Hi, we're Ryan (in the mask) and Luke (in the man bun), and we recently sat down and watched all 12 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies in one 25-hour marathon. And we didn't die! Then a few hours later, we went to a midnight screening of Captain America: Civil War.
We decided not to watch the 13 movies included in Marvel's interconnected universe in the order they were released in, but, instead, chronologically. Marvel has released an official chronology of all the movies, which actually puts Captain America: The First Avenger first. A few movies happen almost simultaneously, so for those, we went with the order that made the after-credits scenes make the most sense. You can follow our whole harrowing journey over on the #25HoursOfMarvel hashtag.
The question we hoped to answer: Does the Marvel franchise actually make sense as one big story?
Captain America: The First Avenger
Luke: First Avenger is definitely a little worse, and a lot sillier than I remembered. The tone is all over the place. The opening sections feel like a parody of war movies — the "inspirational" dialogue is so blunt and corny that it plays as comedy for large segments of the movie, which sits really uncomfortably with the fact they're fighting Nazis. I've always hated the cheap "Nazis were secretly into magic!" cliché, and despite Hugo Weaving being great, it's still a crap way to build a villain, especially when that villain looks as bizarre as Red Skull.
Ryan: Yeah, the idea that the Marvel universe starts with a bunch of Indiana Jones–style Nazi magic is, like, so basic.
Luke: There are some cool ideas though — Captain America being turned from a super-soldier into a propaganda tool is pleasantly cynical, for example, but the goofiness screws up a lot of the bigger themes that the setting requires.
Ryan: I thought it could even have been a little more cynical about Cap being a tool of the U.S government, especially when you know what happens in Winter Soldier and Civil War. But watching this movie first definitely changed the way I think about the franchise as a whole. There are tons of little things that become super important later on. Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan have great chemistry, and it's also the debut of Peggy Carter. But a lot of it is super boring and pretty cheesy. Also, the skinny Chris Evans CGI is still super weird to look at. Mainly, I just wanted more crazy Howard Stark doing insane steampunk World War II science nonsense.
Ryan: Iron Man is such a solid movie. It effortlessly tells a great story and it introduces the world to everyone's favorite — weirdly polite — government spook, Agent Coulson. I was also surprised by a couple things: how well the effects aged and also how early on Tony's not-exactly-stellar mental health was introduced. I had figured that Tony's post-traumatic stress disorder storyline happened only after the Battle of New York, but in Iron Man, Pepper is telling Tony that he's clearly suffering from insane trauma after being kidnapped and thrown in a cave.
Luke: Yeah, the PTSD comes up much earlier than I would have expected. This is part of the reason the Iron Man origin story is probably the best in all comic book movies. I can't think of another origin story that doesn't come from an accident or a personal motivation, but rather a character being forced into using their natural, non-superhero abilities to get out of a situation. And at the same time, Ho Yinsen's death clearly affects Stark and screws him up a bunch — for a long time.
Ryan: It's also the start of a storyline that takes us all the way to Civil War, the idea that Tony just wants to protect everyone, but doesn't know how to.
Luke: Incidentally, Obadiah Stane is the best name in the entire franchise. But as a villain, this is where we start to see the problem that so many Marvel movies are afflicted with — that all villains are evil mirror versions of the main character.
Iron Man 2
Luke: And here's an example of that! The main fight in Iron Man 2 is against a load of knockoff Stark suits! Ivan Vanko is also motivated by his hatred of Stark, and is kinda an Iron Terrorist sort of thing.
Ryan: Mickey Rourke, honestly, looks so disgusting in this movie that I could barely stand it. Iron Man 2 is so much better than I remembered! The movie is super fun, picks up right where Iron Man left off.
Luke: This was one of the big surprises. My recollection was this it was mostly a placeholder that wasn't that important, but it was so much better than I remembered, and it fits beautifully into the rest of the universe. This movie also sees Terrence Howard replaced with Don Cheadle. I'm still not honestly sure who I preferred, but Cheadle does develop really nicely into it.
