The Chronicle Guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe

As the Guardians of the Galaxy gather once more, every MCU film reviewed

Ready to fly into forever and beautiful sky? Make sure you're up to date with all your Marvel Cinematic Universe knowledge before Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 opens this today. (Photo by The Walt Disney Company)

Hey, true believers, are you ready for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3? This being the 32nd movie in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's kinda hard to remember exactly what happened when, and to who, in this ever-expanding and interconnected storyline.

But don't worry, gentle readers, we've got you better than Spider-Man got Gwen Stacey (too soon?). How's about every film in the series reviewed? Phase one through phase five, from Tony Stark's first martini through to the Guardians' last ride.


PHASE ONE

Iron Man (2008)

Directed by Jon Favreau. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges

What happens? Where it all begins. RDJ makes the stylish, snarky Tony Stark find his finds humility and his humanity under a suit of iron.

Best remembered for? Easy to forget now, but the ending - Tony Stark outing himself as ol' shellhead- changed the game for the mysterious superhero thing.

What we said: "If you'd told me 12 years ago that Swingers' comic linchpin would end up helming one of the best, most visceral, and downright fun forays of all the comic-book franchises waiting in the CGI wings, I'd have told you to amscray, kid. But what the hell? Turns out irony's good for your blood." - Marc Savlov


The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Directed by Louis Leterrier. Starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth

What happens? Mostly that Marvel retconned Ang Lee's CGI misfire, and gave us what we want most: The Hulk as Bruce Banner's Id run amok, and lots of carnage caused by the green goliath.

Best remembered for? Edward Norton's sole appearance as the green skinned leviathan, and a lot of what if?s about the direction the MCU would have taken if his more self-assured Banner went toe-to-toe with Downey Jr.'s Stark.

What we said: "Five years after Ang Lee attempted a stylistically and narratively daring reimagining of what a comic-book movie could be (an example that tanked disastrously at the box office), the big green gamma-guy returns to the screen in a purer, more unadulterated, vastly more entertaining form." - M.S.


Iron Man 2 (2010)

Directed by Jon Favreau. Starring Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke

What happens? The chickens come home to roost as Tony Stark starts to really deal with the ramifications of unleashing his technology upon a world that won't always use it for good.

Best remembered for? The first appearance of superspy Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow, and the themes of super heroic responsibility that pervade the Earth-bound elements of Marvel get more assured.

What we said: "Downey is every bit as good this time around as he was previously. It doesn't hurt that the former wastrel gets to sink his choppers into a comic/tragic, alcohol-fueled meltdown midway through this outing, marking Tony Stark as one of Marvel Comics' all-time great flawed heroes." - M.S.


Thor (2011)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston

What happens? Marvel goes cosmic for the first time, headed to Asgard and the antics of the Norse gods. Branagh was a surprise pick for a comic book movie at the time, but he turned out to be perfect to start expanding the MCU's more magical and interstellar elements.

Best remembered for? The pitch-perfect pairing Hemsworth as the brash and bold Thor, and Hiddleston as the nefarious Loki.

What we said: "It's a spectacle, all right, and spectacular at times: Hemsworth nails Thor's royal insouciance and even injects a fair amount of humor into what could have been a dour downer of a deity." - M.S.


Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Directed by Joe Johnston. Starring Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan

What happens? Get the guy who made The Rocketeer to do your retro 40s Nazi-smashing adventure, with the slow roll of not just the real formation of the Avengers (Cap being the last of the Big Four) but also aligning the story towards the all-consuming Infinity Saga.

Best remembered for? "I can do this all day." If you want to avoid Cap being the lantern-jawed, blue-eyed and blonde-haired Aryan stand-in that fake patriots think he is, you don't jump straight into action with him decking Hitler. You CG-shrink Evans into the plucky-hearted and concave-chested kid from Brooklyn, a hero with or without muscles. Plus, talk about long story arcs. Steve makes a promise to Peggy (Atwell) that he fulfills decades and 17 films later.

What we said: "Captain America's retro aesthetic is corny but copacetic, and director Joe Johnston's allusions don't stop there; his tips-of-the-hat range from Powell & Pressburger's 1946 picture A Matter of Life and Death to his retrofit of 1983’s Return of the Jedi hoverbike chase on Endor." - Kimberley Jones


Marvel's The Avengers (2012)

Directed by Joss Whedon. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner

What happens? This is when the parts come together. After victory in a series of solo adventures, Marvel's greatest team comes together to take on the maniacal plotting of Loki.

