A Beginner's Guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe

06 Sep 2019 in Film Features

5 mins
AvengersEvans
AvengersEvans

Avengers: Endgame has broken multiple box-office records, both domestically and internationally, becoming one of the most commercially successful films of all-time. As its title suggests, the film is the culmination of an epic journey for a whole host of characters, resolving a 22-film, ten-year storyline within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) dubbed the 'Infinity Saga'.

Marvel blockbusters may be best-known for their gigantic CGI action scenes, but their underlying theme of teamwork, along with the personal stories and flawed characters that give the films their emotional foundation, means there are important lessons woven throughout this gargantuan series. But how did we get here? For the uninitiated, here is a brief overview of the inception and progression of the MCU thus far.

PHASE ONE

Iron Man (2008)

Overview: After creating a bionic suit to take down some bad folk, millionaire tycoon Tony Stark does the unthinkable and reveals to the world that he is, in fact, Iron Man.

Why it's notable: The first movie in the MCU.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Overview: The green-chested beast, played by Ed Norton here, attempts to rid himself of the condition which sees chaos reign when he gets angry.

Why it's notable: Probably for all the wrong reasons: it's likely the least watched, or even acknowledged, film in the whole canon.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Overview: A US-Russian superhero fight occurs when someone from the East attempts to replicate the technology behind Stark's suit.

Why it's notable: We got a Stark sequel before two of the team making up the core Avengers would even be introduced. Otherwise, it isn't.

Thor (2011)

Overview: The hammer-wielding Norse God is sent to Earth by his father, Odin, and ends up battling with Asgardian forces. Directed by Kenneth Branagh!

Why it's notable: Marvel don't do bad guys so well, but the introduction of complex and charismatic villain Loki is very much the exception to the rule.

Captain America:The First Avenger (2011)

Overview: The origins of one of Marvel's crown jewels is explored, introducing audiences to the idealistic Captain America, a patriotic young man who becomes a super-soldier in this World War Two-set adventure.

Why it's notable: Ongoing Nazi-inspired protagonists Hydra are introduced. The post-credits scene (now a Marvel staple) sees Nick Fury putting the band together.

Avengers Assemble (2012)

Overview: The four main superheroes join forces in modern-day New York to defeat Loki.

Why it's notable: Mark Ruffalo takes over the role of Hulk. Oh and it's the first film in the franchise to take in excess of a billion dollars worldwide at the box office.

PHASE TWO

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Overview: Tony Stark is suffering from PTSD after the events of Avengers Assemble and builds a host of replica Iron Man suits for protection.

Why it's notable: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director Shane Black as the surprise choice to direct, bringing his trademark wit and humour, paving the way for the likes of James Gunn, Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Overview: Loki is tried in an Asgardian court for his crimes on Earth before faking his own death. Classic Loki!

Why it's notable: A post-credits sequence reveals someone's collecting Infinity Stones, whatever they are…

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Overview: The continued hijinks of Steve Rogers and his band of brothers.

Why it's notable: This is the first film in the MCU directed by the Russo Brothers, who would go on to direct future Avengers films, culminating in the monumental Endgame. 

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Overview: A racoon, a plant and various aliens roam through space, looting and quipping along the way complete with a nostalgia-filled 1980s soundtrack.

Why it's notable: Many considered this to be a risky venture with lesser-known characters taking centre stage but this space-set oddity became a huge box-office hit. It also features the first appearance of Thanos, a complex villain who would become a big problem for our heroes.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Overview: Thor joins his three Earth buddies to combat the Stark-created Ultron, a sentient machine which aims to wipe out humanity.

Why it's notable: J.A.R.V.I.S. becomes Vision - a supercomputer in human form, basically, which takes Paul Bettany from the realm of voiceover to live-action - and in doing so an Infinity Stone is revealed.

Ant-Man (2015)

Overview: A smaller-scale caper in every sense, aided by charming Paul Rudd.

Why it's notable: The traces of Edgar Wright - who departed the project despite working on the script for some time - can still be felt in the comedy scenes.

PHASE THREE

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Overview: Phase Two may end quietly, but Phase Three begins with a bang. Iron Man and Cap have very different ideas of how superheroes should be managed, leading to a split in the group.

Why it's notable: First appearance of Tom Holland's Spider-Man, a character nobody ever expected to see in the MCU due to image rights issues.

Doctor Strange (2016)

Overview: Marvel gets metaphysical as an arrogant neurosurgeon learns mystical ways to fight dark forces.

Why it's notable: With visuals and set-pieces inspired by the likes of The Matrix and Inception, this is one of Marvel's more ambitious CGI efforts. And it was followed by…

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)

Overview: The Guardians return in a surprisingly emotionally affecting tale about family bonds, with Quill looking to reconnect with his long-lost father.

Why it's notable: Ego's planet consists of what James Gunn labels "the biggest visual effect of all time".

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Overview: After the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield versions, Tom Holland plays a younger, quirkier version of schoolboy Peter Parker and his web-slinging alter-ego.

Why it's notable: The title is a neat nod to the fact that this co-production with Sony allowed the superhero to join the MCU and return "home".

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Overview: Thor and Loki are banished to another planet and must face off against a returning Hulk.

Why it's notable: Much like the Iron Man films, Thor was freshened upon after a lacklustre sequel by a new director with his own distinct voice. Arguably the funniest MCU film to date.

Black Panther (2018)

Overview: The secret African country of Wakanda is finally revealed in this groundbreaking film from Ryan Coogler.

Why it's notable: With an almost exclusively black cast, the success of this (as well as titles such as Get Out at a similar time) proved that there was a real appetite for diverse stories, including black culture.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Overview: The beginning of the end! The first part of the mammoth two-parter which superbly juggled an insane cast of characters, creating exciting new partnerships and interactions while doing so.

Why it's notable: For giving modern audiences its Empire Strikes Back moment with one of the most shocking movie endings of the 21st century.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Overview: Scott Lang's miniature superhero is joined by an old friend to defeat a new enemy while on house arrest during the events of Infinity War.

Why it's notable: The first female superhero to be named in the title of an MCU film, ten years after the first entry…

Captain Marvel (2019)

Overview: The MCU travels back to the 90's to tell the story of Carol Danvers, a young pilot who might just become the most powerful superhero in the Universe...

Why it's notable: The first solo, female-fronted film in the MCU, Captain Marvel is a powerful, nostalgia-filled precursor to Endgame, setting a platform for her to become the newest Avenger.

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Overview: It all comes down to this. The survivors of the previous film must go on the MCU's most high-stakes mission yet, setting the scene for a decade's worth of story-lines and characters to finally come together.

Why its notable: Well, it is the highest-grossing film of all time...

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Overview: Spider-Man must step up to take on a new, deadly threat whilst on a European school trip, at the same time dealing with a recent, significant loss. 

Why its notable: The first film following on from the events of Endgame introduces us to a much-changed world and gives us a glimpse into the next phase of the MCU.

Beyond Endgame...

Now here we are, with Avengers: Endgame officially the highest-grossing film of all time in cinemas. Despite having some bumps in the road along the way it is impossible to argue against the commercial success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and even the most cynical of critics are rallying behind Endgame, describing it as one of the MCU's best outings. With ‘Phase Three' over, a fresh slate of films has been recently announced including a solo Black Widow film, new Thor and Doctor Strange sequels along with a whole host of new heroes to freshen up the scene. 

Although Avengers: Endgame is being described as a finale by a lot of people, the era of the superhero blockbuster seems to be far from over.

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