With the arrival of Avengers: Endgame in 2019, the Marvel Cinematic Universe had reached a crescendo of comic-book movie filmmaking and cultural immersion unlike the world had ever seen. Over ten years before, producer Kevin Feige and his creative team introduced the concept of a multi-threaded ongoing film universe with 2008’s Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark, and in the intervening years some twenty other films came along that formed the basis for what would ultimately come to be known as the “Infinity Saga”, in which the ongoing subplot of the all-powerful Infinity Stones, and mad Titan Thanos’ quest to obtain them, was fleshed out. Our Top 10 list of The Greatest Moments in the MCU’s Infinity Saga draws from over a decade of filmmaking with some of our greatest filmmakers, writers, actors, digital artists and musicians, all of whom have worked to provide audiences with one of the most significant ongoing pop-culture franchises in history with some of cinema’s most memorable moments.
There’s a saying that a workman is only as good as his tools. What happens, then, when the workman and his tool are separated? In Thor: Ragnarok, a film that features elsewhere in this list, the Asgardian hero’s evil half-sister, Hela, returns from imprisonment set to lay waste to all. Hela finds Thor and Loki on a distant Nordic shore, where she promptly catches Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, mid-flight and with a crack of her fingers obliterates the hitherto indestructible weapon. Given how prominent Mjolnir had been in the MCU to that point, the destruction of such an iconic device represented an enormous plot twist in Thor’s arc as a character, not only within the context of his own film but also that of the wider franchise.
One of the big action set-pieces in Iron Man 3 was Tony Stark’s rescue of multiple people who had been thrown out of a disintegrating Air Force One, as part of Killian’s plot to take over America. The sequence is a staggering work of thrilling action, as Iron Man – a hero more akin to blowing stuff up than rescuing people from the sky – has to somehow navigate a dozen or more Vice-Presidential aides falling through the air with limited time to bring them all to safety. While the sequence isn’t the most cosmic or world-ending moment in the MCU, it does represent Tony Stark’s ability to think on his feet and perform heroism on the smaller scale in a way that encapsulates what makes him a terrific Avenger.
Among the many visual marvels in Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange, few are as jaw-droppingly mind-blowing as Strange’s Escher-drawing chase and battle against Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecillus through the streets of New York City as gravity and physics take a back seat to visual effects wonder. Replicating the “bending of Paris” sequence in Inception to the power of 10, Strange, Mordo and the henchmen of Kaecilus must navigate a Rubick’s cube puzzle of folding buildings, streets and mystic portals before the Ancient One steps in to help. The sequence is a feast for the eyes and senses, as the iconic buildings and places of New York squish and swirl before the viewer as the good Doctor’s dimensional abilities are put to the ultimate test.
The premiere running gag of the MCU has long been that of nobody other than Thor is capable of wielding his iconic hammer, Mjolnir. Avengers: Age Of Ultron reinforces this joke by having an entire sequence dedicated to various members of the team all trying to lift the hammer during a party at Avengers HQ, to no avail – although for Steve Rogers the handle wobbles ever so slightly. Following an attack on the team by Ultron, and the “Birth” of super android Vision, played by Paul Bettany, an argument between the Avengers on how to deal with the threat is uniquely and decisively ended when Vision interrupts to give Thor back his own hammer – successfully wielding it in contrast to the rest of the Avenger’s failure earlier.
It was one of Spider-Man: Homecoming’s biggest twists – hell, the only twist – and almost nobody saw it coming. Arch-nemesis Vulture had outwitted Peter Parker’s Spider-Man throughout the film, so when the villain turned out to be the father of Peter’s high-school love interest at the end of the second act, audience’s jaws hit the floor in amazement. The moment is sold entirely on Tom Holland’s brilliant reaction and moment of horrible realisation, and Michael Keaton’s eerie, menacing performance. Not too long after, both characters have an unspoken “I know you know who I am” conversation that just drips with juicy character and plot development.
