Opinions of a Traditionalist: What the MCU Means to Me: Phase 2

When I last left you, I was basking in the glory of The MCU’s Phase One Collection of Films. They checked all of my boxes. Characters that looked like they were supposed to, superb casting choices, and riveting stories. They were batting almost .1000. The problem with perfection is there is only place to go, and that is down. That is not to say that they had any major failures, but they did for the first time get some negative feedback. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It can be the motivation you need when you might be getting complacent. So let’s examine the films that made up Phase Two of the MCU.

First up is the third of the Iron Man Films. Iron Man 3 suffered to live up to level of the first two movies. It was not awful, it was just not as good as the first two in the series. Part of the problem, in my opinion was their adaptation of the Mandarin. In the Comics, and I base a lot of what I expect from those hallowed pages, he was a megalomaniac who had trained himself to be a skilled Martial Artist and scientist. He used an alien technology he had discovered to give himself powers through a set of rings that he wore. However In Iron Man 3 he was just a puppet. An actor hired to play a role. And while you could do a lot worse than using Ben Kingsley IN that role, and there was some humor to be found in the twist, it made a classic villain seem weak.

There were other things. Like the foolishness of the genius that is Tony Stark to put your home address out there for all your enemies to know. Hey, what do you know, they showed up and destroyed your home and almost Pepper with it. Who would have thought? I did like the angle of him having anxiety issues due to the NY incident and kind of almost dying after saving the city from a nuclear blast. That is so Marvel and it made sense as that kind of trauma could effect most people. He overcame it all and then decided to fix his heart condition and remove the need to carry around a miniature arc reactor in his chest. Although the idea of throwing a valuable source of power into the ocean seems kind of a waste. It didn’t, however, remove his desire to be Iron Man, as future films will reveal. So Iron Man 3, had some issues but it was not an abject failure. That might be closer to the next Phase two film.

As I just reread that last sentence, “abject failure” is perhaps too strong a term, but the general consensus among MCU fans is that this next chapter in Marvel’s master plan ranks toward the bottom of the list. That would be the 2nd Thor film: Thor: The Dark World. The reasons for this tend to lean toward a weak villain, and an over all blasé feel from the movie. In fact, the actor who played Maleketh (Chris Eccleston) didn’t like the role he was playing and it kind of showed in his performance. The chemistry between Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster and Hemsworth’s Thor was also on the bland scale. Even Chris Hemsworth had his doubts about The Dark World. When your lead actor and main character are questioning how things went, you might have a problem. But like all movies, it wasn’t ALL bad.

The one saving grace was Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Anytime Hiddleston got screen time the film looked a lot better. I loved his throwing shade at Thor as he walked turning either Thor ( Into Sif, who I think is much better suited as his love interest, just as in the comics) or himself into different characters incorporating a brief cameo by Chris Evans as Captain America. I also loved the scene where each of Thor’s friends took turns warning Loki that he best not betray Thor or they will kill him. By the time Volstagg took his turn, Loki was ready…

Volstagg: If you betray him…

Loki: You’ll kill me? Evidently there will be a line.

Of course the film also featured another Loki “death” but as Hiddleston tells it, he really WAS supposed to die but the test audiences so loved Loki that they had to bring him back. So in a sense, it’s OUR FAULT, that his death didn’t take again. What can we say? We love us some Loki. The reviews from Dark World were mixed and that is not something Marvel was used to. Leave it to the Captain to right the ship and give us perhaps, the best of not only Phase Two but arguably the best of the entire MCU. Next: The Winter Soldier

So Phase two had started off kind of shaky but now we were given the next chapter in the Captain America saga. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This was Marvel at its best and the Marvel directorial debut for the Russo Brothers. It had intrigue, action, conspiracy theories, attempted assassinations, all wrapped up in a Red, White and Blue Wrapper. There were hints of the Manchurian Candidate and Three Days of the Condor, mixed with the Winter Soldier comic book story arc by Ed Brubaker. In short, it was brilliant and made you almost forget the staggering start of the first two films. The Winter Soldier delivered.

Chris Evans brought the goods along with Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, and Robert Redford. The fight scenes were outstanding, the elevator fight and the fights between Steve and Bucky were worth the price of admission. This was Marvel and Captain America at its best. We got to see the infiltration of Shield by Hydra and Cap’s efforts to take them on. We also got to hear Cap give one of his off the cuff speeches that has become the norm for the Living Legend.
Attention, all SHIELD agents. This is Steve Rogers. You’ve heard a lot about me over the last few days, some of you were even ordered to hunt me down. But I think it’s time you know the truth. SHIELD is not what we thought it was, it’s been taken over by HYDRA. Alexander Pierce is their leader. The STRIKE and Insight crew are HYDRA as well. I don’t know how many more, but I know they’re in the building. They could be standing right next to you. They almost have what they want: absolute control. They shot Nick Fury and it won’t end there. If you launch those Helicarriers today, HYDRA will be able to kill anyone that stands in their way, unless we stop them. I know I’m asking a lot, but the price of freedom is high, it always has been, and it’s a price I’m willing to pay. And if I’m the only one, then so be it. But I’m willing to bet I’m not.
Needless to say, he was not. Like you’re going to listen to THAT and not want to intervene? In the end, Cap (that’s what his friends call him) was able to stop them from launching the Helicarriers and carrying out their plans but it was not without cost as he was almost killed by Bucky and then at the last minute saved by him. The film ended with Steve and Sam vowing to find Bucky and Nick Fury dropping off the grid for the time being. Marvel was back on top and now it was time for some “space.”

