Analysis

The Climaxes of Marvel’s Phase Three, Part 2

This is it, friends. We’ve made it to the end. We started our journey oh so many years (months) ago with the MCU’s phase one climaxes, and now here we are with the second part of phase three. Will these final films stick the landing, or will Marvel continue its tradition of multimillion-dollar films with shoddy endings? We’ll soon find out, and then we’ll be finished! Unless they make more of these things, I guess. What are the odds of that?

Avengers: Infinity War

A line of heroes and Wakandan soldiers from Infinity War

I must be honest: I’m amazed Infinity War works as well as it does. I really expected this film to crash and burn under the weight of so many characters, but to my immense surprise, they made it work. The movie has a number of plots taking place in different locations, from Thanos getting the Soul Stone* to Thor undoing his character growth from Ragnarok – I mean, forging himself a new weapon to replace Mjolnir. It can be tough to keep track of, but, fortunately, it all comes together at the climax on Earth as Thanos grabs the final Infinity Stone.

This is the battle at Wakanda, and before Thanos’s arrival, it was your standard-issue Big Marvel Fight, complete with a faceless CGI army. Not super exciting. Fortunately, Thanos livens things up quite a bit. For all the problems with his plan, our purple giant is quite threatening, so it’s tense and exciting to watch hero after hero try to stop him. We also get to see Thanos thinking on his feet, an underused technique with villains. When the final stone is destroyed, Thanos activates the Time Stone to give himself a quick do-over. Very clever.

The turning point comes when Thor hits Thanos with a big ol’ magic axe. Thanos does not enjoy this, and for a second, it looks like our heroes have won, but then Thanos gives his “you should have gone for the head” line and activates the stones anyway. Most of the characters turn to dust, and we’re left wondering why Thanos killed half the animals as part of his plan to preserve resources. Also, did he kill half of all plants? Really, what’s going on with this plan? Oh, and we might also be very sad that so many of our favorite heroes died if we weren’t 105% sure they’d return in the next Avengers film.

In most films, I would call this a weak turning point. Whether the heroes win or lose, there should be a karmic balance behind it, and that isn’t the case here. At first I thought maybe Thor is supposed to be paying the price for his arrogance, but a rewatch showed me that he’s only ever confident, not arrogant. And it’s not like he made a deliberate choice to avoid a head shot; he just made the best attack he could. So Thanos wins by luck, not because of anything our heroes did wrong. Normally, that would be really unsatisfying.

However, Infinity War isn’t actually concluding a story. It’s just part one. Dramatically speaking, Thanos hasn’t really won; he’s just put the heroes at a low point from which they’ll have to struggle to recover. In that context, the villain winning through luck is acceptable. Of course, that puts more pressure on Endgame to have a satisfying climax, but Infinity War is doing pretty well for itself.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Hope and Scott from Ant-Man and the Wasp

Oh boy, another MCU film I avoided on release and only watched several months later during a long flight.* I’m still irritated by how the last movie skipped over so many interesting Marvel characters and decided to go for bargain bin Iron Man, but at least this time they’ve added the Wasp. She should have been in the first Ant-Man film, but better three years late than never, I suppose.

Anyway, this film is the inverse of Infinity War. It has very little happening, plot-wise, but then it has an extremely crowded climax. This climax is a three-way chase where the heroes and two different villains both try to get their hands on Hank Pym’s shrunken lab while Hank himself shrinks down to the Quantum Realm to rescue Janet. Fortunately, we only have to focus on one villain, a phase-shifting assassin named Ava. The other villain is just there to provide some throwaway mooks.

Ava is one of those rare MCU villains with actual motivation, even if it is based on technobabble. Her phase shifts are both extremely painful and slowly killing her, and the only way she can stop them is by harvesting some quantum energy* that will kill Janet. The heroes can’t allow that, hence the fighting. Unfortunately for them, Ava finally gets her hands on the lab, so it’s time for the final confrontation.

Or at least, that’s what I expected. Instead, our heroes easily defeat Ava, Hank returns from the Quantum Realm with Janet, and that’s it – climax over. Janet does use some of her leftover quantum energy to heal Ava, but that’s firmly in the falling action. Ava’s no threat by then, and even if she was, she no longer has a reason to attack them since there’s no energy to harvest with Janet back in the macro world.

This is, as we say in the biz, not great. The chase scene has some funny jokes, but the actual climax is pretty lackluster, and there’s no turning point to speak of. Janet’s healing Ava could have been a gesture of goodwill, but it happens after the heroes have already won. It doesn’t help that Ava is clearly outmatched by the good guys’ combined strength, so her only means of victory is hoping the other side makes a mistake.

