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The Road to ‘Avengers – Endgame’: MCU, Phase Two

Greetings and salutations!

With the release of “Avengers: Endgame”, we’re going to take a look at everything within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (henceforth known as “The MCU”) that has led up to the moment Thanos did “The Snap”. We’ll do a small synopsis of each film, we’ll give you some Easter Eggs and the significance of each film as it relates to the grand scheme of things and we’ll tell you whether or not you should watch or skip the content in question.

Do be aware: this is for the fans who have pretty much seen everything the MCU has to offer, but if you’re that kinda person who doesn’t want to watch 25 movies and 12 TV shows spanning about 36 seasons or so, this is for you, too. Beware, though: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. You’ve had several years to prep for the new flick. Back out now. Or, join us if you want a bit of a capsule of each film.

If you missed the first recap, you can catch up here:

The Road to ‘Avengers – Endgame’: The MCU, Phase One

So, without further ado, let’s get into it…

IRON MAN 3 (2012)

WHICH ONE IS THIS?

In my opinion, the best of the three Iron Man films. Jon Favreau gave up the reins which were picked up by the legendary Shane Black, the mastermind behind Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. It kicks off Phase Two of the MCU by giving us a worn out Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) who hasn’t been sleeping well since helping stop the Loki and the Chitauri in New York, so he spends his waking hours building a small armada of Iron Man suits, each one with a different gimmick or purpose. And just in time, too: remember the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), the leader of the Ten Rings terror group? He’s finally shown up to wreak havoc in the United States, with the promise of a large attack on Christmas. What’s worse is that after Tony angrily challenges him to a fight on live TV, the Mandarin sends his goons to wipe out Tony and his entire Malibu mansion and nearly succeeds, leaving Stark homeless and without the necessary resources he relies on.

EASTER EGGS

  • Who’s that dude in the glasses trying to get Tony’s attention at the party in Bern, Switzerland? Ho Yinsen! That’s who! If you don’t remember Yinsen, he’s the kind man that Stark would meet in a cave nine years later after nearly being killed in Afghanistan. Here, it’s 1999 and Stark has no idea who the man could be or possibly know that he will save Stark’s life nearly a decade later.
  • Thomas, the account from Roxxon, gets shot in the head by The Mandarin. As is explained, President Matthew Ellis prevented the Roxxon Corporation from every seeing a day in court after another scandal rocked the controversial energy giant.
  • We will revisit the Extremis/Centipede Project in Marvel’s “Agents of SHIELD”. That’s going to be detailed in the next article.
  • One of Tony’s many new suits is a big, bulky one that Stark dubs “The Hulkbuster”, made juuuuust in case Banner goes rogue and can’t be stopped by any other means, scenario that actually comes into play a little later…
  • Throughout the film, you hear Stark occasionally narrating the tale we’re witnessing. The post-credit sequence reveals that he’s been telling the story to none other than Dr. Bruce Banner who Stark thinks has psych training. Banner, though, fell asleep through 99 percent of story and tells Stark that he doesn’t have the temperament to listen to long, boring tales — which doesn’t stop Stark from starting another long, boring story.
  • We learn about The Mandarin’s fate later on in the short film “All Hail the King”.

HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS TO THE MCU?

It’s a standalone story without any real stakes (especially since The Mandarin turns out to be something much different than we thought) but it gives us the Extremis sub-plot which eventually allows stark to remove the Arc Reactor and the shrapnel within his chest. It also shows us that Stark is more than capable of building an army of Iron Men if need be. This Iron Man was the best of the series and it’s mainly due to a more freestyle energy which is indicative of Shane Black’s films. Black wrote the great “Lethal Weapon”, “The Long Kiss Goodnight” and “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”, all of which featured the “buddy cop” motif and extremely witty dialogue. And better yet, the movie is set at Christmas, much like most of his other films. The result is an almost retro-90’s movie that has some fun moments, some great lines and some awesome action that only Black is known for.

THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)

WHICH ONE WAS THIS?

