Earth-833. He even refers to their dimension as the comic accurate Earth-616. Mysterio claims to be the last of a heroic battalion that fought the Elementals on his Earth. Fury specifically wants Spider-Man’s help since Thor is offworld, Doctor Strange is unavailable, and Captain Marvel’s name shouldn’t even be invoked. This is actually the first time her superhero name has ever been mentioned. When Peter turns Fury down, he redirects his trip to Prague, Czech Republic instead of Paris, France. While in Easter Alps, Austria, Peter is supplied with a new stealth suit modeled after the all-black Spider-Noir costume. Things get awkward when a sexy European agent orders him to take off his clothes and Peter is caught with his pants down by Brad. Although Brad seemed cool before, he suddenly becomes a jerk who tries to use the photo to get with MJ.

Peter quickly discovers what E.D.I.T.H. can do when he accidentally calls a drone strike on Brad. Making you wonder why Tony would give something so dangerous to a teenager?! Peter webs up the drone without anyone noticing, but things get extra complicated when they arrive in Prague. His class is sent to a boring opera to keep them safe while he fights the final Fire Elemental. Fury is understandably furious at Parker, so Beck has a heart to heart with him before their battle. Peter & MJ gradually get closer, but continually leaving without explanation makes her increasingly suspicious. Betty & Ned follow her when she sneaks out. They’re all caught in the middle of stealth suited Spider-Man and Mysterio’s fight against the emerging Fire Elemental. Ned covers for Peter by saying he’s a European rip-off of Spider-Man called Night Monkey. Another hilarious running gag that comes up several times. The fiery beast gets more dangerous when it draws power from metal, but something suspicious happens when Spider-Man webs onto a cloaked device that MJ finds. Mysterio saves the day while Peter helps his friends. Fury offers Mysterio a position on the Avengers, but tells Parker that he’ll be ready when he steps up.

Peter & Quentin bond even more at a bar where the former makes a decision almost as dumb as Tony giving his address to a terrorist in Iron Man 3. Peter hands E.D.I.T.H. over to Beck since he believes the glasses were meant for someone else. When he leaves, Mysterio finally reveals himself to be the villain as he drops the illusion. Not even death can stop Tony from creating villains that Spider-Man ends up fighting, because Beck and his entire team are all disgruntled ex-employees from Stark Industries. Turns out Beck is the inventor of Tony’s holographic B.A.R.F. projector seen in Civil War. He got fired when Stark called him unstable. Ralphie himself Peter Billingsley returns as another disgruntled employee who was yelled at by Obadiah Stane as far back as the first Iron Man. Beck runs through every other employee’s purpose on his team in a scene that kind of goes on too long, but is important in showing his motivation. Since the world believes in superheroes, Mysterio plans to turn himself into the greatest hero of them all by manufacturing threats with drones creating the illusion. It’s a clever way to draw from modern paranoia, but Beck trying to be threatening in a motion capture suit does throw me off a bit.

When the trip gets called off, Peter tries to make the most of it by taking a walk with MJ. She abruptly figures out he’s Spider-Man and she’s proven right when they both discover Mysterio was behind the Elementals through a lost projector. Ned is only slightly jealous when MJ becomes part of the friends of Spider-Man club. Peter gets into Night Monkey mode while trying to tell Fury everything he knows in Berlin, Germany. When their entire meeting turns out to be an illusion, it leads to my favorite sequence in the entire movie. Mysterio’s mind bending illusions are pure Steve Ditko with several trippy images of Spider-Man placed in his original costumes, fighting clones of himself, accidentally webbing up dangerous objects, and seeing a zombie Iron Man rise from the grave. Fury saves Parker by shooting Beck, but it was yet another ruse to get him to reveal everyone who knows about his deception. Spider-Man is hit by a train and wakes up in the friendly Broek op Langedijk, Netherlands. Peter calls Happy, who arrives in a Stark jet hovering over a field of surprisingly CGI flowers.

Happy is the only person Peter can trust when he gives him a pep talk about living up to Iron Man’s legacy. Hopefully people will stop comparing Spider-Man to Iron Man from here on out. The Infinity Saga comes full circle when Peter works on a new suit to the tune of “Back in Black” by Led Zeppelin? They fly to London, Englund where Mysterio creates his biggest illusion yet. An amalgamation of the Elementals creating an Avengers level threat. He also plans to kill Peter’s friends and Fury using his drones. Fury catches on to Beck, with Hill blowing up a drone that was targeting him. Happy helps Peter’s friends (and Flash) by taking them to a museum where MJ knocks out a drone with a mace. The upgraded spider-suit is similar to the original Stark suit apart from using black instead of blue. Spider-Man glides into battle in order to destroy all of the drone projectors. It’s definitely a unique climax that requires extra creativity when Peter’s web-shooters run out. Spider-Man recreates Cap’s badass hammer wielding moment by carrying a makeshift shield and a bomb that he uses to destroy the drones.

He catches Beck, but he hides in an illusion that tests his “Peter tingle.” Spider-Man wrecks the remaining drones that end up injuring Beck. Further deception that Peter immediately catches onto. Peter deactivates the rest of the drones as Mysterio “dies” from a gunshot wound. After the battle, Peter finally shares an adorkable first kiss with MJ. They become a couple while Ned & Betty suddenly break up. Peter also gets answers about whether or not Aunt May is dating Happy. He’s in love, but she calls it a summer fling. What follows is Spider-Man finally swinging on skyscrapers while texting MJ. The sequel ends when he takes her for a terrifyingly romantic ride through New York. The credits sequence is another fun scrapbook set to “Vacation” by The Go-Go’s. The mid-credits scene is so shocking that I’m still trying to process it. After his swing with MJ, Peter is blindsided by a video of Beck framing Spider-Man for his crimes and revealing his secret identity to the world. More surprising is the news source being an angry balding online commentator version of J. Jonah Jameson from TheDailyBugle.Net.

It’s sad that we’ll never see another Stan Lee cameo, but I practically screamed when J. K. Simmons reprised his irreplaceable role from a whole other universe. The shocking revelation ends on another “What the f-” from Spider-Man. Unfortunately, it’s followed by a post-credits scene that reminds me of everything I didn’t like about Captain Marvel. Ben Mendelsohn and Sharon Blynn reprise their roles as Talos & Soren who were in disguise as Fury & Hill during the entire movie. Not only does it make little sense, it further angers me to know Skrulls are still good guys who did it as a favor to Nick Fury. Fury is actually on a Skrull space station in a beach simulator. I didn’t know it then, but Fury asking for his shoes ended up being the last we saw of the MCU for over a year. All the Marvel Netflix shows were being cancelled, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was ending, the young adult shows were over, and Hellstorm doesn’t count. The financial highs of Endgame (along with releasing it on a Tuesday), helped Far From Home become the highest grossing Spider-Man movie of all time. Spider-Man: Far From Home offers a brief, mind bending, deceptive, and fun look into the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

50. Spider-Man Far From Home

Mysterio casts an illusion

Preceded by: Spider-Man: Homecoming & Followed by: Spider-Man: No Way Home

Whatever it Takes

Avengers: Endgame may be the greatest experience I’ve ever had in a movie theater. As the twenty-second installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Endgame concluded the Infinity Saga. 22 films worth of storytelling was packed into an unprecedented 3 hour epic. Never in my wildest dreams as a Marvel comics fan did I think I’d live to see something so monumental. The MCU was a massive undertaking that was never a guaranteed success. Phase One needed to introduce the core members of the Avengers, Phase Two needed to take risks, and Phase Three made the Marvel Cinematic Universe even bigger than it already was. A perfect formula that only Marvel Studios has been able to accomplish. The impact of the MCU kept the series popular all throughout the 2010’s. The cast of legendary actors, rising stars, and lesser known celebrities only grew with each passing film. Producer Kevin Feige kept everyone on the right path with an 11 year plan in place.

Writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely continued to balance action with drama & humor. Directors Anthony & Joe Russo took on the workload of not one, but two massive crossovers in a row. Avengers: Infinity War was all anyone could talk about after its shocking ending. I continued to theorize a mostly correct idea of how the fourth installment would play out. My only curiosity was how Disney would handle marketing the movie without spoilers. Endgame has one of the most unique marketing campaigns of all time. Despite its length, only about 20% of footage was ever revealed. Most of which was heavily edited to omit characters, recolor hair, erase key objects, and occasionally include scenes that aren’t in the movie. Endgame was so secretive that LEGO sets were complete false advertising. I made sure to avoid spoilers whatever it takes. So that everything I saw in the movie theater was almost completely brand new. We may never see another movie like Avengers: Endgame again. MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! if that’s even necessary for what was once the highest grossing movie of all time…

46. Avengers Endgame

“AVENGERS!… assemble”

Avengers: Endgame just might feature the largest cast in movie history. Unlike Infinity War, every major superhero makes an appearance regardless of how big their role is. Endgame reflects that by opening with the only missing Avenger from the last movie. Hawkeye made his theatrical debut in Thor. It was a bit part that established him as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. with bow & arrow expertise. The Avengers expanded his role as a founding member of the team, but most of his screen time was dedicated to mind control. His absence was never explained in The Winter Soldier despite being a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who would’ve likely been around when it fell. Age of Ultron dedicated far more time than was necessary to Clint Barton’s secret wife and children. Along with establishing the mentor role he plays in Wanda & Pietro Maximoff’s redemption. Civil War brought Hawkeye onto Team Cap despite the problems it would’ve caused for his family. Which is why Infinity War used the same excuse they did for Scott Lang’s absence. Unlike Ant-Man and the Wasp, the Barton families quiet farm life isn’t exactly worthy of an entire film.

All we need is a less than 10 minute cold opening to explain where Hawkeye has been. Jeremy Renner has always played Barton as more of an everyman, but this was the first time I truly felt for his character. Clint is seen shooting arrows with his daughter Lila Barton played by the director’s daughter Ava Russo. Cooper Barton and Nathaniel Pietro Barton are also more grown up since the last time we saw them in Age of Ultron. Linda Cardellini returns as Clint’s wife Laura Barton to deliver the first of many jokes in the movie. Endgame may be more somber than most superhero movies, but humor has always been a mainstay of the franchise. *Snap* Until the heartbreak of Clint’s entire family being turned to dust. The Marvel Studios logo plays alongside “Dear Mr. Fantasy” by Traffic. One thing you’ll notice about the opening is that every fallen Avenger has been erased. Trailers used a similar tactic of having everyone who was snapped away in black, white, and red clips from past movies.

Any self-respecting Marvel fan knew they would come back, but it was a clever way to market the characters without giving anything away. Thanos was very much the lead character of Infinity War, but Endgame reverts back to the original Avengers. Which is why all six of them survived the snap. Survivors include: Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor, Bruce Banner, Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton, James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Scott Lang, Pepper Potts, Carol Danvers, Okoye, Rocket, and Nebula. It’s an interesting collection of characters to keep alive, but they all serve a purpose. The most unexpected pairing was Stark & Nebula who were the only people left on Titan. Their dynamic is shown in a fun game of paper football, but their engineering expertise comes in handy when they try to pilot the Benatar. It’s been 23 days since Thanos snapped his fingers, so Tony is perpetually losing hope with CGI making Robert Downey Jr. look a lot more malnourished.

Tony Stark has come a long way since his debut in Iron Man. Stark has built over 50 Iron Man suits, unintentionally created several supervillains (sometimes literally), faced demons from his past, helped assemble the Avengers, fell in love with Pepper, fought Captain America, took Peter Parker under his wing, and always attempted to safeguard the planet with a suit of armor around the world. Tony records a bleak message to his true love on a broken Iron Man helmet before drifting off. Nebula has also come a long way since her debut in Guardians of the Galaxy. Going from a ruthless assassin for her father Thanos to a willing anti-hero for her sister Gamora. Given her role in The Infinity Gauntlet storyline, it was understandable that she would be kept alive. Karen Gillan gradually became more of an A-lister with Endgame being her biggest role to date. I was already emotional, but Nebula comforting a dying Stark is when I officially started to tear up.

Until he’s saved by a bright deus ex machina of Carol Danvers in space. Although I very much love Endgame, I can’t really hide my dislike of Brie Larson. Even in interviews with the rest of the Avengers cast it seemed like they didn’t get along with her. Ever since her one month debut in Captain Marvel I was nervous about just how big her role would be. There’s barely any time dedicated to her actually meeting the team. If you completely ignore the Infinity War after-credits scene where Nick Fury contacts her and the Captain Marvel mid-credits scene where she suddenly shows up at the Avengers Compound, then her appearance would seem a little out of nowhere. Carol flies the Benatar to safety where a living Pepper Potts is waiting alongside Natasha, Rhodey, Bruce, and a freshly shaved Steve. It’s a tearful reunion for Pepper and an awkward reunion for Steve since the last time he saw Tony was when they fought in Civil War.

Although they’ve never been friends, Rocket & Nebula do take time to comfort each other when none of the Guardians are brought back alive. Ever since Rocket’s debut in Guardians of the Galaxy, he’s been a reliable smartass with excellent range from Bradley Cooper. Apart from his technical expertise, I knew the main reason he was kept alive was for the more grounded Avengers to interact with a talking raccoon. Back at the Avengers Compound, the survivors view a consensus of all individuals who were snapped away. Aside from the ones we already knew, it does confirm Shuri and the forgotten Dr. Erik Selvig to be among the fallen. Steve & Natasha have very much assumed command of the Avengers as they come up with a strategy to find Thanos. No one has gone through more changes than Thor. Chris Hemsworth made an effort to reinvent Odinson every chance he got. Going from a stoic god to a more humorous three dimensional character.

Ever since his debut in Thor, the God of Thunder has denied himself the throne of Asgard, had a rocky relationship with his adoptive brother, and suffered more loss than any Avenger combined. Thor lost his mother Frigga, father Odin, sister Hela, Asgard, a majority of his Asgardian people, his best friend Heimdall, brother Loki, his hammer Mjolnir, his long blonde hair, his eye, and is partially responsible for failing to kill Thanos. So he’s understandably angry and doesn’t say a word. Tony is also pretty angry at Steve when he calls back to the scene in Age of Ultron where his vision correctly foretold the events of Endgame. The Avengers didn’t assemble after Civil War and that’s why they lost in Infinity War. This is easily Downey Jr’s best performance as the longrunning Tony Stark. There’s no time for jokes when the malnourished Stark gives up and collapses with his best friend Rhodey and fianceé Pepper by his side.

Danvers’ primary contribution to the team is offering to get Stark a Xorrian Elixir and vowing to kill Thanos. Larson actually shot her Endgame scenes before her solo movie. So it would explain why she wears more makeup and a black tank top that possibly references her Ms. Marvel costume. Rhodey finally points out the fact that Carol has been MIA for 23 years and everyone shrugs it off when she says it’s because she’s always on other planets. Endgame suffers from the same problem as Captain Marvel by giving her so much power, yet removing her from the equation until the last minute. All the while having other characters hyping her up. Thor only trusts Carol when he summons Stormbreaker without her flinching. Although Rhodey has been around since Iron Man, Don Cheadle didn’t make his debut until Iron Man 2. It was the first major MCU recasting, but not enough to keep War Machine from making an impact.

Rhodey has gone from dedicated Air Force Colonel to superhero with strong Military ties to wounded warrior after serving on Team Stark to a more full fledged member of the Avengers. Similar to Gillan, this is easily Cheadle’s biggest role so far that gives him more memorable and humorous moments. He’s very much the most realistic Avenger in a team of gods, aliens, and monsters. When Thanos uses the Stones again, Nebula helps the team by locating the planet he always intended to retire on. As Steve uses language to call the team to action, the Avengers: Endgame logo appears with the most dramatic score yet. Rocket offers some levity when everyone who hasn’t been to space raises their hand. I’ll bet a man who’s lived through the 1940’s never expected to travel to space, but Steve Rogers has definitely been through a lot.

Chris Evans blew everyone away ever since he made his debut in Captain America: The First Avenger. Steve was once a skinny kid from Brooklyn, until he took the Super Soldier formula, fought in World War II as Captain America, got frozen in ice, helped assemble the Avengers, cracked the conspiracy around S.H.I.E.L.D, fought Iron Man to protect his friend Bucky, and gave up his shield to go on the run. All the while he’s kept the locket of his true love Peggy Carter. Steve wears his S.H.I.E.L.D. STRIKE team uniform, Natasha keeps her short blonde hair, Rhodey wears his Mark IV War Machine armor, Bruce continues operating the Hulkbuster armor, Thor’s look from the last movie stays the same, and Carol does recon while wearing the costume she wore in the Captain Marvel mid-credits scene.

Thanos’ garden planet is completely uninhabited. His CGI appearance is still very convincing, but he does have notable burns on his face. Thanos hangs up his armor and lives peacefully until the Avengers break into his hut, hold him down, and Thor chops off his hand wearing the damaged Infinity Gauntlet. It’s not a good look for the heroes, but they’re right to be furious. Everyone is taken off guard when Rocket discovers an empty Gauntlet. Turns out Thanos used the Stones to destroy the Stones since he sees his completed mission as “Inevitable.” He even manages to reconcile with his daughter Nebula before Thor goes for the head. I know Endgame is PG-13, but I never expected to see a brutal decapitation in a Disney movie. My theater applauded and even laughed, but the moment is far from humorous. One swift motion of Thor’s axe is enough to abruptly put an end to the main villain of Avengers: Infinity War with more than two and a half hours left to go…

47. Avengers Endgame

Thanos sends his troops

Avengers: Endgame continues to catch the audience off guard with a text that slowly reads “Five Years Later.” I knew Endgame would have a time jump, but this is the first time that’s ever happened in the MCU. Most Marvel Studios movies stick to the year in which they were released. Granted, the reveal only works the first time you see the movie. Rest assured my entire theater gasped. In the year 2023, the full ramifications of the Snap are shown in a barren New York. Are you sure this isn’t 2020? Each Avenger deals with the 5 year interval differently. Steve spends most of his time running a support group for grieving civilians. One of which is Thanos creator Jim Starlin. The other is Endgame co-director Joe Russo as the first gay character in the MCU. Even though it doesn’t affect the plot and can be easily edited out. Steve is a true hero who can relate to everyone’s struggle, but the real hero of Endgame is the rat that saved the universe. If not for a rat activating a sensor, Ant-Man would’ve never gotten out of the Quantum Realm.

Scott Lang has been a real breath of fresh air ever since his debut in Ant-Man. Scott took on the mantle of Ant-Man, was roped into the conflict in Civil War, grew into Giant-Man, ended up under house arrest, partnered up with the Wasp, and got stuck in the Quantum Realm when his team was snapped out of existence. Paul Rudd had hilarious comedic banter with the Avengers in Civil War, but now his role is appropriately increased with tons of scene stealing moments. Ken Jeong is one of two Community alumni who cameos as the security guard who lets Scott out of lock up. Luis’ ugly brown van with the quantum tunnel was just sitting there for 5 years. Scott is of course very confused when he wanders around a post-snap San Francisco. When he realizes what’s going on, a panicked Lang desperately searches for his daughter’s name on a series of monuments commemorating the people who are gone.

All he finds is his own name, since everyone assumed he was one of the victims. Making the reunion between Scott and his now grown up daughter Cassie all the more meaningful. Lesser known actress Emma Fuhrmann plays the 16 year old Cassie Lang. Although I know I’m gonna miss Abby Ryder Fortson, aging up Cassie was necessary for later films. The Avengers continue avenging thanks to Black Widow. Natasha Romanoff has gone through so much since her debut in Iron Man 2. First she was an undercover spy working for S.H.I.E.L.D, then she was a founding member of the Avengers, then she helped take down her own organization, then she sided with Team Stark, but defected to Team Cap, and finally, she went on the run for an indeterminate amount of time. Not to mention her difficult past as a former KGA agent. Nat has always been the heart of the Avengers. Which is why she works so hard to keep her family together.

This is very much Scarlett Johansson’s most emotionally resonant performance in the MCU. Her hairstyle has changed so many times, but her final look is her natural red hair mixed with the blonde highlights from when she was undercover. Later she ties it into a braid. While eating a peanut butter sandwich, Romanoff talks Avenger business through high tech monitors. Rocket and Nebula are present along with Rhodey, Okoye, and Danvers. Captain Marvel’s third look incorporates the short blonde hair she has in very recent comics. As well as a color swapped red & blue costume that looks a lot more like the original Captain Mar-Vell. As if on cue, Carol leaves for practically the entire movie to help aliens on other planets. The look she gives Rhodey is a possible reference to their equally recent relationship from the comics. Rocket makes fun of Carol’s haircut and now sports a blue uniform closer to the one he wears in the comics.

Never thought I’d see Nebula joining the Avengers, but here we are. It’s a welcomed redemption. Danai Gurira has made an impression ever since her debut in Black Panther, but the Dora Milaje aren’t superheroes. Okoye just checks in with news about an earthquake beneath the ocean. It was never confirmed, but I’m claiming that as a reference to Namor the Sub-Mariner. Rhodey stays behind a little longer to talk to Nat about a string of deaths linked to Barton. You really see her pain when she becomes desperate to help her best friend. When Rhodey leaves, Steve continues to console his close friend. Ever since teaming up in The Winter Soldier, Steve & Natasha have trusted each other through even the most dire of circumstances. Steve offers Nat optimism, but it’s clear to both of them that the fighting will never stop. A solution comes knocking in the form of Scott Lang showing up to the Avengers Compound. Lang wasn’t around for Infinity War, but now he’s a key figure who offers a game changing plan to help bring everyone back.

My theory was confirmed as soon as Scott suggested using the Quantum Realm as a time machine. Time travel has always been a major part of superhero universes, so it was only a matter of time before it would play a bigger part in the MCU. Doctor Strange only scratched the surface of what was possible. Scott regains his lost intellect, but quantum physics were Hank Pym’s department. So Steve, Natasha, and Scott need to track down someone a lot smarter than they are. Tony is finally able to retire and even start a family with Pepper at a remote cabin. More surprising is Tony & Pepper having an adorable 5 year old daughter named Morgan. The name Morgan Stark originates from a jealous cousin Tony had in the comics. Lexi Rabe is a precocious child who works off of Downey Jr. very well. It’s great to see Stark’s signature sarcasm as a parent. She’s first seen wearing a helmet that Tony made for his wife. Although all three of them never appear on-screen together, it’s still nice to see the Stark family living in peace.

Until Steve, Natasha, and Scott show up talking about time travel. Although a much more forgiving Tony is smart enough to figure it out, he’d much rather keep the life he’s made for himself. It’s only after washing the dishes and seeing a photo of himself with Peter that Tony casually tries to crack time travel. Kerry Condon deserves a special shout out even though F.R.I.D.A.Y. never had as much personality as J.A.R.V.I.S. Tony Stark has always been a genius, but now he really lives up to his futurist title when he invents time travel without even trying. He tucks Morgan in soon after and she says “I love you 3000.” Although part of Tony is telling him to throw away his discovery, Pepper convinces him not to. Pepper Potts will forever be the longest running love interest in the MCU. She went from personal secretary to CEO of Stark Industries with her concern over Tony’s well being present from the beginning.

Gwyneth Paltrow was the only actress to appear in The Avengers alongside her hero, and even though she nearly left after the Iron Man trilogy completed, it was important to bring her back in Spider-Man: Homecoming. The only thing that changed was Pepper’s comic accurate red hair becoming Paltrow’s natural blonde. Meanwhile, Steve, Natasha, and Scott search for a bigger brain. I was in complete shock when Banner was finally revealed 5 years later. No one has gone through more unusual changes in the MCU than Hulk and his alter ego Bruce Banner. Although Banner technically made his debut in The Incredible Hulk, Mark Ruffalo famously replaced Edward Norton in The Avengers. Making that the true first appearance of his version of the green rage monster. Banner was first dedicated to finding a cure, but he eventually accepted his place alongside the Avengers. Hulk fought with the team in Code: Green emergencies until he got so out of control that he left the planet. Sakaar accepted Hulk as a warrior, but Banner was suppressed for 2 years.