Best remembered for? That moment we'd been waiting for, when the camera swirls around the core Avengers and you know that they have truly assembled. Oh, and the first appearance of a certain Mad Titan.

What we said: " Amid a litany of subplots and an alien-invasion background (that pretty much stays where it belongs – in the background), what binds these characters together is what has kept them apart for so long: six superegos, fighting individually, often at odds with one another, sniping and taking verbal and superphysical potshots at one another." - M.S.


PHASE TWO

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Directed by Shane Black. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley

What happens? Downey Jr. brings in his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang buddy Shane Black in for a surprisingly talky interlude that puts Tony Stark the man back at the center, as he makes a series of decisions that set up much of what will rip apart the Avengers for the rest of their arc.

Best remembered for? The inspired idea of having Ben Kingsley stomp all over the Mandarin as the stereotyped evil Asian.

What we said: "Downey’s Iron Man teeters between being a reluctant yet vainglorious hero. In spite of being a genius billionaire industrialist, Stark is almost too easily disenfranchised and dispossessed. But then isn't that a typical Iron Man theme, both in the movies and in comic books: exile, degradation, and then redemption?" - Louis Black


Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Directed by Alan Taylor. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston

What happens? Can a god and a mortal find true love?

Best remembered for? The absolute best Loki and Thor interactions, as even the increasingly mature god of Thunder gets outwitted by his trickster step-sibling.

What we said: "Freed from the first film’s regrettable mandate for peroxide-blond eyebrows and cheek moss, Hemsworth now wields Thor’s mighty hammer with greater conviction and flirtation, while Hiddleston slinkily ups Loki’s signature moves – lolling and quipping – to make a Noël Coward character in Norse clothing." - K.J.


Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Starring Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie,

What happens? Cap is never about flag waving. Cap is about questioning what America means, and asking whether we measure up. As the man out of time tries to navigate betrayals and the return of his brainwashed best friend, Rogers proves you can believe in the principles and still fight the institution.

Best remembered for? Robert Redford bringing that cold war conspiracy theory cachet to the MCU, and the first time behind the camera for those pesky Russo brothers, who guide the franchise as much as producer Kevin Feige through its all-important Infinity Saga.

What we said: "Captain America, the character, has been more-or-less seamlessly integrated into the new Marvel Universe, and while this particular entry doesn’t come within Hulk-smashing distance of the truly epic The Avengers, it remains a highlight of Marvel’s bid for big-screen dominance, as well as a canny meditation on the perils of overprotective government agencies blithely swapping liberty and freedom for a tenuous sense of safety in a post-9/11 world." - M.S.


Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Directed by James Gunn. Voices by Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper. Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker

What happens? Think only Earth has superheroes? Wrong-o. Think only Earth has dorks? No, but we have the best ones. Abducted human Peter Quill accidentally saves the galaxy in this massive expansion of the franchise, bringing in the space side that's so important for what's to come - plus even whackier humor, and the best mixtape soundtrack this side of a Tarantino flick.

Best remembered for? "I am Groot."

What we said: "Guardians of the Galaxy is an outlier: a space opera in a largely earthbound movie cycle (excepting the occasional red-eye to another dimension in the Thor pictures), candy-colored and bopping where the other Marvel movies are muted and imposing, and the funniest one to date, without a doubt." - K.J.


Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Directed by Joss Whedon. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, James Spader

What happens? The Avengers implode after Tony Stark's hubris gets the better of them, and a robot voiced by James Spader drops an entire city from the sky.

Best remembered for? The first appearance of a certain future Scarlet Witch.

What we said: "Perhaps to knock Ultron for being a mostly coherent assembly of globe-trotting, gadgets, and glib one-liners is akin to knocking the better Bond films for delivering well on formula while rarely defying it. As swell as it is swollen, this entry operates on a larger scale while retaining the same planet-saving stakes, with mortality hardly ever more than an inconvenience." - William Goss


Ant-Man (2015)

Directed by Peyton Reed. Starring Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, David Dastmalchian

What happens? Marvel gets weird and small, and proves that not all heroes are perfect. Rudd's Scott Lang is the hapless good guy who finds out that there have been heroes for years (we just used to call them superspies).

Best remembered for? The best supporting cast to date, both human and insect.

