Looking Back at the Marvel Cinematic Universe

What a journey it has been! So much has happened since the beginning of the decade, especially when it comes to Marvel Studios. Not only have they brought beloved as well as unknown comic book characters to the big screens, but they’ve broken the mold on what a superhero movie can entail. It’s a wonder how each film garners so much hype before its release, so to explain why the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is beloved by many, it’s important to look back on each film and analyze its significance to the universe.

Disclaimer: Since the article focuses on movies released in the 2010s, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk are not included since they were released back in 2008. While not talked about, both movies are still connected to the MCU.

  1. 1. Iron Man 2 (2010)

    On May 7, 2010 a sequel to the Iron Man movie was released. With the world knowing the identity of the man underneath the iron suit, Tony Stark is pressured to share his technology with the United States government, even though he fears that it will fall into the wrong hands. Meanwhile, a Russian scientist has replicated the technology and has created weapons, planning to seek revenge on the Stark family. Directed by Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as Iron Man, and Gwyneth Paltrow reprises her role as Pepper Potts. However, James “Rhodey” Rhodes is not played by Terrence Howard (who played the role in the first Iron Man) but by Don Cheadle, who would go on and reprise this role in future movies. If watching as a stand-alone movie, it’s pretty decent. It’s not quite to the same level as the first film, but it does entertain the viewer with its witty dialogue and character development.

  2. 2. Thor (2011)

    The world got its first look at Thor on May 6, 2011, and it has been a blessing to us mortals ever since. After being banished from the realm of Asgard due to being arrogant and disobedient in battle (reigniting a war), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) was sent to Midgard (Earth) without his powers nor his hammer Mjölnir. During this time, Thor’s mischievous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) plots to take the throne. While on Earth, Thor meets a scientist named Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and falls in love with her. This film takes the viewer on a journey to self-development, love and humility. Even though there are some inconsistencies with the tone of the film (humor and serious aspects sometimes don’t blend well together), it does have good action and story.

  3. 3. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

    Truly a patriotic hero, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) represents good American values as he is eager to join the United States Army during World War II. However, due to his scrawny figure, he has been turned away and has no success in enlisting. Things take a turn when he voluntarily is injected with a “super-soldier serum,” making him stronger and more built. Adopting the name Captain America as a form of propaganda in support of the war, he steps up to the plate when his comrades need help as they are captured by the Nazis. Released on July 22, Captain America: The First Avenger proves how Evans is the perfect embodiment of Captain America. It’s impossible to imagine another actor who would suit this role as well as Evans did. The special effects used to make Steve Rogers appear skinny is impressive, but after some years it does look a bit noticeable. The production design elevates the tone and era of the 1940s, which allows the viewer to be immersed in the time frame. With its story and character interactions, this film makes it easy to have emotional attachments to the protagonists.

  4. 4. The Avengers (2012)

    May 4 marks the day one of the best Marvel movies hit the theaters, and it changed the way superhero movies were seen. Films revolving around comic book heroes are nothing new, but the way Marvel bridged each film together to lead up to this movie is genius. It’s what comic book lovers and movie-goers were waiting for. In this film, Loki takes the Tesseract, a mysterious and powerful cube, and plans to rule the world. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) recruits Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye/ Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Thor to band together and save the world. The interactions between each superhero are unforgettable, hilarious, and heartwarming. By having these characters interact with each other, a world of possibilities opens up on future encounters and interactions. This movie is quintessential to the MCU as it sets the foundation for each hero’s storyline.

  5. 5. Iron Man 3 (2013)

    As the final Iron Man sequel of the MCU, Iron Man 3 focuses more on Tony Stark than it does on Iron Man. In other words, the film emphasizes the individual more than it does on the action. RDJ gives more life and human characteristics to the superhero, providing insight into the mind of Stark after the events that occurred in The Avengers. While there isn’t much emphasis on action, there are still scenes that highlight the performance. In terms of storyline, it’s alright; some plot lines are a bit messy and not so great, but it’s still entertaining to watch. This installment was not as good as the first film, but it is an improvement on the second.

  6. 6. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

    Taking place after the events of The Avengers, Thor returns to battle against a vengeful leader named Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) who alongside the Dark Elves attempts to bring the universe into darkness. Reuniting with Jane Foster, Thor prepares to embark on saving the world from destruction. Released on November 8, Thor: The Dark World improves on the action and visuals but lacks a clear storyline. While Chris Hemsworth is great in his role, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki truly shines in this film, providing more life and humor to the character. Overall, the movie is jam-packed with fantasy/sci-fi, action-packed, funny moments.

