Byline: B&Y, 24 April 2019
Tomorrow’s release of Avengers: Endgame marks the culmination of the ten-year, 22-film odyssey that has been the Marvel Cinematic Universe, otherwise known as the MCU. Though it will continue into the future, with new and exciting stories to tell, there’s no doubt that this is the end of a significant chapter in the Marvel Studios’ story.
Last year, before the release of this film’s predecessor – Avengers: Infinity War – Black & Yellow did a two-part podcast ranking all of the MCU films up to that point. There’s no need to rehash the list now, but it’s always worth a re-listen if you’re looking for a double dose of comic-tinged nostalgia.
This time around, we upped the difficulty on our selection process and narrowed the scope. We’ve blasted through all 22 MCU entries – Iron Man to Ant-Man, the First Avenger to Civil War, Homecoming to Ragnarok- and we’ve curated a list of what we consider the ten greatest individual scenes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Heavily subjective, far from definitive, and without any real voting criteria, these are the 10 scenes we believe best exemplify the heroes, and emotions. Those scenes that you just love to re-watch and get you out of your seat.
There are obviously spoilers ahead for the last 22 MCU movies. But rest assured that this article DOES NOT CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: ENDGAME!
#10 – “He’s All Yours.”
(Iron Man’s First Flight; Iron Man)
The movie that launched a thousand franchises. It’s easy to forget that Tony Stark is driven to do the things he does out of an assumed responsibility to protect the world from the tyranny of evil men, men he helped to arm. Tony’s main driver has always been legacy: are we defined by who the world – strangers, coworkers, our parents – believes we are or are we defined by who we strive to be? No longer content to be a spectator in his ivory tower, Tony remembered Yinsen’s words: “Don’t waste your life.” He always had the means to take action, but now he had the accompanying will.
This scene is so unique because obviously we’re focused on Iron Man – but he only mutters three words. Instead, we have a bird’s eye view as he silently takes down an entire terrorist cell – tank and weapons cache included. Jon Favreau – the MCU’s godfather and Happy Hogan – brought superhero movies into the modern context with villains we already know, stepping on themes of war and profiteering, family and legacy. Technically, this scene also signaled to the audience that not only are the resources to translate Marvel Comics into live action available, but they can also be executed to near perfection. Buy your Marvel stock now, tomorrow is too late.
#9 – “Steve, You Know What’s About to Happen. Do You Really Want to Punch Your Way Out of This One?”
(The Battle of Berlin; Captain America: Civil War)
In the movie fondly known as “Avengers 2.5”, battle lines are drawn and fans literally picked sides as the heroes we’ve come to love face-off against each other, fighting for ambiguous morality. Who has the moral high ground? Cap? Tony? Obi-Wan? It’s definitely not Anakin. This scene seamlessly combined parallel action sequences with some of the wittiest banter while introducing the next generation of Avengers: Spider-Man, Black Panther and Ant-Man.
Re-watching every interaction between these characters, they ring true and pure. Peter Parker talking like a nerdy teenager. Scott Lang being a goof ball and asking for post-fight orange slices. Steve Rogers giving polite, Andrew Luck-style, props to someone while whooping their ass. Admittedly, the stakes during this scene felt quite low and we reach the emotional peak of this one further down the list.
Yet and still, it makes the list for the sheer amount of heroes crammed into one 14 minute set piece that includes raining cars, exploding trucks, demolished buses and vandalized planes. Ant-Man’s first appearance as Giant Man with Spider-Man swinging from his arm is not something we could have conceived even 10 years ago.
#8 – “I MADE IT RAIN!”
(Seoul Casino Showdown; Black Panther)
On a macro level, the MCU has focused on borrowing from other genres for each movie’s theme with Winter Solider as an old school spy thriller, or Spider-Man: Homecoming as an 80s-style coming-of-age comedy. Black Panther did use variations on a theme, but was also something altogether different with the first majority black cast in a superhero film.
This scene pulls heavily from Bond films – specifically the recent Daniel Craig iterations – both in fight style and certified cool factor. Stealthy cat suits are neat, but there is something timeless about kicking ass while wearing a tuxedo. It also sends a message of strength that is endemic to the hero, and not just the suit. Ludwig Gorransson – Oscar winning composer of the score – undercuts the action with more of the film’s trademark drums intermixed with modern synthesizers. It gives the scene a heartbeat that mirrors the camera’s constant motion. In short, it’s just an iconic scene in an iconic movie from an iconic director.
