The MCU Countdown

The MCU Countdown #1: The Avengers

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I hate to be predictable but to be honest, what other film ranks higher than The AvengersThe Avengers not only is one of the most successful comic-book films of all-time but the pinnacle of what modern-day franchises strive for. Ever since Marvel successfully pulled-off the cinematic universe idea, studios have strived to find which properties they can merge together in order to set-up a film where everyone comes together for one major event. Warner Brothers tried that with Justice League and failed. Universal has tried to get their "Dark Universe" off the ground but the failure of The Mummy might have killed that franchise on arrival. The only cinematic universe that seems to have some success going is Legendary's Monster Universe involving King Kong and Godzilla. That being said, Avengers is up here not only because it is widely considered the bet comic book film of all time. While being the one of the best comic book films of all times is a major feat, the larger fact is that The Avengers changed the way studios make films now.

While studios like Warner Brothers and Paramount owned large properties such as DC Comics and Hasbro, they never considered crossing over their characters. While WB always toyed with the idea of a Batman/Superman film after the success of Tim Burton's run at the character, it still took over 25 years to bring those two characters together on the big screen. There is a lot of work that goes into producing cross-over films. Marvel Studios is the one and only studio that has truly made a cinematic universe work. Say what you will about the DCEU or other universes out there, Marvel has stuck to their ideas on how they build their worlds. The Avengers also had the best MCU villain for the longest time. How Whedon and company crafted and expanded the ideology of Loki in this film is impressive. While Loki was far from being a weak character in Thor, the evolution of his character within this film set the bar for future antagonist to come, for better or for worse. We will see if Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War can live up to his billing.

Well now that this list has concluded, the story turns to what the future holds for the MCU. Are the brightest days of this franchise behind us or ahead of us? While that question is not easy to visualize yet, there are two things that are certain with the future of the MCU. One is that Marvel is aware of their villain crutch and they're aggressively changing the tone of that criticism. Since the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming, Marvel has had great responses to their new wave of villains including Vulture, Hela, and Killmonger. If Thanos knocks it out of the park, four of the top five MCU villains could be from the last wave of MCU films. 

The other initiative that Marvel is putting on their films is making their properties interconnect more. While Marvel films have had Easter eggs and quick cameos in the past, you could easily skip Thor's solo film or the Guardians of the Galaxy newest volume and now miss any important information regarding your favorite heroes. Now, Marvel seems to be changing tones by placing a lot of knowledge from prior films into future films. While fans of the franchise will enjoy these rewarding moments, newcomers and regular fans of the franchise might begin to feel like their missing something and begin to feel disconnect with the MCU. Whether these decisions harms or helps the franchise remains to be seen but until they're proven wrong, let Marvel go do their thing. 

The MCU Countdown T-#2: Captain America: Winter Soldier & Civil War

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Since I built this list a few months back, I had a hard debate between these two films as which one I would put at #2 and #3. On one hand, I believe that one film is very well-made film that might be one of the most relevant Marvel films ever made. The other film is a setup to the biggest Marvel film as of this point in time. While I think both films are great, I could not decide on which film is more relevant to fans and the story. So, because of my respect for both films along with my indecisiveness, I decided to talk about both films at #2.

When it comes to Captain America: Winter Soldier, you have to respect this film for what it started inside the comic book genre and that is adapting other genres of film. Before Winter Soldier, many comic book films were just that, comic book movies. With the massive explosion of the genre in cinema, Marvel understood that comic book films needed to become more than just super-hero films and the writers behind Winter Solider decided that their film could be just that. While Winter Solider is still a super-hero film on the outside, the core story shares the tropes of a political thriller straight from the 60s and 70s. The success of this genre blend lead to future Marvel films doing the same thing. Guardians of the Galaxy is a space opera, Ant-Man is a heist film, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a teen comedy, and Black Panther is a James Bond film.

I believe that this and Black Panther are the two most culturally relevant films in the MCU. Who would have thought that a comic book film about Russians infiltrating our government to spy on ourselves and influence the outcome of our lives would be so relatable in today's world. While I enjoyed Winter Soldier when it was released a few years back, the film has aged incredibly well due to the political climate that the world is in now and might make this MCU film one of the few that truly stands the test of time.

As for Captain America: Civil War, my love for this film started when it was announced that Marvel was going to adapt one of their famous event comics. Civil War was a comic that I read back when I was in high school and I loved the social dynamics that story placed on heroes and how they would react to the government getting involved with their business. While Captain America: Civil War doesn't fully adapt the Civil War comic story arch (primarily because they do not have the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises), the perfectly translated the core beliefs of characters inside that comic book story arc to the big screen.

Captain AmericaCivil War also is one of the most successful set-up films I've ever witnessed. While the film is fun and entertaining just on its own, Civil War successfully sets up the events leading into Spider-Man: Homecoming, Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, and Avengers: Infinity War. Making a successful film is already a difficult task to pull off. Trying to make a successful film that sets up a future franchise is a whole different monster to achieve that very few succeed in (look how poorly Power Rangers & The Mummy set their future up). Captain America: Civil War is not only a great film but a textbook example of how well-oiled of a machine Marvel is with their film universe.

While I find both of these films very entertaining, both films do have a problem. When it comes to Winter Solider, one of the major plot points that happen in the film is (SPOILER ALER) the fall of SHIELD, the government agency that represents the Avengers. While this massive event that happens in the franchise does show some lasting damage, I feel like this event hasn't been represented enough in future films. One of the biggest arms in the United States government branch has been corrupted and controlled by an outside government and yet, there is no other government agencies or public outcry over the new formation of the Avengers in later films. I guess you could consider the Sokovia Accords in Civil War as the final straw, but the film doesn't mention the fall of SHIELD as the first reason why the accords are written.

