The scene is set: It’s the summer of 2008 and I’m sitting inside Regal La Habra with my friends, about to witness the birth of a cinematic universe with one billionaire playboy in a suit of red and gold armor. I fell in love with Tony Stark and his missile-firing Iron Man suit and his devil-may-care attitude. Ten years later, I am still obsessed with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, evidenced by my recent 18-film binge to prepare for “Avengers: Infinity War.”
There have been successful franchises in the past, (Tim Burton’s groundbreaking Batman and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, for instance) but the MCU maintains its staying power through a dedicated fan base that has developed right alongside the universe and its characters. (Consider: When Iron Man was released in 2008, we were just six to 10 years-old.)
The MCU is a cinematic representation of our generation and as a result, its growth, failures, victories and journey parallel our own. Just as how I changed throughout my life and became the person that I am today, so too did the MCU evolve and mature in a journey almost parallel to mine.
In 2012, my peers and I watched as our favorite superheroes joined forces in “The Avengers,” making history through a collaboration we had only dreamed of. Watching the Avengers converge in New York to take on evil aliens was a life-changing moment for me as this sight of my favorite heroes finally assembling for the first time gave me just the courage I needed after leaving the safety of Laguna Road Elementary School, mere months away from entering the uncertain world of middle school.
Soon enough, however, both the Avengers and I were struck by an unavoidable side effect of maturing: having to take responsibility and the consequences for our actions. This struggle came to a head in 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” in which the Avengers’ struggle to deal with Ultron, a villainous product of Tony’s reckless ambition, paralleled my own realization that my actions had consequences that weren’t felt when I was younger.
Both Tony and I ended up realizing that if we weren’t careful, we would feel the effects of our own immaturity, his being an artificial megalomaniac bent on genocide and mine being pulling an all-nighter before a test.
As we entered the tumultuous world of high school months later, the MCU entered its Phase 3 with “Captain America: Civil War,” showing the Avengers split by ideological differences. Once the closest of friends and unburdened by politics, the Avengers split into two camps, resulting in the shutting down of the Avengers and the scattering of our heroes.
Similarly, we as a generation became more aware of politics, and as a result, became the faces of divisive political activism at the expense of friendships. I have lost more than one friend after a heated argument over politics, a discussion that was never even in the back of our heads just years before. As I and many others spoke out more and more about our beliefs, we started calling each other names, abandoning our years of friendship in the face of a perceived injustice.
By “Avengers: Infinity War,” the heroes have been redefined by their constant trials. Tony grew from a headstrong daredevil to a father figure for Peter. Steve Rogers lost his faith in his nation, quickly becoming cynical. Thor lost some of his closest relationships, learning the values of humility and selflessness. Walking out of Infinity War, I was stunned by how much I could relate to all of these changes as I grew.
One scene from “Spider-man: Homecoming” particularly strikes me; it’s when Peter is stuck underneath a mound of rubble, he sees his reflection in a puddle, and remember’s Tony’s words to him: “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” With the strength this gives him, he pushes the rubble off him, and proves that he is still a hero without his suit.
That narrative is the biggest personal takeaway I have experienced from this franchise. My ‘suit’ was my childhood and my naive view that everything was fine. But as the Marvel movies progressed and I watched countless heroes rediscover themselves, my need for my ‘suit’ fell away, and I grew as well. The MCU teaches me about family, hope, love, and sacrifice to this day, and that cements the MCU as the film franchise that defines me. Here’s to you, Marvel.