THE MIGHTY MARVEL CHRONOLOGY – A Beginner’s Guide to the Cinematic Universe (Part 3)

For the past two weeks, The Powerwolf has taken you on a guided tour of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and its related properties. PART 1 brought us all the way to the modern era of heroes, and PART 2 through the first assemblage of The Avengers, and its immediate aftermath. Now that we live in a world defined by superfolk, things have begun to escalate, and these connections are beginning to mean more than ever before.

Each entry includes the film’s year of release, Rotten Tomatoes score, trailer link, studio continuity (MCU, Fox, or Sony, etc…), and my recommendation as to whether the film is a MUST SEE, FUN ADDENDUM, or for COMPLETIONISTS ONLY.

In Part 3 we will be covering the following:

Hold onto your butts, because Marvel’s success gave them carte blanche to get good and weird! And boy do they ever!

robert downey jr as tony stark in iron man 3
Do the clothes make the man?

IRON MAN 3

(2013)

MCU

Verdict: MUST SEE

RT SCORE: 79%

Trailer

With director Jon Favreau moving on from the Marvel franchise, Iron Man 3 opened the door for previous RDJ collaborator Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) to enter the scene. Anything but a traditionalist, Black loves turning genre conventions on their head for unexpected outcomes. He does so in spades in Iron Man 3, to the chagrin of many a traditionalist fanyboy. For most everyone else, Iron Man 3 is a weird, wild romp through Tony Stark’s neurosis as he attempts to make sense of the paranoia his life (and the lives of the American people) have evolved into.

There are some interesting parallels drawn between The Battle of New York, and post 9/11 America. Each have us looking for boogeymen and flailing to build up an armory to will make us invincible when the bad things happen. Not all of the metaphors in the film make a perfect 3-point-landing, but Black’s voyage into Tony Stark’s psyche all comes from a very thoughtful place. It also sets the character up for some very fascinating turns in the coming films, which makes this chapter a MUST SEE.

all hail the king marvel one shot
[Subject matter not pictured]

ALL HAIL THE KING

(2014)

MCU – One Shot

Verdict: FUN ADDENDUM

All Hail The King is yet another Marvel One Shot whose plot description would be a spoiler for itself. In this situation, it would also spoil the plot of Iron Man 3, to which it is an appendices of sorts. In the interests of preserving the experience for newcomers we won’t go deep into this chapter.

The short is amusing, but really only exists to appease fans who didn’t like the treatment of one very particular character in the Marvel canon. While All Hail the King is unlikely to have any real continuity consequences for future films, it does tweak the mythos ever so slightly for people who felt robbed by Iron Man 3. If you’re one of those people, or if you’re so inclined to a funny post-script to that film, check out the short on the Thor: The Dark World video release.

coulsons team in marvels agents of shield
This is typically about as exciting as the show gets.

Marvel’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D – Season 1

(2013-2014)

MCU – ABC Television

Verdict: COMPLETIONISTS ONLY

RT SCORE: 86%

Trailer

IMPORTANT!

Watch EPISODES 8-16 (‘The Well’ to ‘End of the Beginning’) after Thor: The Dark World

Watch EPISODES 17-22 (‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ to ‘Beginning of the End’) after Captain America: The Winter Soldier

If there is a true black sheep of the MCU, it’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..Following his incredible stint on The Avengers, Joss Whedon wrote and directed a fairly lackluster pilot to the MCU’s first television spinoff. The show promised a look at the Marvel universe from the point of view of the powerless, but what resulted was mostly a half baked spy show with unmemorable villains and uninteresting action.

[Spoiler alert for The Avengers]

Even worse, the show required Whedon to resurrect fan favorite, Agent Phil Coulson to lead the team. While Clark Gregg’s character is one of the few highlights of the series, his death was an integral part of the formation of that team, and it’s subsequent undoing feels like it undermines that development. Whedon has even confirmed that for the purposes of the Avengers movies, Coulson is dead and never returning, and that the movie production team wasn’t happy about the developments the show forced upon their universe. The movies do continue to have effects on the show, but it’s unlikely the characters from the show will ever turn up in a movie.