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel glowing with new powers.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: Captain Marvel is a great film, and it shouldn’t have taken until 2019 for the MCU to finally produce a female-led movie. Timing aside, Captain Marvel is a fun burst of ’90s nostalgia with likable characters and an engaging plot all bundled together with the Marvel brand we’re used to by now.

The climax arrives after a big reveal where Captain Marvel not only learns her real name is Carol Danvers, but that the supposedly evil Skrulls are just trying to find a new home where the Kree can’t subjugate them. This is a bit of a shock since Carol had been fighting for the Kree up to that moment, but she takes it in stride and decides to help some Skrull civilians escape. Before that can happen, Carol’s old team of elite Kree soldiers arrives and takes all the good guys prisoner. Carol will be sent back for reconditioning with the Kree Supreme Intelligence while everyone else is set to be spaced. Uh-oh!

Carol’s part of this conflict takes place inside her own mind, where the Supreme Intelligence plans to re-indoctrinate her. This is both the climax of the film and the culmination of Carol’s character arc: breaking free of the Kree’s control. Until now, they’ve told Carol that her powers came from them, and that she needs to reject any sense of self or they’ll take those powers back. Now Carol knows that the Kree aren’t the source of her power. In fact, the Supreme Intelligence has been keeping Carol’s powers inhibited so she doesn’t become too much of a threat.

Armed with that knowledge, Carol wins a battle of will against the Supreme Intelligence. It’s well handled, with the Supreme Intelligence showing all the times Carol failed, and then Carol remembering how she got back up after every loss. There’s also a clear feminist angle, as most of the failures involve Carol being told that girls can’t do whatever it is she’s trying to do. Upon winning this battle of will, Carol takes full control of her powers and the rest is falling action. Carol’s allies break free and escape while Carol herself makes short work of the Kree fleet in some satisfying payback.

The only problem is that Carol also fights her old team during this falling action, and it’s not very satisfying. Carol has a personal connection with these Kree, so it would have been a lot more interesting if she’d fought them before getting a huge powerup. As it is, she spends a fairly long scene easily wiping the floor with them. It’s not the worst thing to happen in a Marvel ending, but it’s a little disappointing.

Despite that, Captain Marvel’s ending remains strong. For some extra satisfaction, Carol easily shrugs off a “DEBATE ME” moment from her old commander before leaving the ’90s behind and heading out into space. Don’t worry, she’s definitely not so powerful that future films will need to invent contrived reasons for her to be somewhere else.

Avengers: Endgame

Thanos raising his sword in Endgame

Welcome to Endgame, the film that invented contrived reasons for Captain Marvel to be somewhere else. It’s five years since Infinity War, and after Ant-Man asks why no one has invented time travel yet, Tony invents time travel. It makes total sense if you think about: Isn’t time travel just a hop, skip, and a jump away from armored combat suits? That’s why after several years as a professional editor, I’m ready to build a space station!

Awkward inventions aside, we have another film that does an impressive job handling its huge cast of characters as they travel around in time grabbing Infinity Stones. After replacing a few dead characters with time clones, setting up a few spinoffs, and bringing back everyone who got dusted in Infinity War, the various plotlines converge for the final battle against Thanos. That means it’s time for the portal scene, which I watched again for research purposes. Well, maybe I watched it a couple times. Fine, it was at least six times – are you happy now?

Once every single character we care about arrives, it’s time for the big battle. At first, the goal is to get the stones back to their original timelines, and there’s a lot of fun back-and-forth on that since all the major heroes show up to help in their own way. The main problem is that several characters have the opportunity to use the stones, which would easily defeat Thanos, but they don’t seem to think of it. The film does make it clear that a normal human can’t survive using the stones, but it seems like superhuman characters like T’Challa or Carol Danvers could manage it.

Thanos changes the game when he destroys the last time machine, once again showing that he’s good at tactics as well as punching.* A few more heroes have a go at him, but none can quite take him down. That’s when we get to the sacrifice turning point: to stop Thanos from using the stones, Tony uses them first, giving Thanos a taste of his own dust medicine. As predicted, the power is too much for a regular human, and Tony doesn’t survive.