Bonus fact: according to a recent interview with the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah – a native South African – Andy Serkis, who plays Ulysses Klaue, and is a Brit – has one of the most authentic South African accents he’s ever heard.
#7 “Who The Hell is Bucky?”
(Battle on the Beltway; Captain America: The Winter Solider)
One of the seminal stories in Captain America’s comic book lore is the tragedy of Bucky Barnes. Bringing that story to screen is one that required a necessary upping of the ante, both for Captain America as a character, and MCU movies as a whole. Up to this point, they were still successful, but had begun to feel a bit stale after lukewarm reactions to Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World.
Winter Solider not only reset the public interest in superhero films, but also the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large. It broke the genre by becoming an excellent movie that happened to feature a superhero. Stripped of its fantastical elements, this movie is still an exploration of fear, privacy, government oversight and patriotism in the 21st century.
This scene exemplifies all of the things that went right with this movie. The wailing theme that accompanies the Winter Solider’s robot-like assault is harrowing and spine-tingling. While pushing a breakneck speed, the scene still manages to feel well-paced until the ultimate confrontation between Steve and the Winter Solider, a marvelous display of fight choreography, and ending in the iconic line: “Who the hell is Bucky?”
#6 – “Tell Me Brother, What Were YOU the God of Again?”
(The God Of Thunder Meets Led Zeppelin; Thor: Ragnarok)
Talk about a character that was in dire need of a make over. After Dark World, nobody seemed to enthused about completing the Thor trilogy, especially after his notable absence in Civil War. From haircut, eye-patch, no hammer, but all thunder, Director Taika Waititi gave the Norse legend a 21st century flair. Waititi – also the voice of fan-favorite Korg – let’s it fly in this space-opera, described endearingly as “a movie where every scene looks like it could be painted on the side of a van”. Giving Thor a defining musical theme with Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song in the movie’s open – a la Tony Stark’s Iron Man and Black Sabbath – infused this buddy-cop-space-thriller with new life. What’s the point of all of this? What’s the point of rock ‘n roll? It’s just fun.
It culminates in this visually spectacular sequence – again set to Immigrant Song – including Thor unleashing his powers, Valkyrie entering the battle with a fireworks display and a brutally savage fight between Hulk and Hela’s giant dog, Fenrir. Ragnarok is one of the rare movies that is able to make its predecessors better by association. This scene bookends Thor’s growth from a petty child to the true king of Asgard, and a worthy God of Thunder.
#5 – “Before We Get Started….Anybody Wanna Get Out?”
(The Elevator Ambush; Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Let’s be honest: Before the MCU, Captain America was a bit of a joke. Leader of the Avengers, world’s greatest solider, hero to millions, yes. But also a bit of an old-timey goof from a bygone era of Nazis, powdered milk and polio. Enter the Russo Brothers. From minute one of Winter Solider, we’re introduced to a different Cap. A Cap who starts fights by drop-kicking men off the side of a boat. A Cap who is still idealistic, still patriotic, still loyal, but searching for what that means in the brave, new world he’s entered.
This scene is the greatest encapsulation of that transformation showing off Cap’s ingenuity, strength, fighting acumen and determination in 3 short minutes. He manages to take down an elevator full of well-trained mercenaries, before leaping from an unreal height, stealing a motorcycle and DESTROYING A GODDAMN QUINJET. The wry smile at the end is almost a wink from Cap to the audience: Y’all know I make this s**t look good…
#4 – “Oh. And I Need That Guy’s Leg”
(Breaking Out Of the Kyln; Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1)
Sure, we all love Groot NOW, but let’s not pretend this movie was a slam dunk before its release in 2014. The director was horror/indie darling James Gunn, who had never helmed a large, studio movie before. The lead – Chris Pratt – was the fifth billed star on NBC’s popular-on-the-Internet-but-always-low-rated Parks and Recreation. Another character was to be played by wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista, who had never done film acting of any kind before auditioning. Zoe Saldana was “that chick from Drumline who did the mo-cap in Avatar.” And all that’s before mentioning that two of the five main characters were completely CGI – one a sentient tree who says three words like a Pokemon, and the other a foul-mouthed, cybernetic raccoon who loves weapons.
