Barring a bunch, all other installments are worth watching and do a fair job of bringing some of the most iconic comic characters to life. The first Avengers movie was a great example of building towards a multi hero showdown. Iron Man set a precedent for superhero origin movies. Captain America: Winter Soldier is the most excellent superhero sequel, in the company of The Dark Knight, Spider-man 2, and Hellboy: Golden Army. Guardians of the Galaxy is how you make the best of a C-list property. And Avengers: Infinity War is near perfection in terms of how a decade worth of narratives come together in a bid to fight off a universe-level threat.
However, nothing is perfect. And my biggest criticism of the franchise is that they have made the genre quite formulaic.
#1: The 3-part arc: “Origin -> A Call of the Past -> Rebirth”
The first movie introduces the hero as someone ordinary made exceptional by a life-changing event. Tony Stark was kidnapped and held hostage by a militant group with access to his weapons. Steve Rogers was turned from a skinny kid to the First Avenger through the use of the super-serum. Thor was banished to earth to learn humility and no longer be the dick prince he was. Strange suffers a horrific accident that renders his fingers useless. T’challa witnesses his father’s death jolting him into action.
The second sees them fighting their past. Cap discovers that Bucky is still alive, although brainwashed. Tony finds out about his father’s estranged partner who helped build the arc reactor, yet died pennilessly. T’challa learns of his father’s actions that rendered a young Erik Killmonger orphan. Star-lord meets his father, who is an asshole of planetary degree.
The last movie/part sees the hero metamorphose into someone better and stronger. This is usually preceded by the loss of someone or something, dear. Cap loses at the end of the Civil war and becomes a fugitive (Nomad). Thor loses his hammer and an eye and becomes far more powerful than he was. Stark undergoes surgery to get rid of the shrapnel and throws away the arc reactor along with all his suits.
#2: The death of a loved one
T’challa held his father in his arms as he died in the aftermath of the blast at the United Nations. Rogers held his love from half a century ago as she drew her final breath. You sacrificed his life to save his “boy.” Thor and Loki were witnesses to the final moments of the Allfather’s life.
#3: The fall from grace (usually of a father or mentor)
Ego reveals to Peter that he gave his mother cancer. Pepper discovers that Stane hired the ten rings to kidnap and kill Tony. Strange realizes that the Ancient One had been tapping into the Dark dimension. Thor is made aware of his father’s dark past and his imprisonment of his daughter, Hela.
#4: Stripped to the bones
Most of the heroes have their weapons and suits that make them so formidable. But somewhere down their arc, they lose all of it and have to prove that they are strong enough without it. Thor has stripped off his powers and still faces off against the Destroyer. Later, Mjolnir is destroyed, which gets him to question his abilities only to be asked if he is the “..god of hammers”. Tony has to fight without a suit in the 3rd part of the trilogy. At the end of the Civil War, Cap is separated from his shield. And Tony takes away Peter’s suit telling him that if he is “..nothing without the suit”, he “…shouldn’t have it.”
#5: The “negative” villain
At least one of the villains the hero faces is a corrupted, evil version of themselves.
- Iron Monger – a corrupted Iron Man
- Kaecilius – the evil protege
- Red Skull / Winter Soldier – super-soldiers went wrong
- Yellowjacket – If Ant-man was an asshole
- Abomination – Doomsday meets Hulk
- Hela – The Princess that was Promised
I hope that in the next phase, Marvel makes more standalone movies which break the norm. Take more risks. Judge Dredd was a tremendous first superhero movie, and it avoided most of the tropes. As did Deadpool. Watchmen was fantastic and self-contained. Logan was the perfect send-off for a long-loved hero.