What we said: "Ant-Man has a casual, light-hearted tone that is refreshing in a Marvel Universe that endlessly destroys entire cities for spectacle. The climactic battle offers a clever subversion on that trope by setting it in Lang’s daughter’s bedroom (following a brief, hilarious battle that takes place within a briefcase). It is a perfect instance of meta self-awareness that thankfully lets a little air out of this grand narrative pomposity. Ant-Man is infectious, silly entertainment." - Josh Kupecki


PHASE THREE

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie

What happens? The seeds sown in The Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron bear bitter fruit as hero-hating antagonist Zemo brings down the Avengers by using the truth against them.

Best remembered for? Cap and Iron Man trading blows? Say it ain't so! Plus, the first appearance of everyone's friendly neighborhood Spider-Man as awkward Iron Man fanboy.

What we said: "Nobody ever accused Marvel Studios of not playing the long game. With Captain America: Civil War, we’ve now entered Phase 3 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe rollout/cash grab. But I do wonder if the MCU masterminds anticipated Civil War would be a better Avengers movie than, well, the last Avengers movie." - K.J.


Doctor Strange (2016)

Directed by Scott Derrickson. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong

What happens? The sorcerer supreme opens the doors of perception in the MCU's most psychedelic adventure.

Best remembered for? Strange getting shoved around in his own brain by the Ancient One.

What we said: "Defiantly not your everyday Avengers movie, Doctor Strange instead inhabits the same franchise universe with an outré panache. He’s cool, this physician Strange, but I’m unsure what Hippocrates would think." - M.S.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Directed by James Gunn. Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan

What happens? The recurrent theme of fathers and sons gets a real kick as Starlord gets a little demigod in him, courtesy of an absentee dad (notice how many Marvel films are really about the perils of hero worship, even if you're related?)

Best remembered for? James Gunn combining the idiotic and moving in a way even the endlessly fun first film only hinted at. How does the murderer from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer make "I'm Mary Poppins, y'all" one of the great farewells in cinema? Plus, sibling rivalry gets gloriously over-the-top as Gamora and Nebula bring out the big guns to settle who daddy loves best.

What we said: "Director and writer Gunn is a dab hand with space opera quippery and most of the set-pieces land bang on target, with collateral emotional damage to boot. It’s got more heft, and the risks are higher this time around, but this is one Marvel Extended Universe tentpole that is unlikely to be crushed beneath the earth-shattering seriousness of Cap vs. Tony Stark. It’s far too gleefully goofy for that." - M.S.


Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Directed by Jon Watts. Starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Jacob Batalon, Zendaya

What happens? Trickledown economics doesn't work, but what happens on the streets when superheroes leave those super toys around? Holland's wide-eyed kid-next-door take on Spidey meets Keaton's scrap merchant Vulture in a way that keeps them both grounded.

Best remembered for? Tony Stark no-selling Parker's attempt to get a hug. Two characters summed up in one moment.

What we said: "Not to downplay Sam Raimi’s first two forays into the mighty Marvel extended universe way back in 2002 and 2004, which were great fun (best not to mention his third outing), and while we’re reshuffling the deck, let’s just all pretend 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man never happened – but director Watts returns your friendly neighborhood web-slinger to his often laugh-out-loud juvenile roots." - M.S.


Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

What happens? Thor kinda forgets about that whole "stopping Thanos" thing (yeah, he's still pulling the strings in the background) as he finds deep family secrets buried under Asgard, and refines his double act with Loki.

Best remembered for? Hulk versus Thor has been a long-standing frenemies deal in Marvel Comics, and this delivers the punch-up you always wanted.

What we said: "Ragnarok director Taika Waititi – frequent collaborator with NZ comedy team Flight of the Conchords and the writer/director of the very fine arthouse comedies What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople – imprints his particular comic sensibility onto this certainly corporate entertainment, drenching it in Eighties synth and Day-Glo colors, and clocking more jokes per minute than any of Marvel’s predecessors." - K.J.


Black Panther (2018)

Directed by Ryan Coogler. Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Martin Freeman

What happens? Marvel deals with the fact that its biggest heroes are all white with the biggest budget exhibition of Afrofuturism ever shown on the big screen.

Best remembered for? One of Marvel's most complex and compelling villains in Killmonger, a character who combines both righteous anger over Western imperialism and an object lesson in the perils of adopting the tools of your oppressors.

