Countdown to Endgame: The MCU Finds New Life in Personal Stories

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron is a sadder, stranger film than its predecessor. Amplified by mental tampering from Scarlet Witch, Tony's fears of a future alien invasion and his inability to accept the possibility of defeat lead him and Banner to use the Mind Stone to create Ultron, an artificial intelligence that quickly becomes hostile and intent on wiping out humanity.

With tension within the team and its approval around the world under intense scrutiny, the Avengers manage to band together after recruiting Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Vision to defeat Ultron, but devastating an entire Eastern European city in the process. While Age of Ultron went on earn over $1 billion worldwide, it did not match the success of its predecessor, with critics and audiences enjoying the quieter character moments but finding the action sequences lacking in comparison.

While observing that Age of Ultron was one of the most personal films he had ever made, Whedon, exhausted from writing and directing two Avengers films back to back, announced he would not return to direct a third.

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Whedon was not the only fan-favorite filmmaker to depart Marvel Studios publicly during Phase Two. Edgar Wright, who had been attached to write and direct an Ant-Man film for the studio since its initial production slate was announced in 2006, departed the project due to creative differences weeks before the expected start of principal photography.

Scrambling to meet its release date, Peyton Reed was chosen after Adam McKay declined due to his friendship with Wright. Instead, McKay agreed to perform a rewrite of the film's script along with star Paul Rudd, who had been cast by Wright months before.

Even with Wright departing the project, his influence can be felt throughout the final film in its quick-cut editing, rapid-fire dialogue, pop culture references and, of course, the casting of Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll and Michael Peña.

Telling the origin of Scott Lang joining forces with Hank Pym and his estranged daughter, Hope Van Dyne, from letting Pym Particle technology into the hands of the nefarious Darren Cross, Ant-Man featured some of the most imaginative action set pieces to date in the MCU.

The film included particularly memorable sequences involving a shrunken Scott Lang navigating a busy dance floor and facing Cross on a high-speed Thomas the Tank Engine train set. The film was a surprise success, with critics praising its heist movie inspiration and washing away the bitter aftertaste left by Age of Ultron's darker sensibilities.

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The second phase of the MCU ended with three films that featured a much more distinctly personal touch than many of the films that preceded them. This trend would continue into the studio's future as it began its steady development towards Infinity War and Endgame, rounding out what Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige would later refer to as the Infinity Saga.

While introducing new properties to the MCU, the next films would also focus on tearing down what had been established.

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