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In the Limelight

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 Staff Writer Braelynn Bowersox.

Growing up with Steve Geppi as my grandfather, I always just kind of assumed everyone was as invested in pop culture as Pop-Pop was. It never occurred to me that most offices don’t resemble small toy stores, or that his life-size Batman statue was more than mere decoration. Some of my earliest memories include visiting my mom at work and marveling at his enormous collection, although at the time I simply thought of them as Pop-Pop’s toys. I remember when he first opened Geppi’s Entertainment Museum and I would play hide and go seek in the same room that housed an Action Comics #1. Talk about a defining moment.

The older I got, the more I began to appreciate the real value of comics and pop culture as a whole. I was a whopping 13 years old when the first Iron Man film came out, but even though I was so young I still remember the electricity in the theater when we heard Robert Downey, Jr. say, “I am Iron Man.” Being younger when the Marvel Cinematic Universe was formed granted me a unique perspective, at least in my opinion; I basically got to grow up with the MCU. Throughout my formative teenage years, the 21 films of the MCU taught me valuable life lessons. Complicated villains like Loki and Bucky Barnes showed that bad decisions don’t mean we are unforgivable. The formation of the Avengers proved that even powerful heroes need to lean on others from time to time. And don’t even get me started on the beautiful character development that tracked Tony Stark’s 10-year transformation from a selfish, rich playboy into the ultimate self-sacrificing hero. 

As a young woman I also feel incredibly privileged to be part of a generation that has seen some of the more formidable women of Marvel brought to life on screen. Rather than seen as secondary or less-than, the MCU allows these female powerhouses to step into the fore, often saving the men in the end. Black Widow, Pepper Potts, Maria Hill, Peggy Carter, Scarlett Witch, The Wasp, Nebula, Gamora, Mantis, Valkyrie, Okoye, Shuri, and Captain Marvel, are all complex, three-dimensional characters that demonstrate how vulnerability and strength can easily go hand in hand. I can only hope that as the franchise continues to expand, the Women of Marvel will receive more standout moments – like we see in Endgame – and standalone features dedicated to them will no longer be a rarity. 

Over the years, the MCU has become a deeply entrenched part of my family. The months between film releases are spent arguing over theories with the car rides home from film premieres turned into contests over who found the most easter eggs. What started as just my immediate family has grown into a group of 40 or more, spanning several generations of die-hard fans, piling into the same theater for every opening night feature. Seeing the wonder on the younger ones’ faces after each film takes me back to sitting in that theater for Iron Man all those years ago. Watching the older ones' excitement at introducing their children to characters that were such a large part of their childhood never ceases to make me smile. As corny as it sounds, I am eternally grateful to the MCU for the role it has played in my life, and will no doubt play in my future. 

Although I could easily make an argument for every film, these are my three standout Marvel Cinematic Universe films and why:

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017): Spider-Man has a special place in my heart. My whole childhood is full of fond memories of getting blasted by my brother’s silly string webslinger, lazy Sundays watching reruns of Spider-Man: The Animated Series, and sneaking onto my brother’s PlayStation to play his Spider-Man video game. While I firmly believe no one can ever surpass Willem Dafoe’s frightening portrayal of Green Goblin, I have never seen a better representation of Peter Parker than Tom Holland. Holland is the absolute embodiment of the character and captures the sarcastic humor and adolescent naivety presented in Stan Lee’s comic series in a way that everyone can instantly connect with. I cannot wait to see more from Holland and the new Spider-Man universe. 

Thor: Ragnarok (2017): I feel like this is the Thor film where they finally got everything right. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the earlier films well enough, but with director Taika Waititi at the helm this feature surpassed all of my expectations. While the first two films presented Thor as stoic and serious, this third outing allowed Chris Hemsworth to bring some much needed comedic relief to the titular character. The comedy so perfectly interlaced with the action, without shying away from the heavier themes of death, family drama and the world-ending destruction for Ragnarok itself. This film also gave us incredible performances from Cate Blanchett’s Hela, Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Waititi’s Korg. This is easily the most quoted film in my household and one that we never tire of rewatching. 

Avengers: Endgame (2019): I would be remiss in excluding Endgame from this list, despite the fact that I have never cried harder in a public movie theater in my life. This cinematic masterpiece was satisfying in ways I didn’t even know I needed and provided a tragically beautiful ending to the cultural juggernaut. In only three hours, the Russo brothers managed to tie together 10 years worth of movies in a neat bow without wasting a single moment. Between the callbacks to earlier films and the character evolutions for some of the long-standing members of the MCU, Endgame was heartbreaking and brilliant and an altogether cathartic experience that I will happily subject myself to over and over. This film was a love letter to the fans, and as a fan all I can say in return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is this – I love you 3,000.

A full retrospective on the MCU can be found in the Main Event this week. Personal reflections by J.C. Vaughn, Mark Huesman, Amanda Sheriff, and Carrie Wood are in the In the Limelight section.