The Marvel Cinematic Universe first began with 2008’s Iron Man, eventually leading up to The Avengers, and continues this summer with Age of Ultron! Unlike Sony’s Spider-man and Fox’s X-Men movies, Marvel Studios has been connecting their movies from the start (although Spidey may be showing up in the MCU soon enough and for all we know, Wolverine might not be far behind). Each of these movies is a piece of a larger puzzle, just like the comics, but they’re also all great stand alone films on their own. So in case you’ve been living in a Latverian cave for the past 7 years, here’s what you’ve missed…
(Spoilers ahead for Marvel movies prior to Avengers: Age of Ultron.)
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
Directed by: Joe Johnston
“Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.” – Dr. Erskine
In the midst of World War II, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a scrawny kid from Brooklyn who wants nothing more than to serve his country. After being rejected from the Army numerous times, he’s inducted into an experimental program to create a ‘super soldier’. Although the experiment is a success in forging Rogers into the peak of human potential, it’s creator, Dr. Erskine is assassinated by an agent of Hydra, a rogue Nazi division.
Meanwhile, the leader of Hydra, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) aka The Red Skull, gets his hands on The Tesseract, a mysterious cosmic cube with unlimited power and begins plotting world domination. With the help of Dr. Zola, The Red Skull uses the cube to power Hydra’s futuristic tech.
After the cancellation of the Super Soldier program, Steve Rogers becomes a propaganda tool as Captain America. As a war bonds mascot, Cap goes on tour as a caricature who punches Hitler in the face during the show’s routine. When Steve hears that his best friend, Bucky (Sebastian Shaw) is captured behind enemy lines, he heads on a one man mission to get him back, during which he frees The Howling Commandos and faces off against the Red Skull.
With the help of his old friend, Bucky Barnes, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), and Col. Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), Cap leads a campaign against the forces of Hydra across Europe. Howard builds Steve an indestructible shield from a light-weight metal called Vibranium. During a battle with Zola, Bucky falls to his (presumed) death off a speeding train.
Eventually Cap discovers the location of Hydra’s secret HQ and leads the charge to take down The Red Skull once and for all. During their confrontation above the Arctic, The Red Skull is seemingly vaporized by the Tesseract and Cap is forced to crash Hydra’s weaponized plane in the ice where he’s buried with it for 70 years.
The super soldier serum in his blood miraculously keeps Steve alive in a comma until he’s discovered and thawed out. The final scene of the movie shows Steve waking up to the modern world and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) getting him up to speed. He doesn’t take it well, coming to terms with the loss of almost everyone he’s ever known or loved.
“You gonna be ok?” Fury asks. “Yeah,” Steve responds, “I just… I had a date…”
Ending Credits Scene: preview of The Avengers.
An eight-part mini-series set in the 40’s, about Cap’s love interest, Peggy Carter, who becomes one of the founding members of SHIELD with Howard Stark. The show also features The Howling Commandos and Stark’s butler, Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy).
Directed by: Jon Favreau
“The truth is… I am Iron Man.” – Tony Stark
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), son of billionaire, Howard Stark, is a genius. As the head of Stark Industries, he’s an inventor turned weapons manufacturer. He’s also an egotistical womanizing alcoholic with a laundry list of character defects. While demonstrating his Jericho missiles in the Middle East, Tony is targeted and captured by a terrorist organization known as the Ten Rings.
During the attack, Stark is critically injured. A magnet is implanted in his chest to keep the shrapnel out of his heart. While being held prisoner and forced to build weapons for the terrorists, Tony creates a mini-Arc reactor to keep himself alive. With the help of Yinsen, Tony builds a make-shift suit of armor that enables him to fight back and escape.
Tony Stark returns to California a changed man at the surprise, relief, and bewilderment of his friends, his assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Col. Rhodes (Terrance Howard), and his bodyguard ‘Happy’ Hogan (Jon Favreau). Motivated by Yinsen’s death, Tony begins building a new suit of armor (with flight capabilities) to take on the Ten Rings as Iron Man, with the help of his on-board AI interface, J.A.R.V.I.S. (Paul Bettany).
