Bec recaps all 21 MCU movies for the uninitiated so you don’t have to.
Thanks to the mainstream popularity of the Avengers franchise, Avengers: Endgame has attracted a broad audience, well beyond committed comics fans and Marvel movie geeks. One of those enthusiastic newcomers – who happens to be my friend – was planning to catch the conclusion to a 22-film saga, but had only seen around half the movies and had a very basic understanding of the MCU. So she asked me for a refresher on the most important points from the series in order to understand what the heck was about to happen in Endgame. Instead of immediately responding with a link to LMGTFY, I took pity on her and let her read my notes, much like a friend who wants people to engage with Shakespeare but can’t get them past Baz Lurhmann. She found it very useful for her viewing experience, so I’m sharing it here – complete with uncensored personal opinions and “Language!” – in the hope that others might also find it useful. Think of this as your very own PSA when someone asks you about “all these comic book movies”…
The MCU is HUGE and full of important plot points and characters, so I have hacked my iceberg of a briefing into an elegant ice swan comprising only the elements really necessary to enjoy Endgame. This is for the parents who only know Iron Man as “the guy with the shiny suit”. For the boyfriend who wouldn’t stop asking you who Black Panther was while you were trying to watch Infinity War. For the time poor but curiosity rich. Remember: Marvel packed 22 films into 11 years so there’s a LOT to get through!
As Doctor Strange once said, “Faith is my sword, truth is my shield, knowledge is my armour.” Don the armour of knowledge and prepare for the Endgame…
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is split into three “phases”, each one leading to a big team-up movie. Some of the movies aren’t as important to the Endgame (and some are just terrible movies) but a lot of them are referenced in this final movie. What follows is an overview of important points to know before watching Avengers: Endgame…
PHASE ONE 2008-2012
- This is the first of all the MCU movies (Note for Dion: There’s no way I’m including Howard the Duck, the Fantastic Four film, the first Captain America film or the Dolph Lundgren (!) Punisher films here, buddy, so stop asking). It ends with Tony Stark at a press conference telling the world, “I am Iron Man”.
- Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, a (bad-boy) genius. His dad’s name is Howard. Howard Stark created Stark Industries, a high-tech weapons manufacturing business which also made Captain America’s shield out of Vibranium, a metal from Wakanda.
- His parents died “in a car crash” when Tony was a young adult; Tony subsequently took over Stark Industries.
- Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is Tony Stark’s Executive Assistant. They’re super flirty with each other.
- Iron Man’s suit and house have an AI identity called J.A.R.V.I.S. (Paul Bettany). This J.A.R.V.I.S. is named after Howard Stark’s butler, Jarvis (James D’Arcy).
- In a post-credit scene, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) shows up and asks him to join S.H.I.E.L.D. – a government agency that monitors superhero level baddies.
- This one is: IMPORTANT
- An origins movie with a different guy (Edward Norton) playing the Hulk – Mark Ruffalo took over after this movie, which is universally considered a good move.
- This one also co-starred William Hurt as General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, a character who returns in later movies; Liv Tyler (as Betty Ross) does not return.
- Honestly the only movie in the whole MCU I’ve never seen and don’t intend to. Some say it’s great. Some say it’s terrible. It hasn’t had any impact on my enjoyment of any of the other movies at all so I’d call this one: SKIPPABLE
- Scarlett Johansson is introduced as Natasha Romanov AKA Black Widow. She’s an ex-Russian spy / killing machine-of-death for the KGB. She joined S.H.I.E.L.D. partly as penance for her historical “crimes”.
- Colonel Rhodes, AKA Rhodey, one of Tony Stark’s friends, is given his own Iron Man style suit and becomes War Machine. Also, the actor gets switched from Terrance Howard to Don Cheadle.
- Pepper Potts and Tony get together because…why not.
- While there’s a few things going on, there’s not a heap of MCU development, so I’d say: SKIPPABLE
- Thor (played by a then-unknown Chris Hemsworth) is a Norse god from Asgard (think of it like a planet outside of our galaxy) who comes to Earth and falls in love with astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).
- There’s some witty one-liners, and some great shirtless scenes, but this is also the introduction of one of the best MCU characters: Tom Hiddleston‘s Loki.
- It’s basically Shakespeare in space (bonus: it’s directed by Kenneth Branagh), and it sets up background for a lot of later films, so: IMPORTANT
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)
- Set during WWII, Steve Rogers (Chris “Not The Human Torch This Time” Evans) is an orphan who wants to join the military but can’t because he’s weedy and sickly. He’s given “Super Soldier Serum” (cough-steroids-cough) that turns him into BAM POW HUNKY WOW.
