For a time before the relatively recent comic book film book, the genre was perceived as nothing but children’s entertainment. Colourful costumes and outlandish fantasies made to sell toys and costumes. The notion of it ever ascending to the status of a modern zeitgeist was inconceivable. But with the arrival of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), that’s all changed. Like it or not, this is as much a thing as Heracles, Perseus and the Thracian War was a thing to Greeks.
At this point, the Avengers and the entire cavalcade of Marvel characters probably occupy the space of the ancient pagan pantheons. This is mythology in the making. So like the fall of Achilles or the epics of Odysseus, we’re recounting the many episodes that have left a significant impression on us.
So without further ado, here are ten moments that remind us all why the Marvel Cinematic Universe is worthy of its place on the cultural map.
10. A Royal Gambit – Black Panther (2018)
When T’Challa, Okoye and Nakia infiltrate into an underground casino to flush out the infamous Vibranium dealer Ulysses Klaue, things don’t exactly go according to plan. One of the guards notices a wigged Okoye exclaiming something in Wakandan and approaches her to further investigate. Bad move. She unleashes her retractable spear and begins to go to town on some goons. Their cover is blown and the entire casino erupts in a firefight/brawl with Nakia, Okoye and T’Challa tearing into Klaue’s men. Plenty of great action set pieces occur in the MCU but none of them is as physically and technically demanding as the ones in Black Panther. This scene is the creme of the crop.
When Nakia fires a shot up the balcony, the camera tracks it revealing Okoye masterfully dispatching the guards before leaping down the balcony with her red dress flowing in the air. The camera is still tracking. It then leaps to the side to reveal Nakia taking down her attacker. Then it switches to T’Challa’s perspective as he effortlessly beats down three guards before leaping into the air to confront Klaue in the balcony before the insane dealer releases a blast that knocks T’Challa off. All. In. One. Shot. All this is played to Ludwig Goransson’s heart pounding score is blaring away in the background with enthusiastic “cheeps” punctuating the brawl. A simple but precise sequence that sets the standard for the rest of the franchise. In less than two minutes, Black Panther earned itself a spot on our list.
9. Hold the Helicopter – Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Besides being one of the manliest things I’ve seen in cinematic history, our next entry is an exemplary moment of friendship and perseverance. After a brainwashed Bucky is finished tearing through a facility in Bucharest, the good captain gives chase to his wayward friend as he is about to enter a helicopter. Barnes preps the chopper, ready to head off to do Zemo’s bidding when suddenly Steve jumps onto the side of it and attempts to hold the damn thing to the ground. It’s still hovering, carrying Steve over to the side but he still doesn’t budge. Then at last…we see it. Rogers playing human link, pulling the side of the chopper in one hand as he curls his other to act as a hook. Needless say, I turned a little gay that day. It’s not just about the sex appeal though.
It is an incredible act of valour. Despite Bucky confirming all of his worst suspicions, despite Bucky literally shoving him through an elevator shaft, Cap just won’t leave a friend behind, LITERALLY. The emotion, the pain and love for his comrade is all perfectly summed in Evans’ body language. For a second, you can see a Bucky ponder upon his devotion, wondering what could ever compel a man to commit to such a feat. The answer is love, friends. The man has experienced the horror of war and has seen his world torn away from him. He won’t let this cruel, new one rob him of his oldest friend. He will fight the good fight. He will hold on. Semper Fi, Captain America. Semper Fi.
8. Perfect Vision – Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
I feel like Age of Ultron often gets treated like the abandoned middle child of the MCU. It’s always its exceptional elder brother and overachieving younger sister that gets the limelight. That being said, Age of Ultron delivers one of the most powerful scenes in Marvel history. It’s no a major action set piece or grandiose monologue. All in all, it’s just a conversation. A beaten and battered Ultron is seen slinking away into the woods before Vision confronts him. From there on out, there’s such witty repartee between the two androids. A philosophical tete-on-tete on the nature of humanity, the great irony being that it is being discussed by A.I. automatons. One is arguing for man’s base and low nature while the other for man’s redeeming qualities.
The conversation builds to a climax when Ultron accuses Vision of being incredibly naive. Vision proceeds to brilliantly answer back to Ultron that “Well…I was born yesterday.” That’s enough to trigger Ultron into lunging at him, only to be killed off screen. It almost seems like a conversation that God and the Devil would have about their creation and yet it is the created that discusses their creators! Personally, I don’t have much love for Age of Ultron. Overall, I thought it was quite a forgettable film. What irony is it then, that it would give us one of the most memorable moments in the MCU! The poetry!
7. Bruce’s Secret – The Avengers (2012)
Gotta admit, Vision’s one-liner was pretty darn great, wasn’t it? Still, it doesn’t nearly match up to our next pick. It’s the Battle of New York, the Avengers are still figuring out how they’ll push back Loki’s Chitauri invasion. Captain America is busy coordinating with his team when who should show up but Bruce Banner riding on some dinky motorcycle. It looks like the team is getting its second wind. Iron Man informs the remaining team that he’s luring a Chitauri Leviathan to them, otherwise known as a “party” (much to Black Widow’s confusion).
