What it’s like to watch all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies

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The author on the Day Four of his Marvel MCU marathon: “Ultron” and “Ant-Man” have made me hate this and I want to give up on this marathon. I can only take so many quips, action sequences, and CG before I go mad.” Posters from MARVEL STUDIOS

Day Four (“Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Ant-Man”)

“Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) is a movie I would re-watch over and over again. It is my favorite MCU film. I still listen to the soundtrack constantly. This was by far the film that everyone expected Marvel would not be able to pull off. It was ridiculous but James Gunn directed the hell out of it.

This movie is an action adventure buddy comedy and is just a joy to watch. I can’t sing its praises highly enough. We’d be here all day if I did.

It is created by a large film studio but it feels like this was James Gunn’s interests melded perfectly into a film that is still uniquely his. I’d recommend this video essay by Movies With Mikey over at Film Joy that just shows you how much craft was put into this film if you would want more.

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This movie may have had another Infinity Stone Macguffin but it was also the most fun I have ever had with any MCU film, has all these damaged characters I love, the themes of family and friendship resonate with me — we are all Groot — and honestly, it just does everything right.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015) I think was when everything kinda goes off the rails. I do admire one thing, where it kind of gave a shorthand that the Avengers were having adventures outside of what we were seeing, as we were dropped in medias res in its first scene where the Avengers were going after Hydra from the Captain America film franchise.

That showed that these films have events going on outside of what we see in the movies and also that the movies we were seeing still mattered to the story. Not sure how “Thor: The Dark World” factors into this, but “Iron Man 3” had Tony experimenting with drones and A.I.-controlled armor and we see that here as the cause of this movie’s problems. It also showed us evolving relationships between the Avengers where they figured out how to work together and that they were friends. I appreciated those scenes of them just palling about. Also Hulk and Black Widow are dating?

I can honestly say that this film was the epitome of how bad it can get and the strain on the director, Joss Whedon, of having to balance all these characters, setting things up for future films with more Infinity Stone Macguffins, introducing us to Klaw, Ultron, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, and trying to tell a story of what the Avengers were dealing with that week, were challenges no director would usually have to face, and he did an admirable effort.

I do think Ultron, played by James Spader, was a great character. they would have cute banter, quirks and mannerisms but the motivations and plans to destroy the world are just so tired at this point. It still had a lot of good moments, such as Hawkeye pointing out the absurdity of it all. But my takeaway is that this movie just couldn’t have lived up to the first Avengers, and I remember Joss Whedon quit working with Marvel over this film. It’s kind of cursed.

“Ant-Man” (2015) was also a cursed film because in the middle of production, Edgar Wright, the director, who I would argue is one of the greatest directors of our time, quit because of creative differences. “Ant-Man” was slated to be in Phase One, and the production was a long and complicated mess. Wright admitted that the reason for leaving was Marvel Studios and its plans to have everything tie together that compromised a lot of what he would want to do with this film. It is sad to see this movie knowing how much better it could have been, but honestly, Paul Rudd as Scott Lang is the most charming man alive, and this movie still has the most absurd and fun action sequences. It’s a Judd Apatow comedy mixed in with a heist movie with ties to a superhero shared universe.

“Ultron” and “Ant-Man” have made me hate this and I want to give up on this marathon. I can only take so many quips, action sequences, and CGI before I go mad. I laid down for an hour after “Ultron” just to keep myself together. I want this to end already. I’m 12 movies down. I have spent 24 hours of my week just to get to this point and I can feel the strain. What is this all leading up to? Where is this going? Who the hell is Thanos? Why are we just running in place? Give me something to work with, movie.

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Day Five (“Captain America: Civil War,” “Doctor Strange,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”)

We’re now in Phase 3. I wish I could be mad but I love “Civil War” (2016) and the second “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2017).

I mentioned earlier how Captain America in “The First Avenger” was admirable for how he would always try and do the right thing and he would never give up. Those character traits are used against him or are what causes the major conflict where it isn’t that he would try and do the right thing, it’s that when he’s convinced he’s doing the right thing, he will be stubborn beyond good reason. It drove Tony Stark away and divided the Avengers. And I think that is what interests me about the Marvel movies, in particular how the characters have remained consistent. Tony Stark is Tony Stark but we’ve seen him go from this cocky arrogant asshat to someone who just can’t wrap his head around the ticking clock —that things need to be better.

The events in “The Avengers” and “Age of Ultron” show us how Tony is seeing the bigger picture and wants to work with a team from when he started out, how he wants to save the world, and how he is willing to work with the government compared to “Iron Man 2” where he pretty much just raises a middle finger to The Man. They all grow up and change.

“Civil War” for me is a movie that could only have happened because of the longform serialized storytelling that Marvel has established in these movies where the consequences of the actions of characters come back to haunt them, how the different storylines of characters built in different movies culminates with Tony Stark finding out what really happened to his parents, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) and Steve’s relationship clashing with Tony and Steve’s partnership. This movie haunted me because of how it managed to have all those storylines collide, have enough time for several action sequences, introduced two completely new characters who would get their own movies, and somehow give us an ending that wasn’t a huge flashy fight like the two Avengers movies, but somehow is way more resonating in just how much of a gut punch it was. Seriously? Black Panther and Zemo? That whole exchange? I could not fathom we were seeing this dark and serious an exchange with such pathos between an ex-military soldier who lost his entire family and a dude in a catsuit.

