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A snarky recap of Marvel's MCU before Infinity War

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Avengers: Infinity War is looking set to dominate the box office for the next few weeks, but not every person has seen all of the previous films. Since every geek-centered website already has a recap for the uninitiated, we over at Flixist decided that we’d try a different approach. Enter me; a guy that has only casually been interested in Marvel films and hasn’t even seen them all.

I’ve got a feeling that a lot of people seeing Infinity War will be in the same boat as me. As such, I’ve decided to provide a recap from my perspective so that the uninitiated don’t feel so alone. To clarify, I’m not using Wikipedia to fill in any details I’ve forgotten. I’ve also only seen each film once, save for the original Iron Man and Iron Man 3 that I’ve watched twice. This means I might be getting some details wrong, so I apologize in advance.

Without further delay, let’s get into all the pertinent details from each film you’ll need to better understand Infinity War on Friday.

Iron Man (2008)

This was the film that started the whole interconnected MCU 10 years ago and it was a real treat. Super hero films had been shot in the arm with Sony’s Spider-man, but nothing had taken on the angle of creating a bigger universe where heroes from different films might show up. Robert Downey Jr. was also brilliant in his portrayal of Tony Stark, which helped lend credibility to the idea of more Marvel films coming out.

Anyway, I’ll save praising the film for another time. This is more about all the details you’ll need for Infinity War, which is surprisingly not a lot. The original Iron Man obviously introduced us to the idea of the MCU, but it also brought about the origin story for Tony, welcomed in Pepper Potts, Happy and Nick Fury and set the tone for how this cinematic universe would proceed.

There was a villain and bad things happened, but most of that information has been swept away in subsequent films. Obadiah might have been the catalyst that got Tony to change his ways, but he has evolved beyond that and doesn’t really bring it up anymore. So, yeah, you don’t need to remember a whole lot from the original Iron Man.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

This is a real mess of a film. While basically every other Marvel film has something redeemable about it, Incredible Hulk is just a legitimately bad movie. The central characters from it are also completely absent in the rest of the MCU, making this feel even less substantial than it did back in 2008. It also doesn’t properly explain the origins of Bruce Banner, opting to provide his transformation in a messy flash of cuts and loud noises instead of showing you how he became infected.

The only real connection this has to the broader MCU is that the general chasing Banner in the film makes a return appearance in Captain America: Civil War. That one I did look up after watching Civil War, because I was trying to figure out why the hell he looked familiar. Bruce had a change of actors before Avengers, so getting attached to Edward Norton as Banner is pointless. Anyway, you can safely skip this movie and it won’t have any bearing on Infinity War.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

I never bothered to see this film. The only thing I know about it is that it introduced Black Widow into the MCU. Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock” was also used in a fight scene, so that is kind of neat. Apart from that, any story details or plot points don’t make return appearances in subsequent films and most people don’t even seem to care about this movie.

Thor (2011)

Thor was a film I saw with a friend from work. I mostly wanted to hang out with him, so I invited him to see this. What I remember is that the visual design was really strong, but nothing else about the main plot sticks out. The biggest thing Thor did was introduce Loki, who remains the strongest villain that the MCU has (excluding the Netflix shows). If there is any reason to watch this movie now a days, it is simply to see Tom Hiddleston’s rise to fame.

Jane Fonda, played by Natalie Portman, was primed to become someone special, but she is quickly cast aside after the second Thor film. There is a quick reference to her in Ragnarok, but she is no longer relevant. In fact, basically the entire cast of this film fails to make any return appearance, apart from the second film (and one random appearance in Age of Ultron). They don’t have any impact on the MCU and mostly act as comic foil to Thor’s more straight-faced approach.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

This marks the second Marvel movie that I haven’t seen. I don’t really care about Captain America, as a character, so I had no interest in seeing this movie. The only thing you’ll need to understand is that Cap was frozen following the events of WW2 and he ends up in the future during The Avengers. Cap’s friend, Bucky, also “died” in this film, which wonderfully sets up his return as the villain in The Winter Soldier.

Without having seen the film, I can’t say how good of a job it does with introducing the titular character, but the Captain America series is the only one that has more thought put into how it will continue in sequels. Sure, the villain doesn’t come back, but you’re at least introduced to more than one character that plays an important part in Infinity War.

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

This is the big event that Marvel had been building up for four years. This is where everyone comes together to take down a grand evil threatening the world. This broke box office records and solidified the MCU as a force to be reckoned with. Why don’t I like this movie, then?

I think the biggest fault with The Avengers is that a lot of the main plot is filler. There is about an hour where all the main characters bicker with each other on their stealth plane instead of doing anything heroic and that sucks all of the life out of it for me. There is also the death of Agent Coulson, a character I never really understood since I skipped Captain America.

With so many characters on screen, though, The Avengers goes for the most basic of plots and doesn’t really establish anything substantial (apart from the formation of this super hero team). I also thought it was ridiculous how Jeremy Renner was pegged as playing a substantial role, but then gets brainwashed in the first 15 minutes and disappears for half the film. Hawkeye sucks.