The Leviathan is crashing through the streets, heading right at them. Bruce walks forward but Cap interrupts him halfway reminding him that “now might be a good time to get angry.” Bruce turns around to inform Cap of a little secret: he’s always angry. He transforms into the Hulk near-instantaneously, knocking the creature out with one punch!
I swear the theatre went nuts that day! Now that is some good writing and pacing, my friends. The whole delivery just as he’s about to take destroy a giant space monster is just perfection. Banner in human form seems like such a mellow guy so to have him reveal that he’s always angry speaks volumes of his character. Below his calm demeanour is irritation and rage that he is learning to reconcile. He’s trying to move from a place of repression to control. We caught all that in one simple sentence. So much is said of Banner, his struggle, his past and his power. All of that poured into a single deadly blow. That dramatic moment is one for the books, folks.
6. The Clash on Titan – Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Infinity War is exactly what its name implies. A war for infinite power. Wars are rarely ever singular monolithic events, often they are a series of defining battles that determine the ebbs and flows of the tide. For the Second Greco-Persian War, it was the Battle of Thermopylae that rallied the Greeks to a second wind against the Persian empire. As for our Infinity War so to speak, I believe the most crucial one took place on the planet of Titan between Thanos against the Avengers-Guardians team up.
Yes, even bigger than the Battle of Wakanda. There’s plenty I could say about the visual spectacle of the fight. The battle is tense from start to finish with a real “will they or won’t they” air about the whole thing. The heroes seem to be winning with a strategy of shock and awe. They seek to overwhelm Thanos’ perception of the battlefield, therefore overpowering him. Spiderman coming in to distract, Iron Man, Quill and Drax to wear down, along with Mantis and Doctor Strange to finally to incapacitate.
All seems to be going well and why wouldn’t it? After all, Doctor Strange saw all possible outcomes and determined that this would be the best course. He foresaw everything…including Quill screwing up big time and Thanos acquiring the Time Stone. When Strange told Tony that “there was no other way” before fading into dust, it made me rethink the entire battle. Was Titan the battle that ensured Thanos’ victory? Or was it a Trojan Horse in Strange’s strategium? It’s crazy, complicated and perfectly executed. There’s little doubt that this fight will have severe ramifications in the wars to come. An integral panel in the MCU’s historical tapestry.
5. A Strange Bargain – Doctor Strange (2016)
Speaking of strategy and Stephen Strange, the Battle of Titan isn’t the first time the Sorcerer Supreme got creative. During the events in Doctor Strange, the former surgeon found himself facing against an extradimensional threat, unlike anything the MCU has ever seen. The Lord of the Dark Dimension and master of mystic arts, Dormammu. This ancient evil sought to bridge the gap between his world and the realm of Earth in an effort to expand his wicked kingdom.
Unfortunately, the only thing standing in his way of interdimensional conquest is a little case of deja vu. Doctor Strange enters into the Dark Dimension to strike a deal with Dormammu. Unsurprisingly, Dormammu annihilates Strange on the spot. What is surprising however is Strange rewinding the clock to the exact moment he struck the bargain. Dormammu kills him again and again, and again but to no avail. Time after time, the doctor returns only to repeat smugly, “Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.”
It is altogether brilliant, hilarious and badass! Knowing Dormammu would try to encroach onto Earth’s reality, Strange casts a spell that allows him to trap the Dark Lord and himself in a neverending moment using the Time Stone. So no matter what Dormammu does, he still loses. It’s so refreshing to see a comic book film resolve its central conflict in such an abstract and strange (pun intended) manner. It shows that there’s more to the MCU than just big brawny men punching one another. The writers were not afraid to play around with the more supernatural and metaphysical aspects of the wider Marvel mythos! Strange’s bargain is a noble sacrifice, a facetious gag, a mental battle of attrition and a standout scene.
4. A Divided House – Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Some fights are avoidable, not this one though. This has been a long time coming. It’s Stark’s compulsions to control against Rogers’ idealistic crusade. The two have split hairs in the past but it finally comes to a head in the airport battle of Civil War. The Avengers are divided. From matters of personal loyalties to political ideologies, the disparities spill over into a full out fight and it does not disappoint. It starts with War Machine and Iron Man coming into to take Cap in but then Spiderman jumps into the frey.
Pretty soon, it’s Black Panther, Scarlet Witch and even Ant-Man, as our heroes battle for their cause. There are plenty of great moments from Cap’s melee with Spiderman to Ant-Man sabotaging Tony’s suit to Black Widow betraying Stark at the very last minute. But then it gets personal real quick when Vision accidentally shoots down Rhodey’s War-Machine suit mid flight.