Ryan: I'm not sure either. Terrence Howard's Rhoades is more confident and courageous and Don Cheadle's is a lot goofier and more down-to-earth. Also, this is the movie that made me realize that Pepper Potts might be the unsung hero of the franchise. Also also, Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer is a totally fun villain.
Luke: Justin Hammer is such a good adversary for him, because he's just Stark without the confidence, which gets more interesting because it turns out that Stark's confidence is actually him starting to lose it.
Ryan: You also see more of Tony Stark grappling with really the main conflict of most of the Marvel universe. He wants to protect people, but doesn't want to get his hands dirty. He wants to do the right thing, but assumes he can just automate that.
The Incredible Hulk
Ryan: Hulk is straight up bad. Don't watch it. I'm not sure why we watched it. I don't ever want to watch it again.
Luke: Hulk is so bad. Everything it sets up is ignored by the franchise as well. Betsy Ross is never mentioned again. Samuel Sterns starts to turn into Leader — completely ignored. Leonard Samson, an important comic book character — never mentioned again. Abomination is gone, despite not actually dying. Thunderbolt Ross disappears for the next 10 movies. This nearly wrecked everything.
Luke: Given what we see of Thor in later movies, the job director Kenneth Branagh does here to make gods function as viable characters is really impressive. It's a very weird little movie.
Ryan: I have a huge soft spot for the first Thor. I think the plot is sort of brilliant. It takes a bunch of Lord of the Rings characters and drops them into the middle of nowhere New Mexico. It also has probably the best supporting cast in the Marvel Universe.
Luke: The stakes seem to be so low. Loki is only really interested in fighting Thor, and since he's trying to do it in a town where 17 people and a goat live, it doesn't really matter! But that makes the whole thing much more compelling, because it's the first time we see these incredible enhanced people trying to deal with the fact that the world exists and they are going to struggle to negotiate it increasingly, a theme that the universe starts to build more and more.
Ryan: I love Loki, Professor Selvig, Jane, and Darcy. And I sort of love Thor's backup team, The Warriors Three, as well. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Thor isn't very interesting. He's a posh lad from outer space on a gap year who doesn't really want to do anything other than get drunk and fight stuff. But in this movie, you get to see Thor totally out of his element, and it's funny. Also, S.H.I.E.L.D. is like peak S.H.I.E.L.D. in Thor. They spend the whole movie running around trying to figure out what to do about Thor's hammer and just get in the way.
Ryan: The Avengers is the main event, baby! It's the Marvel movie to end all Marvel movies, except, during our marathon, I actually had a really hard time with it. By this point, we had been with these characters for five movies, more than 10 hours of character building. And I love director Joss Whedon, but in The Avengers he completely rewrites everything. In the case of Hulk, it's a brand-new Hulk. And when I first saw The Avengers I remembered loving how quick and witty all the dialogue was, but after watching all the movies back-to-back, you realize none of them sound like themselves. Nick Fury is talking like a Buffy the Vampire Slayer character and Tony Stark has lost all his pathos. Also, Captain America's suit is so cheesy! I had forgotten he spends the whole movie wearing pajamas. I eventually got used to the Whedon flourishes and could enjoy them like I used to, but it wasn't easy.
Luke: This is a truly great movie, and watching it as part of the flow of movies leading up to it makes it better. Everything about it works. Yeah, the Whedon-ness of it is really apparent — particularly in Tony Stark early on, when he's almost uncomfortably happy — but I also think that the characters work with one another so effectively that it doesn't matter.
Ryan: On the bright side, Loki was amazing, Coulson's death is still super emotional, and the Battle of New York is without a doubt the best fight sequence Marvel has ever done. That moment when the Avengers finally get their shit together and all get in formation together is still one of greatest moments in comic book movie history for me.