Civil War also has a tendency to place comedic moments inside some really tense areas within the film. I understand that Marvel is the "family friendly" comic book franchise that everyone loves including me but at the same time, I wish they would lean back on their comedy sometimes. There are moments within this film where friends are having tense exchanges with one another, yet they still find time to drop some one-liner or exchange that is only there to generate a laugh from the audience. I understand that this is just a staple of Marvel films that works for many people but sometime soon, Marvel needs to pull your punches when it comes to their humor.

I wished that I could have given a definitive #2 and #3 to this list. While one film is a film that's one of the most important films inside the MCU, another film might be the best film they've ever made. It amazes me how many fans of the MCU latch on to characters like Star-Lord, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and even the Hulk, yet, the most successful hero in this franchise hands-down is Captain America. While few heroes that have been given a trilogy up to this point, Captain America is the only one that truly has three-successful films. Say what you will about Captain America: The First Avenger but that film is much more enjoyable than Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World. Even if Infinity War succeeds as well as many believe it can, the Captain America series might even surpass that trilogy of films.

Speaking of The Avengers...

The MCU Countdown #4: Iron Man

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The film that started everything. If it were not for Jon Favreau and Kevin Feige, Iron Man as well as the MCU might not exist. It's hard not to believe that before this film, the character of Iron Man was not a major comic book character. Tony Stark had his few moments, but Tony Stark was nowhere near the level of Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker. Yet, here we all are ten years later, and Robert Downey Jr. is one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood helming a multi-billion-dollar property as well as helming one of the biggest films in the last decade. While Tony Stark has only had three solo-films, Robert Downey Jr. is tied with Chris Evans for the most appearances in the MCU with eight. That is almost half of the films inside the comic-book universe. It is hard to believe this universe working without Robert Downey in the red and gold. 

One of the things that might throw fans of the MCU off when revisiting Iron Man is how grounded the film was when it came out. While it might seem weird to think but before the year 2008, Marvel was at a terrible spot at the box office. The X-Men franchise had released its third that left many to believe that the franchise was dead. Spider-Man was coming off of the stench of Spider-Man 3 with rumors that nobody wanted to come back for a fourth installment. Even the Fantastic Four were dead in the mind of audiences after Rise of the Silver Surfer stunk up the theaters. Fox now saw both of their properties (X-Men and Fantastic Four) on life support and Sony was trying to figure out the future of their Spider-Man franchise. The entire Marvel film catalog was nearly dead, and it did not help that DC decided they should release their next film in their catalog, The Dark KnightThe Dark Knight destroyed almost every record held by a comic book film making over a billion dollars worldwide. The Dark Knight set the record as being the 6th grossing film all time back in 2008 and set the bar for superhero films to come.

Iron Man was Marvel's counter-punch to DC's success with Batman. Both characters share similar traits, billionaire who had no superpowers except their wallets and minds. While Iron Man has a ton of positives going for it, there are a few negatives that stand-out after a revisit. One of them is the one and only appearance of Terrence Howard as Colonel James Rhodes. While his performance is not a bad one, Howard definitely conveys a different version of Rhodes that Don Cheadle would not bring when he takes over the role in future MCU films. There is definitely a "what if" feeling seeing Howard play the character but I personally like Cheadle's take on the character over the prior. 

Another negative from this film is less of a negative on the film itself but more of a negative for what standard it set for future MCU films. While I personally enjoy Jeff Bridges in this film as Obadiah Stane, many might look at his performance as a simple villain that Marvel would rinse and repeat in multiple films to come. Bridges would set the stage for Tim Roth, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Eccleston, Corey Stoll, and Mads Mikkelsen to get by with being vanilla villains who only serve the plot as being sinister and a mirror of who the hero could have been. While I have begun to hate a lot of the MCU's villains during this retrospective, I don't fault these failures on Jeff Bridges.

Whatever your feelings are for this film, you have to give credit to Iron Man for its world building and the bar Tony Stark and company set for future films to come. A lot of the hype going into Infinity War is due to the success of this film and the foundation it created for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I hope that we have more films to come with Downey Jr. in the Iron Man suit, I would not be shocked if Infinity War will be his last flight in the Iron Man suit. 

The MCU Countdown #5: Black Panther

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The most recently released film finds a way to crack the top five of the MCU Countdown. I will not lie, I set aside a spot in this countdown when it began for Black Panther but took a risk seeing as I would already be 4-5 films in to the countdown by the time I was started. I accepted the risk because there was already a ton of buzz surrounding the film with the social media embargo lifting when I posted my first film on the countdown. Also, there is a very real fact that Marvel is hitting its strides and just when you think the property might have hit the peak, it sets the bar higher. I don't see any film in the foreseeable future that has a chance of being worse than some of Marvel's early work. So when I put together this list, I penciled in Black Panther somewhere outside the Top Ten. I believed that the film was going to be entertaining but I did not want to set the bar too high for this film. Maybe I should not have underestimated this film. 

For a more in-depth review of Black Panther, you can check out my original review hereBlack Panther is the most recent film in the Marvel franchise and the last film leading directly into the events of Avengers: Infinity War. Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, and Andy Serkis take the helm in this film which delves into Wakanda and gives audience a deeper look into the character that they were introduced to in Civil War. While Black Panther is similar to Ant-Man in terms of being supplemental material for the MCU. The trailers have already showcased that Black Panther and the nation of Wakanda will play a very large role in the plot of AvengersInfinity War. While the film might not be one that fills in the black for other questions audience members might have leading into the film, Black Panther is a film that sets the foundation for the future of the MCU.