In a surprising twist, it turns out that Tony’s business partner, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) was behind the terrorist attack and was playing both sides of the conflict. Obadiah is building his own mech suit, The Iron Monger, and just needs a power source, so he takes the Arc reactor out of Tony’s chest, nearly killing him.
Tony suits up in his Mark III armor and takes on the Iron Monger with the help of Rhodey, Pepper, and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) of SHIELD – the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. Afterwards, at a press conference, Tony Stark reveals to the world that he is Iron Man.
Ending Credits Scene: Nick Fury shows up at Stark’s Malibu home to discuss ‘The Avengers Initiative’.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK
Directed by: Louis Leterrier
“Hulk… SMASH!” – The Hulk
Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is on the run from the US government while attempting to find a cure for his ‘condition’, hiding out in South America. Years ago, Banner was the test subject of an experiment to recreate the super soldier serum that created Captain America, but something went wrong. The Gamma radiation released a rage-induced monster within him: The Hulk!
Banner is being tracked by General Ross (William Hurt), the father of his ex-girlfriend, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), and Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), a soldier who attempts to undergo a similar procedure which turns him into The Abomination!
After years of trying to stop The Hulk within him, Bruce discovers he can use it for good and unleashes the monster to stop Blonsky.
Ending Credits Scene: Gen. Ross meets with Tony Stark.
IRON MAN 2
Directed by: Jon Favreau
“You come from a family of thieves and butchers, and like all guilty men, you try to rewrite your history, to forget all the lives the Stark family has destroyed…” – Ivan Vanko
Tony Stark uses his Iron Man persona to promote a new Stark Expo based on his father’s legacy and puts Pepper in charge of his company. While Iron Man is helping the world, Tony’s world is falling apart. Between his alcoholism and the Palladium poisoning from the Arc reactor in his chest, Tony is dying. He gets into a confrontation with his friend Rhodey (Don Cheadle) who takes his Mark II suit and modifies it, becoming War Machine.
Tony’s new secretary, Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) reveals herself to be Natalia Romanoff aka The Black Widow, a former KGB spy turned Agent of SHIELD, working with Nick Fury and Agent Coulson. They stage an intervention and point Tony in the right direction towards discovering how to synthesize Vibranium, which he uses to power his new Arc reactor.
Meanwhile in Russia, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), seeks revenge on the Stark family. Vanko develops his own Arc reactor which he uses to create two plasma whips, which he uses to attack Tony at a race in Monaco. Tony survives the attack with the help of Happy providing his portable suitcase-suit and subdues Vanko. Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Tony’s long time rival, breaks Vanko out of prison to help him develop a new army of robots. Vanko aka Whiplash, double crosses Mr. Hammer and uses the drones to attack the Stark Expo and attempts to kill Tony, but is foiled by Iron Man, War Machine, and Black Widow.
Ending credits scene: Agent Coulson finds Thor’s hammer in the New Mexico desert.
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
“You know, for a crazy homeless person… he’s pretty cut.” – Darcy
THOR (Chris Hemsworth), God of Thunder, Son of Odin, and Prince of Asgard is a hero of the Nine Realms, but is also quite arrogant and foolish. Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) tricks Thor into attacking the Frost Giants. After disobeying his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) banishes Thor to Earth and renders him mortal, until he can learn humility. With Thor out of the way, Loki seizes the throne when Odin falls ill.
While on Earth, Thor meets a team of scientists in New Mexico studying the phenomenon that brought him there: Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Darcy (Kat Dennings), and Professor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård). At first they think he’s completely crazy, but soon realize that he really is the Thor of Norse mythology and that the Asgardians exist, but instead of literal gods, they’re just a race of highly advanced humanoids.
Thor locates his hammer, Mjolnir under quarantine by SHIELD and attempts to lift it to no avail. After being interrogated by Agent Coulson, Thor escapes and is approached by his Asgardian compatriots who’ve come to warn him of his brother’s treachery. Loki sends The Destroyer after him. Thor sacrifices himself to save his friends, enabling him to regain his power. He then returns to Asgard where he confronts Loki. Their fight ends with Loki falling into the dark void of space.
Ending credits scene: Erik Selvig is studying The Tesseract for SHIELD and it’s revealed that he’s under Loki’s control.