Although Hulk refusing to come out in Infinity War was frustrating, it was all part of Marvel’s plan to give him an arc. Since Universal Pictures made it difficult for them to make any more Hulk movies. I didn’t think it was leading to Professor Hulk. Turns out Bruce had been experimenting with gamma radiation off-screen and was somehow able to merge his brain with Hulk’s brawn. Hulk’s CGI appearance has changed drastically throughout the years. His more monstrous features eventually grew to resemble Ruffalo more and more until they decided to simply merge them together. Smart Hulk is far more optimistic, wears shirts, eats large amounts of food, and is a friend to all his adoring fans. One of the kids is Joe Russo’s other daughter Lia. It’s an especially funny bit when Scott tries to get a photo with the kids, but no one recognizes him as Ant-Man. Although quantum physics aren’t Bruce’s area of expertise, he does agree to help. They do a test run with Scott back at the Avengers Compound that goes hilariously wrong when he becomes a child, an old man, and a baby. “Time travel!”

Tony arrives just in time with a device that will allow them to travel through time instead of time traveling through them. Steve & Tony finally reconcile after their feud in Civil War with the latter bringing the formers shield. Cap went an entire movie without his mighty shield, so it’s just great to see him embrace it once again. Tony’s only condition is bringing everyone back without erasing the last 5 years and assembling the whole team. Rhodey, Nebula, and Rocket are easy since they’ve all remained close with the Avengers. Scott’s taco is blown away when the Benatar lands and War Machine refers to him as “Regular-sized man” when he lands. Hulk kindly offers Scott extra tacos as he sets off with Rocket to find Thor to the tune of “Supersonic Rocket Ship” by The Kinks. Just like the comics, the remaining Asgardians were able to live on Earth in a small fishing community in Tønsberg, Norway.

New Asgard doesn’t look like much, but at least they’ve managed to survive. Turns out Thor’s entire Ragnarok supporting cast survived the Snap. Tessa Thompson returns as Valkyrie to greet Hulk & Rocket as well as warn them that Thor isn’t in the best condition. I was thrilled to see the return of Thor’s long blonde hair, but very much wasn’t expecting him to let himself go. Fat Thor was equal parts shocking and humorous. Although Hemsworth had to deal with a wig on top of a thick beard and a realistic fat suit covering his muscles, he made the most of it by once again becoming one of the funniest characters in the movie. People deal with grief differently, so it’s not hard to believe Thor would become a heavy drinking party god with a beer belly who uses Stormbreaker as a bottle opener. At least Thor has his good friends Korg & Meik by his side. Taika Waititi was too much of hidden gem to let go after all. They play dated video games like Fortnite and Thor has gotten so low that he resorts to threatening NoobMaster69 over the internet.

Although he’s mostly comedic, Hemsworth really shows his range when Hulk mentions Thanos. Thor breaks down at the sound of his name and refuses to join the fight due to grief. Until Rocket tells him there’s beer on the ship. Romanoff manages to track Barton in Tokyo where he’s taken on the comic accurate moniker Ronin. Barton is in the darkest place out of all the Avengers since the loss of his family drove him to kill major crime syndicates. First it was the Cartel, now it’s the Yakuza led by Hiroyuki Sanada as Akihiko. Ronin is merciless while dressed in a dark brooding costume equipped with a sword. Underneath, Clint is sporting a mohawk and tattoos. Nat & Clint reconcile when she offers him hope to see his family again. As Rocket works on the quantum time machine, Stark appropriately refers to Thor as Lebowski.

Understandable considering Thor looks just like the Dude, but awkward when you remember Jeff Bridges was part of Iron Man. Since Hank is no longer around, the team only has so many Pym Particles to shrink them down in the Quantum Realm. Scott hilariously uses one up, but Clint offers to do the test run in his place. Nebula straps Clint into the quantum suit and Rhodey brings up the possibility of taking out baby Thanos. Pop culture references have always been a mainstay of the MCU, but they really go overboard when Scott & Rhodey list off every time travel movie ever made. Bruce clears things up with this movie’s confusing rules of time travel. In layman’s terms, affecting the past doesn’t affect the future. What it really does is open up an alternate reality that opens up the possibility of a Multiverse even more.

I love that the movie begins with Hawkeye and the hour mark comes when he travels back in time to his family farm. Clint is sadly unable to see his daughter in time, but it’s exactly the success the Avengers needed. The entire second hour of the movie is dedicated to Scott’s proposed “Time heist.” The Avengers come up with a clever plan to obtain all 6 Infinity Stones in the past. A past that almost every Avenger in the room has experienced. Although The Dark World isn’t a favorite amongst most MCU fans, it becomes extremely relevant thanks to the Reality Stone. Thor hilariously falls asleep and stumbles through an explanation of the movie’s plot. Most of the team is confused, but Scott is hanging on every word. Thor starts to get depressed when he remembers his mother dying and the fact that he and Jane Foster are no longer dating.

Rocket points out that the Power Stone was found by Peter Quill on Morag and pets an excited Scott for good measure. Nebula reveals the location of the Soul Stone to be a dominion of death where Thanos murdered her sister. As Hulk, Romanoff, and Stark ponder the location of Doctor Strange’s Time Stone, Nat comes to the realization that the Space Stone and Mind Stone are also in New York if they pick the right time. When everyone chooses a team and a destination, they stand together for one final civilian group shot. Then they suit up in matching quantum suits that combine Pym tech with Stark tech and a bit of Rocket’s futuristic technology as well. The special effects are so convincing that you don’t even realize the mostly white uniforms are 100% CGI. Their design was so last minute that the production never had time to create them. As the Avengers set out on their mission, Cap delivers another impressive speech about doing whatever it takes…

49. Avengers Endgame

Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor face Thanos

New York 2012 – The first team consists of Iron Man, Captain America, Ant-Man, and Hulk. They return to simpler times when the Avengers first assembled in New York City. The Avengers is still my all time favorite superhero movie, so it was awesome to see the iconic circle shot again from a different perspective. Hulk’s primary goal is to obtain the Time Stone, but not before getting embarrassed at the sight of his former self smashing everything in sight. The massive 2012 Hulk is nothing like the leaner Banner infused 2023 Hulk. Hulk leaps onto the Sanctum Sanctorum rooftop where he encounters a very much alive Ancient One fending off the Chitauri with her magic. Since Stephen Strange is currently a neurosurgeon, the Ancient One wears the Eye of Agamotto. I wasn’t expecting to see Tilda Swinton again, but her presence offers an excellent battle of wits between magic and science. The Ancient One knocks Banner’s astral form out of Hulk’s body exactly the way she did in Doctor Strange.

She dumbs down time travel further with a visual aid showing the devastating effects of removing a Stone from the past. So Bruce promises to bring all 6 Stones back when they’re done. The Ancient One only hands over the Time Stone when Bruce reveals Strange’s decision to willingly give up the Stone. The rest of the Stones won’t be nearly this easy. Tony Stark comes full circle in his Mark LXXXV Iron Man armor. The suit finally resembles the classic Iron Man costume from the comics with gold sleeves and a red torso. The armor has nanotech features, but it’s mostly a traditional suit. Steve blends in with his colorful star-spangled Avengers uniform that Tony lampshades by saying it does nothing for his ass. A shrunken Ant-Man continues to be a fanboy by claiming it’s “America’s ass.” Marvel once again shows off with the subtle digital de-aging of all six 2012 Avengers, plus Loki. The Battle of New York’s direct aftermath is not at all how I imagined it.

Turns out Thor had a muzzle at the ready in case Loki wouldn’t shut up. Johansson & Renner aren’t given much screen time in the past, but everyone else manages to recapture their former personality. Downey Jr. hasn’t changed much, but Hemsworth is a little more no-nonsense and Evans is a lot more virtuous. Lou Ferrigno wasn’t a fan of the film’s Hulk portrayal, so Ruffalo voices the Hulk in a funny bit where he’s forced to take the stairs. Turns out Loki’s scepter containing the Mind Stone was immediately taken by the S.H.I.E.L.D. STRIKE team that was secretly Hydra at the time. Maximiliano Hernández, Frank Grillo, and Callan Mulvey all return as Jasper Sitwell, Brock Rumlow, and Jack Rollins respectively. They’re on their way to Dr. List, but the famous scene from The Winter Soldier is brilliantly subverted when 2023 Cap enters the elevator. He’s able to obtain the scepter with two simple words: “Hail Hydra.” It’s both hilarious and a clever jab at the controversial 2016 storyline. Things get complicated when 2023 Captain America accidentally runs into 2012 Captain America thinking he’s Loki in disguise.

The battle of the Caps is an awesome evenly matched fight that’s very welcome after more than an hour without action. They even manage to work in his catchphrase, “I can do this all day.” Both Caps trade shields and punches until 2023 Cap is able to incapacitate 2012 Cap after telling him Bucky is alive. Steve gains the Mind Stone and agrees that his butt is “America’s ass.” Tony & Scott aren’t so lucky in their attempt to obtain the Space Stone. 2012 Thor & Stark face minor resistance from Secretary Alexander Pierce played again by Robert Redford in his final on-screen performance. Thor also brings up lunch (shawarma) before setting off to Asgard with Loki. Ant-Man causes a distraction by tampering with Tony’s arc reactor that Thor is able to fix with his hammer. 2023 Tony is knocked out by the Hulk while carrying the case with the Tesseract. Loki seizes the opportunity by transporting himself to his Disney+ series. Despite Loki’s untimely death, it was great to know Tom Hiddleston wasn’t finished just yet. Since Scott only had enough Pym Particles for one round trip each, Tony & Steve figure out a way to obtain the Space Stone and extra Pym Particles at the same time.

Asgard 2013 – The second team consists of Thor & Rocket. Their unusual chemistry in Infinity War made the pairing a natural fit. It was just great to see Asgard in its prime after it was destroyed in Ragnarok. Despite the more grim tone of The Dark World, Thor is still able to bring a few laughs to his struggle. 2013 Loki sits in his cell as his 2023 brother sneaks past him. Jane Foster has been a less than reliable love interest, but it would’ve been impossible to exclude her from the mission. Natalie Portman very surprisingly returns to the MCU after a 6 year absence. Her only contribution was an off-screen line of dialogue, because the shot of her getting out of bed is actually a deleted scene from The Dark World. Thor tries to go drinking at the thought of seeing his ex once again. He’s miserable, but not nearly as bad as he could’ve been in a deleted scene.

Thor starts to have a panic attack when he sees his mother Frigga right before she was killed by Malekith. So Rocket becomes a lot more responsible by reminding him what they’re fighting for. Until Rocket is stuck draining the Aether out of Jane himself when Thor runs away. It’s not a total loss, because it gives Thor a chance to seek counsel from his soon to be deceased mother who instinctively knows he’s from the future. Rene Russo (no relation) is finally given a chance to be a loving, wise, and witty mother to her troubled son. It’s an emotional heart to heart that gives Thor the confidence to embrace who he needs to be. As well as drop a few pounds when he’s ready. As Rocket obtains the Reality Stone, Frigga bids farewell to her son without hearing about her impending future. Before they leave, Thor discovers he’s still worthy by finally regaining his unbroken hammer Mjolnir.

New Jersey 1970 – Tony & Steve get a do-over by traveling to the 1970 S.H.I.E.L.D. facility where Captain America was born. The scene opens with the bittersweet final cameo of Marvel comics creator Stan Lee digitally de-aged to look like he did in the 70’s. He says “Make love, not war” to the army base, drives a car with a ‘Nuff Said bumper sticker, and rides with a woman meant to resemble his late wife Joan Lee. Stan Lee will be sorely missed, but Endgame was definitely a high note to finish on. Steve & Tony disguise themselves as a soldier and a scientist respectively. Yvette Nicole Brown is the second Community alumni to cameo as a S.H.I.E.L.D. employee suspicious of Stark’s hippy beard. Michael Douglas is once again de-aged with a groovy head of hair. His primitive Ant-Man office even pays homage to his original helmet from the comics. Steve lures him away to obtain his Pym Particles, but gets sidetracked when he sees the love of his life for the first time in decades. They reunited when Peggy was much older, but Steve nearly started a relationship with her niece Sharon after her death.

Although Hayley Atwell’s biggest movie role was in The First Avenger, she really made a name for herself in the ABC series Agent Carter. Meanwhile, Tony manages to find the Tesseract in a not so secure safe. Unfortunately, he also runs into his father searching for Arnim Zola. Much like Thor, Tony is given a unique opportunity to receive closure from a deceased parent. Howard Stark has always been a complicated man with an equally complicated father-son relationship. John Slattery was de-aged without a film to reference. Although Slattery has been around since Iron Man 2, Civil War was the closest thing to having Tony share the screen with his father. He uses the name Howard Potts while discussing his mother and the child she’s expecting. Tony finally comes to terms with his father by imparting him with the same advice he taught him. They share an awkward goodbye hug and Howard relays his confusion to his butler Edwin Jarvis. Paul Bettany doesn’t play the original Jarvis, but the MCU does go the extra mile by having James D’Arcy be the very first TV actor to reprise a role from a TV show. Tony & Steve leave 1970 with the Space Stone successfully obtained.

Morag 2014 – The third team consists of War Machine & Nebula. They’re easily the most unusual pairing since one is a former Air Force Colonel and the other is a former intergalactic assassin. I never expected to see them interact, but both went through a lot of difficult changes in their past which resulted in them living with bionic attachments. As Barton & Romanoff drop off a space pod, Nebula warns Rhodey that they aren’t the only ones in 2014 looking for the Stones. 2014 Nebula is killing for her father on the planet Korbin. When she ends up cornered, 2014 Gamora makes her fierce entrance. Despite Gamora’s tragic death, it was just nice to see Zoe Saldana painted green once again. Even if this version of her was yet to betray her father. Thanos returns over 2 hours into the movie to become the villain the Avengers will have to face in the end. Although Guardians of the Galaxy depicted the Mad Titan sitting in his space chair letting Ronan do all the work, this 2014 Thanos is more ruthless. Thanos wields a double bladed sword and continues to wear his armor.

Thanos gains a devastating advantage when Nebula’s network gets crossed with her 2023 doppelganger. Ebony Maw examines her memories back on the Sanctuary II where Thanos learns all about his future. Including his success in finding all 6 Infinity Stones and inevitable death at the hands of the Avengers. Chris Pratt is given slightly more screen time since Peter Quill is the one who found the Orb on Morag. The fun “Come and Get Your Love” Guardians of the Galaxy opening is shown without credits, but Quill’s impromptu dance number is more embarrassing from Rhodey & Nebula’s perspective. War Machine knocks Star-Lord out and Nebula uses his tools and her robotic hand to obtain the Power Stone. Things go terribly wrong when Rhodey leaves, since Nebula’s network interference causes her to be abducted by Thanos. Nebula suddenly comes face to face with the woman she used to be. 2014 Nebula is so desperate to please her father that she disguises herself as the 2023 Nebula in order to infiltrate the Avengers Compound and send Thanos to the present using Pym Particles to shrink their ship.

Vormir 2014 – The final team consists of Black Widow & Hawkeye. Natasha’s latest black catsuit pays tribute to all her past uniforms and one of many she wears in the comics. Clint returns to his Hawkeye identity, but he continues to wear most of his Ronin suit. They fly to Vormir in a shrunken Benatar that would be totally cool if not for the mortal danger. Nat & Clint have come a long way since Budapest. Although most of their close friendship hasn’t been depicted on-screen, Johansson & Renner’s acting really makes their final scene difficult. We all know what’s gonna happen when two loving individuals seek the Soul Stone. The Red Skull returns as the stonekeeper after roughly one year.

His replacement actor Ross Marquand essentially does the exact same thing he did before. That doesn’t make the scene any less heart wrenching. Black Widow & Hawkeye literally fight over who gets to make the sacrifice. Clint wants to do it for the terrible things he’s done in the last 5 years. Nat wants Clint to see his family again and will do whatever it takes to get the rest of the world back. It’s a tense personal fight where Hawkeye uses his bow & arrows and Black Widow uses her Widow’s Bite one last time before she makes the heartbreaking decision to jump. The death of Natasha Romanoff took me completely off guard and made me cry just as much as Gamora. Clint obtains the Soul Stone, but at what cost?…

50. Avengers Endgame

The Avengers enter the portals

As the Avengers return to the present, they’re faced with the sad truth that Natasha isn’t coming back. The original team mourns her loss in a way that effectively represents some form of the 5 stages of grief. Denial: Thor refuses to believe Nat is permanently dead since they have the Stones to bring her back. Anger: Hulk is so mad that he throws a bench. Bargaining: Clint yells at Thor for not understanding how the Soul Stone works and tells everyone that it should’ve been him that died. Depression: All Steve can do is sit and cry silently to himself. Acceptance: Tony is the first to ask if Nat had any family, but everyone knows the Avengers were her family. So they have to make her sacrifice count. Unbeknownst to everyone that 2014 Nebula has secretly infiltrated the Avengers Compound to bring the Sanctuary II through the quantum tunnel. All 6 of the purple, blue, red, orange, green, and yellow Infinity Stones are loaded into a right handed Nano Gauntlet of Stark’s own design. Rocket lightens the mood by pretending it’s gonna blow up.

Thor thinks he’s strong enough to snap his fingers, but everyone agrees he’s in no condition to do it. The gamma radiation emitted from the Gauntlet convinces Bruce that he was made for it. Hulk traditionally wears a pair of tattered pants, but this is the first time he wears some variation of a comic accurate purple jumpsuit. Tony hunkers down the Avengers Compound as he suits up in his comic accurate Iron Man armor while protecting Hawkeye. Rhodey suits up as War Machine, Scott suits up as Ant-Man, and Thor protects Rocket. Steve suits up in his most comic accurate Captain America costume to date. His boots and gloves remain brown, but there’s plenty of red star-spangled accents and a dark blue color scheme that incorporates the scales he has in the comics. Unlike all the other movies, Cap actually keeps his helmet on during the entire climax. All the power of the Gauntlet is just as dangerous for Bruce as it was for Thanos, but only at the 2 hour mark does Hulk- *Snap*

Hulk collapses with an injured arm, but still asks if the snap worked. Clint’s wife calls him after 5 long years and Scott optimistically watches the sun set on a fully restored universe… Until Thanos blows the entire Avengers Compound to rubble. A truly shocking turn of events that every single Avenger miraculously survives. 2014 Thanos lands on Earth and patiently sits at the Avengers doorstep waiting for his enemies to arrive. 2014 Nebula is sent to retrieve the Stones, unaware that her 2023 doppelganger is getting through to their sister Gamora. Most of the team is stuck under sinking debris with barely any hope of getting out. Rhodey releases himself from his War Machine armor to help Rocket, Hulk lifts most of the rubble, and a shrunken Ant-Man comes to the rescue. Leaving Hawkeye with the Gauntlet in an underground pipeline with horrific Outriders chasing him. He unknowingly gives the Gauntlet to the 2014 Nebula, but Gamora arrives to stop her thanks to 2023 Nebula. Nebula completes her redemptive arc by symbolically shooting her former self. As Tony helps Steve recover from the blast, Thor watches the Mad Titan from a distance.

They all agree it’s a trap, so Thor finally goes full God of Thunder by suiting up himself. A determined Thor summons not just Mjolnir, but Stormbreaker as well. Although he’s still fat, Thor is a total badass when a mighty blaze of thunder gives him his trademark cape, chestplate, and a nifty Viking braid in his beard. This will forever be the final stand of the Marvel trinity as they face the Mad Titan together. I was beyond overjoyed to see Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor in a one on one fight with Thanos, but their battle doesn’t begin right away. Rather, Thanos delivers another memorable speech about the world being unable to accept the life he’s created. His new, far more evil plan is to rebuild the universe with no memory of the life they once had. I understand audiences thinking this version of Thanos isn’t quite as nuanced as the one in Infinity War, but I was just glad to see a truly villainous Thanos in full armor, fighting with his new double bladed weapon. Action returns in full force when Thor ignites his dual weapons, Captain America throws his mighty shield, and Iron Man fires his repulsor beams.

Stark calls back to The Avengers by having Thor charge up his armor with his lightning. Thanos deflects the attack by spinning his sword, but Thor using Stormbreaker as a baseball bat to hit Mjolnir is still a personal favorite of mine. Thanos unfortunately deflects the shot using Tony’s armor to take him out of the fight. Cap gets a few hits on Thanos, but he’s taken out of the fight too. Leaving Thor to do most of the work by dodging his sword and continually trying to go for the head. Thanos overpowers Thor, throws him around, and is even able to grab Stormbreaker since the axe isn’t enchanted like his hammer. With Thor’s axe dangerously close to his chest, my heart stopped as soon as Mjolnir started to move, hit Thanos, and return to Captain America! The entire theater erupted as soon as Cap was finally revealed to be worthy. A question that everybody wanted to know ever since Steve nearly lifted Thor’s hammer in Age of Ultron. A moment from the comics that was turned into one of the greatest scenes in superhero movie history. Thor knew his friend was worthy from the beginning.

As if I wasn’t screaming enough already, they give us the best one on one fight in the entire movie. Hammer wielding Cap vs. Thanos is an awesome sequence where the former possesses the power of Thor. Cap achieves god mode by swinging Mjolnir, throwing it at his shield to create a shockwave, launching his shield into Thanos, and summoning a lightning strike to bury the Mad Titan. It’s enough to damage his helmet, but Thanos won’t stop when he knocks Mjolnir out of Cap’s hand and swings his sword so hard it actually breaks his Vibranium shield. Before we have time to process any of what just happened, Thanos summons the biggest army imaginable. His forces include: the Black Order, the Chitauri & their Leviathans, the Outriders, and the Sakaarans. Thanos was never one to gloat, but he tells Cap that he’s very much going to enjoy destroying his planet. Cap proves why he’s worthy by doing one of the most heroic things I’ve ever seen in a movie. An exhausted Steve tightens his broken shield and stands alone against an army of thousands.

Until Cap hears a voice he hasn’t heard in 5 years. My theater gasped when it turned out to be Sam Wilson coming full circle with The Winter Soldier line, “On your left.” Nothing could stop our excitement when a portal magically appears on Cap’s left. It will forever be bittersweet to see Black Panther as the first to walk out alongside his sister Shuri and General Okoye. They bring with them the entire army of Wakanda as they continue to chant “Yibambe!” Falcon also flies out of the portal as hundreds more start to appear. I couldn’t stop applauding when a spellcasting Doctor Strange, knife wielding Drax the Destroyer, empathic Mantis, and blaster-toting Star-Lord all get into attack positions from the Titan portal. I cheered extra hard when Spider-Man comes swinging into the fight. Teenage Groot and the Winter Soldier walk out of the Wakanda portal. Valkyrie emerges on a pegasus along with Korg, Meik, and the entire army of New Asgard. They’re joined by Scarlet Witch making her magical entrance. Speaking of magic, Wong, Strange, and every sorcerer from across the planet is responsible for slinging the heroes to their destination.

As the sorcerers ready their mandalas, the Wasp joins the fight by resizing herself. The Ravagers can also be seen in the background along with Howard the Duck himself. A smiling Thor summons his axe and Tony watches in utter disbelief as Pepper drops in wearing her own armor. Although it seems like something made for the movie, Pepper does become Rescue in The Invincible Iron Man #10 comic. Her armor’s color scheme is just changed to purple & gold. Although this is the first time the Avengers have had an army on their side, Strange still asks Wong if that’s everyone. It would be everyone if Black Widow, Quicksilver, Vision, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, the Punisher, the Inhumans, the Runaways, Cloak & Dagger, the X-Men, or the Fantastic Four were there, but they get all the help they need when Ant-Man grows into Giant-Man carrying the Hulk and a gun-toting Rocket on top of Rhodey wearing his bulky red & blue Mark VII War Machine armor. As Alan Silvestri’s breathtaking score continues to swell, Captain America stands with his team in front of an increasingly perplexed Thanos. All of the heroes prepare for the Battle of Earth as Cap summons Mjolnir saying two words that I’ve been waiting to hear on the big screen for over 7 years, “Avengers Assemble!!!