Luke: The Battle of New York is probably the best single sequence in the entire run. Also, Loki is the first really great supervillain we get in the Marvel universe. Up to this point, every single villain has been targeting the main character in a straightforward way, and is a version of the main character. Iron Man 1 and 2 both have Tony Stark's own tech and ideas being used against him, and Hulk literally fights alt-Hulk. Loki, on the other hand, has a plan that's much more complex. His goals aren't about crushing The Avengers, but about ruling for himself. The way that villains are motivated changes from here on out, and the dynamics get way more interesting. Loki is also a fascinating foil for the Avengers, one the franchise hasn't really bettered yet, because he has Tony Stark's ego, Hulk's anger, and Cap's unshakable beliefs, and, of course, is of Asgaard like Thor.
Alrighty, we've made it about halfway! We're sleepy, a little delirious, full of takeout food, and ready to finish this thing.
Iron Man 3
Luke: There's another tonal switch here, and we get back much closer to the Iron Man of 1 and 2. Man, the Whedon version really does stick out. This movie is really great though — I'm a huge fan of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and the combination of director Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. combination is so good.
Ryan: I absolutely love Iron Man 3. It's so great. Shane Black's script and direction is amazing. I think more than any other director, his version of Tony Stark is the best. Tony is dark and brooding, but also funny and acerbic. The pacing is amazing. The story is self-contained but feels totally at home in the larger story. It's also a Christmas story! It's about Tony getting back to basics.
Luke: This is really the next evolution of the Marvel movie. There are so many bits of this that take the formula that's worked for six movies and develop it. The Mandarin twist is so goddamn perfect. I would watch many more movies in which the villain turned out to be a drunk actor from south London. Then, while the actual villain is just another version of a rival tech dude, his henchmen's weird-ass glowing thing felt really, really fresh after 12 hours of robot suits.
Ryan: The Mandarin being revealed as an actor is such a good twist. Let's face it: The Mandarin is a totally unacceptable character. It was this gross racist Vietnam War–era boogeyman that totally sucked. I think addressing that was totally the right move. Plus, even Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian is a good villain in the same way Loki is a villain. He's got a vendetta against Tony Stark and it's personal. And of course, I have to give a shout-out to Pepper Potts finally getting some scenes on her own. Iron Man 3, in my opinion, took everything I liked about the first two movies and put them all together into the complete package.
Luke: Also, when Stark's little helper robots disappeared into the ocean, it was actually truly sad in a way that it wasn't in the original, since we'd spent a good part of the last day building a relationship with them. That said, we were getting into a pretty rough spot by this time, so that may have been more exhaustion than anything else.
Ryan: Also, here's a thing. Iron Man 3 might be the first Marvel movie to (barely) pass the Bechdel test. You'd think it would have happened in Thor, but Jane and Darcy spend most of the movie talking about, well, Thor.
Thor: The Dark World
Ryan: Wow, does the second Thor movie drag major ass.
Luke: I HATED this movie.
Ryan: But as I said before, I have a weird soft spot for Thor movies because of the supporting cast, like Professor Selvig — who is batshit insane in this movie — and also Jane, Darcy, and Thor's backup team, the Warriors Three. They're all back in Dark World and really firing on all cylinders. It also has one of my favorite Loki scenes. It happens right after his mother dies and you have this moment where he's in his cell and it looks like he's totally indifferent, but then the glamour fades and you realize he's torn his room apart in a petulant rage. The Dark World was so rough for me, though, because by this point it was 2 in the morning and I was beginning to feel a little sleepy. Also, it has so much more Asgaard in it than the first one.
Luke: It really makes you appreciate how hard it is to make this crazy Asgaardian world even remotely appealing onscreen. It was really early in the morning, and the last thing we needed was a bunch of rambling in CGI throne rooms.
Ryan: I'm sure, Marvel was like, "Oh, let's explore Thor's homeworld and build out that world," but really, you just get a bunch of crappy and boring Lord of the Rings nonsense. It also suffers from Age of Ultron syndrome — which we'll get into a little later.