Directed by: Joss Whedon
“The Avengers. That’s what we call ourselves; we’re sort of like a team. ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ type thing.” – Tony Stark
When SHIELD is attacked by the nefarious Loki, Nick Fury must assemble a team of extraordinary people to fight back.
Loki brainwashes Hawkeye into helping him steal The Tesseract. Nick Fury and Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) attempt to stop them. Former Captain America, Steve Rogers, still adjusting to the modern world, is enlisted by Fury. Black Widow helps to recruit Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) for his experience with Gamma radiation. Agent Coulson and Pepper convince Tony Stark to help.
Together from a SHIELD heli-carrier, they track Loki’s whereabouts. Cap and Iron Man manage to capture Loki, but on the way back to base, Thor shows up and grabs his brother for a word. Thor attempts to reason with him, but their conversation is cut short by Iron Man. The two hash it out until Cap shows up and puts a stop to it.
Loki is brought aboard the heli-carrier, and from his cell manipulates the team’s animosity. Meanwhile, Loki’s men, led by Hawkeye, infiltrate the heli-carrier, sabotage the ship and unleash the Hulk. Thor fights off the Hulk, Black Widow snaps Hawkeye out of his trance, and Iron Man fixes the damaged turbine.
During Loki’s escape, he murders Agent Coulson.
Nick Fury rallies the team to avenge Coulson. Loki, with the help of Erik Selvig, uses The Tesseract to create a device that opens a wormhole in New York for an alien invasion force. Tony Stark confronts Loki while the rest of the Avengers fight off the Chitauri invasion. Bruce Banner arrives just in time and sets the Hulk loose, turning the tide of the battle.
Together, The Avengers defeat Loki and seal the worm hole.
Ending credits scenes: It’s revealed that Loki was working for Thanos… and then The Avengers have Shawarma.
AGENTS OF SHIELD
This series takes place between the movies and focuses on SHIELD’s battle against HYDRA. Season 1 – Episodes 1-7 take place before “Thor: The Dark World”, Episodes 16 and 17 tie-in with the events of “Captain America: Winter Soldier”, and Season 2 – Episode 19 leads into “Avengers: Age of Ultron”.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD
Directed by: Alan Taylor
“You must be truly desperate to come to me for help. What makes you think you can trust me?” – Loki
Jane Foster is in London, with Darcy, investigating a spatial anomaly when she accidentally crosses over into another ‘realm’ where she inadvertently uncovers a dark and mysterious substance: The Aether – an ancient curse with the ability to turn matter to dark matter.
Back in Asgard, Thor is alerted by Heimdall (Idris Elba) of her disappearance. Thor finds Jane and brings her back with him to Asgard in an attempt to save her life. Odin warns Thor that his love for a mortal will end in tragedy and suggests that he instead choose Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander).
Before Thor can figure out what to do, the Dark Elves, lead by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) attack Asgard in full force in an attempt to steal the Aether. Jane is protected by Thor’s mom, Frigga (Rene Russo) who is killed by Malekith during the battle. Enraged, Thor scars Malekith’s face with a bolt of lightning as the Dark Elf escapes.
Following the severe attack, Thor decides to strike back on Malekith’s soil, The Dark World. He enlists the aid of his twisted brother Loki, whose serving a life sentence in an Asgardian prison cell after attempting to conquer Earth. Loki attempts to act as though he doesn’t care about the tragic news, but it soon becomes apparent that he’s even more distraught than the rest of them.
“I wish I could trust you,” Thor says. Loki responds with sincerity, “Trust my rage.”
Right before confronting Malekith, it seems as though Loki betrays his brother, giving Jane over to Malekith and slicing off Thor’s arm, but it turns out to be all an illusion. Thor uses the deception in an attempt to destroy the Aether after Malekith separates it from Jane, but is unsuccessful, as it bonds with Malekith. During the ensuing conflict with the Dark Elves, Loki is killed saving Thor and the two share a very heartfelt moment as Loki says he’s sorry.
Jane and Thor make their way back to Earth through another portal. Together with Darcy and her intern, they track down Dr. Erik Selvig, in a mental institution (recovering from Loki’s brainwashing) to help them restore balance to the realms during the convergence.
