The Idiot’s Guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe
All You Need to Know Before 'Avengers: Infinity War'
Let’s be real, not everyone is a rabid fan of both the MCU and the comics, but we all like a good ol’ fashion summer blockbuster. So, if you find yourself in the mood for the movies this weekend, we watched the forty hours of Marvel movies for you, and here are the cliffs notes:
It’s all about the stones.
Avengers: Infinity War comes out on April 27th, and it’s the culmination of everything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since it began with Iron Man in 2008. Over ten years, Marvel has released eighteen movies (and nine TV shows, though the events in the TV shows are largely ignored).
As much fun as it might be to watch them again, who has time for that? Eighteen movies. Count ’em.
Maybe you need a refresher, maybe you skipped a few, or maybe you’re one of the few who haven’t seen any of them (you monster). No matter what category you fall under, there’s no way to remember every little thing.
That’s why I’m here— call this MCU 101.
This’ll be like the SparkNotes version of all these movies. Although, I’m going to leave out the minutiae, and stick with the broad strokes. Also, this won’t be in the order the films were released, but in the order Marvel says the events happen chronologically— at least where the movies start. There’s some overlap, but don’t stress about it. Let’s begin…
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011): Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a scrawny kid from Brooklyn. Steve joins the Army to fight in WWII; they shoot him up with a serum that turns him into Captain America. He goes overseas, and punches science. Nazi group, HYDRA, mourns when best friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan) dies, fights the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), and then crashes a plane into the ocean. Is he dead? Nope, just frozen. Government super agency S.H.I.E.L.D. wakes him up decades later in the present and freaks the hell out of him.
This is the first time we see the Space Stone, a.k.a. the Tesseract, which Red Skull was using to do bad things with.
Iron Man (2008): Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a rich industrialist with a cocky sense of humor. After he’s kidnapped in the Middle East, he builds the Iron Man suit and escapes. His house is run by Jarvis (Paul Bettany), an AI that links to his suit. The Iron Man suit gains the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. who sent out Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) to wrangle Tony, which he proceeds to announce he’s Iron Man at a press conference. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) approaches Tony about something called the “Avengers Initiative.”
Iron Man 2 (2010): There isn’t anything important besides James Rhodes/Terrence Howard turning into Don Cheadle, and getting the War Machine suit. Also, this is the first appearance of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Watch this film if you want to see Sam Rockwell as also-ran billionaire Justin Hammer, but otherwise, it’s forgettable.
The Incredible Hulk (2008): Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, for now) is trying to find a cure for his condition, wherein he gets mad he turns green and becomes the Hulk; then smashes. Nick Fury decides he wants to try and recruit Banner, as well as Hulk. You can safely skip this one.
Thor (2011): Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the God of Thunder, with a magic hammer that only he can pick up and wield. He has an adopted brother named Loki (Tom Hiddleston), God of Mischief, who’s devious and dastardly, and can always be counted on to betray Thor. When Thor misbehaves, his old man, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), banishes him to Earth where he has to learn to be good so he can pick up his hammer again. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) appears for one uncredited line.
The Avengers (2012): Steve Rogers adapts to the present day world. Loki comes to Earth to steal the Tesseract/Space Stone. Steve, Tony, Thor, Bruce (now Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow and Hawkeye have to team up to stop Loki, but they don’t like each other. Coulson dies, they set aside their differences, and then fight a shitload of aliens (did I mention Loki has an alien army?). They’re The Avengers™ now. Also, turns out Loki was doing the bidding of Thanos (eventually Josh Brolin), galactic bad guy.
At the beginning of the movie, Thanos gives Loki the Mind Stone, which Loki uses to control people’s minds (shocker)— notably Hawkeye. Poor guy. The Avengers lock it up, and Thor hauls the Space Stone to Asgard (his home).
Iron Man 3 (2013): Tony has PTSD from fighting aliens. He can’t stop building new Iron Man suits, either. (Always gotta be on the cutting edge.) No stones, but definitely watch if you dig writer/director Shane Black.