What we said: "Much like Tony Stark (arguably the Black Panther's dissolute analog) has blood on his weapons-developing hands, T'Challa is left to question the culpability of Wakanda in letting Africa suffer colonialism unchallenged. Moreover, this is no Panglossian Afro-future: Coogler places limits on the idyll of Wakanda, and sends an inherent jab that all imperialism, no matter its origin, is dangerous." - Richard Whittaker


Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

What happens? Thanos happens, that's what. All the separate storylines, the dozens of characters, the fractured friendships, the catspaw villains, all come together in one of the most epic modern movies - and it's only part one.

Best remembered for? The deathly silence in the cinema when Thanos snaps his fingers and sends half the universe away. The groans and moans when your favorite characters disappeared. Arguably the greatest cliffhanger since "I am your father."

What we said: "This is Thanos' film, and under the makeup and CG, this is Brolin (previously glimpsed only in moments of menace and manipulation) striding through like a brilliant, broken force of nature. He conveys in flickers of emotion that his deviant mind is convinced he is the true hero, and that sundered worlds are just an inevitable cost of doing the right thing." - R.W.


Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Directed by Peyton Reed. Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne

What happens? The sweet relief of a flashback, as we head back to San Francisco with Scott Lang goofing his way through more pseudoscience, and the all-important introduction of the Quantum Realm.

Best remembered for? A happy (if short-lived) ending in the middle of the downer ending of the Infinity Saga, and the idea that some baddies can truly be redeemed.

What we said: "It’s no spoiler to say this is before Thanos wishes really hard, so the brakes are off for the same kind of giddy adventures in science as the first film, with added giant ants. Returning director Peyton Reed slides straight back into action, and doesn’t bother ladeling on more exposition – after all, if the audience is baffled by the odd burst of techno-babble, that’s fine, because so is Lang." - R.W.


Captain Marvel (2019)

Directed by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck. Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn

What happens? More flashbacks, this time to the '90s as we find out who Nick Fury was summoning at the end of Infinity War just before he got dusted.

Best remembered for? What Black Panther did to give Black heroes their due, the introduction of Carol Danvers as the most powerful Avenger finally busts up the boys' club vibe. Plus Nick Fury steps out of the shadows as the regular guy who is OK putting the super in superspy.

What we said: "Yes, in many ways Captain Marvel follows the classic MCU origin format of the hero finding out who they really are. But just as it worked for Steve Rogers, and it worked for Thor, and it worked for Tony Stark, so it works for Vers, and puts her up there with Marvel's defining trio. There are elements of all three heroes in her, and while Captain Marvel may feel a little like retreading the godlike-being-out-of-water plot of the first Thor, her struggle is in overcoming what people tell her she is. Thor lacked humility; Carol lacks self-belief, and that's a powerful inversion." - R.W.


Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Voice by Bradley Cooper. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Danai Gurira, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Karen Gillan, Brie Larson, Don Cheadle

What happens? The story that started over a decade earlier wraps up in suitably grand style, allowing characters to reconsider their decisions in time-traveling reenactments of earlier films. And everyone everyone gets their moment.

Best remembered for? The universe-spanning epic comes to a close through a symphony of callbacks and tears, a grand picture assembled from little moments. A phone ringing. Birds in a garden. A single finger raised. A couple dancing.

What we said: "Ultimately, this is the end of the three-phase Infinity Saga. Some heroes rise (yes, of course you knew that). Some fall. Some rewrite their destinies. Some complete the path they have always been on. From here, there's a whole new universe to explore, but Avengers: Endgame gives us one last look back at where we came from." - R.W.


Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Directed by Jon Watts. Starring Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya

What happens? The fallout from Endgame as young Spidey desperately tries to fill the mentor gap left by the death of Tony Stark with exactly the wrong guy.

Best remembered for? Spidey getting outed, just like Stark was in the first film - but in a way that proves he's not ready to be the next Iron Man.

What we said: "Far From Home never forgets that it's a teen comedy-drama-romance, just wrapped up in a superhero story. But oh, that wrapping. The big fight sequences are spectacular in the way that the series demands of itself, with the added bonus of some great architecture (if you've got tired of NYC getting the brunt of the beating, now see Prague in flames!). Yet the highlight is a psychobattle plucked straight from the warped brain of Spidey's co-creator Steve Ditko, built on the basic idea that Peter's most challenging opponent will always be himself." - R.W.


