Road to Endgame: The Marvel Cinematic Universe Reviewed

For your binge-reading pleasure: 22 reviews of Marvel merriment and mayhem


On Friday, April 26, 2019 — 11 years after Robert Downey Jr., launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the help of Iron Man’s rocket boosters — the Avengers’ saga reaches its climax with Endgame. So how did Tony, Cap, Natasha, T’Challa, and the rest get to this point? It was a long road, one that would take fans almost two days of continuous watching to travel, complete with low points (Thor: The Dark World) and high ones (Thor: Ragnarok), laughs (“I am Groot”), and tears (the end of Infinity Wars). Overall, in slightly more than a decade, the MCU has minted new stars, redefined the Hollywood blockbuster, and sparked countless arguments among the online commentariat. If you haven’t been paying attention so far, it may be too late to catch up, but here’s what the Voice‘s film critics thought about everything you missed along the way.

Iron Man
Released May 2, 2008
“Even when the plot of Iron Man kowtows to convention, the movie’s personality — hip to the times without ever resorting to self-congratulatory snark — keeps it zipping along. Rarer than a grown man in a rocket suit, it’s a summer blockbuster that comes to entertain first and shill second.”

The Incredible Hulk 
Released June 13, 2008
“Banner’s a weakling in the comic books — to the point where writers have begun depicting him as suicidal, or almost eradicated him entirely. Which would have been just a wee bit problematic for Universal, who clearly wants another franchise to hawk.”

Iron Man 2
Released May 7, 2010
“Downey Jr. gives his glibness a vulnerable twitch; his out-of-control drunk bust-up at his birthday party, while wearing his heavy-ordnance suit, suggests a more dangerous, more interesting sequel.”

Released May 6, 2011
“Unlike the muscled-out, metalhead, beach-blond (from head to candy-corn eyebrows) hero, Loki’s like a walking Spandau Ballet music video, with a trim, bottle-black New Wave shimmer, pale, angular features, mirror-trained smoldering affect, and custom-tailored, dance-ready formalwear.”

Captain America: The First Avenger
Released July 22, 2011
“There’s not so much as a single mention of the ideological divides that plagued the times — and, subsequently, spawned the original anti-Fascist Captain America comics. So what is Captain America fighting for? Apparently nothing more or less than screen time in The Avengers.”

The Avengers
Released May 4, 2012
Every time the movie hints at something rich and evocative, Whedon undercuts it with a punchline — his instincts as a big-picture storyteller crippled by his short-term need to please the crowd.”

Iron Man 3
Released May 3, 2013
“Downey’s firecracker dialogue sometimes feels improvised — maybe it is — and it’s often bitterly funny. To respond to his vulnerability is to thrill to his sharpness as well; keeping up with him is much of the pleasure of watching him.”

Thor: The Dark World
Released November 8, 2013
“As Thor matures, his ego shrinks, along with his identity. Lacking Iron Man’s wit, the Hulk’s brains, and the Captain’s ideals, he’s in peril of going poof himself if the franchise doesn’t figure out how to capitalize on its most glorious hero.”

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Released April 4, 2014
The Winter Soldier has the taut nervousness of a story anxious to get in, get the job done, and get out. It’s more grounded than other flicks in the Avengers franchise: There’s no road trip to space, no cackling galactic goon or cheap-looking space trinket with the power to destroy all life.”

Guardians of the Galaxy
Released August 1, 2014
y the end, you’ll have been winked at so much you may think you’ve been staring at a strobe light for nearly two hours. Guardians of the Galaxy is proof that a picture can have a sense of humor yet have no real wit. It hits every beat, but it hasn’t got the beat.”

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Released May 1, 2015  
“Of all the fated moments in the most foretold hit of the summer, the most honest comes when two robots stand on a hill admitting that mankind is doomed. Perhaps in 2035, an android can direct the twentieth Avengers sequel.”

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Released May 1, 2015
“In Age of Ultron, a character has a premonition showing all the Avengers lying lifeless in a ravaged landscape — this is a future the team must act to stop. But we know this imagined tragedy will never come to pass.”

Released July 17, 2015
“If not quite the loose surprise of last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s blessedly free of gods-weep ponderousness. But it’s also uncentered in a way that Marvel’s origin films have never been.”

Captain America: Civil War
Released May 6, 2016
“It’s odd to think that a generation of viewers may not remember a time when interlocking superhero epics didn’t command such swaths of the mainstream moviegoing firmament. These films no longer have to delight and surprise us; no, their job now is to manage the brand, not screw anything up too royally, and keep us hooked for the next installment.”

Doctor Strange
Released November 4, 2016
“As in Ant-Man or the original Iron Man, the Marvel Studios releases it most resembles, Doctor Strange sells its wearily old-hat dude-becomes-hero tale through strong casting, an emphasis on emotion and humor, and the good sense never to let action overwhelm character.”

Guardians of of the Galaxy Vol. 2 
Released May 5, 2017
“Why in these blockbuster adventures does the woman character always have to be the mother hen: the most talented, the smartest on the team, the one who sacrifices intimacy for her career; the killjoy sold as ‘strong’ but curiously lacking in dimensionality and humor, even as she runs in heels and is treated as ‘the girl.’ ”

Spider-Man: Homecoming
Released July 7, 2017
“You know how some comics fans insist that they actually read sequential art or graphic novels? Spider-Man: Homecoming is comics, unapologetically, as close as blockbuster filmmaking gets to cartooning.”

Thor: Ragnarok
Released November 3, 2017
“In its own weird little way, Thor: Ragnarok manages to poke fun at the constant churn of myth and entertainment of which the movie itself is a part. It’s a candy-colored cage of delights, but it is a cage nevertheless — and it doesn’t hide that fact.”

Black Panther
Released February 16, 2018  
“Wakanda may be a realm of Afrofuturism, boasting culture, technology, and Black excellence untouched by colonial influence, but the world it inhabits is the real world — our world. One of military-industrial complexes, of refugee crises, of African-American struggle, and of questions of cultural belonging.”

Black Panther
Released February 16, 2018
“Coogler and his team have conjured a universe and fleshed out its players, one existing (honestly, thriving) in the even bigger cinematic universe that is Marvel. It’s a case of the right story landing in the right hands.”

Avenger: Infinity War
Released April 27, 2018
“The cliffhanger climax of Infinity War left the audience at my screening in a state that I can only describe with the most tired of critical clichés: They were stunned. No matter the film’s flaws, that decade of character work — of character love, even — powers an all-too-rare pop-culture wallop. For once, the superhero movie punches us.”

Ant-Man and the Wasp
Released July 6, 2018
“Ant-Man and the Wasp
tries to have it both ways. It keeps the conflicts relatively inconsequential, but piles them indifferently atop one another as if to reach a prescribed level of momentousness.”


This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 26, 2019