This war has left casualties on both sides, scars that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. The clash at the airport sends Tony down a warpath to hunt down Barnes and Rogers, to bring them to justice, for his country and his injured friend. Apart from the events in Infinity War, the stakes have never been higher for our heroes. In many ways, this signalled the end of an era. As Ragnarok called for a fatal battle to end the reign of the Norse gods, so this civil war has heralded the fall of the Avengers and what a fall it was. This, however, is only a prelude to a far greater conflict that is to come. One that will tear the foundation of our precious pantheon apart. That conflict happens to be our next pick.
3. Death of the Family – Captain America: Civil War
For a time, Cap and Iron Man are able to put their differences aside to address the issue of the Sokovian terrorist, Helmut Zemo. The man has revealed to be many things throughout the film but above all else, he is a strategist and his plan is to divide and conquer. He plays a tape revealing that Bucky, under the influence of HYDRA, was the one responsible for the death of Tony Stark’s parents. Oh shit. It is pure agony for their son as he feels the rage rising within him.
Cap loyal to a fault refuses to let Iron Man kill his best friend. The immovable rock meets the unstoppable force, the clash begins. There’s so much grit in the fight as Iron Man aims to kill with extreme prejudice, using everything in his arsenal. Captain America isn’t backing down either. It all comes to a head when Cap and Tony become entangled in a savage brawl with the thought of decapitation lingering in the air. Instead, Cap goes for Tony’s arc reactor, leaving him down for the count.
This scene is amazing, there are so many elements at play here. There’s the poignant juxtaposition of the “Team Cap vs Team Iron Man” conflict. This is beyond ideology now, this is about family. One man is fighting to avenge the death of his family while the other fights to keep the only one he has left. Behind every blow, blast and swing there are real emotional stakes here and you can feel it. The action is framed and shot beautifully, especially Cap and Bucky’s tag team beatdown of Iron Man. The expression and body language reveal the desperate nature of this fight as Tony lets loose on Cap and Bucky. It ends with no real winner however like any familial dispute. There is only loss.
2. An Iron Man Is Born – Iron Man (2008)
Let me take you back to a time before Infinity War, before the Avengers. Before the many branches and roots of the mighty MCU came sprouting out, there was a seed. Oh yes, everything you now see before you came from a single scene and moment. The day Tony Stark was reborn as Iron Man. After being kidnapped and nearly killed by the terrorist organization Ten Rings, Stark is forced to create weapons for them. That is until he and a brilliant prisoner by the name of Yinsen decide to craft a weapon, unlike anything the world has ever seen. A weapon of fire and fury. King Arthur has Excalibur, Thor has Mjolnir and Anthony Edward “Tony” Stark his suit of iron.
Out of the darkness of the cave, the very first prototype of the Iron Man suit emerges and it is something out of legend. A golem of metal, capable of raining fire upon its enemies and shrugging off bullets. Little did we know that this would be the start of everything we know about the MCU today. The Avengers initiative, the destruction of Sokovia, the Avengers Civil War. All of it began in that glorious scene when Iron Man annihilates a camp full of terrorist. It meant a lot for Tony as well for it was the death of his greedy, warmongering ways and the inception of his crusade to end the war once and for all. A crusade that would do much good and unleash much evil unto the world. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 11 years but alas it is true. It was the birth of a dream. Only 4 years later would we bear witness to that dream come to pass.
1. The Avengers Assembled – The Avengers (2012)
Earlier we mentioned the Hulk taking down an entire Leviathan, which was pretty awesome don’t get me wrong but happens next gave me the chills. As the Leviathan ship folds, revealing a weak spot in the armour, Iron Man launches a tank missile blowing the entire thing to smithereens. The surrounding Chitauri hanging from the sides of the building roars at our heroes only to be met with Banner roaring back at them.
The camera does a 360 sweep to reveal our heroes preparing for battle, back to back. The signature Avengers theme swells as our heroes strike a pose. For a brief moment, you’d be forgiven to think them invincible. To think them the modern day incarnation of some elder pantheon of gods. Let all invaders and ne’er doors howl in anger and quiver in fear for the Avengers are assembled!
When we talk about iconic moments of the comic book film genre, we talk about Heath Ledger’s Joker and his “Why So Serious” monologue, Spider-Man 2’s train scene and of course the Avengers assembling. I don’t about you but I feel ten-feet taller seeing these disparate heroes coming together to fight for something greater than themselves.
In an age full of dark, edgy renditions of comic book adaptations and hero-worship satire, The Avengers is a shining beacon of heroism, sacrifice and might. Ideals that lift up our dreary lives and make us want to be something more. Ideals that stay with us long after the credits roll. So even as the date for Avengers: Endgame draws closer and closer and things are looking bad for our heroes, we will always the day the Earth was saved by its greatest defenders!