PHASE FOUR

Black Widow (2021)

Directed by Cate Shortland. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, Ray Winstone, William Hurt

What happens? A fallen Avenger finally gets her solo film, filling in the gaps you never knew were there when she snuck off after Civil War. A pointed reminder that a lot of heroes are villains seeking redemption and forgiveness.

Best remembered for? The idiotic joy of Natasha finding her other adoptive family.

What we said: "What the writing team of Marvel veterans Jac Schaeffer (Wandavision) and Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok) and newbie Ned Benson (and, of course, whatever long game producer Kevin Feige is playing) adds to the equation is a smattering of every spy action film since perestroika. Some nods are overt (like a high-speed pursuit involving a tank that feels like a GoldenEye homage); some are narrative, such as an opening that will appeal to fans of The Americans; while others are more systemic and stylistic, with the super polished fighting forms of the early Avengers films getting a post-Jason Bourne gritty rubdown." - R.W.


Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. Starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng'er Zhang, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Michelle Yeoh, Florian Munteanu

What happens? The first real Phase Four film isn't a soft reboot, but instead uses the cosmic/magic mix that the earlier films established, and launches new heroes.

Best remembered for? Aside from adding overdue Asian representation to the MCU? A total change in fight choreography, and Leung joining a long line of acting heavy hitters who brought gravitas to the franchise. Plus the amiable bickering of Liu and Awkwafina.

What we said: "Aside from bringing in heavy hitter actors, the MCU has succeeded by playing with genres, bringing in elements like conspiracy spy thrillers and heist flicks into the superhero playbook. Shang-Chi looks to xuanhuan (literal translation: mysterious fantasy), in which heroes, often foreign, face elements of Chinese mythology. Previous American efforts have been a mixed bag, from the great (Big Trouble in Little China) to the tepid (The Great Wall), dull (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor), and dismal (Mortal Kombat). Shang-Chi doesn't just pull off a fun western xuanhuan, but makes it feel like a door being opened for future Marvel films." - R.W.


Eternals (2021)

Directed by Chloé Zhao. Starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Lia McHugh, Don Lee, Barry Keoghan, Angelina Jolie, Kit Harington

What happens? Much of the MCU has been about expanding the universe: now, the history of heroes gets deeper with the backstory of the demigods and their habit of non-intervention.

Best remembered for? Arguably, the foreshadowing of the Midnight Sons in the inevitable post-credits sequence.

What we said: "Eternals is as flat as the Western plain across which team leader Ajak (Hayak) rides in one of the National Geographic-esque scenery shots. For years, edgy cineastes have whined that there’s no sex in Marvel, but the scene Zhao finally delivers has less passion and heart than Steve and Peggy dancing cheek-to-cheek in the finale of Endgame. Character traits are mentioned but irrelevant, while the return of the Deviants is one of a multitude of strained contrivances." - R.W.


Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Directed by Jon Watts. Starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield

What happens? Peter Parker's blind optimism meets Doctor Strange's hubris, and the universe becomes the multiverse as Sony claims their licensed superhero back.

Best remembered for? It may be fan service, but bringing back all three of the big-screen Spider-Men on the big screen is just perfect. Plus how it handles Spidey's exit from the core MCU makes emotional sense, and opens up endless narrative possibilities.

What we said: "What’s remarkable is that it does so without feeling like a rip-off of the similarly themed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Watts has such a smooth grasp on the nervous energy that makes his version of Spider-Man’s New York tick that it doesn’t feel overcrowded, or like soulless fan service, when veteran villains of other Spideys like Molina’s Doctor Octopus and Dafoe’s Green Goblin come crashing into this reality. That’s when McKenna and Sommers’ script really starts to shine, balancing the big CG set-pieces that are MCU fodder with a real understanding of those characters." - R.W.


Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Directed by Sam Raimi. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stühlbarg, Rachel McAdams

What happens? After fans got heavily invested in the emotional turmoil of Wanda Maximov (Olsen) in WandaVision, Sam Raimi turns her trauma into terror by having her devastate dimensions in her search for the reality-hopping powers of another potential Young Avenger, Miss America (Gomez). It's the closest the MCU has come to a straight-up horror film, which is especially weird considering rumors that that Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson left the project because he wanted to go in too dark a direction.

Best remembered for? The Multiverse finally gives is the Fantastic Four we asked for! Well, not quite, but at least there was a cameo by fancasting favorite John Krasinski as Reed Richards and one-fifth of the Illuminati.