- He has a best friend called James “Bucky” Buchanan Barnes (Sebastian Stan) who is also in the military and used to defend weedy Steve from bullies but now that Steve is BAM POW HUNKY WOW they just kind of fight Nazis together.
- Also Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) exists and is British. She’s a super-cool military chick who has a soft spot for weedy Steve and continues being flirty with him even after he has Super Soldier Serum (steroid) powers. She promises to teach him to dance after the war is over.
- Steve has to let Bucky fall to his death on a snowy mountain because reasons. It’s super tragic.
- Steve saves New York from HYDRA, a Nazi spinoff, led by the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) by redirecting and crashing a plane carrying bombs into the Arctic. Peggy reminds him of her promise to teach him to dance… just before he crashes. He’s presumed dead.
- Wow, amazing! Steve is found encased in ice and brought back to life decades later. Because that’s totally how being frozen in ice works (Thanks, steroi… Super Soldier Serum!)
- This one is: IMPORTANT
- Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, apparently just a dude who’s really good at shooting arrows), Hulk, and Captain America team up for the first time to battle big baddies from space.
- The baddies are being brought to Earth by Loki, Thor’s (adopted) brother, who is the God of Mischief.
- Loki has a blue glowy cube called the “Tesseract” and another powerful glowy thing which is contained in his sceptre. They’re the most powerful, OTT bullshit things we’ve seen in the MCU so far.
- The Tesseract lets whoever has it teleport through space, while the sceptre lets Loki mind-control people who touch it. Comic book nerds know that these are two “Infinity Stones”: the Space Stone and the Mind Stone.
- The Tesseract and sceptre are taken away from Loki and put in a safe place [?] by S.H.I.E.L.D.
- The end scene shows a giant purple dude on a throne. Huge nerds freak out because they know that this is Thanos (Josh Brolin), a Big Bad who gathers all six Infinity Stones in the comics, puts them in a blinged-out glove and wipes out half the universe with them.
- This one is: IMPORTANT
PHASE TWO 2013-2015
You’re halfway through! Keep going!
- This is…a really…bad…movie.
- Tony fights PTSD (which is timed conveniently around fighting “the villain”) following the events of The Avengers.
- The “villain” is The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley)… OR IS HE?!
- He also makes a ton of Iron Man-style suits with different abilities, kinda like MegaMan robots except not sentient… OR ARE THEY?!
- Pepper Potts wears an Iron Man suit for a bit to save Tony.
- There’s also a young kid who meets Iron Man and learns some shit from him but everyone always forgets he exists because this movie is so bad no one wants to think about it too hard.
- Like The Incredible Hulk, this one is: SKIPPABLE
- Also a bad movie. Man, 2013 was not a good year for Marvel films.
- Jane Foster / Natalie Portman is infected with some red goop that’s gonna kill her.
- Red goop turns out to be an Infinity Stone in goop form. It’s the Reality Stone. The stone is extracted from Natalie Portman and stashed for safekeeping. There is no more reality in astrophysicist Natalie Portman.
- Loki saves Natalie Portman from dying which is like a nice redemption arc thing for him.
- You can file this one under: SKIPPABLE
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)
- Just when you thought they couldn’t recover from 2013, this is widely regarded as the best movie in the entire MCU (among the demographic sample of myself and Jill).
- Opens with Steve jogging around the Washington memorial. There’s a nice dude called Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) also jogging, but at regular human pace. Every time Steve passes him (which is a lot), he says “on your left” (this becomes a nice call-back between Cap and Sam).
- Remember Steve’s old friend Bucky Barnes? THAT BITCH IS BACK. Turns out he was also preserved in polar pack ice (‘cos, again, that’s totally how cryogenics works) but he lost an arm. Hydra, the Nazi spinoffs, dug him up, brainwashed him in Russia and gave him a metal arm. Reimagined as the Winter Soldier, he’s now out to kill people for HYDRA / Russia… whatever. He’s an assassin automaton.
- S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised by HYDRA agents. They try to kill Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson as the eye-patched bad mutha who is head of the mysterious national security good guys). Fury gets a message to Steve / Captain America that he shouldn’t trust anyone.
- Steve gets into an elevator at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. A WHOLE BUNCH of totally sus looking undercover Hydra agents get in with him and try to take him down. He smashes them all in a big fight scene. It’s pretty awesome.
- Steve goes into hiding at Sam’s place, where they discover he was part of a military trial where people were given badass mechanical wings. Sam is now called Falcon.
- Steve, Black Widow and Falcon team up to stop HYDRA from killing a bunch of people (like 2 million) they see as “potential threats”.
- Steve recognises the Winter Soldier as his old mate Bucky and almost dies trying to get Bucky to remember who he is. Bucky finally saves him from drowning in the end and then disappears.