The show also throws a kink in the idea of a shared universe with Fox’s X-Men. It’s certainly possible that the other heroes might not interact with the reclusive mutants, but S.H.I.E.L.D. goes out of it’s way to dismiss them, at one point even stating outright that the agency has no record of an individual with telepathic abilities. So if this show is taken as pure MCU canon, that adds a tick to the “X-Men are truly in an alternate reality” way of looking at this guide.

Despite it’s many flaws, S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t without it’s charms. It has some lovable characters, and the characters who do start out irritating eventually settle into having a neutral influence on the show’s quality. It begins to find its stride as more than a “mediocre mystery of the week” in the second half of the first season, with some episodes that actually rise into the realm of “Legitimately Exciting”.

In the future, I may create a guide adding individual ratings to each episode, so it will be easier to do a speed run through the best parts of the series. However, as a whole, S.H.I.E.L.D. is only for the most die-hard of Marvel completionists.

chris hemsworth and tom hiddleston in thor the dark world
You know that shit has gotten real if these two are working together.

THOR: THE DARK WORLD

(2013)

MCU

Verdict: MUST SEE

RT SCORE: 66%

Trailer

Thor: The Dark World bears the distinction of being the critically most poorly received movie in the MCU. Part of this can be attributed to the least interesting villain in the universe yet. But a larger part is due to the fact that, of all Marvel’s solo heroes, Thor is the one they haven’t quite nailed yet. Director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) landed his gig on the upcoming sequel, Thor: Ragnarok, by pitching the idea that Thor MUST be the most interesting character in his own movie. Considering that movie is going to feature Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk, Jeff Goldblum as The Grandmaster, and Cate Blanchet as Hela, Waititi has his work cut out for him.

The Dark World was interpreted by many critics as rote, and that’s certainly one way to look at it, but there’s still a lot of fun to be had here. The film is bigger and edgier than its predecessor, and I would argue funnier. The personal stakes are higher. (I’m not even talking about the dumb ‘end of the universe’ plot.) Loki and Thor’s relationship is more interesting, now that their animosity has been so well defined over two films. There’s also a lot more sci-fi weirdness, with gods fighting space ships, and a climax that rips through holes in the universe to amusing results.

The Dark World may be the only Marvel sequel from Phase 2 that truly feels less like an evolution of the genre and more like a bigger version of the last one. Its next chapter looks to change that, but this film still works incredibly well as a popcorn flick, and definitely sets up what will be very important elements for Thor, The Avengers, and the entire future of the Cinematic Universe.

captain america versus shield quinjet
Cap vs Quinjet

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

(2014)

MCU

Verdict: MUST SEE

RT SCORE: 89%

Trailer

Captain America: The Winter Soldier bears the distinction of receiving the best overall scores in test screenings of any Marvel film (until its own sequel, Civil War). Unlike Thor’s sequel, the film really takes it’s hero, and Marvel films in general, to the next level. Steve Rogers feels truly out of his element in the modern day. Even his genre has changed from War Film to Espionage Thriller. The action has taken a step up as well, with incredible fight choreography that really sells Cap as an Avenger to be reckoned with. Despite the helicarriers and super soldiers, Winter Solider also feels more grounded in realism than any Marvel film since Iron Man. Most of the people Cap fights are mercenaries and spies – regular humans.

The film also benefits greatly by co-starring the still morally ambiguous Avenger Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow. Nat works as a fantastic foil to the good-to-a-fault Captain America, and the film starts a meaningful relationship that only deepens in subsequent films. Nick Fury may get the best arc of any film yet. Sam Wilson, a.k.a. The Falcon is a fantastic and likable new partner for Cap. And as for The Winter Soldier himself – in addition to basically being The Terminator of the Marvel universe, he certainly puts Cap in a mess of a personal quandry. Add all these elements to what might be the most terrifyingly realistic villainous masterplans yet in a comic book movie, and you have a truly special entry.

