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Make Mine Marvel: Phase Two and Beyond
The second Phase of the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe began as Phase One did: with an Iron Man movie. IRON MAN 3 was a unique entry for the series and superhero movies as a whole as it focused more on the man under the suit instead of the heroics themselves. After the events of THE AVENGERS Tony Stark is suffering PTSD, as he almost died in deep space delivering a nuclear bomb to the Chitauri aliens. Just as he’s suffering through this, a terrorist known as The Mandarin is bombing random locations as an attack on America. Stark, attempting his usual bravado, calls him out and invites him to his home, which is summarily destroyed, along with his Iron Man suit. He manages to get back in form, with the help of a number of prototype suits, a kid, and War Machine, rooting out the true villain of the piece. IRON MAN 3 loosely adapted the Extremis comic storyline but went in a completely different and more humorous direction, but did start the questions about why the Avengers didn’t get involved considering the terroristic threat along with the kidnapping of the President.
The next entry wasn’t a movie at all. While the DVD releases typically included a short side-story set in the same universe, one of which eventually leading to AGENT CARTER, the universe didn’t include any television until that fall when AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. came out on ABC. Following a mysteriously resurrected Agent Coulson and a new team of agents, the show focused on smaller parts of the fiction, such as other Asguardians, the Kree race, and fallout from the movies. The inclusion into the universe at this point has been sadly one-sided, as no major stars have shown up outside of a couple first-season visits from Nick Fury and the occasional guest Maria Hill, and the movies continue on as though Coulson is still dead, despite his team being responsible for finding a Helicarrier that would feature in the second Avengers film. For roughly half of the first season, S.H.I.E.L.D. struggled to find its place, building characters but never gelling into a consistent arc or rhythm. It turned out however that it was only biding its time until a futurecinematic entry, which turned the world on its head.
Meanwhile, the next actual movie was THOR: THE DARK WORLD. After some behind the scenes shenanigans that ended up replacing a director mid-production, THE DARK WORLD released, picking up immediately after THE AVENGERS with Thor taking Loki back to Asgard, where he is promptly placed in prison while the Cosmic Cube is placed into protection. It is revealed as the first of the Infinity Stones, one of six ancient artifacts that promise ultimate power to their holders. It isn’t long before the second artifact is found on Earth by Thor’s would-be girlfriend, which awakens the dark elves, a race that hungers for the Aether. With a universal alignment imminent, the Aether can snuff out almost all life and spread darkness to every corner of the realms. Thor’s mother is killed, and he and Loki escape to stop them….And that’s pretty much the plot. There’s not a whole lot going on in this one other than Loki being funny and Thor doing Thor-like things. The main effects from this one end up being that Loki survives and ends up replacing his father on the throne of Asgard, while disgusing himself as Odin himself, and the Aether being hidden off Asgard with the mysterious Collector to prevent more than one Infinity Stone being in one place at the same time. That particular thread would be picked up two movies later…
With Iron Man and Thor accounted for, along with The Hulk showing up in an after-credits scene in IRON MAN 3, it was time to look in at the other major Avengers in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, featuring not only Cap, but also Black Widow. S.H.I.E.L.D. is beefing up their defenses with Project Insight, a set of three new Helicarriers, each of which with a predictive technology that can stop threats before they happen in a sort of Minority Report way. Captain America is against this, and raises some red flags which result in the apparent assassination of Nick Fury by a strange assassin with a metal arm. Alexander Pierce, Secretary of the World Security Council, also oversees S.H.I.E.L.D. but seems to be involved in the conspiracy to get the Helicarriers active without further delay. Captain America and Black Widow go on the run with the help of a fellow soldier who becomes The Falcon, and in the biggest twist the Marvel Universe so far reveal that Hydra, thought defeated with the Red Skull, is very much alive, controlled with an AI representation of Armin Zola. Hydra has shaped history with such events as the death of Tony Stark’s parents, and using the Winter Soldier, revealed as Cap’s friend Bucky, they plan on making sure Project Insight proceeds to be able to destroy their enemies, both on the wrong side of the law and the right side. Nick Fury is revealed to be alive, and Hydra is defeated, but not before all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secrets are revealed to the public and subsequently shut down. At the end of the movie, there is an uncertain future. A few more things of note happened. Stephen Strange, A.K.A. Doctor Strange had his name dropped for the first time, and during the end credits it was revealed that a separate Hydra base continued operating, doing experiments on Loki’s scepter and creating superpowered beings: Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.