This is the moment the MCU has been building to since the beginning. From Iron Man to Endgame, I’ve never been so happy to be a nerd. Seeing every major superhero charging into battle together is a once in a lifetime experience that will never be duplicated. It’s easy for comic books and animation to incorporate any character they want, but it’s not easy getting all of these celebrities in one place. Making it all the more impressive that Marvel Studios was able to pull this off. I do have minor nitpicks, but I know it would’ve been impossible to give everyone substantial screen time. It’s just great to have Chadwick Boseman, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Anthony Mackie, Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Wong, Dave Batista, Pom Klementieff, Sebastian Stan, Vin Diesel, Sean Gunn, Elizabeth Olsen, and Evangeline Lilly back after all this time. As Thor & Black Panther let out a mighty battle cry, heroes run, fly, and swing into action. Thanos signals his troops and the epic forces of dark & light collide in the most incredible single take in the entire MCU.

Cap throws Mjolnir, Thor slams Stormbreaker, Wasp sneaks up on a Chitari, Valkyrie slashes a bigger Chitari, Hulk smashes a ship, M’Baku yells, Giant-Man punches a freaking Leviathan, Black Panther fights an Outrider, Okoye spears a Sakaaran, Shuri fires her wrist gauntlets, Drax humorously stabs Cull Obsidian the way he did in Vol. 2, Korg knocks Obsidian out, and Iron Man & Rescue blast enemies back to back. Even in a battle of this magnitude, Thor & Cap continue to chat with the both of them accidentally trading weapons. We even get another glimpse at Rocket & Bucky fighting together. Although Mantis seems like the most innocent combatant on the battlefield, her empathic abilities can be seen in the background putting larger enemies to sleep. Endgame originally had an alternate scene of all the key Avengers coming together to form a game plan. It would’ve been cool to see everyone on-screen at once, but it wouldn’t have made sense in the middle of an active war where all the lower grade soldiers are being killed. So instead, any important reunion or awesome callback happens as the battle plays out. After Iron Man gets knocked to the ground by Obsidian, Spider-Man webs him up, and Giant-Man steps on him.

For once, Tony is left speechless as Peter jabbers about himself being gone for 5 years. After being denied a hug in Homecoming, Tony finally embraces his young ally. A less than warm reunion comes when Star-Lord is fighting Sakaarans, only to be saved by none other than 2014 Gamora. Peter tries to embrace his lost love, but Gamora kicks him in the crotch similar to how they first met in Guardians of the Galaxy. Although Nebula makes a funny enough joke out of it, it is a little disappointing to have such a sincere romance made fun of like this. This scene, plus Rhodey calling Quill an idiot in the past almost seems like revenge for what he did in Infinity War. Hawkeye is still carrying the Gauntlet as he gets chased by a larger Chitari. Falcon helps him by using his wings as a weapon. Barton contacts Cap on his com to figure out a plan for the Stones. Hulk reminds them to return the Stones to the past, but Stark points out that the quantum tunnel was destroyed. Until Scott shrinks down to normal size and remembers they still have one time machine left. Valkyrie spots his ugly brown van with the miniature quantum tunnel and Hope joins Scott to come up with a plan.

Hope comes full circle by using Captain America’s nickname “Cap” as Ant-Man and the Wasp share loving glances for the first time in 5 years. They team up to fly to the van, but first they have to restart it. The team plays a game of pass the Gauntlet with T’Challa showing that he did care about Clint’s name after all. Hawkeye passes the Gauntlet to Black Panther, who proceeds to run through enemies with kinetic blasts. Thanos knocks him down, but a very one-sided fight occurs when a red-eyed Wanda flies in seeking vengeance for Vision. I love his response of “I don’t even know who you are,” but Wanda shows him exactly who she is. Wanda’s magic proves her capacity to be the strongest Avenger by coming extremely close to killing Thanos. When Wanda strips Thanos of his armor, he goes so far as to order Corvus Glaive to rain fire on their own troops. Wong and the rest of the sorcerer’s help by casting shields of protection around the battlefield. Black Panther continues to run, but Maw encases him in rocks. So Spider-Man webs up the Gauntlet and finally activates his Iron Spider suit’s “Instant kill” feature.

Doctor Strange manages to magically take out 7 Outriders at once, yet I can’t help but feel very disappointed at the writers for forcing someone as powerful as the Sorcerer Supreme to spend most of his time holding back a tidal wave. Stark drops in to ask Strange whether this is 1 of the 14,000,605 futures they win, but Strange gives a vague answer that will soon come to pass. When Spidey gets overwhelmed by Outriders, Cap refers to him as “Queens,” and creates the awesome image of Spider-Man webbing onto Thor’s hammer. Pepper catches him and so does Valkyrie on her pegasus, but they all get overwhelmed by the rain of fire. Rocket & Groot manage to have a quick reunion before Captain Marvel finally decides to enter the battle. The Sanctuary II diverts its attention to Danvers, but she destroys the ship in one fell swoop. I’ll give her props for that, but what follows is the most cringy part of the entire final battle. Carol first references her comic accurate friendship to Spider-Man by saying hi to Peter Parker before taking the Gauntlet. Then I’m taken out of the moment completely when every female Avenger shows up at the exact same spot at once.

Unlike the much more organic all-female team up in Infinity War, the “She’s got help” A-Force scene feels very unnatural. Especially when Black Widow isn’t even with them. As Scarlet Witch, Valkyrie, Okoye, Rescue, Mantis, Shuri, Wasp, Gamora, and Nebula take down Thanos’ army, Captain Marvel flies the Gauntlet into the van. Until Thanos manages to destroy it. The final climax officially kicks in when the Mad Titan does whatever he can to grab the Gauntlet. Thanos faces the Trinity again when Tony tries to grab the Gauntlet. When he’s tossed aside, Thor uses Mjolnir and Stormbreaker to hold Thanos down. Cap does the same, but they’re both overpowered. Captain Marvel & Thanos have their expected fight scene that kept me on edge for two reasons. Although I didn’t want Thanos to snap his fingers, I also didn’t want a last minute newcomer to save the day. When a headbutt doesn’t even work against her Binary energy, Thanos out thinks Carol by using the Power Stone to blast her away. When even someone as powerful as Captain Marvel is unable to beat Thanos, Tony realizes what he has to do as Strange holds up 1 finger. A moment brilliantly improvised by Cumberbatch.

Stark heroically makes one final effort to retrieve the Gauntlet, but Thanos knocks him away once again. Thanos fulfills his destiny with the line “I am inevitable.” *Snap* When nothing happens, Thanos discovers the Gauntlet is empty, only to realize Stark pulled an Uno Reverse Card. Although he very nearly said nothing, what better moment is there then to have Tony come full circle by saying, “I… am… Iron Man.” *Snap* Although Tony was originally supposed to see a grown up Morgan Stark played by Katherine Langford in the same vision where Thanos saw child Gamora, the scene would’ve taken us out of the moment. As his entire army slowly turns to dust, Thanos quietly accepts defeat by sitting once more. Tony is left in critical condition with all of his loved ones nearby to say goodbye. Much like Logan, the death of a prolific legacy superhero like Iron Man was enough to make me cry. Rhodey quietly comforts his best friend, Peter breaks down by finally calling Mr. Stark Tony, and Pepper’s presence is earned by having her say goodbye to the man she loves. You know it’s real when Tony’s arc reactor goes dark. Although Stark’s death is controversial, a heroic sacrifice was the natural way to end his arc. The Avengers very nearly took a knee for their fallen ally, but his funeral is a better place for that.

Tony’s final heartfelt message is played as Clint reunites with his family, Scott watches fireworks with Hope & Cassie, Peter returns to Midtown High School embracing his best friend Ned (a quick cameo from Jacob Batalon), and T’Challa watches over Wakanda with his sister Shuri & mother Romanda (a quick cameo from Angela Bassett). The message was recorded on Tony’s Iron Man helmet right before they traveled through time. Jon Favreau, the man who started it all, is present as Happy Hogan to hear the message alongside Pepper, Morgan, Rhodey, Steve, and Thor. The final tearjerker is Tony telling his daughter, “I love you 3000.” The entire MCU comes full circle with the original “Proof that Tony Stark has a heart” arc reactor floating down the river. Endgame is the first movie to depict a genuine superhero funeral with an impressive long take of everyone Tony has affected throughout his life. Pepper, Morgan, Rhodey, and Happy are of course up front. Steve is close behind along with Peter Parker being comforted by Aunt May (a quick cameo from Marisa Tomei). Thor is close behind along with Bruce wearing a cast. Stephen Strange & Wong stand by his side.

Scott, Hope, Hank Pym, and Janet van Dyne are all together thanks to Ant-Man and the Wasp being filmed close together. Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer’s presence makes this the only Avengers movie to feature all 5 of the original comic book team members. Peter Quill, Drax, Rocket, Groot, Nebula, and Mantis all stand together in formal black leather. T’Challa represents Wakanda alongside Okoye & Shuri. Although the scene was filmed long before the release of Black Panther, this is sadly Boseman’s final on-screen appearance as the King of Wakanda. Clint stands with his wife and kids as all the leftover attendants are seen in the background. Wanda, Sam, and Bucky can be thought of as team Disney+, but most people didn’t even recognize the kid behind them. That kid is Ty Simpkins as a much older Harley Keener. Turns out Tony did keep in touch after helping him in Iron Man 3. William Hurt and Cobie Smulders quickly cameo as Secretary Ross & Maria Hill respectively. Carol Danvers stands on the doorstep along with Samuel L. Jackson making a much needed appearance as Nick Fury.

Much like The Return of the King, a series of endings are warranted to wrap up such an epic 3 hour journey. Clint & Wanda comfort each other over their respective loss of Natasha & Vision. Morgan asks Uncle Happy for cheeseburgers just like her dad did in Iron Man. Thor watches over New Asgard, but decides to turn his kingdom over to Valkyrie. A noble enough gesture since Thor’s journey is likely far from over. It will apparently continue with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Although Peter very much has Gamora on his mind, much needed levity arrives when Thor assumes control, calling the team the Asgardians of the Galaxy. Despite being major scene stealers in Infinity War, Drax & Mantis have only one line each. Rocket & Nebula suggest Thor & Quill fight to see who’s in charge and Groot chimes in with his only “I am Groot” in the movie. Thor humorously accepts Quill’s lead in the end.

The movie concludes with the unseen final mission of Captain America. I’d love to see Cap somehow return all 6 of the Infinity Stones, plus Thor’s hammer, but some things are better left to the imagination. Hulk operates an outdoor quantum tunnel while Sam & Bucky say goodbye to Steve. He calls Sam a good man and reverses the “Don’t do anything stupid” line from The First Avenger as he hugs Bucky. Cap misses his time stamp and I knew exactly what was coming when Bucky spots someone from the distance. Sam comes face to face with an elderly Steve Rogers played by a digitally aged Evans. Although I’m still not crazy about modern Marvel storylines, Steve passing his shield and Captain America mantle to Sam does make sense. Old man Steve doesn’t tell Sam about his wife, but we learn everything we need to know in the final sequence set in the 1940’s.

As “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” sung by Kitty Kallen plays in the background, Steve & Peggy finally get their first dance that they seal with a kiss. Endgame breaks tradition by omitting both a mid and post-credits scene. Which is just fine since the clips shown in the credits sequence are a perfect way to pay tribute to the enormous cast. The original 6 Avengers are given special treatment with a signature from Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, and Robert Downey Jr. The final sound of Tony Stark working on his first suit closes the book on the Infinity Saga. Endgame is so epic that I had to see it twice in theaters. If only to increase its chances of becoming the highest grossing film of all time. I was thrilled when it finally beat Avatar (then disappointed when it reverted back). Despite its impact, Endgame was only nominated for the usual Best Visual Effects. Regardless of accolades, personal opinion, or the current state of the film industry, Avengers: Endgame is something I will always love 3000.

48. Avengers Endgame

The Avengers charge

Preceded by: Avengers: Infinity War

Higher, Further, Faster

Captain Marvel remains my least favorite film in the MCU. As the twenty-first installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel finally decided to introduce Carol Danvers. It only took 11 years and a major event like half of all life being snapped out of existence. Much like Ghostbusters (2016) or Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I’ve been dreading this review for a long time. Similar to Black Panther (which I enjoyed), you can’t seem to criticize Captain Marvel without people getting defensive about it. I’m so glad Wonder Woman came out before this, because that’s a female led superhero movie done right. Rather than make a Black Widow solo movie that fans like me were expecting, Marvel Studios went with a yet to be seen character. Although the name was Captain Marvel, I knew they meant Carol Danvers instead of the original Captain Mar-Vell. He’s a very complicated superhero with an unusual history in Marvel comics.

Long story short, the true Captain Marvel name belonged to Fawcett comics up until 1953 when DC comics sued them for similarities to Superman. The superhero later known as Shazam became part of DC comics, but in the meantime Marvel comics took advantage of the opportunity by creating their own Captain Marvel. The name does match their company after all. The alien Kree warrior Mar-Vell was never that popular ever since his 1967 debut in Marvel Super-Heroes #12. It was really his female counterpart Ms. Marvel who greatly surpassed her predecessor. Carol Danvers debuted in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 before headlining her own trend-setting series in the 1977 Ms. Marvel #1. Apart from a handful of animated appearances, I knew the MCU had been trying to work her in ever since Avengers: Age of Ultron. Although I was optimistic after her tease at the end of Infinity War, I grew nervous with every passing trailer, casting announcement, and interview…

44. Captian Marvel

Captain Marvel in a field

Captain Marvel begins with a touching tribute for the late great Marvel comics creator Stan “The Man” Lee in place of the usual Marvel Studios logo. This was sadly the first MCU movie released after his untimely passing. I cried for several minutes after I heard the news, but I knew I could still appreciate any remaining cameos he had left. It’s pretty much all downhill after the tribute. Okay, I wouldn’t go that far, but Captain Marvel is a major disappointment for me. It all started with the name. I was introduced to Carol Danvers through her original identity as Ms. Marvel. Arguably the Marvel equivalent of Wonder Woman in terms of being a trailblazing female superhero. The Ms. moniker was meant as a response to the 70’s feminist movement and her Women’s magazine profession reflected that. Although I personally have no problem with her original more provocative red & black scarf ensemble, her second black leotard costume with a giant lightning bolt is my favorite look of hers. Ms. Marvel was powerful, sexy, smart, and a vital member of the Avengers when she joined in Avengers #183. I liked her appearances in X-Men: The Animated Series and Super Hero Squad, but really it was Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes that made me fully appreciate her.

My problems only arose when she took on the mantle of the long deceased Captain Marvel. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t really care for any of the many changes that have happened in Marvel comics all throughout the 2010’s. So I was never a fan of feminist writer Kelly Sue DeConnick giving Carol the Captain Marvel name and replacing her outfit with a less than iconic jumpsuit. A look that’s barely a decade old, but audiences will forever associate her with since the movie completely bypasses her Ms. Marvel identity. Joss Whedon nearly included Carol at the end of Age of Ultron as part of the new Avengers, but that wouldn’t have made sense. Marvel Television even considered including her in the first female led Netflix series Jessica Jones. Since Carol was the best friend of Jessica in the comics. Instead, a solo movie constantly shuffled around Phase Three until it wound up one month before Endgame. Just so it could be released on International Women’s Day. Captain Marvel being so close to the next major event movie is frankly the main reason why it grossed over a billion dollars. People who didn’t want to watch it had no choice since seeing it on DVD or Blu-ray would’ve been impossible.

My opinion only started to sour with the casting of Brie Larson as the titular hero. I thought Larson was great in her Oscar winning role from Room, and one of the only bright spots in The Glass Castle. Both of which were dramas, but apart from genre films like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World or Kong: Skull Island, she was yet to headline her own blockbuster. Something that irreversibly shattered how I thought of her. Brie Larson is just not the right fit for a superhero role. Let alone a charismatic quipster like most MCU heroes. She barely emotes, her attempt at banter feels forced, she’s not physically imposing, and the plot structure makes it even harder to relate to her. Larson practically let the role get to her head in interviews where she bashed half of the mostly male audience. I just wanted to see the next Marvel movie, but attaching anything to it will always make the experience less fun. Producer Kevin Feige didn’t make it better when he said Captain Marvel was the strongest hero in the MCU. Which I would’ve been on board with if not for heroes like Hulk, Thor, Scarlet Witch, and the fact that she hadn’t even been introduced yet.

Major red flags started to arise when Captain Marvel went through 5 predominantly female writers and spent a long time looking for a director. It came to a point where Feigie didn’t even care if they were familiar with the comics (which is a bad sign). Eventually they ended up with the mostly unknown directing duo Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck. Apparently they were hired for their character driven storytelling. Unfortunately, their vision for everything else was very bland. Although Brie Larson is a big part of it, she’s not the main reason why I dislike the movie. Captain Marvel is almost a complete insult to Marvel fans in terms of comic book accuracy. Their first mistake was mixing up her origin story for no reason. It’s also set in my birth year 1995 just to work around the Infinity War problem. The movie starts with a brief flash of Carol Danvers getting her powers before cutting to her on the home planet of the Kree Empire, Hala. The blue skinned warmongering alien race actually made their debut in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. before appearing theatrically in Guardians of the Galaxy. They’ve made an impression since then, but I never expected Hala to look so dull. It’s basically a golden city with a normal skyline.

Captain Marvel is very powerful with her super strength, flight, and photon energy, but unlike Superman, she doesn’t have a story to back up her being that strong. She already has superpowers, so we don’t go on a journey of her learning to embrace them. At least Thor had the excuse of being born a god. It doesn’t help that they use the cliché of referring to her as Carol DanVers for a majority of the movie. The whole amnesia subplot was never a major part of the character in the comics. It’s not like Wolverine, who at least had an ensemble to support him. We really should know the identity of the lead superhero in their starring film. Instead, “Vers” has her powers reduced by the Kree and is told to suppress her emotion. Another cliché that’s barely relevant to the story. Their next mistake was the treatment of the original Captain Mar-Vell. Ms. Marvel never had the most recognizable supporting cast, but Mar-Vell is a major part of her origin. Captain Marvel was created as a science fiction version of the much more magical DC superhero. He was a Kree spy turned human scientist Dr. Walter Lawson who became a hero for his adopted home planet.

Carol Danvers was just an Air Force Security Chief who was caught in a Kree explosion that gave her powers. They were once a romantic couple before Marvel’s first graphic novel where Mar-Vell permanently died from cancer. Captain Marvel completely ditches a romantic subplot for the first time in an MCU solo film. Although they had a perfectly good Jude Law already cast, he plays the lesser known non-blue Kree Yon-Rogg. In the comics, he was a villain partially responsible for Carol’s origin, but not someone anyone’s gonna remember. Yon-Rogg spars with “Vers” and trains her in his Kree ways. Like the comics, the Supreme Intelligence is at the center of the Kree Empire. Unlike the comics, it’s not depicted as a giant green head. Instead they make the lackluster decision to have the person a Kree most admires be who they see. In that case, Annette Benning is the Supreme Intelligence who talks to “Vers” about her powers. I love Benning as much as the next guy, but her duel performance was another decision that I really didn’t like.

Decades worth of material was thrown out just to make Mar-Vell a female mentor to Carol renamed Dr. Wendy Lawson. It doesn’t help that Benning’s performance feels very off in both roles. Another change was having “Vers” be part of Starforce. A lesser known supervillain team made of Kree that barely make an impression in the movie. Their matching green jumpsuits that Captain Marvel wears for most of the first half is a big reason why they don’t stand out. Nevermind the fact that they’re mostly blue. At least it gave Gemma Chan a fighting chance in Eternals. The team is made up of Minn-Erva, Att-Lass, Bron-Char, and Korath before he was a pursuer. I was excited to learn that the 1995 setting meant appearances from deceased MCU characters, but all that went away when I saw them in the movie. None of the returning characters do anything memorable. At least Djimon Hounsou’s appearance was one of many bizarre connections to Shazam! Despite being an intergalactic superhero adjacent to the Guardians of the Galaxy, alien planets are very unimaginative. The first action sequence is set on Torfa which is barely visible, because it’s constantly shrouded in dark fog.

Their Starforce mission is to track down the Skrulls. As a longtime Marvel fan, I’d been wanting to see the Skrulls on the big screen for many years. Much like their enemy the Kree, the green alien shapeshifters had an early start in Fantastic Four comics created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby. I always assumed Fox held the rights, but it was another joint ownership that nearly resulted in an appearance in Dark Phoenix. The Skrull makeup isn’t too far off and their CGI shapeshifting is convincing. There’s just a much larger problem that I’ll get to eventually. I was just happy to see the longstanding Kree-Skrull War in the MCU. Although I wish I could actually see the fight which results in “Vers” being kidnapped. Her past is finally seen in a collection of disorganized flashbacks that the Skrulls look through. Captain Marvel tries to be a feminist movie, but the sexist dialogue is unnatural and the final message never feels earned. Instead we’re left with several characters telling us who Carol is instead of learning that on our own. Most of the Air Force is seen in flashbacks along with the phrase “Higher, further, faster.”

The Skrulls are led by Talos, played by frequent villain Ben Mendelsohn. For some bizarre reason, he uses his natural Australian accent while in his Skrull form. Leading to an awkward laid back performance that’s hard to take seriously. Talos is searching for a lightspeed engine built by Lawson on Earth. “Vers” escapes captivity by fighting off Skrulls when her photon hands are bound. It should be a fun sequence, but the stakes don’t feel especially high. When the ship explodes, “Vers” is sent hurtling to Earth where she lands in a Blockbuster Video. The joke was funny the first time, but all the 90’s references feel very in your face after awhile. It’s not like 80’s nostalgia, which is a lot more well defined. It’s pretty much nothing but 90’s pop songs and references to shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. “Vers” is somehow able to contact her team using tech from Radio Shack. Yon-Rogg and the rest of Starforce are barely relevant again until the final act. Most of their scenes involve them making contact with Ronan the Accuser. Lee Pace gets a chance to wear his comic accurate green armor, but Ronan is also completely wasted.

The same goes for Agent Phil Coulson. S.H.I.E.L.D. makes a major return as they first make contact with aliens and superhuman individuals. Apart from his long running role in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Clark Gregg makes his big screen return looking a lot like he did in The Usual Suspects. But the digital de-aging process reaches its full potential by having an entire movie with Samuel L. Jackson looking like Jules Winnfield. Nick Fury is a young S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who becomes part of a bigger universe he just doesn’t know yet. Jackson and Larson already knew each other from Skull Island, but their banter is very hit or miss. Fury is pretty much the only character I really liked, but all the references to his eye are very on the nose. The Skrulls disguise themselves as surfers and start another fight sequence in the most cliché location imaginable. A train fight is really not what I imagined from the strongest hero in the MCU. Although Captain Marvel tried to distance itself from Green Lantern, it similarly ditches space adventures in favor of Earthbound action. The only highlight is Stan Lee’s cameo as himself learning lines for Mallrats. Other than that, it’s not really a good look to have the hero punch an old lady in the face. Even if she is a Skrull in disguise.

