I’m going to tell you a secret: Until a few days ago, I hadn’t seen any movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe outside of Iron Man. The first one. From 2008. That’s right, I hadn’t even seen Black Panther.
Here’s the other thing you should know: When I was growing up back in the days of VHS tapes, my parents didn’t let me watch blockbuster action flicks. They’d buy all sorts of arthouse films (because apparently they didn’t think Belle de Jour would warp me for life). As a result I’ve never been in-the-know about super mainstream movies.
But with all the hoopla surrounding the release of Avengers: Infinity War—apparently the heroes are going to war with a thumb with legs called Thanos? And it made an insane amount of money?—I figured it was time to catch up on ten years of superhero movie homework.
This is how I wound up spending nearly 40 hours (that’s right) watching 18 Marvel movies over the course of a week. These are my takeaways. [This post contains spoilers for every single MCU movie ever.]
Iron Man (2008) or “The Suit That Launched an Entire Franchise” (Run Time: 2 hrs 6 min)
It’s been ten whole years since this film chronicled Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) transformation from an arrogant, rich, drunk degenerate to an earnest, America-loving, metal-clad degenerate. It’s your basic corporate espionage plot, but I had a lot of fun yelling at Tony and sighing when he and his assistant Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) shared smiles and blushes. I had never watched the end credits before, so when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D., popped up, I realized if I hadn’t been impatient in the movie theater, I wouldn’t have been so shocked that more movies were coming. A million more movies.
The Incredible Hulk (2008) or “White People Fucking with Science” (2 hrs 15 min)
Wow. Too many feelings. This iteration of the Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) saga features major PTSD, shady government death squads, and Liv Tyler. I had CONSIDERABLY less fun watching this than I did Iron Man. I didn’t start this marathon to confront any actual issues, OK?
In terms of Hulks, Norton is hands down my favorite: Looking at his traumatized, sweaty face takes me back to Fight Club. Then again, I haven’t seen the Eric Bana/Ang Lee version in a minute.
Iron Man 2 (2010) or “HEY TONY, STOP SHOWING OFF THANKS” (2 hrs 4 min)
Back to Tony, my irresponsible fave. Iron Man 2 introduces Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), because it turns out Tony needs protecting, since he can’t shut up about being Iron Man. I didn’t expect emotional growth from Tony as he grapples with his new metal-cased alter ego, but I’m not mad about it.
I don’t know if there are any outstanding villains in this franchise so far, but the weird, vengeful, and snarky Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) was fun to watch. Sidenote: very glad to see Tony’s BFF James Rhodes is back from the first movie, even if he has an entirely different face now. (He was played by Terrence Howard in the first film and Don Cheadle in the second…) Nope, nothing strange about that!
Thor (2011) or “It’s Hammer Time!” (1 hr 55 min)
I spent this entire movie slightly dazed by Chris Hemsworth’s Nordic beauty. That chiseled chin got me through a lot of the mythological/sci-fi yadda yadda. I can appreciate the painstaking detail that went into the world-building; I just can’t remember any of it. I’ll leave you with this: Thor not being able to lift Mjølnir (his big CGI hammer) is the saddest bro moment to ever bro on screen.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) or “Cap’n Murica” or “Are You Sure This Isn’t Hellboy?” (2 hrs 5 min)
Hell yes! Now this is what I came to this cinematic universe to see! That said, I could NOT stop comparing this to Hellboy. Occult magic, icy tundras, bright red faces, Nazi-adjacent (or flat-out Nazi) troops… but resemblances aside, this my favorite Marvel movie thus far. Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) is noble, his shield is made of Vibranium (see you soon, Wakanda), and his nemesis Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), member of the #BigForeheadSquad, is here for some truly villainous villainy. Cap is the most emotionally accessible of his billionaire/green monster/thunder god compatriots. And apparently, like ten hours in, I’m getting attached to fictional characters.
The Avengers (2012) or “Let’s Destroy New York (Again)” (2 hrs 23 min)
The gang’s all here! Honestly, though, I was kind of bored by this one. I’ve seen New York destroyed so many times that I’m numb. Sure, it was exciting to see Thor, Iron Man, Cap’n Murica, The Hulk: Mark Ruffalo edition, Black Widow, and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, who got a half-assed introduction in Thor) assembled in their famous posse, but I would have liked to see the Avengers assembled in a coffee shop, Friends-style, for a few hours to get some banter in pre-destruction. It was hard to care about the team when they only get, like, a dozen lines a piece. Also, way too many CGI aliens! Now I’m going to find some shawarma.