Luke: The final battle is great though and I will always have time for wormhole-based combat. I actually think a very different version of this would have been a really interesting prequel to Thor — having Loki and Thor going on a little adventure, and setting up their relationship outside of Earth, though that would be a difficult sell for a first movie for the character. The other flaw in this movie is that it totally diminishes Loki as a character! He goes from being the best supervillain we've yet had, to a slightly whiny little brother.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Ryan: OK, so Winter Soldier is just a hell of a movie. Joss Whedon rewrote Captain America in The Avengers. Whedon exploded what it would really feel like to be a 90-year-old 24-year-old who just woke up from an iceberg and realized all their friends were dead. And in Winter Soldier, directors Anthony and Joseph Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely take that and run with it. The Winter Soldier brings back Peggy Carter, except she's in her nineties and barely remembers Steve.
Luke: This really is another great movie. It's kind of the first to treat the insanity of what Steve Rogers has been through with any gravitas — Whedon started the process of moving him away from being a perfect super-soldier, and this movie focuses on that and turns a pretty one-note hero into something deeper. The buildup to the Bucky reveal dominates a lot of the movie and doesn't totally work on a rewatch, but there's so much plot alongside it that it's OK. Specifically, the final collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D., who at this point, you're realizing, really suck at their jobs. And honestly, the world is better off without them.
Ryan: Yeah, watching these movies back-to-back, you realize that the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have literally no clue what they're doing, so the fact that Winter Soldier dismantles them — literally — is long overdue. Also, let's be real, Black Widow is a wasted character that is never written correctly and was acted stiffly by Scarlett Johansson. The Russo brothers' come the closest to making her actually interesting, though. The same goes for Cobie Smulders' Maria Hill. Instead of Joss Whedon's pouty flirty female agents, they make Black Widow into a genuinely unpredictable, deadly secret agent struggling with balancing her interpersonal relationships and life of espionage and they make Maria Hill into a super badass, terrifying version of Agent Coulson (RIP).
Luke: Falcon is such a good character! Sorry, he's not even the third major character in this, but he's a seriously good addition. It's really cool that the franchise is at the point where it can just drop in new heroes without needing to bother with a whole backstory. But the way Sam Wilson becomes part of the franchise in just two movies means that, by Age of Ultron, it's hard to imagine him not being in it.
Ryan: Falcon totally rules. Sebastian Stan's Winter Soldier Bucky is ruthless and frightening, pulling off a huge range with very little dialogue.
Luke: The whole way through, Winter Soldier is just fucking cool.
Ryan: Sad observation for you: The Winter Soldier is the first movie in the franchise to feature two black characters with names who talk to each other.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Ryan: I was really looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy; by this point it was around 6 in the morning and the sun was coming up and I just wanted to listen to some dope-ass music and watch aliens kill one another. The biggest thing that stood out about Guardians of the Galaxy for me was how completely outside of the main storyline it is. By this point, Luke and I had watched one fairly long, unbroken story: Alien technology is discovered by humans during a pivotal moment in World War II and kicks off a massive race between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra to control it before aliens looking for it show up to enslave the Earth. But in Guardians, we took a complete break from that story.
Luke: This is such a distraction. We knew going in that some movies were going to be bad, but this was probably the biggest disappointment. It's still really good! It's just not as good as we were anticipating.
Ryan: Luckily, Guardians is a perfect movie from start to finish.
Luke: I think the big thing is that the irreverence of the characters and their interaction isn't as out of step with the rest of the universe as it looks when it's seen out of context. So it's not the breath of originality, but just different characters doing the same thing. This film will probably get better by the end of Marvel's next phase, and it gets tied into the universe as a whole.
Ryan: Rocket Raccoon and Groot are maybe my favorite Marvel characters ever. Chris Pratt is amazing. The soundtrack! Guardians has everything. So I didn't mind the total narrative sidestep. But it was also sort of annoying because, at the time, I was super invested in the S.H.I.E.L.D. vs. Hydra drama happening on Earth.
