There was an idea, super producer Avi Arad knows this, called the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable films, see if they could become something more. See if they could franchise together when we needed them to sell the movie tickets one movie never could.
That’s pretty much the grand business summary of everything that Marvel Studios has done in the years leading up to Avengers: Infinity War, which opens worldwide on April 27th and is marketed as “the most ambitious crossover event in history,” and is the grand apotheosis of the most commercially successful yet critically well regarded blockbuster franchise ever.
Of course, obligatory to fans of the studio, is the idea of the rewatch, in which they queue up their Blu-rays and see the entire cinematic universe unfold in some nerd-satisfactory order – like say, watching the prologue from Thor: The Dark World before the meat of Captain America: First Avenger – or at a mind-boggling scale, like watching all two hundred fourteen episodes of TV from ABC and Netflix.
But ain’t nobody got time for that shit, especially you, a normal human being with a life. Here’re 8 of the movies you must rewatch before Infinity War. No faffing about with the origins of the now iconic Captain America and Iron Man, no side character films like Ant-Man and Spider-Man: Homecoming, just the straight up road that lets you understand all the pieces in place.
The Avengers (2012)
Bad-ass quote: “I recognize the council has made a decision, but given that it’s a stupid-ass decision, I’ve elected to ignore it.” – Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD
Some might argue that any list of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, whether eight items long or eighteen, must by necessity, include the original Phase One films: Iron Man, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. But Joss Whedon’s journeyman effort to string together the disparate worlds of these heroes is also a master class in quick beat storytelling.
The Avengers (also known as Avengers Assemble in the UK and Ireland) is a thrilling pop experience with snappy banter and some crackling action sequences. But the film’s greatest accomplishment is the tremendous amount of heavy lifting done by the script as it jumps between exposition and character beats in a film that’s so crowded with big set pieces with bigger personalities to match.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Bad-ass quote: “Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it.” – Drax the Destroyer
The other “team” that will be playing a huge part in Avengers: Infinity War is this band of interstellar misfits. Director James Gunn introduces us to them as unwitting players in a grand space opera where Thanos is the never seen but often felt presence lurking in the shadows. Guardians also supplies us with a quick history of the Infinity Stones.
What makes this film an exceptional watch are James Gunn’s irreverent sensibilities and the comic gifts of Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista. Guardians is one of the funniest films in the nineteen-movie long Marvel saga, and critical and commercial success pushed the needle on the MCU closer towards funny first, feels second, for better or worse.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Bad-ass quote: “You get hurt, hurt them back. You get killed? Walk it off.” – Captain America
Returning director Joss Whedon tries his best to pull together the various plot threads and world building goals of this film, but ends up with a cluttered 140 minute slog. Age of Ultron introduces us to to no less than three new heroes, introduces us to the Mind Stone as part of the overarching Infinity Stone storyline with barely any time left over Ultron.
That’s a shame, as what could have been a captivating portrait of one of Stark’s well-intended inventions gone insane – with a mesmerizing voice from James Spader – is dispatched with minimum fanfare. It’s the clunkiest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but sustains itself largely on the effortless performances of actors who’ve been playing their characters for years.
Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2 (2017)
Bad-ass quote: “You shouldn’t have killed my mom and squished my Walkman.”
Although it was released a full three years after the first Guardians of the Galaxy, the official chronology places Guardians, Vol. 2 before Age of Ultron. The film deepens the dynamics between characters like Nebula and Gamora, the step daughters of Thanos who will emerge in Infinity War with Groot, Rocket, Drax and Peter Quill in tow.
Moreover, this sets up a legacy generation of Guardians, the cosmic hero Adam Warlock and the universal force known as Eternity, some of which may or may not play a role in the resolution of Infinity War. Director James Gunn amps things up to eleven, if you’ll pardon the cliché, by increasing the laughs, intensifying the feels and developing our connection to this dysfunctional family.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Bad-ass quote: “I retire for what, like, five minutes, and it all goes to shit.” – Hawkeye
It might be titled, “Captain America,” but with this many heroes clashing, Civil War is pretty much the third Avengers movie. There’s no space magic in this one, as ideological differences over the team’s future create a rift between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. Before the film ends with everyone in position for Infinity War, we’re also introduced to Spider-Man and Black Panther.
In many ways, Civil War feels like a pretense to divide our heroes so they can ultimately reconcile in Infinity War – lending some credibility to the complaint that Marvel movies can feel like advertisements for future Marvel movies. But like Winter Soldier, it’s got a compelling political hook and that airport fight scene remains pure nerd candy.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Bad-ass quote: “I choose to run towards my problems and not away from them. Because that’s what heroes do.” – Thor
Thor: Ragnarok picks up from the God of Thunder’s off-screen quest to learn more about the Infinity stones, and he even has a brief encounter with Doctor Strange. But ultimately, Ragnarok is a mostly disconnected vintage space opera that begins with things being rotten in the state of Asgard. Its mid-credits scene, which sets up a cosmic encounter for the Asgardians, leads directly into Infinity War.
The Thor films have always struggled in capturing the adoration of the MCU’s fans, and Taika Waititi’s answer to that is to use comedy to humble The God of Thunder. Thor’s braggadocio and swagger remain intact but he’s a fish out of water, and possesses an odd couple chemistry with Loki, Hulk and Valkyrie.
Doctor Strange (2017)
Bad-ass quote: “You’re a man who’s looking at the world through a keyhole, and you spent your whole life trying to widen that keyhole.” – The Ancient One
In Doctor Strange, Benedict Cumberbatch’s a natural as an arrogant surgeon turned gifted sorcerer, but he struggles to suppress his posh boarding school accent. Outside of the pivotal role played by the Time Stone, this is the most peripheral movie in the MCU saga. It does however, pave a way into realms mystical while establishing a character whose future lies on the other side of Infinity War’s conclusion.
Despite its novelty, Doctor Strange remains one of the weaker entries of the MCU. While it pays homage to the psychedelic visuals of its source material – testing the boundaries of the 3D / IMAX experience – it pretty much follows the same arc of hotshot professional humbled by a heroic journey seen in Iron Man and Ant-Man.
Black Panther (2018)
Bad-ass quote: “I did not yield! And as you can see, I am not dead! The challenge continues!” – T’Challa
If you’ve seen even just one trailer, you already know that Wakanda is one of the major battlefields of Infinity War. And while it was mentioned as far back as Iron Man 2, it’s not until Black Panther that we get to see Wakanda in all its majesty. Director Ryan Coogler and a wildly imaginative production team seize the opportunity to imagine the African superpower that could have been.
The film’s greatest success however, is making the fraught tensions of post-colonial relations part of the film’s central, albeit simplistic, conflict. The titular hero actually gets the short end of the stick when it comes to the script. Teen genius Shuri, special operative Okoye and undercover spy Nakia are most compelling, second only to deeply layered villain Killmonger.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until May for Black Panther to be available for home viewing on DVD, Bluray and digital streaming platforms. All together now: “NOOOOOO!!!”
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