Welcome to the first post of the new year. I’ll be keeping things a little on the lighter side for now. I’m still very into my work and learning lots of share-worthy things in the data world. But for now, movies!
So, some of my elder moviegoers asked me the question that many people have been asking over the last year or two: “What Marvel movies do I really need to watch before Infinity War?”, or more recently, “before End Game?”. More generally, which ones are worthwhile viewing to a casual non-geek, to someone who doesn’t need to obsess over every little minutiae, someone who is not by nature a “comic book movie lover”. It’s a completely fair question, and honestly it needs more.. less nerdy answers.
Hence, this post!
Iron Man (2008)
Really, how could you not? RDJ at his finest, and the start of what we now call the MCU. One could argue that it’s actually not entirely critical to “Avengers”, as a whole, especially if you have a general idea of who and what Iron Man is. But come on.
Thor (2011) OR Thor: Dark World (2013)
Opinions vary on which is a solid film and which is a dud. Either one is sufficient to introduce the Asgardians, the handsome dude with the big hammer, and our favorite flip-flopping hero-villain-depending-on-the-day-of-the-week.
Obviously. While it precedes Thor 2, chronology isn’t the most important thing in the early storyline. It’s more about understanding the characters and the way they work together. If you just did Thor 2, you might not understand why Loki is the bad guy at this point; whereas if you just do Thor 1, you’ll miss the part where Loki “turns good” (ish?) as a lead-in to a future story. Not terribly important; just enjoy the big battle with giant alien snake-ships.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
While not critical to the Avengers storyline, per se, it’s an excellent movie, with some key character development that ultimately explains a pivotal point in Starlord’s (Pratt) behavior in the third Avengers film. And the music is fabulous!
Honorable Mention: Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)
This is also not technically required viewing, but is widely regarded as one of the best films to this point in the timeline. It also sets up some important elements in the larger story arc. However, if, like me, you’re not a giddy schoolgirl superfan of Chris Evans and/or the Cap in general, you can skip this one in favor of Civil War.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Not the greatest movie from a quality perspective, but quantity, you get. Plus major plot and character development. Paul Bettany is amazing as always, and newcomer Elizabeth Olsen does not disappoint.
Honorable Mention: Doctor Strange (2016)
Again, not critical to the overall arc, but it’s something different. Cumberbatch really made his mark as a cross between the sarcastic cynicism of Tony Stark and the higher moral calling of Steve Rogers.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Basically Avengers 2.5, this film gave us so much plot and character push that it’s a sin to ignore. And it’s a truly fantastic movie to boot. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is a breath of fresh air, and he will definitely make you want to see his first standalone feature, even if it’s not super essential to the Avengers storyline as a whole. As I said before, I’m not a drooling Captain fan, but this is truly a full-fledged ensemble worth watching.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
If Civil War was business as usual for the Avengers, Ragnarok is a welcome departure. It nearly flies in the face of the serious and dramatic tones of its predecessors, and I absolutely LOVED it for that. Hemsworth and Hiddleston are back to their charming selves, Ruffalo comes off a Hulk-high and bumbles back into our hearts, and Jeff Goldblum ramps up the ridiculousness. But the star of this show is Cate Blanchette’s villianess, Hela.
Hella fab in this badass latex bodysuit!
The most important thing about Ragnarok is that it directly leads into the beginning of Infinity War. So watch past the credits and get ready for some epicness.