The worst of the MCU films. And it isn’t even close. I’ve seen this film five times and I still have no idea what the hell was going on. Something about dark elves attempting to re-create the universe in the image of their leader using “a liquefied Infinity Stone” (I have no idea how you “liquefy” a stone and then have it return to the same consistency it once was but here we are) called “The Aether”. This gas or liquid or what have you somehow opens portals because the stone itself bends reality. 5.000 years later, the Aether invades the good Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) which is…bad. I guess. The Elves return to kick some Asgardian ass which is really odd, considering they couldn’t even do it thousands of years ago, armed with the Reality Stone, but, hey, they’re telling us Asgard’s in danger, it’s in danger. Basically, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has to get Jane Foster to, uh…pass the stone, so to speak and defeat the Dark Elves. Hopefully, in reverse order and untelevised on closed circuit TV. I hate this movie.

EASTER EGGS

  • We have the Reality Stone in play now, marking the third of six. Since the Tesseract is already on Asgard, the Asgardians take it to Tivan, the Collector for safekeeping since having more than one Infinity Stone in one place is unwise.
  • Jane Foster gets to slap the shit out of Loki for attacking New York and for pretty much being Loki.
  • Among Loki’s many disguises: Captain America. It’s amusing to see and hear Chris Evans mocking himself in his own voice.

HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS TO THE MCU?

Not very. It’s a big, dumb movie involving space elves who want to take over the universe using a stone turned into vapor that’s meant to destroy the universe. How the stone is able to “destroy the universe” isn’t fully explained since it’s a stone that bends reality, but I guess when it’s “vapor”, anything can happen. The only thing of note here is 1) Thor’s mom is killed. Yay. And 2) The Collector now has the Reality Stone which will come into play in the next phase. You can skip this one. Like, really, watch the scene with The Collector and shut it off. There’s nothing more to it.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)

“Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier”..L to R: Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) © 2014 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

WHICH ONE WAS THIS?

The one with the first big shift in the MCU and the best Captain America film of the three and, perhaps, the best film of the MCU. Here, we have Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) working directly for SHIELD as a field operative alongside Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). After a mission is nearly compromised thanks to Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) giving Romanoff orders Rogers wasn’t privy to, Rogers confronts Fury about keeping secrets, prompting Fury to show him plans made up by SHIELD to keep the public safe by targeting enemies from miles away using a top secret satellite system. Cappy isn’t impressed. And after he’s unable to access the data he ordered Romanoff to steal, Fury becomes as suspicious as Rogers is about things. After requesting a delay of the targeting program from his boss Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), Fury is attacked out in public by a squad of phony police officers and mysterious masked man. After escaping, he visits Rogers and attempts to tell him that SHIELD has been compromised — but is shot by the same mysterious figure who attempted to kill him earlier. Even worse: SHIELD now considers Rogers to be an “enemy agent” and makes an attempt to subdue and arrest him. Now on the run and short on allies, Captain America’s only play is to figure out who is in charge of the conspiracy to wipe out SHIELD’s top operatives, but SHIELD itself, and with it, change the balance of world power.

EASTER EGGS

  • This film coincides with about two or three episodes of “Agents of SHIELD”. A fan actually cut together those episodes and The Winter Soldier into a huge supercut. I don’t think that exists online anymore but it happened. That crossover is the one and only time a Marvel film played DIRECTLY into a series of episodes of a Marvel TV series. See below for more.
  • Seems everyone’s been telling Cap what he missed while he was out. Among his list of things he “needs to look into”: Rocky, Star Wars, Steve Jobs, and Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” album, the song that plays later in the film when Cap is waking up in the hospital.
  • Hey, it’s return of Senator Stern from Iron Man 2, played by the late, great Garry Shandling! And it’s revealed that, along with a few others, he’s an agent of HYDRA…
  • Also back is Hayley Atwell playing the elderly Peggy Carter. It’s a bittersweet reunion seeing as though she and Rogers waited for years for this moment.

HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS TO THE MCU?

