Every type of movie has its milestone moments. For superheroes, there are three that immediately come to mind: Superman: The Movie in 1978, Tim Burton's Batman in 1989, and the one-two punch of The Dark Knight and Iron Man in 2008. And, probably, the biggest deal out of all of them was Iron Man, the success of which launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe and paved the way for a total of 16 films, the latest of which, Spider-Man: Homecoming, will be released on July 7th, will plenty of others on the horizon.
Iron Man, of course, led the way for characters like the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Black Panther and on and on. As to why they've been so successful, Marvel's creative guiding force, Kevin Feige, offered to comingsoon.net, "If I traveled back in time and told myself where we were headed, he'd probably spin out and collapse in a heap of anxiety. I think that part of the reason we succeeded is because we have been able to stick to our guns and stick to our vision and not Monday morning quarterback based on what others are doing. Or based on think pieces about the state of the industry. We started out being very excited that we were finally able to be the people creatively responsible for a Marvel film ourselves and do them in the way that our instincts sort of called for us to do them."
And, as to the fact that all of this has resulted in a shared movie universe (becoming the envy of just about every other studio that would love nothing more than to duplicate Marvel's success), as far back as 2008, Feige saw the potential, as he related to Newsarama: "What's fun in having all these characters under one roof for the first time—the Marvel roof—is that just like in the comics, yes, we can suggest that they inhabit the same universe. Which is not to say that they'll just be walking by each other's windows and waving for no reason, but it is to say that while enjoying the solo experience of an Iron Man film, a Hulk film, a Thor film, a Cap film, or whatever, those who want to see a deeper connection or deeper meaning will be able to find that."
That connection can very easily be followed over the past near-decade. Now, FHM presents a behind-the-scenes guide to all 16 of those films, as well as a look at what's to come.
Right from the start, once Marvel started producing their own films they got it right. Take a second-tier character (at the time, Iron Man was hardly as well known as Spider-Man or the X-Men's Wolverine), cast a great actor in the role who brings instant credibility and offer up a first class production. Robert Downey, Jr. brought that credibility, aided by Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terence Howard and (briefly) Samuel L. Jackson. Great origin story for what continues to be one of Marvel's most popular movie superheroes.
Reflects Downey, "I have always been drawn to Iron Man because he had amazing ingenuity and intelligence. Superheroes are great, but superheroes who manufacture weapons and then build a suit of armor that they wear and can fly around in makes for the ultimate 'nerdgasm.' He's someone who's conflicted for the right reasons, and who doesn't recognize his potential until he starts to live in accordance with a moral code; it's a great time-honored theme."
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The Incredible Hulk (2008)
After Eric Bana failed to connect with the audience in the 2002 Hulk film, Marvel took matters into its own hands with this effort that stars Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner who, after being exposed to gamma rays, transforms into the Hulk when he gets angry. Extremely strong film with Banner on the run from the military, but apparently Norton and Marvel butted heads creatively and when the character next appeared in The Avengers, he was portrayed by Mark Ruffalo.
Explains Norton, "Bruce Banner is the guy who monkeys with the secret forces and gets burned by them in a way that ends up isolating him, exiling him to this lonely existence There's something in the story of a lonely, moral guy in this self-imposed exile, trying to protect the world from this terrible thing inside him that I think people relate to. They like the story of the oppressed, chased, hunted man who has this righteous bite-back when you push him too hard. When you're a teenager, there's a terrific fantasy in that. It's that feeling of being lonely, of being outside, and the fantasy that if people push you too hard, you've got this thing that's going to rise up out of you and defend you. That taps straight into the way you feel as a teenager, and that's where it starts."
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Iron Man 2 (2010)
This may be considered one of the few missteps that Marvel has produced, and even with that being said it's still not a terrible film. What works is Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko, who seeks revenge against Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark for the death of his father. Definitely some harrowing scenes between them. Comic-relief from Sam Rockwell as arms dealer Justin Hammer, and strong support from Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in her first appearance in these films. What doesn't work are some major subplots that are resolved way too easily. Don Cheadle replaces Terence Howard as Rhodey, who becomes War Machine.