None of it should have worked, but oh did it ever. Fans flocked to this group of lovable a-holes and embraced their zaniness wholeheartedly, a movie that at it’s heart is about the families we have and the families we choose. But without this scene to set it up? None of that works and the Awesome Mix, Vol. 1 never gets a sequel. As they tear the Kyln to shreds, every Guardian fits into their role like puzzle pieces sliding into place, the action is well-paced and framed, moments of levity to break some of the tension and it shows off the individual attributes of each Guardian before a well-earned shot of the full team, assembled for the first time.
#3 “I Don’t Care. He Killed My Mom.”
(Tony Takes On Bucky and Steve; Captain America: Civil War)
We told you’d we’d come back to it! The Russos returned to helm the capper to the Captain America trilogy – and Marvel gifted them a few new toys to play with in the process. Getting to see Black Panther, Vision, Spider-Man, Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man share the screen was a treat, but the emotional crux of this story rested with Steve and Tony. Their battle over the soul of the Avengers is what drove this confrontation, both believing to have the moral high ground. Tony’s experience with war has left him believing any damage is too much, and Steve’s has taught him that damage is inevitable, so you have to do as much as you can. An interesting schism that dates back to their first argument in The Avengers:
Steve: “You’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you.
Tony: “I think I’d just cut the wire.”
And everything was building to this final confrontation between the Avengers two erstwhile leaders. Having found out that the Winter Solider was responsible for his parents’ deaths – and that Steve knew – Tony unleashes on the two men out of time. Bucky loses his arm, Tony’s arc reactor is destroyed, and Steve abandons his shield as iconic imagery takes a hit from all directions. There are no winners in this fight, on-screen or in the audience, as the Avengers are finally – fatally – fractured.
Editor’s Note: As a “Team Cap” guy, I’d recommend watching this as a 4th Iron Man movie instead of the 3rd Cap movie if you’re having trouble seeing Tony’s POV.
2. “Mr. Stark? I Don’t Feel So Good…”
(The Snap; Avengers: Infinity War)
This was it, what we had been building to for the past decade. From the moment he first appeared in the post-credits scene for The Avengers, every comic book fan over the age of 13 knew Thanos was coming. And that meant there was a chance for “The Snap”. Given the light-hearted nature of most Marvel movies – save perhaps, Civil War – many fans wondered if the MCU would have the guts to go through with it. Half of the heroes you’ve spent years introducing – gone in a single moment. Would general audiences go for such a drastic move? And how would the traditionally over-sensitive comic book fans react if it didn’t happen?
But in the closing moments of last year’s Infinity War, the Russo brothers set about creating the most devastating four minutes of the entire 21 film catalogue. Fan-favorites like Black Panther and 80% of the Guardian of the Galaxy were dusted. Scarlet Witch and Dr. Strange -recently introduced and unrelentingly powerful – were also gone. And in a particularly gut-wrenching – and improvised – scene, Peter Parker’s Spider-Man says a tearful, terrified goodbye to his mentor, Tony Stark. It was a bold but necessary step to lead us into the culmination – Avengers: Endgame.
1. “That’s My Secret, Cap. I’m Always Angry.”
(The Circle Shot; The Avengers)
There was an idea. You’ve probably heard. To bring together a group of remarkable people to fight the battles we never could. And there was a time before 2012, before Age of Ultron, and Netflix shows, and Disney+, where the concept of a shared movie universe was thought insane. That was before The Avengers. The first test case of Marvel’s grand plan, the Joss Whedon film brought together six heroes from four different franchises – Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye – for one gigantic team-up movie.
Through the first 90 minutes, we see the Avengers in action, but never assembled. Infighting and destroying the Helicarrier, sure. But the band hasn’t actually played a gig just yet. And as Loki begins his attack on New York – aided by the Chitauri and a scepter containing the Mind Stone – it looks as though our heroes are outmatched. But in one fell swoop, Bruce Banner returns and our heroes are together for the first time in one climactic, rotating, iconic shot. And from there, the MCU – like Star Wars before it – was truly validated as the defining cinematic experience of the decade.