What we said: "There’s an interesting tension at play within Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the strongest MCU outing since Black Panther, that’s nevertheless as much Marvel Machine as it is Raimi enjoying his return to the big screen after almost 10 years away, deploying every trick he keeps up his sleeve." - Trace Sauveur


Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

Directed by Taika Waititi. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan

What happens? Thor (Hemsworth) searches for a new direction after lopping off Thanos' head and helping to found New Asgard. What he finds instead is his ex, Jane Foster (Portman), who is now also a thunder god. Bad timing, since there's a god butcher, Gorr (Bale) prowling the spaceways.

Best remembered for? Lots and lots and lots of Guns'n'Roses.

What we said: "Waititi takes the fish-out-of-water elements of Kenneth Branagh's version of the Thunder God and turns him into a happy toddler with occasional "boo-boo face." That said, all three of the lead Asgardians are pretty doltish. Waititi's decision to make gods just imbeciles means that there's nothing to Jane's choice to take up the mantle of godhood. Similarly, Val took on the mantle of king of Asgard, but as soon as that gets boring she dumps the community so she can swan around with her buddies." - R.W.


Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

Directed by Ryan Coogler. Starring Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Tenoch Huerta, Dominique Thorne, Martin Freeman, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke

What happens? The MCU's stories have always been built around loss, but the death of actor Chadwick Boseman left a gaping hole not only in the story but in the lives of everyone involved with the first film. Coogler and company let the off-screen tragedy bleed into the story as Wakanda tries to navigate the death of their Black Panther and the threat of invasion by King Namor (Huerta) of Talokan, the MCU's version of Atlantis.

Best remembered for? The opening scene, as much a public act of mourning for Boseman as it is for T'Challa.

What we said: "The Wakanda/Talokan plot emerging seems designed to replace the geopolitical component of the Captain America films, movies that undeniably serve as a critique of America. Yet the films have now painted themselves into the politically strange corner of having two of the most empathetic nations being 'strongman' monarchies fending off those pesky democracies. It's a weird twist when so much of what this film achieves is important: The mere existence of a blockbuster built around Black women and a fantastical Mesoamerican culture is astounding, even if it shouldn't be." - R.W.


PHASE 5

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)

Directed by Peyton Reed. Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathryn Newton, Bill Murray, David Dastmalchian

What happens? The least likely Avenger gets caught up in big science again as Scott Lang (Rudd) has to leap into the Quantum Realm to rescue his daughter (Newton) from the malevolent Kang (Majors).

Best remembered for? Having the happy-go-lucky Lang once again blunder to victory, and if he's left with an uncomfortable feeling that something is awry. Cue the Council of Kangs ...

What we said: Quantumania is, quite frankly, everything that Taika Waititi's dismal run on Thor (the continuity-dismissive Ragnarok and the infuriating Love and Thunder) was not. Director Peyton Reed returns a genuine sense of cosmic wonder that has been lacking from recent Marvel movies, crafting a bizarre and physics-defying Quantum Realm that gorgeously melds the mechanical and the biological in fun, gooey ways ("Drink the slime!")." - R.W.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

Directed by James Gunn. Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Chukwudi Iwuji, Maria Bakalova, Sean Gunn, Will Poulter, Elizabeth Debicki, with voices by Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper

What happens? Everyone's favorite dysfunctional found family takes care of their own in one last adventure as we finally discover what exactly happened to Rocket before he was a Guardian.

Best remembered for? "We'll all fly away together, one last time, into the forever and beautiful sky."

What we said: "Reputedly the final entry in James Gunn’s mini-saga [Vol. 3] feels somewhat smuggled into the larger Marvel apparatus. Though not the only trilogy of films in the series to be helmed by the same director – the Spider-Man and Ant-Man films were all directed by Jon Watts and Peyton Reed, respectively – it is the only one from a director who seems to try and make the mold of a hulking enterprise work around his vision instead of the other way around." - T.S.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More by Richard Whittaker
Alex Garland's <i>Civil War</i> Will World Premiere at SXSW
Alex Garland's Civil War Will World Premiere at SXSW
Eagerly awaited thriller stars Kirsten Dunst, Nick Offerman

Feb. 22, 2024

Austin FC Season Kickoff, Black History Month, and More Community Events
Austin FC Season Kickoff, Black History Month, and More Community Events
Get out and about in Austin while the weather's good

Feb. 23, 2024

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

MCU, Marvel Cinematic Universe

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle