Review: The Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase One [2008 – 2012]

a review by the Team.

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The Crow: In the run-up to our long-delayed return to our regularly-scheduled programming, we had intended to run through all the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before releasing an early-bird review of Infinity War.

And here, over two months after its release, we’re finally here. We might be late, but it feels only right to deliver a sizeable product for our return to form after such a long hiatus. Once we’re back up and running at full steam, we’ll be delivering on promises made long ago so that we can resume our march towards inevitable world Domination.

With that said, let’s not waste any more time, and jump straight into our investigation of:

THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE
[PHASE ONE]

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Phase One

The movies (in order of their release) that make up Phase One are:

  • Iron Man [2008]
  • The Incredible Hulk [2008]
  • Iron Man 2 [2010]
  • Thor [2010]
  • Captain America: The First Avenger [2011]
  • The Avengers / Avengers Assemble [2012]

Any movies we’ve already reviewed will feature a link to the full review, but will include our scores here on this list. Apart from myself and the Azure-Winged Magpie, we shall also be featuring a few (non Avian!) guest authors on these lists. As always, thanks to our “diverse” range of voices: each author shall be listed on the reviews as they appear.

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS CONSIDERABLE SPOILERS

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IRON MAN [2008]

Click here to read the Azure-Winged Magpie’s review

Final Scores: 

  • THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 8.5/10
  • THE CROW: 7/10

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THE INCREDIBLE HULK [2008]

a review by the Azure-Winged Magpie (assisted by the Crow!)

()!

Well well well… what d’we got here?! Something Big and Green and all Angry up in this business! And just WHO could that be…?!

THAT’S RIGHT! IT’S THE HULK. AND HE’S READY TO…

…well, you’ll find out. You lot hold on to your mitts, now!

As part of an attempt to re-create an old “programme” of-sorts, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) has Dr Bruce Banner (Edward Norton — in his one and only appearance in the MCU, with the role eventually going to director Louis Letterier’s first choice for the character) run an experiment to see if humans can be improved to become immune to Gamma radiation. And as all these experiments conducted at the beginning of movies go, it fails in spectacular fashion.

And y’know what that does to him…? Oh… it make-him-a-mad! VERY, VERY MAD!

And out comes the… out comes the…(you’re nearly there!)  out comes the… HULK! And HULK SMASH!

After some fools done get the sweet lovin’ shit SMASHED! out of them, we skip our merry way a few years down the line, where Banner is hiding out in South America, chilling and learning to keep the big green hombre cool as a cucumber (get it, ’cause cucumbers are green…? lolololol!) and bottling bottles at a factory.

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Don’t make me bottle this. You won’t like me when I bottle this…

He makes a big dumb woops! and one thing only leads to another and those nasty Army-types are on his tail again.

Only these days, they’re not just coming after him with the usual tricks up their sleeves. They’ve called in this Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) — a Russian born ONE-OF-US! ONE-OF-US!, who’s got a PhD from the Uni of Hard Knocks in “Kicking Names and Taking Ass”.

And jus’ like that, we’re off to a lot of punchy-punchy!

()!

The film is all about Blonsky trying to “git” ol’ Brucey over-and-over again. He tries once in Bra71l-land (sorry! The football’s on!), he tries once in America-land, and then tries one MORE time in America-land again. And we know how this goes… a lotta people getting made into delicious people-pâté!

BUT…! Blonsky’s none too happy with how invincible the Hulk seems to be after their first meeting, and so he has himself injected with a little bit of the stuff Ross was trying to remake — just to help him stand toe to toe with the BIG guy. And the second time he goes up against the BIG guy, he goes straight up and starts socking him in the face and dancing around him like Bruce Lee on super-steroids (which the stuff is, kinda).

Aaand… he snuffs it.

He gets straight-up FATALITIED when he gets all up in the BIG guy’s face after ALL that beat-em-up’s done and finished with.

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just a bit dim, that, ol’ chap!