Luke: The fact that Thanos appears here in a small, but crucial role, having been teased for so long, is a really impressive slow build. At this point, I would think of Thanos as a mega-villain — he gives Loki his staff to kick off the events of The Avengers. And, incidentally, the staff contains an Infinity gem as well!
Ryan: Another sad thing I noticed: As far as I can tell, Zoe Saldana as Gamora is the first woman of color to play a character in this franchise that actually has a name.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Luke: There are good things about Age of Ultron… but overall, there is something off about it. What do you reckon that is?
Ryan: Age of Ultron is fine, but honestly, just being fine is unacceptable after almost 22 hours of movies! Those little Whedon moments from the first Avengers movie that were fun and quirky become long and boring and, in some cases (cough Black Widow), make no sense whatsoever.
Luke: Yeah, it really feels as though the movie got away from Whedon. A few too many new characters, a few too many motivations for the heroes that didn't quite stack up, and a "stakes-raising" escalation of collateral damage and deaths combine to make the movie a mess. It was really disappointing.
Ryan: I think if I had to pinpoint what went wrong in Age of Ultron I'd pick two things. First, it watches like Joss Whedon was trying to just redo every good thing about Winter Soldier, but couldn't. And secondly, I think it suffers from what I'm now referring to as Age of Ultron syndrome. Which is the boring, sloppy mess of a movie that happens when Marvel packs it with so many threads to other movies that it essentially becomes a two-and-a-half-hour-long trailer.
Luke: Right, so the most important part of this movie should be the creation of Vision as a "good" version of Ultron. Instead, there's Thor going off to have visions, the twins appearing, kind of out of nowhere, Loki's scepter causing problems, and Avengers mounting raids on Hydra. The movie isn't sure which bit it should be following — especially when most of those bits are scheduled to get resolved in other movies. Oh, and the trip to the fucking barn!
Ryan: OK, so, full disclosure, when they got to the barn I got up and went to the bathroom. I love Hawkeye; I think he's great. He has some of the best lines in Age of Ultron, but seriously, fuck everything that happens at that stupid farmhouse.
Luke: Blue-collar, lunch-pail Hawkeye is my favorite thing. Everyone else having crazy powers, and him just getting up to go to his job 'cause he's pretty good with a bow is hilarious. But we shouldn't even mention the Black Widow storyline.
Ryan: Ant-Man! What a weird goddamn movie. I can't tell you if it was the intense sleep deprivation or just the fact it didn't take itself as seriously as Age of Ultron, but I loved it.
Luke: Ant-Man was a really pleasant conclusion to the whole thing, as it's so fun. It's really the only true origin story in the second half of this process, so it's a very familiar template, right down to how the technology will "revolutionize war" — oh hey, Iron Man script, good to see you again! But aside from a couple of cameos, it's a new set of characters, which feels refreshing after the dead spot of Age of Ultron.
Ryan: Paul Rudd is a delight and Michael Douglas's Hank Pym is great. He's kooky and sort of like the ultimate skeleton in the closet of S.H.I.E.L.D. He's the anti–Howard Stark. Plot-wise, the movie feels like they slammed together Ocean's Eleven, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and Iron Man — which is a totally unreasonable thing to do!
Luke: Turning a superhero movie into a heist caper should not be this effective.
Ryan: But it kind of works. Corey Stoll's Darren Cross starts out as just another Bald Evil Businessman™, but by the end of the movie when he becomes Yellowjacket, he's actually sort of terrifying. And once again, I can't tell you if this was due to sleep deprivation or not, but the big-to-small-to-big-again fight sequences were visually amazing.
Luke: I'm really glad they didn't do this earlier in the sequence of movies, because by this point they're so good at visualising fight scenes, even with powers that haven't been used before, that it's genuinely compelling thing to see. Ant-Man could have been so easily wasted, but it truly works. But we'd watched nearly 26 hours of movies, so the acid-trip ending was pretty wild.
Ryan: Also, shout-out to Michael Peña who has so much fun with the character of Luis that you can't help but roll with it. Ant-Man is worth it if just for the fact it makes Paul Rudd an Avenger.
