10 Things I Learned from Completing the MCU Challenge

It seems like every year, I need a movie to annoy you all about. Last year was undoubtedly Pirates 5 (sorry again, especially as that was…um…the word “garbage fire” comes to mind), this year, it’s Avengers: Infinity War.

But this one’s just a little different, I think. Especially as that it is, as it has been memetastically referred, “the most ambitious crossover event in history,” and is such a widely beloved property.

Well at the end of 2017, in anticipaton of the landmark film’s release (originally 18 weeks into the year on May 4th), I began to see a post circulating the web with a handy guide on how to watch all 18 MCU films to prepare for Infinity War. Even Robert Downey Jr. got in on the fun, sharing it with his fans:

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Um…I was up for the challenge, sir! So beginning the first week of January, I started the MCU Challenge for myself, but instead of doing it how this post recommended, according to the films’ releases, I went according to the overall MCU timeline, which goes as follows:

  • Captain America: The First Avenger
  • Iron Man
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Iron Man 2
  • Thor
  • The Avengers
  • Iron Man 3
  • Thor: The Dark World
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • Ant-Man
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • Black Panther
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming
  • Doctor Strange*
  • Thor: Ragnarok

* This placement is debatable. Much like Stephen Strange can manipulate time, his story is very time fluid–it could take place right after Civil War like how the release chronology went, or it could begin as soon as around the time of Iron Man 3 and span literal years. I tend to believe the latter, as this is Stephen’s origin story, and by the time we see him next in Ragnarok, he’s significantly better at his powers. I just placed it here since the after-credits sequence is repeated in Thor: Ragnarok, and I quite frankly didn’t know what else to do with it. 

Through Mr. Downey’s fantastic “request” to move the date of Infinity War up a week from May 4th to April 27th, I pushed the two Guardians films into a double feature, but otherwise, I followed this list pretty closely week by week, finishing it up only a few days ago with Thor: Ragnarok. 

So I’ve revisted the entire MCU, and it’s finally hitting me that the moment I have been waiting years for is finally here in but a matter of hours, and somehow, depsite preparing via the rewatching of these 18 movies, I’m still not ready. However, here’s what I learned from completing the MCU Challenge.


1.This has to be the finest cast ever assembled…pun intended. 

So I know I’ve brought up The League before, also known as my group of favorite actors that I built starting at the age of 13. Just sayin’… three of the eight of the League Members are in the MCU, two of which were added prior to their Marvel debuts. That’s no coincidence; this entire cast is composed of awesome, talented, and seemingly genuinely nice individuals that Marvel would have been foolish to pass up. Speaking of, here’s two of the aforementioned League hanging out right here:

Marvel’s producers and casting teams carefully lure fantastic talent. They have not only infused well-established names with their comic book predecessors like Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, Brie Larson, Scarlett Johansson, Josh Brolin, Sameul L. Jackson, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Jeff Bridges, Paul Rudd, Kurt Russell, and many more, but they have also elevated actors’ careers to a massive extent, like Tom Hiddleston, Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, and Hayley Atwell.

There have been two major recasts in the main lineup of the MCU, and these are changes that occurred very early on in the franchise’s construction. These individuals had a great deal of controversy surrounding them, and as such were replaced. Now, I challenge you to name a performer in these films who publicly appears as a diva, as self-oriented, as someone you wouldn’t instantly want to befriend.

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The other MCU actors often refer to working with one another as being akin to a “family,” and those relationships are clearly communicated. Infinity War will unite one of the finest casts ever assembled, and I cannot wait to see it in action.

2. With only a few exceptions, the movies only get better as they go

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Winter Soldier, Ragnarok, Civil War… besides, perhaps, The Godfather, when else can you honestly say that a sequel is objectively better than its original? Thinking about the franchise as a whole, it was interesting to go back and return to the early films.

Compared to recent released, Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and (shockingly, I know) even Guardians of the Galaxy are much slower, calculating, perhaps even hesitant. The movies today know they have an audience, they are aware that their narratives serve a greater purpose, and therefore they know that risks they take will pay off.

3. Marvel hit their damn stride last year

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Speaking of which, HOLY CRAP, Y’ALL. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther. Four releases, one after another, and all of them absolute home runs.

I could pontificate about the emotional undertones of GOTG Vol. 2, or the massive importance of Black Panther, or the wholesome youthfulness of Spider-Man‘s solo debut, or the absolute knockout punch that was Taika Waititi’s Ragnarok, but so many other people said it better. Just wow. 2017-2018 nailed it.

4. Has the company finally solved their villain problem? 

Remember this guy?

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What about this guy?

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Guy Pearce, not…Gwyneth.

What about Academy Award winning actor Sam Rockwell as…this guy?

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Or this guy?

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Once again, the one who isn’t Rene Russo

Yeah I thought not. I think that Marvel often is guilty of spending so much time on developing the other aspects of their movies that the villains seem almost like an afterthought. With the exception of Hela (who, despite being played by powerhouse Cate Blanchett, I thought was extremely two dimensional and subpar), these past few villains have been excellent.