HUGE. Let me count the ways…

  • SHIELD is compromised and corrupted by a resurgent HYDRA. This deeply impacts what occurs on “Agents of SHIELD” which sees SHIELD imploding and in chaos thanks to the events in The Winter Soldier.
  • Fury is alive but has faked his death so he can take care of business without being suspected. We’ll see him show up in the AOS First Season finale.
  • Peggy Carter is in her last days, suffering from dementia and headed for death…but just like Luke wasn’t the last Skywalker, Peggy isn’t the last Carter…
  • The Winter Soldier…is Bucky, Steve’s best friend who Steve had assumed was killed in action back in World War II. After he “died”, HYDRA used the Super Soldier serum to bring him back to life and repair his arm. Bucky recognizes Steve and can’t quite bring himself to kill his old friend. His fate and his greater character angle will be revealed a bit later.
  • Due to the chaos, the Mind Stone is now under the control of HYDRA out in Europe (which is not good) — and we get our look at The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, two enhanced “twins” who are ready to wreak havoc soon. We will see more of them soon…

This was a fantastic film. It was as if Marvel gave us their take on a Tom Clancy novel and unleashed it on an unsuspecting fan base. The action sequences are top notch, the story well told and it’s a hell of a ride, especially given the stakes at hand.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

WHICH ONE WAS THIS?

This was the one that was totally unexpected. The one Marvel property that after a few years of rotating Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain and Captain America, fans were greeted with an obscure batch of characters called “The Guardians of the Galaxy”. The film tells the story of an Indiana Jones-esque junk collector in Peter Quill, AKA “Star Lord” (Chris Pratt) who steals a mysterious orb which forces him to cross paths with three renegades in the skilled assassin Gamora (Saldana) and two bounty hunters in Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel). When all three are arrested, they meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a criminal who has been hunting the Kree warlord, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) in order to exact revenge for the murder of his wife and daughter at Ronan’s hands. After escaping prison, Quill brings them on board his vessel with the understanding that the orb Quill stole will be sold to a buyer on Knowhere, whom Gamora knows…which turns out to be The Collector (Benicio Del Toro). When the Collector opens the orb, the team discovers that it contains The Power Stone, one of the six Infinity Stones, which The Collector provides a history of, impromptu. The sale is void, however, when Tivan’s assistant, Carina, grabs the stone and destroys much of The Collector’s shop, along with herself. Before the Guardians can get away with the stone, Ronan and his minions show up to take the stone with the intention of destroying the nearby world of Xandar and then Thanos (Josh Brolin) right after that for perceived insolence in the eyes of Ronan, prompting the Guardians to band together for the first time to stop Ronan from destroying everything and everyone.

EASTER EGGS

  • So, we’ve been introduced to Space Stone, the Mind Stone, and the Reality Stone. Here, we get the Power Stone, something that actually SOUNDS like it could destroy everything unlike the Water Vapor Stone from Thor: The Dark World. By the end of the film, the Power Stone is put in a secure vault on Xandar for safekeeping…more on that later in Phase Three.
  • We have our second Thanos sighting. Gamora and Nebula work for Ronan the Accuser and Ronan isn’t happy that Gamora has gone rogue. Gamora, as it turns out, is the adopted daughter of Thanos, just like Nebula.
  • Howard the Duck makes his first appearance in the MCU in a post-credits sequence. Turns out The Collector had his egg in his collection which hatched shortly after Carina’s ill-advised possession of the Power Stone.
  • Knowhere is made up of a decapitated Celestial’s head. We’ll learn more about the Celestials in Phase Three and how is relates to Peter.

HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS TO THE MCU?

Important enough. This is the origin of the team and the introduction (and hiding) of the Power Stone. The film, however, wasn’t one of my favorite entries. It’s fun to watch and extremely clever but I don’t think director James Gunn’s vision is totally realized until the sequel which, for me, is an absolute slice of comic book heaven. Still, this movie was a HUGE hit with the MCU fan base and prompted a couple more appearances for the characters.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

WHICH ONE WAS THIS?

