I would like to begin by stating that if someone’s directed you to this article, it’s pretty obvious that you don’t understand what on earth Marvel are doing with the overarching plot of their films. To be honest, no one really does. Alternatively, of course, you recognise your own lack of understanding in the field, and want to improve your knowledge. Then, when you see, ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’, your friends will lean over to ask you what on earth is going on, and you can have that smug sense of superiority in your knowledge. Good for you. Of course, there is the possibility that you’re fully aware of the franchise’s overarching plans, and just want to see if I’ve made any mistakes, which actually isn’t very nice. Nevertheless, allow me to give a simple (well, as simple as it’s possible) description of what has, and will occur throughout past, present and future films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. MCU for short.
Conveniently for both you, dear reader, and I, Marvel has divided its film releases into separate phases, giving this explanation a skeletal structure. To avoid confusion, I’ll be detailing the storyline in terms of when each film is /set/ in the MCU, rather than when the film itself was released. Captain America: The First Avenger, set in 1942, details the story of young propaganda model turned hero Steve Rodgers, and ends with him throwing a mysterious relic, which was used as a weapon by the enemy, into the artic ocean, with him shortly following. This artefact - a blue cube which glows - is known as the Tessarect. Remember that. It’s important. Next, we skip forward to 2008, where billionaire genius playboy philanthropist Tony Stark is captured by a terrorist group, builds a suit of metal to escape, and guess what? That’s right, he becomes a superhero too. Meanwhile, a Doctor Bruce Banner investigates the effect of radiation, leading to a monstrous transformation each time he is unable to keep his temper. That’s three of the Avengers down, three to go, for those of you keeping count. Follow this, we have an Iron Man 2, in which Iron Man experiences some character development, and meets Natasha Romanoff, also known as the Black Widow, and later, another Avenger. Apparently simultaneously, in the New Mexico desert, Thor appears, banished from his home of Asgard. That’s right; Norse God’s weren’t divinities, just humanoid aliens. A mysterious government agency which has been occasionally appearing throughout the films, S.H.I.E.L.D. set up camp at Thor’s landing spot, and Hawkeye (Avenger no. 6) is momentarily introduced to the audience. Back in New York, Steve wakes up to discover that he was frozen in ice for several decades. Marvel’s Avengers Assemble takes place; The group has been formed, and all is, for the moment, well with the earth. Phase one over.
Phase two is, thankfully, a little less complicated than the previously explained origin stories. It begins with Iron Man, on yet another quest of self-discovery, followed by Thor: The Dark World. This is important, because it introduces the aether. Remember the Tessarect? That glowy blue cube? Well, it’s part of what is known as the infinity stones. Seven jewels, which, when held together, give the holder ultimate power over the universe. The Tessarect is one, the aether another, the third in a staff held by Thor’s brother Loki, all these hinting at a possible coming storyline for later phases. This is followed by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s significance to the larger storyline being the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D, the government organisation supporting the Avengers - meaning now, they technically have no legal authority. The next instalment is presented in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy, otherwise known as Marvel’s Star Wars. This not only introduces a fourth infinity stone into the mix, but also creates a sense of a universe which is greater than recognised in previous films. Although that summarises the MCU films which have been released, there are certainly more to come, Phase 2 requiring the release of both Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Antman to be complete.
Although Marvel have also released a description of their Phase 3 plans, I will finish here. This is already complicated enough, and I haven’t even mentioned the two TV shows set alongside the films, (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Agent Carter, if you were wondering). So, I hope that I’ve managed to make a little sense out of a frankly, unnecessarily complicated movie franchise, and maybe now, when you sit down to see the newest Marvel movie, you’ll enjoy it a little bit more.