One of the things I try to steer away from when discussing films in their reviews is the financial success that they might have received by the time I've reviewed them. I do my best to see films early into their theatrical release in order to give myself as little knowledge as possible leading into a film. This is more of a retrospective of the film that's only been in theaters for about a month now. The only thing I can truly retrospect on is how strong this film has held at the box office, the impact it has had on Hollywood and pop culture in general

I might not be incredibly old but it was not long about that Hollywood would not risk a large budget on a film with a minority and/or female as the lead protagonist. Sadly, that belief was held all the way up to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens a few years back. Not only did that film make a ton of money its opening weekend, it still holds the record for the largest opening ever by a film. As of this article, Black Panther is now #9 all-time in domestic box office. Black Panther is also nearing the $1 billion mark which it could surpass any time soon. While The Force Awakens might have opened the door for more minority-lead film franchises, Black Panther is the film that broke down the door and tore off the hinges.

I am interested in taking a look back at this film ten years from now. How does the message within the film hold up? Does some of the story elements and character motives hold up? How much of Black Panther's legacy can be felt within its future stories as well as other film properties that spawn because of this film. Only time will tell how important Black Panther was in the history of film. For now, let's just celebrate what this film accomplished and hope the film brings more to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as the film industry.

The MCU Countdown #6: Spider-Man - Homecoming

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The Spider-Man that everyone deserved and thought they didn't want. I remember all of the moans and groans when it was announced that Spider-Man would be going through another reboot after the failed attempt with director Marc Webb. In the early 2000s, Spider-Man ruled the summer box offices. The original Raimi trilogy still holds three spots in the Top 15 highest grossing comic book films of all time. Spider-Man ruled the box office and to see how far he had fallen meant something. To go from a multi-billion-dollar property to a franchise on life support in the span of seven years is a downfall that can only be beat my Joel Schumacher and his Batman films. 

If you want a more detailed analysis of this film, you can check out my older review here. One of the things I will reiterate from my original review is I cannot believe how quickly Tom Holland has made me forget about every other actor to play Peter Parker before this film. I used to love Tobey McGuaire's version of the character as well as Andrew Garfield's. Both performers did exactly what was demanded from them to progress the story. Tom Holland is doing the exact same as they did but the material that Holland is working with is far superior than anything McGuaire or Garfield dealt with. McGuaire's flaws come from the campy nature of his trilogy and the treatment of comic book films in his era. Garfield gives a great performance as Peter Parker as well as an incredible Spider-Man but sadly a majority of the people around him are complete shit. 

After re-watching this film, I find a ton of the laughs still land with me. One of the things that has hit me a lot in this long retrospective is how some of the jokes fall flat over time. Marvel's overuse of humor is very present when you go take a deep dive into their material. Unlike many films on this list, Spider-Man: Homecoming rarely has those moments. A lot of the humor comes naturally, and Tom Holland's performance helps elevate the comedy more. Michael Keaton's performance as Vulture is another shining moment in this film as well. For a while, many considered him to be the next best villain in the MCU. I hope that Keaton has a chance to return to the role sometime in the future but if Homecoming is the end of his story, we were given a satisfying arc to his story. 

Spider-Man: Homecoming is definitely in my Top 5 "must-watch" films leading into Avengers: Infinity War. His involvement in Civil War as well as his inclusion into Infinity War helps elevate this film into importance. I am truly excited to see how big of a role Peter Parker/Spider-Man play in Infinity War. The only thing I wish I did not know going into the future of the MCU is knowing that (Spoiler Alert) Peter Parker will definitely survive the events of Avengers 3 & 4. While it was highly likely that he would survive the events of these two films, I already know that there will be moments in this film where Spider-Man will have his life on the line and I will have this knowledge in my head absolutely ruining the moment within the film. Nitpicking aside, I cannot recommend this film enough and you should stop whatever you're doing right now and watch this film. 

The MCU Countdown #8: Thor - Ragnarok

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While the character Thor was successful in terms of audience's appreciation, the fact remained that many fans never gravitated towards Thor's solo films. That all changed last November when Thor: Ragnarok hit theaters worldwide. With the success of Guardians of the Galaxy and their journeys in the cosmic realm of the MCU, the brass at Marvel decided to have Thor and Hulk enter the colorful and comedic section of the universe. While the change of direction with Thor in his solo-adventures turned the corner in terms of audience appreciation, fans of the original material before might be left disappointed. 

In case you missed it, I already reviewed Thor: Ragnarok on this site already and if you are interested, you can check out the review for that film here. While I have been a fan of the first two outings of Thor, I can agree with many fans that his solo films are amongst the weakest in the MCU. There is no faulting Hemsworth for his film but more on the conflicting directions, character development choices, and tonal shifts within his adventures. With Marvel struggling to capitalize on the Thor property, the decided to give him another change of direction, shifting away from the mystical aspect of his stories and more towards the oddity aspect of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. How conveniently Thor fits in to this side of the MCU is a nice breathe of fresh air for the character.

Hemsworth does another incredible job at playing the role of Hulk alongside Ruffalo and Hiddleston. While Loki does play a prominent role in Ragnarok, Hiddleston is not overused like in Thor: The Dark World. Loki is used sparingly and effectively. The use of the Loki character in this film might be the best run for Hiddleston since being the main villain in The Avengers. Buffalo coming back as Hulk after a two-year hiatus was a sight for sore eyes. I still wonder if Ruffalo's run as the Hulk is so good because he's used very well or if he seriously is that good. I wish we would get more films with Ruffalo as the Hulk but sadly that probably won't happen with Universal still owning distribution rights over the character.