This is a pretty solid turning point. No other heroes are in range to help, so it makes sense for Tony to do something drastic. The film also does a good job showing that Tony’s suit is busted up, which gives an unspoken reason that he can’t just fly away with the stones. It is a little weird that Thanos doesn’t notice when Tony takes the stones, but we can forgive that. Dramatically, it’s satisfying for the MCU’s first hero to die defeating Marvel’s biggest bad.

The resolution isn’t quite as good. While the funeral for Tony is nice, it’s weird other characters who died barely get a mention, with Natasha Romanov being the most notable. There’s also a lingering awareness that since time travel is relatively easy now, all of this could be undone at any time. Even so, Endgame does a good job capping off the MCU’s first mega-arc.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Peter looking distressed in Far From Harm

Oh right, there’s another movie in phase three, isn’t there? Or, maybe this is phase 3.5 now? Who knows? Anyway, it’s time for Spider-Man: Iron Man Is Dead. I joke, but spending a film dealing with the emotional fallout from Endgame is a good idea. Granted, it’s a little weird that Endgame’s entire emotional fallout is bound up in Tony Stark, but you take what you can get in superhero films.

This week’s villain is Mysterio, AKA Quentin Beck, who leads the Evil League of Disgruntled Ex-Employees. Beck has a plan to get into the Avengers by faking a supervillain attack that he will then defeat. Why he wants this is unclear, since he’d then have to do actual superheroing, but we won’t worry about that. As for how, Beck has taken control of a huge drone fleet that can both create illusions and also shoot things with bullets. Apparently Tony made them back before Endgame and then just didn’t use them. Sure, Marvel.

The climax is Beck launching his fake attack, which will devastate London despite being staged, and Peter trying to stop him. Even though I love Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, the battle is not great. For one thing, it’s hard to believe Beck will succeed, since the other Avengers aren’t known for being easy marks. They’d see through his scheme in a heartbeat, especially once the illusions start failing under Peter’s assault. For that matter, where are the other Avengers? This is a problem in every MCU movie, but it’s especially noticeable in Far From Home because Beck’s entire plan hinges on the other Avengers existing.

It also feels like Peter should have died at least three or four times. Again, this is a common problem in MCU films, where everyone is made of invincible rubber, but it’s especially bad here. The drones attack from so many different angles that it’s hard to believe Peter isn’t hit, no matter how many flippy jumps he makes. Honestly, it’s a lot more fun to watch Peter’s human friends try to escape from a single drone; at least their struggle feels plausible.

Finally, we get to the turning point. Peter confronts Beck, who uses the drones’ illusion powers to effectively blind Peter. This worked for Beck earlier in the film, but this time Peter has a secret weapon: his spidey senses.* This allows him to completely ignore the illusion and fight without a problem. That makes sense, but it’s not particularly satisfying.

In fact, Peter’s spidey senses are a major source of confusion in this film. They’re referenced a couple times earlier, but it’s never clear what exactly they do or when Peter can use them. Is he only just now activating an ability he had the whole time? Did he do something to make the spidey senses work when they didn’t before? I don’t know, and the film doesn’t want to tell me. For this turning point to be satisfying, Peter would have to do something to earn his new ability. He might put in a lot of extra training time or cleverly realize what was preventing them from working in the first place. Since he doesn’t do any of that, all we’re left with is Peter suddenly having a power that seems specifically designed to defeat Mysterio. Yay?


Despite the weak showings of Ant-Man 2 and Far From Home, this round of MCU climaxes is more good than bad. Three out of five isn’t a terrible rating by Marvel standards, which is nice because it would have been a real bummer to end this series on a low note. Speaking of which: that’s it, we’re done! The next MCU film isn’t scheduled until May of 2021, and with plague times being what they are, who knows how far it might be delayed. It’s also about a character who’s already dead, so I suspect interest will be limited. But who knows, maybe I’ll be back in 2022 with a phase four list. Anything is possible with the magic of Marvel!

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Comments

  1. SunlessNick

    I’m certainly planning to see Black Widow at the earliest opportunity.

    • Cay Reet

      I’m curious about that one, too!

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I’ll probably see it too, I’m just not convinced it’ll do super well. We’ll see though.

      • Julia M.

        I hope to see it too. (Still super mad they killed Black Widow, though.) I looked up the summary on Wikipedia (I wasn’t interested in seeing it) and when I got to that part, I was like “NOPE”.

        Especially since they chose Hawkeye over her. I mean HAWKEYE. He’s the most boring and generic of the Avengers.

