Inside The Marvel Cinematic Universe A Comic Nerd Connects The Dots

Words by Simone Ubaldi

By Simone Ubaldi, 21/4/2017
Brought to you by Marvel Studios

Your favourite superheroes are back! Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is hitting cinemas on April 25.

Over the last decade, a cornucopia of cinematic pleasures has been growing in the guise of your ordinary everyday Hollywood superhero blockbuster. Launched in 2008 with the critically and commercially triumphant Iron Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe draws on a legacy more than half a century in the making — the Marvel Comics franchise. And with Marvel Studios’ Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 about to hit the big screen, it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) isn’t just made up of sequels, prequels and spin-offs – it’s an interconnected cluster of plots and characters. And while you don’t need to understand how those connections work in order to enjoy the individual films, the nerds who can see how it all fits together have the ultimate fun.

With Andrew Levins of the Serious Issues podcast as our guide, we invite you to embrace your inner nerd and brush up on the films and characters of the MCU.

Iron Man
Iron Man (2008)

Superhero: Tony Stark/Iron Man

Superpower: Electromagnetic heart, weaponised iron suit that flies, also very funny

The super-short summary: Playboy industrialist turned iron-clad superhero Tony Stark became an unexpected poster child for a new era in action films, quipping his way to a US$585 million box office.

Our expert says: ‘They attached Robert Downey Jnr, who was fresh out of rehab, to play the lead, which seemed risky. But ultimately, that’s what defined that character. The snarky personality was so successful that the film ended up influencing the comic books,” Levins says. “The coolest thing about Iron Man is that at the end of the first movie, he saves the day and then Tony Stark gives a press conference and straight up admits that he is Iron Man. It was like, woah, this is a very different superhero movie!”

How it connects to the rest of the universe: In a big dopamine hit for Marvel devotees, a character named Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), director of a shadowy government agency named S.H.I.E.L.D., visited Stark to tell him that he was not the only superhero in the world, introducing something called the ‘Avenger Initiative’.

Thor (2011)

Superhero: Thor, prince of Asgard

Superpower: He’s literally a god, but useless without his hammer

The super-short summary: Borrowing heavily from Norse mythology, Thor begins in the heavenly other-realm of Asgard, where the hero is banished to Earth where he encounters S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and a hot physicist. While Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is on the earthly plain learning to be a better man, his scheming brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is up in Asgard, scheming.

Our expert says: “Loki is essentially an internet forum making fun of the heroes on screen. Loki’s entire life motto is to bring chaos to order, and he’s great at it. He’s cheeky, he’s morally ambiguous, as opposed to just flat out wanting to destroy the world.”

How it connects to the rest of the universe: A S.H.I.E.L.D. agent by the name of Hawkeye makes a brief appearance, destined to return shortly as a major team player, and in the post-credits sequence Nick Fury examines a cube-shaped object called a Tesseract, which becomes important later (stay tuned).

Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Superhero: Captain America

Superpowers: Strong, fast, handsome, dreamy, indestructible shield

The super-short summary: To date the only Marvel period film, Captain America: The First Avenger is set during World War II, when a sickly but noble-hearted kid named Steve Rogers is injected with ‘super-soldier serum’ and exposed to ‘vita-rays’ to make him truly excellent at everything, especially beating bad guys.

Our expert says: ‘These characters work so well because of the actors portraying them, and Captain America is another winner. Playing a super patriotic character like Steve Rogers is difficult, but it works because Chris Evans has such a natural humility. He’s inspiring and gung-ho, but he has such heart.”

How it connects to the rest of the universe: Captain America’s nemesis draws his powers from the previously mentioned Tesseract cube. At the end of the film, after being frozen in ice for 70 years, Captain America wakes up in the modern day and is recruited to join Nick Fury’s superhero squad, The Avengers.

The Avengers (2012)

Superheroes: Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, Captain America, plus sidekicks

The super-short summary: This is where it all comes together: all the heroes from the previous films join forces in a wickedly satisfying ensemble superhero flick. The action, which revolves around saving the earth from Loki and his evil alien alliance, is free to reign because the characters are already well-established.

Our expert says: “The Avengers is so rare because it’s the first real example of all of these different movies leading towards one big thing. We spent a movie at a time getting to know these characters, so it feels really earned when they all band together and save the world. It’s such a cool reward at the end of that journey. It was a feeling that cinemagoers, certainly nerds like me, had never had before.”