- This one is: IMPORTANT
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)
- One of my favourite movies in the whole MCU.
- Opens with Star-Lord (Chris Pratt… there are a LOT of Chrises in the MCU) landing on a planet where he’s trying to steal a round metal ball that contains a purple Infinity Stone (Power). He dances and lip-syncs to “Come and Get Your Love” as the opening scene, which defines this as the first intentionally comical MCU film.
- There’s a firearms-obsessed raccoon called Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a sentient, if laconic, tree called Groot (Vin Diesel).
- Also there’s two alien girls: one green (Gamora; Zoe Saldana) and one blue (Nebula; Karen Gillan) who turn out to be the adopted daughters of Thanos.
- Nebula is kind of like an android and can just lop off body parts if she needs to. She was built by Thanos.
- Gamora falls in love with Star-Lord and escapes her father’s oppression.
- The purple Power Infinity Stone is put in a safe place after a dance off to save the universe. It makes sense. Trust me.
- Please, rather than watch Iron Man 3, watch this one: IMPORTANT
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)
- Again, not a great movie.
- Hawkeye has a family, possibly to make up for the paucity of his character in most other areas.
- There are twin super-powered people. Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). Pietro dies in this movie which doesn’t seem to affect anyone whatsoever, but Wanda has telekinetic powers and becomes Scarlet Witch.
- Science dudes Tony Stark and Bruce Banner (the Hulk’s human form) work out how to make the power in Loki’s sceptre merge with Stark’s new, advanced planetary defense program A.I., but SURPRISE it becomes sentient and kills Tony’s old A.I., J.A.R.V.I.S.
- This new A.I. calls itself Ultron (using James Spader‘s voice) and uploads itself to artificial Iron Man replicas. Eventually it inhabits a body like a super-advanced sentient mannequin of death. It tries to build a “perfect” vessel for itself. There are many puppet references.
- Ultron tries to kill everything, but the Avengers stop it. Tony uploads the old J.A.R.V.I.S. software into Ultron’s new body, and it becomes a nice dude called Vision (and Paul Bettany is promoted from being a disembodied voice!).
- The power that was in the new Ultron (originally from Loki’s sceptre) becomes a glowing Infinity Stone embedded in Vision’s forehead (the Mind Stone).
- Also, the Hulk gets in the Avengers’ jet and just flies it away to God knows where and disappears because…reasons?
- End credits scene shows Thanos getting shitty with his incompetent minions and basically saying “Fuck it. I’ll do it [gather the Infinity Stones] myself”.
- Yeah it’s a really confusing movie with a lot going on.
- Look, you can sit through it, BUT, you know what? SKIPPABLE
- There’s a dude called Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who did science and worked out how to shrink a person to the size of an ant. Ant-size people are super-strong because science.
- Pym Particles are a science thing. They’re part of the shrink process. Only Hank Pym knows how to make them.
- Hank Pym shrinks a dude called Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and he becomes Ant-Man as part of his atonement for being a petty criminal with a heart of gold.
- It’s been a very long time since I watched this movie but I think that’s all the really important parts.
- Wait, this is also the first introduction of “The Quantum Realm”. That’s pretty important, later.
- Look, it’s a fun film, but if you’re pressed for time? SKIPPABLE
PHASE THREE 2016-2019
Look, you’re almost there! Go, you!
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
- Because lots of civilians died during Avengers: Age of Ultron there’s a big hullabaloo about superheroes needing to be held accountable for their destructive actions, and registered with / monitored by the government.
- Iron Man and Captain America disagree about whether superheroes should be regulated and have a falling out. For the record, Iron Man is PRO-government, Captain America is ANTI-government (what a twist!).
- The King of Wakanda is blown up in an attack on a UN meeting where he’s meant to be giving a speech about… (superheroes? Who knows). But, “Surprise!”, he was secretly a superhero called Black Panther and that role is now passed on to his son, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman).
- Bucky’s back, baby! And he’s remembered who he was (kinda) and is no longer brainwashed (kinda) so he teams up with his old bestie (and maybe more! 😉 Holla, Stucky ‘shippers!), Captain America.
- Superheroes take sides. You’re either Iron Man or Cap. This is also time to bring all the other superheroes into the same film. Except for the Hulk and Thor, who are mysteriously absent.
- Whuuut?! Here comes a brand-new Spider-Man! (Tom Holland). Tony Stark finds him in Queens and gives him a Spidey suit.
- Tony Stark discovers that his parents weren’t killed in a car crash, the Winter Soldier killed them (OMG!)…
- Cap leaves the Avengers and starts his own underground team. Iron Man is sad.
- This film is a bummer, and no one has any fun, BUT THE AIRPORT FIGHT IS AMAZING!
