Backwards MCU Retrospective: Conclusion

This day (July 13th), 2 years ago, I published my review of Ant Man, the final film in Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thus would continue a trend up until I got to Iron Man last last year, concluding (sort of) with a look at Hulk, the -1 MCU film except not really. It’s been a weird journey, so here’s a short one just to give an archive for these posts:

Phase 0:

Hulk– Published July 8th 2020 – Wordcount: 4740

Phase 1:

Iron Man – Published December 29th 2019 – Wordcount: 5568

The Incredible Hulk – Published November 28th 2019 – Wordcount: 5065

Iron Man 2– Published September 17th 2019 – Wordcount: 5637

Thor– Published July 7th 2019 – Wordcount: 5161

Captain America: The First Avenger – Published April 24th 2019 –  Wordcount: 5728

The Avengers – Published April 5th 2019 – Wordcount: 6403

Phase 2:

Iron Man 3 – Published March 7th 2019 – Wordcount: 4656

Thor: The Dark World – Published February 28th 2019 – Wordcount: 4868

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Published December 22nd 2018 – Wordcount: 6147

Guardians of the Galaxy – Published October 18th 2018 – Wordcount: 5269

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Published August 30th 2018 – Wordcount: 6737

Ant Man – Published July 13th 2018 – Wordcount: 4634

So 2 years, 13 posts and 70,613 words later, what’s there to say about this little excursion?

Why did you do it?

This idea came to me came in 2015, back when my blog was on Blogger (the Dark Times). MCU hype was at its fullest force back then, especially with my friends, Age of Ultron was about to come out, and I thought it’d be fun to write about this series of films that had pretty much taken over my life (unlike now!). I was behind a news desk at the time and didn’t exactly get to write about the stuff that interested me as much (though I did write for the ents section), so I figured it’d be a nice break. To make it different, I was going to work backwards and examine how Marvel Entertainment has grown as a brand from that vantage point, and I even wrote an intro to the idea, talking about how I’ll start with the then-recent release Guardians of the Galaxy.

That, obviously, never came to be for one reason or another (2015 was not a good year for me), but I saw the opportunity to reinvigorate this idea in 2018. It was the 10 year anniversary of the MCU, Infinity War had just released, and people were kind of on the huff because MCU movies are popular and therefore “low art”. While they’re not my favourite movies in the world, I’m someone who doesn’t want to dismiss the artistry and creativity that goes into something because it’s popular and studio controlled. So that was my new angle-start from the last release of Phase 2 and work back to see how the MCU evolved into the powerhouse that it was.

My plan was to publish my first review on the 10 year anniversary of the release of Iron Man-May 2nd. 2018. I released it in July. Welp.

Did You Learn Anything?

Well yeah, sure. Maybe not as much as I would have liked, but there is a lot more nuance and intelligence that goes into these movies that detractors will want to give them credit for. For one thing, they have a lot of variety You can watch a political thriller one moment and a whacky space adventure the next. While they can be formulated, how varied and full of personality these movies can be is why they’ve held on so long in people’s consciousness and why they keep on making money. Why do people like them? They like the characters, they like the crazy settings and the cool, fun anything goes vibe. And yes, they like how crisp and polished and well made they are. Studios have thrown to throw any trash together to make a sale, and they do not have the longevity and devotion the MCU has.

While I don’t think doing this backwards really made much of a difference to what I discovered from it, I certainly saw a “formula” take shape. Filmmakers definitely were at the palms of studio mandate, and the world building and universe connections definitely take more centre stage in Phase 2. You look at something like First Avenger, which is a very homogenised story in focus with a period setting, to Guardians of the Galaxy, with whacky hijinx, heavy focus on world building, various subplots coming together and fleshing out the monotony, and action beats where they need to go, supporting characters where they need to be (father figure anyone? Supporting character/foil to the main love interest there to flesh her story out mainly?) , as well as a stock villain there to move the plot and flesh out who’s important to Marvel-the heroes. Guardians has enough of Gunn’s personality to stop it from completely sinking, but you get my point. A formula was cracked and the films felt less distinctive.

But no, there is stuff that stood out to me. Like I said in my Avengers review, I love the soundscape of the MCU-it truly makes it stand out. Iron Man’s suit up sounds are iconic-they close Endgame’s credits with them. I found a new appreciation for films like Captain America: The First Avenger and Iron Man 3; they truly brought something different to the roster. And even early on in the MCU, having tech-based drama Iron Man come out  the same year as fugitive-on-the-lam nuclear-paranoia fueled adventure story The Incredible Hulk and have these be connected really gives a sense of just what a germ of an idea this grew from. I appreciated getting these insights all around

So Why Did it Take So Long?

Burnout. Honestly, these reviews started to feel very same-y to me, even if the films always didn’t, and it started out being motivated by getting it done in a year, then before Phase 3 ended, then just eeeeeeeeeend it and be done. I had a side-series of shorter introspective reviews of my Best/Worst of 2017 (based on another idea I recycled) to complement the larger MCU series and how long ago I wrapped that up in comparison is really funny.

Because I started backwards, I got through the solid but generally kind of “through-the-motions” Phase 2 with some standouts. It’s kind of saying something that the last one that felt 100% creator driven was Iron Man 3, the last one co-distributed by Paramount. Once Disney took over, the brand management became key*.  And by the time I got to Phase 1, I was so done. You can see it in how hilariously long the gap between my First Avenger and Thor review are (and I only did that so quickly after Avengers cause I wanted to get that out before Chris Evans last outing of the character, which I barely made-THAT motivated me more than actually finishing this fucking series) Luckily, Phase 3 was just around the corner, Perlmutter was gone, and we got some of the most creatively driven and interesting films in the series.

*Yes, Winter Soldier and Guardians are good, but they feel creatively different IN SPITE of studio mandate instead of elevating beyond it

Speaking of Phase 3…

Will You Do Phase 3?

I mean maybe? I haven’t decided yet. I kind of want to. It has some of my favourite movies in the MCU. Right now, I’m pretty burnt out and don’t feel like revisiting the MCU in this capacity straight away. If I do, it will be in chronological order, not backwards (for one, reviewing Endgame before Infinity War doesn’t make sense to me).

But that’s then. Right now, I’m am happy to say I have completed by backwards MCU retrospective in full. Here’s one last look at my ranking (I’m including Hulk in it, too), and we’ll bid adieu for now.

  1. The Avengers
  2. Iron Man
  3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  4. Guardians of the Galaxy
  5. Iron Man 3
  6. Captain America: The First Avenger
  7. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  8. Thor
  9. Ant Man
  10. Hulk
  11. Iron Man 2
  12. Thor: The Dark World
  13. The Incredible Hulk

As for what I’ll do next as a retrospective, hard to tell. I’ve always wanted to explore a prominent directors’ filmography, that could be fun.

Maybe someday…

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