Anyway, you don’t really need to see this film to understand anything in Infinity War. It was a neat spectacle at the time, but the film is mostly just a crossover without much in the way of ramifications for the broader MCU. One plot detail does get followed up on in Iron Man 3, but the conclusion of it is pretty unsatisfactory.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

I only saw Iron Man 3 because of a friend. I had asked to hang out with him and he had made plans with his girlfriend to see some films, so she welcomed me to come along. Turns out Iron Man 3 was on the docket following The Great Gatsby, which was certainly an odd combination. Anyway, Iron Man 3 brings up the idea of Tony being shell-shocked about encountering alien life in The Avengers, but then some punk kid tells him he is Iron Man and that plot line gets resolved.

What I mostly know is that the behind-the-scenes production wasn’t so straight forward. Robert Downey Jr. wanted Pepper to have a bigger role, which led to her character not being killed off. Gwyneth Paltrow would then be absent from the MCU for four years while they negotiated her contract. Turns out Marvel didn’t really want to focus on any female characters, which displeased RDJ.

So while Pepper living on could have been huge, it ends up being a moot point until Spider-man: Homecoming. I think I’m starting to notice a trend here; the overall plots of each movie are pretty individual and don’t really have much bearing on what comes after. I mean, the ending for Iron Man 3 has Tony giving up his army of Iron suits, but then they come back in Age of Ultron. Clearly consistency isn’t a major component of these movies.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Since I wasn’t really impressed with the original Thor, I didn’t even give The Dark World peace of mind. Most fans consider this the weakest movie in the MCU and nothing that happens in it comes up again. Loki is back and “dies,” but that is played for laughs in Ragnarok. Jane Fonda also has a very cut down role and doesn’t show up again in the following movies. That is fun…

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Most people are surprised when I tell them I’ve never seen this movie. After the disappointment of The Dark World, Winter Soldier is apparently the best film in the MCU. I don’t have much of an interest in Cap, so I just said the hell with it. Turns out the whole plot was that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been infiltrated by HYDRA and was corrupted from within, which then feeds into future MCU films by making Cap mistrust everyone. Oh shit.

I know Bucky comes back and Cap can’t stop swooning over him, so there is a moral quandary between the two. Black Widow is also in the film and is basically a different character from her other incarnations, so that isn’t confusing at all. Really, this film sounds like a real mind fuck and I probably should watch it, but its overall story gets explained quite well in Civil War.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Yet another Marvel movie I haven’t seen. I know that Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” was featured prominently in the marketing, but I honestly don’t know a damn thing about this film.  There is a talking squirrel, a talking tree, a green lady, Bautista and Andy Dwyer, but everything else is a mystery to me. I guess Thanos has some deeper connection to the Guardians than the Avengers, but I’ll just have to figure that out on Friday.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

I did not see this film in theaters and actually only caught it after having watched Civil War. I was at a friend’s house and he put it on to show off his new 4K TV. Overall, the film wasn’t very good, but it planted the seeds for what was to come in the MCU. If there is any one film you must watch to better understand Infinity War, this is sadly it.

Tony Stark inadvertently creates the titular villain, Ultron, while trying to create some kind of AI network that will protect the world. This also ends up turning his personal digital assistant, JARVIS, into an actual being that ends up being the strongest known figure in the universe (disregarding Thanos). Hulk is dating Black Widow, Cap is still love struck about Bucky and Thor is…kind of pointless. He mostly acts as a way to throw in references to other films, which sucks.

You also get the inclusion of the X-men in this film. Oh, I’m sorry; I mean “gifted” people and not mutants. Quicksilver is totally pointless, but Scarlett Witch does go on to feature prominently in future films, making her introduction important. That comes at the expense of motivation for the villain, who is mostly thrown in, gets defeated and dies off. Age of Ultron is just a filler film for putting all of the pieces in place for better things.

Ant-Man (2015)

This I did happen to catch in theaters and I thought it was funny. It was a lot more light hearted than past Marvel films and the few scenes retained from Edgar Wright’s stint as director are wonderful. The rest is kind of the typical origin story, albeit with Paul Rudd acting as the star.

Interestingly, Ant-Man actually introduces a lot of backstory for Tony Stark’s dad. We find out that Hank Pym had worked with Howard Stark and that is what led to the Stark Industries’ focus on weapons. Apart from that, this is just an introduction to Rudd and how he obtains the shrinking suit. Evangeline Lilly also plays the love interest, but she won’t be important until the sequel releases in July.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

I think my dissatisfaction with this film comes from my expectations of it being more. I wanted deeper motivations, more emotional outcomes and just a tighter script. While the film is okay, it mostly feels like an introduction for Spider-man and Black Panther than it does a proper Captain America film. For that matter, it is a better Avengers movie than Age of Ultron.

That being said, clearly this film is crucial in understanding what is happening with Infinity War. Cap’s love for Bucky reaches a fever pitch, so he ends up breaking the law to protect his friend. Tony Stark finally grows a conscious about protecting the world, so he gets the government involved and kind of fucks things up for the Avengers. Allegiances are formed and the Avengers split, leading to some interesting new dynamics for the characters.

