5 MCU Films To See Before Avengers: Endgame

Settle down folks, that means all of you celebrating or lamenting the X-Men and the Fantastic Four going to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). We still have Avengers: Endgame to deal with and that monumental conclusion to the MCU Infinity Saga is just over a month away. It’s a given, Marvel Studios and Disney will have our hard-earned cash for the opening weekend and we’re all caught up with the 20+ MCU films. But what about our hapless dates and companions who we bring along to see Avengers: Endgame? What if they have no idea who Rocket Raccoon is or where Wakanda is located? The intricacies of the cinematic universe could be explained, but wouldn’t it be better if they see for themselves? Easier said than done, there are over 20 films to slog through, and not all of them are great. You’d be doing them a favor by suggesting just a few MCU films to watch before Avengers: Endgame, so at least they won’t be distracting you with annoying questions as the Avengers prepare for that final battle against Thanos.

Like last year when we presented 10 films to see before Avengers: Infinity War, here is another list and this time, let’s cut it down to the bone: five MCU films to see before Avengers: Endgame in alphabetical order. Some spoilers will follow.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018):

The concept of quantum realms was first introduced in this film’s predecessor, Ant-Man. But this sequel explores the mysterious realm much more. We learn that there are time vortexes within the miniscule dimension that Hank Pym explores in order to rescue his lost wife. Also, Ant-Man and the Wasp is directly linked to the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War as seen in the mid-credits sequence as the Wasp, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne are victims of the Decimation or Thanos’ snap.

Meanwhile, unaware of how directly involved he is now with the universe-spanning event, Ant-Man is trapped in the quantum realm and his time spent there will most likely hold the key to victory for the Avengers as teased in the trailers for Avengers: Endgame. Needless to mention, that the plucky Ant-Man will be a critical player in the coming film.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015):

It’s not the best MCU film, but it’s proving to be a vital nexus for what happens in the Marvel Cinematic Universe afterwards. There are some plot points that are relevant to the other Avengers and MCU films, which include heroes become obsessed with upcoming threats. Iron Man has visions of Earth doomed by cosmic forces, which leads to his ill-advised creation of Ultron and fractures his relationship with Captain America. Meanwhile, Thor learns about the Infinity Stones and leaves the team to search for them, to no avail.

Meanwhile, Captain America’s visions of his lost love, Peggy Carter, imply his soul is still haunted by their separation by time and as hinted at in Avengers: Endgame, perhaps this will be addressed. We also discover that Hawkeye has a loving family and the latest trailer implies that they are victims of the Decimation. This explains why he takes on the persona of Ronin in the film. It should be noted that there are rumors that the villainous android, Ultron, will return in Avengers: Endgame.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018):

Well, duh! It’s the Avengers film right before Endgame! The fourth Avengers film is a direct follow-up to Avengers: Infinity War and explores the aftermath of the devastating events shown in the third Avengers film. Viewers learn about Thanos, his twisted motivation and fiendish plan to snuff out half of all life in the universe.

What’s fun to watch are the interactions, appearances of and team ups with the MCU’s finest, from Spider-Man to Doctor Strange to the Guardians of the Galaxy. This was a true epic crossover film that ends with Thanos triumphant and half of the MCU heroes turned to dust. It only makes sense to see this film before Avengers: Endgame to at least see the set up before the fourth Avengers film and understand the high stakes for the surviving heroes.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011):

The first Captain America film has one of the earliest appearance of one of the Infinity Stones, the Space Stone and of course, features the star-spangled debut of Captain America, aka Steve Rogers. As shown in the Avengers: Endgame trailer, unlike the last Avengers film, he will be more vital to the film’s main plot.

Just as important, Captain America: The First Avenger explores the relationship between Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter. The tragedy of their budding romance is that it was never fulfilled, something that haunts Rogers (see Avengers: Age of Ultron and the other Cap films). As hinted in some Avengers: Endgame trailers, this lost relationship could be a major plot for Captain America in the film. Perhaps, a clue to his final destiny?

MFing Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014):

As stated in last year’s post, this film not only boasts the fabulous debut of everyone’s favorite cosmic misfits, but clearly explains the Infinity Stones and the background to the Infinity Saga. Rocket Raccoon, the anthropomorphic and snarky raccoon, debuts here and is one of the main heroes in Endgame as the sole surviving member of the Guardians. In addition to introducing viewers to the Guardians of the Galaxy, this film has the first full appearance of Thanos, who appears as a background boss, but already exuded a malevolent presence.