Iron Man 3 (2013) or “Too Many Iron Men” (2 hrs 15 min)
Tony Stark is trash in Ferragamo loafers. I love it. Tony Stark also needs a psychiatrist, a REAL non-Bruce Banner therapist, a nice long yoga retreat, and to STOP SPEAKING TO THE MEDIA. Sure, he’s a genius with a heart that bleeds red, white, and blue, but he has no sense of self-preservation. The greatest part of this movie was seeing him face the consequences of breaking the superhero code: protect your identity at all costs. Seeing his house sink into the deep was quite satisfying. I’m tired of rehashing Tony’s Terrible Past™, though. We get it—he was an asshole. But there’s a little Tony dance/hip action in this one, so I’ll let it slide.
Thor: The Dark World (2013) or “Loki Needs Some Therapy” (1 hr 52 min)
“Your birthright was to die as a child!” Well, DAMN Allfather (Anthony Hopkins), way to engender love from your homicidal son! I’d dress in black and try to sabotage my brother too if I were Loki (Tom Hiddleston). I’m also almost 1,000 percent sure the Night King from Game of Thrones is in this movie… Paying attention to the (mandatory) mythological/sci-fi yadda yadda was easier this time because I know Thor is going to swing that hammer and bodies will hit the floor. Loki is a massive inferiority complex wrapped in leather. But the dysfunction makes for great drama!
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) or "Friends: How Many of Us Have Them?" (2 hrs 16 min)
WOW. Cap’n Murica is back to the future after being frozen for decades, and he’s kicking ass. Steve adjusting to modernity was charming (that little notebook!), although I felt a crushing sadness that everyone he’s ever known died quite some time ago. Except, you know, his murderous best friend. Laugh all you want, but I had no idea that the Winter Soldier was brainwashed Bucky (Sebastian Stan). Way to keep this one light Marvel!
This was the most Nick Fury I’ve ever experienced, and I actually want to see more of him; he’s a calm and competent leader and has security clearance for his missing eye, which means he’s a practical man. I also LOVE how Nick says, “Don’t trust anyone,” and then Steve proceeds to not only tell people what Nick said, but then trust everyone. Sidenote: I ship Steve and Black Widow. “Was that your first kiss since 1945?” *Slinks off to Archive of Our Own*
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or “I Didn’t Come Here to Cry, Motherfucker” (2 hrs 5 min)
I am down with this plucky, ragtag family and their myriad emotional issues and—most importantly—this soundtrack. We have Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), a walking jukebox abducted by aliens as a child; Rocket the kleptomaniac raccoon (Bradley Cooper, lol); everyone’s favorite sentient plant Groot (Vin Diesel); Gamora (Zoe Saldana) the exasperated assassin; and a walking vengeance machine named Drax (Dave Bautista). We’ve got Plot Things™ happening with the Infinity Rocks™ , but I’m just here for warmth and love. Chosen families sustain us, and it’s good to see that holds true in this galaxy, too. Also: NO ONE TOLD ME BENICIO DEL TORO IS IN THIS MOVIE, AND I AM UPSET!
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) or “Bro, I Said There Were Too Many Iron Men” (2 hrs 22 min)
And we’re back! Nothing like seeing the gang hanging out, drinking, and being attacked by sentient machines. I was actually excited for more group movies after this one; the chemistry of the heroes is solid, New York is relatively safe from harm, and Tony and Bruce are clearly responsible for this robot clusterfuck and everyone knows it. I get why you have to watch the movies preceding this one; there isn’t enough time to indulge in tons of character development, but there is time for large explosions and unparalleled destruction.
Ant-Man (2015) or “Not Gonna Lie, I Skimmed This” (1 hr 58 min)
Upon consulting with Marvel Experts, I was assured I could half-ass this one. So that’s exactly what I did while “watching” it at work. Sorry, Paul Rudd. All I know is that you were human sized, and then you weren’t. Oh, and Michael Douglas is in this one! Marvel really has an A+ roster.
Captain America: Civil War (2016) or “Consequences! Finally!” (2 hrs 28 min)
Cap’n Murica REALLY loves Bucky. I’d go to the end of Earth for my best friend—I wouldn’t start a war within my super hero squad, but I’d bail her out of jail for sure. Steve deciding to protect Bucky at all costs broke my heart a little; he’s arguably lost the most of all the Avengers (don’t @ me). So starting a war with his friends and comrades to protect his last connection to the past? Yeah, makes a lot of sense. Captain America movies always push me the furthest emotionally, and that consistently surprises me! Leave it to Steve to be loyal to a fault, even as an outlaw. Gonna get him killed one day.