***WARNING, THIS LAST SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.***
Captain America: Civil War
Luke: Oh, this is good. This is really, really good.
Ryan: IT WAS ALL WORTH IT. ALL OF IT. IT WAS ALL SO SO SO WORTH IT.
Luke: It pulls together so many themes from the previous movies and really feels like a result of what's happened before. I'm a huge fan of the fact that the Avengers are having to see the consequences of their actions, because that's been one of the major criticisms of the universe. And it ties in so perfectly to the Captain America–Iron Man conflict that started in the first Avengers, which is not only an interesting philosophical difference, but every single character's opinion felt like their opinion, felt like the characters we'd been watching for 26 hours were saying and thinking what we had grown to expect them to say and think.
Ryan: Seriously, Civil War reunites Captain America with the Russo brothers, who, once again, prove they know how to write a time displaced World War II veteran trying to make sense of the nightmare future he's woken up in. I will say, though, I thought Civil War's version of Iron Man was maybe a little too dark. I feel like Tony Stark is such a balancing act, and in Civil War, I'm not sure they totally nailed it.
Luke: I think I disagree — it felt natural to me for someone who isn't military trained or has the background to deal with having to save the world on a regular basis, but does have to deal with a whole slew of emotional problems, to change over those years to get much darker. Especially when the Pepper breakup is involved. I really liked his development to an NSA surveillance vibe away from his fuck-everyone attitude in the earlier films. But let's talk about the Avenger on Avenger fight.
Ryan: It changed my life. It was everything I wanted and more. Spider-Man, Ant-Man, Vision, Black Panther, all these new characters filling up the screen. I was in heaven. Civil War felt the way I thought Age of Ultron was going to feel, to be honest.
Luke: It was so perfect. There were so many things happening, and they all appeared and interacted and fought someone else in an incredible, fluid fight. It would cut to another character and you'd realise you forgot they were even there, despite having seen them 30 seconds earlier. Every new character was so perfect as well — and it proved, once and for all, that you really don't need origin stories any more!
Ryan: I think Age of Ultron struggled to find a balance between having your favorite characters banter and interact and also create enough tension that you really didn't know if they could save the day. A thing the first Avengers movie actually pulls off. In Civil War, you really don't know where it's headed at any point, which is so so so hard to pull off in a huge interconnected universe.
Luke: I also liked that the final fight wasn't a huge, civilization-endangering one, but an intensely personal one, which really felt like the only true way to end it. And that the villain was both unpowered, and a direct result of the Avengers' actions. Just a regular dude, who'd gotten screwed over.
So, how did this change the way we see the Marvel franchise? And would we ever do this again?
Ryan: No fucking way. I never thought I'd say this, but 25 hours is way too long to sit on a couch eating pizza and watching superhero movies. As for my thoughts on the whole franchise in general, I think it's an amazing thing that Marvel has done. They've been telling the same story, with the same actors (more or less) for almost a decade and it makes sense and lines up. And inside that larger story are a bunch of truly amazing movies. I'm also glad we did this. Not just because, at over 27 hours, the franchise is now too long to reasonably do in one sitting, but also because Civil War ends a story that started with The First Avenger and Iron Man. Two men want to save the world, but they don't know how and they can't agree on how, but that isn't stopping them from trying. And getting the chance to watch that play out over almost 30 hours was a truly incredible (and probably inadvisable) experience.
Luke: Oh god, no, never again. With any more movies there will just be too many plotlines to keep in your head for that long, though watching some strands — all the Iron Man movies, for example, would be viable. But in a very long time. I was genuinely surprised by how well the universe held together. There were no massive false moments that stuck out. Sure, some movies were not as good, and I think everyone would be happier if Incredible Hulk didn't exist. Yet there are actually some really strong themes that have been built over 27 hours of movies, and many different directors, and writers, and to pull that together into a cohesive whole is remarkable. When watching them all in a row, that we could see the foreshadowing of the conflict of Civil War literally a full day before it actually happened, which is truly astounding.