Malekith attempts to use The Aether to destroy the universe in revenge for the death of his people at the hands of the Asgardians. Thor and Malekith fight their way through the Nine Realms until Thor manages to get the upper hand, using Selvig’s device to separate him from the Aether.
Back on Asgard, Thor gains Odin’s approval and is told to follow his heart, but in an unexpected twist, as Thor turns to leave, it’s revealed that it’s an illusion and that Loki is in fact sitting in Odin’s throne (alive) and smiling maliciously.
Ending credits scenes: Sif delivers the Aether to The Collector for safekeeping, in response he mutters to himself, “One down, Five to go…” (referring to the Infinity Stones)
Thor arrives back on Earth into Jane’s arms.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Directed by: James Gunn
“I am Groot.” – Groot
A rag tag group of interstellar mercenaries must work together to save the universe from total annihilation…
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a young man who was abducted from Earth as a boy, is a ‘legendary’ outlaw after a mysterious Orb which contains an Infinity Stone powerful enough to destroy a planet. It turns out he’s not the only one after the Orb – Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a Kree Sentry working for the mad titan, Thanos (Josh Brolin) with his second in command, Nebula (Karen Gillan) will do anything to get his hands on it.
After being locked away in an intergalactic maximum security prison, Peter must team up with Rocket (Bradley Cooper) – a raccoon-like gunslinger with a big mouth, Groot (Vin Diesel) – a sentient plant creature with a limited vocabulary, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) – the deadliest woman in the galaxy, and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bausista) – a man whose sworn revenge on Thanos for murdering his family (and doesn’t understand metaphors or sarcasm).
After escaping the prison, they track down The Collector (Benicio del Toro) and learn of the Orb’s destructive power. When Ronan obtains the Orb, intent on destroying Xandar, Peter convinces them to come together and stop Ronan. With the help of the Nova Corps and The Ravagers; Peter, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot take on Ronan’s ship, the Dark Aster.
During the battle, Groot sacrifices himself to save his friends. Before Ronan can destroy the planet, Peter distracts him with an invitation to a dance off. Then, together, they manage to take control of the Infinity Stone and seal it back in the Orb. Rocket plants Groot’s remaining twig in a pot and it grows into a little Baby Groot.
Ending credit scene: Howard the Duck makes a cameo appearance in the ruins of The Collector’s collection.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo
“Well, it looks like you’re giving the orders now, Captain.” – Nick Fury
Following the Battle in New York, alongside The Avengers, Steve Rogers joins SHIELD on a series of covert missions alongside The Black Widow.
At SHIELD’s Headquarters in Washington D.C., Nick Fury unveils a new Top-Secret project: “Operation Insight” – three state of the art heli-carriers with a satellite targeting system for preemptive strikes against potential terrorist threats. Steve sees it as trading in freedom for security and quits. Fury takes Rogers’s words to heart and asks for the project to be delayed.
As Fury is leaving SHIELD’s HQ, a hit is placed on him and he’s attacked by mercenaries acting as police. He barely escapes to Steve’s apartment, in an attempt to warn him, but is taken out by a sniper’s bullet. Steve races after the mysterious attacker and later learns from Natasha that the assassin is a former Soviet agent, a ghost operative known as The Winter Soldier.
Following Fury’s demise, Steve Rogers confronts Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) Fury’s superior and head of the World Council, for information on who may have tried to have him killed. As he’s attempting to leave the building, Steve is attacked by SHIELD agents and soon learns he’s been targeted and framed as a fugitive.
SHIELD is compromised.
Steve goes to Natasha for help in evading SHIELD’s forces and finding answers. The two find an old SHIELD base at the boot camp where he first trained. Inside the underground bunker they discover a massive (retro) computer system containing the consciousness of The Red Skull’s second in command, Zola. Zola reveals that after the war, Hydra had slowly infiltrated SHIELD and had been manipulating events ever since.
Operation Insight would utilize Zola’s algorithm to wipe out anyone who could pose a threat to their rule. It’s further revealed that Alexander Pierce is a Hydra agent, that he was behind the hit on Fury, and that the Winter Soldier answers directly to him. Captain America and Black Widow enlist the help of a fellow soldier, Sam Wilson aka The Falcon (Anthony Mackie).
