Playing with the MCU
Breaking the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s release order is fun, but a chronological viewing doesn’t always feel right
I own every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Blu-ray — a testament to its consistent quality — and as a result I often like to play my stacks of cases whenever feeling idle. Like many Marvel Studios fans, I generally believe the release order is best for newcomers to the MCU, yet I often wonder if there may be an alternative that better reflects their internal chronology without becoming a detriment to how they actually work. So without further ado, here’s my personal exploration of that:
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Iron Man (2008)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The Avengers (2012)
Phase 1 is largely a series of standalone films leading into 2012’s gamechanging crossover event movie, so this is largely a matter of personal preference: I personally place Captain America’s 1940s origin story before Iron Man —Marvel’s Toy Story — as it makes the latter feel less like one of the other non-MCU Marvel movies of the 2000s. While this means Steve Rogers’s fate is not followed through for a good while, at least you wouldn’t have to wait until the end of Phase 3 like if I’d placed Captain Marvel here.
While this order renders the recasting of Bruce Banner and James Rhodes more awkward by placing their first two appearances back-to-back, it puts Tony Stark’s arc back into a coherent order, and builds some mystery around the Asgardians before their debut. (Incredible Hulk’s placement is admittedly a concession to how tangential it feels though.)
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
This is admittedly almost the same as the release order, which shouldn’t be a surprise given how brief Phase 2 was next to the others, but also because the lack of references to Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s momentous events would be jarring. Sure, Iron Man 3 takes place entirely in a flashback recounted to Bruce Banner, but that’s not on my mind when I’m watching it.
The sole change here is to move the Guardians sequel closer to its setting a few months after the first, substituting the breezy Ant-Man for an emotional ending that will linger in viewers’ minds far longer than Age of Ultron’s. Admittedly this means the Guardians will disappear for a long time, but for better or worse, it reflects their mysterious whereabouts from 2014 to 2018.
Phase 3, Part 1:
Doctor Strange (2016)
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Black Panther (2018)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Doctor Strange — which takes place over the entirety of 2016 and then some — is placed before Civil War so the New Avengers seem together for longer, while laying the groundwork for the afterlife’s existence in Black Panther and Infinity War sooner. Homecoming is also sandwiched between Civil War and Black Panther despite primarily taking place after the latter, so that its John Hughes-style antics act as a palate cleanser between the darker, more political Marvel movies.
Phase 3, Part 2:
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Captain Marvel (2019)
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
While many would argue placing Ant-Man and the Wasp’s mid-credits scene before Infinity War is a spoiler, that’s only the case if you know what’s happened in that scene. Placing Captain Marvel’s mid-credits scene in Phase 1 would be the real spoiler; the film is intended to be even more of a flashback than The First Avenger or Iron Man 3. Otherwise, this is the straightforward culmination and aftermath of all that’s come before (at least until the 2017-set Black Widow is released).
I won’t lie: sometimes I want to make Captain Marvel the second film, transforming Phase 1 into Phase 0 (akin to the micro-episodes of the animated Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes before the pilot), and having Joss Whedon’s films begin their respective phases instead of concluding them ie. Phase 1: The Avengers — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Likewise, I mulled placing Thor before Iron Man, or Doctor Strange as the finale of Phase 2 to shake it up with some mysticism (as long as Strange returns to New York by 2017, does it matter when it’s placed?)
This exercise has given me further respect for how Marvel Studios has built their universe, ensuring no hero is gone for too long; making sure each film feels distinct from its predecessor; and keeping us on our toes as to where Thanos or an Infinity Stone would turn up next. While they may have crammed in the introduction of too many heroes before and during the final Avengers films — Ant-Man et al. could and should’ve been introduced sooner — their chosen viewing order will last, while mine won’t. I mean, Ant-Man and the Wasp before Infinity War? That’s basically ice cream for breakfast.