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The Best Moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (So Far…!)

April 25th, 2019

“We’re in the endgame now.”  Later this evening (unless something goes terribly awry!) I’ll be seeing Avengers: Endgame, the twenty-second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  I am, to put it mildly, excited.  As I have often written about on this site, the existence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a miracle that we shouldn’t take for granted.  TWO DOZEN interconnected films??  No one has ever done anything even REMOTELY like this before!!  And that there is nary a stinker in the bunch is stunning.  (The very worst Marvel films — and I’d rank The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Thor: The Dark World at the bottom of the list — are still very watchable and enjoyable!!  And the BEST films of the MCU are some of the greatest action-adventure-fantasy films ever made.)  As we prepare for the grand finale of the MCU so far, I thought it’d be fun to look back at some of my very favorite moments from the film series to this point:

“I am Iron Man” — I loved pretty much every second of the first Iron Man film.  I was blown away by how adult and how fun it was, and how faithful it was to the essence of this great character who was super-well-known to comic-book fans but unknown to the world at large.  But it was the very last line of the movie that made me truly fall in love with the film, and this experiment of the MCU.  I was ready for the usual super-hero trope, in which Tony Stark would act to preserve his secret identity and pitch some sort of story to the public to pretend that he wasn’t Iron Man.  But then Tony surprises everyone (including me!) by, as usual, doing his own thing, and boldly proclaiming his super-hero identity to the world.  Amazing.  And if that had been the actual ending of the movie, dayenu.  But, of course, in the MCU’s first and still-greatest post-credits teaser, we got:

“The Avenger Initiative” — As a comic-book loving nerd, I was shocked and overjoyed by the appearance of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.  Not only is Fury a fantastic character from the comics, but I was delighted by the in-joke of casting Mr. Jackson, who was used as the model for Bryan Hitch’s drawings of Fury in the Ultimates series (a reimagining of the nineteen-sixties-era Avengers concept for the modern era).  So, just seeing the great Samuel L. Jackson in the one-eyed flesh as Nick Fury put me over the moon.  But to hear Fury mention “the Avenger initiative,” and discover that Marvel was actually planning to create a never-before-seen super-hero crossover movie blew my mind.  That Marvel was able to live up to the excitement of this initial announcement of intent — and then some — is extraordinary.

Cap jumps on the grenade — It all seems so easy now, but actually bringing Steve Rogers to life on screen and getting the character right was a tremendous challenge.  How do you take this character and not make him seem dated and boring?  How do you avoid the trap of making Captain America’s honesty and heroism not seem simplistic and silly in today’s modern era?  The perfectly-cast Chris Evans and a number of terrific writers (particularly Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who wrote all three Cap movies and Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame) have done the near-impossible.  I knew they had gotten the character right during this simple moment of pure heroism.  This is Steve Rogers, pre-super-soldier-serum, willing to step up and do what’s right when others run.  Amazing.

“Call it, Captain” — There are so many amazing moments in Joss Whedon’s The Avengers.  I love how distinctly each and every Avengers character is drawn, and how Mr. Whedon’s sharp script allows us to see how their very different worldview leads them to butt heads with one another.  That conflict in the first two-thirds of the film, along with all of the character-work done to establish each of these characters in their preceding solo films, all leads up to that wonderful shot of the characters standing together in the streets of New York, an alien invasion erupting all around them.  But as cool as that visual is, it’s this perfect line of dialogue that sends chills down my spine every time.  In three simple words, Tony Stark validates Captain America as their de facto leader, and the team is born.  “Call it, Captain.”

“To Court Death” — Another post-credits scene for the ages, as Thanos is revealed as the big-bad of the MCU and the over-arching story-line of the next two “phases” of the MCU was set into gear.  I adored Jim Starlin’s Thanos comic-books of the seventies and eighties (especially, of course, the Infinity Gauntlet mini-series that served as the basis for Avengers: Infinity War), and never ever ever expected to see Thanos brought to life on-screen.  I still remember my stunned happiness at seeing Thanos in all his evil purple glory on-screen, and I was particularly taken by the cleverness of the dialogue of Thanos’ vizier, who declares that “to challenge them [the humans] is to court death,” a brilliant in-joke for the comic-book fans, referencing Thanos’ love for the embodiment of death that was a huge part of his story in the comics.

Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter — I loved the short films that accompanied the DVD/blu-ray releases of the early MCU films.  This one (released on the DVD/blu-ray of Iron Man Three) is my very favorite: picking up the story of Peggy Carter’s experiences after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger, and showing her working in the U.S. for the S.S.R., the agency that would eventually become S.H.I.E.L.D.  It’s great fun getting to see Hayley Atwell back as Peggy, and The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford is a wonderful high-profile guest star as Peggy’s sexist boss who doesn’t think a woman can be anything other than a secretary.  This short was so good that it launched the Agent Carter TV show (which, while enjoyable, was never as great as I’d wanted it to be).

The elevator fight — There’s just something about a great close-quarters action scene.  Watching Cap kick ass here in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is intensely satisfying.