Bruce teams up with his bae Betty ROSS (Liv Tyler) and they leg it to one of Bruce’s only friends: Mr Blue. Mr Blue’s been replicating the blood samples Bruce’s been sending him for some science-stuff that just might be able to help ol’ Bruce get rid of the BIG guy once and for all, and help a lot of other people out since it’s good for kicking the names and taking the ass out of diseases (or something like that)

Bruce  runs a few tests with Blue, and is really on the side of getting rid of all this cloned blood and all and everyone argues and it seems like we should be done, here.

BUT…!

Guess who ELSE wants his mitts on the BIG guy’s powers?! Guess who wants to be as big and strong and dim as the BIG guy?!

That’s riiight! Iiiit’s BLONSKY!

Cue the final punch-up!

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This one’s… alright. It’s not great. It’s not bad. It is what it is. It doesn’t really affect the rest of the films (apart from one line in the film capping off Phase One) and is only around because we need to have another superhero in the Universe leading up to the BIG TEAM-UP at the end.

Betty goes bye-bye, and no one but papa-Ross sticks around. The graphics are kinda nice (even though the editing gave me tiny headaches every now and then) and it looks pretty good in general.

I like this one, but I don’t know if I’d recommend it. You could skip this one and nothing would change like another film I could mention…

↓↓↓

Psst! it’s down below this one…

Give it a watch. Don’t give it a watch. It doesn’t really matter to the MCU. Like I said: it doesn’t do much for the series, but it ain’t a bad film.

Not a bad job. Not a bad job. No sir.

Final Scores: 

  • THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 6/10
  • THE CROW: 4.5/10

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IRON MAN 2 [2010]

a review by the Azure-Winged Magpie (with a teeny-tiny assist by the Crow!)

(⊙_ʘ)!

Strap in, boys and girls! It’s IRON MAN TIME!

Aaand… this one’s a bit of a stinker. How they messed this one up… I ain’t got the tiddliest. You’ve got great new villains in Ivan Vanko / Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) and Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), new heroes in Natasha Romanoff / Natasha Rushman (ScarJo) and Rhodey / War Machine (Don Cheadle), even an appearance by Howard Stark (John Slattery), AND a whole bunch of new tech and stuff!

And DESPITE all that to be excited by…

(◔︿◔why u hurt me bby…?

The Crow called this one of the worst superhero films ever made. And I don’t think it’s THAT bad. But… it ain’t good, either. It’s got a lot more action than the first one and has a good few spoons’o funny in it, but it just doesn’t feel that… exciting?

It’s like, instead of a film, we got a TV-special for a sequel. THAT’S what this one felt like.

The story goes: Ivan Vanko sees bae-Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) on the telly right at the end of the last film, announcing to everyone and their mum! that he’s the Iron Man(!), and he gets REAL jelly. See: his papa Anton (Yevgeni Lazarev, in his last film role) helped Tony’s daddy build the Arc Reactor that Tony perfected in the cave with Yinsen. BUT he went all greedy and Capitalist pig, so Tony’s daddy had him gulag-ed away. So… he decides it’s about time he brought some good-ol’-fashioned cold Russian Reversal on the Iron Man’s delicious booty.

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And how’s he do this?

Well… he just builds his OWN damn Arc-reactor and whips tee-hee! his way into Mr Fancy-pants Iron Man’s business in broad daylight.

He loses the fight, but Tony’s industrialist rival J. Hammer breaks him out of the hole they end up throwing him into, and gives him a job: build him a bunch of Iron-Man style drones that he can use to compete against Stark Industries with.

While all this is happening, Tony’s having his company restructured, and is getting drunk because he realises his… that his… h-his Arc Reactor (the one keeping his ticker ticking) is…
…poisoning him.

(◕︿◕oh no!

So… he does what Tony Stark’s good at, and gets fuck-ing PLASTERED!hic! like anyone with a deadline (or just enjoying a Friday night out) should. Pepper is set to take over the company, and is off being busy with all that. And he’s keeping all this ‘dying’ business away from her and his “forehead of security” Happy Hogan (dir. Jon Favreau). He gets drunk on what he thinks might just be his last HAPPY BIRTHDAY!-day, and gets into a fight with Rhodey which ends up with Rhodey nicking one of his older suits of armour, and legging it back to the USAF.

