It’s hard to believe that the MCU is well over a decade old. The pantheon of Marvel superheroes and supervillains has dazzled on screens both large and small since 2008’s Iron Man. The MCU alone can make any Marvel fan’s Disney+ subscription worth it.
Ever since Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark pioneered advanced weapons systems to create the all-powerful Iron Man suit, we’ve seen countless characters with extraordinary abilities join the fray, Thanos destroy half of the universe’s population, and a handful of characters (including Spider-Man and Loki) dabble in the ultra-expansive concept of the multiverse. Let’s take a look at some of the most memorable moments that made our jaws hit the floor.
10. ‘I am Iron Man.’ (Iron Man)
Iron Man is a seminal film that introduced us to the world of the MCU through the lens of Tony Stark, played by a then-unbankable Robert Downey Jr. Heroes and villains were a fresh concept in this universe until Tony decided to use his ingenuity to escape the clutches of terrorists. While spending all of his time focusing on perfecting his newfound technology, he didn’t see the snake in the grass carefully approaching.
Obadiah Stane, a family friend and partner to Tony’s late father, masterminded an attempt on Tony’s life and ultimately sought to return Stark Industries to the field of battle with high-powered weapons that used the technology Tony helped pioneer. After Tony ended Obadiah’s coup and put a fatal end to the villain, he held a press conference concerning the attack that occurred at Stark Industries. While the plan was to maintain a secret identity, Tony couldn’t help but fan his ego. Suddenly, he announces to the world, “I am Iron Man.” Audiences collectively lost their minds at the preposterous idea that a superhero could have a career with his identity known to the world.
9. Agent Coulson’s death (The Avengers)
There may be a few deaths that grace this list, and at this stage, Agent Coulson’s may feel a bit more obscure, but that’s only because it’s been quite some time since he’s been around in the MCU. The famous S.H.I.E.L.D. agent made his mark in Iron Man and appeared in several films all throughout Phase 1. He became a beloved figure known for his witty humor and loveable demeanor.
However, Agent Coulson was the “big” death in 2012’s The Avengers. Knowing he couldn’t contend with the god-like, Loki, Coulson did what he could to quell the threat, even if it meant his own demise. His death was used as a catalyst to unify the heroes that had been struggling to operate as a team. Little did Loki know that he solidified his fate the moment he killed Agent Coulson. Of course, Coulson was resurrected and returned to duty in the ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But he never again appeared on the big screen (aside from a flashback in Captain Marvel), nor interacted with the Avengers. So, as far as both the heroes and the audiences who never watched the series know, Coulson is still dead.
8. Black Widow’s demise (Avengers: Endgame)
After three phases of Marvel films, everything culminated in an epic clash with Thanos (Josh Brolin), a Mad Titan alien warlord bent on his own “altruistic” notion of saving the universe by destroying half of it. In theory, ending overpopulation would solve widespread issues like hunger. But the Avengers stood against the alien incursion to defend all races against Thanos’ tyranny. In order to reverse Thanos’s destruction, the Infinity Stones were required.
Fatefully, one costly requirement must be met when trying to retrieve the Soul stone: the life of a loved one must be sacrificed to get it. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) were given the task of obtaining the stone, and it’s no secret that their platonic love for each other runs deep. Once they learned the cost, however, they fought each other for the chance to sacrifice themselves and save the other. For a while there, it was a pretty dicey back-and-forth effort. But ultimately, Black Widow won the right to be the sacrificial lamb in a heartrending moment that both shocked and enraged fans.
Captain America: Civil War is the first film that features superheroes standing on two different sides of the political sphere. The government is aiming to restrain the Avengers from acting unilaterally in the face of perilous threats to civilization across the globe. Iron Man sides with the government administering oversight of the Avengers’ activities, mostly over his guilt for helping create Ultron. Captain America, on the other hand, finds the notion antithetical to being the heroes they claim to be.
But this “Civil War” of sorts becomes so much deeper when Tony learns the truth about his parents’ deaths. In an effort to pit the heroes against one another, the villainous Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) reveals footage of Tony Stark’s parents that depicts Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) as the Winter Soldier murdering them while under the influence of his decades-long brainwashing. It’s a horrifying revelation for Tony, who then attempts to kill Bucky. It tore apart the Avengers until they were finally forced to come together again to stand against Thanos.
Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness is director Sam Raimi‘s (Spider-Man, Evil Dead) first entry in the MCU. If you’re a fan of his classic Evil Dead horror films, then you likely felt the influence of that world throughout this latest Dr. Strange-centric adventure. Horror themes were abundant throughout the story as Dr. Strange contends with a Scarlet Witch who has broke bad due to the power of the Darkhold — an ancient and sinister tome.
In another universe, she contends with the Illuminati — a group that consists of Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Reed Richards (John Krasinski), Black Bolt (Anson Mount), Captain Marvel (Lashana Lynch), and Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell). The possessed Scarlet Witch kills them all in a brutal fashion. When Patrick Stewart’s Professor Xavier attempts to free the innocent woman within her possessed mind, she sneaks up on him with a demonically creepy visage and snaps his neck. It’s a jarring sequence that puts Scarlet Witch’s terrifying power on full display.
In truth, comic book fans were simply biding their time waiting for the inevitable reveal of the multiverse in the MCU. Loki managed to survive a timeline where Thanos murders him when the version of the Norse god during the 2012 attack on New York escapes after the Avengers travel back in time to obtain the Infinity Stones in Avengers: Endgame. In Loki’s own Disney+ series, the Time Variance Authority (TVA) arrests the villain for becoming a time variant.
However, Loki winds up going on a mission to track down another Loki designated as a time variant. We’re all surprised when he finds that the Loki he’s been hunting is a woman named Sylvie. The real kicker is that at the end of the series’ first season. She murders He Who Remains, unleashing the multiverse in a big, bad way. Her actions do, of course, have a significant impact on the MCU, resulting in different versions of the same character (the Spider-Men in Spider-Man: No Way Home) appearing together for the first time.
When all seemed lost and the heroes were beginning to accept that Thanos would beat them once again in Avengers: Endgame, the Mad Titan takes a hit from Thor’s famous flying hammer – only it didn’t zip back into Thor’s hands. Captain America catches the hammer and calls down the power of lightning to strike the warlord.
While the shock of the moment can’t be understated for viewers, the scene is ultimately one of the most crowd-pleasing moments in the entire MCU saga. Cap once teased the prospect of having the power to lift Mjolnir in Avengers: Age of Ultron when he budged it ever so slightly in a contest to move the weapon. Never was a climactic scene more earned than the one shown in Endgame.
Superheroes play their cards close to the chest. Only select, special people in their lives know of their secret side gig. It’s keeping their civilian identity a secret that ultimately protects those they care about from bad guy’s reprisals. Tom Holland’s Peter Parker fought like hell to bring down Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Spider-Man: Far From Home, as the suave phony was good at the art of the con.
It turns out, however, that the villain planned for one last jab at Spider-Man in his final moments. At the end of Far From Home, a recording goes live to the public that features Mysterio revealing to the world that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. It’s a move that likely had fans glued to their seats and wanting the next film, No Way Home, to arrive immediately just to see what happens.
The die-hard comic book fans all knew what power Thanos was capable of with the whole collection of Infinity Stones in his possession. But even fans of Marvel Comics (alongside everyone else) were likely disillusioned with the idea that the Avengers would somehow prevent a universe-wide catastrophe. However, Avengers: Infinity War sees the powerhouse team of heroes fail and witness the results of their failure. It’s a superhero story not told often. But this time, the bad guy won.
Thanos obtained all of the stones, and despite Thor making a last-ditch effort to kill him, the villain snapped his finger using the stone-powered gauntlet. Many of us were left stunned as we saw which of our beloved Marvel heroes would be swept away in the winds of nonexistence. It’s now become such a historic moment within the universe that the five-year period in which half the population was erased has become known as “the blip” and is referenced in several MCU works that succeeded the film.
Some of you might have been thinking that the writing was on the wall. Tony finally settled down with Pepper Potts, started a family with a youngster of his own, and found a moment to achieve redemption from his own perceived failure. It’s a setup that spells doom for a hero who has fought and endured many battles. Let’s also not forget that most fans knew RDJ’s contract with Marvel Studios was at its end, without a renewal in sight.
But none of that changes the shock as audiences witnessed Tony Stark sacrifice himself to save countless lives from Thanos’ armada with the simultaneously poetic and bodacious affirmation, “I am Iron Man.” Coming to grips with the loss of a personality whose vibrant, heroic, and often humorous characterization has either been front and center or influencing and shaping the world of the Marvel heroes since the beginning is a tough pill to swallow. It’s not difficult to imagine that most audiences were stunned as Pepper tells a dying Tony, “We’re going to be okay.” The MCU, for better or worse, hasn’t been the same since.
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