“What a bunch of a-holes” — Was Peter Serafinowicz’s Nova Corpsman Garthan Saal quietly the best character in Guardians of the Galaxy?  I vote yes!  This joke line perfectly summed up the irreverent tone of the film and these characters… and then, c’mon, who didn’t get a little teary-eyed when Saal called out for Rocket at the end, as he sacrificed himself in his Nova ship, in an attempt to save the planet?

Howard the Duck — What more can I say about this?  It was just total brilliant lunacy to have Howard pop up as one of the creatures who had been kept by the Collector (Benicio del Toro) in the post-credits scene at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy.  Genius.

Cap almost lifts Thor’s hammer — A perfectly constructed scene, fun and funny and strongly rooted in character.  It’s joyous to see the characters hanging out and interacting with one another… and, of course, it makes perfect sense that maybe, just maybe, Steve is worthy of Mjolnir.

Luis tells a story — The great Michael Peña hits it out of the park with this blazingly clever, very funny sequence from Ant Man.

“Underoos!” — Once it was established how amazing the MCU was, fans like me lamented that so many of Marvel’s best characters could never appear in MCU films because, years earlier, those rights had been sold off to other companies.  I never dreamed that someday those companies would find a way to work together but then, in yet another miracle of the MCU, it happened, and Sony and Marvel reached an agreement to allow the MCU to use Spider-Man.  Just seeing Spider-Man alongside the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War would have been enough, but not only did we get Spider-Man, we got — in just a few short scenes! — arguably the very best on-screen version of Spider-Man ever.  Tom Holland was perfect; the look of the Spider-Man costume was perfect; the relationship established between Tony and Peter was perfect; and whoever had the idea for Tony to call Spidey “underoos” deserves an enormous raise.

Tony vs. Steve — What a pay-off to the continuity of the MCU.  We’d been following and growing to love both Tony and Steve across multiple movies at this point.  To see them brought to heads, to the point of actual combat, was wrenchingly emotional and a triumph of the MCU’s long-form story-telling.  This would have meant nothing if we’d only met these two characters in this movie.  But because we’d been following them for years at this point, this finale hit like a sledgehammer.  I love how the structure of Civil War tricks the audience into expecting that Zemo is going to reactivate a bunch of evil super-soldiers; but that’s all a fake-out, and the actual climax of the film is the far more personal schism between Cap and Tony.  I’m so impressed by the writing, in which neither character is evil or brainwashed or anything like that.  The conflict is rooted in the two men’s character and shared histories, and they’re both right and they’re both wrong in the end.  What an incredible idea to reveal that Bucky was responsible for the death of Tony’s parents!!  I love that continuity-twist; it’s shocking but it works perfectly with everything that had been established to that point.  Brilliant and heartbreaking.  I couldn’t believe how well Marvel pulled it off.

The Ravagers Funeral — James Gunn’s two Guardians of the Galaxy films are incredibly funny.  But I was not prepared for just how moving I found the finale of Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 to be.  I can’t believe that Yondu is even IN an actual movie, let alone that I would care so much for his death.  This is Michael Rooker’s greatest role, and I love how the film allows Yondu to be a mean son-of-a-bitch who also cares deeply for his adopted son, Peter Quill.  His sacrifice was moving, but it was the entire Ravager funeral sequence (a phrase I’d never heard before the film but now one I will never forget) and the wonderful appearance of Sylvester Stallone, Ving Rhames, Michelle Yeoh, and Michael Rosenbaum, playing characters who were the original Guardians in the Marvel comics, and the absolutely perfect use of Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” on the soundtrack that combined to create this incredibly emotional moment.

“Hulk like raging fire, Thor like… smoldering fire” — There is so much to love in Thor: Ragnarok.  That writer/director Taika Waititi and star Chris Hemsworth could successfully transform the tone of the Thor movies so completely is astounding.  This is my favorite scene from a movie filled with amazing scenes.  I love how deep we are into the MCU at this point, how amazing the actors are and how astounding the visual effects are, that this quiet, funny scene of Thor and Hulk chatting while sitting on the edge of Hulk’s bed can be so perfectly pulled off that we never question the reality of what we’re seeing.  I love how this scene allows Mark Ruffalo’s Banner/Hulk and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor to have a quiet moment that turns very funny as the two try to boastfully outdo the other.

“We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us” — In this phenomenal mid-credits scene, the central themes of Black Panther — and, in fact, of all these Marvel movies and the comic-book source material — is definitively stated.  It’s one of the most important scenes in any movie ever.

“Wakanda forever!” — Did the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when T’challa prepared his forces for battle with this war cry in Avengers: Infinity War?  Because mine did.

“She’s not alone” — It’s a tiny moment amidst the spectacle of Infinity War, but it’s one of my favorites: Black Widow has the Scarlet Witch’s back.

Captain Marvel stands up — A gloriously inspirational moment for the first female super-hero to be the solo lead of her own film.  (This scene isn’t on-line yet, so the above TV spot will have to suffice!)

The snap — ‘Nuff said.

I’ll see you soon with my review of Avengers: Endgame!!!

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