Fury learns the truth about the Skrulls when “Coulson” is revealed to be one. Mendelson also plays Talos disguised as Agent Keller. He keeps an eye on Fury when he learns about “Vers” location. “Vers” obtaining street clothes and a motorcycle would’ve been so much more cringy if they kept the alternate version of the scene. Fury & “Vers” connect at a bar where they make sure they aren’t Skrulls. He helps her find the Project Pegasus S.H.I.E.L.D. base that Lawson worked at. The sequence mostly amounts to Fury gaining clearance and “Vers” learning about Lawson through files. It’s also where Goose the cat makes an appearance. Although originally a new comic book creation named Chewie, the name Goose was chosen as a Top Gun reference. Goose is easily the best thing about the movie until the ending that I’ll get to eventually. Talos attacks Fury as Keller when the latter contacts the disguised S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. At least Coulson is trustworthy when he lets “Vers” & Fury pass. They commandeer a Quinjet that “Vers” flies along with a stowaway Goose. They arrive at the house of the only other person who keeps popping up in her flashbacks.

Maria Rambeau is the mother of Monica Rambeau who uses her daughter’s superhero call sign “Photon.” Lashana Lynch was recast as Maria after the previous actress left. Let’s just say she’s acting a lot harder than Larson in most scenes where she discovers her best friend is alive. Although really it’s child actress Akira Akbar who won me over more. Even though Monica is only there to use Auntie Carol’s nickname Lt. Trouble and to provide more exposition about her past. Unlike her comic counterpart who really became the second Captain Marvel. I’ll admit the only scene with Larson I thought was funny was her thinking a neighbor was a Skrull, but it’s immediately followed by the most insulting decision in the movie. Skrull Talos arrives wearing a suit jacket and sipping from a fast food cup in order to strike a deal with “Vers.” It’s cringy, but Goose being referred to as a Flerken at least made up for it. Until Carol remembers her entire past an hour into the movie. Her powers resulted from her crashing a plane with Mar-Vell carrying her lightspeed engine.

Yon-Rogg is revealed to be the enemy when Danvers blows the engine, receiving her power. Resulting in her amnesia that Yon-Rogg used to make her “Vers.” The insulting part is the Skrulls being revealed to not be terrorists, but poor alien refugees searching for a home. It’s a major slap in the face to the villainous Skrulls that almost permanently ruins their reputation. They track the ship in orbit where the Skrulls plan to use the engine to find a home. But not before Carol changes the colors on her suit with a coloring device that the suit has for some reason. The 11 year old Monica is somehow able to operate the device that she uses to make it more comic accurate with the red, blue, and gold design (along with her mohawk mask). Carol, Fury, Maria, and Talos fly into space in a modified Quinjet that they use to get to Mar-Vell’s lab. After seeing Thanos place all 6 Infinity Stones in the Infinity Gauntlet, I really couldn’t care less where the Tesseract was in the 90’s. It’s on the ship that also houses poor Skrull families including Talos’ wife and daughter. Did I mention I hate this direction. Well it gets worse for me when Yon-Rogg arrives as the only aggressor in the movie.

The wasted Kree-Skrull War would’ve been so much better if both sides where villains and Captain Marvel was the only chance of stopping it. Instead one side has to be the good guys. The only time I laughed out loud was when Goose revealed his Flerkin tentacles in order to swallow the Tesseract and eat the Kree. Carol is held by the Supreme Intelligence who inspires her to stand up and remove her power suppressing device. Captain Marvel going Super Saiyan, I mean binary should be a powerful moment, but it’s just like the rest of the film. The problem is not giving her a villain of equal or greater power to fight. It doesn’t help that Carol fighting her former teammates is set to “Just a Girl” by No Doubt. Carol easily defeats her teammates and immediately learns to fly after falling from the ship. As Fury & Maria shoot down the rest, Carol tears through Ronan’s armada of ships with hardly any effort.

What’s presented as the final fight between Captain Marvel & Yon-Rogg is undercut with a joke I saw coming from a mile away. Carol blasts her mentor and sends him back to Hala. What follows is another major insult to fans that undercuts a badass moment for the sake of a joke. Nick Fury seriously lost his eye when a cat scratched it. Now anytime we hear Fury’s line in The Winter Soldier about the last time he trusted someone, we have to think about that. After that it’s Carol sitting down to dinner with the Skrulls and promising to find them a home. She also gives Fury the emergency pager from the Infinity War mid-credits scene. Being in space is somehow supposed to explain why she hadn’t appeared during the Battle of New York, Battle of Sokovia, or anything else in the last 23 years. At least The First Avenger had the excuse of Captain America being frozen in ice.

The final insult was Fury getting the name of the Avenger Initiative from Carol’s “Avenger” callsign. Even though her call sign was “Cheeseburger” in the comics. By then I was too checked out to care about the change. After a spacey credits sequence, the only other part worth seeing is Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, Rhodey, and Bruce Banner dealing with the fallout of the snap and monitoring Fury’s pager. Black Widow is especially eager to know who they’re tracking when she suddenly comes face to face with Captain Marvel. Carol’s straight blonde hair and modern costume looks admittedly better than her 90’s look. Then they make us sit through the entire credits just to see a cat throw up the Tesseract. I love the MCU, but Captain Marvel made too many changes for me to accept any repeat viewings of it. Can’t say I was surprised when audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes were significantly lower than critic reviews. There are worse female led superhero movies made before this one, but in terms of the MCU, Captain Marvel wasn’t the best lead in to Avengers: Endgame.

45. Captian Marvel

Captain Marvel goes binary

Followed by: The Marvels

Enter the Quantum Realm

Ant-Man and the Wasp was just the small scale adventure we needed. As the twentieth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man and the Wasp was the calm after the storm. After the shocking finale of Avengers: Infinity War, I didn’t know how I could accept anything other than a direct follow up. Just like the first Ant-Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp was a breezy palette cleanser after such a large scale team up film. Scott Lang’s inclusion in Captain America: Civil War at least gave him a chance to fight with the Avengers before things got complicated. Both Ant-Man movies are pretty interchangeable, but Ant-Man and the Wasp is a great low stakes sequel. I love the first movies portrayal of the microscopic world, but the sequel is better in terms of wacky size-shifting hijinks.

The Phase Three schedule changed after the release of the first movie with the second installment revealed to have a rare superhero team up title. I was so excited to finally see Ant-Man and the Wasp together. Their romantic partnership has been a Marvel comics mainstay ever since Janet van Dyne debuted in Tales to Astonish #44. She continued to fight alongside Ant-Man when they formed the Avengers, and Wasp is actually responsible for naming the team. Wasp is one of the best female Marvel heroes, so it was just as cool to see her name in the movies title. After the messy production of the first film, Ant-Man and the Wasp was director Peyton Reed’s chance to grow the franchise on his own…

42. Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp had its plot handed to it at the end of Ant-Man. Although I still prefer Hank Pym & Janet van Dyne as Ant-Man and the Wasp, I’ve come to embrace the mantle storyline. The opening at least gives them a chance to be heroes by giving context to the 1987 flashback from the first movie. Disney continues to show off with Michael Douglas once again looking like Gordon Geico and Michelle Pfeiffer looking like she did in Ladyhawke. The digital de-aging was easy for Pfeiffer since she’s aged like fine wine. Although Douglas wanted his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones to play Janet, Pfeiffer was dream casting for Reed ever since Hayley Lovitt stood in for her. She’s no stranger to comic book roles, but it had been 26 years since she played Catwoman in Batman Returns. I’m actually kind of shocked that high profile actors as big in the 90’s as Douglas and Pfeiffer haven’t worked together until 2018. They’re a perfect team when Janet says goodbye to their daughter Hope and joins her husband on a secret mission. The missile launch scene looks about the same with the comic accurate red Wasp suit in action. Dialogue is also added to make Janet’s sacrifice more tragic.

In present day, Hank tells Hope that it may be possible to save her mother after Scott was successfully brought back from the Quantum Realm. Ant-Man and the Wasp takes care of its Infinity War problem by setting events 2 years after Civil War, but roughly 2 days before the snap. Scott Lang and Clint Barton were both placed under house arrest after they went against the Sokovia Accords and were broken out of the Raft by Cap. So they’re absence in Infinity War made sense considering they both had families to think about. Ant-Man was just the only one who could have an entire movie explaining it. Ant-Man and the Wasp may be the most wholesome movie in the MCU. It’s borderline PG without all the swearing, and the length is very much under 2 hours. Paul Rudd dials up his man-child charm by playing elaborate games with his now 10 year old daughter Cassie, learning close up magic, drumming, shooting hoops, crying while reading The Fault in Our Stars, and singing along to “Come on Get Happy” by The Partridge Family.

Abby Ryder Fortson was an adorable little scene stealer in the first movie, but now she plays a much more active role. Her dad’s hilarious “World’s Greatest Grandma” trophy comes into play later and she even suggests becoming his partner. Something she will become as soon as she has the right stature for it. Luis is also still around since Michael Peña’s fast talking energy is too good not to include. Now Scott, Luis, Kurt, and Dave are ex-convicts starting a security business humorously named X-Con Security. Their banter is still pretty hit or miss and mostly amounts to a lot of danish jokes, but they also become important later on. Ant-Man and the Wasp doesn’t so much have villains as it does human obstacles. The first obstacle is the FBI when Scott accidentally trips his ankle monitor. Leading to all sorts of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off style shenanigans where Scott needs to figure out ways to fight without being caught. The perpetually wholesome Randall Park plays FBI Agent Jimmy Woo. Woo is one of the oldest Asian comic book characters who easily fit into the story. Woo has a funny love/hate relationship with Lang that leads to him practising close up magic. Lang’s ex-wife Maggie and her far more softened up husband Paxton drop by to defend Scott and pick up Cassie.

The plot kicks in when Scott has a realistic dream where he’s playing hide-and-seek as Janet. Although Hank & Hope are understandably mad that Scott used their tech to fight alongside Cap in Germany, he gives them a call regardless. Hope tranquilizes Scott and takes care of his ankle monitor by strapping it to a freakishly large ant. Despite her hair being much longer than the traditional pixie cut, Hope van Dyne is very much ready to take on her mother’s mantle as the Wasp. Something that never happened in the comics, but works for the story they went with. Evangeline Lilly is definitely in fighting shape as the co-lead who has just as much of an arc as Rudd. Hope & Scott’s romantic relationship has strained a bit since Civil War, but it’s not beyond repair. One of several creative shrinking gags is Hope driving around in a miniature car that Hank keeps in a Hot Wheels case. As per his request, Douglas isn’t given as much techno babble to say despite the much larger role the Quantum Realm plays in the sequel. Hank is even given more of a chance to be funny. He describes what’s happened to Scott as a quantum entanglement that can allow them to track Janet. But first they need a component to make their quantum tunnel work.

As more giant ants work on the device, Hank shrinks down his lab that he transports like a travel case. Not sure that makes sense, but suspension of disbelief. The component is supplied by the second major obstacle in the movie. Character actor Walton Goggins plays the southern black market restaurant owner Sonny Burch. He’s very different compared to his comic counterpart, but he does serve as a competent low-level threat. When their deal goes south, Hope finally suits up as the Wasp to fight Burch’s henchman. The Wasp suit retains its gold color scheme with hints of red and a similar enclosed helmet. Like the comics, the Wasp only uses her mechanical wings when she shrinks, as well as a pair of blasters. Lilly accomplishes her goal of having the Wasp attack with more grace and femininity during the kitchen fight. She takes the component, but her path is blocked by the closest thing to a main antagonist in the movie. Ghost is a literal ghost who can turn invisible, intangible, and retains a mysterious identity in the comics. Apart from the all-white costume and lethal stealth missions, Ghost is now a woman with a name played by Hannah John-Kamen. Her fight with Wasp prompts Scott to suit up in Hank’s prototype Ant-Man suit. The suit is similar to the one in Civil War with less noticeable modifications.

Ant-Man and the Wasp team up to fight Ghost, but her intangibility makes it difficult. Ghost manages to steal the lab, leading the three of them to take shelter at the X-Con office. It’s there that Kurt humorously refers to Ghost as baba yaga and Hank realizes the best way to track the lab is with help from a former friend. The sequel was also the best place for Bill Foster to make an appearance. Scott, Hank, and Hope enter his university in obvious baseball cap disguises that they use to find Foster. Being more of a Marvel guy, Laurence Fishburne plays the former associate of Pym who worked on Project Goliath. Black Goliath was once a black superhero who grew to enormous size before his death in the comic version of Civil War. Although his superhero identity isn’t seen, it does give him and Scott something to talk about. Reed was just a little annoyed that Scott becoming Giant-Man didn’t happen in an Ant-Man movie, but he makes up for that with plenty of growing and shrinking at varying sizes. The micro CGI isn’t seen as often as the first movie, but it is just as good as before. Unlike Iron Man 3, Ant-Man’s suit being faulty leads to several hilarious moments.

They use Foster’s suggestion of tracking the lab using a piece of tech from the original Ant-Man suit. Scott didn’t destroy the suit, but they do have to get it back from Cassie. Scott kept it in the “World’s Greatest Grandma” trophy, so Ant-Man and the Wasp infiltrate her school to find it. Hijinks ensue when Scott inadvertently grows in a janitor’s closet and hilariously shrinks to the size of a toddler. When they get the old suit back, they track the lab to a spooky mansion. It’s there that Ghost reveals herself to be Ava Starr, daughter of Elias Starr. Ant-Man doesn’t have the most recognizable rogues gallery, but I am glad they managed to fit in Egghead. The bald Michael Cerveris looks exactly like the character who was discredited by Pym for selling secrets. Ghost is made very sympathetic due to a quantum accident that claimed her parent’s lives and caused her painful intangibility that’s slowly killing her. Bill Foster met her when she was a child looking a lot like he did in Boyz n the Hood. His son Langston Fishburne actually stood in for him during that scene.

Foster continued looking after her when she killed for S.H.I.E.L.D, but he does keep her from crossing the line. Ghost is only considered a villain since she plans to stay alive using Janet’s quantum energy. Hank tricks them into escaping using an Altoid tin full of giant ants. When they reclaim the lab, Janet possesses Scott’s body to punch in the coordinates to find her. It’s a lot less creepy than it sounds, but it does support my theory that crafty engineer Scott Lang has been dumbed down a bit. Even though quantum physics aren’t his area of expertise. Burch and the X-Con trio become relevant again when the former tracks the lab down using literal truth serum. Luis gets his hilarious rambling story again when he recounts how he and Scott met, Scott’s relationship with Hope, and their falling out. Ghost is also in the room when he reveals their location to be the woods. Scott has another falling out with Hope & Hank when Burch contacts the FBI to arrest them. Cassie covers for her dad when Woo finds Scott back at home, but the Pyms aren’t so lucky. When Ghost steals the lab again, Scott uses Cassie’s advice to suit up again as Ant-Man. He manages to break them out of prison using ants and shrunken costumes.

The San Francisco climax is a wacky game of capture that lab that involves help from Luis, Hank entering the quantum tunnel to find his wife, Burch and his henchmen in a car chase, and Ant-Man and the Wasp fighting Ghost. Wasp constantly shifts the size of their van to fight back and humorously enlarges a Hello Kitty Pez dispenser. Stan Lee’s car even gets shrunk in a hilarious cameo. Luis continues to drive in a snazzy hot-rod while Ant-Man continues to grow at awkward moments. All the while Foster wishes Hank luck in tracking Janet. The Quantum Realm is just as beautiful as before, but all the danger goes away when he lovingly embraces his wife. Janet looks good for someone trapped for several decades as she managed to survive due to the adaptable nature of the Quantum Realm. Giant-Man grows to enormous size and takes the lab from Burch on a boat. When his size becomes too much for him, Wasp comes to his rescue by shrinking him down and giving him a much needed kiss.

Ghost grows the lab in an awkward place and nearly crosses the line by extracting energy from Janet. Ant-Man and the Wasp fight back long enough for Hope to have an emotional reunion with her mother. Ava & Foster are fully redeemed when Janet uses her quantum energy to heal their enemy of her pain. Burch and his men are arrested thanks to the X-Cons and the FBI is none the wiser when Woo finally removes Scott’s ankle monitor. The ending is almost too happy when Hank & Janet move their home to a beach and Cassie enjoys a drive-in laptop movie with her father and Hope. The expected gut punch comes after a creative action figure credits sequence. The mid-credits scene reveals the new quantum tunnel built inside Luis’ ugly brown van. Scott enters the Quantum Realm in his Ant-Man suit to collect energy for Ava. *Snap* Scott’s line goes dead when it’s revealed that Hope, Hank, and Janet were all turned to dust. The after-credits scene reveals the aftermath for the first time in the MCU by making us wait several minutes for an ant drumming. Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t especially deep, but a fun ride is exactly what moviegoers needed in the meantime.

43. Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp shrunken

Preceded by: Ant-Man & Followed by: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

I Know What it’s Like to Lose

Avengers: Infinity War took superhero movies to the next level. As the nineteenth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Infinity War was the pay off for 10 years worth of storytelling. Ever since Iron Man was released in 2008, I could never have imagined such a cinematic event. I remained a dedicated Marvel fan who saw every single movie in theaters. Along with all the shorts, TV, and streaming shows that seemed to become less canon as time went on. I knew Infinity War was going to be a big deal as soon as the Phase Three slate was announced at Comic-Con. All of a sudden Marvel Studios was tripling their release schedule just to make the 10 year mark. Originally intended to be the 2 part Avengers: Infinity War – Part I & II, the third official Avengers crossover is primarily based on the 1991 storyline The Infinity Gauntlet.

Despite the sequel storyline being titled The Infinity War, the movie has more in common with the former. The MCU had been building up to the epic storyline ever since Thanos was first introduced in The Avengers. My excitement increased every time one of the six Infinity Stones popped up. After reading The Infinity Gauntlet, I knew Marvel would make use of all the major characters that were previously introduced. The first trailer didn’t disappoint with appearances from the Avengers, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther, and the Guardians of the Galaxy set to the famous Nick Fury speech and a chilling monologue from Thanos. Since Joss Whedon was overwhelmed by the size of Age of Ultron, the Russo Brothers proved themselves worthy of directing after Civil War. Little did I know the impact they would leave…

39. Avengers Infinity War

Thanos throws a moon

Avengers: Infinity War was the best theater going experience I had up to that point. So nice I had to see it twice. Although I knew I was in for an emotional experience, I still avoided spoilers as best I could. Most trailers did their best to hide key moments. Despite The Infinity Gauntlet featuring the likes of Adam Warlock, Mephisto, the Silver Surfer, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men, Infinity War is surprisingly faithful with the characters they do have. Created by Jim Starlin in 1973, Thanos made his debut alongside Drax the Destroyer in The Invincible Iron Man #55. It was obvious from the start that he was a Darkseid rip off, but the Mad Titan eventually grew into a force to be reckoned with. As one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe, Thanos is most known for his goal of collecting all six Infinity Gems in his Infinity Gauntlet in order to appease his one true love, Mistress Death herself.

After the Avengers defeated Loki and the Chitauri during the Battle of New York, Thanos made his presence known in a mid-credits scene with a creepy smile. It wasn’t until Guardians of the Galaxy that Thanos finally appeared in full with the pitch perfect voice of Josh Brolin. Replacing Damion Poitier, Brolin brought a calm menace to the Mad Titan. He’s no stranger to comic book roles, having already performed in 6 with Deadpool 2 on the way. The last Thanos appearance for 3 years was in an Age of Ultron mid-credits scene where he finally dons his trademark Infinity Gauntlet. The line, “Fine I’ll do it myself” was likely referring to his lack of involvement up to that point. You’d think 6 years worth of build up couldn’t possibly live up to the hype, but Thanos is without a doubt the greatest villain in the MCU. And that’s saying something considering their villain problem. Thanos never gets lost in this ensemble of superheroes, because he’s practically the main character. He’s the one with an arc and a goal to accomplish.

Infinity War doesn’t waste time establishing characters, because at this point, why watch the crossover if you’re not going to see the rest of the MCU? The war is already in progress as soon as the Marvel Studios logo plays with a haunting distress call from an Asgardian voiced by Thor director Kenneth Branagh. The darker tone is established from the start with the Sanctuary II attacking the Asgardian vessel. All the hope and optimism from Thor: Ragnarok is snuffed out with piles of dead Asgardians who were killed by the Black Order. The Children of Thanos have always been a staple of the Mad Titan. Yet the Black Order are actually a fairly recent creation. They were mainly part of the 2013 Infinity storyline that the movie is also partially based on.

The group was only included to give the Avengers something to punch when Thanos wasn’t around. The Black Order consists of Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight, Corvus Glaive, and Cull Obsidian. Like Thanos, every member is done with motion capture CGI. With the exception of the despicably charismatic herald Ebony Maw, most of the Black Order are simply a means to an end. Maw stands out with his use of telekinesis and sophisticated way of hyping up Thanos. Midnight stands out as the only female alien on the team and for having a more recognizable actress like Carrie Coon voice her. Glaive’s only definable trait is his vengeful attitude, and Obsidian is a straightforward muscle with a war hammer. Their appearances match their comic counterparts, but it’s not enough to distract from the true big bad.

In his opening speech, Thanos makes it clear that he’s the greatest threat the Avengers will ever face. His appearance has evolved significantly from The Avengers to Guardians of the Galaxy. In the former, he was dark purple with Poitier portraying him with makeup while dressed in his trademark armor. In the latter, he was all CGI with Brolin providing motion capture. His light purple skin and soulless eyes carried over into Age of Ultron, but that was dropped as soon as Thanos became the central focus. Thanos became one of the most realistic CGI creations of all time with medium purple skin, more expressive eyes, and subtle quirks that make him feel like a living alien being. Infinity War achieves an impossible juggling act that hasn’t been seen on the big screen before. This is a rare live-action superhero film where the heroes stay in costume for a majority of the movie. Choosing Infinity War over Infinity Gauntlet as a title made sense since this is without a doubt a war with a satisfying amount of action throughout. All credit goes to Marvel Studios producer Kevin Feige, the Russo Brothers, the all-star returning cast, crew, Disney, and the seldom acknowledged writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely.

Although Civil War was previously the biggest ensemble in the MCU, it still retained the small scale practicality of The Winter Soldier. The Russos maintain their loose filming techniques, but a cosmic adventure such as this deserved grander special effects in more alien worlds. The writers were in a particularly challenging position trying to meld every tone in the MCU together. Even a movie as serious as Infinity War retains the hilarious banter we’ve come to love. Yet the jokes never undermine the emotional stakes and always feel organic. Almost every MCU director was consulted in order to maintain consistency with the Phase Three movies that hadn’t even been released yet. Despite all the pain he goes through, Chris Hemsworth and Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi ensured Thor’s comedic portrayal wouldn’t be entirely lost. I’m still slightly bummed that Thor retains his comic inaccurate short hair, eye patch, and capeless look seen at the end of Ragnarok, but he isn’t the only character to throw accuracy out the window.

Hemsworth is finally given substantial screen time in an Avengers movie since his personal journey is made clear in only the first 10 minutes of the movie. There’s no sign of Valkyrie, Korg, or Meik, but Heimdall is injured and Loki is unharmed. Thor is in bad shape with Thanos threatening to kill him with the purple Power Stone. Half the fun of the MCU was mapping out the location of each Infinity Stone. Unlike the comics, the Gems are called Stones, colors are swapped, and they each reside in separate artifacts. The First Avenger, The Avengers, The Dark World, Guardians of the Galaxy, Age of Ultron, and Doctor Strange have all featured one or more of the colorful McGuffins. It wasn’t always perfect, but their plan payed off in the end. Putting Infinity War in the unique position of figuring out a way to include all 6.

Thanos retrieving the Power Stone had to be skipped entirely since decimating Xandar would’ve required a whole other planet, plus the Nova Corps. The Tesseract, which houses the blue Space Stone was stolen by Loki before it could be destroyed on Asgard. Loki truly redeems himself by unveiling the Tesseract to spare his brother’s life, but not before coming full circle with the line “We have a Hulk.” Hulk survived the assault and starts an incredible first fight with the equally imposing Mad Titan. Their brutal CGI fight is a dream come true, but Thanos’ calculated maneuvers win out against Hulk’s brute strength. I hope you enjoyed that, because that’s all we get of the Hulk in the entire 2 hour & 40 minute movie! Although the filmmakers have come up with an excuse, I know it’s just so the strongest Avengers can’t easily win. Idris Elba gets one final hurrah as Heimdall uses the remainder of his dark magic to transport the Hulk to Earth using the Bifröst.

