Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Three – World Domination

Phase Three saw Marvel up their game to an entirely new level that had never been seen in film before. It is the full realization of the framework Kevin Feige and company had laid out a decade prior with the introduction of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. While Phase One and Two had already proved to be wildly successful and presented the idea that Marvel could keep this series of films running and be a dominant force at the box office, Phase Three saw that idea blown up, placing the MCU as the sole leader in the movie-going experience and seemingly grabbing the cultural zeitgeist with no intention of letting go any time soon. At the time of this writing, Marvel has just held their panel at San Diego Comic-Con in which they laid out their plans for the next Phase of their cinematic universe, which will take place over the next two years and will include ten movies and Disney+ series. They also officially announced that this year’s Avengers: Endgame has overtaken Avatar (2009) as the all-time highest-grossing film at the worldwide box office. This is a significant accomplishment for Disney and Marvel as it “legitimizes” the accomplishments of this “Avengers Initiative” that was teased way back in a post-credit scene at the end of their first film, Iron Man (2008). We have come so far with this Marvel takeover and it doesn’t look to be ending any time soon. In this brief lull between now and their next release (Black Widow in May of next year), let’s take a look back at the Phase that closed out the “Infinity Saga,” the Phase that spanned four years, eleven movies, six of which have made at least a billion dollars, and two of the five movies ever to gross over two billion dollars. With Phase Three, the Marvel takeover became as undeniable and ubiquitous as the films they release.


Captain America: Civil War

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Chris Evans, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Sebastian Stan, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, and Robert Downey Jr. in Captain America: Civil War (2016)
  • U.S. Release – May 6, 2016
  • Director – Joe & Anthony Russo
  • Starring:
    • Chris Evans as Steve Rogers (Captain America)
    • Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (Iron Man)
  • Villain – Daniel Brühl as Zemo
  • Support:
    • Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow)
    • Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier)
    • Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson (Falcon)
    • Don Cheadle as James Rhodes (War Machine)
    • Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton (Hawkeye)
    • Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa (Black Panther)
    • Paul Bettany as Vision
    • Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch)
    • Paul Rudd as Scott Lang (Ant-Man)
    • Tom Holland as Peter Parker (Spider-Man)

A turning point for the MCU, Captain America: Civil War could be seen as the first “modern” MCU film. While it sported the “Captain America” header, marking the third film starring the character, it truthfully resembled more of an Avengers movie. Based on the comic book event which shook the industry a decade prior, the film brought together all of the notable characters already established in their films, along with a couple new faces. It stood as the introduction for Spider-Man into this universe, shortly after Disney came to a deal with Sony that enabled them to bring him into the fold. The movie also introduces Black Panther in a big role, knowing that his first film would be coming just a couple years later. Joe and Anthony Russo returned to direct after their critical success with Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) a couple years prior. With them came their peculiar knack for film kinetic and mesmerizing action scenes; the film would put that to good use in a couple memorable spectacles. The film, as the story it adapted would suggest, pitted its heroes against each other in a political war over superhero identities. Things got incredibly tense and dicey for our heroes and it would have lasting effects on the relationships between them, with characters like Steve and Tony not reconciling their differences until years later in the wake of Thanos’ reign.


Doctor Strange

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Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange (2016)
  • U.S. Release – November 4, 2016
  • Director – Scott Derrickson
  • Starring – Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange (Doctor Strange)
  • Villain – Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecillius
  • Support:
    • Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo
    • Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer
    • Benedict Wong as Wong
    • Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One
    • Michael Stuhlbarg as Nicodemus West

Likely seen as one of the least impactful films of the third Phase of the MCU, Doctor Strange saw the introduction of Benedict Cumberbatch as its titular character. The film packs a unique style that resembles a 60s acid trip, is brimming with magic and mystical intrigue, and includes some notable casting choices. Rachel McAdams plays a love interest for Strange in one of the more disappointing roles of the entire MCU. Mads Mikkelson plays a largely throwaway villain with little intrigue. Tilda Swinton, however, shines as “The Ancient One,” stealing the spotlight of the film and earns an important cameo in a much bigger film further down the line. While providing little narrative heft, this movie remains memorable for implementing a new visual backdrop for the more cosmic pieces of the MCU to follow.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, and Michael Rooker in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
  • U.S. Release – May 5, 2017
  • Director – James Gunn
  • Starring:
    • Chris Pratt as Peter Quill (Star-Lord)
    • Zoe Saldana as Gamora
    • Dave Bautista as Drax
    • Vin Diesel as Baby Groot
    • Bradley Cooper as Rocket Racoon
    • Michael Rooker as Yondu
    • Karen Gillan as Nebula
  • Villain – Kurt Russell as Ego
  • Support:
    • Pom Klementieff as Mantis
    • Sylvester Stallone as Stakar Ogord
    • Elizabeth Debicki as Ayesha