How it connects to the rest of the universe: Um, it IS the universe.

Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)

Superheroes: Starlord, Drax, Gamora, Groot and Rocket

Superpowers: Space rogues, with varying areas of expertise

The super-short summary: Based on a beloved ‘cosmic’ run of Marvel Comics, Guardians Of The Galaxy introduced Peter Quill, an earthling with no actual superpowers but a knack for getting himself into trouble. In this rollicking ensemble piece, Quill is joined by a motley crew including a comically straight strongman named Drax. Together, they steal stuff and fight intergalactic bad guys.

Our expert says: “Starlord is this relatable fish-out-of-water surrounded by all these insane, differently coloured alien beings who are immensely more powerful than he is. He’s this conniving earth dude, kind of a Han Solo figure, who weasels his way out of these impossible situations. It wouldn’t work if it wasn’t Chris Pratt. But Drax has all the best jokes. He’s a hilarious guy who isn’t super aware of human interaction so it often seems like he doesn’t belong and he just comes out with the weirdest things.”

How it connects to the rest of the universe: There’s a lot of action in here around ‘infinity stones’, powerful weapons that later turn up in Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015). Trust us, the stones are important.

HANDOUT IMAGE: Marvel's Ant-Man. Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal. © Marvel 2014. Credit: Zade Rosenthal/Marvel/Walt Disney Pictures

Ant-Man (2015)

Superhero: Scott Lang/Ant-Man

Superpower: Wears a suit that makes him very small, very strong and very hilarious. Can also control ants.

The super-short summary: Ant-Man is as close as we get to a pure comedy, helped along by the pathetic charm of lead actor Paul Rudd and British writers Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. Set just a few months after Age Of Ultron, the story involves a former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist, Hank Pym, who recruits a well-meaning thief, Scott Lang, to wear a superhero suit he has created and help him vanquish an evil enemy.

How it connects to the rest of the universe: Ant-Man does battle with a new-ish Avenger by the name of Falcon. Falcon shows up with Captain America in the post-credits sequence, where they discussing enlisting Ant-Man for a future mission.

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War L to R: Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Superheroes: All of them, plus some others

Superpower: See above

The super-short summary: After the chaos created in Age Of Ultron, the United Nations decides that the Avengers are a bunch of yahoos in need of close monitoring and control, and Iron Man tends to agree with them. Captain America disagrees and goes rogue with a little cohort of superhero supporters, including Ant-Man.

Our expert says: According to Levins, they finally got Spiderman right in Civil War. “He kind of worked in the Sam Raimi films with Toby McGuire but he was way too old. Peter Parker is really young, an awkward kid who makes dumb jokes while he’s fighting crime to fill the void of awkwardness or pep himself up.”

How it connects to the rest of the universe: All the players come out in this ensemble epic, including evil Nazi organisation Hydra and the ever popular ‘super-soldier serum’. Most exciting for fans, Peter Parker (AKA Spiderman) makes his debut appearance in the MCU as a superhero recruited by Tony Stark.

Doctor Strange (2016)

Superhero: Doctor Strange

Superpower: Magic hands

The super-short summary: Mystical woo-woo dominates this film, in which an arrogant neurosurgeon loses the use of his hands but gains the ability to turn back time.

Our expert says: “Marvel perfected the origin story with Iron Man and they use the same reliable formula in Doctor Strange. You’re introduced to a flawed character and then something terrible happens to that character and then they learn to become a hero in spite of the terrible thing that happens and in becoming a hero they become a better person. Basically, it’s Tony Stark in a cape.”

How it connects to the rest of the universe: Doctor Strange bends time with the mysterious Eye of Agamotto which turns out to be — you guessed it! — an infinity stone. He also hooks up with Thor in a mid-credits sequence, but not in a sexy way; in a ‘story to be continued’ kinda way, because the Marvel Cinematic Universe is actually just getting started.

The 15th film in the canon, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 could pull even more threads together from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We know that Starlord is on a mission to find out more about his true parentage. Could that set him on a course bound for earth? At some point, all those infinity stones and super destinies have to collide… it’s just a matter of time.


All images: Supplied by Marvel Studios


Continue your journey through the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, in cinemas on April 25. Click here for more information.

Brought to you by Marvel Studios

Your favourite superheroes are back! Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is hitting cinemas on April 25.