film.Antrikshy | Thoughts on film and games

2023 MCU Rewatch Diary - Phase One

Phase One turned out a lot more enjoyable than I expected, viewing from a post-Endgame, 2020s lens.

These are genuinely fun movies, with some solid writing, and a lot more interconnections than early-to-mid-teens-unaware-of-the-MCU-me could have possibly noticed. I guess Marvel Studios were pretty confident, pretty early on, and started sowing the seeds for an interconnected universe right from the first couple of movies.

Diary Index

Find entries in this diary here:

  1. Introduction
  2. Phase One (you are here!)
  3. Phase Two
  4. Phase Three

Poking Holes

Marvel Studios have done a great job of retroactively enriching Phase One using future content. There are no major plot holes in it. Still, I was able to pick some nits out of the dialogue.

SHIELD Figuring It Out

In the first Iron Man, Coulson isn’t upfront about him being a SHIELD agent. He dances around it. He even uses the organization’s full name first.

Phil Coulson: “I’m not a reporter. I’m Agent Phil Coulson with the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.” Pepper Potts: “That’s quite a mouthful.” Phil Coulson: “I know, we’re working on it.”

Narratively, it’s obvious that they were keeping it from the viewer for a small “aha” moment at the end of the movie. When he finally name-drops “SHIELD”, Pepper has a small “of course” expression on behalf of the viewer.

In retrospect, this is a bit odd. The whole vibe is that SHIELD is a relatively new government agency that’s still figuring out their place in the world. Soon after, In Iron Man 2, they place Howard Stark as a founding member of the organization in the timeline. Tony acts surprised, which fits. In writing, it was probably to make up for his nonchalance about Coulson and the organization in the first movie.

This is far from a major plot hole. Everything can be explained away.

While we have seen SHIELD in action during World War II (Captain America: The First Avenger and more), the Cold War (Ant-Man), and even in the 90s (Captain Marvel, Black Widow), we can chalk Tony’s nonchalance up to him being dismissive rather than ignorant. Tony clearly seems smart enough to know that the agency exists, considering they operated with branded vehicles at least in the 90s (Black Widow), but it was probably small and shadowy enough until now. And he didn’t know his father’s connection to the agency, so he probably didn’t care for them much.

The First Superhero

This is not a hole, but they’re cutting it really close with some dialogue towards the start of The Avengers.

In the scene where Coulson is flying Steve Rogers to the helicarrier, he speaks about his admiration for Captain America. In this interaction, he mentions how a lot of people were trying to replicate the super soldier serum (solid setup for the later MCU), because Steve was “the world’s first superhero”.

We could assume it to mean the first publicly known superhero. Even then, they may have written themselves into a corner if they ever want to explore certain storylines. The line would become a plot hole as soon as they introduce a pre-1940s character who can be described as “super” and “hero” and doesn’t work in the shadows.

As seen in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Namor had superpowers in the 1500s, but he was far from a superhero, just living his life.

Hindsight is 20/20, but I guess they never considered the possibility of introducing Marvel characters with Fox-owned film rights at the time. If they care about maintaining continuity, this line prevents them from introducing Wolverine as being born prior to the 1900s and making superhero appearances. Honestly, I’d prefer they did something new with the character anyway.

Civilian POV

Before The Avengers, there are some pretty notable incidents. They manage to keep collateral damage to a minimum, with the exception of the Harlem situation in The Incredible Hulk. The Chitauri invasion is where it really starts to get real. It’s probably the single most referenced incident in subsequent films, and it’s totally earned.

Here’s a rundown of major superhuman events that the general public would have learned of (and cared about) in Phase One.

IR = Intensity Rating, on a 5-point scale.