There is a lot of emotional weight being thrown around, but Civil War is mainly a spectacle for the eyes instead of the mind. This is like a soap opera with people wearing tights, though the actual ramifications of this movie’s events do directly impact future films. Since Tony and Cap had a massive falling out, it will be interesting to see how the two reconcile in Infinity War. I have a feeling that Tony is just gonna angry fuck Cap and then get on with it.

Doctor Strange (2016)

People were proclaiming that Doctor Strange was a bold new film for Marvel, so I fooled myself into seeing this. Turns out it’s just another origin story, but with trippy visuals! The end battle is neat, but Doctor Strange doesn’t really introduce anything that changes the MCU. Strange shows up at the beginning of Ragnarok, but this sidequest doesn’t really seem to be building up to anything.

I suppose you’ll need to know that one of the good guys feels betrayed by Tilda Swinton’s withholding of the truth and that he will probably be the villain in Doctor Strange 2. Aside from that, Strange is mostly an asshole to everyone in the film and transforms into a man with an understanding of cosmic realms. That doesn’t really serve much purpose, yet.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

I guess I just have no interest in the Guardians, because I also completely skipped on this. The way my friend put it was that the Guardians kill God and nothing else really matters. I remember watching some video about how Marvel action scenes suck and Guardians 2 was featured heavily, but I can’t say that I know much else. I guess Groot was a baby, so I suppose he is aging similar to Benjamin Button.

Spider-man: Homecoming (2017)

Spider-man films have had a shaky track record. The first two by Sam Raimi are considered classics, but then 3 happened and everything went to shit. Those Amazing movies also fail to live up to their titles, but Spider-man’s inclusion in Civil War was really fun. That fun translates to Homecoming, which is sort of like a teen comedy with super powers.

Anyway, for the sake of Infinity War, nothing of consequence happens in Homecoming. That is one of my problems with the film, in general, but you really don’t need to know a single thing that happens in this film apart from Peter Parker’s aunt now knows he is Spider-man. It does establish Peter’s friends, but they aren’t going to feature prominently in the Avengers film. Even Tony Stark as Peter’s mentor isn’t that big of a factor, apart from Pepper coming back into the MCU at the end.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Ragnarok was a lot of fun (and a Thor film that didn’t suck), but it also builds out Bruce Banner’s character more than I thought it would. Following the events of Age of Ultron, the Hulk decided to banish himself from Earth so as to not hurt the ones he cared about. This took him out of the MCU for a bit, but then also reveals that Banner feels like a liability to everyone. Pretty deep stuff.

Valkyrie is also introduced in Ragnarok and she will be playing a bigger role in the MCU going forward. I suppose Thor loses an eye, but you don’t need to see that happening to get caught up to speed. What you do need to know is that Loki is still a deceptive ass and he actually hands over the Tesseract to Thanos, which he grabbed towards the end of this film. Oh, Asgard is also demolished, which will mean big things for both Thor and the MCU moving forward.

Black Panther (2018)

I wasn’t expecting Black Panther to be as good as it was, so I was pretty damn shocked when I walked away enjoying the movie. This is one of the better Marvel films in a long while and that is mostly thanks to its relatable villain, Killmonger. Sadly, he doesn’t have much impact on the MCU apart from this film. He gets killed and T’Challa (the Black Panther) goes on.

In fact, the main plotline doesn’t really do much. T’Challa loses his powers for a bit, but then regains them towards the end of the film. It works great in establishing motivation for Wakanda’s assimilation into modern society, but you don’t need to sit through an entire film to get the gist of it.

I would still recommend watching this, but nothing that happens in the film has any real bearing on Infinity War. This isn’t an origin movie (since Black Panther had his origin in Civil War), but it also isn’t some wide reaching film with ramifications for everyone else. We do get introduced to Shuri and the army of Grace Jones look-a-likes (who are all in Infinity War), but you don’t need to see them prior to understand their role in Infinity War.

That about sums up all the information you’ll need before watching Infinity War. I feel a lot of people get caught up on plot details that they end up asking too many questions while watching a film. Marvel movies have done a pretty good job of quickly rehashing events in sequels to bring you up to speed, so I wouldn’t fret not knowing all of the minute details about each movie.

For instance, I’ve not seen Guardians of the Galaxy and they are a heavy part of Infinity War, but I know that Gamora is Thanos’ adopted daughter and their general vibe is as vigilantes. That is really all you need to know instead of what Rocket Raccoon did or who is falling in love with whom. Those details will be present to some degree in Infinity War, unless the film is really bad and everyone has been lying.

So I’d say just go in with an open mind and let events unfold. Stop trying to nitpick sequences or demand prior knowledge and you’ll be able to accept everything. You might not get the full emotional impact of certain developments, but binging all 18 films even a week before won’t properly prepare you for Infinity War anyway.


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Peter Glagowski
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