While attempting to find a way to stop Hydra’s plan, they’re attacked by The Winter Soldier. During the stand off, Cap knocks his mask away to reveal his old friend, Bucky. It turns out that Bucky didn’t die when he fell off the train into the ice. With Zola’s help, Hydra resurrected him, gave him a robotic arm, wiped his memory, and turned him into the ultimate soldier. He’d been used to assassinate dozens of targets over the years, going into cryo-freeze in between missions.
Cap, Widow, and Falcon are captured by SHIELD, but set free by Agent Maria Hill who takes them to a safe house where Nick Fury is alive and well. Turns out he faked his own death so he could regroup and figure out who the traitors were. Together they stage an elaborate coup against SHIELD, revealing Hydra’s plan. During the battle in which they manage to destroy the heli-carriers, Cap faces off against his old friend.
In the end, SHIELD is dissolved, Hydra is at large, Pierce is killed, Bucky escapes, Fury goes into hiding, Widow faces her past, Maria Hill is hired by Stark Industries, and Cap sets out on a quest to track down Bucky with The Falcon.
Ending credits scenes: Hydra leader, Baron Von Strucker, reveals he’s in control of Loki’s scepter and is experimenting on a pair of supernatural twins: Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.
We see Bucky in civilian gear, heading to the Smithsonian and reading about his past.
IRON MAN 3
Directed by: Shane Black
“Some people call me a terrorist. I consider myself a teacher. America, ready for another lesson? …. You don’t know who I am. You don’t know where I am. And you’ll NEVER see me coming!” – The Mandarin
Some time has passed since the events of The Avengers, yet Tony is still traumatized by the alien attack, suffering PTSD. Tony and Pepper have grown closer, Col. Rhodes / War Machine has been re-branded as ‘The Iron Patriot’, Happy Hogan is now head of security at Stark Industries, working for Pepper, and Tony’s working on a new Iron Man prototype: MK42.
Then a terrorist begins to make statements on TV with a series of bombings, calling himself “The Mandarin” (Ben Kingsley).
When Happy is injured in one of the attacks, Tony takes it personally and calls out The Mandarin. In response, the terrorists attack Tony’s Malibu home. Tony uses his suit to protect Pepper from the explosions. His home is destroyed, his prototype suit is damaged, and he’s nearly killed in the attack. He escapes the wreckage, and with the world thinking him dead, begins to track down clues in the Mandarin bombings.
Without his suit, Tony tracks down the Mandarin’s headquarters to Miami, Florida. There he discovers that “The Mandarin” was just an act, portrayed by stage actor Trevor Slattery.
The real villain behind the ruse is Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), the CEO of AIM – Advanced Idea Mechanics. Aldrich, with the help of Tony’s ex, Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) worked on a project called EXTREMIS which was a genetic therapy that helped the body heal and improve itself. The experiment didn’t just heal subjects, it made them into living weapons, giving them abilities, but there was a dangerous side effect that could cause them to go thermal, hence the ‘bombings’. Aldrich was motivated by his hatred of Tony for ignoring him years earlier at a conference in Switzerland.
Killian captured Rhodes and used the Iron Patriot suit to kidnap the President. Tony and Rhodes escape AIM’s HQ and use the remote controlled Iron Man suit to save the other passengers of Air Force One. Aldrich then holds Pepper hostage on an oil tanker where he plans to kill the President on live TV. Tony uses JARVIS to initiate the ‘House Party Protocol’ which unleashes his ‘Iron Legion’ on Killian’s Extremis thugs.
Rhodes saves the President, and Pepper ends up saving Tony and killing Aldrich. The movie ends with Tony letting go of the past and finally undergoing a procedure to have the shrapnel removed from his chest.
Ending credits scene: Stark’s monologue throughout the movie is all from a conversation with Bruce Banner.
In this 13 Episode Netflix Exclusive, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind lawyer in Hell’s Kitchen, New York dons a masked identity to protect his neighborhood from a network of criminals under the brutal and methodical Kingpin, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio).
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Directed by: Joss Whedon
“I know you’re good people. I know you mean well. But you just didn’t think it through. There is only one path to peace… your extinction.” – Ultron
The Avengers must reunite to take on their greatest threat yet… an evil artificial intelligence unleashed on the world by Tony Stark in attempt to save it.