Honorable Mention, prior to Infinity War: Spider-Man Homecoming (2017) and Black Panther (2018)
As I mentioned, Tom Holland managed to breath fresh life into the Spider-Man character, after Sony churned out way too many movies bearing his namesake. Here he’s re-established as a pop-culture-savvy teenager who just wants to do the right thing and finds this HUGE world of good-vs-evil that he may hesitate about but ultimately knows he needs to become a part of. Black Panther really needs no introduction; it was one of the top performing movies of 2018, and for good reason. Not just because it’s one of the first black super hero movies of the decade, and indeed of the Marvel universe, but because it firmly and distinctly fired on all major cylinders of modern comic cinema – action, character, heart, culture, morality, and legacy. Yet, neither of these movies is, I argue, absolutely critical to understanding the larger Avengers plot-line. You get enough of an introduction to both characters in the other movies.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
The big daddy of them all. So far, of course. End Game will likely rightfully claim that title once it hits, but for now, this is the climax, the apex of the Avengers arc, and the MCU in general. It’s got everybody. It’s long, at 2.5 hours; it’s epic, full of action, and (semi-spoiler-alert, but honestly if you haven’t at least heard the gist of it by now, you have nobody to blame but yourself) heartbreak. If you’ve enjoyed any of the preceding movies, you will want to see this. And if you plan on seeing the final one, you definitely need to see this one first.
Upcoming: Captain Marvel (2019)
We know that, chronologically, this one takes place in the past. So it’s not absolutely crucial to the Avengers storyline, on its own; but we know that the heroine herself DOES play a crucial role in End Game, so it’s probably worth the time investment. Plus who doesn’t love a strong female superhero flick? We haven’t seen enough of those from the MCU, to date. To be fair, the source material is fairly patriarchal too, but this is 2019, so it stands to reason that a studio of Disney’s size could do anything they damn well please, including giving the leading ladies more of their own features. (Fingers crossed that the Jean Grey and Black Widow spinoffs do well!)
Where does it all end?
Avengers: End Game (2019) is hyped to be the absolute biggest superhero cinematic event of the decade. Some of the characters will continue to have their sequels or even origin stories, while others may meet their permanent end, be it death or just old-fashioned retirement. One thing is certain: if you haven’t at least watched the first three Avengers movies, you are by no means prepared for what’s coming.
Dude, that’s still like.. TEN movies. Ain’t nobody got time for all that!
Fair enough. Let me cut the list in half. If you had a gun to my head (RUDE!) and asked me which films were absolutely 100% guaranteed required viewing, I would tell you this: Avengers 1, Avengers 2, Civil War, Thor Ragnarok, and Infinity War. That’s roughly 10-ish hours of quality cinema, and includes just about every hero and villain that you need to care about going into this year.
So I excluded your favorites, big whoop, wanna fight about it?
Do you disagree? Did I leave out anything terribly important? Do you still think Steve Rogers is a dreamboat and should be idolized by all his fellow heroes for his unwavering moral righteousness? (Spoiler alert: WRONG.) Let me know in the comments!
Briefly, here’s my two-cents about why the rest are unnecessary. Starting with the Iron Man sequels: 2 is messy and doesn’t really move the hero forward, while 3 is a far better character study at the expense of being slightly too CGI-heavy. (Then again, they all are going that direction, so you might as well embrace it.) The Incredible Hulk was ret-conned into the MCU, and it’s not Ruffalo’s Hulk, so it really serves no great purpose other than to fill a slot on a timeline. With the first two Thor‘s, as I said, you could do away with either one and still understand that world in general. Then we have the one-off origin stories in Captain America and Ant Man, which, fine, they’re decent, but quite unnecessary to the bigger picture. And Guardians of the Galaxy 2, while a very good sequel, has nothing earth-shattering (see-what-I-did-there?) to add to the timeline. Finally, like I mentioned before, Panther and Homecoming are truly great movies; in fact the adorable surrogate-father-son relationship that Stark (Iron) and Parker (Spidey) establish in the latter makes one of the final moments in Infinity War exponentially more heartbreaking. But do you absolutely need to have seen them to get up-to-speed for Avengers? Not really.
A final note. About the TV shows. I don’t watch them. Never have. If that’s your game, great, go for it. But the movies know that they can’t rely on the shows to make any significant plot contributions, let alone to be seen by nearly as many, or the same, people. So in my book they’re still all fluff. Maybe that’ll change someday, but I doubt it.
Now, go do your homework and watch some movies! =)