For all extents and purposes, The MCU had been pretty much land based except for some scenes from Thor and the Chitauri invasion. Now the Marvel Creative team decided to explore outer space and the far reaches of the Galaxy. What better way to do that than using a group with Galaxy in their name? James Gunn brought us Marvel’s The Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Guardians of the Galaxy were originally introduced in the comics in 1969. That original team had none of the Guardians introduced in the MCU except for Yondu, who was repurposed as the leader of the Ravagers and was, for all extent and purposes, Peter Quill’s mentor when he was taken from Earth after the death of his Mother. (When he wasn’t preventing his crew from eating him…”They never tasted Terran before!”) Peter Quill was not shown as a member of the Guardians  in the comics until 2008 when the team was re-introduced. It was there that Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Mantis, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot were joined together. It is that team that Gunn based his film on, mixing the adventure of space with the quest to first sell one of the Infinity Stones and providing another connection to Thanos and then giving it to the Nova Corp for safe keeping. Throw that in with a 70’s music soundtrack that warmed this old writer’s heart and you had me from “Hooked on a Feeling.”

When added with Marvel’s continued gift at casting with Chris Pratt, Zoey Saldana, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, with the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel as Rocket and Groot, and you had a film with humor, action, music and fun. As for me, since I was not that familiar with the characters, the look they used was fine. Ignorance is indeed bliss. So after a hesitant start, we had two winners in a row. The only thing left for Phase Two was another visit to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. No way to screw that up, right?

So for the next chapter of Phase Two, Marvel relied on Film that finished Phase One. The Avengers Part Deux also known as Avengers: Age of Ultron. With the success of the first Avengers film, it certainly made sense to follow up with another. They brought in Director Josh Whedon to once again helm the project and the original cast returned. In addition, they added new cast members Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor Johnson as Wanda and Pietro Maximoff or as comic geeks know them as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (I still hate that they killed him). They also brought in Paul Bettany as Vision and James Spader as the voice of Ultron. Sounds like good stuff doesn’t it? Well over the years, it has kind of grown on me more than it originally did. When it first premiered, I thought that it was a little too ambitious for its own good. They attempted to put in so much content that it got kind of muddled. Tony’s attempt to create a “suit of Armor for the World didn’t quite turn out as the mega genius thought. That tends to happen when you set about doing something without thinking it through because you’re afraid someone will try to stop you. It also set him at odds with Steve which would escalate in Phase 3.

Even the opening battle against Baron Von Strucker and Hydra at times seemed almost too CGI, Photoshop slick. So have it rewatched it numerous times? Of Course! I’m a geek. I also liked the tie in with Ulysses Claue and Wakanda…although I didn’t realize it at the time.

That being said, there were some good things. The chance for the team to relax with a rousing game of “Who’s Worthy to pick up Mjolnir?” As it turned out no one in the room although Super Boy Scout Steve did get it to move slightly. It’s “worthy” senses must be off it Captain America isn’t deemed worthy. I also liked the scene between Natasha and Bruce at the bar. As for the main villain, his motivations seemed a little skewed as he was meant to protect the world and he calculated the best way to do that was to destroy it. Not exactly one of Tony and Bruce’s crowning achievements. In the end, the film serves its purpose which was to set things up for Phase 3, which I’ll discuss in the final segment.

I want to thank those who have read this so far for not calling me out on the last film of Phase Two that I neglected in its original posting, Ant-Man. A pox on your writer for a clumsy lout. Ant-Man gave us a glimpse of the past and the present with Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, who as fans of the original comic book Avengers know was Ant-Man and Giant- Man, depending on which way he wanted to go. He was partnered with Janet Van Dyne, the Wasp who became his wife. In the MCU, Janet was lost when she sacrificed herself to stop a Rocket that would have killed thousands upon millions of people. She shrank between the molecules to accomplish this and Hank never gave up believing he could somehow get her back. Even to the detriment of his relationship with their daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) who he initially didn’t tell about how her mother “died.”

In the meantime, Hank’s old protege Darren Cross is trying to recreate the Pym particle that allowed Hank to become Ant-Man. In an effort to prevent this, He recruits a master burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to steal back the work. To accomplish this, Lang must become the Ant-Man. Hope, for her part, thinks that she should do the job and Scott is not required. Not wanting to take the chance of losing Hope as he lost his wife, Hank refuses. Scott is trained to use the suit and help’s Hank and Hope defeat Cross and regain his technology. In the end, Hank tells Hope what happened to her Mother and shows Hope the Wasp suit he had made for her.

Ant-Man was a different kind of film as opposed to the more heavy fare seen in Civil War and Age of Ultron. The casting was Marvel fantastic as always although I had my doubts about Paul Rudd as Ant-Man when it was announced. I should know by now not to question Marvel when it comes to cast selection. When added to Douglas, Lily, Corey Stoll, and Michael Pena, it was a film with action, and humor which proved to be a nice relief from the drama of the previous Phase Two films.

So NOW we are done with Phase Two. What were you’re thoughts about Marvel’s Phase Two? Share them with us at GVNation and how you thought it paved the way for Phase Three where the kid gloves were really taken off.