And… I guess you can see how bad it looks for bae-Tony just right now.

This is the pits, folks. The pits. The rusty, bucket-y pits for anyone who wants to call himself Iron Man.

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Like I said: the film feels more like a TV-special and not really like a big blockbuster like Marvel’s films have become. And what’s weird is that even with a WHOLE NEW element and all this awesome tech we see, AND the whole shebang to do with Justin Hammer’s company and the US government’s interest in Stark’s tech… ONLY the last bit of that (the US government thing) stays relevant to the world building of the MCU.

And that’s a real letdown.

It’s almost like you could skip this episode of “This Week, on The Marvel Cinematic Universe!” and not miss a hair off your feathers over it. It’s just not that important. And that kinda tiffs me off a bit. If I’m going to be following your dumb “cinematic universe” after just two films in… MAKE THEM BUILD UP THE WAY THE LAST TWO PROMISED US THEY WOULD! All we really get is the Black Widow, and that’s about it. And it’s not like she couldn’t have just been dropped into Avengers Assemble just the way they ended up doing it anyway.

Looking back on it, I’m disappointed in this film. Some other day, the Crow’s going to tell you why he hates it so much (I’ve had enough of him in my ear), but because I remember enjoying it at the cinema when I went to watch it, I guess I’ll go easy on it a bit.

Oh, and yeah. The post-credits shows us a character who’ll be important later on. And it’s…

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Mjolnir (played by a prop)!

So… uh… I guess it’s no secret who’s showing up next. Eh? EH?!

Final Scores: 

  • THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 5.5/10
  • THE CROW: 2/10

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THOR [2011]

a review by the Azure-Winged Magpie the Crow

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, who I’ve always found to be a strange choice for this project, Thor is a weird movie.

There. I said it. I find this movie weird.

Now, Thor was always going to be a difficult movie to put to screen, considering the subject matter, but the movie doesn’t do itself any real favours.

To cut this review short, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), son of Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins), is stripped of his powers and cast out of Asgard thanks to to the actions of his loving brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). And he finds himself dropped into a little town in the United States, where he is run over (for lack of better words) by some locals. While they’re significant characters — especially Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) — in the movie, I’m going to leave most mention of them out of this review.

The movie then transitions into a bit of a “fish-out-of-water” comedy that grinds my gears to no end. This movie stands as the second — and final — chapter to Marvel’s ‘bad comedy’ phase. So far, they’ve been trying to build up a cinematic universe with a very serious undercurrent; Thor, like Iron Man 2 before it, sells that seriousness far short.

Don’t get me wrong: there are some funny moments in this movie, but when it’s cut in with the far more ‘weighty’ happenings in Asgard, it feels very disjointed.

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And, of course, the movie ends with Thor, the god of thunder, reclaiming his birthright and saving the day. The villain of the piece gets his comeuppance, and everyone lives happily ever after (well, all apart from one).

Visually, the movie looks a mess. The transitions between Earth and Asgard are jarring, and the aesthetic design (brightly-lit, for the most part, which is brave) feels very loose in how it’s tied together. The sound design is… alright. And the CGI is just… okay? I have no real opinion on this last category, so I’ll middle it.

Again: I must stress that the plot and the ‘small-town’ setting work against the movie more than anything else. Maybe with a few better choices, the team around Mr Branagh could have delivered a better product. What they did deliver ultinately leaves a lot to be desired. At best, this movie is middling.

Mr Branagh is a bit out of his own comfort zone with Thor, it feels. And it might be around this point that people could begin to think that the Marvel Cinematic Universe might just it’s about to wobble, stumble, and fall. At this juncture, the series needed something a little more grounded to find its feet once again.

And would they find a movie that could ground them after these two weak showings? We’d just have to wait and see.

Final Scores: 

  • THE CROW: 3/10
  • THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 6/10

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER [2011]

a review by the Azure-Winged Magpie

Awww! Why did he have to be so far down the line?!

(◕︿◕)

I mean… this guy’s kinda the one you’da thought they’d START with.