Guardians of the Galaxy also debuts Nebula, who is Thanos’ daughter. We learn of her complicated relationship with her adopted father and sister, Gamora, and why she wants to kill her father. This obviously will be her main driving force in Endgame, which is only natural after she saw firsthand the effects of the Decimation.

avengers first team up

Miscellaneous:

See these films if time permits. They are not crucial to watch and didn’t make the list of five essential films to see before Avengers: Endgame, but do add information and context about the beloved characters and situations of the MCU.

Ant-Man (2015) is the first MCU film to feature quantum realms and other dimensions and of course, debuts Ant-Man, a major character in Avengers: Endgame.

The Avengers (2012) introduces the superhero team and how they get along with each other, while featuring two of the Infinity Stones. Bonus point: Thanos makes his first appearance in the MCU in a cameo.

Captain America: Civil War (2016) is more of a prerequisite for Avengers: Infinity War. In this film, we see how the fragile relationships between the members of the Avengers, especially Iron Man and Captain America, come apart. The dissolution of the team is why the heroes lose in Avengers: Infinity War.

Captain Marvel (2019) of course, features Captain Marvel, who will be one of the major characters in Endgame as seen in the film’s mid-credits scene.

Doctor Strange (2016) has the Time Stone, possibly important to the fourth Avengers film since the film’s plot is rumored to involve time travel.

Iron Man 3 (2013) explores Tony Stark’s fragile psyche in the aftermath of the cosmic events of The Avengers. It helps us understand his state of mind in future films, culminating in Endgame.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017) heavily features the cosmic side of the MCU and Nebula, a key player in Avengers: Endgame, as she transitions from a villain to an anti-hero.

Thor (2011) marks the first MCU appearance of aliens, the cosmic portion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the God of Thunder himself.

Thor: The Dark World (2013) is one of the weaker MCU films, but has one of the Infinity Stones, the Reality Stone, a major macguffin in the second Thor film.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) sets up Avengers: Infinity War towards its end and provides context for Thor’s state of mind in the final Avengers films.

José Soto

 

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The Challenge of Alita: Battle Angel

As people flock to theaters to see Captain Marvel and rave or criticize the film, there is another woman-centric sci-fi film that has caught the admiration of many others. But that film is not pulling in the box office dollars of the MCU film. That is not an indication of its quality, however. In fact, many who have seen Alita: Battle Angel have come away convinced it is the better film that deserved a better fate.

Right now, even though the Robert Rodriguez film has been out for over a month, it is too soon to declare Alita: Battle Angel a box office disappointment. To date it has grossed nearly $400 million dollars. Sure that is peanuts to what other films have pulled in, but it is not that bad. The film’s supposed budget was $170 million, so technically it made its money back and has a tiny profit. So, is that enough to get a sequel?

Fans of the cult film (and that is what Alita: Battle Angel is at this point, though it is worthy of that honor) are clamoring for a sequel, especially given how the film sets up future films. The problem is that the amount of money it has earned probably won’t be enough for a sequel to be greenlit. There is also the fact, that as of two days from now, 20th Century Fox, the film studio that released Alita: Battle Angel, will belong to Disney. Who knows if the House of the Mouse will be interested in pursuing a followup film. They have other properties that will generate more money for them.

Then again, we have seen cult favorites build enough of a following to convince studios to take another crack at the property. One recent example is Pacific Rim. That film was released in 2013 and was not a hit film, but it quickly developed a fan base, not unlike Alita. As the film did well in home media, it picked up more fans and demands for a sequel increased. Last year, a sequel was finally released, Pacific Rim: Uprising. Although the film was way inferior to the first Pacific Rim, it did demonstrate that we can always hold out hope for followups to non-hit films. This has happened with John Wick, The Boondock Saints, and others.