Back on AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., the events of WINTER SOLDIER left the team reeling as a major member revealed themselves to have been working for Hydra the whole time. Again, while the movies never directly reference the events of the show, this is a great example of how just existing in the same universe makes the storytelling possibilities endless for the show, as it can go deeper into things the movies just don’t have the time to do. Between this and future alien happenings, the show continued to build steam and maintain quality from then on, and opened the door for future spinoffs, such as the two season AGENT CARTER, which appeared during the mid-season break during AGENT’S second season.
The next entry was possibly the riskiest thing that Marvel had done up to this point, but with the success of pretty much everything they had done thus far they were essentially playing with house money. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was a loose adaption of a comic that had never had a long reach, and had no household names. Other than a beginning showing the kidnapping of a small child, it had no Earth connections, and included an almost all-alien cast, including a talking gun-happy raccoon and a walking tree who could only speak three words, “I am Groot”, exclusively in that order. Proving that there was no such thing as ‘Superhero fatigue’ and continued Marvel’s winning streakas Guardians was one of Marvel’s biggest successes thus far. It opened up a whole new universe of possibilities. Just as THOR had made other worlds and aliens palatable to audiences as long as there was an Earth component, GUARDIANS proved that there didn’t have to be any Earth at all. The film follows a band of light criminals; Star-Lord, the abducted human raised by thieves, Gamora, daughter of Thanos, Rocket Raccoon, an experiment, Groot, a tree, and Drax, an alien blinded by rage against Ronan, the villain. With unexpected humor and heart, the team chases down a payday by acquiring the third revealed Infinity Stone, which provides unlimited destructive power, whereas the Aether converts matter and the Cosmic Cube creates energy. Ronan is hired by Thanos to recover the stone, however he decides to keep it for himself to destroy his enemies. Through a series of adventures, Ronan is defeated, the team stays together for future mayhem, and a new franchise is born, just in time for the full Avengers team to return.
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON begins with the full team of Avengers mopping up after WINTER SOLDIER, cleaning out the last Hydra base and recovering Loki’s scepter, but not before the Scarlet Witch using her scepter given magic powers gives Stark a dark vision of the future. After revealing that inside the Scepter lies the fourth cosmic cube (Though one now must wonder why Thanos gave Loki one stone to just end up losing 2 stones, but it does put the stone at the same place as several other stones, so who knows), Stark and Banner use the new powers to try and transform the AI Jarvis into a new creation: Ultron, who they hope will be so advanced that the Avengers will no longer be needed. Ultron, of course, gets too smart too quickly, overrides Jarvis, and soon attempts to destroy the Avengers, taking the twins Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch under his wing. Meanwhile, Thor leaves for a while to find out more, uncovering the Infinity Stones plaguing them, and they hide out at Hawkeye’s house with his family. Nick Fury returns, and together, the Avengers form up to take out Ultron, managing to convince the twins whose side they should be really on. Saving the world from annihilation, Hulk leaves for unknown spaces, and Quicksilver sacrifices himself. Stark leaves the Avengers along with Thor, and a new team forms with Scarlet Witch, Captain America, The Falcon, War Machine, and the story moves forward, with a coda of Thanos recovering the fabled Infinity Gauntlet, which, with all the infinity stones, will give him control of the universe itself. So…Gulp.