In addition to all this, the plot of The Winter Soldier irrevocably changes the MCU moving forward to the degree that no other solo chapter has (or will… until its sequel). This is the Must See of all Must Sees, and you’ll be pretty confused by the state of things come Age of Ultron if you skip over Cap 2.

krysten ritter as jessica jones
She’s not crazy. They really are out to get her.

Marvel’s JESSICA JONES – Season 1

(2015)

MCU – Netflix Series

Verdict: MUST SEE

RT SCORE: 93%

Trailer

Jessica Jones’ placement in this moment of the timeline is relatively arbitrary. She hasn’t had an affect on the larger MCU so far, and the only soft pre-requisites to her story are The Avengers and Daredevil Season 1. She exists in a world of heroes and weirdness, but is mostly defined by wanting nothing to do with any of it. But the subject of Jessica’s story makes even more sense in a post Winter Solider world, and it feels like a rhythmic continuation of that movie’s tone.. She’s fighting a monster, and there’s no superheros or spy organizations looking out for her.

Jessica Jones is darker, more mature, and more socially relevant than any other Marvel property yet committed to film. It’s the kind of show that even people who think superheroes are stupid can get behind. There are no colorful costumes. The powers, though integral to the story, are more heightened metaphors for character traits than fantasies for empowerment. It’s even more noir-ish than Daredevil, and even more personal, since it’s a mystery story about personal abuse.

Despite the season running a bit overlong – it climaxes and then drags out a resolution in the last few episodes – Jessica Jones is one of the best and most important things Marvel has ever done. It also has Marvel’s most compelling and fascinating and terrifying villain in Killgrave. Despite it’s disconnect from the larger cinematic world, Jessica’s story provides a vitally important counter-point to the idea that every good person with powers should dress up and fight crime.

the guardians of the galaxy
James Gunn effortlessly intersperses magic with adventure.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

(2014)

MCU

Verdict: MUST SEE

RT SCORE: 91%

Trailer

Hailing from far far away in space, the Guardian’s of the Galaxy haven’t overlapped with the rest of the Marvel heroes yet, but boy are they ever going to eventually. This film gives audiences their first solid look at Thanos, the Big Bad of the MCU, and our first real glimpses into not only his plans, but his family unit.

Guardians is, by far, the weirdest Marvel movie yet. Thor is weird, but that film didn’t have a talking tree or raccoon. At the same time, Guardians may be the most human Marvel film yet. It’s about love and loss, and feeling like a loser but doing the right thing anyway. And it’s all set to a catchy 70’s soundtrack that brilliantly defines the entire emotional arc of the film.

Guardians, like its characters, is rough around the edges, but so damn earnest and fun that it’s impossible not to love it. If The Winter Solider was proof of Marvel Studios’ growing maturity, Guardians of the Galaxy is proof that it’s only getting better at showing viewers a good time. Not to mention, the skill involved in taking five D-lister heroes and turning them into worldwide favorites overnight. The film on its own is a pure, self-contained example of everything good about the Marvel franchise, and is one of their best entries to date.

evan-peters-as-quicksilver-in-x-men-days-of-future-past
If I could save time in a bottle…

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

(2014)

20th Century Fox

Verdict: MUST SEE

RT SCORE: 91%

Trailer

X-Men: Days of Future Past represents Bryan Singer’s triumphant (?) return to the franchise that helped kick off the modern superhero genre to begin with. At the time of release, it was by far the BIGGEST X-Men film yet (and still is by some metrics). This is also where the timeline gets a little weird, because the film takes place in a dystopian future and the 70’s. It also features the cast of the original (older) X-Men films, and the prequel (younger) cast from Matthew Vaughn’s First Class. So how can this be reconciled in the present of the MCU? Let’s dig in.

