SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains a myriad of spoilers from Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you haven’t been to the movies in a good three years, proceed with caution.
Eleven years after Kevin Feige kicked off a colossal comic book franchise with Iron Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe concluded its third phase with the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home in the summer of 2019. One of the essential things that made experiencing the MCU’s Phase Three so satisfying was the strikingly accurate references to the original source material.
With Phase Four closely on the horizon following the recent arrival of Black Widow’s first trailer, let us look back on the last three years of the MCU by celebrating the moments that made Marvel Comics fans giddy to see their favorite panels brought to life on the big screen. There are countless easter eggs to choose from among the 11 films in Phase Three, but hopefully you can settle for the 10 iconic references I have narrowed it down to below.
Ant-Man Riding Hawkeye’s Arrow (Captain America: Civil War)
They had never officially met until they were thrown together as teammates on one side of a battle between superheroes. Yet, Hawkeye and Ant-Man know how to combine their efforts to create one of the more impressive attack strategies executed in the MCU’s history.
During the airport battle sequence in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, we see Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) preparing to fire his arrow at an unknown target, then seems to be speaking to offscreen Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). The camera pulls back to reveal the miniaturized Avenger-hopeful hanging on for dear life by the tip of Hawkeye’s arrow.
This memorable moment from one of the most celebrated action sequences in recent memory is actually a recreation of the cover art of Marvel’s Avengers #223, by illustrators Ed Hannigan and Klaus Janson. The comic book issue, published in 1982, takes place at a carnival, instead of an airport.
Spider-Man Surrounded by Multiple Mysterios (Spider-Man: Far From Home)
The MCU’s international follow-up to Spider-Man: Homecoming, and the concluding film of Phase Three, sees Tom Holland’s Peter Parker as a more confident, accomplished crimefighter (even if he can’t speak the same for his social life). Yet, an essential characteristic of Peter is his vulnerability, and that moment is most clear after his enemy shows his true colors.
When Peter races to turn him in to reveal the true identity of Quentin Beck, a.k.a. Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), he soon realizes he walked into an illusional trap, complimented with an overwhelming myriad of horrifying visuals, including an army of Mysterios, blocking any chance he has of escaping the nightmare of his defeat. This special effects extravaganza preceding Spider-Man: Far From Home’s intense third act is a clear reference to the cover of 1979's The Amazing Spider-Man #198.
Doctor Strange’s Watches His Surgery From The Astral Plane (Doctor Strange)
Leave it to director Scott Derrickson to put an irreverent Marvel comics hero like Doctor Strange in a film with comparative levels of urgency as the horror films he is known for. For as much of a fun, dizzying interdimensional fantasy that Phase Three’s most “magical” film is, it is not without its dark moments.
This is most apparent in 2016’s Doctor Strange when a wounded Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) enlists the help of Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) to save his life as the fabric of the universe is threatened. During the impromptu surgery, Strange’s astral body temporarily leaves his physical form, allowing him to witness the operation for himself from above.
This is another MCU moment ripped almost directly from the pages of Marvel comics. A similar scene takes place in a Doctor Stranger storyline title “The Oath,” in which Strange assists a night nurse tending to his physical body from the astral plane.
Thanos Takes Up Farming (Avengers: Endgame)
Following his success in “creating balance” to the universe at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos (Josh Brolin) first appears in Avengers: Endgame doing just what he promised he would following his victory: resting. His retirement location of choice: a distant planet, on which he find solitude and a hobby in farming his own crops.
Despite the liberties that the MCU took in adapting the storyline to film, this is an almost perfect visual representation of the conclusion of Marvel comics’ Infinity Gauntlet storyline, right down to the show of Thanos’ Titan armor scarecrow. The biggest difference is that his farming days come after the Avengers have reversed his “snap” and his retirement is by the authority of Adam Warlock, an essential character to the monumental comic event who has yet to be properly introduced to the MCU, outside of a subtle hint in a Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 post-credits scene during Phase Three.
Captain America Says “Hail Hydra” (Avengers: Endgame)
Speaking of, Avengers: Endgame is chock-full of iconic Marvel comics moments that fans have eagerly awaited to see translated to celluloid since the dawn of the MCU. The then-controversial reveal of Captain America’s secret life as a Hydra agent in 2016’s Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 is not necessarily one them, but thankfully the film’s way of referencing it was a welcome rewrite.