Of the film, Downey details, "My take was that once you tell an origins story pretty well, that’s usually where things start to get dull, and one or two or three things start to happen over and over again. So, we made Tony Stark’s challenges very much outside the usual realm of activity. As much as anything else, it’s much more of a side job for him the second time around. And the great thing, too, is that the Marvel universe is wild; it’s so far out. That’s the big balance to strike. It would be so easy to go so far out it would be intergalactic and nothing would be grounded in reality anymore. I think what worked for Iron Man is that it almost seemed like something from the cover of Popular Mechanics. These kinds of suits were starting to be made in the States and Japan, so people were responding to Iron Man almost as though it was a more of a high-tech James Bond. So how could we start to introduce elements of the storylines in the comics without becoming too outlandish, where it wasn’t rooted in some kind of reality? That’s my big thing, and the only thing that’s really been of any benefit with my—quote, unquote—successes recently, is that they have allowed people to trust my instincts more comfortably, and to give me a little more creative leverage. And that’s all that matters, because all the other stuff comes and goes."
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This character was a major question mark on whether or not he would successfully make the transition over to the big screen from the comic book page. Thanks to actor Chris Hemsworth in the title role, along with Tom Hiddleston as his foster brother Loki, Sir Anthony Hopkins as his father, Odin; and Natalie Portman as human love interest Jane Foster, along with the smart direction of Kenneth Branagh, they pull it off. The plot deals with Thor being made humble from his arrogance that threatens the galactic peace that Odin has brokered and the efforts of Loki to screw everything up.
Comments Hemsworth, "At the beginning of this film, he’s certainly a brash, cocky warrior who’s about to inherit the keys to the kingdom, and his father thinks that he’s not ready. It’s the journey of him learning some humility through the film. I think he’s one of those people who has his heart in the right place. He’s doing what he’s doing for his family and to protect the kingdom, and he thinks it’s the right way to do it. It just happens to be a very aggressive way of doing it, which probably isn’t the right way. It’s about tempering that raw emotion that he drives off most of the time, into the right direction."
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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Not to get too repetitive here, but Captain America is another character that could have gone off the rails for the very simple reason that on the surface he seems kind of dated and corny. Not the case at all with Chris Evans in the lead role, joined by Haley Atwell as agent Peggy Carter, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes, and Hugo Weaving as the villainous Red Skull. The setting is World War II, and Steve Rogers is a scrawny guy who agrees to undergo experimentation that turns him into the ultimate soldier. Old fashioned? Maybe. But damn if it all doesn't work, and Cap's origin is nicely handled in the sense that at the end of the film he ends up frozen while saving the world, only to be thawed out in the present.
Evans admits that he underwent some therapy sessions prior to signing the multi-film contract that would see him playing Captain America over a number of films. He explains, "I was very apprehensive about taking the movie, I was nervous about the lifestyle change, about the commitment. You know, it’s six movies, that can last 10 years. I love making movies, but I’m not dead set on being a gigantic movie star. I like to have the option to walk away if I want. With a six picture deal, you can’t walk away. I also like having anonymity, I’ve managed to work and kind of stay under the radar. You know, I’m not on top of everyone’s list and I can’t make any movie I want. I can make some and I make a decent living, but I can still go to a ballgame or Disney world. Losing that and having to change my lifestyle was just terrifying. I said no the first few times, because I was scared to do it. The more I spoke to people about it, though, the more they said that I can’t make a decision based on fear. When I finally agreed to do it, I needed to fix my brain and find out why I was so scared, so I went to therapy. It’s not like there were giant breakthroughs in the therapy either, it was just nice talking."
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The Avengers (2012)
Major kudos to writer/director Joss Whedon for so beautifully managing to bring Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, who was introduced in Thor) together. The plot deals with Loki working with an alien race to allow him to wage war against the Earth, which he will claim as his own kingdom. None of that matters nearly as much as seeing these heroes sharing the screen together. Awesome!
Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, explains that his biggest challenge with this film was, "How do you make stakes when they are all really strong, and really tall, and handsome? Ultimately the answer is always what’s at stake has to be more than their lives. It has to be something bigger externally and smaller internally. They have to be going through an internal struggle that matches what they are facing on the outside, so that even if they survive, they may be compromised to a point where they can’t recover. If you have that, and you really push them towards that, you push them towards something that is frightening and unlikable and a real choice that they can’t necessarily deal with, then you have some stake. You have emotional stakes that go beyond the hitty and the punchy."
