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 Associate Editor Amanda Sheriff.

I still remember the first few articles I wrote for Scoop when I joined Gemstone Publishing in September 2007. They were features on the Golden Age Green Lantern, professional daredevil Evel Knievel, and a news piece about the cast of Iron Man. (I’m still quite proud of the paragraph I wrote about Robert Downey, Jr.’s casting.) The MCU has been a huge part of my career, reporting on casting announcements, trailer reveals, box office takes, and comic book prices.

I’d always been more of a DC fan than a Marvel fan – they have Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman – but the cast for Iron Man was really impressive, so I wanted to check it out. That cast created a great movie with summer blockbuster action and the poignant story of a flawed hero.

The MCU kept delivering on their casting and director choices. They got award-winning actors, big name stars, and lesser-known gems to play comic book characters, turning what could’ve been cartoonish performances (think Batman & Robin) into complex, rich cinematic experiences. A variety of directors have used their specific talents to capture the style and tone of different characters, giving us dramatic stories about men of honor, funny stories about loveable screwups, and hopeful stories for those learning to use their abilities.

After the credits rolled on Iron Man and Samuel L. Jackson strolled out of the shadows to talk about the Avenger Initiative, I was intrigued. The MCU has overseen the creation of a giant complicated web of stories. As a writer myself, I’ve been deeply impressed with how these stories weave together making each entry important, albeit to different degrees. This larger tapestry was given life through Infinity Stone appearances, cameos and team-ups, well placed foreshadowing, and expositive stingers. They didn’t rush things into mediocre movies or bombard us with too much content all at once, nor did they drag things out to the point of irrelevance or irritation. From the storytelling standpoint, it’s been absolutely incredible.

Working throughout and being a part of this cultural phenomenon has also been a blast. Superheroes used to be on the average person’s periphery with casual viewings of movies and passing glances at comic books. Now, everyone who knows what I do for a living wants to ask me about Captain America and Black Widow. My mom wants to discuss characters’ superpowers, my dentist asks 50 questions while cleaning my teeth, and friends want to know if Chris Hemsworth is as attractive in real life as he is onscreen (spoiler alert – he is). The amount of time my husband and I spend discussing these movies is borderline ridiculous and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Not only are these movies fun, they are often inspiring. I love seeing little kids who want to be Black Panther and I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear a teenage boy excitedly gush after the Infinity War stinger that teased the introduction of Captain Marvel. I’ve enjoyed it both personally and professionally, which has been one heck of a journey.

As difficult as it is to narrow down the list, here are my three favorite movies of the MCU:

The Avengers (2012): After five big-budget movies and major character introductions, we got The Avengers, a superhero movie based on a shared universe that showed six heroes in a battle to save the world. What could’ve been a movie focused on Iron Man and Captain America, gave fairly equal screen time to the six original Avengers, showing off their awesome skills and bravery. The story is focused and clear, the pacing is perfect throughout, and their chemistry is on point. It manages to be serious and a bit suspenseful, while peppering in lots of good jokes, like when Tony called Thor “Point Break.” It also has who is, in my opinion, the most entertaining Marvel villain. Tom Hiddleston is the definition of charisma as Loki and it’s hard not to root for a villain that is “burdened with glorious purpose.” As much as I was blown away by Endgame, this one is where the team started, and it’s not bogged down by all the storylines that need completed. It’s the core team challenging each other, working together, and eating some shawarma.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): Guardians of the Galaxy is just plain and simply fun. It’s the group of misfits – hot-tempered, violent, morally ambiguous, loveable screwups. After Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (the latter of which was an exceptional superhero film) Marvel needed a movie that was more fun and a bit lighter. Guardians swooped in with characters that were new to the MCU and definitely not as reliable or qualified as the varsity squad, yet they went beyond their selfish aims to become heroes. It has a good message on point with the rest of the MCU and did it with lots of humor and absurdity that just worked. I mean, come on, Peter started a dance off to save the galaxy. That’s priceless. That humor didn’t detract from the emotional hook of the movie like when Gamora learns about music, Peter sacrifices himself to save Gamora, Drax comforts Rocket, and Groot – three words: We are Groot. The final element that made Guardians of the Galaxy so good is the music. The classic rock/pop vibe gave the movie even more individuality and style.

Captain Marvel (2019): My favorite characters have always been women of action, so as a devotee of Sarah Connor, Buffy Summers, and Ellen Ripley, being a huge fan of Captain Marvel was an inevitability. I’ve greatly enjoyed her comics, especially Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run, and was very excited for the movie. It’s an origin story but doesn’t get stunted by the before-she-was-a-hero scenes that slow some superhero movies. Brie Larson did a really good job of portraying Captain Marvel, expressing her confidence and force of will through some cool action sequences and outside-the-superhero-box thinking. As a device used to encourage her determination, the movie included moments when she’d been told she couldn’t do something whether through overt mockery or sexist insinuations – something with which most women are still too familiar. Though Captain Marvel deals with plenty of serious issues, it’s also a very fun movie with a younger, less-hardened Nick Fury, great ’90s callbacks, and one very cute, very scary Flerken.

Because it pains me to only pick a top three, some of my other favorites are Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr. is perfect for Tony Stark), Captain America: Winter Soldier (great story, cleanly executed, stellar action sequences), Thor: Ragnarok (Chris Hemsworth finally got to show off his comedic talents), and Black Panther (excellent cast, beautifully designed from top to bottom).

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