Iron Man

  1. Air Force “training exercise” around Malibu CA, with pretty visible public mech suit sightings that ends in a huge light beam hitting the sky. In the end, the training exerise cover-up didn’t work out. [IR 2/5]
  2. There were some pretty public Iron Man sightings around Afghanistan. It’s already a war torn land, but the Gulmira area seems to get press coverage even in the States. [IR 2/5]
  3. Public are made aware of Tony Stark being Iron Man, which sent major ripples through the press. [IR 1/5]

The Incredible Hulk

  1. Minor foot chase in a Brazilian town. It ended in a superhuman incident, but not sure if anyone would have noticed that. Some folks in the area could have heard noise. [IR 1/5]
  2. Culver University incident involving the Hulk and US military. [IR 3/5]
  3. Very public Harlem incident with lots of collateral damage, presumed body count (incl. civilian), involving multiple Hulk creatures and the military. [IR 4/5]

Iron Man 2

  1. Highly public Monaco motorsports event incident. Possibly no civilian body count, but it did not look good injury-wise for some of those racecar drivers… [IR 3/5]
  2. Highly public Stark Expo incident involving not only mech suits but an army of droids raining bullets. There’s some chance of a low civilian body count, albeit we see zero collateral deaths on screen. [IR 4/5]


Only minor events in Puente Antiguo NM. The climactic battle may have been covered by the media, but SHIELD could have kept things quiet if they wanted. Besides, the civilians evacuate the already isolated town early in the excitement. [IR 1/5]

Captain America: The First Avenger

This one’s harder to judge, because most of the events in this movie would be covered in history class in contemporaneous MCU rather than by the media.

  1. Hydra was a major force in World War II. This movie squarely sits in alternate history territory.
  2. There were big sci-fi moments throughout WWII, with Tesseract-powered Hydra weapons and all.

The Avengers

  1. Relatively minor incident with Loki at a museum in Stuttgart. [IR 1/5]
  2. Most of the major action scenes in this movie take place away from civilization.
  3. The only exception is the climactic “Battle of New York”, which remains one of the most major public incidents in the entire MCU to date. [IR 5/5]

In Retrospect

Looking back, a large portion of Phase One was highly focused setup primarily for a team-up event. Marvel Studios likely didn’t have the flexibility to dilly-dally with plot lines that could get left hanging if their movies underperformed. The solo origins were solid character introductions that paid off really well in the long term.

Iron Man and Iron Man 2 were major influences on the tone of subsequent MCU productions, with superheroes maintaining public identities and living as celebrities. Personally, I didn’t remember Iron Man 2 containing the amount of setup that it did - first appearance of Nat Romanoff, first proper appearance of Nick Fury, Rhodey suiting up as War Machine for the first time. This movie also set up Tony’s relationship with his now dead father, which comes into play in Captain America: Civil War (2016), and briefly in Avengers: Endgame (2019).

As should be expected from a movie as big and bold as The Avengers, it had a ton of setup. Stark Tower turning into Avengers Tower through the movie was fun, but it becomes a recurring location. Loki calling Natasha “Daughter of Dreykov” was an incredible detail in context of Black Widow (2021), and Nat trying to calm Bruce when he turns into the Hulk aboard the SHIELD helicarrier was a subtle setup for a subplot in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). The Battle of New York not only sets up Tony’s trauma in Iron Man 3 and beyond, but also becomes an event of legendary proportions (for Earthlings) that gets brought up numerous times later. It even sets up the entirety of Hawkeye (2021).

Possibly the most fun, smaller setup in Phase One was the “death” of Red Skull at the end of The First Avenger. It seemed like a one-and-done thing; a spectacular demise involving an object of great power. This doesn’t pay off even a little bit until Avengers: Endgame in 2019. And what a payoff it is! I didn’t remember the character’s fate when I watched that movie, so his presence on Vormir went over my head. Somehow I never thought to look up this death until I rewatched this movie four years later. Of course, The First Avenger also sets up Agent Carter, which in turn sets up part of the final season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..

Even The Incredible Hulk, which is often seen as an MCU step child, has many threads that were picked up later. Banner’s troubled past is a big one. In the short term, his nomadic lifestyle explains his situation at the start of The Avengers. In the longer term, it’s explored further in She-Hulk and is a major part of his character in that show. It’s also fun to see the Culver University incident get retrodden in What If…? season 1, except with Mark Ruffalo’s likeness replacing Edward Norton’s.

Also, I really like the production design in Thor and the general tone of this movie. If I recall Thor: The Dark World (2013) correctly, I feel the same way about it. The writing tone and visual style were perfectly appropriate for the characters, before Thor was turned into commic relief, starting in Thor: Ragnarok (2017). Don’t @ me!