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Iron Man 3 (2013)
As if Iron Man wasn't incredibly popular before The Avengers, the success of this film drove home just how much the audience loved him. Iron Man goes up against the terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), who isn't exactly who he appears to be. There are a lot of Iron Man fans who don't like this one, but the action is pretty mind-blowing and most of the humor really works. Be warned, the ending regarding Tony Stark feels like B.S. that would seemingly negatively impact the character going forward, but everyone has pretty much ignored it.
"The great thing about Iron Man 3," says Robert Downey, Jr., "is that we really are going back to kind of an extension and continuation of some of the things that made the franchise fly to begin with. With the execution and incredible success of The Avengers, we were afforded the opportunity to not have to set up another film and could really explore the character of Tony Stark in ways that were very organic and connectable and played to the strength of the franchise."
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Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Natalie Portman's Jane Foster is possessed by an evil energy known as the Aether, and Thor has to free her to stop a cosmic event called The Convergence and the Dark Elf behind it. A lot of fun, although the villain is pretty lame. Luckily the former element is stronger than the latter, but this one could have definitely gone south. Great stuff between Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki.
Enthuses Hemsworth, "I love playing the character. The trick is each time to find new ways to make the character have some sort of advance or growth from the last one. You've got to make sure the hero is a big catalyst to the resolution from the beginning; that he's not just there to step in at the very end and save the day. He has to be proactive throughout. there's a definitely conflict within Thor about where his place was. Was it with Jane on Earth or was it in Asgard, and where does his allegiance lie? Also, he's beginning to understand the darker sides of what it truly means to be king and the burden of the throne."
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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Holy crap! Directors Anthony and Joe Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely made what up until that time was the best Marvel movie yet. It elevates the superhero genre to something deeper and with more resonance, as Captain America (Chris Evans) must fight for his very ideals in a political world where nothing is as it seems. If you haven't seen this one yet, do so. Now (okay, you can wait until you're finished going through this article). The stellar cast includes Robert Redford, Anthony Mackie as Falcon, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Sebastian Stan, Steve Rogers' World War II buddy who has been genetically enhanced to have hardly aged a day, but has also been brainwashed into being an assassin.
Important to Chris Evans is the fact that the character of Steve Rogers/Captain America remains grounded. "Cap doesn't fly; he doesn't shoot lightning bolts," Evans says "He punches and kicks, so with that type of combat, to make it cool you have the liberty to get grittier. It feels a little more voyeuristic, a little more documentary style, and it just has a rougher feel as opposed to most superhero films that tend to be a bit glossier. As far as the character goes, Steve Rogers is now entrenched in the modern world. All of the people he knew are gone and there are many things that he struggles to understand. I always have interpreted Captain America as having a certain sense of loneliness given the fact that everyone knows who he is, but he doesn't know anyone. Because of that dynamic, I think he's a little suspicious of people's motives when they approach him."
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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Taking risks is what Marvel has proven itself to be all about, and this was a big one. Head into space and bring together a motley group of characters (including a talking tree and raccoon) who must somehow put their differences aside to save the galaxy, becoming a pseudo family in the process. An original vision by writer/director James Gunn turns D-level characters into superstars. The cast includes Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel and Dave Bautista. And what a soundtrack, highlighted (as stoopid as it seemed in the trailers) by a cover version of "Hooked On a Feeling."
Of the Peter Quill character, Chris Pratt offers, ""He's very much a kid at heart. He's never known his father, he's sucked away into space just as his mother dies and is raised by a blue-skinned humanoid [Michael Rooker's Yondu]. He has spent all his life being told to toughen up and has a false sense of bravado as a result. But deep down he is lonely, and while he's a guy traveling in space getting to do whatever he wants, he misses his family, his community, and through the course of the story he learns to care again and that there's more to life than just taking and doing exactly what you want."
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Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Perhaps not as sharp as its predecessor, it's nonetheless great fun seeing Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, Nick Fury, Falcon and Hawkeye joined by newcomers Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Vision (Paul Bettany), all of them brought together in the aftermath of one of Tony Stark's creations—Ultron—deciding to rid Earth of its greatest threat: humanity. James Spader provides the snark, the humor and the menace in his voicing of the robot Ultron.