Bear in mind that this is not a guarantee. Films like Serenity and Dredd had devoted fans that tried to push awareness of the films so that sequels could be made, but they never came to be. Plus, while it is important to see the James Cameron-produced film in theaters now, it is equally, if not more important to buy the film when it is available in home media. That would demonstrate the lasting appeal of the cyberpunk action film, which is surprisingly faithful in spirit to the manga that inspired it. That would be a critical challenge for Alita: Battle Angel. The fan base has to be persistent and vocal. Then there is the matter of getting James Cameron, Robert Rodriguez, Rosa Salazar, and others to return to the stunning futuristic world that they created. Another issue is that if a sequel is commissioned will it get the same care and budget of the original? An easier way to convince execs to finance a sequel is if its budget can be controlled. That might mean that Alita’s next adventure might have to take place in the floating city of Zalem, which would look eerily like modern-day society. It might work given the decrepit state of the world below shown in Alita. In that case can it be as faithful to the manga as the original?

This is all speculation at this point. Go see the film if it is still playing. Despite its narrative flaws Alita: Battle Angel is a stunning cinematic experience that better captures a hero’s journey much better than the other superhero film out now in theaters.

Requiem For A Dark Knight

ben-affleck-as-batman
The status of Ben Affleck’s role in the upcoming Batman film directed by Matt Reeves has been a source of both interest and mystery ever since Affleck left that film’s role as director two years ago. This mystery was finally solved a few days ago with the article on deadline.com that detailed a release date for the film titled The Batman, which will come to theaters on June 25th, 2021 with a new actor to be cast in the role. This was seemingly confirmed by Affleck himself, who retweeted the article on his Twitter account. This news has brought a reaction from fans that of sadness and regret since he will no longer be playing a role that he has owned since his debut in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The initial announcement of his casting as Batman was met with some skepticism at first, but after the first trailer for the movie, with the image of Bruce Wayne staring at his Batman outfit, consumed with rage, fans were convinced of his ability to play the dual role of playboy millionaire and costumed vigilante, obsessed with stopping what he saw as the ultimate threat in Superman. His excellent performance in the somewhat divisive film cemented his legacy as the definitive live-action Batman. His brief, but well received, cameo in Suicide Squad further excited fans. His last full time appearance as the Caped Crusader in Justice League in 2017 was met with mixed results since he seemed somewhat disinterested. Possibly this was due to reshoots by Joss Whedon and rewrites to the story that changed what the original director Zack Snyder had planned. But, overall, I thought his performance was still a great interpretation of a transformed Bruce Wayne who was trying to live up to Superman’s example and not let his sacrifice in Batman v Superman go in vain. 
I do wish that Ben Affleck was given another opportunity to play the role. However, due to the reaction to both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, as well as his own personal problems with alcoholism and a high profile divorce, this led to his wavering on whether or not to continue the role. Also complicating things was the fact that Matt Reeves wants to tell a story of a younger Batman that takes place maybe 10-15 years before the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There were some rumors that Affleck might play the older version of Batman at the start and end of the movie, but this seems to have been rejected by Reeves.  His vision of a noir-driven detective film does sound interesting and unique, but it would have been great to see Affleck in this type of film as well, since his previous movies as Batman focused on his fighting abilities and strengths. As for who will replace him, there are, of course, lots of rumors on that as well. One is Armie Hammer, who would be a good replacement. Hammer has been rumored to be up for the part of Hal Jordan in the upcoming Green Lantern Corps film, but that movie is still several years away with Geoff Johns writing a new script for it. Another one rumored is Aaron Taylor-Johnson from 2014’s Godzilla and 2010’s Kick-Ass. Whoever is picked should not be so young as to look more like Robin than Batman. Even though Reeves is supposedly looking for an actor in the range of 25-30, this Batman should already be an experienced crime fighter. Christoper Nolan’s Batman Begins in 2005 already told the story of the Caped Crusader first starting out. Another origin story is not needed. Whoever is cast needs to have the same presence that Affleck had and be able to show that he will eventually become the force that dominated Gotham’s underworld in Batman v Superman.
If there is ever another Justice League movie or another DCEU film that takes place in present day, one hopes that Affleck will be called on to don the cape again, but that is unknown at this point. If he never plays the role again, his legacy is still cemented in comic movie lore as arguably the most accurate Bruce Wayne and Batman to show up on the big screen. Every role is eventually recast at some point. Look at how many actors have played the role of James Bond over the years. Batman is no exception. The character is over 75 years old and will go on no matter who plays him, so while it’s sad that Ben Affleck is leaving, any hysteria over this is not really necessary. I just hope that whoever takes the torch from him is able to live up to the standard he set and helps Matt Reeves make another great Batman movie.
C.S. Link

The Imploding Marvel Netflix Universe

First, Iron Fist was canceled a week ago by Netflix. Now, after the third season of Daredevil dropped during the past weekend, Netflix announced that Luke Cage has also been canceled. While the axing of Iron Fist was not a unexpected, the cancellation of the latter show came as a big surprise given reports that a new season was about to be greenlit. With these developments, which includes the coming of the Disney streaming app, fans of the Marvel Netflix Universe are wondering if this it for the Marvel Netflix shows.