The biggest difference between Thor's previous films and Ragnarok is the amount of comedy on screen. The Thor franchise has never shied away from comedy but the amount that is in Thor: Ragnarok is definitely a change in the franchise. As mentioned above, Guardians of the Galaxy had a huge influence on this film and Marvel used this film as an opportunity to capitalize on the want for more films like Guardians. That decision was a financially successful one with Ragnarok being the highest grossing solo film for Thor domestically and worldwide.  

While I thoroughly enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok and laughed all the way through the movies, I do miss the original interpretation of Thor. I miss MCU trying to convert Thor's solo stories into their version of Game of Thrones. Sadly, that directional failure along with audience reactions forced Marvel to course correct and lead us to where we are. While I enjoy Thor: Ragnarok for what it is and believe the film to be one of the best in the MCU, I am still left wondering "What If?". 

The MCU Countdown #9: Thor

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The first outing of Thor was one that you either liked or did not like when it hit theaters. Thor was very different than what had came before it. Iron Man was still a hero grounded in reality and The Incredible Hulk was a character that audiences were familiar with. What Thor did was teleport movie-goers to the world of gods and heroes. This was a comic-book film that nobody had ever seen before. Thor was enough of a box-office success to continue Marvel on the path towards The Avengers and the film needs to be recognized for what it did to the MCU as well as what it setup for the future films to come. 

Thor starred Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, and Idris Elba. After years of being the protector of Asgard, the time for Thor (Hemsworth) to become king has come. During Thor's ceremony, Odin (Hopkins) senses an ancient enemy known as the Frost Giants attempt to steal the tesseract. Their failed attempt and his father's lack for retaliation leaves Thor enraged and takes matter into his own hands. Thor's anger leads to a mild skirmish with the Frost Giants and these actions force Odin to strip Thor of his powers. Thor is banished to the realm of Earth where he will live out the rest of his days unless he learns to become worthy of his own powers. 

The first thing that always grabs my attention when watching this film is the cinematography and how unique it is compared to other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While many films in Phase One use more earthy color pallets and generic cinematography, Thor sets itself apart being the first colorful film in the MCU. The film's treatment of color along with it's plentiful use of close-ups and slanted cinematography gives Thor a unique image that completely sets itself apart from the early films in the MCU as well as future film. No other film in the Thor series or other films have tried to replicate this style. I do wish Marvel would put more effort into some of their camera framing to help differentiate their solo films to help make these adventures more unique. 

We must also remember that without Thor, the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be without one of it's best villains of all time, Loki. Tom Hiddleston as Loki is one of the largest stars in the MCU and quite possibly one of the best comic book antagonist in the history of film. Hiddleston's ability to convey mischievousness, anger, wrapped up in a sense of wit allows audiences to gravitate towards his charisma. I would be interested to see how the MCU might have shaped without the success of Loki. Maybe they miscast the role or Hiddleston receives pore direction but if Loki doesn't succeed, The Avengers might not have been the classic we know it as. Maybe if the MCU failed with Loki, the writing team over at Disney might have doubled down and invested more in their villains. There are tons of what-ifs when it comes to Tom Hiddleston's performance of Loki.   

While the film succeeds in many areas where it should not, it still finds a way to mess up some of the core basics of filmmaking. While the film does a great job at humanizing Thor and explaining Loki's ideologies, Thor's primary failure is the romantic plot line between Thor and Jane Foster. I'm not going to fault Hemsworth or Portman on their romantic chemistry but their love for each other doesn't feel genuine. Foster only seems to fall for Thor just on looks and being a strong male figure and not for his core beliefs and characteristics.  

Looking back at Thor, I always enjoy myself but the film is one of the least Marvel-esq films in the MCU. The film seems more mythological than superhero but that is completely the point of the film. Thor is not a film about superheroes fighting corrupted villains who are two-dimensional in their intentions. Thor is a story about gods and how they interact between themselves as well as other lesser creatures around them. The original Thor is the only true film that heavily-focuses on the mythological aspect of these characters. Thor: The Dark World tries to mimic its predecessor but fails with the villain. Thor: Ragnarok is a hell of a fun time but is more about connecting Thor to other cosmic beings in order to get him closer to the Guardians of the Galaxy. Thor is a film that is funnier than you expect and more important to the grand scheme of things than you think. While it might be one of the weaker solo-films, Thor is still a fun time.

The MCU Countdown #10: Ant-Man

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Phase 2 of the MCU is definitely the "risk-taking" phase for Marvel. With the financial success of their films followed by the massive hit in Guardians of the Galaxy, Disney and Marvel were playing with house money. Marvel films were becoming more than just an inter-connected comic book universe, they were becoming a brand. Become a brand that people show up to without hesitation allows you to take risks and make films audiences haven't seen before. Ant-Man would become Marvel's next risk to take and it seemed the highest risk yet. While Paul Rudd had success being a leading man, he was known for comedy and not considered an action hero. Ant-Man also lost it's hot-shot director in Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim, Baby Driver, Cornetto Trilogy) midway through post-production with Peyton Reed filling his shoes. With the loss of its director and questionable lead, Ant-Man seemed to be the safe bet to become the first Marvel film to flop.