  2. Julia M.

    Avenger’s Endgame destroyed the Captain America/Bucky ship! No rage on that? Also, will Peggy’s niece still exist, or did Capt erase her and some other people from history?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      That’s not really within the purview of the climax, but yeah, I rolled my eyes there as much as anyone else. She was the love of his life because they went on one date, I think? But I wasn’t especially angry because it was obvious Marvel was never actually going to give us a queer cap, so it just became part of the background radiation.

      • Julia M.

        “That’s not really within the purview of the climax, but yeah, I rolled my eyes there as much as anyone else.”

        I know. I didn’t watch the movie, only the CinemaSins version, but I was like “really?” Cap was an emotionally compelling character since he was trapped in a time that wasn’t his own, and I was mad that they replaced him with Falcon because Falcon didn’t get nearly as much development.

        “She was the love of his life because they went on one date, I think?”

        It’s implied that he was attracted to her because of her personality (she was the only female in the army), and the fact that she was physically attractive couldn’t hurt. But the concept of “love of your life” is inaccurate, because love fades, and people who’ve lost a spouse can go into new marriages. It seems like Cap could’ve remembered her fondly, but let her go.

        Also, how would that affect history? Would Peggy’s niece (who he tried to make out with so we would remember that he was straight) be his niece too? Would she be someone else’s niece if her uncle was her blood relative? Would Captain America be able to defend New York, Sokovia, Washington D. C., Earth, etc. since he was super old at that point? Are all the others’ memories of Captain America changed now? It’s so confusing.

        “…because it was obvious Marvel was never actually going to give us a queer cap”

        OH NO! TWO MEN KISSING! BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES! CLOSE ALL THE THEATERS! RUN! RUN FOR YOUR WORLDVIEW TO REMAIN UNCHANGED!

        Yeah. They might *gasp* offend somebody. I notice people don’t ban interracial kissing anymore to avoid offending racists, so why are people still worried about offending homophobes?

        It also gets so boring all of the time. And, it’s obvious that there’s romance between Captain America and Bucky.

        “Oh, he goes to save his friend from Black Panther? Nothing romantic about that. Bucky pulls Captain America from the river? Nothing romantic about that. Captain America protects Bucky from Iron Man, destabling the Avengers as he does so? Nothing romantic about that. He and Bucky limp out together, one supporting the other? Nothing romantic about that.”

  3. Angelo Pardi

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident: Captain Marvel is a great film”

    Captain Marvel is the only MCU film I’ve ever seen, so I may not exactly be the target audience, but I found it quite bad (although certainly good enough to not think about my maths paper for two hours). So if you say it is great, and seems to imply it’s about the best Marvel has too offer… I’m not sure I want to watch the rest.

    • Julia M.

      What did you not like about it?

      • Angelo Pardi

        First a few not-so-important, maybe subjective issues:
        1) It had a few cheesy scenes and dialogues – the one when Carol ask the girl to help her chose her new suit colour is cringe and the fact that she goes for USA’s blue-red-white is super cringe.
        2) I found fight choreography confusing due to too much cut and a generally shadowy setting.
        3) Overpowered character who never feel at risk.
        4) Black characters as comic sidekicks feel, well, so 90’s.
        5) I don’t feel nostalgic for the 90’s as I am too young.

        Then two related big griefs:
        1) The reason vs feeling trope is generally bad and toxic and I hate it passionately – and for good reasons.
        Rationality is what enables you to do the right thing, emotion is what makes you stick with your tribe even when it is on the wrong side.
        It is particularly bad when the main protagonist is a woman, as the association of women with emotion and men with rationality is as common as damaging.
        This threw me out of the film right in the first scene…
        2) Relatedly, the fact that all Kree characters are rude or mean with Carol makes her change of side low stakes. She has basically no reason to side with them, and the member of her team makes it clear they don’t like her. Why should she feel loyalty to them ? It would be so much better if she actually fitted in the Kree team. Now going to the other side means going against her feeling to do the right thing and everything has much higher stakes as she will lose something important in the fight.

        • Julia M.

          “1) It had a few cheesy scenes and dialogues – the one when Carol ask the girl to help her chose her new suit colour is cringe and the fact that she goes for USA’s blue-red-white is super cringe.”

          Agree with you on the suit. Every single MCU character has that same color scheme. Ever single one. I was disappointed that she picked the same thing.

          The overall MCUThere are many more scenes in the MCU that are much much cheesier than any in Captain Marvel.

          “2) I found fight choreography confusing due to too much cut and a generally shadowy setting.”

          Fight scenes like this are an MCU hallmark. They cut SO much. It gets really annoying, especially for a sensory person like me. Captain Marvel does it better on average.