  7. 7. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

    For this film, there is a time jump of two years (again, after the events from The Avengers). Steve Rogers is assimilating into modern society and is now working as an agent for S.H.I.E.L.D. However, Rogers soon discovers that not everyone is to be trusted and conducts an investigation into a conspiracy, which reveals that an old arch-nemesis is working within the organization. He teams up with Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, and Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to defeat the nemesis and an assassin known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Released on April 4, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is arguably the best Marvel Studios movie since Iron Man that can be a stand-alone film. Accompanied by suspense and political references, this movie is truly a thrilling adventure that showcases how the melancholy, emotive hero is grasping for a sense of humanity. Not only is the storyline amazing, but the fighting scenes, gadgets, car chases and multiple stunts are so visually appealing that it garners all eyes.

  8. 8. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

    On May 5, viewers were introduced to a new band of superheroes. Peter Quill/ Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) discovers a desirable, mysterious orb and is now the target of a manhunt, which is led by Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). To protect the universe, he teams up with a band of intergalactic criminals: Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot (Vin Diesel), and Rocket (Bradley Cooper). They must learn to work together before they can be the Guardians of the Galaxy. From start to finish, the film is outrageously hilarious and entertaining, proving how the story of an unknown supergroup can be made into a blockbuster movie. Each character can be paired interchangeably, creating fun dynamics and memorable moments. The soundtrack is reminiscent of the music from the seventies and juxtaposed with today’s special effects to create a space-cowboy aesthetic.

  9. 9. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

    Directed by Joss Whedon, Avengers: Age of Ultron is the second installment of the Avengers movies. Released on May 1, the film’s aim wasn’t to go above the original Avengers movie. Instead, it went more in-depth into the complexities of the storyline and the mental conflict that each Avenger faces. Viewers can gain more insight into protagonists who don’t have a stand-alone movie that showcases their background history like Hawkeye and Black Widow. In the film, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Hulk, attempt to create a program called Ultron to protect the world, but it backfires and now Earth’s mightiest heroes need to step up and take down Ultron before it’s too late. Avengers: Age of Ultron proves how superhero movies can have a deeper meaning than just saving the world. The movie does references previous films, so fans of the franchise will have a better understanding of subtle jokes and details.

  10. 10. Ant-Man (2015)

    Ant-Man demonstrates how not every superhero movie needs the protagonist to destroy the area they’re supposed to protect. Released on June 29, con-man Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a.k.a. Ant-Man is armed with a suit that allows him to shrink in scale. With the help of his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), they plan a heist that will protect the secret behind the Ant-Man suit and save the world. What the movie lacked was a proper buildup to the villain Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll). There should’ve been more scenes on the development of Yellowjacket, but it just feels rushed. Also, there are scenes where a bit more comedy could’ve been added, but the final cut of the film isn’t too bad. Overall, Ant-Man is a simple and enjoyable movie to watch.

  11. 11. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

    From the movie poster and the cast, one would assume that this is an Avengers movie. However, it is the third, and the last sequel, of the Captain America films. In this story, the Avengers have caused collateral damage to the civilians of Lagos, resulting in people everywhere being afraid of the superheroes’ actions. While they are focusing on saving the world, the heroes are not aware of the trauma their actions are causing to the civilians. This causes the government to push for the Hero Registration Act, which would limit the hero’s actions. This law causes a rift between the Avengers, specifically between Iron Man, who agrees with the act, and Captain America, who disagrees. Released on May 6, the film introduces Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) to the MCU. What makes the film intense is picking a side since at this point, assuming the viewer watched the previous films, each leader’s backstory is known. Captain America: Civil War balances action and witty dialogue, and lets audiences have an ethical debate on who’s the side they would be on. It’s a great blockbuster and the ending is worth its praise.

  12. 12. Doctor Strange (2016)

    Similar to the world of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Doctor Strange gives a dream-like sequence of cities folding into each other and showcases visually appealing scenes. Released on October 20, the film focuses on Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his journey to the mountains of Tibetan to seek the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who he believes will help heal him. During this journey, he learns of his destiny to become a Sorcerer Supreme. The film could’ve worked more on Strange’s interpersonal relationships, but it does have great special effects and can be seen as a stand-alone movie. There are small details to keep track of, which makes it stand out from the other Marvel movies.

  13. 13. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

    Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 takes place after the events of the first film, with the team struggling to maintain order with each other. Dealing with their personal family issues, most notably between Star-Lord and his father, the guardians uncover hidden truths that can affect their team dynamic. Released on May 5, the theme of family is heavily emphasized in this film, leaving an important message on the meaning of family to audiences. The film introduces new characters such as Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Ego (Kurt Russell), and contains many funny, rewatchable moments, building on each characters’ arcs. Fans of the first movie will enjoy this one as well.

  14. 14. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

    Finally, a Spider-Man movie has been established in the MCU. Released on July 7, viewers finally got a chance to see Peter Parker (Tom Holland) star in his own film. This film is not just another origin story, as it takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War. In this movie, Peter Parker is learning how to maintain the balance between his life as a high school student and his superhero alter-ego. Under the mentorship of Tony Stark, Peter tries to prove that he’s more than the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. However, when Vulture (Michael Keaton) makes an appearance, Peter learns that what he values most will be threatened. Directed by Jon Watts, Spider-Man: Homecoming is funny and action-packed with a clear storyline. Although the villain’s buildup was a bit lackluster, Holland’s performance of the title character is amazing, and he proves that he’s arguably the best Spider-Man.