Ant-Man starred Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Michael Peña, and T.I. Scott Lang (Rudd) is released from prison after serving his sentence for stealing money from corporate leaders who were taking advantage of their employees. Trying to adjust to the real world, Lang falls back into his old ways and meets up with Hank Pym (Douglas), a scientist formerly known as Ant-Man. With Pym's business protégé Darren Cross (Stoll), hell-bent on replicating Pym's technology, Hank brings in Scott Lang to take up the mantle of the Ant-Man. With the help of Pym's daughter Hope (Lilly), Scott accepts the mission to become the new Ant-Man and help prevent Darren Cross from replicating his technology. 

After watching this film, I can hold by my original statement that Ant-Man is a funnier film than Deadpool. While I find both films very comedic, I just like the comedic content and timing executed in Ant-Man more than Deadpool. While Ryan Reynold's take on Deadpool might be a better lead character than Rudd's take on Scott Lang, I feel like Rudd gets more natural laughs than Reynold's. Deadpool's humor is more vulgar and harsh whereas Ant-Man is a bit more wittier with their comedy. While I enjoy both movies, I believe that Ant-Man was more deserving of recognition in 2016 over Deadpool. 

I also enjoy the fact that we jump into the modern incarnation of Ant-Man. Instead of taking a film or two to tell the origin story of Ant-Man, the audience is given a crash course into the character and thrusted into the action without spending a ton of time on exposition. Not only does this decision help audiences get right into the meat of the story, it allows Marvel the ability to come back to the character and explain his backstory later on in the future. Maybe there is a plan further down the road for Douglas take a crack at leading the original Ant-Man when de-aging technology gets more advanced. Either way, Marvel and their decision to make this film the origin story of Ant-Man was the right decision.

While the film does a good job at progressing the protagonist along with some quality laughs along the way, the film does fall victim to another weak villain from Marvel. The antagonist of Ant-Man falls into another one of Marvel's predictable tropes of having the hero face off against a villain-ized version of himself. Similar to Iron-ManCaptain America, and The Incredible Hulk before, Lang must face off against Cross in their own versions of the Pym-particle suit. Stoll's performance as Darren Cross is definitely menacing but his character's motivations begin to become cartoonish as the film leads towards its climax. The face-off between the two does a great job at creating something new and fresh with the climax but the conflict between the two characters was very mundane and lacks depth. 

Ant-Man is definitely a quality film that gives you something different from the MCU while also  setting up future films. While Ant-Man is a very enjoyable film, I do not believe that Ant-Man is a required watch leading up to later films at this point. While Scott Lang does make an appearance in Captain America: Civil War, his role is small and very little of his origin film bleeds into the events of Civil War. That being said, I do believe you should watch Ant-Man if you are wanting to get through as many MCU films as possible before the release of Infinity War. The film is a breath of fresh air in the comic book genre and I think Ant-Man has some of the most natural comedic moments in the entire franchise. Do yourself a favor and give this movie a shot. If you go into Civil War or Avengers: Infinity War and decide to skip out on Ant-Man, you're going to be found out. Baskin Robins always finds out.

The MCU Countdown #13: Iron Man 3

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2013 was the year that the world was introduced to "Phase 2" of the MCU. After the phenomenal success of The Avengers, Marvel was at an all-time high. After releasing what some might consider the best comic book movie of all-time, Marvel needed to follow that production up with another solid outing to know that they were not going away anytime soon. So it was predictable for Marvel to go back to the horse that got them in the race in the first place. Iron Man 3 would be Robert Downey Jr's third solo-film in the MCU and his 5th appearance as Iron Man if you include The Incredible Hulk and The Avengers. While the previous Iron Man films were grounded in reality, The Avengers showcased that Iron Man could go one-on-one with a god and creatures from another realm in space. So how was Marvel going to up the anti in this third installment? Simple, it would go where no stand-alone film had gone before.

Iron Man 3 stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau, and Ben Kingsley. After the events of The Avengers, Tony has turned himself into a hermit of some sort. Instead of being the hero that the world expects of him now, he resides in his lab tinkering with newer suits as he begins to create an army of Iron Men. While Tony deals with the stress caused by the events of previous film, a series of terrorist attacks begin to spring up around the globe. The Ten Rings organization from the first Iron Man film is now under the leadership of the Mandarin. These attacks combined with Tony's want to return things to the way they were decides to openly challenge the Mandarin. If the country was not going to do anything to stop this terrorist, maybe Iron Man can step in and take matters into his own hands. 

The third installment in the franchise is also the first and only Iron Man film to this point that doesn't have Jon Favreau in the director's chair with Shane Black taking the helm. While I did like Favreau's introduction to the character, it might have been a smart move for him to take a step back after the fallout of Iron Man 2. Shane Black's dark comedy and wit gel perfectly with the personality of Tony Stark and gives the film new blood but not a complete tone shift. The mindset of Tony Stark after the event of The Avengers needed something that kept the humor of Tony Stark but brought the weight of the pressure he was carrying. Tony was a man who sacrificed himself to save the world only to survive because of dumb luck. Bringing the elements of PTSD into a super-hero movie was something that rarely is unpacked in a big-budget action film. Adding small elements like this will be a new staple in Marvel entertainment to come. We all can have fun but we can discuss important issues while we're at it. 