          “3) Overpowered character who never feel at risk.”

          Don’t watch the first two Thor films.

          “4) Black characters as comic sidekicks feel, well, so 90’s.”

          You’re definitely not going to like any of the other films, then, especially the Iron Man and Civil War films. Rhodey and Falcon barely get any development (well, Rhodey gets injured). To date, Black Panther is the only film which has a black leading character. (Also, the only one in which a hero doesn’t quip.

          However, I did like that they portrayed a supportive, healthy friendship between two women. Too much of our media glorifies toxic relationships.

          “5) I don’t feel nostalgic for the 90’s as I am too young.”

          Yeah, me too. I wasn’t even alive in the 90’s.

          “1) The reason vs feeling trope is generally bad and toxic and I hate it passionately – and for good reasons.”

          Me too. Reason should always triumph.

          “It is particularly bad when the main protagonist is a woman, as the association of women with emotion and men with rationality is as common as damaging.”

          Darn, didn’t even think of that. (I guess she could’ve used reason to think over the implications of this, but it didn’t show her doing that. Film tends to show this dictonamy a lot, since humans are very vulnerable to appeals to emotion.)

          “2) Relatedly, the fact that all Kree characters are rude or mean with Carol makes her change of side low stakes.”

          I thought the danger was that they would kill her.

          The MCU as a whole is again, much worse. Usually the villains don’t even have a motivation and just want to destroy the world for the heck of it. They are also usually really generic.

          “It would be so much better if she actually fitted in the Kree team. Now going to the other side means going against her feeling to do the right thing and everything has much higher stakes as she will lose something important in the fight.”

          I like your idea better.

          In conclusion: You definitely should not watch the rest of the MCU as you will loathe it.

          Personally, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is me not able to be enjoying the film, and 10 is will watch it over and over. I put it at 4.75 The usual MCU film is a 2.5.

          • A Perspiring Writer

            Honestly, it’s discussions like these that make me embarrassed to like Marvel movies…

          • Julia M.

            @A Perspiring Writer

            I feel the same. My favorite ones are: Black Panther, The Winter Soldier, and Captain Marvel.

            I usually don’t watch them because I have a hard time concentrating on a movie unless it’s really good.

          • SunlessNick

            The reason vs emotion trope is part of Yon-Rogg’s gaslighting of Carol. Most of the times he tells her to think rather than feel it’s because she’s uncovered evidence of things he doesn’t want her to know and is trying to prevent her from following it – he’s not telling her to be rational, he’s trying to play on her emotions to dictate what *is* rational.

            When she disregards him and does follow the evidence, it leads to her changing sides. When he tries to “reason” her into fighting on terms advantageous to him at the end, she does the rational thing and just blasts him.

            So reason does triumph in the film. It just takes a while for Carol to see through the lie she’s been fed about what’s rational and what’s emotional.

  4. Arix

    “We also get to see Thanos thinking on his feet, an underused technique with villains.”

    I never much thought on it, but this is so true. Too many villains are about setting up a scheme which just goes off without a hitch until the heroes intervene at the end. I’d like to see more villains be adept at adapting to the unexpected rather than somehow perfectly predicting every step in their master plans.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Yes, another convert! This is especially useful because frankly, it’s often pretty hard to justify how the villain knew everything was going to go their way exactly as it happened.

      • Arix

        Not only that, I just think it’s more interesting, since we get to see the villain accomplishing things and taking a more active role during the story rather than resting on their laurels and watching it happen.

    • Cay Reet

      It’s a lot more interesting if they have to think on their feet, too. I mean, a lot of climaxes work on the hero undermining the villain’s plan and because the villain is waiting for everything to play out they’re losing.

      If you’ve seen the villain think on their feet before and you know they can work their way out of such a situation, there’s a lot more tension to the climax – will the hero make it or will the villain successfully mend their plans? Much better.

      • Julia M.

        ” I mean, a lot of climaxes work on the hero undermining the villain’s plan and because the villain is waiting for everything to play out they’re losing.”

        Yeah, it’s super annoying. Or the villain doesn’t have a plan B. I would have that five year old child from the Evil Overlord list monitoring my plan. When will people realize that competent villains are much better.

        “If you’ve seen the villain think on their feet before and you know they can work their way out of such a situation, there’s a lot more tension to the climax – will the hero make it or will the villain successfully mend their plans? Much better.”

        Especially if the villain still gets away with something, or wins, setting a sequel hook.

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