Kevin Feige, the respected head honcho of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, recently announced Phase Six of the franchise with the culmination of “The Multiverse Saga.” With dozens of superheroes lining up to join the Avengers roster and the cosmic menace of Kang the Conqueror on the horizon, Phase One feels like a distant memory. Before the multiverse introduced variants and raids, Phase One gathered six of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to fight an alien army in New York.
Phase One established the MCU trend that every entry in the franchise has a character that stands out from the rest – and it’s not always the character whose name is in the title. Every Phase One movie has a standout character, from Black Widow in Iron Man 2 to mustache-twirling Loki in The Avengers.
6 Iron Man – Tony Stark
Tony Stark isn’t just the standout character from his own film debut; he is arguably the standout character of the entire MCU. From the moment he was introduced to the media with a military convoy in Afghanistan to the moment he gave his life to save the universe with the Infinity Stones, Tony was a truly captivating character that audiences around the world were rooted for. . Robert Downey, Jr. achieved the mother of all career comebacks with the original Iron Man movie, the movie that got the whole MCU going.
Tons of likeable characters round out the supporting cast of Iron Man, from Rhodey to Agent Coulson, but Downey carries the film on his shoulders. Downey’s semi-improvised dialogue brings a refreshingly loose, lifelike feel to a tightly constructed, archetypal story. Tony is introduced as a flawed character and gradually learns to become a better person throughout the film.
5 The Incredible Hulk – Bruce Banner
The second entry in the MCU, The Incredible Hulk, is another case of the title character successfully carrying his own film. Edward Norton only played the Hulk in this one movie – he was promptly replaced by Mark Ruffalo for the rest of the MCU movies – but he made for a great Bruce Banner while it lasted. The Incredible Hulk is generally considered one of the weakest episodes in the MCU, but Norton brought a lot of pathos to the titular role.
Ruffalo’s Banner has been largely used for comic relief in the years since The Incredible Hulk hit theaters, but Norton’s Banner was genuinely conflicted about his volatile temper and the monster in him. He’s not just a joker; he is a nuanced, three-dimensional figure.
4 Iron Man 2 – Natasha Romanoff
Black Widow wouldn’t get her own MCU solo movie in over a decade (for some reason), but she stole the show in her debut. After the plague of Nick Fury in the first Iron Man credits from movies, Iron Man 2 began to finalize the Avengers roster he was putting together.
Scarlett Johansson proved to be a great scene partner for Downey, matching his comedic timing with the funny one-liners. Nat was overly sexualized in her first MCU appearance – a problem subsequent films attempted to solve – but her early fight scenes still made the character a badass not to mess with.
3 Thor – Darcy Lewis
Thor is now one of the most adored superheroes in the blockbuster landscape. Throughout his ten-year character arc, he has gone through the wringer of grief and depression and has come out on the other side as a loving father who has achieved inner peace. But it took a while to get there. Initially, he was given a bland characterization as a self-centered, pseudo-Shakespearean jerk.
Kenneth Branagh’s Original Thor film is a fish-out-of-water story about a Norse god who is stripped of his powers and banished to Earth. In the role of Darcy Lewis, Jane Foster’s crazy best friend, Kat Dennings took care of the… Thor movies with comic relief before Taika Waititi came along and turned the franchise into one long exercise in comic relief.
2 Captain America: The First Avenger – Howard Stark
Tony’s father, Howard Stark, was introduced from beyond the grave in the… Iron Man movies. In a video he shot before his death, he inspired Tony to create an entirely new chemical element in one of the MCU’s earliest absurd leaps in scientific logic. Howard appeared as a younger man as the inventor of Captain America’s shield (and a bunch of other cool weapons and gadgets) in Cap’s original WWII movie.
In The first avengerSteve Rogers debuted as a standard benefactor. He wasn’t particularly convincing until the Russo brothers beefed up his action sequences. In full Howard Hughes mode, the eccentric and charismatic young Howard Stark steals the show The first avenger. Dominic Cooper’s take on Howard is as effortlessly charming and blatantly arrogant as his son.
1 The Avengers – Loki
It’s rare for a villain to overshadow the heroes – especially in the MCU, a franchise often accused of having a “rogue problem” – but Loki managed to steal the spotlight from six of Earth’s mightiest heroes in the first avengers movie. He acts as a foot soldier for Thanos, bringing his army to New York to launch a large-scale invasion of Earth (to no avail).
The Avengers doesn’t hold back with the character’s dark tendencies – he’s viciously mean and kills without regrets – but Tom Hiddleston is still irresistibly charming. “If it’s all the same to you, I’ll drink that drink now.”
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