This may be hard to swallow for some given how well received the Marvel Netflix Universe was at the beginning. Daredevil and Jessica Jones are still considered the best of these shows and created the most buzz, even though the second seasons of both shows weren’t as good as the first. But we have to admit the luster has gone from these shows thanks to the uneven nature of recent shows. Namely Iron Fist, Luke Cage and The Defenders mini-series. So in a sense, the cancellations are not all that surprising. Still, the development signals an uncertain future for the shows.

Luke Cage and Iron Fist

What could happen at this point? A common belief is that Disney will take all the shows for their streaming service, Disney Play, when it launches next year, and it is hoped that Iron Fist and Luke Cage will find new lives in the service. However, it needs to be stressed that the Marvel Netflix shows are for Netflix to cancel or continue, not Disney. Also, the service will cater to more family friendly fare that at most will be PG-13. The Marvel Netflix shows are certainly more adult oriented with their violence. Can you see a brutal show like The Punisher airing on Disney Play? One option is for Disney to stream these shows on Hulu where it will soon own a majority share. The entertainment giant has indicated that more adult fare will stream on Hulu instead of Disney Play. These shows will certainly fit in there if this is to be the new model for Hulu and allow Disney to move Runaways over to Disney Play.

The thing is would Disney want to resurrect Luke Cage and Iron Fist? Both shows have had their problems, but they had their merits and the second season of Iron Fist was a vast improvement over the first. Meanwhile, the second season of Luke Cage ended on a semi-cliffhanger where Luke seemed to be headed towards a dark path as he took over as a benevolent crime lord in Harlem. This was a clear set up for a third season storyline, in fact, the scripts were written for the new season, which won’t see the light of day now. Iron Fist, too, ended with an intriguing new direction for the next season as Danny Rand and Colleen Wing displayed awesome new abilities, which promised an adaptation of the “Immortal Iron Fist” story from the comics.

All this handwringing could be for nothing. For all we know, Netflix may announce tomorrow that both shows will be combined into Heroes For Hire. Fans know that this is what happened with their comic book counterparts when their books were combined into Powerman and Iron Fist back in the ’70s and ’80s.

Then again, Netflix probably and justifiably sees Disney as a genuine threat and has enough original material to dispel with the Marvel Netflix shows. After all, these shows are nominally set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and thus provide a measure of advertising for Disney and Marvel, so why help the competition?

Marvel netflix

New seasons of Jessica Jones and The Punisher have been completed and will stream next year. At that point, we will have a clearer idea of where the Marvel Netflix Universe is headed. The next thing to look out for is if Daredevil is renewed for a fourth season. If so, then fans can relax. If no announcements are made or if Daredevil and the surviving shows are axed then it’s over. Sad as this may be, at least we had several seasons and crossovers to enjoy and we can be confident that we have not seen the last of these urban superheroes.

*UPDATE: To no one’s surprise, both Jessica Jones and The Punisher have been cancelled by Netflix. Once Daredevil was cancelled mere weeks after its third season streamed, the writing on the wall regarding the Marvel Netflix Universe was clear to see. With the success of The Umbrella Academy, Netflix has demonstrated that it no longer needs Marvel properties. The question remains how long will the Marvel Netflix shows remain on the streaming service once Disney+ (formerly Disney Play) is available. Fans of the Marvel shows are holding on to a glimmer of hope with the news that Marvel is looking for ways to bring back the characters. Perhaps on Hulu or Disney+, however, Disney is not allowed to do anything with the specific characters until two years have past. That’s not so bad since it means Daredevil could return as early as late next year, but will it and the other shows be rebooted with new actors? We’ll find out.

