Back in 2008, a little movie came out called Iron Man. It was a critical and box office success that launched a cultural phenomenon that we all know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Disney saw this and immediately recognized the potential such a visual franchise can have and bought Marvel Studios for $4 billion in 2009, promising a long line of movies that will be connected to each other, most notably at the time to lead up to The Avengers in 2012. While I have my own issues with The Avengers, there's no denying the fact that it was a daring, risky move that was never done before. For the first time ever, we got a movie that (properly) put beloved heroes like Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor together as a team to defend earth from cosmic forces. It smashed box office records and currently holds up as #5 on the top 100 highest-grossing movies worldwide.
But that's when we run into issues. The movies in the MCU are split into phases. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers all make up Phase One of the cinematic universe, while Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, and Ant-Man (somehow that ended up being the finale of Phase Two instead of AoU) all make up Phase Two. But to go along with these movies in Phase Two, we were also given TV shows on ABC such as Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, as well as exclusive Netflix shows Daredevil and Jessica Jones (since JJ came out after Ant-Man, I'm still debating whether or not it belongs in Phase Two or is the TV launch of Phase Three).
You see, Phase One had an endgame. It had a plan. All of the movies in Phase One were riding towards one common goal, which is getting all the heroes we're introduced to together as a team to form the Avengers and fight a common enemy to protect the earth from the unknown. Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger were all meant to set the pieces up for The Avengers. The Avengers felt like a series finale of a sort, bringing in Loki as the main villain whose character arc was started in Thor, bringing in the Tesseract that was Captain America's McGuffin, and making sense of Nick Fury's plan to gather all these unusual people together. While the movie absolutely had its plot holes, the storyline is fairly linear and easy to follow, especially if you've watched the standalone movies that came before. Then Phase Two began.
Now keep in mind that I am in no way bashing all of the movies or other projects from Phase Two. Despite popular opinion, I personally loved Iron Man 3 even though I recognized its problems. It's a fun, intense roller coaster ride that I love revisiting when I just want to pop one of the movies in. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a deep, dark, ambitious project that honestly deserves a standing ovation, and Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man are both ridiculously fun movies even though they don't have the same depth as The Winter Soldier or Iron Man 3. So then what is ultimately my problem with Phase Two? The problem is that I feel like there's very little direction. Again, all the Phase One movies felt like they were leading up to one gigantic movie to put all the character arcs together, whereas with Phase Two, I personally felt like there was a sense that Marvel Studios and Disney really doesn't know what they're doing. Its become much more about world-building and making sure everything is connected in some form or another.
1. The Shows
Not only are we given movies during Phase Two, we get all these shows too. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D ultimately feels like a marketing endeavor for the movies more than anything else, and even after two and a half seasons, I feel like its never been able to set a very high bar or be allowed to reach its full potential thanks to the limits set by the studio. It gets tedious fast, and its connections to the movies feel almost forced. (Spoiler Alert ahead) I remember feeling excited when Baron Von Strucker's son Werner was revealed in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., then feeling cheated when he dies just two or three episodes later where he gets very little screen time in the first place. According to the Marvel Cinematic Universe wiki, he fell into a coma, but given everything that's happened in the show since then, I'm not betting on him returning at all. The show does nothing to affect the movies in any way that the movies can't explain themselves and it feels like it's its own separate island isolated from the rest of the MCU. It hasn't exactly ever been able to earn its place or even make a point as to why it's there in the first place.
Now see, I love Phil Coulson. I loved his role in the Phase One movies, and his death in The Avengers served a very important purpose in the bonding of our favorite superhero team, but thanks to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the weight of his sacrifice means almost nothing now, and there are currently no public plans to bring him back into the movie-verse, so again I wonder, what's the point of having this show exist? In an interview with BuzzFeed, Joss Whedon, the director of both The Avengers and Avengers: Age Of Ultron, and the creator of S.H.I.E.L.D., went on to say this:
As far as I'm concerned, in this movie [AoU], Coulson's dead. If you come back in the sequel and say Coulson's alive, it's like putting f***ing John Gielgud in the sequel to Arthur. It mattered that he's gone. It's a different world now. And you have to run with that.
I'm speaking very briefly about Agent Carter, because honestly it's a freaking fantastic show. I wasn't expecting much at all with it at first, but it exceeded expectations and gave it an emotional core that's so rare in most of Marvel's other projects. Plus its connections with the movies feel so much more meaningful and allows you to look at the Captain America movies with a whole new perspective. Is it still necessary? Not really, but it's like the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. That series wasn't necessary to enjoy the Star Wars films but it gave the films an additional depth to appreciate them more.