Doctor Strange (2016) or “Sherlock Holmes with an MD” (1 hr 55 min)
In what seems to be an Iron Man remix, we have an arrogant, gifted man who is irrevocably changed by a traumatic life event and becomes an earnest protector of… well, the universe this time. I’ve never taken acid or shrooms before, but I did watch this after eating a weed brownie and thought I was on a bad trip when Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) was time looping Dormammu (also voiced by Cumberbatch, lol), the villain who looks like an Ent. A glowing Ent. *Sigh* Look Marvel, I really don’t want to meet anyone new. Please, stop introducing me to more characters.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) or “Waaaaahhhhhhhh” (2 hrs 18 min)
I cried a lot. Between sisterly dysfunction courtesy of Thanos (Josh Brolin), the thumb with legs, Star-Lord meeting his out-of-this-world father, and burying his actual Daddy Yondu (complete with Yusef/Cat Stevens vocals) this movie was way more emotional than I anticipated. Baby Groot and his loving, unhinged family live up to the hype. Teen Groot is a nightmare I’ll pay good money to see.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) or “Which Spider-Man Reboot Is This?” (2 hrs 13 min)
I talked a lot of shit about this movie. I saw the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy in theaters, back in the ancient, pre-YouTube days, and suffered through the Andrew Garfield reboot, so I didn’t quite see the point of yet another Spider-Man. As Titus Andromedon (from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) would say: There are too many Spider-Men!
But baby Peter’s enthusiastic, amateurish start as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Guy (I mean, Man); Tony Stark’s turn as the drunk uncle we all want to impress; Michelle (Zendaya) and her portraits of despair; and Donald Glover and his ice cream made this my actual-factual favorite Marvel movie. It’s a lot of fun. No gritty realism to be found. Inspirational but also a mess. Like me.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017) or “It’s Not Hammer Time” (2 hrs 10 min)
Thor 3.0 finally gave me a god who was a wreck. His world is collapsing around him due to the sins of his father. Poetic. We had spiteful sisters, more daddy issues, the Hulk channeling his fury in an arena, and a fresh new haircut in time for spring! I giggled a bit during the other movies (I don’t think I’ve laughed consistently outside of Guardians and Spider-Man), but this was a treat. There’s gonna be another Thor movie, right? RIGHT?
Black Panther (2018) or #DatVibranium (2 hrs 15 min)
This is where all that Vibranium comes from, guys! T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is a cool hero, but he’s too noble for my taste; I’m all about Killmonger (and it has nothing to do with Michael B. Jordan’s abs. Nope). Killmonger’s strategy will bring nothing but chaos, war, and death for the very people he’s trying to empower, but he is a man of action. It hurt to see him go. You all saw this movie and talked incessantly about it, so just revisit your favorite tweets and takes. Just know Blackness is, and always will be, incredible, whether it’s in the fictional Wakanda or the very real world. Also, #Shuri4Life!
Avengers: Infinity War (2018) or “Motherfucker Are You Serious?” (2 hrs 40 min)
WAIT A SECOND. [MASSIVE SPOILER.] So I watch 18 of these movies and then Thanos the Giant Thumb comes through and gets all of the Infinity Rocks™ and wipes out half the universe? That’s the entire plot, by the way. Surprise! And Dr. Strange, who has dominion over TIME ITSELF can’t unmake this disaster sooner? I nearly threw my popcorn at the screen.
Here’s the some shit I didn’t appreciate: Peter Parker crying in Tony’s arms before turning to ash, T’Challa’s death (he just became king!), and Groot dying AGAIN. Word on the street is that his last words to Rocket translate to “Dad” and now I’m going to re-watch Guardians of the Galaxy again to upset myself. I notice no main Avengers died off, so I guess Thanos’s gauntlet discriminates between first and second-string characters. But… what is this bullshit? I know that many of these dead heroes have sequels and spin off films slated for the near future, and this is a two-parter, but I still feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach.
It’s been wild. Seeing these individuals—gifted with super strength, or advanced technology, or walkmans full of sick 80s tunes—converge in this one movie was so worth the agony of watching ten years worth of movies in a week. You’ve got me Marvel. I’ve been suckered in. Take all my money, but also fix this!
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