Thor: The Dark World (2013): Uh, I honestly cannot think of a reason for this movie. Thor fights space elves and Loki dies (or does he?… He doesn’t). After the credits are over, a guy called The Collector (Benecio del Toro— he collects stuff) is entrusted with the Reality Stone. Skip.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014): Steve is still getting used to the modern world. A bad guy called The Winter Soldier is coming for him, and nearly kills Nick Fury. Turns out Winter Soldier is Steve’s old friend Bucky Barnes, who isn’t so dead after all, but has been turned into a mind control super soldier by bad guys. Steve teams up with Black Widow and new friend Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to stop him. S.H.I.E.L.D. disintegrates; it’s been taken over by HYDRA. Steve can’t bring himself to kill Bucky, and Bucky can’t bring himself to kill Steve. Everyone goes off the grid. Probably the best standalone Marvel film.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) gets abducted from Earth in 1980— fresh off of his mom dying of cancer. Thirty years later, Peter’s all grown up and insists you call him Star-Lord (no one does). He steals an artifact that turns out to be an Infinity Stone. Soon, he befriends tree man Groot (Vin Diesel), raccoon/gun nut Rocket (Bradley Cooper), badass alien Drax (Dave Bautista), and Thanos’ estranged daughter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana). This jerk Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) wants the Stone. The big moment of the movie comes at the end when Peter Quill and company kill Ronan with the Stone; Peter holds it in his hand without dying, nodding to the fact that he isn’t 100% human. Mystery!
Quill and company had the Power Stone. They gave it to an intergalactic police force called the Nova Corps for safe keeping.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017): Turns out Quill’s dad is a celestial being/living planet named Ego (Kurt Russell). Mystery solved. The Guardians fight among themselves, but then realize they are all they’ve got. They’re not just friends, they’re family. Also, they make friends (family?) with an empath named Mantis (Pom Klementieff).
Worth noting: the after credits tag actually comes last in chronological order. It’s sort of a spoiler for Thor: Ragnarok.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): Tony wants to build a machine that’ll keep Earth safe from an alien attack. He inadvertently creates Ultron (James Spader), a charming lunatic robot obsessed with killing all humans. Great job, Tony. Ultron recruits two totally non mutants: Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Anthony Taylor-Johnson). The AI Jarvis transfers into a synthetic body and becomes The Vision. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver join the Avengers to stop Ultron. Quicksilver gives his life, and Hulk flies away in a spaceship.
The Mind Stone comes back into play here, and it’s how Vision comes to life. It’s housed in his forehead.
Ant-Man (2015): Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is newly released from prison, and gets the attention of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas); who has created the Ant-Man suit, which allows a person to shrink down to the size of an ant. They pull a heist to keep that tech out of the wrong hands. No stones, but it has Michael Peña.
Captain America: Civil War (2016): After a mission goes FUBAR, people demand accountability for superheroes. Tony’s on board with the legislation, but Steve isn’t. Amid all this, Bucky Barnes returns, and is suspected to have killed the king of Wakanda at a UN event. Prince T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), wants revenge. There’s a big ol’ superhero fight with like everyone. Cap, Bucky, Iron Man, and Black Panther find the actual killer, but Iron Man and Cap fight anyway. T’Challa takes Bucky to Wakanda in order to keep him safe.
Doctor Strange (2016): Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the world’s top neurosurgeon, but after an accident he loses the ability to use his hands. So, he sets out on a journey of healing where he learns of the Mystic Arts, which he will use to defend Earth from mystical threats.
As a sorcerer of the Mystic Arts, Dr. Strange can use the Time Stone, which he does in order to defeat the bad guy. Strange becomes its protector.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017): Tony Stark takes Peter Parker (Tom Holland; first seen in Civil War) under his wing and gives him a suit with a lot of cool features. He fights Michael Keaton, who’s a bird themed comic character. Fitting!
Black Panther (2018): You’ve seen this one. T’Challa returns to Wakanda, a hyperfuturistic Afrofuturist utopia that runs on a metal called Vibranium. (Drinking game idea: take a drink every time someone says “Vibranium.” You will die.) There’s other guys that want to be Black Panther. It’s a title you hold, but you have to earn it. Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) briefly takes the throne, but T’Challa and his crew take back Wakanda. The soundtrack is dope.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017): Thor’s home, Asgard, is under attack by his sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett) who destroys his hammer. He gets transported to a different planet where Scrapper 142/Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) sells him to The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). The Grandmaster has Thor to fight the Hulk, who has been Hulked out since Age of Ultron. After making nice with Hulk and Valkyrie, he returns to Asgard to stop Hela. They fail and are forced to destroy Asgard. All the Asgardians are now intergalactic refugees. Everything seems okay until a massive starship shows up. Presumably, it’s Thanos’ ship… or is it? Honestly, I don’t know, but I’d put money on it.
The Space Stone (we first saw it in Captain America: The First Avenger and again in The Avengers) was kept on Asgard, but Loki stole it. What’s he gonna do?
There is one more Infinity Stone, which is the Soul Stone, and there is not much known about it. Guess we’ll have to find out.
This brings us to The Avengers: Infinity War. Thanos wants all the Infinity Stones, and if he gets them, he’ll be able to rule the universe. They’re different colors, but that doesn’t matter much. Though, if (or when) Thanos gets all the stones, his fist is going to look like a very angry rainbow.
So, there you go. Class dismissed. See you at the movies.