We've just recently been treated to two Netflix shows, Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Both of them became very successful and popular within the fanbase, and now one of the most common hopes from fans is that both titular characters will get their spotlight in the movies, particularly in the Infinity War duology, even though the Russo brothers who are directing Infinity War have already made it clear that that's probably not going to happen. There are actually very few references or connections to the movies in the Netflix shows, so while they may feel like separate islands like S.H.I.E.L.D. is (probably even more so), at least they're not trying to be marketing alternatives for the films. They have somewhat of a sense of purity and originality to them because they keep themselves withdrawn from most kinds of MCU references and guess what? They don't suffer because of that. They're not any less good because of that.
2. The Movies
I have this feeling that Marvel Studios and Disney feel like if they don't have enough references or connections in the movies or their ABC shows, then the fans won't like them as much. If that's actually the case, then that's the fans' problem, not the studio's. This is a clear example of how studios are much more concerned about 'the numbers' then they are about the content actually being 'good'. Joss Whedon left the MCU because he was tired of practically fighting with the studios over his vision. The final cut of Age Of Ultron made it obvious that the studio is much more concerned about promoting future films then telling a good story. It should never be about trying to please the fans. A lot of fans are picky, demanding, and want to have everything served to them on a silver platter. When a director has a vision that deviates from what fans expect, he's shunned by a majority of the fanbase (I'm thinking about Shane Black with Iron Man 3 and his Mandarin plot twist which I was actually okay with).
When I walked out of Age Of Ultron, that was the first time I began to realize that the MCU really is just making things up as they go along. I wholeheartedly believe that just because the president of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige has a map of movies planned out leading up to as far as 2028, it doesn't mean there is an actual game plan or singular goal in mind. While Phase One managed to feel tightly connected and feel like it's all leading up to a big showdown, most of the movies in Phase Two feel somewhat disconnected from each other and feel like they're in their own alternate realities. How can it be explained that Tony Stark went from giving up his suits in Iron Man 3 to suddenly wearing one and flying around in AoU with absolutely no explanation as to why? With the exception of Hydra's infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D in The Winter Soldier, almost nothing in the Phase Two movies before AoU seem to matter at all once we get to Age Of Ultron, and it's even weirder that Ant-Man is the 'finale' film of Phase Two because as fun as the movie is, it feels like a much more anti-climatic way of finishing the phase off.
It's sad to me when a universe as fun as the Marvel Cinematic Universe slowly transitions from being a series of movies with a point to being a mega-franchise with an abundant amount of movies and shows, a little more than half of which being means of marketing and promoting future projects. Instead of making a movie and trying to make it at least 50% promotion stuffed with references and cameos for future projects to please the fans, concentrate more on viewing it as a movie that stands on its own and work on telling a good story. Iron Man 3 is honestly the only movie in Phase Two I can think of that didn't try so hard to be more than it actually is and told a good, self-contained story, but everything that's happened in that movie doesn't really matter up to this point. You can simply skip it while having a marathon.
Lastly, moving forward, I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a gigantic Star Wars fan, and definitely more so than a Marvel fan. Disney now also has Star Wars and just recently released Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I've seen the movie in theaters three times now and loved every second of it. I know, it makes me sound like the kind of fan that'll just eat up whatever they put out without any criticism or negativity towards it. I can say that's not the case. Disney can absolutely screw up somehow and release a bad Star Wars movie, but I do know this: it's obvious to me now that Disney understands they can't treat Star Wars exactly like they treat Marvel. Instead of releasing two films a year like they typically do with Marvel, they're only releasing one, and there is currently only one Star Wars TV show out now which is animated. Unless the greed gets to Disney's head (TFA currently has made $800 million in the box office after all), I think it's safe to say that Star Wars will be fairly balanced, at least for the time being, whereas with the MCU, there's a danger of people growing tired of it long before Disney decides that it's time to move on to something else. Heck, I can see myself growing dangerously tired of it before 2020. At the end of the day, time will tell the fate of this franchise and whether or not everything Marvel has been doing has been absolutely worth it. At least I can say that this franchise will be remembered for some of the best casting ever done in a franchise and for producing a couple gems like Iron Man, The Winter Soldier, Agent Carter, and Daredevil.