The easter egg comes during the film’s pivotal Time Heist when Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), clad in his circa 2012 uniform, enters an elevator with several Hydra agents posing as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who have confiscated Loki’s scepter. What at first seems like a call back to an iconic fight in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, quickly takes a shocking turn when Cap earns his silent enemies’ trust by uttering the earth shattering words, “Hail Hydra.”
Spider-Man Takes On Thieves In Avengers Masks (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
One of the funniest moments from Phase Three’s Spider-Man: Homecoming and a definitive example of Peter Parker’s signature sense of humor is when he foils a bank heist. When Spidey (Tom Holland) notices a group of four thieves donning masks resembling Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, and Thor, he makes his presence known by initially acting starstruck to meet the real Avengers.
Not only does the scene involve fun callbacks to Spider-Man’s role in Captain America: Civil War (such as Peter Parker pointing out that it is nice to finally meet Thor and Hulk), but is also heavily influenced by Marvel comics. A similar moment occurs in Ultimate Spider-Man #42, in which Peter Parker walks in on a heist carried out by superhero imposters.
Hulk’s Gladiator Armor (Thor: Ragnarok)
One of the most famous storylines in Marvel comics to put Hulk in the spotlight is Planet Hulk, which sees Bruce Banner’s alter ego banished by the Avengers to a distant planet. While there, the planet’s emperor, the Red King, forces the green guy to be his warrior slave, donning classic gladiator armor.
Thor: Ragnarok takes a lot of inspiration from this plot as Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself stuck on a strange planet, on which the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) forces the God of Thunder into a battle against his “friend from work,” a Hulked out Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). The image of the MCU’s armored-up Hulk emerging into the arena is an almost perfect recreation of his comic book counterpart’s gladiator look.
Captain America’s Shield Blocking Iron Man’s Blast (Captain America: Civil War)
The storyline of Phase Three’s premiere film, Captain America: Civil War, is a staggeringly loose adaptation of the 2000s Marvel comics storyline about a disagreement between Cap and Iron Man that gets gravely out of hand. However, one of the film’s most definitive moments is ripped directly right from Civil War’s panels.
The staggering sight of Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) shield deflecting Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) attack in the final act of the film plays out pretty much exactly as the comic. Of course, instead of an abandoned government lab with a wounded Bucky (Sebastian Stan) off to the side, the comic depicts this face-off atop a pile of unconscious superheroes following what must have been a pretty nasty urban battle.
Killmonger Tosses T’Challa From A Waterfall (Black Panther)
T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) duel against his long lost cousin Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) marked a pivotal moment in 2018’s Oscar-nominated Black Panther. Killmonger succeeds his malicious intentions by throwing Wakanda’s newly crowned king off the side of a cliff, supposedly killing him and, thus, seizing the throne.
It was clear that, in typical MCU fashion, this would not be the last we would see of T’Challa in his own film, but the moment did pay a well-earned tribute to an original Marvel comic. Jungle Action #6 sees Black Panther suffer defeat in the same exact way, by the same exact person, and with the same exact consequence as in the film.
Captain America Wields Thor’s Hammer (Avengers: Endgame)
The MCU teased the idea of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) lifting Mjolnir in Avengers: Age of Ultron, a much-discussed moment paid off gloriously in the final act of Avengers: Endgame. Captain America finally proves he is worthy by wielding the Asgardian weapon against Thanos (Josh Brolin), much to Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) giddy satisfaction.
Captain America is not the only Marvel hero to successful handle Thor’s Hammer in the comics’ history, but that makes the reveal of his worthiness on film no less astonishing. While his first time wielding Mjolnir was depicted in Thor #390 in 1966, the moment in Avengers: Endgame more closely resembles a panel from the seventh issue of the Fear Itself storyline in 2011.
The MCU has proven itself worthy, too, of fans’ admiration of how it pays tribute to the Marvel comics that inspired the endurable franchise. As one can tell from the numerous easter eggs and direct recreations above, the films of Phase Three are no exception.
We can only imagine what is in store for Phase Four and are eagerly awaiting its arrival with the release of Black Widow in May, 2020. Until then, be sure to check back on CinemaBlend or more updates on the future of the MCU.
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Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.