But let’s contrast that with Adrian Toombs from Spider-Man: Homecoming and Erik Killmonger from Black Panther. Toombs was a blue-collar guy who was trying to make a living and was stopped unjustifiably. Killmonger channeled the rage from his traumatized youth and took a dark road, reclaiming the land he thought was wrongfully taken from him. Each had a warped sense of morality, but both were deeply complex and able to be empathized with. For god’s sake, Killmonger’s final, powerful line in Black Panther had my audience clapping for him.

If initial reviews are to be believed, Thanos is just as good. Several initial reviews from the World Premiere even boasted:

So let’s hope this streak continues, and Marvel’s rocky road with villains becomes a thing of the past.

5. Please god, just because you had one success in diversity, don’t slide back into the old routine 

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Black Panther‘s monumental success has sent positive waves through the motion picture industry, emphasizing that the audience for superhero movies with non-white leads is out there, just as Wonder Woman showed that an audience for non-male leads is out there.

Hot off these successful trailblazers, Marvel responded well, bringing Captain Marvel and a solo Black Widow film up next post-Ant-Man and the Wasp, which also is bringing my gurl Hope Van Dyne into a bigger role.

But I’m worried that major studios will take Black Panther as “Okay swell, been there done that, now back to basics.” If these films have proved anything, we want anything but basic. Give us more diverse stories, and keep ’em coming.

6. The more the studios let directors loose, the better the product

When Marvel hired James Gunn to write and direct Guardians of the Galaxy, they took a chance on a filmmaker with a very specific style and vision to bring to life a little known aspect of the Marvel canon. They trusted his humor and his aesthetics, and as a result, now Guardians is one of Marvel’s biggest properties.

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Similarly, Taika Waititi was trusted with Thor: Ragnarok, a blockbuster so completely disparate from the rest of his work. Waititi has a unique sense of humor that completely turned the Thor property on its head. Whether you believe that was for better or for worse, you can’t deny that it opened up these movies to a completely different style of filmmaking.

When Marvel trusts their teams, it pays off. I can only hope we continue to see more indications of filmmaking authorship beneath the all-controlling Marvel branch, as it can only mean good things.

7. Yeah…Winter Soldier is flawless. I admit it. Shut up. 

Okay, so I never was really a huge, diehard Captain America fan like everyone else is. Yep…go ahead:

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…yeah I know. I slept on seeing The First Avenger in theaters, and while I think he’s great, I think I was just late to the “We Love Steve Rogers” party. And when I saw The Winter Soldier, I certainly knew that it was a great film, but when the Winter Soldier hazily asks, “Who the hell is Bucky?” I legitimately didn’t know either! So my hang ups prevented me from fully enjoying the full Cap experience.

But upon rewatching Winter Soldier, hot damn. It’s so tight. The pacing is incredible, the action is fantastic, the twists are genuinely surprising, the comic book callbacks are very well done, and overall, it’s just a solid movie.

So I’m sorry, Cap. I have midjudged thee.

8. The first viewing experience matters

I remember watching the first Iron Man film that began this whole crazy ride ten years ago. The only movie I haven’t seen in theaters is, as I begrudgingly admitted, The First Avenger, and it massively impacted my enjoyment of it.

I think the only reason why I hold Thor: The Dark World in such high esteem despite it having the worst response critically was because I saw it in advance on a Disney Cruise in a sold out theater. The sheer excitement of the crowd was absolutely infectious. Or how about the fact that me and a friend started slapping each other in our seats because we were so stoked when we caught how Ragnarok cleverly retconned itself?

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That is why I refuse to see these movies any other time besides on opening weekend–the full audience experience with the diehard fans is absolutely essential to my enjoyment of it.

9. WHERE THE HELL IS THE SOUL STONE?!?!? 

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OKAY.

I HAVE HAD IT.

THEY HAD NO LESS THAN THREE CHANCES IN THE PAST YEAR TO REVEAL THE SOUL STONE. FOR GODSSAKE, HEIMDALL’S EYES ARE ORANGE. BLACK PANTHER’S MAGICAL HEART-SHAPED HERBS CAN TAKE YOU TO A REALM OF SOULS. WHERE THE HELL IS IT AND WHY ARE WE ENTERING THE LAST MOVIE WHERE THANOS HAS GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL WITHOUT KNOWING THE SLIGHTEST DETAIL ABOUT IT.

@MARVEL, EXPLAIN.

…that’s all.

10. No matter who dies in Infinity War, I’m going to be wrecked

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Someone’s gotta go. There has been too much buildup from cast, Feige, and the creative team, plus the Russo brothers faked us all out for Cap’s Civil War death. It’s time. So who’s it going to be?

My predictions? I really have no clue, but if I’m going to just throw darts at the speculation board, Hawkeye (if he’s even in Infinty War), Vision (because…yeah. That forehead gem is rather important), Loki (tears forever), and oddly, Tony.

C’mon, y’all. He’s in the Jesus pose.

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So in these last remaining 24 hours before I go check out one of the films I have anticipated for such a long time, I will of course continute speculating wildly and trying my best to calm down and avoid any internet spoilers.

Whatever happens, we’re about to witness history. Experts are already predicting box office returns this weekend that will shatter anything that has ever come before, and I can’t wait to see what the overall impact of this franchise culmination that I have loved so much for 10 full years will ultimately result in.

I will see you on the other side!

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