You might’ve heard about a massive superhero movie coming out this week. It is being advertised as the biggest blockbuster ever, completing a story that has been over a decade in the making. Marvel has released 21 feature films during that time frame and is ready to drop the finale, Avengers: Endgame. There is a lot at stake for the characters. Some are already dead, while others might still fall by the hands of the powerful villain Thanos. The remaining heroes will have to team up and face their biggest challenge yet.
With such a massive amount of films and lore, there are bound to be details you’ve forgotten. Whether you are new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe or you need a refresher course before buckling in for the Endgame, we will prepare you. Think of this as like the SparkNotes version of the MCU, a discussion of some important takeaways from the past Marvel movies and some minute details that will be helpful as you go into the latest.
Iron Man (2008)
Thanks to it being a massive financial and critical success, this movie led to the creation of an entire franchise of films we now call the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Robert Downey Jr. is perfectly cast as Tony Stark, a weapons manufacturer who builds himself a suit of armor after being captured by terrorists. He then announces himself as the superhero Iron Man and vows to change his company’s mission to something that would benefit mankind. Iron Man can fly, he has incredible armor, and he shoots projectiles out of his suit. And Stark’s high intellect allows him to create some of the most innovative inventions.
The other major introductions in this movie include Stark’s assistant turned love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), his military leader buddy James Rhodes (Terrence Howard), his chauffeur and bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau), his AI system assistant J.A.R.V.I.S. (voiced by Paul Bettany), S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), and of course, via the post-credits stinger, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who invites Stark to join “the Avenger Initiative.”
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
This installment features the introduction of the Incredible Hulk into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yet the actor playing the title character, Edward Norton, would only appear in the one film before later being replaced by Mark Ruffalo. Here, we learn that Dr. Bruce Banner is exposed to gamma radiation, and that makes him transform into a super-strong green beast of a man. The Hulk has an unbelievable power but remains uncontrollable. Banner has trouble containing the Hulk within him, and that can lead to massive destruction. His presence strikes fear in anyone who comes into contact with him, save for maybe General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt).
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Rhodes, now portrayed by Don Cheadle, plays a bigger role in this movie as he becomes War Machine, a superhero with similar abilities to Iron Man care of his own robotic suit of armor with flying capabilities. Another big introduction in this film is that of pretend personal assistant Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), a character with less flashy abilities. Lacking super powers, she’s actually an undercover super spy known as Black Widow who specializes in psychological manipulation.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the crown prince of the realm of Asgard and forever in a love/hate relationship with his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). These two characters are gods and have powers that exceed most of the other Marvel heroes. Thor can wield mighty weapons, fly, and call upon lightning. Loki is a master manipulator and can use his abilities to trick his foes. While banished from Asgard, Thor visits Earth and falls in love with a scientist named Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).
Another major character introduced in this movie is the S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). He is remarkably precise with a bow and arrow, never failing to hit his target. And the post-credit sequence showcases an otherworldly artifact known as the Tesseract. As it’s later revealed to hold one of the six Infinity Stones, the Tesseract will play a big part in many Marvel movies to come.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is too weak and deemed physically unfit to join the US Army and fight against the Germans during World War II. His spirit and determination lead him to an experiment, through which a special serum transforms him into the super-strong hero known as Captain America. The Tesseract also appears in this prequel film as wielded by the super-villain Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), who is trying to extract and obtain its power for the Nazi science division known as HYDRA.
Also introduced in this 1940s-set prequel are the important characters Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who becomes the love of Cap’s life, and James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who is a friend of Steve’s from back home who then fights by his side overseas. Sadly, Bucky appears to fall to his death during the final mission and Cap himself crash lands in the Arctic at the end of the movie, only to be resurrected in the present and brought to S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Avengers (2012)
Nick Fury needs Captain America, The Hulk, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Thor to fight Loki and save Earth. Loki uses the power of two Infinity Stones, The Mind Stone and The Space Stone, which is removed from its Tesseract container, for his evil plans. The Mind Stone allows him to take control of people, manipulating them to do his bidding. The Space Stone gives Loki the ability to transport an army of aliens to Earth in an instant, to quickly overpower the superheroes.
An epic battle wages over New York City between The Avengers and Loki’s army. After successfully saving the Earth, The Avengers separate until they are needed once again. The Space Stone is returned to the safety of Asgard, while The Mind Stone is sent to S.H.I.E.L.D. to be put into secure storage. Marvel also briefly introduces the super-villain Thanos during a post-credit sequence.