- You should really see it: IMPORTANT
- There’s a surgeon called Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who’s really, really good at being a surgeon, and kind of a dick at being a person.
- He gets in a car crash and his hands are smooshed up so he can’t perform surgery any more and he’s like, “WHY DO I EVEN EXIST THEN; LIFE IS POINTLESS!”
- He goes on a journey of self-discovery to a borderline racist Buddhist-style cult-ish place led by a woman called the Sorcerer Supreme (Tilda Swinton) who can access other dimensions and push people’s essences out of their bodies.
- Steven Strange studies under the Sorcerer Supreme and learns to do the same cool shit with magic.
- Doctor Strange finds a necklace with a green gem in it. It’s the mother-flippin’ Time Stone, y’all. He can control time now and see the future. Tilda Swinton dies and now Doctor Strange is the Sorcerer Supreme in charge of protecting this Infinity Stone (and Earth) from magical forces.
- Honestly, there’s a lot in this film, but: SKIPPABLE
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017)
- Well, you can’t always win: Bad movie.
- Introduces a new character called Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who can control other people’s emotions and put them to sleep by touching them.
- There’s a whole bunch of daddy issues and other weird shit. It’s a mess.
- Everyone was hoping for a great, wacky adventure and were thoroughly disappointed.
- This is entirely SKIPPABLE
- It’s my boyfriend! (Tom Holland)
- He’s hot. (Tom Holland)
- He’s beautiful. (Tom Holland)
- His parents died in a plane crash and he lives with his young Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).
- Tony Stark becomes a father figure to him and offers him a place in the Avengers, but he says he just wants to be the “friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man” for a while.
- There is also a worthwhile villain this time: The Vulture (Michael Keaton).
- This is a good film, so: IMPORTANT
- What happened to Thor and Loki…?! Oh, they’re on a scrapyard planet.
- WHAT? HULK IS HERE, TOO…?!
- Hulk is now Hulk permanently and can’t change back into Bruce Banner so he goes on a personal journey to work that shit out by hitting everything.
- This is a really great movie and very funny. You should watch it. If you’ve watched it already, watch it again.
- It doesn’t really do much to progress the MCU but it made me laugh, so: IMPORTANT
- Also a really good movie.
- Wakanda is an awesome place, and the production design in this film are AMAZING.
- Okoye (Danai Gurira) is head of Wakanda’s armed forces and intelligence agency. She’s also super sassy and totally badass.
- Black Panther has a little sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) who is a tech genius and creates his superhero suits.
- T’Challa has to fight his cousin Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) who has a stupid codename, but also the story is… fine.
- This does explain Wakanda a lot, which makes it: IMPORTANT
- Thanos has collected all six Infinity Stones and clicks his fingers to make half of all living things turn to dust because… that’s how fascists interpret “balance”?
- Think of Infinity War as Part One, and Endgame as Part Two of one story.
- This film is DIRECTLY RELATED to Avengers: Endgame, so: IMPORTANT
BUT WAIT! THERE’S TWO MORE MOVIES AFTER THIS..?!
Yes. Yes there are.
- Hank Pym’s daughter is now a superhero called The Wasp (Evangeline Lily), who can also shrink and be super-strong… plus she has wings and can fly so is generally better than Ant-Man.
- Ant-Man must rescue someone from The Quantum Realm and does. Surprise! It’s The Wasp’s mother, the original Wasp (Michelle Pfeiffer).
- Ant-Man goes back into The Quantum Realm via a portal in the back of a dodgy-looking van. All his buddies – including the Wasp – are meant to pull him out again, but they also get dusted by Thanos (See: Avengers: Infinity War, above) so he gets stuck in The Quantum Realm. End movie.
- Look, this one is fine, but: SKIPPABLE
- Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is a human who encountered super powerful energies and it turned her into a crazy OTT superhero who smashes the patriarchy.
- She’s part of the Kree Empire, which were from the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, and to an extent the Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show (we’re NOT getting into that).
- Can fly in space without a helmet.
- Basically the most powerful hero we’ve ever met.
- Don’t want to spoil too much if you haven’t seen it because it’s really really good and you should watch it. There’s also a cat in it.
- She’s been going around helping other planets with their big baddies, which is why she wasn’t on Earth to help with everything that happened previously in the MCU, even though Captain Marvel is set in the ’90s.
- A REALLY GOOD MOVIE! You should watch it: IMPORTANT
Now… finally… you’re in the Endgame, folks. Buckle up.
SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019)
- It’s my boyfriend! (Tom Holland)
- He’s hot. (Tom Holland)
- He’s beautiful. (Tom Holland)
- This film will be wonderful. Also stars the mysterious Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhall) and Nick Fury.
- This is one you should watch: IMPORTANT
THANK-YOU FOR COMING TO MY TED TALK.