The film posits that at some point in the near future, there is an explosion of technology that allows long-time mutant hater, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) to create shape-shifting, mutant hunting robot Sentinels. The unstoppable army eventually hunts down and kills or interns nearly every mutant (save a few resourceful X-Men) and any mutant-supporting human. Naturally this results in the world becoming an apocalyptic wasteland. Bummer.

Now this absolutely makes sense in a post Avengers-world. Item 47 showed a couple of schmucks gaining access to alien technology and running amok with it. Even without government funding (which he initially doesn’t have) Trask could have, by this point, acquired Chitauri, Asgardian, or Stark technology to complete his designs and unleash them on an unsuspecting world. It makes even more sense that this would happen in a post Winter Soldier world, without an agency in place to keep white collar nutters like this from getting their hands on weird technology.

Without getting into spoilers (we’re still in basic premise territory here), the X-Men are able to send Wolverine back in time to try to stop the event that led to this moment. Things change, (not necessarily always in the way intended) and the result is that mutants explode onto the public scene and robo-technology develops much earlier than they did in the original timeline.

So does this break the MCU timeline? Not really. Some of the specifics about Iron Man’s technology being utterly unique might have been re-written from the past. But it’s unlikely that the overall thrust of the character journeys or the Avengers’ place would have been significantly changed. The superheroes would likely leave the mutants well enough alone. The only major change would have likely been how S.H.I.E.L.D. was involved with them, but now that would only have an affect on the TV show.

So how does Future Past line up with the notoriously broken continuity of the X-verse? If we dismiss X-Men: The Last Stand, it actually lines up pretty well, the only exception being that Wolverine’s claws are not in the state they were left in from The Wolverine. We’ll chock that one up to Magneto helping a brother out by giving him a fresh new coat of adamantium (or something).

Continuity aside, how is the movie? It’s pretty dang fun! Despite a massive budget, it still suffers from Bryan Singer’s uncreative direction of action beats. What might be one of the greatest superhero action sequences of all time is in this movie (see Quicksilver above), but this scene was constructed by the film’s Director of Photography, and has very little to do with the overall plot. Nearly every main X-Man (especially Wolverine) seems pretty worthless whenever shit goes down, which kind of takes away half the fun of a power fantasy. But I digress…

oscar isaac in x-men apocalypse
X-Men: Apocalypse’s super intimidating, not-at-all-absurd-looking villain.

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

(2016)

20th Century Fox

Verdict: COMPLETIONISTS ONLY

RT SCORE: 48%

Trailer

Welp… we went back in time, so we might as well stay there for a moment to see how things played out. Or don’t. I don’t care. X-Men: Apocalypse is a huge letdown after the promisingly unique Days of Future Past. Singer immediately fumbles the ball with what now is his own continuity. He introduces a potentially world-ending villain in the 80’s and never adequately explains why this villainn never surfaced in the original continuity, He also trips over himself to give Wolverine a brief, awful cameo. And Wolverine’s state makes no sense based off of where the last film left him.

It’s clear that a lot has happened in the decade since Days of Future Past, but the film doesn’t seem to have any interest in its time period, or it’s continuity. The introduction of young versions of the original team has almost no bearing on the plot, and none of them have any charisma. Singer seems to completely lose the one thing his past movies had, solid character development. In it’s place is, weirdly, the one thing he’s never been good at – some fun action beats.

The film isn’t a complete wash, but it’s certainly not good, and moreover is confusing to those trying to make sense of the X-Men’s internal continuity. Ergo, I’m placing it strictly in the COMPLETIONISTS ONLY category.

movie team-ups in spider-man deadpool
A relevant panel from the recent Spider-Man/Deadpool comic book.

But wait! There’s more! Continue on to PART 4, our Final Chapter (for now) of the Mighty Marvel Continuity!