  15. 15. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

    Directed by Taika Waiti, Thor: Ragnarok is arguably the best Thor movie in the MCU. Improving on the dialogue and developing a clear storyline, the film adopts the elements of a comedy movie, which is what the Thor franchise should’ve started with. In this film, Thor finds himself imprisoned in a gladiator contest against the Hulk. On his quest for survival, Thor races against time to prevent Hela (Cate Blanchett) from destroying his home. Released on November 3, the film proves how the storyline can fit in within the realm of the MCU while being a stand-alone movie too.

  16. 16. Black Panther (2018)

    “Wakanda Forever!” Black Panther marks the first MCU movie where the majority of the characters are portrayed by Black actors. Released on February 16, the film follows the events after Captain America: Civil War, where Prince T’Challa, who is the Black Panther, returns home to the technologically advanced country of Wakanda to take the throne. However, he is challenged for the throne and is faced with foes who seek to destroy his nation. The politics shown in the film help provide a fresh spin on the superhero genre. With the killer soundtrack and thrilling climax, audiences will enjoy this movie as it doesn’t have forced humor, but a strong storytelling element.

  17. 17. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

    On April 27, audiences everywhere were treated to Avengers: Infinity War. Directed by Anthony and Joseph Russo, a.k.a. the Russo brothers, the Avengers and their allies are faced with what is the biggest challenge they’ve faced. Thanos (Josh Brolin), alongside an intergalactic army, seeks to collect all six Infinity Stones, which are the most powerful artifacts known to the universe. It’s up to the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, along with Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and Spider-Man, to stop Thanos from destroying the universe. Being an ambitious crossover, the film takes a huge risk in connecting all MCU movies into one. With an emotional ending, it’s hard to imagine how the story will continue.

  18. 18. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

    Ant-Man and the Wasp arrived at theaters on July 4 and is the first movie to be released after Infinity War. However, the film follows the events after Captain America: Civil War. In the aftermath, Scott Lang tackles the consequences he faces as a superhero and a father. While trying to balance his responsibilities, he is confronted with a new mission with Hope van Dyne/ the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym. This film provides light entertainment for Marvel fans, not providing any storyline distraction from the events of Infinity War. While not being too serious like Civil War or as modern as Black Panther, it is entertaining and fun to watch.

  19. 19. Captain Marvel (2019)

    March 8 marks the first time Marvel released its first female-centric superhero film Captain Marvel. Serving as the prequel to the Avengers films, the movie takes place in the mid-90s, where Carol Danvers/ Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), a member of the elite Starforce Military, crash lands to Earth while escaping from the Skrulls. While on Earth, she begins to discover her past and with the help of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury, they set out to find the truth. This film follows the fish-out-of-water story with Larson fitting the role really well. While the humor can get corny in some scenes, Brie Larson’s performance of the character shows why she’s the ultimate Avenger.

  20. 20. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

    Known as the highest-grossing film of all time, Avengers: Endgame marks what seems like the beginning of the end for our heroes. Serving as the climax of the journey, the film follows the events of the previous Avengers film. The movie is a masterpiece that exceeds every expectation, even on ones that weren’t thought of. Released to theaters on April 26, the Avengers realize the effects of their sacrifices and must prepare for the ultimate showdown against Thanos. Endgame raises the bar on what should be expected from superhero movies and creates an experience for fans of the franchise and casual viewers.

  21. 21. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

    After the events of Endgame, Peter Parker joins his friends on a European school trip. The fun-filled vacation suddenly takes a turn when Nick Fury needs the help of Spider-Man to defeat Elementals, creatures causing mysterious attacks around the world. To provide support, Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) enters the picture to help fight against the creatures. Released on June 26, Spider-Man: Far From Home is the perfect film to follow Endgame thanks to Holland’s amazing performance. The movie acts as the ending of a chapter but also the beginning of a new one. While the ending of the film makes it appear that all is resolved, the end credit scene is what leaves audiences wanting more.

It's not hard to see why so many people love this franchise. With stories of love, family, and friendship, one wants to support their heroes and are eager to see their next journey. The characters are full of life, and the actors who portray them provide an in-depth look at the heroes’ internal struggles, showcasing how human they are. The cast of each movie fits harmoniously and with each movie, improvements are made on the script, technology, and action. If you haven’t already seen these movies, what are you waiting for! There’s plenty of time to catch up until the next movie hits theaters. What fans have to look forward to in the future includes Black Widow, The Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, an untitled Spider-Man sequel, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Black Panther II.