Unlike Phase One, the Avengers did not close it out. Phase Two closes with a different style of Marvel movie, ANT-MAN, a more comedy focused less world-ending focused film. An ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist, Hank Pym, had designed a shrinking suit for use in the field, but after S.H.I.E.L.D. began going directions he didn’t like, and also the disappearance of his wife, he retired to take care of his daughter. Enter a thief who steals the suit, but ends up being talked into infiltrating Pym’s old corporation to stop the new owner (Surprise, Hydra member!) from creating a new shrinking suit for the wrong hands. Protecting his daughter, the thief saves the day. The movie itself is more notable due to the behind the scenes mess, as the original director, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) was working on it for almost a decade before Marvel finally moved on. It also revealed the Quantum realm, something that may come into play in future installments.
With that, Phase Two ended, and now we have officially entered Phase Three. Instead of an official Iron Man movie, we started off with CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. After the events of AGE OF ULTRON, along with new flare ups with the surviving villain Crossbones (And the unsaid events happening on AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.), the United Nations decide that a new accord is needed, and the Sokovia Accords are created. Superheroes like The Avengers now need to register, something that Cap is against but Stark is all for. The issue is pressed when Bucky reappears, his memories slowly coming back but still possibly being controlled. After a public terrorist attack where he appears to be the cause, Cap leaps to his aid, facing off against the Black Panther, a king of the African nation Wakanda who also controls the world’s supply of Vibranium, the most powerful metal known. The villainous Zemo, having lost his family at the hands of Ultron and thus the Avengers, gains control of Bucky, who busts out of captivity. After the chaos, Stark insists on Cap signing the accords, but Cap goes to save Bucky instead to find out what’s really going on. Stark assembles a team to stop them. What follows is the greatest superhero battle scene in history. Heroes fighting heroes. And oh yes, the Marvel debut of SPIDER-MAN! It is a scene that should be watched rather than described here. Afterward, with almost all of Cap’s forces held in an underwater prison known as The Raft, Stark goes after Cap and Bucky, having figured out something else is happening that he isn’t privy too. Coming together in the frozen north, they discover Zemo, but Stark also finds out a secret Cap has been keeping: Bucky, as The Winter Soldier, killed his parents. Hero versus hero face off, with Cap the victor, but at the last moment keeps himself from killing Stark, and instead leaves with Bucky, now short his metal arm. In the end he sends a letter pledging that he’ll be there if the world needs him, War Machine is crippled, and it is one of the rare instances where the villain wins, having destroyed The Avengers.
Lastly, we have the just-released DOCTOR STRANGE, which introduces the as-of-yet-unseen magical side of the Marvel Universe, with different dimensions and demons. I won’t go into detail as the movie was just released, but it continues to move the Marvel universe forward.
Alongside the TV entry and the film entries has been the Netflix series, which has included the fantastic DAREDEVIL series, facing the origin of Daredevil facing off against the Kingpin and The Hand alongside Elektra and The Punisher starting in season two, JESSICA JONES as a damaged super-strong private detective fights against a villain with the ability to control others with a word, and LUKE CAGE, who uses his invulnerability to protect his neighborhood.
Phase Three continues next year with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, and THOR: RAGNAROK, along with the TV series INHUMANS picking up after AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Netflix continues as well with new seasons of DAREDEVIL, JESSICA JONES, and LUKE CAGE, along with new show IRON FIST. A Series combining the heroes, THE DEFENDERS, also will air. It’ll close off in 2018 and 2019 with BLACK PANTHER, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, CAPTAIN MARVEL, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, AVENGERS 4, SPIDER-MAN 2, And probably some more TV and Netflix productions, and maybe a DOCTOR STRANGE sequel considering the success of that entry.
Cinematic universes are the new big thing, with DC climbing on board with Justice League related films, and even Universal getting into the mix with a collection of same-universe monster movies. Hopefully they can keep the same quality that Marvel has displayed thus far, however Universal had already attempted the beginning of a universe with DRACULA UNTOLD and that went nowhere, and DC, while experiencing financial success with BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and SUICIDE SQUAD, has been floundering when it comes to the critics. Regardless, at least one universe is bright. Until next time, Make mine Marvel!
Previously on Minion Musings...