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 saw the return of virtually everyone involved in the first film. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was a huge film for Marvel and this was a particularly highly anticipated sequel. It brought in Kurt Russell to play Peter’s villainous father. The film essentially tried to recapture everything that audiences had loved so much about the original: the lovable group dynamic, the 70s & 80s aesthetic with its exceptional soundtrack, and some interesting direction from innovative director James Gunn. While it didn’t quite hit the mark with its blend of all these moving parts in as satisfying fashion as its predecessor, it still gave us more time with this now beloved band of characters.


Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
  • U.S. Release – July 7, 2017
  • Director – Jon Watts
  • Starring – Tom Holland as Peter Parker (Spider-Man)
  • Villain – Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes (Vulture)
  • Support:
    • Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (Iron Man)
    • Marisa Tomei as May Parker
    • Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan
    • Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts
    • Zendaya as MJ
    • Donald Glover as Aaron Davis
    • Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds
    • Laura Harrier as Liz Allen
    • Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson
    • Bokeem Woodbine as Herman Schultz (Shocker)
    • Hannibal Buress as Coach Wilson

Alas, Spider-Man was granted his own film in the MCU. Tom Holland stars, following his introduction in Civil War the summer before. With him, the movie takes a much greater high school focus with director Jon Watts sourcing inspiration from the John Hughes movies of the ’80s. Michael Keaton plays Vulture and is tremendous, including perhaps the tensest interaction of the entire MCU. The movie also brings in Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau to infuse it with more of the MCU sauce, which may either heighten or hurt your enjoyment depending on your sensibilities. Oh, and who could forget, we get Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, a much younger Aunt May, one that Tony Stark can’t help but lust after! But still, where this movie really shines is in its high school interactions, something that Watts would somewhat struggle to recapture in his follow-up a couple years later.


Thor: Ragnarok

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Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, and Tom Hiddleston in Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
  • U.S. Release – November 3, 2017
  • Director – Taika Waititi
  • Starring – Chris Hemsworth as Thor
  • Villain – Cate Blanchett as Hela
  • Support:
    • Tom Hiddleston as Loki
    • Idris Elba as Heimdall
    • Jeff Goldblum as Grandmaster
    • Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie
    • Karl Urban as Skurge
    • Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner (Hulk)
    • Anthony Hopkins as Odin
    • Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange
    • Taika Waititi as Korg

Taika Waititi, riding the success of his indie hit What We Do in the Shadows (2014) scored his run at a Marvel film. He brought his comedic flair to the Thor universe and the results were pitch-perfect, utilizing Chris Hemsworth’s comedy chops to rework Thor’s character and make him one of the most exciting characters in their canon. Every character brought forward would leave their mark on the film, whether it be Tom Hiddleston reprising a down-on-his-luck Loki, Jeff Goldblum as the eccentric Grandmaster, or a new take on Hulk — in character for the entire film and providing further comedic relief. Riffing on a vibrant ’80s style, this movie is an overwhelmingly fun time and completely flipped the narrative that had followed Thor up to this point. Following SDCC 2019, it has now been confirmed that Waititi will be returning to direct Hemsworth, Thompson, and Natalie Portman (returning for the first time since Thor: The Dark World, this time starring as “Mighty Thor”) in Thor: Love and Thunder (2021). We couldn’t be happier.


Black Panther

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Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther (2018)
  • U.S. Release – February 16, 2018
  • Director – Ryan Coogler
  • Starring – Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa (Black Panther)
  • Villain – Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger
  • Support:
    • Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia
    • Danai Gurira as Okoye
    • Martin Freeman as Everett K. Ross
    • Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi
    • Letitia Wright as Shuri
    • Winston Duke as M’Baku
    • Sterling K. Brown as N’Jobu
    • Angela Bassett as Ramonda
    • Forest Whitaker as Zuri
    • Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue

Nobody could have predicted the success of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. Coming off the heels of his initial studio success with 2015’s Creed, Coogler turned Marvel’s first African-American led film into a cultural phenomenon. Taking place in Wakanda, Black Panther became somewhat of a movement, especially here in America. The film shattered box office records and even earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture (a first for Marvel). Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan starred opposite each other in what would become one of the more memorable hero vs. villain standoffs we’ve ever seen. It was undeniably satisfying to witness the African influence on screen in such a monstrous blockbuster as this, and audiences really took to it. The influence of Black Panther has continued to live on, and with Coogler already committed to directing its sequel, its impact won’t be subsiding any time soon.


