What is “Phase One”?
Phase One is where it all started! When talking about one of the most successful movie franchises it’s good to start at the beginning.
The term “phase one” refers to the core figures of Marvel comics being introduced to a wider audience through movies.
Long-standing comic book heroes such as Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, and the Black Widow got their shot at being framed in film.
It’s the start of a movement that began with the X-Men and Nolans Batman, and that has brought comic books to the mainstream.
Phase one was intended as an introduction to a wider multiverse of possibilities and consists of all the movies released up to 2012 and culminates with the Avengers.
The movies counted under the umbrella of phase one are (in order of release) Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers.
Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010)
We all know the story by now. Tony Stark, a genius, billionaire, and philanthropist, gets a change of heart when confronted with the results of an inherited weapon manufacturing business.
In the wake of this turn of events, Tony becomes Iron Man, a hero using highly advanced armor and technology.
This was the first of the movies released, becoming the eighth highest-grossing film in 2008, in great part due to the acting of Rober Downey Jr. and the rest of the cast (including Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard, and Jeff Bridges.
Compared to the movies that would come after, the plot of Iron Man was very believable. In other words, suspension of disbelief was minor as everything was explained in terms of not-yet-understood technology. Even so, the movie paved the way for more intricate and fantastical stories.
Iron Man 2 (2010) is the third film that belongs to Phase One of the MCU movies (after The Incredible Hulk) and a direct sequel to Iron Man.
The movie introduces several new characters such as Richard Hammond played by Sam Rockwell, the Black Widow played by Scarlet Johansson, Ivan Vanko played by Micky Rourke, and Nick Fury played by Samuel L. Jackson.
Interestingly, the second movie replaces Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle in the role of War Machine.
The sequel dives a little bit more into the character of Tony Stark as he starts battling enemies from the past and threats to his own future.
All in all, it’s a darker movie portraying a man riddled with despair trying to get his own life back on track.
Tony is attacked on two fronts, first by his industrial rival Richard Hammond (and Vanko), and secondly by trying to get past the unresoved relationship with his father, as well as his own approaching death.
By the end of the movie, Tony as Iron Man finds new resolve.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Out of all the MCU and phase one movies, I feel that Marvel knew the least what to do with the character of the Hulk.
It’s such a different movie compared to the rest of the franchise, in some cases bordering more of an action-riddled drama than what you would expect from a Marvel film.
This movie really shows the Hulk as a cornered and dangerous animal just waiting for an opportunity to strike.
In my opinion, Edward Norton did a great job acting a fugitive doomed to a life at the periphery.
Alongside Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, there is an excellent cast. Liv Tyler plays the part of Betty Ross, Bruce’s love interest, while her father general Ross is portrayed by William Hurt.
Tim Roth acts as the imposition to the Hulk, and by the end of the movie, the rest of the cast as well.
In some ways this movie was testing the waters, to see what would stick in the genre, and because of that I think it deserves a special recognition.
Up ’till now, all the movies relegated the wonders of the characters to science. Iron Man has the arc reactor and the Hulk as a result of a freak gamma radiation accident.
Thor the movie, on the other hand, deals with science that is sufficiently advanced to be called magic.
Based on Norse myths, Thor (2011) brings the titular god of thunder down to earth (in more ways than one) as punishment for his arrogant and cruel outlook on life.
He is a temperamental warrior at odds with his quiet and scheming brother Loki who in the face of truth lives through a change of perspective (to say the least).
Actor Chris Hemsworth plays Thor, while his brother Loki is portrayed by Tom Hiddleston. The rest of the cast includes Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Kat Dennings as Darcy Lewis, Stellan Skarsgård as Erik Selvig, and Rene Russo as Frigga.
By the end of the movie Thor outgrows his childish outlook and the audience gets to know the titular villan of phase one, Loki.
Captain America: The First Avenger
I would say that Captain America is probably my favorite movie from phase one, simply because it holds that old charm that got lost somewhere when this genre started becoming too edgy.
Instead, we have Steve Rogers, an idealist and a patriot willing to stand tall for his country and his friends. The only problem is that Steve (played by Chris Evans) is not very impressive, even if he is capable.
Unlike his best friend Bucky (played by Sebastian Stan), Steve is sickly and unable to serve his country as a soldier.
This changes when an opportunity presents itself, and he gains a chance to participate in a secret experiment aimed at creating a super-soldier.
There’s a great supporting cast in this movie as well, with Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull, Hayley Atwell as the enigmatic Peggy Carter, and Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Phillips.
The core values Steve harbors stay the same, even if he ends up enhanced. In his heart, he is still the same guy who stands up for anyone in need of his help.
This is the core appeal of his character, as he doesn’t let the power and opportunity change him.
The Avengers (2012)
“Avengers assemble” is a catchphrase that perfectly fits this movie. For four long years, Marvel has been preparing the ground to bring all the heroes together in an epic fight that would overshadow all their struggles before.
The Avengers are really a sort of a crossover.
Because the audience knows at least some of the characters through other movies, there is ample place for each and every Avenger to shine and do their thing.
I recently rewatched the original Justice League and I must say that one of the reasons that movie can’t hold a candle to the Avengers is that there is no preparation.
The Avengers managed to create a feeling that we, the audience, know all those heroes well. Because of that it didn’t feel too watered down with so many characters – frankly, it felt right.
The Avengers still remain one of the best superhero movies I have ever seen, and they also serve as a great introduction to other, future movies that expanded on the lore and characters seen in these early films.