THE MIGHTY MARVEL CHRONOLOGY – A Beginner’s Guide to the Cinematic Universe (Part 4)

This is the fourth and final (for now) week of The Powerwolf’s Beginner’s Guide to the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and friends. PART 1 started with Captain America in WWII. PART 2 saw a world of heroes step into the limelight. PART 3 focused on the escalation of conflict now that superheroes have been revealed. PART 4 will take us right up to this year’s Captain America: Civil War. Things have hit a fever pitch. Superweirdos are falling out of the woodwork and the world is more concerned than ever. Something big is building, and for our heroes, things are about to go from bad to worse. You know what that means. More awesome movies for us!

Each entry in my chronology 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.

PART 4 will cover the following:

Thus we continue into the beginning of the end… of the beginning!!!

Adrianne Palicki as Mockingbird and Ming-Na Wen as Agent May
Mockingbird is the best part of Season 2.

Marvel’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D – Season 2

(2014-2015)

MCU – ABC Television

Verdict: COMPLETIONISTS ONLY

RT SCORE: 94%

Trailer

IMPORTANT!

Watch EPISODES 20-22 (‘Scars’ through ‘S.O.S.’after Avengers: Age of Ultron

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D rides high on the coattails of its excellent Season 1 ending, but by the middle of this season, things have begun to dovetail into a subplot about The Inhumans that is far less interesting than the intrigue leading up to it. Also… while the tie-in with events of Captain America: The Winter Solider had finally put the show on solid ground, this season’s Age of Ultron tie-in is embarrassingly bad.

Everybody’s keeping secrets this season for no good reason (except “spy show”). At least Adrianne Palicki is killing it as Agent Bobbie Morse (Mockingbird in the comics). The sub-MCU that S.H.I.E.L.D. exists in now seems to have constricted even further, so the necessity to watch it in relation to the remaining universe has lessened still. Truth be told, you could do a lot worse with your TV watching hours than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but the show’s recommendation level still remains at Completionists Only.

avengers-age-of-ultron-hulkbuster-vs-hulk
Is The Hulk getting a little unruly? Don’t worry. Tony’s got a suit for that.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

(2015)

MCU

Verdict: MUST SEE

RT SCORE: 75%

MY FULL REVIEW

Trailer

It has been widely regarded as a lesser film than The Avengers. Some have even claimed it lacks the meaningful character building through-line that makes most of Marvel’s films such standout fantasy-adventure. (I disagree.) In any event, the second Avengers would never be what the first was. The ground was already broken, and there was no going back. Returning director Joss Whedon even went on the record that he wouldn’t try to go bigger. That was futile. Instead, he would go deeper.

Well, Age of Ultron is bigger, and is arguably deeper, though it isn’t necessarily better. Diminishing returns definitely play a factor here, as well as the universe getting too big for its britches. There are simply too many players on the board. Even Joss Whedon, master of the ensemble. can’t keep all of them moving meaningfully forward. In his defense, most of the film works. Tony’s arc is great, with Cap foiling him magnificently. Natasha and Bruce have an interesting sub-plot where they mutually ruminate on who they are versus who they wish they could be. Hawkeye gets all the best lines (and some great personal reveals). The action (like the Hulkbuster fight pictured above) is amazing. Even the twins, shortchanged on screen time, get a pretty decent turn as sympathetic villains.

Speaking of the twins, Quicksilver is in this movie! “Say whaaaaaaatttt? He was awesome in Days of Future Past!” Uh… yeah. Not that Quicksilver. In fact, Pietro is comparatively a little boring in this film next to his hilarious X-universe iteration, though Whedon’s version (and his relationship to his sister) is much closer to his comic origins. How do I mentally resolve this most glaring of continuity flaws in my Marvel chronology? Clearly it’s a different Pietro Maximoff! He just happens to have the same speed-based powers!

Okay. Fine. You got me. They’re probably alternate universes. Happy? For the purpose of this exercise, however, Days of Future Past (or something like it) did happen in the MCU. The X-Men of the 70’s stopped a murderbot future, but that possibility is still hanging in the air, and gives birth to Ultron.

Speaking of Ultron – he’s one of the few things that doesn’t work so great about this film. Actor James Spader does a great job with what he’s given, but neither Ultron’s design nor his presence in the film has quite the terrifying impact that it could have. Ultron’s worldview is also fascinating. If he had the screentime to establish it, he might be one of Marvel’s greatest villains. As is, we have to simply settle for one of the better and more interestingly performed ones.

As for The Vision, his origin only makes a little bit of sense, but his character is incredible, and his powers are so weird and comic-booky that it’s impossible not to just want to go with it.

Age of Ultron isn’t a perfect followup to the game-changing The Avengers, but it’s a damn good time and it sets in motion a great many things moving forward.

the amazing spider man
“With great power… comes great rebootability.”