As for the film itself, Iron Man 3 has a lot of good going for it as well as some bad. Iron Man 3 is the first film of Phase 2 scored by Brian Tyler who is an unsung hero for the MCU. As I stated in my Thor: The Dark World retrospective, Brian Tyler put himself to the task of introducing character themes to each of Marvel's heroes that previous composers failed to do. His work in Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldies, and Thor: The Dark World is the best work Marvel has done musically until Guardians of the Galaxy comes around later on. The film also achieves a solid balance of comedy, drama, and action. While not all the comedy works in the film, every action moment succeeds tremendously and keeps the stakes high. The purpose of each character throughout the film is fleshed out well except for the actual Mandarin himself. Without giving away the twist of his character for readers who still have not seen this six-year-old film, the Mandarin's true self does not line up with some of real actions that he partakes in. Some of them would be completely contradictive without characters proving subtle side-notes to patch up some shaky writing. While the true villain of the film is worthy of his name, creating a more tightly woven antagonist would have elevated this film much higher on this list.  

Iron Man 3 will probably be the last stand-alone film we will ever get with Tony Start in the Iron Man suit. His character at this point is so intertwined with the Avengers, it would not make sense for him to an adventure that would not involve his fellow companions in the organization. Maybe we could see another solo film if Tony Start survives the events of Avengers: Infinity War but high probability that the third or fourth film in the Avengers story-arc will meet the end of the hero that started it all. While Iron Man 3 isn't a perfect film in anyway, the film is way more entertaining that Iron Man 2 and a good tone-setter for the rest of the MCU films to come. 

The MCU Countdown #14: Doctor Strange

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While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has its know heroes and famous faces, many of Marvel's heroes have started to grumble about their times in the MCU coming to a close sooner rather than later. With the possibility of some heroes preparing their big screen farewell in the coming years, Marvel began laying the foundation for their next generation of heroes to lead the charge into the next chapter of the MCU. The Guardians of the Galaxy were introduced in 2014 and they were followed-up with the introduction of Ant-Man the year after. While their introductions were a success, they were obviously not the star-power needed to lead the future of the MCU. 2016 is where things started to get serious with the introduction of Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Steven Strange in his self-titles origin film, Doctor Strange.

Doctor Strange follows the beginnings of Steven Strange, a lead nerosurgine in a Manhattan who quite simple is the best in his field. His talent for saving people from impossible circumstances leads to his cocky and arrogant lifestyle. After a near-fatal car accident, Strange is left with severe nerve damage in his hands preventing him from ever being a surgeon again. Looking for ways to repair himself leads him to Kamar-Taj and discovers the world of mystical magic. Strange must decide if he wants to return to the life that he once lived or serve a bigger purpose and protect the world from greater dangers.

The film ended up being a critical and financial success. With Marvel Studios doing their best to keep their stories fresh and inventive, Doctor Strange truly was something different in terms of visual aesthetic. The imagery of the different dimensions showcase in the film alone are worth the price of admission. Benedict Cumberbatch is such a perfect casting as Doctor Strange. There are moments in this film where Cumberbatch literally looks like the comic book renditions of Strange from the past. Cumberbatch's performance is solid along with the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, and Benedict Wong. Mikkelsen's performance as Kaecilius does fall into the realm of one-dimensional MCU villains as well as being the mirror of what the protagonist could become if given the wrong motivations. While the film nails some casting, one will always make me scratch my head and that is the problematic casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. While I understand that there is plenty of mystery to her character and where she originates from, it is obvious that her culture and beliefs stem from eastern teachings. While I'll give the film credit for tranisitioning the the Ancient One as a female instead of a male figure, they could have also taken this oppertunity to add more diversity to the film.

While I do appreciate the film's visual creativeness and introduction to the world of the mystic arts, the film lacks any other form of creativity after that. The core plot of the film is basically a beat-for-beat retelling of Iron Man's origin story from his first film. The growth of Strange going from self-centered playboy to defender of the people is completely stolen from Iron Man. Doctor Strange also deals with a recent problem in some MCU films recently with forcing too many jokes into the film. Some moments in the film that give weight to the storytelling only get ruined by forced comedic moments only to get cheap laughs. While that might work on first-time viewings, they tend to get stale over time and completely ruin the films pacing. The love tension between Benedict Cumberbatch and Rachel McAdams lacks chemistry similar to Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman in their Thor films as well. While Doctor Strange doesn't overplay the love angle as much as Thor does, the fact remains that the force plot is still there. 

Doctor Strange is still a fun and entertaining film and worth checking out, especially leading up to Avengers: Infinity War since Strange seems to be a big player in the film as well as the world to come. The film is also easy to obtain currently as it is currently streaming on Netflix as well. While I do believe the film is more entertaining than some films to come on this list, I have to place this film lower on this list due to the fact that is lacks the originality that some of these later films do. While some of these films later on rinse and repeat some plot elements, they still find a way to make you believe that they bring something fresh to the table. That being said, I look forward to seeing the next chapter in the Doctor Strange story.

The MCU Countdown #15: Guardians of the Galaxy - Vol. 2

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Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the riskiest moves Marvel Studios had made until recently. While Marvel was having a ton of critical and box office success with their films, all of them were based off of big-named characters in the comics. When Disney announced that they were making a movie based off the Guardians of the Galaxy, plenty of people were asking themselves "Who are these guys and is that a raccoon with a gun?" Needless to say, Guardians of the Galaxy was a huge financial hit and catapulted this band of misfit characters into pop culture stardom. Obviously, a sequel was bound to happen with the success of the first film and the Marvel structure of telling stories. Everyone was lining up for Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 with tons of excitement and anticipation.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 brings back Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista and Vin Diesel as the Guardians of the Galaxy along with other familiar faces to the franchise. Following the events of the first film, the Guardians are now guns-for-hire taking on any task that rewards them a large payday. After a job with the Sovereign goes south, Peter Quill comes in contact with a man claiming to be his father. With this revelation, Quill and Gamora decide to follow Quill's father, Ego, to his home planet where they can find out where he's been this whole time. Meanwhile the rest of the Guardians face the remainder of the Ravagers hot on their tale looking for revenge for getting ripped off in the first film.