The big culmination of Phase 2 of the MCU which is weird since it’s followed by one more film and an origin story to boot. In the wake of the events of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, The Avengers learn that HYDRA is in possession of Loki’s scepter which contains the Mind Stone. After getting it back (and running into HYDRA’s two enhanced soldiers in the field who play with Stark’s mind and make him hallucinate about the apocalypse) Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) conclude that the Mind Stone contains artificial intelligence neurons…so, logically, they extract those neurons for use in their “Ultron” protection program because nothing could POSSIBLY go wrong when messing around with A.I….and it does. Stark’s system gives birth to an actual Ultron (voiced by James Spader) who not only takes control of Stark’s “Iron Legion” army of robots but also seemingly takes out JARVIS, Stark’s A.I., as well. Ultron immediately uses the Legion to attack the Avengers and steals the scepter (with the Mind Stone) and takes it to Sokovia. When the Avengers pursue, Wanda, one of the enhanced twins (Elizabeth Olsen) manages to subdue Captain America (Evans), Black Widow (Johansson), and Thor (Hemsworth) by giving them disturbing visions — and then drives Banner to madness, causing him to go on an uncontrollable rampage, turning him against his friends. The battle destroys portions of Sokovia and costs lives which turns the public against The Avengers, pushing them into hiding and forcing them to do some soul-searching. As they regroup at Hawkeye’s (Jeremy Renner) secret off-grid home with his wife and child, Banner and Romanoff make plans to get away from their current lives and run away together. Thor vacates Earth to investigate what his visions mean. Hawkeye is already trying to escape the life and everything seems to be in flux which is a shame since Ultron is attempting to make a new synthetic being with his consciousness uploaded to the Mind Stone. Just go with it. If you can “liquefy” a stone, you can certainly upload data to it just like a USB drive.

EASTER EGGS

  • Ultron attempts to get Vibranium (the stuff Captain America’s shield is made from) from a seller who stole it from Wakanda, home of the Black Panther.
  • Ulysses Klaw, the man who attempts to give Ultron his Vibranium, loses his hand to Ultron in the film. In the comics, Klaw gets a synthetic arm from Wakanda to replace it.
  • Good lord, ok…so, basically, Wanda and her brother, Quicksilver are children of Magneto in the comics. The problem is that Disney doesn’t have the rights to the separate X-Men Film Universe. Fox does. Logically, Magneto doesn’t exist in this universe. So Strucker of HYDRA had to stand in as their “father” who gave them their powers. With Disney’s purchase of Fox, it’s gonna be interesting to see if Quicksilver does make an appearance in the MCU along with the rest of the X-Men.
  • Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson talk about a “missing persons case”. This is in reference to the disappearance of Bucky, the Winter Soldier…more on that in Phase 3.
  • Thor’s visions (courtesy of Wanda the Scarlet Witch) foreshadow the coming events in Thor: Ragnarok. We will learn more about that in Phase 3.

HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS TO THE MCU?

Pretty important. This Avengers film begins with the team at the top of their game, working like a well-oiled machine and even throwing a swanky party to celebrate — then the cracks begin to show and, by the time it’s all over, the public isn’t sure about them anymore and they don’t care who it was that caused the damage in South Africa or Europe. The Hulk has run off, leaving Romanoff alone after the two were due to run off together. Hawkeye is semi-retired. Quicksilver is dead. Thor is going home to deal with family issues and Stark has taken his ball and gone home as well. The good news? SHIELD has made a comeback. Nick Fury (Jackson) has returned, the Avengers have created a new being with the Mind Stone named “Vision” (Paul Bettany) and he, Wanda, Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and Falcon have all joined the team to take up the empty spots. The more ominous news, however, is that Thanos is tired of waiting for Earth to succumb to major threats — and he finally dons the Infinity Gauntlet, beginning his quest to find all six Infinity Stones. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” has a lot going on. It’s not as simplistic as the first Avengers film and the villain isn’t as compelling or interesting, ironic since James Spader makes for a menacing Ultron. Part of the issue is that there wasn’t really a lead up to any of this and you don’t get the sense that this is a blow-off. Instead, the movie introduces new heroes and plot points which will have significance in the future. Still, it’s enjoyable if not totally perfect.

ANT-MAN (2015)

WHICH ONE WAS THIS?

The introduction to the newest hero: Ant-Man. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a burglar out on parole. A loving father, he just wants to see his daughter but can’t due to his lack of custody or visitation rights. Unable to provide child support because he lacks employment, he reluctantly agrees to commit another burglary with his friend, Luis (Michael Peña) only to find out that the safe they end up robbing contains what appears to be a motorcycle suit and helmet. Stealing the suit anyhow, Lang discovers that it comes with a mechanism that shrinks the wearer down to the size of an ant. After inadvertently going on an adventure while shrunk down, Scott freaks out and tries to return the suit to the house he stole it from, only to discover that the owner knows it was stolen — and it’s none other than scientist and former SHIELD agent, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). As a scientist, Pym invented “The Pym Particle” which allows the shrinking of a human being down to a tiny fraction of their original size — but allows them to retain their normal strength which, more or less, makes them the perfect weapon. Pym, however, left SHIELD abruptly after his wife shrunk down to sub-atomic size and was lost to him, seemingly forever. As Pym is no longer youthful enough to be Ant-Man, he wants Lang to take up the mantle — and just in time, too: Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has a plan to make an off-shoot of the Pym Particle so that he can make his own army of military battle suits, forcing Pym into a proxy battle with Cross using Lang as his weapon of choice.

EASTER EGGS

  • We get a nice prologue set in 1989, showing a younger version of Pym as he visits Howard Stark (John Slattery) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) at SHIELD. It’s nice to see them again. It’s also nice to see an undamaged Triskelion — still under construction here.
  • Falcon (Anthony Mackie) has a small part in the film and appears to take on Ant-Man after Lang attempts to infiltrate the new SHIELD headquarters in New York.
  • There’s a great moment when Lang asks Pym why they don’t just call in the Avengers to deal with Pym’s issues. Pym angrily replies that they don’t need the Avengers because “they’re too busy dropping cities from the sky”, a reference to the climatic event in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”.
  • The Wasp is teased in a flashback sequence where Pym and his wife disable a nuke, mid-flight. The character is teased again when Pym psses the suit on to Hope (Evangeline Lilly), his daughter.

HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS TO THE MCU?

It’s your typical origin story but it’s a fun one and Hank Pym finally gets his moment in the sun. Additionally, with Stark out of the Avengers, Sam tells Steve Rogers (Evans) in a post-credits sequence that he “knows a guy who can help” after they finally locate Bucky. Seems like Falcon was impressed enough with Scott that he believes Scott could be one of the Avengers…the reason why this movie comes after the last Avengers movie was because Edgar Wright was attached to direct the film but was dropped due to creative differences. The movie’s release date was moved up a couple times as a result. As it stands, this is fun B-level MCU fodder and a solid and clever action film. The final battle between Cross and Lang is really cool, taking place in Lang’s daughter’s room — but in smaller size so as not to wreck anything.

OTHER REQUIRED MCU PHASE TWO VIEWING:

“All Hail the King” – This is a post-mortem following the events of “Iron Man 3” and gives us the fate of Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley), the actor who played the role of “The Mandarin”. Here, he’s in prison and well protected by another prisoner. He also has a fan base who always requests that he does the Mandarin’s intimidating threat (“YOU’LL NEVER SEE ME COMING…”) and agrees to an interview with a journalist who wants to review all that he’s been through in his life. It soon becomes apparent that the journalist is not who he says he is and is only there to kidnap Slattery so that the REAL Mandarin can see him and make him pay for his mockery…something that the addle-brained Slattery doesn’t get because he is the Mandarin and all this is confusing to him…also in the same prison is Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) who seems to have a romantic “acquaintance” in another male prisoner. And he still thinks he and Tony Stark are friends. Easily, one of the best Marvel One-Shots ever done. And, incidentally, the last one, which is unfortunate.

Well, that’s it for Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Join us tomorrow when we take a break to check out the various Marvel TV shows!

About Matt Perri

Matt Perri
Matt Perri is one of those literary Ronin you’ve never heard of until he shows up and tells you he’s a literary Ronin. He’s a native Californian, a film buff, old school gamer geek, and a sports/entertainment fan. A lifelong Giants, 49ers and Sharks fan, he also covers the world of pro-wrestling, writing recaps for WWE Monday Night RAW and Total Divas at Scott’s Blog of Doom. You can follow the guy on Twitter via @PerriTheSmark as well as here at The Workprint and his own blog, We Hate Your Gimmick.

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