Avengers: Infinity War

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The Avengers in Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
  • U.S. Release – April 27, 2018
  • Director – Joe & Anthony Russo
  • Starring:
    • Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (Iron Man)
    • Chris Hemsworth as Thor
    • Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner (Hulk)
    • Chris Evans as Steve Rogers (Captain America)
    • Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow)
    • Don Cheadle as James Rhodes (War Machine)
    • Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange
    • Tom Holland as Peter Parker (Spider-Man)
    • Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa (Black Panther)
    • Zoe Saldana as Gamora
    • Karen Gillan as Nebula
    • Tom Hiddleston as Loki
    • Paul Bettany as Vision
    • Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch)
    • Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson (Falcon)
  • Villain – Josh Brolin as Thanos

Avengers: Infinity War again saw Marvel up the ante on their game even further. Whereas the previous Avengers films featured a small core team of heroes fighting to protect Earth, Infinity War presented practically all our heroes from the entire decade run of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to combat the impending doom brought forth by Thanos, as played by Josh Brolin in a remarkable motion-capture performance. Thanos had been teased by Marvel since the end credits of the first Avengers film way back in 2012. However, it wasn’t until the end credits of Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 that we got our first glimpse at Josh Brolin’s portrayal of the behemoth. Infinity War rides on his performance, placing him front and center in the story, cataloging his journey to attain the Infinity Stones, at which point he proceeds to wipe out half of the universe. It was a shocking moment for Marvel fans to have the movie end on such a somber cliffhanger. Undoubtedly a bold move for Marvel, it set the table for a raucous conclusion to their Infinity Saga with its second part the following Summer. Infinity War was definitely bogged down by carrying the weight of so many moving parts, but overall it was a successful and fundamental film in the closing of its monumental saga.


Ant-Man and the Wasp

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Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly in Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
  • U.S. Release – July 6, 2018
  • Director – Peyton Reed
  • Starring:
    • Paul Rudd as Scott Lang (Ant-Man)
    • Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne (Wasp)
  • Villain – Hannah John-Kamen as Ava (Ghost)
  • Support:
    • Michael Peña as Luis
    • Walton Goggins as Sonny Burch
    • Bobby Cannavale as Paxton
    • Judy Greer as Maggie
    • T.I. as Dave
    • David Dastmalchian as Kurt
    • Abby Ryder Fortson as Cassie
    • Randall Park as Jimmy Woo
    • Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet Van Dyne
    • Laurence Fishburne as Bill Foster
    • Michael Douglas as Hank Pym

Following the events of Infinity War audiences were ready for a bit of a palate cleanser. That’s exactly what Ant-Man and the Wasp provided just a few months after Infinity War‘s release. It set the clock back a few years, taking place soon after the events of Civil War. Peyton Reed returned to direct this follow-up to his 2015 predecessor and implemented more of the same tone, with perhaps bigger and more inventive setpieces. Further, Evangeline Lilly saw her role expanded as the Wasp. The chemistry between her and Rudd continues to be excellent and with supporting roles for legendary actors like Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne and Michael Douglas, this seemingly small film is stacked to the brim with talent. Ant-Man and the Wasp sheds the idea of it being a throwaway entry in the universe by being an undeniably fun and thrilling action romp.


Captain Marvel

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Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)
  • U.S. Release – March 8, 2019
  • Director – Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck
  • Starring – Brie Larson as Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel)
  • Villain – Jude Law as Yon-Rogg
  • Support:
    • Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury
    • Annette Bening as Wendy Lawson
    • Djimon Hounsou as Korath
    • Lee Pace as Ronan
    • Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau
    • Gemma Chan as Minn-Erva
    • Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson

Enter Captain Marvel, a film that had more riding on it than perhaps any that had come before. For starters, it featured Brie Larson starring in the first female-led film of the entire universe. Of course, this was set up by an end credits scene at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, in which Nick Fury sends out an S.O.S. signal for her to come to the rescue of Earth. Despite this, Captain Marvel is a prequel film that takes us back to the character’s origin story in the mid-1990s. It also introduces the Kree and Skrulls, alien races that play a pivotal role in the cosmic universe of the comic books. The film is a bit all over the place, balancing stories both in space and on Earth. It attempts to present a deeply ’90s aesthetic, with Guardians-like needle drops and a slew of subtle and not-so-subtle references. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, the film isn’t able to juggle all its ideas nearly as well and falls tragically flat in one of the more disappointing entries of the universe. Still, it has an important place in the canon for establishing Carol Danvers’ character and hey, who doesn’t want to spend some time with (’90s!) Samuel L. Jackson ogling over cute cats?