The way they introduced Peter Parker in this made me swell up with tears because he is my favorite superhero ever and that scene where he talks about power and having to do the right thing had me crying.

I really don’t want to hate “Doctor Strange” (2016) but at this point of the marathon my judgment might be clouded by how useless this film is. It introduces yet another Macguffin with the time stone, yes, but I really just am bored by how I know how this is going to turn out. The character is a douche, finds motivation to be a good person, fights a bad guy, saves the world. Whoop de doo.

It suffers, I think, from the same problems as “Ant-Man,” where you have these movies that are treading new ground in the MCU and you have these two films trying to show me another hero to care about. I know “Civil War” got me excited but I really just am sick of origin stories. And these two films were exactly that. I know I admitted that I liked “Ant-Man” but I was sitting there staring at it wondering why I did this to myself.

“Doctor Strange,” sans the hatred I feel for myself, is honestly a visual feast. That was the only thing people could praise it for, and I can’t disagree, but with how “Civil War” just blew everything out of the water and showed us just what a shared cinematic universe could allow for, “Doctor Strange” just feels like a step down. I do think Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange was more proof that Marvel had really good casting, but the villain in this wasted Mads Mikkelsen. Honestly, this has the best swerve of a final boss fight since “The Dark World” and I love it just because I felt like Dormammu at this point, watching Iron Man and Captain America punch people over and over again and I wanted it to just be different for once. That is my takeaway from “Doctor Strange.” That and I hate Benedict Cumberbatch’s American accent.

At this point it has also become apparent that they can’t help but feel formulaic and undercut a lot of tension with comedy. Just Write, a youtube channel put out this video tackling how Marvel has a problem with how it would keep doing this, I think it gives a lot of solid examples.

I can see why people dislike “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” it definitely is not as fun as the first one, but I appreciate that it didn’t go for something simpler. I still really love this series the most in how it is just about broken people finding a family with each other. The characters bounce off each other and still have that good chemistry, and I just love the visuals way more than any other Marvel movie, with how out there they can get. And the soundtrack is still aces. This cheered me up because “Doctor Strange” just put me in a bad mood. But the marathon has taken its toll on me as well with just how I want something else besides superheroes. But “Guardians” is just such a comfort for me, that I can’t help but feel motivated to go forward.

Day 5 over. 15 films down. I could not wait to be free of this and just watch something else.

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Day 6 (“Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Black Panther”)

It boggles the mind to think that these three films came from the same studio, all set in the same world within a year of each other. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017) is a coming of age film about high school, “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) is a soft reboot where Marvel gave the reins of the franchise to director Taika Waititi and let him run wild with it fast and loose, and “Black Panther” (2018) from director Ryan Coogler became one of the biggest movies of all time with some of the more overt political tones in any of these films.

I was expecting to like “Homecoming” because Tom Holland as Peter Parker won me over in “Civil War.” His costume is also probably the best Spider-Man costume in any film ever. I love seeing it in motion. I love his quips. I love his determination, always have. This movie broke my mind when I first saw it because of that twist. Rewatching it again, I can’t say that it has the same weight, but I can’t say that after all this time, Marvel hasn't figured out how to still surprise me, which I suppose is also a fear. For example, I had no idea they would kill so many characters like they did in “Thor: Ragnarok,” and that I feel is a sign for things to come. A major character death in “Black Panther” hurt me. I can’t believe this could happen after 18 movies of people in costumes.

“Thor: Ragnarok” feels like Marvel finding a middle ground of letting artists do what they want and also get what they want. I would compare hiring Taika Waititi to how they had Edgar Wright on “Ant-Man.” I have never laughed as hard as I did at any Marvel movie since the first “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It really is just a crazy space opera, more so than “Guardians,” and it just works, even the Hulk buddy comedy too. That is a genre that needs to be explored more in the next phases.

I feel a monumental sense of achievement from managing to work my way through these 17 films. I earned some rest. I rewarded myself with a cat video on YouTube. Finally, something else. I was free, but I also didn’t want to stay away for too long. I wanted to know more and what was gonna happen next.

Day 7 (Final Thoughts)

It hadn’t occurred to me how big “Infinity War” is considering it has all these heroes from the last 18 films in one movie, and this is where we are at now. We’re preparing ourselves for some of these stories to end.

I watched the small moments in each films, knowing how they could snowball and collide with one another.

“Captain America: The First Avenger,” for example, just had Hydra as the big bad guy of that movie. Who knew that Steve Rogers' failure to completely eliminate Hydra would have such a domino effect where it would lead to “The Avengers,” “The Winter Soldier,” and “Civil War”?

Or with Thor defeating Loki, turning him away from Asgard lead to him meeting Thanos. And Loki wanting to rule Asgard but in “Thor: Ragnarok” he had to destroy it.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been seeing dominoes set up and fall, and I think that this is sort of the addictive nature of these films where you can’t miss one ever, but it also rewards you for your investment in them. I expect that “Avengers: Infinity War” is going to have a lot of dominoes fall.

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Find the author online at @robcham.