Perhaps the most laugh-out-loud moment of the multitude moments in Thor: Ragnarok, the sibling rivalry-turned-love between Thor and Loki was exemplified in this brief but hilarious moment of teamwork. Acknowledging that the ruse to confuse enemies by crying out for assistance as a method of subterfuge went back to the brothers’ childhood, the success of this hoodwink in Ragnarok came not just from the committed performances of the game cast but the clever way it developed their relationship for the audience, a moment of comedic gold derived from obvious youthful clowning in a history we’ve yet to see.
Superhero comics stand out from the pack thanks to two well-known tropes. The first, captured to beautifully in both Avengers and Avengers: Age Of Ultron, is the team-up, where anywhere from three or more heroes come together to stop some kind of threat. The second, and equally popular trope, is the moment one group of superheroes has to fight another group of superheroes. Typically these battles involve some kind of mind control, alien hypnosis or ideological differences (see: the X-Men) that climax with bash-bash between bro-bros. Marvel delivered this second trope on a grand scale in Captain America: Civil War, which saw Tony Stark’s Iron Man, and his gathering of allies (including Iron Patriot, Black Panther and Black Widow, as well as Vision) brawling in a German airport against Steve Rogers’ Captain America, The Falcon, Wanda Maximoff, and Hawkeye, as well as the Winter Solder, Bucky Barnes. The addition of Spider-Man and Ant Man into this tete-a-tete saw massive destruction and a lengthy battle sequence in which various heroes’ skills and powers were deployed against their one-time friends. Okay, compared to later sequences in Infinity War and Endgame the events of Civil War may still seem smaller in scale, but the enjoyment of watching our heroes square off against was vicarious to say the least.
It’s a small moment, sure, but there’s no doubt it’s the defining beat in 2012’s Avengers that most people remember. Loki, having almost been thwarted in his attempts to take control of Earth with the invading Chitauri, is confronted by a rampaging Hulk at the top of Stark Tower. Considering himself to be a god, Loki begins to upbraid Hulk for being beneath his contempt, but before the Asgardian rebel gets more than a few words into his monologue, Hulk grabs him by the legs and proceeds to smash (ha) him into the floor, ignoring the request for fealty completely. Once done, Hulk departs, leaving a pulverised Loki groaning in his own concrete imprint.
Avengers: Infinity War had a lot of crowd-pleasing moments. None remain as indelible as the arrival of Thor, fresh from constructing a new weapon in the wake of Mjolnir’s destruction, into Wakanda to take on the armies of Thanos, who had also arrived seeking the remaining Infinity Stones. Thor, together with young Groot and Rocket Racoon, blast down to Earth in a blaze of light, sweeping Thanos’ minions aside like confetti. The embattled Avengers look around and realise their strongest member has arrived to assist. Leaping into the air, Thor coalesces his lightning power and screams “Bring me Thanos”, promising an epic showdown to come. If you want to remind yourself of just how impactful this moment was globally, the countless Youtube in-cinema reaction videos will bring a tear to your eye.
Arguably the defining moment of Avengers: Endgame, the moment of release when Earth’s last remaining heroes – Thor, Captain America and Iron Man – looked to be roundly beaten by Thanos, who had just ordered his enormous army of alien invaders to attack Earth were saved by a single three-word phrase that came to personify the entire saga. With Captain Steve Rogers unaware of whether Bruce Banner’s snap of the Infinity Gauntlet had worked to bring back all those annihilated by Thanos’ similar actions in Infinity War, the lone hero was all that stood before humanity’s destruction as Thanos and his army advanced. Suddenly, one of Doctor Strange’s mystical portal’s opened, and Rogers heard the voice of his old friend, Sam Wilson, with a familiar refrain from their first encounter in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. From countless portals then sprang a legion of returned heroes, the entire pantheon of Avengers who had arrived to kick Thanos’ ass. This moment of quiet solace, of the soft glimmer of hope when all seems lost entirely, remains the single greatest moment of euphoric realisation not only for Captain America but for audiences across the globe, who roared in collective catharsis as the call to assemble was finally realised.
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