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

(2012)

Sony Pictures

Verdict: MUST SEE / FUN ADDENDUM

RT SCORE: 73%

Trailer

I can hear them… I can hear them coming with pitchforks and torches… The Sam Raimi Spider-Man fans. Yes. Raimi did formative work in the superhero genre with a trilogy that worked pretty well for its first 2.5 entries, (only to fall apart completely in the last half of Spider-Man 3). Here’s the thing… there is no entry in Raimi’s trilogy that makes any kind of tonal, thematic, or chronological sense as a lead in to the MCU’s upcoming high-school aged Peter Parker. However, as an origin story, Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man works fairly well when you squint.

Sure, 30-year-old Andrew Garfield’s punk-rock Peter Parker is a noticeably edgier interpretation of the character than the pitch-perfect version the 19-year-old Tom Holland will play, but he’s also far more interesting than Tobey Maguire’s Bowl-of-Porridge Parker. (His costume ends as a tad more streamlined than Holland’s begins, but that’s easy to overlook.) Similarly, Sally Field is a very different take on Aunt May than Marisa Tomei’s iteration. This doesn’t even take into account the confusion that may occur if Gwen Stacy or Dr. Curt Conners ever show up in Spidey’s MCU solo films. But if you’re just entering the world of superheroes, and have somehow missed out on the either iteration of Spidey’s origin, The Amazing Spider-Man is a MUST SEE. If you’re already familiar, you can consider it a FUN ADDENDUM.

Normally I would have placed this film earlier in the chronology, but Civil War (Spidey’s official intro to the MCU) explicitly states that he has only been operating for 6 months. This is the earliest we could possibly see him entering the fray. The Amazing Spider-Man‘s world feels a bit pre-Avengers on its ground level, with Spider-Man quickly becoming a novelty in New York, and the concept of a Lizard-man coming across as laughable to average folk. But post-Age of Ultron makes more sense in the larger scheme. With such little superhero activity or S.H.I.E.L.D. oversight at this point, a young Spidey would have only the cops trying to figure out what to do with him. Their unease also fits right into the MCU’s current tone towards vigilantism.

As for Raimi’s Trilogy, and this film’s sequel: if you love Spider-Man, they’re all worth watching on their own merits, but Raimi’s films are often egregiously campy, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is so tonally imbalanced, its negative qualities overshadow its positive.

ant meets baby ant
Blessed are the meek, for they can be controlled by a telepathic helmet, and can be used to smite thy enemies in swarms.

ANT-MAN

(2015)

MCU

Verdict: MUST SEE

RT SCORE: 81%

MY FULL REVIEW

Trailer

Funny that the introductions of our weirdo bug-men would line up together, but here we are. In many ways, Ant-Man brings the best that Marvel has to offer. It’s silly, light-hearted, and a personal story with a genuinely relatable lead.

For a definitively standalone film, Ant-Man fits decisively in its place in the Marvel chronology. It intrinsically takes place post Age of Ultron, with one of the best crossover cameos yet. It also provides necessary setup for the character’s role in Captain America: Civil War. It follows the trend of all new heroes being put into the category of criminals with an honest-to-god heist film. It also fleshes out the historical world of S.H.I.E.L.D. and superheroics since the Cold War. (Perhaps the original Ant-Man might have even crossed paths with the First Class of X-Men? Hmmmmm?)

And hey… this film even mentions a relatively unknown “Wall Crawling” hero running around. Hence, this film immediately follows The Amazing Spider-Man.

charlie cox as daredevil and jon bernthal as punisher in season 2
Calmly discussing conflicting viewpoints about vigilantism.

Marvel’s DAREDEVIL – Season 2

(2016)

MCU – Netflix Series

Verdict: MUST SEE

RT SCORE: 75%

MY FULL REVIEW

Trailer

While Daredevil hasn’t definitively crossed over with the movie universe, his second season definitely takes place after Jessica Jones Season One. The tone of this season definitely shares the post-Ultron/pre-Civil War public growing unease with vigilantism and superheroics that we see in The Amazing Spider-Man and Ant-Man. Yeah. Daredevil was already on the run in the first season, but when The Punisher and Elektra come into the mix, things hit a whole new level of troublesome for vigilante justice.

Season 2 loses some of its street-level charisma by having Daredevil in an actual superhero costume this time. But the subtly interlocking mini-arcs about The Punisher and Elektra give the show a lot more to do, keeping the show’s momentum going noticeably better than in its first year.

Besides being just really good, Daredevil likely sets up not only future elements for The Defenders crossover, but also The Punisher‘s own upcoming series, making this a Must See.

Deadpool, Colossus, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead
Deadpool is just happy to be here.

DEADPOOL

(2016)

20th Century Fox

Verdict: MUST SEE / FUN ADDENDUM

RT SCORE: 84%

MY FULL REVIEW

Trailer

A wrecked Helicarrier is the set piece for the final battle of Deadpool. Its design has been changed slightly from those seen in the MCU to avoid a lawsuit, but my theory is that the writers placed the film in a firmly post-Winter Soldier world. The Deadpool comic character is so crazy that he knows he’s a comic character. He’s one of the very few that will talk directly to the audience. This version knows he’s in a movie, and that this movie is part of a series with a confusing chronology. It simply makes sense to me that he could just as easily appear in Avengers: Infinity War as the next X-Men film, and audiences would just go with it.

Deadpool is a masterpiece of raunchy absurdity. If you shudder at foul language or crude humor, I guess you could skip this entry. For everyone else, this is a must see. It’s by no means the culmination of superhero filmmaking, but it’s a damn good time. If you’re on the fence, check out the link to the Red Band trailer above. It’s a pretty good example of what the film has to offer.

A lot of fans have claimed that Deadpool could never thrive in the MCU because they would limit him to a PG-13 rating. First of all, there isn’t any merit to this, as Disney has done a great job curating properties to their own audiences. Second of all, if Deadpool did end up in a PG-13 movie, he would know he was in one. His struggle to behave within PG-13 parameters would likely become just as funny a his normally obscene gags. Just imagine him waiting for the perfect moment to drop the film’s one allowed f-bomb, only to have another character say it, right before he’s able to.

chloe bennett as quake in agents of shield season 3
Stop… In the name of love…

Marvel’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D – Season 3

(2015-2016)

MCU

Verdict: COMPLETIONISTS ONLY

RT SCORE: 100%

Trailer

IMPORTANT!

Watch EPISODES 17-22 (‘The Team’ through ‘Ascension.’after Avengers: Age of Ultron

I’ll be perfectly honest. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is so utterly skippable that I haven’t bothered to watch this season yet. (I still googled the tie-in episode for your convenience.) It apparently goes into the Secret Avengers subplot, notably increasing the quantity of undercover superheroics that the show should have started with. So that’s cool.

Does this lessen my authority as an expert on Marvel chronology? Absolutely! But as I’ve only made $1.63 on advertising on this blog so far, I didn’t think it would be cost efficient to watch 22 more hours of ho-hum television just to warn you that this season is still a bigger waste of time than a lot of other TV shows you could be watching.

It’s the golden age of television, people. I can’t watch EVERYTHING!

captain america vs iron man in civil war
The superhero showdown we’ve all been waiting for.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

(2016)

MCU

Verdict: MUST SEE

RT SCORE: 90%

MY FULL REVIEW

Trailer

And so, it has all led to this. The world has finally grown tired of the superheroes they once adored, and has decided to lay down some ground rules. The previously anti-authoritarian Tony Stark is now just afraid enough of what’s out there, and just guilty enough about the mistakes he’s made, that he decides to do the “responsible” thing and submit to the government’s authority. But for Steve Rogers, in a post-Winter Soldier world, it’s clear that he’ll never trust a faceless government entity to choose his missions for him again.

What could have been a shallow battle over ideologies develops into a meaningful personal conflict, driven by the exact wrong things happening at the exact right time. And wouldn’t you know? With a few exceptions (Thor and Hulk), pretty much every player in the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes out of the woodwork to take a stand. Black Panther gets a fantastic intro in what is sure to lead to a killer solo film and an expanded presence beyond. We’re still missing representation from Fox’s X-Men, but even Spider-Man shows up in an unprecedented supporting role that will forever change what comics fans see as possible in their movies.

Civil War may not necessarily be the best Marvel movie to date, but it’s sure as hell one of the highest pinnacles of superhero storytelling out there, and proof that the Marvel brand is fresher than ever. Civil War is more than a Must See. It’s the most compelling argument yet that episodic storytelling matters. Our most cherished heroes have never been more divided, but their universe has never been more united than it is today.

luke cage doctor strange and captain marvel
Luke Cage, Doctor Strange, and Captain Marvel – The MCU has a bright future ahead of it. (Captain Marvel fan art by BossLogic)

THE FUTURE

After all this time, how can it feel like we’re still just getting started? For the first time, we will explore magic and parallel universes in Doctor Strange this fall. Next year, the world ends in Thor: Ragnarok. And it all culminates in the two part Avengers: Infinity War, when the known universe and beyond will battle the Mad Titan Thanos to protect the fabric of reality as we know it. Be sure to buckle up.

  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season 4 – Sep 20, 2016
  • Luke Cage – Netflix Series – Sep 30, 2016
  • Doctor Strange – Nov 4, 2016
  • Wolverine: Weapon X – Mar 3, 2017
  • Iron Fist – TBA 2017
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming – July 7, 2017
  • The Defenders – TBA 2017
  • Thor: Ragnarok – Nov 3, 2017
  • Black Panther – Feb 16, 2018
  • Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018
  • Ant-Man and The Wasp – July 6, 2018
  • Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019
  • Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019

 

THE END

…for now.

thanos in infinity war

Next up… IS STAN LEE THE WATCHER??!?!