The entire cast does their best at recapturing the magic and chemistry that made the first film such a hit. It's hard not to fall for Chris Pratt's charm and Baby Groot's adorable nature. While the chemistry between all of the characters and performers are still there, breaking the team in half for a majority of the film hinders this film's success greatly. What made the original great were not the character's individual actions but their interactions between the rest of the crew. Once the decision is made to split up, the main element that made the first film great is gone. To compensate for that lost humor, everyone cranks it to 11 on their performances. The two characters that noticeably take a downgrade in their performance is Drax and Nebula. Drax goes from a threatening figure who's literal language makes him a comedic bruit to a loud laughing monster who takes nothing seriously. Nebula, one of the weakest characters in the original film, comes back with a better story-arc but Karen Gillan's performance is still awful. Karen Gillan as Nebula is probably the worst character in the entire MCU.

This film, like many films in the MCU, is another example of a film that stuffers from sequel-itis. While films like Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World suffered from a mild cold, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 is a film that could be compared to pneumonia. This film goes over-the-top time and time again with its comedy. While the amount of comedy might be exactly what you want from this film, there is a lot of comedy in this film that doesn't serve the story at all. Speaking of story, the entire third act of this film is almost completely unwatchable on repeat viewings. The film could have easily ended 10-15 minutes earlier than it should have but Gunn's inclusion of the Sovereign in the final act is a terrible decision that only makes sense viewing the film the first time.

When I left the theater after seeing this film opening weekend, I was thoroughly enjoyed. While I didn't believe that the film was better than the original, I believed at the time that Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 did an adequate job at following-up the original film. Once I revisited this film for the third time for this retrospective, I found myself losing interest in the film midway through the film. The lack of a driving story with the supporting characters and making this film completely centered around Peter Quill was a terrible decision. While these problems are not noticeable with a first viewing, they show their ugly face in repeat viewings. 

The MCU Countdown #16: Thor - The Dark World

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Coming in at #16 on our MCU Countdown is the second installment in the Thor series, Thor: The Dark World. The sequel to the original Thor movie takes place slightly after the events of The Avengers and reunites Chris Hemsworth with many of the key players from his origin film. Now known as the least favorite Thor film since the release of Thor: Ragnarok last year, the film has left a bad taste in some fans mouths including some who think this is the one and only MCU film to be a bad film. While I don't think the film is as bad as many make it out to be, the film suffers far worse than Iron Man 2 when it comes to sequel-idis. 

Thor: The Dark World's plot focuses on the alignment of all nine realms which Asgardians call "The Convergence". When the worlds align, they are connected for a short period of time. This merger leads Malekith, the leader of the dark elves, out of hiding to plunge the galaxy into darkness using a power called the either. The only way Thor can stop Malekith and his army of dark elves is with the help of Loki and his love interest, Jane Foster. If that summary didn't find a way to bore you to death with its bland rendition of what the film is about, then I guess maybe you can enjoy this film.

While the film succeeds at creating great moments of action and excitement, it falls flat in telling an adequate follow-up to Thor. One of the major plot elements that was left to audiences at the end of Thor was the elimination of the Bifrost and the ability for Thor to return to earth. While The Avengers also grazed over this issue as well, the loophole of Loki's secret passages off Asgard was given as an explanation to how Thor was able to return to Earth so quickly in The Avengers. Once we return to Asgard in Thor: The Dark World, the Bifrost is now completely rebuilt and fully operational again. While I understand that the Bifrost needed to make its return to allow Thor and others to come back for the film, the choice to bring it back completely undermines the sacrifice Thor makes at the end of the original film. 

Story elements like the Bifrost are what stick out the most in Thor: The Dark World. The film's complete lack of explaining plot holes and filling the gaps between the previous two appearances of Thor leave much to be desired with this film. The film just tries to pull cheap tricks to get you on board with it. The biggest example of these surface value story elements is the additional screen time given to Loki in this film. While the appearance of Loki in Thor was short and sweet, Thor: The Dark World gives you too much of a good thing. Thor and Loki's escape of Asgard is a perfect example of where this film falls flat. While the actual imagery and elements of their escape is intriguing to watch, the pacing of their escape is completely ruined by the back and forth between Thor and Loki inside the ship. While one or two of these moments could have served the movie, the film goes overboard and allows Loki at least eight remarks inside a two minute span that just makes you roll your eyes. 

Now you're probably wondering if this film is plagued with problems that irritate many audience members including myself, why isn't this film last on the list. The reason I have this higher than Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk stems from the fact that this film feels like a Marvel film more than those films mentioned. By the time of Thor: The Dark World's release, Marvel and Disney are full-steam ahead with their universe and have their footing underneath them. Kevin Feige and his team at Marvel know the direction of their films and their universe. They know what they want their films to accomplish and what they need to do to set up future stories for their characters as well as the entire universe. I'm also a huge soundtrack nut and Thor: The Dark World is during the time where Brian Tyler came in to score nearly all of Phase 2 of the MCU. While some of the films in Phase 2 have their ups and downs, I appreciated his work in Phase 2 in trying to solidify character themes for each of Marvel's top properties. Sadly, Marvel and Feige didn't build off of his work and the MCU still struggles with creating a musical tone that audiences can carry with them going into future films. Hopefully someday, Marvel will figure out the power than music can have with their films and take a more focused approach on it in their future films.

