In the final installment of the series, we look back at our trip through the Marvel Cinematic Universe

As we counted down to the long-awaited uber-team-up Avengers: Infinity War, EW’s Marvel Movie Club prepared by revisiting every previous installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. EW’s Chancellor Agard (that’s me!) re-examined one Marvel movie a week, every week, to reassess its powers and hopefully answer important questions like “What was The Incredible Hulk?” “Does Nick Fury wash his eyepatch?” and “Is there a point to Hawkeye?” along the way. In this final entry of the series, we look back at the entire MCU in light of Infinity War.

Seventeen weeks later, we’ve finally reached the end of the Marvel Movie Club. This has been an interesting yet exhausting ride through the expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe, which included revisiting old favorites (Iron Man 3, the Captain America trilogy) and reassessing my feelings on movies I was less than enthusiastic about (Iron Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron). I think the best part of this binge is that it actually did help me prepare for Avengers: Infinity War, a very busy movie that relies heavily on past movies to help support the emotional stakes.

Thus, in the finale installment of the MMC, I decided to look back on this binge and figure out what I took away from it:

1. Avengers: Infinity War is Marvel’s most comic-book movie ever

Credit: ©Marvel Studios 2018

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely faced a seemingly impossible challenge when it came time to unite all corners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a cohesive movie. But by the grace of Odin, they managed to pull it off and delivered an exciting and epic crossover that didn’t disappoint.

Not only did they make the lumbering and genocidal Thanos (Josh Brolin) a fairly interesting antagonist, but they also managed capture the thrill of reading the crossover events Marvel and DC pump out every year: watching your favorite heroes interact for the first time, the bombastic action. Both Thor’s quest to acquire a new hammer and Iron Man and company’s trip to Titan to confront Thanos reminded me of the Final Crisis tie-in Superman Beyond. Thanos’ victory and the superheroes’ failure was reminiscent of not only its source material, but also Final Crisis, which was marketed as the day evil won, and the recent Secret Wars event, which explored the aftermath of the Marvel heroes failing to stop to worlds from crashing into each other. (Infinity War also reminded me of Secret Wars because it only makes sense if you’ve consumed most of the stories that proceeded it.) When I left the theater, I had the urge to re-read Crisis on Infinite Earth andInfinity Gauntlet.

2. The MCU means a lot to me, even when I’m frustrated with it.

Along those lines, the biggest takeaway from this rewatch is that I genuinely enjoy most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even when it was bad. I’ve said this before, but it’s still insane that this is actually a thing. Sure, I grew up watching the DC Animated Universe, but the idea of a movie like Avengers: Infinity War that brought together so many heroes for an epic battle always seemed out of the realm of the possibility. (In 2008, Smallville has taught me to keep my expectations and hopes in check.) And yet, here it is! There were definitely times I grew frustrated with the MCU while binging these movies, but I don’t regret rewatching a clunker like Thor: The Dark World or Iron Man 2 because hate-watching can be fun too.

3. William Hurt is a survivor

Film Title: The Incredible Hulk
Credit: Michael Gibson/Universal Pictures

When this column began, I promised to answer the question: “What was The Incredible Hulk?” Well, having reached the end of this binge, I can definitively say it was William Hurt’s movie all along. It’s kind of insane that he’s the one thing that survived that mostly ignored movie. Not only did he appear in Captain America: Civil War, but he also pops up in Infinity War for a hot second. Honestly, good on Hurt for getting that Marvel movie.

4. Thor answered the question, “Is there a point to Hawkeye?”

Credit: Zade Rosenthal/©2016 Marvel

The answer is no. In hindsight, Hawkeye’s silly cameo in Thor was a sign of things to come. I honestly feel like we wouldn’t lose that much if Hawkeye was erased from the MCU. I mean, I didn’t even notice he was missing from the Infinity War promotional material until fans made it a thing. And it’s not like his absence was felt in the actual movie anyway.

5. Marvel’s greatest strength is casting

Credit: Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios

I think the one thing Marvel nails almost 100 percent of the time is casting. Nearly every hero in the universe is perfectly cast — from Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, who definitively changed Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, to Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, and Tom Holland as Peter Parker. The MCU’s casting directors know how to pick actors who aren’t only generically talented, but are capable of immediately becoming those characters the moment they hit the screen. As my colleague Christian Holub likes to the point out, one of the reasons fans were so upset with the Captain America-is-HYDRA twist in the comics was because Evans made Captain America such a beloved character.

6. Marvel is at its best when it breaks away from its formula

Marvel is at the tail end of one of its strongest runs. Black Panther, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 are some of the studio’s best movies, and one of the things things they have in common is that they deviate from the Marvel formula in many ways. Thor: Ragnarok is a comedy that occasionally remembers it’s a superhero movie, Guardians Vol. 2 is two-hour music video that makes a strong case for empathy and insists that every character is important, and Black Panther and Homecoming reveal how great Marvel can be when it actually puts time into developing its villains. Hopefully, Captain Marvel’s mid-’90s setting will help distinguish it from the MCU’s other solo origin movies.

7. I’m genuinely optimistic about Marvel’s post-Avengers 4 future

Credit: Matt Kennedy/©Marvel Studios 2018; Chuck Zlotnick/Columbia Pictures; Brad Baruh/©Marvel Studios 2019

Phase Three of the MCU has been concerned with introducing the new class of Marvel heroes: Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). After watching their various solo outings and Infinity War, my fears about the MCU soldiering on without its original heavy hitters have lessened quite a bit. I’m looking forward to an MCU that reconfigures itself around Holland’s web-crawler, to whom Downey Jr. basically passed the torch in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Boseman’s T’Challa. And Infinity War’s post-credits scene made me even more excited for Brie Larson’s debut as Captain Marvel.

8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is still my favorite MCU movie.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, l-r: Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, 2014, ©Walt Disney Company/co
Credit: Everett Collection

I can’t end this series without addressing the most obvious question: Which MCU movie is the best? While I think Black Panther is exceptional and The Avengers deserves credit for pulling off the impossible, at the end of the day I still believe The Winter Soldier is the strongest Marvel movie and the best example of what the MCU can be. Not only does it have a strong point of view and something interesting to say about the American police state, but it pulls off a huge twist that not only affects the entire shared universe but also Steve Rogers himself. In other words, it ends up being about the MCU without forgetting to tell a compelling story.

Avengers: Infinity War
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