Each week the Before The Cyborgs staff comes together to answer one question relating to the current events of that particular week. This week’s question is in relation to the release of Avengers: Infinity War. What is the best MCU movie to date?
If Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man is the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe then Chris Evans’ Captain America is its heart. Now ten years into its expansion, there are certainly shinier, more ambitious films in the Marvel canon but none have the heart that Steve Rogers has in Captain America: The First Avenger.
Far too often the MCU has suffered at the hands of universe building. There can never be closure or real stakes because the show must go on, so more often than not films end on a linger or actions have no real consequence because everything has to be reset so the next film can happen. Captain America: The First Avenger sees Steve Rogers sacrifice everything. He loses his best friend (Bucky Barnes), the love of his life (Peggy Carter) and his entire world for the sake of others. Though both would come back in later installments, this version of Bucky and Peggy are not the ones he left behind. As strong as the super soldier serum made Steve Rogers, it cannot do anything to lessen the emotional pain of the life he left behind. These are real stakes with real consequences at its center setting the stage for Steve Rogers as a character in later sequels and establishing a true hero.
Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to have a similar consistent problem running through each film. In the films leading up to Infinity War, the events of each subsequent film should in theory attempt to raise the dramatic stakes in preparation for the ultimate threat of Thanos. Instead, films such as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and especially Thor: Ragnarok have decided to place a stronger emphasis on relentless, obnoxious attempts at humor designed to have as much widespread appeal as possible. Black Panther is one of the few that chooses to treat its characters and its world with more respect and reverence.
Black Panther is a singular director’s uncompromised vision which makes for the most culturally relevant film in the Marvel Universe. Unlike most other recent Marvel directors who would rather treat their characters as nothing more than a punchline, Coogler treats T’Challa, along with the rest of the cast, with elegance and dignity that is rarely ever reserved for characters within this genre. In an age where multiple superhero movies get released every couple of weeks, it’s hard for a lot of films in this genre, and particularly this series, to reinvent themselves, and Black Panther is one of the few in a long time that’s managed to do just that.
Since the beginning, where the MCU has demonstrated considerable narrative strength is in its ability to execute a grand overarching story and multitude of characters, while collectively spreading out into respective solo adventure. Further developing our heroes through their own personal journeys, risks, and goals as they do their part to save the day and uphold what’s right. And, shaped from their respective experiences (for better or worse), our heroes unite once again to uphold what’s right in the face of a threat far greater than themselves when the time comes for the annual crossover.
Captain America: Civil War stands and shines as a defining chapter in the MCU, a film that not only delivers as a successful sequel and concluding arc to Steve Roger’s standalone trilogy but simultaneously serves to effectively shatter the status quo the MCU established only 4 years prior. Not just focusing on the struggles of just one hero through the course of their solo adventure, but also acknowledging the similar struggles of others and their own tragedies. Confidently calling into question that even Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are not safe from significant internal conflicts, legitimately testing the camaraderie established from so many films before. The film maturely and sharply approaches thought-provoking themes and ideological dilemmas, gives all characters their moments to shine while successfully able to integrate and introduce new and recent characters, all through high-stakes and fun action, while balanced with compelling drama. While there were certainly more films to come, continuing to push boundaries further and explore territories never seen before, the MCU nevertheless achieved a culturally significant milestone with Captain America: Civil War, demonstrating just how far the franchise had truly come. Not just as a series of individual films, with the occasional surprise cameos here and the annual epic crossover there; but that it was a living and growing cinematic universe, willing to take chances, and with refreshingly limitless possibilities of future stories while continually promising more and the best to come.
Six years into Marvel’s reign of box-office supremacy, the formulaic and repetitive nature of their films had drawn some criticism. Mired with indistinct, stereotypical villains and predictable storylines, there was a clear lack of singular artistic direction, and while most of the MCU’s output received positive reactions from both audiences and critics alike, there was a feeling that these films were recycled products, that Marvel was prioritizing the creation of a cohesive ‘tone’ and consistent style over giving directors the freedom to influence the films.
And so along came Guardians of the Galaxy, a much-needed respite from previous, overly-familiar superhero flicks. Looking more like Star Wars than Superman, James Gunn’s MCU entry was the first to feel like it had a sense of authorship like Gunn had managed to imprint some level of his personality onto the screen. Guardians were something of a risk for the studio, having already cashed in on some of their biggest properties, and the source material was little-known in comparison to the comics of Spider-Man or the X-Men. Not only this, but the film is completely unlike its MCU counterparts – it essentially operates as an out-and-out comedy, with perfect casting in Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, and Dave Bautista, who’s constant bantering make this space odyssey a riotously funny time without taking itself too seriously.
The more humorous and jovial nature of more recent Marvel releases such as Thor: Ragnarok and Dr. Strange have clearly been influenced by GotG, and with an eclectic soundtrack of 70s pop and soul, a fittingly bright colour palette, and some impressive visual effects, Guardians of the Galaxy was a risky move for Marvel, and one that paid off in spectacular fashion.