So… after retiring as the Human Torch, Chris Evans (Captain America) gets malnourished thanks to how shit the Fantastic Four films were and ends up in Brooklyn, NY around 1940-something, getting his teeth kicked in by local bullies.
Who knew being in shit films could do THAT to someone?! … s h u d d e r

He really really REALLY wants to join the war, see? Y’know… the war? The one with the capital W?! The sequel? Yeah… that one. But he’s so malnourished and weak that they jus’ won’t give him the time o’ day. But he badgers and whinges and just is the most idealistic, starry-eyed little shit EVER, so they go “okay” and sign him up to this “experimental super-soldier” gig (because they were looking for fresh meat for the grinder, anyway, probably definitely).
Now… where have we heard that before…? 

So…  they stick him in their experiment, give him a “serum” and give him a “vita ray” shower, and he goes from…

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that “thing”, to… (⊙◡)

…oh right. Got a bit, um, distracted, there (again). Err… what was I saying again…?

Oh, uhuh. He walks in some scrawny Fantastic Four reject (that I could put down with my pinkie toe) and walks out as…

CAPTAIN AMERICA!

And I can’t fault his bae Peggy (Hayley Atwell) for makin’ her moves quick-like. (Woman. You know how to step in front of the line!)

BUTWAIT! Some terrorist enemy bastids jump in right at this moment!

(◕︿◕oh no!

…and papa-Erskine (Stanley Tucci), the guy who made Captain America happen(!) snuffs it. Aaand, there we go. No more formula. No more Erskine. Captain America‘s right back on the table so that everyone can figure out how to make more of him.

But he gets a day job! He’s running around parading to the troops all ’round the world while they stick needles in him and figure out how he goes.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Elsewhere, earlier in the film, Johann Schmidt (Agent Smith) runs around in the snow and finds the Tesseract, a shiny blue thingamajig which has SUPEREPIC powers n’ stuff so that he can help his Nazi friends win the war.

One thing leads to another, and Captain America‘s friend Bucky goes MIA. And Cap teams up with Pegs and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) to go look for him.

And guess who he finds at the end of the road?

Oh… it’s just good ol’ Johann, a leading man for Hydra — a special Nazi division — who’s been building weapons powered by the Tesseract for the Nazis along with the usual mad scientist type that shows up in these films: Arnim Zola (Toby Jones).

And we have our story!

This one’s a fun, FUN ride. It’s all made to look a bit old-school-ish compared to the rest of the MCU films, with this slight blur effect and this thing they’ve done with the colours whenever something “magical” happens because of the Tesseract. It’s got the dirt flying around, and the fire going off in front of bland backgrounds and looks just like a WWII film would do (plus a lot of… uh… “nice-looking” people on display, too…)

I mean, it’s not a great war film, but it’s good enough for what it is.

Up until this point in the MCU, this one was my favourite, with Iron Man coming in second (which means a TON, coming from me) and the most important thing it does is…

SET UP THE FIRST INFINITY STONE!

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And just like that, the MCU tells us it’s finally gonna start tying its shit together.
We just got to the point where cameos are done with and we’re now in the part of this story where all these heroes are going to start bumping into each other and start trying to make sense of the HUGEBIG WTF that comic book universes usually are.
We’re going to start seeing GODS… wait. That done.

We’re going to start seeing ROBOT SUITS… wait. That done.

We’re going to start seeing BIGTOUGH MONSTERS… wait. That done.

We’re going to start seeing SUPER-SPIES… wait. That done.

We’re going to start seeing ALIENS… wait. That done, too.

Fucks’ sake. These guys done got ahead of me again… Well. Sign me up anyway!

I bet there’s a lot of other aliens and robots and monsters and spooky-dookies where all this lot came from, so they sure got my attention with this film. And I’m sure that for anyone following these films so far, they got everyone excited for what they had planned next.

Captain America: The First Avenger

So, heading in to the big finale to Phase One, they’ve dropped the magic thingamajig that everyone KNOWS is gonna set up the main story for all these films.

And how are these people going to deliver on this big tying-up they’re going about? Well… that’s coming up next!

Take it away, Crow!

Final Scores: 

  • THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 8/10
  • THE CROW: 6/10

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THE AVENGERS / AVENGERS ASSEMBLE [2012]

a review by the Crow.

