Avengers: Endgame opened to critical acclaim, smashed a handful or so of box office records, and capped off the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Infinity Saga,” which began 11 years ago with the debut of Iron Man. The success of these films managed to bring comic book stories out of their niche status and into the pop culture consciousness, and it shows absolutely no sign of stopping or even slowing down any time soon.
Those of us at Scoop wanted to take a moment to reflect on what the last decade-plus of Marvel storytelling on film has meant to us personally, looking at how it’s impacted our lives and how we’ve looked at the comic industry as a whole.
This reflection on the MCU comes to you courtesy of Gemstone Assistant Editor Carrie Wood.
I was wrapping up my freshman year at Towson University when Iron Man hit theaters. I was always more of a Marvel kid than a DC reader growing up – thanks to the cartoon series, I was pretty big into both the X-Men and Spider-Man throughout my childhood. But Iron Man was a character that had never really been on my radar. Sure, I had heard of him, and I had heard of the Avengers, but to me the X-Men was the A-list group of characters of Marvel comics. So when I heard that Iron Man was going to be some big budget blockbuster Hollywood film, I wasn’t immediately convinced.
It probably didn’t help that I was coming off of two notoriously poor films based on the characters that I grew up liking: 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand and 2007’s Spider-Man 3. I certainly wasn’t in the best mind to dive into another Marvel story on screen, much less for a character that I didn’t care about. So when the film released on May 2, 2008, I wasn’t anywhere close to the first person in line to see it.
And then the reviews started coming in… and all of my friends started talking about how good it was… and it started making a ton of money… so I figured, I’ve got a movie theater within walking distance of my dorm, so I guess I’ll go. I think it had maybe been out for a week or so when I got around to seeing it – I finished up a final for one of my classes, walked a mile to the theater at maybe 2 PM on a Tuesday, and saw Iron Man by myself.
I was completely blown away by what I had seen. This wasn’t just another superhero action flick – this was honestly masterful storytelling, with a first act that felt like a military thriller more than anything. It was a movie that reshaped not just how I looked at superhero movies from then on out, but also how I would look at comics. I started giving other characters a harder look than I had before, and started picking up trade paperbacks of Iron Man, Captain America, the Avengers, and some others. It was a film that took me back to the comic store – a place I hadn’t frequented since I was a child.
The MCU has followed me through my entire adult life. It’s helped me expand the sort of comics that I collect, but it’s also been just a fun place to escape into when the real world gets too stressful. And while I’ll always be eternally grateful for the childlike glee that came about in the final act of Endgame, here are my three standout Marvel Cinematic Universe films and why:
Captain Marvel (2019): Carol Danvers shot her way to the top of my list of favorite characters thanks to Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run, and Brie Larson’s portrayal of her brought me an incredible amount of joy. While I still find it to be an absolute shame that it took Marvel more than a decade to have a solo superhero film feature a female protagonist, they proved that it was worth the wait. I loved the twist on her backstory and I also genuinely enjoyed that Nick Fury finally got some significant screen time. (Truth be told, the blatant 1990s nostalgia also helped things along for me.) I cannot wait to see how the MCU utilizes Carol moving forward into the next phase of films.
Ant-Man (2015): If you had told me after the release of the first Avengers film that three years later Paul Rudd would be one of my favorite superheroes, I would’ve laughed right in your face. But you’d have been correct. Scott Lang is another one of those characters that I had some passing familiarity with, but when it came to the comics, Hank Pym was who I knew as Ant-Man. Rudd’s impeccable comedic timing – combined with the fact that this was a heist movie, a genre that hadn’t yet been done in the MCU – brought a certain freshness to the franchise. I still watch this film basically every time I see it on television because it remains just so, so funny and so well done (which means that I’ve now seen it roughly six times in the last three months).
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017): I love Spider-Man, but up until this point, I wasn’t really loving the Spider-Man films. The Amazing Spider-Man duology felt totally half-baked, and while the first two-thirds of Sam Raimi’s work was perfectly acceptable, I think they’re also very of their time – they don’t hold up super well, and I don’t go out of my way to watch them. Marvel gave us our best Peter Parker to date in the form of Tom Holland (an absolute cinnamon roll who I will protect with my life) in addition to our best Spidey-focused film. It was a boon that they were able to introduce the character in Civil War, because it meant we got to skip past the unnecessary origin story of the character (that everyone’s heard before) and get to the good stuff… good stuff that also happened to include one of the best villains in MCU history, with Michael Keaton’s take on the Vulture. This is the Spider-Man I always wanted to see on screen, and I finally got it.