The biggest thing in film these days is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That is, the films being released by the movie studio arm of Marvel Comics which is now owned by Disney. It began back in 2008. Marvel had sold the rights to some of its biggest characters to other movies studios: Spiderman to Sony and the X-Men to Fox. When those movies continued to do big business, they decided to put their own horse in the race. But with their most recognizable characters out of reach they had to open their pursuit with a lesser known character: Iron Man. With solid casting (Robert Downey Jr.), great direction and a compelling story arc, Marvel showed that they could do this thing. At that point, they began building the Cinematic Universe. Today they announced the HUGE slate of films that will comprise Phase Three of the plan. It seems that Marvel Studios can’t lose and they’re putting everything on the line now with full coffers and no fear. Let’s look back and then forward at where Marvel has been:
Iron Man, May 2, 2008 – Grade: A
Iron Man was the perfect kick-off film. A fresh twist on super hero movies with an absolutely perfect casting choice in RDJ.
The Incredible Hulk, June 13, 2008 – Grade: C+
While certainly better than the original Ang Lee Hulk film, this movie just didn’t capitalize on the success of Iron Man, but Edward Norton was still a good choice of casting. I’m still not sure this movie should even be considered as part of the “universe”.
Iron Man 2, May 7, 2010 – Grade B-
A bit of a sophomore slump for this series. A less-than compelling villain kind of bogged down the story and the stakes just didn’t seem as high.
Thor, May 6, 2011 – Grade: B+
Now we finally have the second big hit for Marvel. Great casting of Thor, but the casting of Loki was a revelation. Plenty of charm and humor here to ease tension and sci-fi elements. Just a well-crafted film.
Captain America: The First Avenger, July 22, 2011 – Grade: A
It all led up to the first solo film for the iconic character of Captain America. Chris Evans is great in the role and the fact that this is a period piece set in WWII makes it a welcome departure from the films that came before. Then this sets up for the first big team-up movie perfectly:
The Avengers, May 4, 2012 – Grade: A+
If they hadn’t already proved that they know how to identify the right people to bring in, Marvel hired Joss Whedon to do the first Avengers film and he knocks it out of the park. He perfectly handles all the characters and keeps the movie lean at the same time.
And so concludes Phase One! Phase Two must raise the stakes and expand the universe even further. And that’s what happened!
Iron Man 3, May 3, 2013 – Grade: B
Following Avengers, IM3 picks right up with the Stark character and re-focuses on his personal journey, which is great. The story gets a bit muddled, but the results are still pretty good and we leave the character in a place of uncertainty – forcing the audience to pine for more Tony Stark even as we wonder if there will be more at all.
Thor: The Dark World, November 8th, 2013 – Grade: C
The first Thor movie was probably the most surprisingly good movie of the series to me, but the sequel feels a bit overwrought. They did the right thing by keeping Loki in the story, but the stakes just don’t feel as high and interesting as the first film. The main villain is probably partly to blame as he just seems too remote and uninspired even though I really like the actor.
Captain America: The Winter Solider, April 4, 2014 – Grade: A
Probably the best of the solo films since the original Iron Man. It’s almost like they sensed that the universe might be getting stale and so they blew it up completely with a huge twist and a great arc for Cap. The direction on this movie also amazing and the fight scenes are top notch. The cold war conspiracy thriller motif is perfectly executed here too. Just a great all-around film.
Guardians of the Galaxy, August 1, 2014 – Grade: A+
And then Marvel took the biggest risk so far in this series of films: a movie based on a very obscure comic property that involved a talking raccoon and an anthropomorphic tree. This could easily have been their first big flop. But, again, they put the right people in place. They hired James Gunn to helm this irreverent space opera and he absolutely nailed it. Audiences loved it and Marvel got their biggest boost yet! I love this movie.
Avengers: Age of Ultron, May 1, 2015 – Grade: ???
So Phase Two will wrap up with the second Avengers film that will pit the team against an insane robot named Ultron and voiced by James Spader! It promises to be a devastating film that will re-write everything that’s been built so far. Just check out this trailer:
And today, in Apple press conference style, Marvel unveiled the ultra-ambitious slate of movies for their enormous Phase Three! So here we go:
Ant-Man, July 17, 2015
Captain America: Civil War, May 6, 2016
Doctor Strange, November 4, 2016
Guardians of the Galaxy 2, May 5, 2017
Thor: Ragnarok, July 28, 2017
Black Panther, November 3, 2017
Avengers: Infinity War (Part 1), May 4, 2018
Captain Marvel, July 6, 2018
Inhumans, November 2, 2018
Avengers: Infinity War (Part 2), May 3, 2019
Whew! Lots to digest there. My takeaway: Marvel intends to rule the box office for the next 5 years! And who’s to say they won’t? Who will challenge them? Probably Star Wars, but even they are now owned by Disney. Wow.