Less than one week until Avengers: Infinity War is upon us and the official end of the first Avengers story begins. I’ve recently rewatched the Phase 2 movies and, in addition to enjoying them all over again, I been reminded of, or discovered new, questions leading into Infinity War. As we’ve been assured all lose ends will be wrapped up, I’m more curious than ever to see where they go.
The Movies of Avengers Phase 2 are:
- Iron Man 3
- Thor 2: The Dark World
- Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Guardians of the Galaxy 2
- Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron
- Ant Man
Unlike the beginning of the Saga, these movies are quite easy to place in the timeline. Iron Man 3, Thor 2, and Captain America would appear to be happening at roughly the same time. In my opinion, this is the most likely reason why Captain America is not involved in the Madarin terrorist threat, and Thor is set in London. Each of these movies changes the world significantly, both for the characters and the Avengers. While Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant Man introduce us to new characters and a wider scope to the Marvel Cinematic Universe — both the very large and the very small. One other commonality with Phase 2 movie themes is that of coming to terms with the past in an attempt to build the future. So, without further ado, here are my thoughts.
Iron Man 3
The entire Iron Man series is essentially about Tony Stark facing down the mistakes of his past. In each episode the stakes become stronger, his struggle greater, and the lasting effects more damaging. In the first movie he faces and overcomes the sins of the father, represented by a company forged from war profiteering and a corrupt guardian father figure. In Iron Man 2, he faces fallout from more sins of his father, enhanced by his own technology fallen into the wrong hands.
Finally, in Iron Man 3, we meet a Tony Stark who has recently risen above himself and heroically saved New York and the Planet at the cost of becoming a mental wreck. He has panic attacks from his experiences with Loki’s T’chitari invasion and he’s obsessed with protecting the planet and those he loves. He is also forced to confront a villain of his own creation in the form of a past, passing associate who he wronged.
Tony’s eventual triumph over his past villains ends up being represented by him finally going under the knife and having the deadly shrapnel in his heart removed. It looks like the end of Iron Man. But he still hasn’t come face to face with his fear — that of not doing enough to protect those he loves. This starts him down the road to the creation of the Iron Legion (foreshadowed by the concerted attack of his iron man suits, controlled by Jarvis, in the final battle of Iron Man 3). This, then, is the first step Tony Stark takes on his path to ‘shielding the world’.
With Iron Man 3 being the last scheduled Iron Man movie, and the likelihood that Phase 4 will focus on new characters, questions arise as to what happens to Tony Stark/Iron Man. All options fall broadly into three categories:
- Tony Stark continues as a significant part of the MCU, with new Iron Man movies (least likely possibility).
- Tony Stark stays on in the background of the MCU, appearing in cameos. Logical appearances would be with SWORD and Captain Marvel, as some governmental representative on powered beings, or perhaps in space with Guardians of the Galaxy.
- Tony is replaced as Iron Man either due to death or unwillingness to continue.
It’s the third scenario that has brought the most discussion from MCU fans, as that’s what’s happened in the comics. Potential replacements that have been suggested for the MCU are Pepper Potts, who has her own suit in the current comics, a RiRi Williams-type character for someone like Iron Heart (Shuri of Black Panther is suggested for this role), and one I’d love to see is the kid in Iron Man 3 creating something of his own suit using the equipment Tony left him at the end of the movie. While the first two options have comic book precedents, the third options would be a great way to wrap up Tony’s legacy on a positive note and bring it full circle.
Thor 2: The Dark World
Instead of mistakes of his past, as with Tony Stark, Thor’s journey has been all about the struggle against his brother, and growing to understand the responsibility and humility it takes to be a good king. Both of these themes come to the forefront in Thor 2 as we return to Asgard amidst the sentencing of Loki for his crimes in Avengers Assemble.
However, amid the attack by the Dark Elves, the revelation of the reality gem, and Odin’s battle lust, Loki is the only one who can help Thor leave Asgard to save the universe.
As this is not a review of the movie, but a discussion of how it fits into the Avengers universe, I need to highlight the main reveals of Thor: The Dark World.
First, until this point, Thor continues to be Marvel’s only vehicle for introducing other realms of the MCU universe. Here we get a view of Vanaheim and Niflheim.
Even more importantly, we are introduced to the reality gem. An infinity gem so powerful that, under the right conditions, it can literally rewrite reality.
Finally, although not a reveal, and much debated among fandom, Thor: The Dark World suggests very strongly that somehow Heimdall has the soul stone. There is a scene herein were Heimdall says ‘From here I’m able to see nine realms and ten trillion souls.’ To me that statement seems to be a deliberate setup to suggest the soul stone. However, in Phase 3 it does seem more likely that the producers shifted the location of the soul stone to Wakanda.
Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier
In contrast to Thor and Iron Man, the Captain America movies are all about nobility, doing what’s right even when you may pay the ultimate price. Cap’s best friend Bucky returns as a brainwashed, heavily augmented Hydra assassin and Cap struggles to free his friend’s clouded mind and restore his memories while fighting to take down SHIELD, which has a Hydra cell growing within.
Captain America 2 doesn’t appear to advance the Avengers story too significantly, with it’s main contribution being the destruction of SHIELD and, apparently, serious damage to the Hydra parasite growing within SHIELD. The movie does set us up for Captain America: Civil War, which is a very important movie in the franchise, by creating the instigating villain, and the story with Bucky The Winter Soldier.
