Disclaimer: There are NO SPOILERS for either Infinity War or Endgame in this article.
Part of the journey is the end, and what a journey indeed the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been. With the most recent Marvel team-up, Avengers: Endgame releasing in cinemas across the world, I found it appropriate to recount Marvel’s journey up to this point, and what their impossibly successful franchise has meant to me and so many others.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, MCU, first began in 2008 with the release of Iron Man. In theory, this movie should not have worked. Iron Man was never one of the most popular Marvel comic characters, and the person cast to play him, a man named Robert Downey Jr., had a long background of drug abuse and jail time. Against all odds, the movie was a hit, with the role of Tony Stark going on to define Downey’s career. In hindsight, it seems like Downey was made to play the role, as his past issues almost perfectly mirror those of the character he has played for over a decade.
Over the next three years, Marvel Studios would release four more movies: The Incredible Hulk (the only Marvel movie I have not seen), Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger, all of which were not received as well as the first Iron Man. I personally have a strong preference for the first Captain America movie, as it was the first MCU movie I saw. I did not really become the Marvel fan I am now until the following year. The year 2012 saw the release of The Avengers, in which all the main heroes from the past Marvel movies teamed up in an unprecedented event that took everyone by surprise and shook the Hollywood landscape forever. Up until that point, no other film had combined characters and storylines from multiple previous entries together the way that The Avengers did. Much like the original Iron Man, many did not think that The Avengers would work, only to be proven wrong. The primary concern was how all six main characters could be equally balanced, which is charming to think about now, considering that the last two Avengers flicks have managed to juggle over twenty characters each.
Ever since Marvel proved that interconnected movie universes could work, many other studios have tried and failed to replicate Marvel’s success. Meanwhile, the MCU continued to deliver more movies expanding on the character’s fans grew to love with Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and the incredible Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which introduced Marvel to the directing duo of Cleveland natives Joe and Anthony Russo, who would go on to direct the third Captain America installment as well as the third and fourth Avengers films. After the first three films in the MCU’s second phase, Marvel shifted over to a new group of unlikely heroes: The Guardians of the Galaxy, a crew consisting of one actual human, a green assassin, a green and red madman with knives, a talking raccoon, and a giant tree. Their film released in 2014 and received wild praise, making the eclectic group a household name. Guardians of the Galaxy is also the film that officially introduced the concept of Infinity Stones: six powerful objects each corresponding with an aspect of existence. These Stones would go on to influence the events of the MCU all the way to Infinity War. In 2015, focus was brought back to the original characters as they teamed up yet again for Avengers: Age of Ultron. While the second Avengers was not as well received as the first major team-up, it is still a very competent film. More characters were introduced to the Avengers roster, such as Wanda Maximoff (known in the comics as “Scarlet Witch”), and the android Vision, who holds one of the Infinity Stones in his forehead.
Just like in Guardians of the Galaxy, the MCU’s next film after Ultron added another new and obscure hero to Marvel’s roster: Ant-Man. That film released only a few months after Ultron and was a relieving breath of fresh air with its simple story, especially after the grand, world-ending steaks of the last Avengers film. Comedy icon Paul Rudd was well cast as the tiny hero and helped make yet another movie work that had no right doing so. Audiences didn’t have to wait long to see Rudd reprise his role. He made another appearance in the spring of 2016 in Captain America: Civil War, jokingly referred to by many as “Avengers 2.5.” It featured almost every established character in the MCU being split into two teams as they fought amongst each other over the consequences of Ultron, as well as continuing a large story thread from The Winter Soldier. Later that year, Marvel Studios released Doctor Strange, another incredibly weird character. This movie finally saw the introduction of full-fledged magic into the MCU and delivered an entertaining story through breathtaking visuals. The following year, the Guardians of the Galaxy returned to the big screen in Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2. It is a much more personal story than the first volume, and really delves into the character of each Guardian, Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon especially.
During the summer of 2017, the MCU was finally able to release its own version of Spiderman. Marvel had sold the rights to the character to Sony back in the 1990’s but had signed an agreement with them in 2015 allowing Marvel to use the character again. The MCU’s Spiderman made his first appearance in Civil War, but got his own solo film in 2017 with Spiderman: Homecoming, a fun and heart-filled story of a teenaged Peter Parker trying to balance the responsibilities of high school and his personal life with those of his alter ego. Later that year, Thor’s third installment, Thor: Ragnarok hit theaters. The first two Thor films had been criticized for being boring and too Shakespearian, so Ragnarok saw a complete overhaul of the character, helmed by the zany director, Taika Waititi, who also voiced a large rock creature in the film. It was another huge success for Marvel and managed to fix many of the issues people had with Thor in the past. His character transformed into a lovable goofball while still holding onto the values that made him an Avenger in the first place. The last film before the gargantuan Infinity War was Black Panther, released in February of 2018. The colorful and technologically advanced civilization of Wakanda was finally realized on screen and the film grew to become a major milestone in terms of representation.
After eighteen movies, it was time for them to all come together for Avengers: Infinity War, in which almost every single character came to fight Thanos, a villain who was hinted at all the way back in 2012 during a mid-credits scene in The Avengers. It was finally time for him to face off against our heroes. As stated before the start of this article, there will be no spoilers for Infinity War, so that is the furthest I will go as far as the plot for that movie. A couple months later, the sequel to Ant-Man was released. In Ant-Man and The Wasp, the cast of the first Ant-Man returned with one of the characters, Janet van Dyne, taking up the mantle of The Wasp. It is another light-hearted adventure that served as a nice palette cleanser after the events of Infinity War.
Except for The First Avenger, all the MCU films took place in modern day, but Marvel’s next entry brought us back to the 90’s with Captain Marvel, the first film in the MCU with a woman in the leading role. As expected, it is a very enjoyable film that gives a good introduction to one of the most powerful heroes in the MCU. It has some strong connections to the first Guardians of the Galaxy in terms of minor characters, while also showing audiences a look at Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury when he still had both eyes. After Captain Marvel’s debut, all of the Marvel characters and people around the world were ready for Endgame.
As of the writing of this article, Avengers: Endgame has been out in theaters worldwide for 4 days and has managed to rake in a record-shattering $1.2 billion in that short time. I saw the movie and, rest assured, no spoilers will be disclosed here. I can say with certainty that it is worth all the hype and serves as a very compelling and cathartic finale to all the stories told over these past eleven years. It is not an understatement to say that this movie is historic, without even counting all the money it has already made. This franchise turned people like Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, and Scarlett Johansson into superstars, and will probably continue to do so for anyone lucky enough to enter it. Even more so, it has impacted fans like me, giving me memories of midnight premieres that I will never forget. Beyond that, the stories that Marvel has told, and the characters it crafted will easily go on to influence this generation and maybe even beyond.