SPOILER ALERT! from here on out. Heimdall is the first of many killed with Thor telling Thanos he’ll die for that. As Maw chains him up, all he can do is watch as his enemy obtains a second Stone. All Thanos has to do is crush the cosmic cube to reveal the Stone underneath. Another costume change I’m not crazy about is Thanos ditching his trademark gold helmet and armor. My only gripe is the fact that general audiences will forever associate him with a bald sleeveless look. It’s not a bad look, but I know they only did it for CGI purposes. After his failure to seige New York, Loki offers his guidance to Thanos. As Loki attempts to take out the Mad Titan, Thanos does the unthinkable. The former greatest villain in the MCU is brutally strangled to death. Putting an end to Tom Hiddleston’s brilliant take of this version of the God of Mischief.

It’s a lot to take in as Thor’s ship blows up with him still inside. Fortunately, Hulk was able to reach Earth in the most helpful location he can. After his brief encounter with Thor, Doctor Strange & Wong have continued to safeguard the planet from the Sanctum Sanctorum in New York. Benedict Cumberbatch and Benedict Wong continue to have great banter before the Hulk crash lands in the Sanctum. As opposed to the Silver Surfer who did the same in the original storyline. As Bruce Banner warns a confused Strange of Thanos’ arrival, the Avengers: Infinity War logo signals the incoming conflict with another ominous version of the original score. The only way to tell a story this massive was to separate every hero into a smaller group…

40. Avengers Infinity War

Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the Guardians on Titan

Avengers: Infinity War may be lengthy, but the story is actually pretty simple. The threat of Thanos is enough to affect Earth and the entire galaxy. So every single superhero in the movie needs to be simplified with the primary motivation of stopping the Mad Titan. Infinity War takes place all in one day that extracts a heavy toll. The first group is in New York where Tony Stark is seen jogging with his fiancée Pepper Potts. Despite a few close calls, Robert Downey Jr. has stayed faithful to playing Tony Stark/Iron Man for 10 years. Gwyneth Paltrow nearly left after Iron Man 3, but Downey Jr. knew how important their love story was. After Homecoming, Tony proposed to Pepper, but is constantly having dreams that seem real. One includes them having a child named Morgan (remember that!) and the other involves the fear he’s been having ever since Age of Ultron that the aliens will return. That day has finally come with Stark coming face to face with the Sorcerer Supreme.

Doctor Strange meeting Iron Man is a dream pairing as he slings open a portal to retrieve Stark. Strange & Stark come to blows for a variety of reasons. Both have enormous egos and stylish goatees, but one is reliant on science and the other is reliant on magic. Leading to an interesting dynamic where both are fighting for control. Downey Jr. and Cumberbatch also coincidentally play Sherlock Holmes, but they don’t go for the obvious joke. Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson contributed to his character, but it’s tough to say what that was. This is easily my favorite portrayal of Doctor Strange, because he finally gets a chance to be a fully formed Sorcerer Supreme. Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t always on set due to scheduling conflicts, but I think that was a good thing.

Strange feels more commanding when he’s not physically interacting with anyone. That’s better left to his faithful Cloak of Levitation. Although his appearance hasn’t changed, Strange’s magic has vastly improved with so many spells we haven’t seen before. Bruce walks out of the portal and greets Stark with a hug. Mark Ruffalo may have never gotten his own trilogy, but Ragnarok was meant to start something of an unofficial trilogy. Hulk has been at odds with Banner and that’s apparently the reason why he won’t Hulk out. Leaving Banner to do most of the heavy lifting and be the one who gets passed around the most. Wong once again explains the history of the Infinity Stones back at the Sanctum. It’s there that Doctor Strange continues to wear the Eye of Agamotto containing the green Time Stone. As they argue over what their next move should be, Stark realizes his only option is to call Steve Rogers. Since he’s the only one who can locate Vision after he turned off his transponder.

After recounting the aftermath of Civil War, Bruce convinces Tony to set their problems aside. Before he can make the call on the flip phone Steve gave him, the invasion officially begins. It’s enough to trigger Peter Parker’s spider-senses that were almost completely forgotten about in Homecoming. It’s just great to see Tom Holland front and center as Spider-Man after all the secrecy surrounding his appearance in Civil War. Even if he does tend to spoil things as much as Ruffalo. Jacob Batalon briefly appears as Ned in order to comically distract his fellow students while he swings into action. Just as funny is Stan Lee’s cameo as a bus driver who points out the fact that the teens have already seen a spaceship before. Maw & Obsidian are the first to encounter Stark, Strange, Wong, and Banner. It’s an amazing display of magic and science even though Hulk refusing to come out in battle is a little annoying. Leaving Strange to match wits with Maw and Stark to unveil his new nanotech infused Mark L armor. This is the most different Iron Man suit so far since it’s more form fitting with the nanotech creating stronger weapons like a shield, blades, and heavier firepower. It’s an awkward, but awesome suit that’s useful for a battle like this.

Strange is prevented from using the Stone, so Maw decides to take him instead. Spider-Man makes his grand entrance by rescuing Mr. Stark from Obsidian and throwing a car at him. Wong slings Obsidian to the arctic and earns an invite to Stark’s wedding in the process. Spidey tries to web up Strange, but gets beamed up in the process. Leaving Stark to rescue them both by having F.R.I.D.A.Y. activate his suit’s rocket propulsion. Peter nearly falls from the ship, but Stark sends the Iron Spider suit that was teased at the end of Homecoming to save him. It doesn’t really resemble the suit from the comics, but it is closer to his classic look with more gold and the suits high tech spider legs. Stark tries to send Parker home, but he stays on board anyway. Almost an entire hour goes by before this group is followed up on. Maw tries to extract the Time Stone through torture, but Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the Cloak of Levitation come to Strange’s rescue. Using the really old movie Aliens as inspiration, Maw is killed by being sucked into space. Strange & Stark continue to argue over what to do next, but my other dreams come true when Spider-Man officially meets Doctor Strange. I’m sure Steve Ditko would be proud.

Strange & Stark eventually manage to work out an arrangement and Tony knights Peter as an Avenger for good measure. Their plan is to pilot Maw’s ship in order to face Thanos on his home planet. Meanwhile on Earth, Wong is no help at all as he stays out of the fight to protect the Sanctum. Leaving Bruce to make the call to Steve. The only Stone remaining on Earth is the yellow Mind Stone in Vision’s head. Vision begins to feel pain from the Stone, but Wanda is there to fix it. Despite the age difference between Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen, I was thrilled to finally see Vision and the Scarlet Witch together. They share a kiss at their hideout in Edinburgh, but I do wish Vision was an android while it was happening. Bettany briefly shows his face since Vision is suddenly able to alter his appearance to look human. Wanda has also changed slightly with red hair and a more subtle Sokovian accent. They’re both currently on the run due to the accords, but the news of an invasion pulls them apart. Glaive stabs Vision through the chest and prevents him from phasing for the rest of the movie. Wanda fights back against Glaive & Midnight using her magic to save her true love.

When they’re backed into a train station, Steve Rogers makes his epic introduction by grabbing Midnight’s spear midair. This was Chris Evans’ chance to finally let his beard and hair grow out since Steve is no longer Captain America. He’s been on the run in a worn out suit with the star removed. I’m partially miffed at his Nomad appearance, but this is easily the least amount of screen time Cap has ever had. In his short time, Steve makes it clear that he’s going to fight no matter what the accords say. Black Widow & Falcon have stayed loyal to their friend in the time they’ve been on the run. I’m not a fan of Natasha’s short bleach blonde hair, but I understand it’s what she needed to stay in hiding. Scarlett Johansson has her moments and now sports a more tactical military catsuit. Sam Wilson hasn’t changed at all with Anthony Mackie wearing the same Falcon suit. They meet Rhodey at the Avengers Compound where he’s in the middle of talking to Secretary Ross and his boardroom via hologram. It’s a quick cameo from William Hurt, but he sends a clear message. Rhodey continues to wear his life changing leg braces, but Don Cheadle does manage to get a few funny scenes. He warmly greets Cap’s renegade team at the same time Bruce walks in.

It’s an awkward reunion, but fortunately that’s all we get from Nat & Bruce’s pointless relationship. The true romance to focus on is the one between Wanda & Vision. Vision wants Wanda to destroy his Stone, but she refuses. Bruce proposes the possibility of removing the Stone without deactivating Vision. It’s also at the Compound that Hawkeye and Ant-Man’s absences are explained away with the both of them accepting house arrest for going against the accords. Despite being a massive crossover involving everyone, it made more sense to follow up Scott Lang’s story in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Clint Barton was featured in early concept art, but that’s about it. Without their help, Steve turns to the King of Wakanda. T’Challa & Okoye prepare for their arrival by supplying the fully recovered White Wolf with an impressive Vibranium arm. Sebastian Stan is more optimistic as Bucky since Wakanda has changed him for the better. Danai Gurira has plenty of badass moments as Okoye and even some unexpected jokes. It will for forever be bittersweet to see Chadwick Boseman as the Black Panther, but it’s better to appreciate his performance for as long as he’s on screen.

Black Panther was still fresh in everyone’s head, so it’s understandable that a lot of the subsequent TV spots focused on Wakanda. Letitia Wright once again shows her genius as Shuri comes up with a safe way to remove the Mind Stone. Meanwhile in space, “Rubberband Man” by Detroit Spinners became the perfect Awesome Mix song to introduce the Guardians of the Galaxy. One of the many reasons why James Gunn needed to be around to make sure his lovable a-holes remained just as funny and endearing as they’ve always been. The Guardians of the Galaxy have always felt like separate entities in the MCU, but their connection to Thanos was too strong not to give them substantial screen time. They’re just as hilarious as before, but the looming threat does bring out a lot of drama. Since Vol. 2 took place in 2014 like the first movie, that means it’s chronologically been 4 years since their last appearance. The Guardians have noticeably become more of a family who take their missions as seriously as they can. The only thing that hasn’t changed is their appearances. With the exception of Groot who’s now grown into a rebellious teenager distracted by his Defender video game for most of the movie. Thus, Vin Diesel’s “I am Groot” sounds more adolescent.

Infinity War features all three Chris’ as Chris Pratt brings Star-Lord’s likeable goofiness to the rest of the quip heavy MCU. Zoe Saldana has softened Gamora up considerably with a sweet romance that finally happened between her and Quill. In a movie packed with funny characters, Drax turned out to be the most hilarious with Dave Batista improvising a lot of the best moments. Bradley Cooper is also pretty funny since Rocket’s wisecracks always get plenty of attention. Sean Gunn continues to do mocap despite his brother not directing. Mantis is very much part of the team now with Pom Klementieff being another unexpected scene stealer. Her empathic powers very much come in handy later on. The Guardians fly in their new ship the Benatar to answer the Asgardian distress call. All they see is devastation, but Thor has managed to survive. The Guardians meeting an Avenger for the first time is about how I expected, but I do think they would’ve had more material if Thor’s hair was still long. Instead they hilariously lean into how handsome and muscular Chris Hemsworth is. As Mantis wakes the God of Thunder, the conquest of the Mad Titan is all anyone can talk about…

41. Avengers Infinity War

Captain America, Black Widow, the Winter Soldier, and Black Panther in Wakanda

Despite losing his mother, father, sister, home, best friend, and brother recently, Thor isn’t the most serious person in the room. Thor’s sense of humor fits comfortably in the world of the Guardians. Quill feels threatened by Thor’s manliness, especially after he flirts with Gamora. With the exception of a flashback revealing how Thanos adopted Gamora and slaughtered half her planet, we learn everything we need to know about their strained relationship from Saldana’s stellar performance. She makes Peter promise to kill her if Thanos ever captures her and they seal it with a kiss. Drax may mostly be around for comic relief, but he also gets serious when it comes to avenging the death of his wife & daughter. The Guardians part ways once again when Thor realizes he needs a new weapon. Thor continues the joke of mistaking Rocket the raccoon for a rabbit and invites him and Groot on his quest to Nidavellir. Another of the Nine Realms that hasn’t been seen before. As Thor, Rocket, and Groot take their pod, Quill, Gamora, Drax, and Mantis find Thanos on the Celestial head Knowhere. It was there that the Asgardians gave the red Reality Stone to the Collector.

Benicio del Toro gets back into eccentric mode as the Collector is interrogated by Thanos on an abandoned Knowhere. Drax is over eager to vanquish his foe, but Mantis puts him to sleep. Gamora manages to fatally wound her father and stab him with the perfectly balanced knife he gave her. We’ll never know how the fluid Aether can be turned into a Stone, because Thanos already possess it. The power of the Reality Stone is finally seen with his death being an illusion and Knowhere being more devastated than initially thought. Just like the comics, Thanos turns Drax to stone, Mantis to ribbons, and Star-Lord’s blaster to bubbles when he attempts to honor his word. Thanos keeps his daughter in comfortable captivity on his ship. The primary difference between comic Thanos and movie Thanos is motivation. In the comics, it was his love of Death that caused him to wipe out half the universe. In the movie, Thanos feels it’s his duty to balance the universe in order to create peace. Some may support his misguided goal, but he’s still a villain to me. Especially when Thanos tortures his other daughter Nebula until Gamora reveals the location of the mysterious orange Soul Stone. Fortunately, Karen Gillan managed to turn the cybernetic Nebula into more of a sympathetic character.

Gamora relents by revealing the location of the Stone to be on Vormir. The Soul Stone was the subject of many fan theories since it was the only Stone that never appeared in a previous movie. I always assumed Heimdall’s orange eyes and soul detecting abilities meant the Stone resided within him, but his death put an end to that theory. Vormir is a mysterious planet with the most unexpected stonekeeper imaginable. I gasped as soon as the Red Skull made his long awaited return to the MCU. After the Tesseract sent him to space back in WWII, he apparently stayed alive as an otherworldly wraith who guides souls to a power he cannot possess. Impressionist Ross Marquand replaces Hugo Weaving since the latter was always apprehensive about returning. The horrible truth of the Soul Stone is that it can only be possessed when a loved one is sacrificed. Although Gamora thinks her father has lost, Thanos does love his daughter in a twisted way. I was emotional before, but I didn’t start crying until Gamora was tragically thrown to her death. Nebula manges to send a message to Mantis and the Guardians fly to Titan to face Thanos.

It’s there that the Guardians have a violent, but humorous first encounter with Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange. Their fight is awesome and they only manage to trust each other when Quill reveals his master to be Jesus. The combination of characters is the coolest in the movie, since it leads to plenty of great material. Mr. Lord frustrates Stark by trying to be the leader and even gets a wake up call when Peter tells Peter that Footloose was never the greatest movie of all time. Drax & Mantis are no help, but Doctor Strange does manage to do something we’ve never seen before. Strange goes forward in time to view 14,000,605 possible futures, but only one where they win. Meanwhile in Nidavellir, Thor reveals his ability to understand Groot and Rocket tries to encourage Thor with a replacement eye. Now he no longer has to wear the eye patch, but Nidavellir is too dark to see regardless. The home of the dwarves resembles a mechanical star with what is supposed to be the brightly lit dying star at the center. It was here that Mjolnir was forged, so Thor seeks a weapon just as powerful to kill Thanos. I knew Peter Dinklage was likely playing Eitri the Dwarf King, but I didn’t expect him to be a giant. It’s a bizarre choice and Eitri has a weird accent, but it works.

Although his hands were damaged by Thanos after he built the Infinity Gauntlet for him, Eitri agrees to help by constructing Stormbreaker. Beta Ray Bill wields Stormbreaker in the comics, but the giant axe more so resembles Thor’s weapon in the Ultimate Universe. Thor reaches peak godhood when he reactivates the dying star with all his might. The full blast of the star takes him out, but Teenage Groot finally does something heroic by using his arm as a handle for Stormbreaker. Meanwhile in Wakanda, another army of disposable CGI four armed Outriders are led by Glaive, Midnight, and Obsidian. Winston Duke retains M’Baku’s loyalty to T’Challa when the Jabari tribe join the fight, Steve is given Vibranium wrist gauntlets in place of a shield, Bucky joins the fight alongside Black Widow, the Wakandans, and Banner piloting Stark’s Mark XLIX Hulkbuster armor. Falcon & War Machine take care of things from the sky, but the Outriders are relentless. Rather than risk them reaching Vision, Shuri opens part of the barrier to keep the fighting in front of them. The second Battle of Wakanda is far more alien with every Avenger and honorary Avenger having time to shine.

Black Panther & Cap run the fastest, Bucky shoots anything in sight, and the Wakandans use their advanced technology. When everyone becomes overwhelmed, one of the most cheerworthy moments in recent memory occurs when Thor arrives in Wakanda with Rocket, Groot, Stormbreaker, and a new red & black cape. Thor says “Bring me Thanos” in a booming voice and the entire theater erupted when he brought his axe down in a mighty blaze of thunder. Scarlet Witch shows her immense power as well after she’s certain Vision will be safe. Glaive targets Vision, Midnight targets Wanda, and Obsidian targets Banner. Shuri’s lab is broken into by Glaive, and although she fights back, there’s not enough time to remove the Mind Stone. A great moment of girl power comes when Romanoff & Okoye help Wanda fight off Midnight. Ending with Wanda using her magic to shred Midnight in one of their vehicles. Some other highlights of the battle are Thor & Cap having another mid-fight chat where they comment on each others new facial appearances. Plus Steve meeting Groot with the classic “I am Groot” introduction, but my personal favorite scene is the unlikely pairing of Bucky & Rocket. The former Winter Soldier picks up the weapon toting raccoon to take out several enemies together. Rocket wanting his metal arm just makes the scene better.

Steve tries to help Vision when Glaive attacks, but only the latter is able to deal the fatal blow. When Hulk still refuses to come out, Banner uses his Hulkbuster glove to launch Obsidian into the Wakandan barrier. My only real disappoint in Hulk not showing up during the final battle is how much of a missed opportunity it is not having him bust out of the Hulkbuster. Which is why my favorite battle is the Attack on Titan. It’s a pure nerdy dream come true that’s every bit the visual spectacle I hoped it would be. Doctor Strange having a seat as he talks with Thanos is exactly how I imagined he would handle the situation. The Mad Titan’s complicated backstory on his home planet is hinted at with Thanos using the Reality Stone to reveal Titan in its prime. As Strange powers up, Stark drops a satellite on Thanos. The rest of the heroes engage in an intense, but very satisfying fight in an attempt to overwhelm their enemy. Strange uses his portals, Cloak, and even the comic accurate Crimson Bands of Cyttorak. Iron Man uses every weapon in his arsenal and so does Star-Lord. Drax manages to get a few hits in and Nebula even shows up last minute to fight her father. Spider-Man webs up Thanos and I absolutely loved Spidey being referred to as “Insect.” When everyone manages to hold Thanos down, Mantis drops in to attempt to put him to sleep.

They’re so close to defeating the Mad Titan, but Star-Lord ruins everything when he lashes out at Thanos after learning the truth about Gamora. I don’t blame Quill, it was just poorly timed. Thanos regains his power and displays it by doing something as unbelievable as throwing a freaking moon. It leads to 2 separate fights that are my favorite one on ones in the movie. Doctor Strange engages in one the greatest wizarding duels ever put to screen. Thanos uses every Stone at his disposal and Strange manges to duplicate himself a hundredfold. Since the Time Stone isn’t inside the Eye of Agamotto, Iron Man is the next to fight. Thanos is fully aware of who Stark is after the Battle of New York. Their fight is a personal one with Stark drawing as much power as he can to defeat him. It was shocking to see Tony stabbed, but more shocking to see Strange willingly give up the Time Stone. As Tony patches himself up, Strange makes it clear that they’re in the Endgame now (remember that!). With 5 Stones in hand, Thanos teleports to Wakanda to retrieve the final Mind Stone. Black Widow, Black Panther, Okoye, Falcon, War Machine, Banner, Rocket, and Groot all fail to stop him. Steve shows his bravery by holding his Gauntlet back, but it’s not enough.

Sadly, the only option is for Wanda to kill the machine she loves. Wanda destroys Vision’s Stone, holds off Thanos, and has an emotional breakdown all at the same time. Thanos’ brief encounter with Wanda is ironic considering Brolin and Olsen’s previous work in Oldboy. Since he possesses the Time Stone, Thanos turns back time just to rip the Mind Stone from Vision’s forehead. Only then does Thanos finally gain all 6 of the purple, blue, red, orange, green, and yellow Stones. Thor makes his presence known by lodging Stormbreaker into the Mad Titan’s chest. In most movies, this would be the epic hero moment that saves the day, but he should’ve gone for the head. *Snap* After reading the comic, I knew exactly what was coming. Thanos sees a young Gamora in another realm, and the Gauntlet is in bad shape when we re-enter reality. Chilling is the only word I can use to describe half of the universe disappearing in a cloud of dust.

Steve is forced to watch his oldest friend Bucky disappear, Sam disappears with Rhodey looking for him, Okoye watches in horror as her King T’Challa disappears, Rocket is unable to help when Groot disappears, and Wanda only has the lifeless body of Vision to comfort her when she disappears. Back on Titan, Drax, Mantis, and Quill all disappear with Strange soon following. My heart officially broke when my favorite superhero was the last to disappear. I cry everytime Peter begs for his life and disappears in Tony’s arms. The devastated Avengers are left defeated for the first time ever as Thanos retires to watch the sun set on a grateful universe. It’s so devastating that the credits are given no special treatment. The snap continues to affect the rest of the world in the only after-credits scene that brings back Nick Fury & Maria Hill. S.H.I.E.L.D. may be long gone (if you ignore Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), but that’s no reason not to include Cobie Smulders and Samuel L. Jackson. As civilians begin to disappear, Hill soon follows. Seeing no other option, Fury contacts someone on a pager before he’s dusted away himself. Imagine my excitement when it was revealed to be the logo for Captain Marvel. Avengers: Infinity War had a profound effect on more than just the MCU.

42. Avengers Infinity War

Thor arrives in Wakanda with Rocket and Groot

Preceded by: Avengers: Age of Ultron & Followed by: Avengers: Endgame

Wakanda Forever!

Black Panther is the greatest black superhero movie ever made. As the eighteenth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther finally delivered on the promise of Wakanda. First appearing in Fantastic Four #52, the Black Panther became the first black superhero created for mainstream comics. Stan Lee always wanted more black people in crowd shots, so it was only a matter of time before Stan Lee & Jack Kirby teamed up for the game changing 1966 issue. Fun fact: the superhero Black Panther got his name 3 months before the Black Panther Party were formed. It was just a coincidence, but the name was briefly changed to Black Leopard before they realized it wasn’t necessary. The African King of Wakanda inspired fellow black superheroes like the African American Falcon and Luke Cage.

He was going strong starring in Jungle Action comics and eventually joining the Avengers, but he never became a top tier Marvel hero. Being part black myself, I’ve always had the utmost respect for Black Panther. I just never considered him a favorite. I enjoyed all of his animated appearances in direct-to-video movies & TV. I expected to see a live-action movie one day, but I didn’t anticipate its impact. Marvel foolishly sold their rights to Colombia Pictures with Wesley Snipes wanting to make a movie in 1992, 6 years before starring in Blade. 2 decades later, Black Panther fit comfortably into the MCU with producer Kevin Feige laying the groundwork in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War before a solo movie in 2018 directed by the Studio’s first black director Ryan Coogler…

37. Black Panther

Black Panther lands on a car

Black Panther is a major success with a lot more effort put into it than most MCU movies. It’s also an MCU film that I have very complicated feelings towards. Ever since his creation, Black Panther was meant to be a wise, regal, combat proficient ruler of his own African nation. In his first appearance, Black Panther tested himself in battle by inviting the Fantastic Four to Wakanda. After unmasking himself, T’Challa earned their trust and became a longstanding ally to all heroes of the Marvel Universe. Black Panther was always a cool superhero with comics that tackled real world issues, and the storyline “Panther’s Rage” even became the first Marvel graphic novel. He became more recognizable after joining the Avengers in Avengers #52, but it’s a wonder why he never became more popular.