Full Review: Captain Marvel: Origin of Strength by Laura Lanning


Avengers: Endgame

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The Avengers in Avengers: Endgame (2019)
  • U.S. Release – April 26, 2019
  • Director – Joe & Anthony Russo
  • Starring:
    • Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (Iron Man)
    • Chris Evans as Steve Rogers (Captain America)
    • Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner (Hulk)
    • Chris Hemsworth as Thor
    • Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow)
    • Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton (Hawkeye)
    • Don Cheadle as James Rhodes (War Machine)
    • Paul Rudd as Scott Lang (Ant-Man)
  • Villain – Josh Brolin as Thanos
  • Support:
    • Brie Larson as Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel)
    • Karen Gillan as Nebula
    • Danai Gurira as Okoye
    • Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie
    • Benedict Wong as Wong
    • Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon

Here’s the big one. Our new highest-grossing film of all time, Avengers: Endgame. The film is both a reflection of Disney and Marvels accomplishment, while also bridging the gap towards a new future for the universe. It directly follows the events of Avengers: Infinity War and over its three-hour runtime takes a number of insane and admirable twists and turns towards its resounding conclusion. The release of the film was like nothing that had ever been accomplished before. With twenty-one films leading up to the release of this one, the anticipation for a movie has never been higher. The end result was a cataclysmic moviegoing event. Fans were overwhelmed with the emotional significance of this conclusion for a few favorite characters who had been carrying the franchise since the beginning. It was truly an experience to see these characters all on-screen for what we know was the last time. Marvel may be striving to recreate this magic for years to come. I think we can agree, there will only be one Endgame.

Full Review: Avengers: Endgame: The “Infinity Saga” Ends Here by Tyler Harford
Podcast Review: The Twin Geekscast 27: Avengers: Endgame (2019)


Spider-Man: Far from Home

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Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
  • U.S. Release – July 2, 2019
  • Director – Jon Watts
  • Starring – Tom Holland as Peter Parker (Spider-Man)
  • Villain – Jake Gyllenhaal as Quentin Beck (Mysterio)
  • Support:
    • Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury
    • Marisa Tomei a May Parker
    • Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan
    • Zendaya as MJ
    • Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds
    • Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson
    • Angourie Rice as Betty Brant
    • Martin Starr as Mr. Harrington
    • J.B. Smoove as Mr. Dell
    • Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill

The final film of Phase Three and acting as an epilogue to the Infinity Saga is Spider-Man: Far from Home. It considers the direct aftermath of the events of Endgame, what with the deaths to notable characters and new ideas brought forth by the concept of the cosmic universe. Peter Parker, still just a high school kid, struggles to cope with the new expectations set before him by being a new figurehead for the Avengers. Jake Gyllenhaal arrives as our villain, playing Mysterio. The story has Peter and his class travel to Europe for a school trip and things go haywire. Like Homecoming before it, returning director Jon Watts works best when dealing with the high school relationships at the core of his story. When the movie has to account for the greater MCU and the problems that its universe presents for our high school hero, it tends to fluctuate in its focus and execution. Still, Far from Home provides a lighthearted getaway for audiences following the tragic events of Avengers: Endgame, one that does more to garner anticipation for future installments to come.

Full Review: Spider-Man: Far from Home: Here We Go Again by Tyler Harford


Past, Present, Future

The third Phase of the MCU can’t be seen as anything but an overwhelming success. During the course of four years it saw the release of eleven films. While they certainly varied in their quality and cultural impact, the collective of their contributions is frankly unmatched and unparalleled. Many new characters were introduced, few fan favorites were lost, and with it, some of the now most iconic American stories have been told. If there was any doubt beforehand, Phase Three places Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe front and center for moviegoing audiences around the world. It isn’t going anywhere any time soon, and with their announcements at San Diego Comic-Con, the impending years of their universe just got a lot clearer.

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Marvel’s Phase Four timeline, as presented in Hall-H at San Diego Comic-Con (July 20, 2019)

As introduced over the weekend at San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel has presented their planned rollout for their fourth phase. There are notable differences with this phase from phases past. For starters, this phase features five movies and five Disney+ series. This is the first phase that will feature television series (premiering on their new service Disney+) that will be directly canon alongside the films of the MCU. Along with this, the phase as presented only encompasses two years. It is unclear whether or not the phase will extend beyond what was shown at the conference or not, but for the time being, Marvel has unveiled more than enough to have audiences wildly excited and anticipating the next entry, which will be Black Widow in May of next year, acting as a prequel for the character and the second female-led film in the universe. Marvel Studios has accomplished an unfathomable amount in the last eleven years, there’s no reason to doubt them in their quest for continued dominance in the years to come.

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