Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One Explained
From Iron Man to Captain America: The First Avenger, MCU Phase One introduced some of Marvel's most powerful heroes, but what's the studio's grand design?
MCU Phase 1 begins with the franchise's first six films, but so much time has passed since the saga began that it's easy to forget what it's actually accomplished. Early Marvel Studios movies like Iron Man and Thor not only introduced their respective characters, but they started a plan that is still coming to fruition as the MCU enters Phase 5. Additionally, the first six films of the MCU introduced an idea of a shared universe and helped kick off a comic book movie boom that smashed box office records and changed the entire perception of blockbusters.
Beginning with the release of Iron Man in 2008, the creators of Marvel Studios made it immediately clear that they had big plans for the comic book movie universe. Some of the best MCU movies were released in Phase 1, and each one was not only a stand-alone story, but also had crossovers and cameos that hinted at something bigger on the horizon. The sprawling Avengers has been teased time and time again, and even the upcoming MCU movies and TV shows follow a similar tenet that each part The life of a franchise is meant to tell a larger story through its various stages.
What Was The Plan For MCU Phase 1?
The whole purpose of the first phase of the MCU is to put the parts in place so that the Avengers can be assembled. Modeled after earlier versions of the team in the comics, the characters of Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and the Hulk are all necessary components of Earth's Mightiest Heroes eventually coming together. While it's true that the MCU disbanded the Avengers prematurely, the simple brilliance of the MCU's Phase 1 plans has many Marvel fans coming back for more. Taking inspiration from the most basic nature of comics, the MCU is accessible to everyone, not just die-hard comic fanatics.
Cohesion is necessary when telling the story of the MCU's Phase 1, and producer Kevin Feige is the constant force behind each film, making it feel like a separate entity while also being integrated into the franchise's jigsaw puzzle. Although 2008's The Hulk and 2010's Iron Man 2 weren't major successes, they had considerable crossover appeal, making them successful parts of the MCU despite their poor quality . Although Disney didn't distribute much of the first phase of the MCU, The eventual collaboration between the two studios on The Avengers was a windfall for both parties and ensured that future stages will be even bigger.
Iron Man (2008)
2008's Iron Man kicked off the MCU with a bang, an entirely new genre of superhero movie after a string of flops all but killed the genre in the mid-2000s. The super-powered armor suit created by billionaire Tony Stark is a kind of origin story, and it could also serve as the backdrop for the start of a new Marvel movie series. Wasting no time establishing the MCU, Iron Man was guest-starred by Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, who recruited the newly created Iron Man into his Avengers program.
Subtle nods were the way the MCU worked in the early days, and the end credits sequence was the easiest way for creators to tease audiences that something big was about to happen. The MCU retooled some post-credits scenes after the fact, but many of the earliest nods, such as Nick Fury's appearance in Iron Man, proved to be the right move for the first time. Even if they're humorous by nature, end credits change the way viewers watch movies Experience blockbuster franchise films, and MCU Phase 1 proves that watching a movie with a bloated credits is always worth it.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The Incredible Hulk is the MCU's first stumbling block a little over a month after Iron Man's release. Dr. Bruce Banner's brutality under gamma radiation was as over the top as the action in Man of Steel, but the story of the second MCU installment lacked the same gravitas, and it didn't find major success. There never was another Hulk MCU movie, but that's due to complex legal issues regarding the character's film rights, not the film's failure. Tony Stark's cameo at the end of The Incredible Hulk does suggest that the film isn't a complete waste, offering yet another tease about the bubbling shared universe.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
After no MCU release in 2009, the following year brought Marvel Studios' first sequel, Iron Man 2. Tony Stark has run afoul of the government trying to take away his technology, and while there's no origin story to rely on, it's a downgrade from the previous installment, but it still fits perfectly within the MCU's Iron Man timeline. Iron Man 2 does mark the debut of future Avenger Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, while the introduction of S.H.I.E.L.D. allowed for further MCU tie-ins, a series of easter eggs revealed the film took place during the events of The Incredible Hulk. Plus, its post-credits scene reveals Thor's hammer, tying directly into the next movie.
Thor is the trickiest MCU Phase 1 character, as his standalone film must balance the fantasy aspects of the god with the grounded nature of Marvel Studios' previous releases. Exiled to Earth for his misbehavior, Thor is looking to prove himself worthy of great filmmaking and help push MCU Phase 1 into second gear. Future Avenger Hawkeye makes his debut during Thor's attack on S.H.I.E.L.D. Base, Thor's end credits with Loki spying on Nick Fury as he discusses the mysterious Cosmic Cube.
The full history of the MCU's Tesseract is complex and convoluted, but its first canonical appearance in Thor is another stepping stone towards the final Avengers movie. The glowing blue cube was the MCU's first MacGuffin, and it quickly became an important cornerstone of Phase One. While the first four MCU movies tie them together nicely, The Tesseract is part of a larger story that will culminate with the rise of Thanos in MCU Phase 3's Avengers: Infinity War. With Tesseract, MCU Phase 1 is no longer a single entity, but merely the first act of an infinite saga in the epic.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Despite being one of Marvel's most iconic heroes, Captain America was introduced towards the end of MCU Phase One. Captain America: The First Avenger was teased in Man of Steel when a version of Captain America's shield showed up in Tony Stark's workshop, and it became clear that the Avengers movies needed him. The plot revolves around the Red Skull's attempt to capture the Cosmic Cube, and the MacGuffin's appearance in Thor's credits scene immediately helps explain the Cube's importance and firmly establishes it in the MCU's ever-expanding timeline. Nick Fury has a cameo, and the trailer for The Avengers gives viewers an idea of what's to come.
The Avengers (2012)
MCU Phase One ended with the release of The Avengers, and all the teasing and Easter eggs finally paid off in the MCU's first big crossover epic. Despite Marvel's original MCU Phase One and Avengers plans being different, The end result is a spectacle that surpasses even the greatest successes that came before. After the team was assembled by Nick Fury to stop Loki from possessing the Tesseract, the Avengers managed to build an ante far beyond the confines of the MCU's Phase 1. What matters is that Phase One's capper feels like a climax, and The Avengers certainly did.
Far from being the end of the MCU's Phase 1 ending, though, it also served to introduce subsequent phases, and Thanos' appearance in the Avengers' end credits sequence was the tease to end all teasing. The brewing Infinity saga would continue to infiltrate the MCU's Phases 2 and 3, and finally pay off in the Avengers sequel. While the Avengers films undermined the future of the MCU by defining the franchise, it's clear from the trajectory of the MCU's first phase that the franchise was built around Earth's Mightiest Heroes.