Says returning writer/director Joss Whedon, "The first thing you have to do if you're looking at an Avengers sequel is figure out what you're going to do with all of these characters. In this film, I've got a lot more characters! The Avengers are a really dysfunctional team, and I liked the idea of seeing them actually act as a team and how it shows how much they shouldn't be a team. The idea of the second one is also everybody in the world now knows that there are Avengers and that there are superheroes and villains, and all kinds of crazy stuff . But for me it's great, because I wanted a different movie. I wanted a different dynamic. The first movie was definitely about putting the team together and the second movie is totally about pulling them apart."
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Seriously, nobody outside of comics fans really cared about Scott Lang and the outfit that allows him to shrink in size to become Ant-Man. That was, of course, until the movie version came out and we witnessed Paul Rudd in the lead role, surrounded by the likes of Michel Douglas (as Hank Pym, creator of the Ant-Man suit), Evangeline Lilly and Corey Stoll—with a brief appearance by Anthony Mackie's Falcon. There are certain structural similarities between this one and the original Iron Man (particularly with conflict between Lang and Stoll's Darren Cross/Yellowjacket), but they pull it out at the end. Another worthy addition to the Marvel universe.
Rudd says, "In the beginning of the film, my character Scott Lang has just gotten out of prison. He doesn't know anything about Ant-Man and has nothing to do with Hank Pym. On the other hand, Pym singled him out and, quite aware of his notoriety, has been watching him with ulterior motives. He sets up a scenario where Scott has to resort to his old ways. He breaks into Hank's house to steal some money to help pay child support for his daughter, the only person he really cares about. Unbeknownst to Scott, Hank has orchestrated the entire scenario. This brings Scott into Pym's world where he can potentially teach Scott how to use the suit properly and steal something Pym really needs."
For Rudd, the film also allowed him to exercise his writing skills by partnering with Adam McKay on a rewrite of the script. In doing so, the actor was also able to dig into the character in a much deeper way. "The one thing that being a screenwriter on Ant-Man has done for me is that it just gives me much more of an insight into all of the characters," informs Rudd. "I'm thinking about all of the characters' motivations, story lines and how every decision my character makes affects theirs. So it gives me a much more comprehensive knowledge of the story, and I can immediately go to any scene and have a pretty deep understanding of it."
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Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The creative folks behind Winter Soldier are back, and they somehow manage to surpass themselves. Instant conflict brought into things by the fact that the government is trying to control the Avengers, while Captain America is off on a personal mission to bring Bucky Barnes (aka The Winter Soldier) in before the government kills him. Genuine emotional stakes and conflict between Chris Evans' Cap and Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark/Iron Man. It feels like an Avengers movie and could have easily been crushed by the weight of the many characters that appear in it (most of whom we've seen before, but with the welcome additions of Tom Holland as Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther. Most impressive about the film is that there is a massive airport battle between the various characters that is mind-blowing in its inventiveness about two thirds of the way through, and then the story shrinks down and becomes genuinely emotional between Cap and Iron Man.
Chris Evans observes, "The problem is we all think we have good hearts, we all think we know what’s best. And this is the nature of compromise. It’s tricky to understand where to bend. I think in the past films, in [Captain America: The First Avenger] we all know Nazis are bad. In [The Winter Soldier] Hydra is no good either. But this one, there’s no clear bad guy, and I think that’s far more parallel to the struggles we got through in our current political state. There’s logic to both sides, and where do you bend? Where’s the compromise? What’s the goal? I think Cap’s struggling, because every time he has fallen in line, and has been a soldier, and has taken orders and leaned on the structure of society, it’s kinda turned on him. And I think he ultimately feels the safest hands are his own, because at least he can trust them. But again, that’s not gonna work for the masses. So it’s the first time he really doesn’t know what the right answer is."
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Doctor Strange (2016)
Superheroes? Check. Cosmic heroes? Check. Mystical heroes? Marvel starts here and it's off to a great start. Benedict Cumberbatch is oh-so-arrogant surgeon Stephen Strange, who, in the aftermath of a car accident that renders his hands useless, pursues a solution that quite literally is beyond imagination. He finds himself drawn into the world of mystic arts that pits him against other magic forces that threaten the world. A welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a character audiences will be able to see again in November's Thor: Ragnarok.
“I found Stephen Strange to be incredibly arrogant, brilliant and sort of extraordinary," says Benedict Cumberbatch. "He is utterly broken down to be reconstituted into the Super Hero that becomes fully fledged by the end of the movie. And there’s a lot of humor on the way. There’s a lot of action, a lot of drama. All those elements really appeal to me as an actor. So it was mainly the character arc and the journey he goes on in the film that drew me to the material.”