Following four years of development, Marvel Studios decided it was about time to deliver the coup de grace they’d been building up to ever since the post-credits scene of Iron Man — the grand finale to Phase One of their shared universe.

Titled Avengers Assemble in the UK, The Avengers was — in my mind — a risky endeavour. I’d only watched Iron Man, its sequel, and some of Captain America: The First Avenger, leading up to this entry in the fledgling “Cinematic Universe” Marvel had been building up, but thanks to my considerable knowledge of comic books as a self-styled ‘historian’ of the medium, I knew what I was in for.

Not to say that everything but my prior knowledge was a complete blank slate to me. I’d read up on the ‘story so far’, and had watched clips from here and there to get the general idea of where everyone stood.

The movie opens strong, following the age-old advice of establishing the villain within the first few scenes. And it’s a thoroughly enjoyable sequence. It carries a blend of comedy and drama similar to the kind Iron Man has on offer, plus a significant boost thanks to Mr Whedon’s (here, at the height of his powers) witticisms (oh, how I will always cherish Firefly). And immediately, we jump into the introductions for our heroes.

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Tied together by the authority of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, and assisted by Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, we are introduced, starting with — oddly enough — the Hulk (recast from this point onward with Mark Ruffalo). And the meeting of our heroes happens rather fast. The lack of need in giving each one an origin does help, but even as a singular movie, our heroes don’t need much of an introduction. I continue to say that some heroes just don’t need an origin. And with the heroes and villains involved in this line-up, little introduction is required. Just as characters, they seamlessly slot into their roles without much ado about questions of who or why.

The story moves along at a brisk pace, blending little amounts of humour and interpersonal drama with some stellar set-pieces (both grand and personal), and the movie manages to make us care about characters we would otherwise have written off when put next to our heroes. Our heroes come with a wide variety of abilities and gimmicks, but they fit together like clockwork by the end, just as all seems lost.

Some moments of poor aesthetic choices (looking at you, video-game Captain America) and some pulled-out-of-a-hat moments of teamwork aside, the movie has aged well, and manages to hold its own as one of my Top 10 Comic Book Movies of All Time to this day (although a rebooted list is in the works).

The writing is top-notch, the visual direction is on-point, and the movie is nothing but enjoyable. Sure, some jokes fall a little flat, and there are one or two sequences that manage to take the audience out of the flow of things, but on the whole, the movie stands head-and-shoulders above its one peer that was released five years later (Justice League).

And, of course, no review of Avengers Assemble could be complete without mentioning its post-credits scenes.

For the first: we have a shot of our heroes calming down at a local kebab shop, enjoying a well-earned shawarma (I recommend: meat of your choice, onions, red cabbage, easy on the lettuce, pickled gherkins and chilli, loaded with chilli sauce and garlic aioli).

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And for the second: a small sequence featuring the Chitauri “adviser” who has been the voice in our villain’s ear and an unseen entity who has been pulling the strings from afar. And just at the last second, this entity turns around to reveal himself as Thanos (played in this movie by stuntman-actor Damion Poitier). And it is in this moment that any doubt about the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ambition should have been excised from all comic book fans’ minds wholesale. This is the moment in which those of us in the know realised that the MCU was here to stay, and grow, until it met what could only be a sudden drop and a short stop at the hands of the Mad Titan.

Or would it…?

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This, of course, is where we must leave you for the moment. Stay tuned to The Corvid Review for our roundup of the rest of the MCU movies leading up to the Azure-Winged Magpie’s Infinity War review.

Before we play you out, let’s first reveal the scores for Avengers Assemble:

  • THE CROW: 7.5/10
  • THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 9/10
  • THE CAT: 8/10

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The Crow: In our next post, we’ll be looking at the second phase of movies in this Cinematic Universe, starting with Iron Man 3. And we’ll also be opening the doors to two of our non-Avian allies — the Cat and our friendly neighbourhood Trained Monkey.

Click below for The Corvid Review‘s investigation of

The Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Two 

14 thoughts on “Review: The Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase One [2008 – 2012]”

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