Diversity in the MCU was already pretty common with Netflix shows like Luke Cage entering its second season, Hulu shows like The Runaways finishing its first season, and Freeform shows like Cloak & Dagger set for a summer release. As a Marvel fan, I knew Black Panther was on the way ever since Captain America picked up his shield made out of the rarest metal on Earth. I knew they were serious when Bruce Banner mispronounced the name Wakanda and Ulysses Klaue sold a deposit of Vibranium to Ultron. Then it got real as soon as T’Challa was set to appear as the Black Panther in Civil War. Although I wasn’t familiar with Chadwick Boseman at first, I at least knew him as the actor who played all of the iconic African American historical figures. From Floyd Little & Jackie Robinson to James Brown & Thurgood Marshall. So why not add Black Panther to the list?

I was impressed by Boseman’s performance in Civil War and curious to see how a solo film would turn out after so many elements were already introduced in previous films. Black Panther became one of the most comic accurate Marvel origin stories ever made since great care was taken into every frame. Coogler was a comic book fan growing up, so he made sure to stay true to the story. He also brought most of his production team from Fruitvale Station and Creed to give the Marvel Studios movie a familiar, if more distinct look. Black Panther is one of the most colorful MCU films, in more ways than one. The cast was obviously predominantly black and so was most of the production team. The opening finally steeps us into the unique history of the fictional country Wakanda. Just like the comics, sand illustrates how a meteorite landed in Africa thousands of years ago. The massive amount of Vibranium united the four tribes who worship the panther god Bast. The River tribe, Mining tribe, Merchant tribe, and Boarder tribe form Wakanda, but the gorilla god worshiping Jabari tribe part ways. As Wakanda becomes a technologically advanced nation, increasing world problems force the Wakandans to hide their knowledge posing as a Third World country.

Then the story is taken to 1992 Oakland, California since that’s where Coogler grew up. The cast of Black Panther is full of both prominent and up-and-coming black actors and actresses. This is Us star Sterling K. Brown of course plays a part as N’Jobu. An undercover Wakandan working as a spy for the War Dogs. N’Jobu is also the brother of King T’Chaka. The Grace Jones looking Dora Milaje present their king adorned with a comic accurate regal Black Panther costume of his own. What’s cool about his appearance is the fact that John Kani’s own son Atandwa Kani got to play his father’s character in his younger days. He was also a consultant for the fictional Wakandan language. African accents are some of the easiest accents to imitate, so every actor does a good job of it. Wakandans are identified by awkward inner lip tattoos. T’Chaka greets his brother, but reveals his betrayal of allowing Ulysses Klaue into their country. He also reveals his partner James to be a Wakandan spy as well. Although Denzel Whitaker plays Forest Whitaker’s Zuri at a young age (complete with signature eye droop), there’s surprisingly no relation.

As N’Jobu’s basketball playing son watches in astonishment as the Wakandan aircraft takes off, the Marvel Studios logo turns purple. The events of Civil War are recapped with a news reporter talking about the death of King T’Chaka at the Vienna International Center. T’Challa is already the Black Panther, so that part of his origin is already taken care of. T’Challa is on a mission with Dora Milaje general Okoye to extract his ex from an undercover War Dogs assignment. Just like Coogler, I haven’t seen The Walking Dead, but figured Danai Gurira was a perfect fit for the leader of the all-female Wakandan guard. Although Black Panther is primarily focused on black culture, women are given just as much attention with every female character being three-dimensional. Okoye is a proud Wakandan and a capable warrior who assists in most missions done by the Black Panther. Florence Kasumba previously appeared as Ayo, the Dora Milaje who threatened to “move” Black Widow. Their shaved heads and spears closely resemble the comics, but the “wives-in-training” part is dropped.

I very much appreciate the costume design being colorful like a comic book, yet close to ceremonial African attire. Wakandan clothing is authentic with a cross between traditional and modern. Turns out Vibranium is so all-purpose that it’s practically magic. High tech kimoyo beads can heal, detonate, and create sand holograms like the not-too-distant future. It’s fitting that Grace Jones was referenced since Black Panther is very much a love letter to afrofuturism. Wakandan aircrafts don’t look too alien and most of the city and technology is pretty old school. Although I love the way Asgard was portrayed, I do sometimes wish it was fleshed out as much as Wakanda. T’Challa smoothly dons his Panther habit that’s just as beautiful as when we saw it in Civil War. Like most Wakandan attire, Vibranium is woven into the black costume complete with panther ears, retractable claws, and comic accurate white eyes.

As the Black Panther drops from the aircraft, he takes out enemy jeeps. The opening jungle fight is dynamic with fluid movements from the King as he sneak attacks his enemies from a tree. Unfortunately, he freezes as soon as he sees his ex Nakia. Although Black Panther has had love interests including American singer Monica Lynne and Storm herself, the lesser known Nakia was chosen as a comprise. Since the movie isn’t primarily set in America and a member of the X-Men was obviously off the table. In the comics, Nakia is the villainous Malice, but the movie makes her more of an opinionated War Dog. I expected Lupita Nyong’o to play a part since she’s an Oscar winner and Disney had already cast her in so many other projects. She’s just as strong acting opposite Chadwick Boseman. T’Challa & Nakia maintain a strong relationship that mostly shows in political discussions about the country’s future. She joins T’Challa at his coronation ceremony.

Wakanda is entered through an invisible dome where we see the entire country appropriately set to African beats. Although it can occasionally feel like The Lion King (or even Coming to America), I was happy that they went with traditional African music. Hip hop is still present on the Kendrick Lamar soundtrack, but it doesn’t dominate the movie. Black Panther is a lot closer to The Winter Soldier or Civil War in terms of humor. It’s not devoid of comedy, but I expected more dignity to be given to a character like this. T’Challa is still very stoic with all the usual quipping being given to his younger sister Shuri. The always respectable Angela Bassett plays mother of T’Challa Queen Romanda and newcomer Letitia Wright plays Princess Shuri. Wright became the movie’s breakout star since Shuri is the funniest and most intelligent character. Despite being 16, Shuri develops most of Wakanda’s advanced technology in a lab built atop a literal underground railroad that transports Vibranium.

The coronation ceremony is a major event witnessed by all tribes of Wakanda. It’s a spirited celebration with dancing and the introduction of the now iconic phrase “Wakanda forever!” The arm crossing was a nice touch. The coronation is followed by the ritual combat of anyone who challenges the throne. Boseman of course has his obligatory shirtless scene during the waterfall fight. The only challenger is leader of the Jabari tribe M’Baku. Although he’s not referred to as Man-Ape for obvious reasons, he does retain his comic counterpart’s white fur outfit, gorilla mask, and ape howls. Newcomer Winston Duke also became an instant fan favorite with his intense, but likeable performance. M’Baku resents Wakanda’s lack of tradition and engages in a rough one on one battle with the king. It’s an excellent pantherless fight that ends in M’Baku yielding.

The final step is T’Challa being buried and ingesting the comic accurate Heart-Shaped Herb that gives him his enhanced reflexes. Only then does he enter the Ancestral Plane, which resembles aurora borealis with CGI black panthers. One of the panthers is T’Challa’s deceased baba T’Chaka. John Kani is just as good as his brief appearance in Civil War, telling his son all it takes for him to be a good king. T’Challa feels more ready after conversations with Nakia and his best friend W’Kabi. Daniel Kaluuya wasted no time getting out of his breakout role in Get Out. He plays the complex friend of T’Challa who is also the husband of Okoye (though it’s hard to gage their relationship based on the final cut). Unlike the comics, Ulysses Klaue is responsible for W’Kabi’s parent’s death instead of the death of King T’Chaka. Changing it to Zemo was more necessary for Civil War.

In terms of villains, Black Panther kind of uses up every well known member of his rogues gallery. In the comics, Ulysses Klaue is perhaps the archenemy of Black Panther who uses a prosthetic sonic cannon as the supervillain Klaw. Age of Ultron introduced Klaue as a more downplayed South African arms dealer played by Andy Serkis. Although it’s still bizarre that the king of mo-cap was cast as a non-CGI character in the MCU, I did get very excited as soon as Ultron chopped his arm off. Klaue now has a similar arm cannon that’s concealed within a prosthetic arm. Although Serkis has his menacing moments, his exuberance can be a bit cringy. Although Klaue seems to be the main villain, a London museum attack reveals the true antagonist. Erik “Killmonger” Stevens correctly identifies an African artifact as a piece of Vibranium that’s part of a much larger plan.

Like the comics, Killmonger was a major enemy of the Black Panther who was taken from Wakanda at an early age. It was the perfect role for frequent Coogler collaborator Michael B. Jordan. And an obviously better choice than race changing the Human Torch. It was the best possible redemption after the awful Fant4stic, since Killmonger is easily one of the better villains in the MCU. His appearance is similar to the comic with more modern dreadlocks and a uniform modeled after Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z. T’Challa is informed of Klaue’s return and he seizes the opportunity to apprehend him in South Korea. But first he needs a few upgrades. Shuri supplies him with new kimoyo beads and sound nullifying panther boots that she humorously calls sneakers. It’s a far better joke after the cringe inducing dead meme “What are those!” T’Challa also receives a fancy new Panther habit that forms from his necklace using nanotechnology. It’s basically become a quick fix for MCU heroes ever since Star-Lord’s helmet did the same. Now everyone can show their face without removing their mask by hand. The suit more impressively contains kinetic energy that emits a purple blast when attacked.

T’Challa travels to South Korea along with Nakia and Okoye wearing an uncomfortable wig. It’s at a casino that Klaue is expected to make a deal with a potential buyer. The buyer ends up being Central Intelligence Agent Everett K. Ross. Ross was originally created as a bumbling point of view character for the predominantly white Marvel comics readers. Martin Freeman wasn’t a major standout in the crowded Civil War, but it was already obvious that he’d be less of a comic relief. Ross doesn’t question T’Challa’s role as the Black Panther after he brought Zemo into custody. It’s also at the casino that Stan Lee cameos as a relatively reserved gambler. The irony of Freeman and Serkis being cast in earlier films, is that we end up seeing Bilbo and Gollum interact again. Making them the “Tolkien white guys” of the movie. When Okoye is made, she tosses her wig and they engage in an awesome casino fight. Okoye uses her spear, Nakia fights hand to hand, and Klaue uses his arm cannon on T’Challa. The fight is taken to the streets where Okoye & Nakia commandeer their Vibranium car. They also use one of the kimoyo beads to activate another interesting piece of technology that allows Shuri to remotely drive a car in a Wakandan simulator.

T’Challa gets into Black Panther mode by flipping onto the car and activativing his kinetic energy in a fun car chase. Okoye does pretty well too, but their car is comically destroyed. Black Panther succeeds by scratching the wheels in Klaue’s car. Rather than spark an international incident out of revenge, Klaue is instead taken into custody. T’Challa & Okoye secretly listen to Ross as he and Klaue have a game of riddles. Klaue reveals Wakanda to be rich with Vibranium and advanced technology before being rescued by Killmonger. Black Panther defuses a bomb, but hesitates when he notices the Wakandan ring around Erik’s neck. Ross is gravely injured from a bullet wound after saving Nakia. Just like Bucky, Ross is healed in Wakanda by Shuri and goes on a journey of self discovery. T’Challa seeks answers from Zuri, who reveals himself to be responsible for N’Jobu’s death. T’Chaka was forced to kill his own brother in defense and abandon his child to cover up the existence of Wakanda. It was clearly a big mistake since Erik Stevens easily strolls into Wakanda with the body of Klaue and the inner lip tattoo that his father gave him.

Although Killmonger seems sympathetic, he does show his villainy by shooting his pointless girlfriend and killing Klaue out of nowhere. Shuri & Ross reveal Erik’s history as a black ops SEAL who’s high body count earned him the name Killmonger. It’s at the throne room that Erik declares his intentions to complete his father’s work by liberating oppressed black people with devastating Wakandan weapons that they can use to overthrow colonizers. While speaking Wakandan, Erik reveals his name to be N’Jadaka, and exercises his birthright to challenge the throne. The second waterfall fight is more small scale, but just as intense. Killmonger reveals the scarring on his body that represents all the people he’s killed to get to this moment. The one on one fight is once again better since CGI doesn’t distract from how devastating it becomes. Killmonger kills Zuri and throws T’Challa to his “death.” Although it’s obvious they shouldn’t bow to him, Wakanda accepts their new king regardless. HIs visit to the Ancestral Plane is more emotional with his father lost in their home in Oakland.

Nakia, Shuri, and Romanda flee with Ross into the jungle, but Okoye stays behind since she’s too loyal to the throne. She’s hesitant to accept her new king, but her husband W’Kabi is fully supportive of his plans for global domination. Fortunately, T’Challa is found mostly alive with the Jabari tribe. A noble act that earns their respect. T’Challa is brought back to health with a Heart-Shaped Herb that Nakia managed to take before Erik burned the rest. His visit to the Ancestral Plane is more angry with the former Black Panther’s being scolded for turning their backs on the world. Making Killmonger the first villain in the MCU to change the heroes ideology. T’Challa asks for M’Baku’s help in battle, but he refuses. The only help he receives is from Shuri using sonic weapons, Nakia dressed as a Dora Milaje, and Ross shooting down aircrafts before they leave Wakanda. Black Panther’s grand entrance is magnificent with T’Challa declaring himself not to be dead. Although most of Black Panther is very strong, the climax is the weakest part. It’s very much an overblown CGI fest complete with CGI war rhinos and Killmonger dressed in a CGI gold variant of the Panther habit. Which would be totally fine if the CGI didn’t look like a video game. T’Challa fighting Killmonger in the underground railroad resembles X-Men from the year 2000.

It’s not as good as the waterfall fight, but at least the Dora Milaje fighting together and the Jabari coming to the rescue can make up for it. Okoye snaps W’Kabi out of it when he sees that the war in Wakanda is wrong. As that fight ends, Ross manges to shoot down the last aircraft. Leaving T’Challa to outsmart his cousin using the Vibranium defusing railroad against him. With Erik fatally wounded, his wish is granted with a final view of the sunset. He also says the line “Bury me in the ocean, like my ancestor’s who jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage.” Let’s just say it’s not often you hear a line like that in a Disney movie. T’Challa reclaims his throne, kisses Nakia, and peace is restored to Wakanda, but not before a few wrongs are righted. T’Challa & Shuri visit Oakland where the latter reveals his intention to start a Wakandan outreach center in front of amazed children. The original song “All the Stars” plays over the sandy credits sequence before a mid-credits scene that feels more like a proper ending. It’s simply King T’Challa announcing to the United Nations that Wakanda will be open to the world like one big tribe. The after-credits scene offers some excitement for Avengers: Infinity War with a fully recovered Bucky being referred to as the White Wolf. A moniker that previously belonged to an unrelated character.

Black Panther looked promising as soon as I saw the trailer, but the badly photoshopped teaser poster could’ve been better. As a Marvel fan, I was first in line at the theater and I fully enjoyed the experience. Although I appreciated the impact and cultural significance, my complicated feelings started to form when audiences wouldn’t stop talking about the movie months after its appropriate Black History month release. I just wanted to see Infinity War, but casual audiences who didn’t even see his first appearance in Civil War elevated Black Panther above the massive event. The worst part was people who got accusatory when anyone offered the slightest bit of criticism to the movie. My enjoyment returned after a rewatch and I was fine with it becoming a billion dollar box-office hit. Then I had to question Black Panther becoming the first superhero movie nominated for Best Picture. It just seemed like special treatment since The Dark Knight, The Winter Soldier, or Logan weren’t even nominated. I was happy when Marvel Studios received their first Oscars, since Best Original Score, Costume Design, and Production Design were the most deserving awards. Although I maintained my opinion for awhile, my appreciation for Black Panther grew with the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman. In the end, he was a true hero who fought through his illness to leave an undeniable impact on superhero cinema. Black Panther is guaranteed to make you scream “Wakanda forever!”

38. Black Panther

T’Challa vs. Killmonger

Followed by: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Hammer of the Gods

Thor: Ragnarok made the God of Thunder cool again. As the seventeenth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor: Ragnarok decided to reinvent the strongest Avenger. Although Thor and to a lesser extent Thor: The Dark World are well liked by fans of the MCU, most people wouldn’t claim them as their favorites. The first movie was more of a cosmic introduction focused on world building, but the second movie went a little too Shakespearean. Unlike Iron Man or Captain America, it took 4 years, 2 Guardians of the Galaxy movies, and a Spider-Man reboot to finally complete the Thor trilogy. So it was clear that radical changes needed to be made in order to make Thor worthy of anticipation.

The Ragnarok title was encouraging since the devastation of Ragnarök is so important to Norse mythology. The event was covered in Marvel comics as early as the 1978 Thor #272-278. The early title reveal hinted at Asgard’s darkest chapter yet, but that changed as soon as offbeat New Zealand director Taika Waititi was hired to direct. The Thor trilogy has the rare distinction of having a different director for each movie. Giving every movie a distinctly different feel. Although I prefer a stoic God of Thunder, I can’t deny that Ragnarok is easily one of the funniest movies in the MCU. My anticipation only grew when “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin was finally played with the first teaser. The hammer of the gods, will drive our ships to new lands…

35. Thor Ragnarok

Thor vs. Hulk

Thor: Ragnarok needed to answer the question of where Thor and Hulk were during Civil War. According to a hilarious non-canon mockumentary short titled Team Thor, he was laying back in Australia with his flatmate Darryl. There were actually three equally funny shorts released with the Blu-ray for Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, and Thor: Ragnarok. On the ABC side of the MCU, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was heading into season 5, but Inhumans was a major disappointment. On the Netflix side of the MCU, The Defenders was a relative success with a Punisher spin-off on the way. The MCU only expanded with The Runaways heading to Hulu as well. Yet despite all my options, I remained a steadfast Thor fan. Although I enjoyed the teaser, I wasn’t a fan of Thor’s hammer being destroyed or his hair being cut. The image of Thor is so uniquely magnificent that I couldn’t help but be bothered by it. Not many superheroes carry a hammer or have long flowing blonde hair. Chris Hemsworth is mostly to blame since he was desperate to reinvent Thor.

Along with his appearance, the thunder from down under was finally given a chance to be funny. Thor always had his moments of levity, but he was typically more serious than his other lighthearted Avengers. Since Hemsworth was easily the funniest part of Ghostbusters and Vacation, Thor took life a little less seriously without feeling like a different character. It has now been 4 years since The Dark World and 2 years since Age of Ultron. So many Thor characters are used and/or omitted entirely. About 90% of Ragnarok takes place in space since Jane Foster, Erik Selvig, and Darcy Lewis would have slowed the movie down. Ragnarok is a genuine 80’s style adventure with cosmic weirdness and several storylines effortlessly blended together. They somehow managed to pull off Ragnarok, Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions, Planet Hulk, and a Doctor Strange cameo in only 2 hours & 10 minutes. Ragnarok begins with a fiery Marvel Studios logo followed by Thor stuck in a cage on Muspelheim. The hellish plane is one of the remaining Nine Realms I expected to see in a Thor film. The movie’s humor is made clear right off the bat with Thor telling a skeleton what he’s been up to since leaving Midgard in search of Infinity Stones. Thor’s appearance is closer to later comics with a darker red cape, discless breastplate, and his long hair in the usual Viking braid.

I knew Muspelheim had to mean the arrival of fire demon Surtur. Ragnarok was sure to include any remaining member of Thor’s mythical rogues gallery. Surtur is a serious threat, but Mr. Krabs himself Clancy Brown does make him a bit less horrifying. Surtur recounts the prophecy of Ragnarök that foretells Asgard’s destruction at his hands. All he has to do is unite his crown with the Eternal Flame in Odin’s treasure room and grow to the size of a mountain. Meanwhile, Thor dangles uncontrollably and mistakes Surtur’s crown for an eyebrow (an inside joke for Marvel fans). What follows is Thor finally going full God of Thunder before he’s stripped of his hammer. Thor easily defeats fire demons and obtains Surtur’s crown in an awesome first fight appropriately set to “Immigrant Song.” I’ve been wanting to hear the song ever since the first movie since it’s the only well known song about Norse mythology. Similar to “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath, it was only a matter of time. Luckily the Guardians of the Galaxy feel of the movie made that a possibility. Thor flies away from a fire dragon, but Heimdall fails to open the Bifröst.

The Rainbow Bridge is now under the not so watchful eyes of Skurge. Karl Urban is no stranger to fantasy worlds, so he put on a thick accent, shaved his head, and got into shape in a way that ended up looking close to the comics. Skurge obtains his signature machine guns (and a Shake Weight) from his travels on Midgard. He’s not very bright, but Skurge does manage to return Thor to his home for the first time in 2 years. Loki sitting on the throne of Asgard disguised as Odin is finally addressed with the God of Mischief building a monument to himself and forcing everyone to watch a play in his honor. The unexpected theater performance puts a humorous spin on the events of The Dark World. The scene of Loki “dying” on Svartalfheim is performed by Chris’ seldom seen brother Luke Hemsworth as Thor, Sam Elliott as Odin, and Matt Damon himself as Loki. The play is the closest thing to an appearance from Lady Sif since Jamie Alexander was busy with her show Blindspot. Thor actors are strangely fickle when it comes to the franchise. If they’re not killed off, they’re either left out, recast, or appear in a limited capacity.

Anthony Hopkins for some reason thought Transformers: The Last Knight was more important, so he doesn’t narrate or wear Odin’s armor. Instead, he also gets a chance to be funny while impersonating Loki in a lounge robe. Thor brings his “father” up to speed while playing with his hammer that he uses to reveal his brother. Tom Hiddleston is the most consistent supporting player since this is Loki’s 4th appearance. His look is about the same, but he does eventually wear more blue than green. Loki has gone from prince to villain to anti-hero to slightly less evil anti-hero. Which is why he’s willing to help his brother find Odin after he was abandoned on Earth. In our brief time spent on Earth, we learn that Odin isn’t in New York, that Jane dumped Thor between movies, and the latter is about to receive a visit from the Sorcerer Supreme. Like I said in my Doctor Strange review, it’s awesome to see the Master of the Mystic Arts show up whenever a magical problem arises. Strange traps Loki in a portal since he’s a major threat kept on a watchlist, and summons Thor to the Sanctum Sanctorum. They chat over a magical beer in a slightly different take than the mid-credits scene. Strange locates Odin with a spell that requires a lock of Thor’s hair, then slings the Asgardian brothers to Norway.

Although Ragnarok may go a little overboard with its jokes, I take solace in the fact that sillier ideas were cut. Waititi very nearly included a scene of Asgard during the 1980’s and had Loki being trapped in a portapotty instead of falling for 30 minutes! The biggest last minute change was having Odin ascend to Valhalla in a much more dignified way instead of become a crazy hobo who dies in a New York ally. The change was so last minute that some of it can still be seen in the teaser trailer. Thor & Loki are instead brought to the peaceful Norway where they share a joke-free moment with their father. Odin reveals the existence of their sister Hela who will arrive as soon as he dies. True to his word, the Goddess of Death immediately makes her presence known. I never expected Hela to become the villain of any Thor movie, but she was the first villainess of the MCU. Unlike the movie, Hela was originally the daughter of Loki who ruled both Hel and Niflheim. Making her Odinsdottir gave Thor a more personal foe to vanquish. Versatile actress Cate Blanchett was perfectly cast as the seductively gothic Goddess of Death. She even manages to make her ridiculous comic accurate antler helmet look good.