 

Henry Cavill, Superman No More?

superman no more

When the news came out this week that Henry Cavill was done with portraying Superman in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) or Worlds of DC or whatever the hell the cinematic universe is called now, my reaction was “WTF, Warner Bros.?!”

Let’s be frank here, how can Warner Bros. and DC let one of the few bright spots in their struggling cinematic universe leave? Superman is the originator of the DCEU being that Man of Steel was the first film. It was a successful revamp of the character’s films, though it has its critics. Sure, it was not a runaway success, but it fared better than the ill-fated Superman Returns, so why isn’t there an actual, proper sequel to Man of Steel?

Most fans know that the sequel morphed into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where Superman was forced to share the spotlight with Batman in a clumsy attempt to adapt the famous comic book storylines, “The Dark Knight Returns” and “The Death of Superman”. What is frustrating is that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had the elements of a great Superman film in there. It followed the aftermath of Man of Steel where the world reacted to the existence of Superman, a powerful alien living among humanity. It showed how many people were uncomfortable with this. A proper sequel could have developed this theme more, included the Lex Luthor story, how he created something to kill Superman and end with his death. This would have had more of an impact with audiences as people would have been more explicitly remorseful over how they treated Superman and realized that he actually was a force of good. Then a third film could have adapted the entire “The Return of Superman” stories, introduce other heroes, and lead up to the Justice League.

But no, Warner Bros. felt they had to rush out their answer to The Avengers and we all know how that turned out. This is not a criticism of Justice League, which was enjoyable, but the entire DCEU by that point seemed so rushed and hastily executed.

Ever since the failure of Justice League, the DCEU has been adrift with announced then abandoned films. We still don’t know when a standalone Batman film will come out. It may be one thing if a Batman film was actively developed with Ben Affleck on board to play the Caped Crusader. This may have softened the blow of Henry Cavill no longer playing Superman. But it’s becoming clear that Affleck is done with the role and the proposed Batman film seems to be in limbo. Instead we get announcements of secondary characters and concepts like Supergirl, Gotham City Sirens and so on.

What the film studios fails to realize is that they are abandoning the heart and core of DC. Yes, Batman is the most popular DC hero, but Superman is right up there, and without those two, the DCEU now feels crippled and aimless. What is worse is that aside from the CG mess over mustache removals, Superman (and Cavill’s performance) was considered the best thing in Justice League because he was a bright beacon of hope. In other words, the proper way he should have been presented.

There are many stories and rumors circulating about what happened. It appears that Henry Cavill either wants more money and/or is getting impatient over the lack of progress over a new Superman film. Meanwhile, the film studio is hesitant to greenlight another Superman film because they think it won’t make much money. The thing is, aside from Wonder Woman, none of the DCEU films have been true blockbusters and Man of Steel is considered to be one of the best DCEU films. Plus, Cavill’s star power is on the rise thanks to his praised appearances in films like Mission: Impossible-Fallout. Now he has signed on to star in the upcoming TV series The Witcher for Netflix. This was a clear clue that he would not return to the DCEU.

Warner Bros. is being extremely short-sighted and obtuse in their unwillingness to increase Cavill’s salary and produce another Superman film. Of course, this could all be one massive and public game of chicken where the film studio and the actor are trying to negotiated the best deal. Who knows? For all we know this could be a ploy by Warner Bros. to see how much demand there is for another Superman and wanted to see what the reaction would be if it “leaked” out that Cavill was leaving.

Well, all of this certainly got our attention!

What is not helping the anxiety felt by fans are the non-answers given by Warner Bros. and the bizarre Instagram video by Cavill where he holds up a Superman figure. Is he trying to tell us that he is done with Superman? Let’s not forget the rumblings that Michael B. Jordan is allegedly being considered to take over the role.

Saying all of this is exasperating is an understatement by impatient fans who are still waiting for a proper Man of Steel sequel. If it never happens or Cavill doesn’t return, and with the Batman film in disarray, the film studio might as well pull the plug and kill the DCEU. After that, wait some time and reboot the entire thing, except this time have a clear leader who can properly guide their superhero cinematic universe. But no matter what happens, at least we got to behold Henry Cavill’s superb performances as Superman/Clark Kent. Just like Christopher Reeve, Cavill will be Superman forever in our hearts.

Lewis T. Grove