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Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)
Sorry, we can't think of Guardians 2 without thinking of that scene-stealing walking, talking tree. The theme of family is prevalent in this one, particularly when Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) meets his father, Ego The Living Planet (Kurt Russell). Spoiler Alert: As is so often the case in these family reunions, dad doesn't exactly live up to expectations, revealing himself to be about as close to a god as you can get, with a vision that threatens the existence of the universe. The entire cast is back and in fine form. Returning writer/director James Gunn does such a seemingly effortless job continuing the adventure that it merely whets the appetite for Guardians 3.
"Peter has a lot of growth through the first film," Chris Pratt says, "and it was important to us—me and James [Gunn] talked about it—that we not go back, you know? For James, it’s important that any lesson that you see one of his characters learn, they’re going to have that in their history now. That’s an important distinction, because a lot of times in sequels, you go back and just play your greatest hits. You have your moment again—the “we are Groot” moment, the dance-off moment. We didn’t want to repeat any of those moments. So [Quill is] trying to keep the Guardians of the Galaxy out of trouble. He sees himself as the leader. He sees himself as being responsible for the team, and we get deeper into the relationships. They’re like a family, because they don’t always like each other, like a real family."
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Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
For reasons too complicated to explain here, Spider-Man wasn't a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe until his arrival in Captain: America: Civil War. Now, however, he's a full member and we get to see the amazing Tom Holland perfectly capture the nerdy high school student Peter Parker, who has to balance homework with his superheroic life as Spider-Man. He goes up against Michael Keaton's h-tech villain The Vulture, and is helped along the way by Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark/Iron Man, who serves as a mentor.
Tom Holland notes that in to explore Peter's character arc in this film, "“We go back in time to relive the Civil War splash panel fight from Peter’s perspective. We see him having the time of his life. He’s on a private jet and he’s staying in this crazy beautiful hotel room, but suddenly he's being crammed on a subway late for school. No one’s called him to give him another mission. That’s the contrast: the kid at summer camp is suddenly back at school. Tony becomes a kind of father figure to Peter. Peter’s trying to prove himself to Tony that he is old and wise enough to take on bigger tasks, but Tony keeps putting him down and telling him he isn’t ready yet. I think that’s what really drives Peter to possibly go down the wrong path, before he figures it out and we see why Peter Parker is the most beloved and powerful superhero of the MCU.”
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Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Consider this Marvel Tag (those post-credit sequences at the end of each film) #1, looking beyond our headline that was supposed to stop with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Coming this November is the third Thor film, and this one actually looks like it's going to be the most fun. We don't know much beyond the trailer, but it looks like it could lighten things up a bit (ironic, considering the universe could be plunged into hell) as Chris Hemsworth's Thor goes up against and then teams up with Mark Ruffalo's Hulk in what is being described as the "buddy cop" film of the superhero genre. Thrown in for good measure is Tom Hiddleston reprising the role of Loki and Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange. Release date is November 3rd.
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Black Panther (2018)
Marvel Tag #2. We were introduced to, and completely intrigued by, Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa/Black Panther, who, after the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War, has been made king of Wakanda. Returning home, he finds that his sovereignty is challenged by factions within his own country. When a pair of enemies conspire to destroy the kingdom, T'Challa as the Black Panther must work with Wakanda's special forces, the Dora Milaje; and CIA Agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman, who was also introduced in Civil War) to prevent what could become a world war.
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Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Marvel Tag #3: This is it, the big enchilada of superhero movies, which between it and the untitled fourth Avengers film (scheduled for 2019) brings together pretty much every character from the Marvel universe. From the writers and directors of the two best films of this universe to date, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, it has a ton of heroes going up against Josh Brolin's ultimate baddie, Thanos.
Check out this roster of characters: From the Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, Scarlet Witch, Hulk, Nick Fury, Hawkeye, Falcon, and Vision; representing the Guardians of the Galaxy side of things, Peter Quill/Starlord, Nebula, Gamora, Groot, Mantis, Rocket Raccoon, and Drax; standalone heroes we've already met, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, The Winter Soldier, and Black Panther; and we're being introduced to Brie Larson as Captain Marvel. Cannot wait. Look for Avengers: Infinity War on May 4, 2018.