Thor & Loki get into god mode with Thor striking his umbrella just like how Donald Blake did in the original comics. Hela proves her might by destroying Mjolnir less than an hour into the movie. Before we have time to process that, Loki is sent hurtling out of the Bifröst and Hela does the same to Thor after engaging in a brief fight. The Warriors Three are on the other end of the bridge, but they’re killed so unceremoniously that it feels like a slight slap in the face. Ray Stevenson at least gets a few lines in before Volstagg is killed. Fandral being killed at least gave Zachary Levi a certain other hero to play the following year. The only warrior who gets a fighting chance is Tadanobu Asano’s Hogun trying to hold off Hela with the armies of Asgard. Hela easily takes them out with her magically forming weapons. Although I would have prefered Amora the Enchantress, Hela is a logical second choice to make Skurge the Executioner. He’s given his comic accurate axe and the task of rounding up Asgardian citizens. Idris Elba plays a far more renegade Heimdall with dreadlocks who reclaims his sword and grants most of Asgard sanctuary in a very Lord of the Rings part of the realm.

Most of Asgard sees Hela reveal its true past as a warmongering people led by Odin and Hela using Mjolnir. Hela executes her plan by resurrecting her dead army, including the giant Fenris Wolf. It’s also in the treasure room that Hela finally confirms the Infinity Gauntlet easter egg seen in the first movie to be a fake. Meanwhile, most of the action takes place away from the Nine Realms on the waste planet Sakaar. It’s there that Thor is stripped of half his cape and must contend with fighting without his hammer. But he’s ultimately taken prisoner by Scrapper 142 otherwise known as Valkyrie. I was expecting the leader of the all-female Valkyrior to be the obvious love interest after Jane & Sif were gone. Although I’d prefer the blonde Brunnhilde, Tessa Thompson does have natural chemistry with Hemsworth. They’re just depicted as warriors who grow a mutual respect for one another. Valkyrie’s costume is similar to the comic without the metal breastplate. She’s also a heavy drinker who wants to forget her past after Hela killed most of her sisters during the ride of the Valkyries. The sequence is like a painting since Waititi takes full advantage of comic book imagery. Sakaar is very much modeled after colorful Jack Kirby artwork.

The ruler of Sakaar is the hedonistic Grandmaster. He’s just as eccentric as his brother the Collector, but his skin isn’t blue since Jeff Goldblum already played a blue alien in Earth Girls Are Easy. Goldblum takes full advantage of his improvisational skills with a hilariously off-kilter performance. Frequent WaItiti actress Rachel House plays his chief enforcer Topaz. Valkyrie takes Thor to the Grandmaster where he forces him to fight in his Contest of Champions. Unlike the superhero filled comic storyline, the contest is gladiatorial combat between unwilling alien lifeforms. Thor also runs into Loki, who’s been there awhile and gained favor with the Grandmaster. Watiti is no stranger to superhero movies (*cough* Green Lantern), so he was perfect for the voice of the CGI Korg. It’s at this point that the Planet Hulk influence becomes more obvious. Unlike the storyline that I read, the arena is more like a sporting event with a less serious take on most featured characters. Korg is still a Kronan rock alien, but he’s more like a soft spoken Polynesian with a ton of funny dialogue. Alien ant warrior Meik is also less tragic with a purple exoskeleton and robot body. Thor begins to grow indifferent to his brother’s constant deception, which begins to affect Loki. He at least tells Thor about the Grandmaster’s astonishingly savage champion before disappearing.

As Thor readies for battle with a new weapon, Stan Lee himself cuts his hair in a wacky cameo as an alien barber. Hulk returns after 2 years in order to do Planet Hulk within the Thor franchise. In the comics, Hulk was exiled from the Earth for being too powerful. Eventually having to fight for his life on Sakaar where he becomes a hero and even finds love with an alien. The movie manages to keep some of that by having his Quinjet fly into a wormhole. Hulk is beloved by the people of Sakaar in his new gladiator role. The Hulk CGI has changed slightly to incorporate Mark Ruffalo’s facial features. All because this is the first movie to finally have the Hulk speak more consistently. Like the comics, he talks like a toddler and was able to suppress Bruce Banner all this time. Although I’m not crazy about him becoming comic relief, his trademark smashing makes up for it. A short haired Thor gears up with a winged helmet and greets the Hulk as a friend from work. Their long awaited rematch after The Avengers is everything you want to see from the strongest Avengers.

Thor uses a pair of swords, but ultimately picks up Hulk’s giant hammer. He even tries to calm down the Green Goliath with the ol’ “Sun’s getting real low” speech before Hulk uses the same body slamming move he used on Loki. Hulk starts to gain the upperhand, but Thor suddenly gains control over thunder without the use of his hammer. The Grandmaster cheats by incapacitating him with the shocking device on his neck. After Thor’s fourth obligatory shirtless scene (and a surprisingly naked Hulk in a hot tub), Thor plans to escape using the Hulk’s Quinjet. They argue like children, but Thor eventually gets through to him. He even manages to get through to Valkyrie with a speech about what heroes do. Valkyrie & Loki are tasked by the Grandmaster to find the prisoners when they turn up missing. Hulk only becomes Banner again when Thor activates a message from Black Widow. Bruce is understandably disturbed by the fact that he’s been the Hulk for 2 years. Tony Stark is referenced twice with a clever callback to his Point Break nickname and Bruce wearing his clothes on their way off the planet. Although he’s still fairly reserved, this was also Ruffalo’s chance to be funny.

They avoid detection in a Hulk parade and encounter Valkyrie, who takes them to a chained up Loki. Probably the best bit of improvisation is Thor’s hilariously out of nowhere story about Loki becoming a snake when they were children. An earlier joke references a time from the comics when Thor was turned into a frog. Loki agrees to help for safe passage. The brothers come to an agreement of never seeing eachother again while shooting blasters in a hallway. Thor even does “Get help” after bringing it up in the elevator. It’s only after one too many betrayals that Thor leaves Loki on Sakaar with a shocking device attached. Korg finally starts a revolution as a distraction and the rest escape using the Grandmaster’s pleasure vehicle that he uses for orgies. The flying scene calls back to one of the few highlights from The Dark World. A ship destroying chase leads them to the crudely named “Devil’s Anus.” As they return to a war-torn Asgard, the Revengers prepare for battle on the Bifröst. It’s a unique take on a bridge climax that sees Thor waiting for Hela in the throne room, Valkyrie suiting up in a less than comic accurate white costume, and Banner attempting to Hulk out in order to fight Fenris Wolf. The fight between Hela brings back the lesson Odin taught his sons when they were children about never seeking war, but always being ready for it.

As Thor fights with his father’s staff, Hela takes out one of his eyes. Loki arrives in his bended horns with Korg and more gladiators to rescue Heimdall and the Asgardians. Never thought I’d see Hulk fighting a giant CGI wolf on the big screen, but it’s just as cool as it sounds. Thor seeks help from Odin in a vision and he tells his son that the power was inside him all along. Leading to another kickass “Immigrant Song” fight where Thor unleashes all of his thunder on Hela and her undead army. Skurge even gets redemption by using his machine guns in a worthy sacrifice. When they fail to stop Hela, Thor realizes the only option is to allow Ragnarök to happen. Loki unites Surtur’s crown with the Eternal Flame, but not before staring at the Tesseract (remember that!). As Surtur rises to destroy Asgard, Hela is defeated once and for all. In the end, the people of Asgard lose their home, but gain Thor as their king. He wears an eye patch like his father and Loki agrees to stay by him. After a few more jokes from Korg and a stylish credits sequence, things get deadly serious in a mid-credits scene where the Asgardian vessel on its way to Earth is overshadowed by the enormous warship Sanctuary II. Things lighten up again with a humorous after-credits scene of the Grandmaster calling Sakaar’s revolution a tie. Thor: Ragnarok is a fun spectacle that gave the God of Thunder a fighting chance.

36. Thor Ragnarok

The Revengers vs. Hela

Preceded by: Thor: The Dark World & Followed by: Thor: Love and Thunder

Does Whatever a Spider Can

Spider-Man: Homecoming finally brought Spidey home to the MCU. As the sixthteeth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man: Homecoming became the third live-action iteration of the superhero in only 15 years. Sony was so confident in the success of the Amazing Spider-Man franchise that they went overboard with plans for their own cinematic universe. There were plans for at least 2 more sequels, a Sinister Six movie, a Black Cat movie, a Spider-Man 2099 movie, and a Venom movie. I started to lose hope that my favorite superhero would ever be part of the MCU, but almost every project was cancelled as soon as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a critical and financial disappointment. I secretly celebrated the failure, because that had to be enough to bring Sony to their spider-senses.

Sure enough, the Sony Pictures hack revealed secret meetings between the company and Marvel Studios. Before I could even process the deal, Tom Holland was cast as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War with a solo movie the following year. It was a dream come true, because as much as I love what the studio was able to do with lesser known characters, Spider-Man is still the most iconic Marvel comics superhero. My only fear was Sony’s prisistant involvement. Producer Kevin Feige was still involved, but he had to work with Sony producer Amy Pascal. The deal meant Sony retained creative control, distribution, and the right to include characters from the MCU. Indie director Jon Watts, casting decisions, posters, and trailers worried me further, but I was thoroughly entertained by the time it came out…

33. Spider-Man Homecoming

Spider-Man holds a boat together

Spider-Man: Homecoming went with a more lighthearted approach. Unlike the previous Spider-Man films, Civil War made it clear that they weren’t doing the origin story for the third time in a row. I have mixed feelings about that, because Spider-Man has one of the best superhero origins in comics. But I guess it would’ve been difficult to top the almost word for word retelling in the 2002 original. The 2012 reboot made the mistake of adding too much detail. So I guess I can’t blame them for wanting to explore an angst-free teenage Peter Parker with a coming of age approach to his life as Spider-Man. Although Jon Watts hadn’t directed much, he was a surprisingly good fit for the youthful hero. Even 6 different screenwriters didn’t keep the reboot from being both coherent and breezy. Marvel was so determined to do something different that several changes were made that continue to bother me as a longtime Spider-Man fan.

Peter is never seen being bit by a radioactive spider. Uncle Ben is acknowledged, but his death isn’t important to the story. “With great power comes great responsibility” was only ever paraphrased in Civil War. Although J. K. Simmons wanted to return, the Daily Bugle is also left out. Since Tobey Maguire spent less than half of his movie in high school and Andrew Garfield spent only one movie in high school, Marvel cast an actor who could convincingly play a 15 year old Sophomore. Many actors were considered including Dylan O’Brien and Asa Butterfield, but there was just something special about the British Tom Holland. His youthful energy and spot on American accent made him perfect for Peter Parker. While his natural athleticism and ability to do a flip made him perfect for Spider-Man. I was only sceptical about his casting because I hadn’t seen him in anything beforehand. I was proven wrong as soon as he appeared on screen and started cracking jokes. Fun fact: Tom Holland is only one year younger than me and we share a birthday. It’s almost like he was destined to play my favorite superhero.

Apart from the main villain, Holland was the only casting decision I was fully on board with. Everything else felt like they were more concerned with showing Queens, New York’s diversity than actual comic book accuracy. While at the same time putting a lot of emphasis on existing MCU characters. The first trailer made that very clear by having Tony Stark narrating most of it and ending with a shot of Spider-Man & Iron Man that isn’t in the movie. The international trailer was a bit better, but the second and third trailers continued to reveal a little too much. The teaser poster was a cool laid back design with Avengers Tower in the background, but the official poster is a chaotic mess. Robert Downey Jr. was once again front and center since Sony for some reason thought they couldn’t sell a Spider-Man movie without him. Sony also felt the need to announce every single ethnically diverse student in Peter’s class regardless of importance. Homecoming does get PC less than a minute into the movie, but fortunately the movie never suffers for it. This is still one of the funniest movies in the MCU regardless of Sony’s involvement. Similar to The Incredible Hulk, Homecoming isn’t fully owned by Disney since another studio is attached to it. It’s messy, but I’d rather have Spidey in the MCU then not at all.

Spider-Man: Homecoming begins with the Sony & Columbia Pictures logo before showing a drawing of the Avengers during the Battle of New York. The picture belongs to the daughter of Adrian Toomes. In the comics, the Vulture is an elderly man who uses a wingsuit of his own invention to commit crimes. John Malkovich was set to play Vulture in Spider-Man 4, but the movie was cancelled. Since the Vulture made his debut as early as The Amazing Spider-Man #2, it made sense to make him the main antagonist. What better actor to play him than a man who’s very familiar with winged characters. After Batman and Birdman, the 65 year old Michael Keaton was equally perfect casting for a mostly one note villain. Adrian Toomes is given extra depth thanks to his working class status. Toomes runs a salvage company that attempts to clean up alien debris before being shut down by the Stark funded Damage Control. The Marvel construction company finally makes an appearance after their TV series failed to materialize. Tyne Daly as Anne Marie Hoag puts them out of business, but Toomes retaliates by keeping most of the tech for himself. Making Vulture another villain that Stark inadvertently created.

After an 8 years later title card that totally screws up the timeline (thanks a lot Sony), Vulture becomes a low level criminal who steals tech from Avenger battles with the rest of his crew. I never thought a villain as obscure as the Terrible Tinkerer would appear in a Spider-Man movie, but Phineas Mason is the one building weapons from Chitauri tech. He builds an impressive wingsuit with turbines and clawed feet that make the Vulture more fit for the MCU. A helmet is added for high altitudes, but Toomes’ flight jacket does pay homage to the classic Steve Ditko design. The Marvel Studios logo follows the prologue, set to a reworked version of the classic 60’s cartoon theme. What follows is a short film by Peter Parker. Although he isn’t a photographer, vlogging does pay partial homage to his comic book routes. Peter documents his experience traveling to Berlin to help Iron Man fight Captain America. Jon Favreau is brought back in a much larger role since he hasn’t been relevant since Iron Man 3. Happy takes Peter to Berlin much to his annoyance and shows him his new upgraded suit. Peter also records the airport battle, even though there are some inconsistencies, plus the fact that it’s an active fight.

The vlog ends with Tony in the car with Peter using the alibi that he’s part of the Stark internship. Although he’s not in the movie as much as the promotional material suggests, Tony was necessary for the mentor/mentee role he plays in Peter’s life. Most of Homecoming centers on Peter trying to get the hang of his super advanced spider-suit. While I’m not always crazy about the movie feeling like Iron Man 4 half the time, I still can’t deny how amazing his costume is (I just wish his webs were more prominent). There’s the classic red & blue color scheme, high powered web shooters, a spider symbol that’s also a drone, Steve Ditko inspired web pit gliders, a spider-parachute, spider-tracers, and so many other features. There’s even an A.I. that Peter affectionately nicknames Karen for no apparent reason. Jennifer Connelly voices Karen since her husband was the voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. It’s another occasionally funny dynamic that gives Spider-Man someone to talk to apart from himself. Most features aren’t accessible since Tony wants Peter to be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man that Happy keeps an eye on.

When Happy repeatedly ignores his texts, Peter returns to class. Similar to The Amazing Spider-Man, Parker’s high school is now Midtown School of Science and Technology. Making the school more science oriented with every classmate being as smart as Peter. Just not smart enough to create their own web fluid in chemistry class. Spider-Man has one of the best supporting casts in comics, but there are a lot of weird casting choices made for the sake of diversity. Unlike the previous movies, Liz Allan is Peter’s high school crush instead of Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane Watson. It’s closer to the original comics, but the biracial Laura Harrier plays her instead of a blonde. I understand Peter liking a popular Senior like Liz, but they’re relationship is mostly an innocent crush. Also unlike the previous movies, Ned Leeds is Peter’s best friend instead of Harry Osborn. In the comics, Ned is a rival Daily Bugle co-worker who marries Betty Brant. In the movie, the Filipino Jacob Batalon plays a fun loving LEGO obsessed Ned who’s easily one of the funniest characters in the movie. Despite his name, Ned’s personality is closer to the Ganke character from the Ultimate Miles Morales comics.

The Nice Guys breakout star Angourie Rice plays a teenage school reporter version of Betty Brant, but her blonde hair and headband are very similar to Gwen Stacy for some reason. I have the hardest time buying the scrawny Guatemalan Tony Revolori as the intimidating dumb blonde bully Flash Thompson. I know he’s trying to be a jerk with the “Penis Parker” nickname, but a snobby academic is just not Flash. Former Disney star Zendaya was the first casting announcement who made me nervous since she was apparently playing an original character named Michelle. People were so confident that she would be playing Mary Jane that I think they gave her the MJ initials at the last minute. Instead of a redheaded party girl, Michelle is a sarcastic weirdo who sketches people, protests, and is very observant of Peter. It’s not what I wanted, but I can’t deny how funny she is. Most teachers are equally hilarious with former geek Martin Starr retroactively becoming Mr. Harrington after his brief appearance in The Incredible Hulk. Hannibal Buress also has his moments as Coach Wilson. The strangest MCU connection is Kenneth Choi playing Principal Morita, the descendant of a Howling Commando.

Although they probably go a little overboard, Homecoming is interesting for how it portrays everyday life in the MCU. Students discuss real life superheroes and Chris Evans makes an unexpected appearance as Captain America providing humorous public service announcements. Peter quits the academic decathlon in order to focus on crime-fighting as Spider-Man. Since it’s groundlevel work, Spider-Man doesn’t swing from skyscrapers the way we’re used to. Instead he helps old ladies cross the street, returns stolen bikes, and webs up innocent people he thinks are carjackers. Which incurs the wrath of Stan Lee’s cameo as a nearby neighbor named Gary. Things get real when thugs dressed in Avenger masks break into a bank using advanced weapons. Spidey does his best, but the Dominican sandwich shop he visits is destroyed in the process. Ned discovers Peter’s secret identity when he accidentally crawls into his room, but Aunt May is still unaware.

It’s almost a rule that Aunt May gets younger with every passing film. Although I would’ve prefered an elderly May Parker, the Italian Marisa Tomei is great as a hip, but feisty aunt who worries about her nephew. Even if she is more attractive than she needs to be. Her inclusion in Civil War was important since the dynamic between Peter and his Aunt May will always be crucial to his story. Ned bombards Peter with constant questions about being a superhero, including wanting to be the “Guy in the chair.” Ned lets it slip that Peter knows Spider-Man and that he can get him to make an appearance at Liz’s party. The conflict kicks in when Peter notices more advanced weapons being sold to criminals. Logan Marshall-Green plays the over enthusiastic Jackson Brice using wrist gauntlets as the Shocker. He’s quickly replaced by Bokeem Woodbine as Herman Schultz when Toomes accidentally disintegrates Brice. Apart from a yellow & brown jacket, there’s not much resemblance to the Shocker from the comics. Their potential buyer is Donald Glover as Aaron Davis, the Ultimate version of the Prowler who’s also the uncle of Miles Morales. The casting of Glover was due to him voicing the latter in an animated series.

Spider-Man chases their van in much more residential areas than we’re used to. The whole humorous montage is one of many callbacks to John Hughes movies. It ends when Spidey has his first terrifying encounter with the Vulture. His spider-parachute saves him, but Iron Man rescues him from drowning. The Mark XLVII armor pays homage to the Ultimate comics design with more grey than red or gold. Tony continues to tell Peter to stay out of the fight, but he’s not even there to tell him in person. Peter & Ned attempt to study the alien tech, and even attach a spider-tracer to the criminals when they trace the power surge to the school. The holographic tracking device leads them to Washington D.C. Luckily the academic decathlon is being held in the same location. This is the first Spider-Man movie where the hero leaves New York, but it puts the wallcrawler in more unique locations to swing around in. But first, Peter removes his suits tracker and Ned disables the Training Wheels protocol that prevents him from using the other features. Only then does Karen show up and his webbing goes haywire. Stark even included an “Instant Kill” feature for some reason.

The first fight between Spider-Man and Vulture is atop an armored truck carrying more high tech merchandise (including an Ultron head). Spider-Man ends up trapped in the truck thanks to a phasing device. Being stuck in a secure bunker gives him time to reflect and familiarize himself with his suit. Things become a lot more urgant when the Chitauri tech in his backpack turns out to be a bomb. As Midtown wins the decathlon, Spider-Man desperately tries to save his class. The main reason for the scenery change was to get Spidey to climb the Washington Monument. It’s a creative sequence that ends with Spider-Man successful evading police helicopters to rescue his friends. Turning Spider-Man into a local hero in the process. Back in New York, Karen helps Peter track down Aaron Davis in order to get information using a ridiculously deep interrogation voice. Aaron is surprisingly helpful, but he still webs him up anyway. The next fight takes place on the Staten Island Ferry. It’s there that Peter ignores Aunt May’s call, avoids talking to Mr. Stark, comes face to face with Toomes, and even discovers the identity of the newest buyer.

The Hispanic Michael Mando plays Mac Gargan, but he isn’t the Scorpion quite yet. Spider-Man does a much better job in fighting off criminals with his webbing. His second fight with the Vulture goes well at first, but a blast from a Chitauri weapon splits the ferry in half. Similar to Spider-Man 2, a bunch of webbing and Spider-Man holding on with all his strength make an impression. It’s just not enough to fix the problem. So Iron Man shows up to finish the job. Stark is really here this time, in order to confiscate the suit for the mess Peter made. Without the suit, Peter returns to his normal life and even asks Liz to the homecoming dance. What follows is a twist that no one could’ve saw coming. Turns out Adrian Toomes is Liz’s dad. So meeting his date’s father is way more awkward than usual. The moment is made even better when Toomes slowly realizes Peter Parker is Spider-Man on the way to the dance. Toomes tries to let him off with a warning, but Peter swings into action anyway. He dons the crappy homemade costume from his YouTube videos and uses it in the final battle.

The costume is inspired by the Scarlet Spider suit from Ben Reilly comics. The Shocker nearly gets the better of Spidey, but Ned saves the day and finally gets a chance to be the “Guy in the chair.” Spider-Man steals Flash’s car in order to get to the Vulture, now equipped with high altitude wings. The final score is an invisible jet loaded with tech on its way from Avengers Tower to the new Avengers Compound. Moving day is what kept Happy busy for most of the movie. The final fight sees Spider-Man fly high by webbing onto the Vulture, sticking to the jet, and causing it to crash just to prevent him from stealing from it. The climax ends in Coney Island where Vulture causes serious damage to the young hero. Peter honors his comic book routes by saving his enemy at the last minute instead of leave him to die. Unfortunately, Liz moves away, but Happy acknowledges what he’s done.

They arrive at the Avengers Compound where Tony congratulates him as well. Tony even went to the trouble of building him an Iron Spider suit and initiating him into the Avengers. Peter honors his comic book routes once more by turning down the offer. Gwyneth Paltrow makes an unexpected appearance as Tony finally proposes to Pepper with a ring Happy has been carrying since 2008. In the end, Peter gets to keep the spider-suit, but he really should have shut his door. Aunt May discovers his identity for the first time with a hilarious “What the f-.” A fun credits sequence set to “Blitzkrieg Bop” leads to a mid-credits scene where Toomes has minor redemption by refusing to give Gargan Spider-man’s identity. The much anticipated after-credits scene subverts expectations by having Cap deliver another speech about patience often leading to disappointment. Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t my definitive take on the wallcrawler, but it is far from disappointing.

34. Spider-Man Homecoming

Spider-Man vs. the Vulture

Followed by: Spider-Man: Far From Home

Keep Us Together

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 gave further development to this team of lovable a-holes. As the fifteenth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 went deeper instead of bigger. Vol. 2 was the closest thing to a strong MCU sequel after the critically acclaimed Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but I still prefer the original. A big reason for its consistency was the return of director James Gunn. Unlike most MCU directors, Gunn’s influence made the relatively obscure Guardians of the Galaxy what they are today. Disney saw the potential in the franchise, so Vol. 2 was fast-tracked to 2017.