This movie also concludes with the suggestion that, with the destruction of SHIELD, only the Avengers remain to protect the Earth — something that will be very important leading in to Phase 3.
Highlights from The Winter Soldier for me were the teamwork of Captain America and Black Widow, and the general notion that we no longer have any privacy and that our digital breadcrumbs can be used to predict our behaviour — an issue brought home recently through the actions of Facebook and affiliate companies.
Guardians of the Galaxy
With Iron Man, Captain America and Thor in plots that could be happening simultaneously, the MCU needed to create space between those movies and the next Avengers. Some way to say ‘hey, during the gap, the heroes have come together to finish their mission. They also wanted something different, and a vehicle to introduce another infinity stone (in addition to traditional space travel). Enter Guardians of the Galaxy.
Hands down, this is one of my favourite movies of the MCU to date (although I love almost all of them). The humour in this movie is spot on and I still laugh out loud at some scenes. In addition, there’s just some great spectacle. I particularly love Knowwhere.
Importantly for the MCU is the introduction of space and other races therein, which gives the MCU a new area to explore (re: Avengers 3, and Phase 4). Furthermore, we get a new infinity stone (The Power Stone, the fourth for those counting) and our first explanation of what the Infinity Stones are and why they’re a big deal. The post credit scene also highlights Thanos’ quest to complete the Infinity Gauntlet.
Guardians of the Galaxy 2
As funny as Guardians of the Galaxy 1 was, that’s how unfunny I found Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. This movie seemed to try too hard for humour and ended up feeling like constant bickering.
Like most superhero stories, Guardians of the Galaxy has its share of family issues, from Gamora and Nebula’s fighting, to Peter Quill’s loss of his mom and discovery that his dad the Celestial killed her, to the notion of family not as blood relatives as much as friends who will support you when you’re backed into a corner.
This movie continued to fill the gap until Avengers 2 while answering some of the questions raised about Peter Quill’s history. As far as is obvious at the moment of writing, however, it did not greatly advance the plot of the Avengers series. For fans aware of the Infinity Gauntlet comic books, the greatest contribution of Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 to the Avengers story arc was in establishing Nebula’s hatred toward Thanos, something that should play out significantly in the Phase 3 conclusion.
Oh, I almost forgot. Perhaps the most significant development in Guardians vol. 2 came in one of the five post-credit scenes with what was essentially the reveal of Adam Warlock, a character instrumental in the original Infinity Gauntlet series.
Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron
Now that the gap is over, we return to our main heroes and find they’ve been hard at work during the period of Guardians of the Galaxy. They’ve gelled as a team as they’ve been hunting down Loki’s scepter and the mind stone.
After their success, we learn that Stark and Banner have been working together to develop the Iron Legion and planning on a defensive AI for Earth called Ultron. We also learn of a budding relationship between Banner and Romanov, among a few notable non-relationships.
Interestingly, a look at the posters of Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 reveal the hero with his love interest by his side, suggesting the importance of the female characters in the movies, yet both female characters are distant in Avengers 2 (‘running the company’, and ‘getting a Nobel prize’) and gone completely by the beginning of Phase 3, having left the heroes (Tony Stark says him and Pepper are ‘on a break’, and Thor argues that Jane’s dumping him was ‘a mutual dumping’).
Regardless, back to Age of Ultron.
Tony Stark discovers the mind gem is basically an artificial intelligence and accidentally creates Ultron, a psychopathic AI who hates Stark and feels that Stark’s imperative to protect humans is at odds with their evolution and thus the easiest way to fix it is to drop a city on the Earth and wipe us out like the dinosaurs. In all honesty, I loved the portrayal of Ultron as an emotionally unstable superbeing.
There are a lot of important story elements in Age of Ultron that fit into the Avengers arc. Notables are the mind gem and its use in creating Scarlet Witch and Vision, early signs of the fracturing of the Avengers, and a lead into both Captain America: Civil War and Thor: Ragnarok. Despite this, the movie ends on a hopeful note with the Avengers as friends going their own way. A true end of act 2 calm before the storm.
Like Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant Man serves as both something a little different, and an interlude between Avengers: Age of the Ultron and Captain America: Civil War (in this case, between the end of Act 2, and the beginning of Act 3). And like Guardians of the Galaxy, it was a movie filled with laugh out loud humour, thanks in large part to the great supporting cast and the comically dramatic fight scenes that shifted between the small and large frames of reference.
Ant Man (which we know from the character comments was set after Avengers 2) gave us insights into a wider superhero world, possibly setting us up for future forays outside of the Avengers timeline. We clearly see the original Ant Man fighting in conflicts back in the 1980s, and we see his conflict with Henry Stark. We assume perhaps he was working for an early version of SHIELD, which could prepare us for the Captain Marvel movie, which is said to be set in the 1990s.
After watching Ant Man again recently, one of the most significant bits of information in the story could be the continued existence of Hydra and, from what I could tell, their theft of the new version of the Pym Particle (created by Darren Cross). If I’ve seen it correctly, I’m quite curious to see how this plays out in future movies.
One of the other interesting features of Ant Man was the depiction of the quantum realm, The sheer strangeness might very well have been to prepare us for the strange worlds of Dr. Strange.
Overall, Phase 2 of the Avengers story arc did what a story’s act two should do. It brought increasing conflict to the story, showed the characters triumphing over a great challenge and left everyone feeling good, and confident… right before the fall at the beginning of Act 3.