While Thor: The Dark World is a very problematic film, it's one of the first Marvel films that paves the way for where Marvel's future is heading. This film is definitely a divisive one at best that leaves audience members with more questions than answers. If the film left little to know impact on the MCU, many might consider skipping this story for future screenings. Sadly, many people will have to revisit this one if they want to learn about one of the five key infinity stones leading up the events of Avengers: Infinity War

The MCU Countdown #17: The Incredible Hulk

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Coming up next on our MCU Countdown is the Marvel film that many forget exist inside the MCU. Released the same year as Iron ManThe Incredible Hulk is the second entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe starring Edward Norton in his one and only outing as Bruce Banner/Hulk along with Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, and William Hurt. The Incredible Hulk is a soft-reboot of the 2003 movie Hulk directed by Ang Lee back in 2003. And Lee's version was received with mixed reactions and when the rights to the Hulk character reverted back to Marvel, they decided to reboot the character but not tell an another origin story. In that way, fans who enjoyed Hulk can go into this film like it's a sequel while other audience members who did not appreciate Ang Lee's vision can be rewarded with a fresh take on the character.

The Incredible Hulk tells the story of Bruce Banner on the run from the government. After an experiment with gamma radiation leaves him biologically changed forever, Banner leaves the United States to go into hiding until he can find a cure to reverse the effects that cause him to become the Hulk. After an accident in a bottling factory leaves a small amount of his blood behind, the government now has a fresh lead on his whereabouts and the manhunt resumes to capture Banner and the Hulk creature that lies dormant inside of him.

It's hard for this film to not stand out as the red-headed step child of the franchise. It's one of the only films that until Civil War, had no actors come back to reprise their roles in the franchise. The Hulk was also one of the last pieces that Marvel grabbed before they could go full-steam ahead with their Avengers plan. If The Incredible Hulk was not a successful film, then Marvel and Disney might have pulled back on their plans to make an Avengers film. All of that aside, the film is also nowhere near the caliber of a film that Marvel would put out later on. The Incredible Hulk is by far the worst film that introduces a main character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the film is definitely better than its predecessor, The Incredible Hulk suffers from some of the problems people had with the original version produced by Universal. When you're dealing with the character like the Hulk who is massively powerful, the options for an antagonist are very limited. Like its predecessor and many MCU films to come, Hulk's climactic villain is basically a bigger, stronger version of himself. It's a lazy and innovative way at creating an enemy for the Hulk who at his core, is the enemy of Bruce Banner.

While Edward Norton did a better job at performing Bruce Banner than Eric Bana, I think fans are happy that Mark Ruffalo is now playing the role of Banner/Hulk. Ruffalo's performance as The Incredible Hulk is another reason this film has synced down on this list because technically this character was rebooted again when he's reintroduced in The Avengers a few years later. With the recent success of Mark Ruffalo as the character, audience are wetting their appetite for another stand-alone feature with the hulking green hero. Personally, I'm a fan of keeping Hulk as a minor character in the MCU. Yes, he's a rich character but his traits and supporting cast limit what you can do in a feature film with him. The main story of the Hulk has been put on the big screen and there is not much else you can elaborate on. 

The MCU Countdown #18: Iron Man 2

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This week marks the start of our Marvel Cinematic Universe countdown. As stated in our introduction, we will be raking all of the Marvel films that take place in the MCU from worst to first (including Black Panther) up until the release of Avengers: Infinity War. Starting off this list to no surprise to most likely no one is what many consider the worst film in the MCU, Iron Man 2. Coming off the huge success of Iron Man and the underrated reboot of the Hulk, Marvel was looking to hit another home run out of the park with their first sequel in their cinematic universe. The film on paper is loaded with talent including the addition of Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke who were both coming off huge independent films (Moon for Rockwell and The Wrestler for Rourke). Scarlett Johansson also joined the cast as Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson makes his first full-time appearance as Nick Fury after showing up in the post-credit scene in Iron Man.

I will say right off the bat that Iron Man 2 is in no way an awful film. Contrary to what some comic book fans might say, the film as a whole works and doesn't fail any of the characters or the plot that the film is trying to progress. Why Iron Man 2 lays at the bottom of this list stems from the fact that there has to be a film that fills the backend of this list. As you'll see later on, there were other films in contention for this spot. Why Iron Man 2 took the last spot on this list is how little this film impacts the overall story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If someone literally skipped over this film and went straight into The Avengers to see Tony Stark's next outing as Iron Man, would you notice any major event has happened to Tony Stark and his companions? I do understand that the film does introduce key players into the MCU including Black Widow and War Machine but War Machine was hinted at in the original Iron Man. Getting a sneak peek at Black Widow is definitely a nice treat for the fans but what happens to her character in Iron Man 2 leaves no lasting effect on her arc in The Avengers.

When I sit down prepare myself for a new installment in the MCU, I always make a watch list of MCU films that I deem important before seeing whatever release is hitting theaters. If the film is a new installment of Thor, I might revisit his solo entries and of course the two Avengers films. For the next installment of Spider-Man, I'll re-watch Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Avengers: Infinity War along with whatever the fourth Avenger film will be titled. For a character like Iron Man, he's been in a ton of films. If you would want to catch up with his arc before Avengers: Infinity War, you would have to watch Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, and Spider-Man: Homecoming. For me, that's a very daunting task and when you find ways to cut yourself some slack, you make those cuts and Iron Man 2 is one of those cuts. I still believe that its a fun entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and should still be watched for anyone interested in the character or catching up on the MCU. For fans like me who have been there and done that, we'll pass on sitting down in front of this film anytime soon.