Although it could’ve had a subtitle, Vol. 2 is much more fitting considering the Awesome Mix soundtrack that make the movies so fun. Despite being released during Phase Three, Vol. 2 takes place only months after the first movie. It was always Gunn’s intention to follow Star-Lord’s parentage, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so emotional. Although there are fewer planets explored (and only one new Guardian added to the team), Vol. 2 is probably the most beautiful film in the MCU. A variety of colors and a surprising attention to detail help to elevate an original story that doesn’t affect much in the long run…

31. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

The Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 proves it was enough just to catch up with a team I never expected to enjoy as much as I did. 2017 was a particularly big year for Marvel Studios since Vol. 2 was one of three movies released. The scale of the MCU just got too big. Netflix was similarly expanding with the release of Iron Fist intending to lead to The Defenders. Meanwhile on ABC, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was in its 5th season and Inhumans was unfortunately on the way too. I guess I was just expecting more from Vol. 2, but I was happy with any fanservice or obscure comic book references James Gunn was willing to throw in. Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, Groot, Nebula, and the Ravagers are the only major characters who return. The Nova Corps are mentioned, but never seen, the Collector is irrelevant, and Thanos is still a looming threat. There’s a bit more Earth in the sequel, but most planets are either barren or shown at a more intimate scale.

Marvel shows off once again by opening in 1980 Missouri where we see a digitally de-aged Kurt Russell looking a lot like Snake Plissken. Now I’m starting to think they only hire these well known 80’s actors so that we can see them young again. Russell was the perfect choice to play Quill’s father since his rugged good looks and tendency to play roguish characters are very similar to Chris Pratt. Laura Haddock also returns to play Meredith Quill in her younger days when she fell in love with a spaceman despite having no clue what he’s talking about set to “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass. Although the Awesome Mix Vol. 2 isn’t as immediately recognizable as the first soundtrack, it did open my eyes to other classics. Quill’s walkman is given even more importance in a very unexpected way. Even scenes without Star-Lord need his music in it. Although “Fox on the Run” by Sweet is only heard in the trailer.

34 years later in 2014, the Guardians of the Galaxy are slowly learning to work as a team who work odd jobs throughout the galaxy. They’ve recently been hired by the golden, prideful, perfection obsessed Sovereign race to protect their Anulax batteries from a pink inter-dimensional beast called Abilisk. Along with the repaired Milano, the team is refitted with Rocket’s Aero-Rig jetpacks, invisible spacesuits, and heavier weapons. Similar to Avengers: Age of Ultron, Vol. 2 is loaded with hit or miss jokes and scenes that are almost always undercut with humor. Most characters are still very funny, but some jokes are a little too immature for my taste. Chris Pratt became an instant star since the first movies release. Peter Quill is less of a screw up and more serious about leading the team. His head is still in the 80’s with several references to David Hasselhoff and Pac-Man. Apart from his mask and red trench coat, he’s often seen wearing a shirt with alien writing on it.

Zoe Saldana softens Gamora a bit thanks to her motherly role on the team and the unspoken thing she has with Quill. Gamora’s outfit is the most drastically altered with a mostly black laid back ensemble. Dave Batista is at the top of his comedic game, but I’m not sure we needed to know about Drax’s nipple sensitivity or sexual thoughts. Drax retains the blue pants he got from the Nova Corps, as well as his over enthusiasm for battle. Bradley Cooper had an opportunity to explore Rocket’s douchier qualities since he needs to learn a lesson in teamwork all over again. A particularly funny running gag sees several more characters mistake Rocket for increasingly different animals that aren’t a raccoon. The CGI used on Rocket looks even better and he retains the blue vest given to him by the Nova Corps. But the biggest breakout Guardian once again is Groot, or should I say Baby Groot.

After the adorable dancing Baby Groot mid-credits scene became such a hit, they couldn’t pass up the chance to explore that version further. Vin Diesel lightens his voice to continue saying only “I am Groot.” Every Guardian cares for Groot like a son in a variety of precious ways. The opening credits are shown with Baby Groot dancing to “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra as the team battles the Abilisk. When the beast is vanquished, the Sovereign High Priestess Ayesha extends her condescending gratitude. Despite her size Elizabeth Debicki’s height isn’t shown too often. Her primary importance is bringing up Quill’s parentage, delivering Nebula to the team, and retaliating against the Guardians when Rocket steals their batteries. Although Nebula didn’t make a huge impression in her first appearance, Karen Gillan had so much more to work with this time around. She’s practically the sisterly equivalent of Loki with more time dedicated to her complicated relationship with Gamora and troubled past with her adoptive father Thanos. Her cybernetic appearance hasn’t changed much apart from a hand replacement.

The Sovereign are so uptight that they use remote controlled space pods arcade style. The confrontation causes a rift between Star-Lord & Rocket that results in their ship sustaining heavy damage. Drax is tossed around like a ragdoll when he takes out the last pod, but a mysterious figure saves them at the last minute. They continue to argue as they crash land on the forest planet Berhert. It’s there that the Guardians encounter Peter’s father who turns out to be Ego the Living Planet. In the comics, Quill’s biological father is Emperor J’son of Spartoi. Since Gunn wasn’t a fan of the character, he chose Ego instead. I honestly never expected the Living Planet to appear on the big screen. I thought he would be too complicated and/or ridiculous, but they somehow make it work. A big reason being Russell’s physical appearance as a human avatar. The only complication was Fox owning the rights to the larger than life supervillain. In an unusual exchange of Negasonic Teenage Warhead changing her powers in Deadpool, the rights to Ego were given to Marvel Studios.

Ego is accompanied by Mantis, the only new Guardian in the movie. Mantis was originally a half-Asian martial arts expert who joined the Avengers before later becoming counselor to the Guardians of the Galaxy. Her first appearance was in the 1973 The Avengers #112. Although occasionally green, the only feature Mantis maintains is her antenna. The French Pom Klementieff was perfect casting since she’s also half-Asian like her comic counterpart. Mantis wears an all-green outfit with similar empathic abilities that allow her to feel the feelings of others. Her powers are primarily used for comedic effect and more impressively, to put Ego to sleep. Unlike the comics, Mantis is more of an innocent who doesn’t understand social interactions. She has an unexpected bond with Drax where he continually insults her in his own matter of fact way. I’m not always a fan of that kind of humor, but when it works it works. Ego explains that it was always his intention to return for Quill, but the Ravagers failed to drop him off.

Much like The Empire Strikes Back, the Guardians are split up for the first time when Star-Lord, Gamora, and Drax leave Rocket, Groot, and Nebula for Ego’s planet. “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac is probably the signature song of the sequel since it’s heard in 2 separate moments. Although I’m still not a huge fan of them, giving the Ravagers extra screen time was a good idea. They’re first seen on the icy pleasure planet Contraxia where we once again see Howard the Duck and yellow robot prostitutes (a Disney movie). Apart from a few caring looks, Yondu is almost completely different with Michael Rooker exploring his softer side. He becomes disillusioned when his Ravagers are exiled for child trafficking. All of this is sort of explained when Yondu runs into his former teammate Stakar Ogord (otherwise known as Starhawk in the comics). It’s awesome that Sylvester Stallone completes a minor Tango & Cash reunion, but the scene is practically unintelligible.

Ayesha arrives in order to higher the Ravagers for a job in tracking down the Guardians. Since Rocket is the only one left to defend the ship, he takes care of the Ravagers with a variety of hilarious traps. Although I’m still not a big fan of the director giving his brother Sean Gunn so much screen time, Kraglin does have his moments when he accidentally inspires a mutiny. Things get worse when Groot releases Nebula and she shoots off Yondu’s arrow activating fin. The true leader of the mutiny is the mighty Taserface! A comic book villain with a name so ridiculous they had to take advantage of it. Chris Sullivan is a great secondary antagonist for the brief time we see his ugly mug. Nebula is only in it for a ship that she can use to get revenge on her sister. Leaving Yondu & Rocket in prison to bond over their respective difficulties in life. Groot comes in handy after he’s humiliated with a cute little Ravager outfit. Although he continually misunderstands Yondu wanting him to get his much more comic accurate prototype fin. With Rocket & Groot’s help, Yondu uses his whistling arrow to kill every Ravager that betrayed him. The delightfully upbeat “Come a Little Bit Closer” by Jay and the Americans keeps the scene from being too dark.

As Kraglin helps them escape, Taserface alerts the Sovereign to their presence. What follows is an unexpectedly cartoony sequence where Rocket jumps through space at an exponential rate. It’s during this sequence that Stan Lee has a surprising cameo as an informant to the Watchers. Confirming every Marvel fans suspicion that the famous comic creator plays the same character every time he cameos. Of course I was just happy to finally see the all-important Watchers on the big screen. Meanwhile, most of the movie takes place on Ego’s planet. A visual treat with every color of the rainbow represented and a golden palace at the center. “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison was the perfect song to play. Apart from the Ravager stuff, Vol. 2 actually goes a long time without action. Most of that time is dedicated to Ego explaining his millenia old birth, need to spread his seed across the universe, and willingness to connect with his son using sculptures. Since Ego is a Celestial, Quill has energy powers drawn from his father’s light core. Of course he uses an energy ball to play catch with his dad. Peter gets even closer to Gamora by finally sharing a dance with her. Mantis raises suspicions when she gets closer to Drax and almost reveals Ego’s true plans.

As Gamora clears her head, Nebula suddenly shows up with a sneak attack. Gamora’s greatest feat of strength is using the ship’s enormous cannon to fire on her. As they fight, Nebula reveals that she only ever wanted to be Gamora’s sister, not an enemy. Together they discover Ego’s true intentions. Ego is like the antichrist in how he offers the Guardians paradise, but truly intends to terraform the entire galaxy in his own image. Turns out he has an ego the size of a planet. Every one of his alien children were killed and he’s responsible for giving Meredith brain cancer. Peter snaps out of his trance and obviously fires on his father. Even a moment as serious as this could use an out of nowhere David Hasselhoff cameo. He also provides a cheesy 80’s song for the soundtrack. Ego goes too far when he breaks Peter’s walkman and tries to use him as a battery. The rest of the Guardians finally arrive to fight off Ego in a crazy climax that makes up for the small doses of action. As Ego grows more maniacal, his comic accurate face on the planet is revealed. Their plan is to attach a bomb to Ego’s brain in order to destroy him. The only complication is the Sovereign arriving in more space pods.

Mantis sides with the Guardians by using her empathic abilities to put Ego to sleep for as long as she can. Yondu & Nebula become honorary members of the team as they fight alongside them as well. Yondu’s best line will always be “I’m Mary Poppins y’all!” Gamora forms a stronger bond with Nebula as they fight, Drax protects Mantis from harm, and Rocket tries to explain to Groot how to detonate the bomb without killing everyone. Probably the funniest scene with Baby Groot. When all hope seems lost, Quill uses his heart to unlock his Celestial power in order to defeat his father. Can’t say I was expecting him to become Pac-Man, but I’ve learned to accept the movie’s silliness. Things get especially heartbreaking when Ego is destroyed and Yondu sacrifices himself to save his boy. Since the theme of the movie was fathers, Yondu redeems himself as the only man who truly cared about Peter. Making it the first MCU death that made me cry, because even with troll dolls and Night Rider references, Yondu’s funeral is played completely straight. The Ravagers honor their fallen comrade with a colorful salute that reveals all of his unexpected former teammates.

Kraglin replaces Quill’s walkman with a hilarious Zune that he uses to listen to “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens. In the end, Gamora connects with Nebula as she leaves, Rocket apologizes to the team, Drax sort of compliments Mantis, and Groot falls fast asleep. Vol. 2 also bears the distinction of having not 1, not 2, but 5 after-credits scenes. Luckily the credits are extra fun and worth watching. The first scene sees Kraglin attempting to use Yondu’s arrow in a humorously failed attempt that injures Drax. The second scene is a diehard Marvel fan’s dream come true. It reveals Yondu’s Ravager team to be the original Guardians of the Galaxy from the 60’s comic. Stallone as Starhawk, Michael Rosenbaum as Martinex, Ving Rhames as Charlie-27, Michelle Yeoh as Aleta Ogord, the CGI Krugarr, and Miley Cyrus herself as the voice of Mainframe. The third scene is crucial in setting up Ayesha’s hand in creating the very important Adam Warlock. A character who would’ve appeared in the movie, but it was getting overstuffed. The fourth scene is a funny one that reveals a video game playing Groot as a preteen talking back to Quill. The fifth scene shows a bit more of Stan Lee with the Watchers. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t a surprise hit like the original, but it’s dedication to Marvel’s cosmic weirdness makes it fun.

32. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Ego recounts his origin

Preceded by: Guardians of the Galaxy & Followed by: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

The Sorcerer Supreme

Doctor Strange is Marvel’s strangest tale yet. As the fourteenth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange introduced magic into the mostly science fiction universe. Unlike Thor or Thor: The Dark World, Doctor Strange is unapologetically mystical with scientific theory used only to modernize its existence. Although Stan Lee had a say in his creation, Doctor Strange is very much the product of artist Steve Ditko’s strange mind. The 1963 comic Strange Tales #110 introduced the Sorcerer Supreme as a very different kind of superhero focused on protecting the world from mystical threats. He was understandably a hit with college kids open to Eastern philosophies and psychedelic drugs.

I’m actually a big fan of Doctor Strange, but I’ve only ever known him as the sorcerer Marvel superheroes call when they have a magical problem. Apart from several animated appearances, a decent 2007 animated movie, and a clever reference in Spider-Man 2, a Doctor Strange movie was a long time coming. As long as you ignore his terrible 1978 TV movie Dr. Strange. Marvel foolishly juggled the rights to Doctor Strange ever since the 80’s. Many studios gained rights to the character and many directors including Wes Craven and Guillermo del Toro wanted to make it. It wasn’t until Marvel Studios took over that producer Kevin Feige made the film part of Phase Three of the MCU. Unlikely horror director Scott Derrickson was brought on board and Doctor Strange became the psychedelic event of the decade…

30. Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange enters the Dark Dimension

Doctor Strange is probably the most and least faithful comic book adaptation out there. As a longtime Marvel fan, I knew how tricky it would be to get the Sorcerer Supreme right. At the same time, I knew his adventures were so strange that changes were unavoidable. After the success of Captain America: Civil War, it seemed like the MCU could do no wrong. Netflix had Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage, while ABC had season 4 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. focusing on the supernatural Ghost Rider. My only fear was Doctor Strange being too quasi-mystical for my parents. The first teaser didn’t offer much apart from possibility, but the first trailer inspired much more confidence. Against all the doubts, Doctor Strange became one of our favorite MCU films that needed to be seen on the big screen. Doctor Strange is the first Marvel Studios movie that opens with the ridiculously long studio logo featuring clips from past movies instead of comic book panels.

The cold opening reveals a band of mysterious enemy sorcerers stealing pages from a grimoire before being pursued by the equally mysterious Ancient One. It’s here that the movie’s impressive Best Visual Effects nominated psychedelic magic is seen. Buildings bend like Inception pushed to a kaleidoscopic extreme. Although Marvel considered following an already formed Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange’s origin story was too unique to ignore. His origin is extremely faithful to the comics, but it does draw comparisons to the first Iron Man. Dr. Stephen Strange is a wealthy, egotistical, premier neurosurgeon with a photographic memory and the steadiest hands in the medical field. Many actors were considered to play Doctor Strange in the decades it took to get a movie made. I distinctly remember Patrick Dempsey, Ethan Hawke, and Joaquin Phoenix being considered for the role, but the respectable Benedict Cumberbatch was a dream casting that everyone wanted to see. Unfortunately, Cumberbatch had a very busy schedule with his main obligation being Sherlock. It took a while, but Disney finally decided to work around his schedule.

It was the best possible decision, because Benedict Cumberbatch practically leaps off the page. He has Strange’s thinner build and black hair with white temples. The only difference is his clean shaved face and trademark English accent. Although you might expect Cumberbatch to keep his accent, Strange is a New Yorker who requires an American accent. I personally think he does as good a job with the accent as he does with Dr. Strange’s attention seeking medical practise. There are so many big medical words in the movie, but it’s not totally unnecessary. Strange’s lesser known supporting cast includes rival surgeon Nicodemus West and his love interest Dr. Christine Palmer. Although the more magical Clea is Doctor Strange’s more well known love interest, Palmer is much more grounded to Stephen’s life as a doctor. Christine Palmer is one of many Night Nurses from the comics. Including Claire Temple who appears in the Netflix shows played by Rosario Dawson. Rachel McAdams was due for a Marvel role, but she’s not exactly a love interest. Strange & Palmer were once in a relationship, but it didn’t work out.

Strange’s life turns upside down when texting and driving down a winding road causes him to have a brutal car accident. Permanently damaging the nerves in his hands. Causing them to shake uncontrollably. Christine stays by Stephen’s side, but his pride causes him to shut her out. Just like the comics, Strange drains all of his money on procedures that never manage to fix his hands. He lets his beard grow and becomes so desperate that he seeks alternative methods. It leads him to original character Jonathan Pangborn played by Benjamin Bratt. He was once a paraplegic before seeking an ancient temple that taught him to cure himself through the power of belief. Most inaccuracies occur when Strange seeks the comic accurate temple Kamar-Taj. Scott Derrickson is mainly responsible for the strange race related casting and location changes. Although I think they may have overreacted, most changes were made to avoid stereotypes. Strange travels to Kathmandu, Nepal instead of Tibet to avoid controversy in China. Almost every character from Strange’s time in Kamar-Taj is race changed.

Strange’s first major antagonist Baron Mordo is changed from a Transylvanian betrayer of the Ancient One to the black English Chiwetel Ejiofor. This version of Karl Mordo retains the character’s green robes, but he’s no longer the first sorcerer to betray the Ancient One. Giving Strange & Mordo an unexpected comradery thanks to the actors both knowing each other from 12 Years a Slave. The true antagonist is also one the MCU’s weakest. Kaecilius was only ever a throwaway villain in the comics who served as Mordo’s disciple. Making him the main villain of the movie was a strange decision that felt like a serious waste of Mads Mikkelsen. This time his naturally creepy eyes are hidden under purple makeup from the dark spell Kaecilius casts. His motivation is turning against the Ancient One he deems as a hypocrite. The Ancient One is the most confusing casting in the entire MCU. Rather than go with any Fu Manchu or Dragon Lady stereotypes, the typically androgynous Tilda Swinton plays the Ancient One instead of any Asian actor. It’s a strange compromise that they didn’t really need to make. At least Swinton is great at playing such an ethereal character.

Although Strange is skeptical, she opens his mind to the possibilities of the world. The Ancient One knocking out Strange’s astral form is an iconic shot that was only the beginning. What follows is a psychedelic acid trip through the multiverse that bends the mind with trippy visuals in space, hand dimensions, and even weirder worlds. Mordo convinces the Ancient One to teach Strange when she refuses him. Unlike say Harry Potter, the sorcerers who train in Kamar-Taj continue to use modern technology and use spells through complex hand movements. Like the comics, magic is represented by conjuring intricate mandala weapons that form around a sorcerer’s hands. A handy Sling Ring is used to transport sorcerers anywhere in the world. All relics have nonsensical names ripped straight from the comics. Including the Wand of Watoomb, the Book of Cagliostro, and the very important Eye of Agamotto. Strange can’t seem to master the mystic arts, but the threat of freezing to death in Mt. Everest is enough to clear his mind. When Stephen shaves, he finally has his trademark goatee. Strange’s photographic memory causes him to learn fast and study all sorts of magical books in record time.

Doctor Strange is implied to be after Civil War, but there’s a lot of unspecified time that passes. All of Strange’s books are kept with Wong. Although Derrickson nearly omitted every Asian character from the comics, Wong was way too important to leave out. Rather than play an Asian manservant, the ironically named Benedict Wong was cast at the last minute. More ironic is the fact that he already knew Ejiofor from The Martian and shares an uncommon first name with Cumberbatch. This Wong is a much more no-nonsense magical bookkeeper that shares an underappreciated rapport with Strange. Although Strange’s origin is a bit more serious than most Marvel heroes, the signature MCU humor does come out in Strange’s occasional jokes, remarks, and physical comedy. The Ancient One goes deeper by explaining the Mirror Dimension. The primary psychedelic dimension where nothing affects the real world. Strange gets curious and learns about the Dark Dimension by using the Eye of Agamotto. Turns out the Eye can control time itself, which disrupts the natural law.

Although I was worried they’d leave him out, Doctor Strange’s longtime archenemy Dormammu is still the overarching threat of the movie. Wong elaborates by saying that unlike the Avengers, the sorcerers safeguard the planet from mystical threats that seek to destroy the world. Sanctums are set up in London, Hong Kong, and New York that Kaecilius targets in an effort to bring Dormammu’s timeless dimension to their world. London has fallen and an attack on Kamar-Taj sends Strange into the New York Sanctum otherwise known as the Sanctum Sanctorum. I was so happy to see the comic accurate Bleeker Street headquarters on the big screen. It’s there that Strange finally meets his Cloak of Levitation. Giving the cloak a personality makes it the best inanimate object since the Magic Carpet from Aladdin. Kaecilius and his followers wound the Sanctum’s protector and they engage in a mind bending fight with Mr. Doctor. The Sanctum is turned downside up with Strange using a magical gateway to outsmart most of them. When the cloak calls to Doctor Strange, it finally makes him the Sorcerer Supreme we all know and love. His costume is simply perfection with blue robes, the Eye of Agamotto around his neck, and the red Cloak of Levitation completing the ensemble.

Strange uses a trap on Kaecilius and they discuss their respective goals. In the process, Strange figures out the Ancient One draws her power from the Dark Dimension. Unfortunately, Strange is wounded to the point where he needs medical attention from Christine. Derrickson’s best contribution is a wildly inventive fight scene inspired by Doctor Strange: The Oath. As Christine tends to Stephen, he fights a follower in his astral form. When successful, Strange confronts the Ancient One and Mordo begins to show flashes of villainy when faced with the truth. All that will have to wait for another trippy action scene in the Mirror Dimension where all of New York is reshaped. As Strange & Mordo go on the run, they even run into Stan Lee’s cameo as a man on a bus laughing at The Doors of Perception. The Ancient One confirms everyone’s suspicions, but she loses her life in the process. As she dies on the operating table, the Ancient One has a beautiful heart to heart talk with Stephen in their astral forms. She tells him to set aside his ego and work towards something greater than himself. After a platonic kiss from Christine, Doctor Strange joins the fight to stop Dormammu.

The climax sees Strange & Mordo arriving at the Hong Kong Sanctum that has already fallen. Unlike most Marvel finales, the final fight is much more out of the box. Strange turns back time, fights Kaecilius as the city rebuilds itself, and saves Wong’s life in the process. In the end, the only option is to confront Dormammu himself. The Dark Dimension is a far more colorful galactic plane of existence where Dormammu is depicted as more than just a flaming head. Dormammu’s equally colorful face is part of the Dimension and was actually provided by Cumberbatch himself. He just loves doing motion capture. Dormammu is meant to be a dark reflection of Strange, but their confrontation is more than simply a contest of strength. Strange outsmarts Dormammu by initiating an endless time loop where he continuously dies to save humanity.

“Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain” eventually leads to a deal where Kaecilius and his zealots are taken and Earth is left alone. All this disruption of the natural law is enough to force Mordo to leave. A lengthy after-credits scene reveals a slightly more villainous Mordo stealing Pangborn’s magic in an effort to rid the world of sorcerers. Doctor Strange remains at the Sanctum Sanctorum and Wong confirms everyone’s suspicion that the Eye of Agamotto is in fact an Infinity Stone. The green Time Stone to be specific. Doctor Strange ends with a psychedelic credits sequence set to a mystical theme followed by an exciting mid-credits scene. In it, an orange glove wearing Doctor Strange meets his first Avenger. Thor meeting with Strange is exactly how I imagined the Sorcerer Supreme playing a part in the MCU. Doctor Strange is a visual experience that does justice to a strange hero.

29. Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange prepares himself

Followed by: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness