A Complete Guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)

By Tom Pritchard on at

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been going strong for eight years now, changing the world of comic book films for ever. Phases 1 and 2 are now over, but there is still plenty of Marvel magic on its way in Phase 3. Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe starts in April with the release of Captain America: Civil War, and ends in 2019 with the release of the big-screen adaptation of Inhumans.

This means we'll have had 11 straight years of Marvel movies, with many more still to come. That's a lot of films, and a lot of information to keep tabs on. Very few people can keep all that in their heads, so to help you out here is our in-depth guide to the films, short films, TV programmes, and comics that make up the MCU. We'll be updating this after each new instalment as well, so make sure to check back a couple of times a year to make sure your knowledge is up to date. Hit that bookmark button!

A Complete Guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU): Contents

This is a whopper of a post, so to help you jump to the sections you're most interested in, use this handy linked table of contents:

How the MCU Came to Be

Marvel Cinematic Universe Films

Phase 1

Phase 2

Phase 3

Phase 4 and Beyond

Short Films

TV Programmes

Comic Tie-Ins

Other Points of Interest

marvel cinematic universe

How the MCU came to be

When you think about it, it's shocking that it took until 2012 to get Marvel's super-team together on film. Live action superhero crossovers never really kicked off in the preceding decades, despite a number of attempts by Marvel to get a number of their characters onto the small screen.

In the past, the film rights to Marvel films were sold off to other film studios for them to develop with only a small amount of input from Marvel itself. Good examples of such films include 2002's Spider-Man and the X-Men franchise. You could argue that it was 1998's Blade that proved the time was right for a concerted big screen effort to realise the comic book universe on film,  but it wasn't until 2005 that the company actively started working towards creating its own films starring characters they owned the film rights to. Doing so meant they could keep creative control of characters, and potentially make more money than a typical licensing deal. Thus Marvel Studios was founded to make that vision of in-house films a reality.

It was around that time that Kevin Feige, current head of Marvel Studios and then studio second-in-command, realised that Marvel still owned the film rights to core members of The Avengers. He envisioned a shared film universe, similar to that of the comics, that would see the production of individual character films that would come together in an Avengers crossover film. Marvel then secured a total of $525 million dollars of funding from Merrill Lynch in order to make Feige's idea happen.

Then studio head Avi Arad wasn't convinced that this plan would be successful, eventually resigning from his position in 2006. Looks like he came out a bit worse for wear on that one. Feige took over as head of Marvel Studios in 2007, and the following year saw the release of Marvel's first independently produced film: Iron Man. The rest, true believers, is history.

Marvel Cinematic Universe Films

As mentioned before, all MCU movies (so far) are developed by Marvel Studios. The only exception to this is the upcoming Spider-Man reboot which is primarily being developed by Sony.

Phase 1

Iron Man (2008)

IRON MAN RECAP: It took a very long time for Iron Man to make it to the big screen, but when he finally did it ended up being the first chapter in setting up Marvel as a film studio and the MCU as a bonafide concept. It follows military weapons magnate Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) as he is kidnapped and held hostage in Afghan caves by a terrorist group known as The Ten Rings.

Sadly the kidnapping didn't go particularly smoothly, and Stark ends up with a chest full of shrapnel that can't be removed. The Taliban-like terrorist cell demands Tony build them advanced weaponry, but he has other ideas. Somehow, Stark is able to put together a miniaturised fusion-powered Arc Reactor to power a crude robot suit of armour (and keep the metal in chest from killing him) which he uses to escape.

Upon returning home, Tony declares that Stark industries will no longer be manufacturing weapons - a move that makes him unpopular with the military, his company, and his right-hand man Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). Forced out of his company, Tony then puts himself to work building and refining a more advanced version of his suit. In the process he masters flight, before installing weapons that are used to liberate villages from the Ten Rings and destroy illegally obtained Stark weaponry.

In the meantime, Stark's assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) realises that Obadiah was the person who arranged Tony's kidnapping and that he's working on his own suit of armour based on the salvaged remains of Tony's prototype. Upon returning home Tony is accosted by Obadiah, who immobilises him and steals his improved arc reactor chest piece (the one thing Stark Industries scientists have been unable to replicate).

Tony is able to survive by using his original (underpowered) arc reactor, and sets off to confront Obadiah. As this takes place, Pepper reaches out to SHIELD agents (including Phil Coulson) who set out to arrest Obadiah. Sadly they're no match for his giant-sized suit, and Tony is forced to fight alone. Eventually Tony ends up victorious by exploiting a weakness in Obadiah's suit (mechanisms freezing at high altitudes), and blowing up the large arc reactor that powers Stark Industries.

The films ends with Tony speaking at a press conference explaining the previous night's events. Despite SHIELD suggesting that Iron Man is Tony's bodyguard, he instead announces to the world that he is Iron Man.

A post credits scene features Tony returning to his mansion to find JARVIS offline, and Nick Fury waiting for him to talk about "The Avengers Initiative"

Super Awesome Fun Fact #1

It may surprise a lot of people to find out that Iron Man was never that big of a character before 2008. It's baffling to think about now, but Tony Stark was overshadowed by far more popular characters - hence why it took so long for a live action adaptation to pop up. Of course, that didn't stop people going ape-shit when it was announced that Robert Downey Jr had been cast in the title role, even though Iron Man co-creator Stan Lee claimed there was no one better suited for the role.

Links to other films

Being the very first film in the MCU, there weren't very many links to other Marvel franchises. The only one of note is Samuel L Jackson's cameo appearance as Nick Fury in the post-credits scene, there to talk about The Avengers Initiative. You can also see a prototype version of Captain America's shield in the background of Tony's workshop, though.

Marvel Cameos

Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury | Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello as a security guard | Stan Lee as not-Hugh Hefner

You can buy Iron Man on DVD or Blu-ray, bundled with Iron Man 2 & 3, or as part of the complete Phase 1 box set

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

THE INCREDIBLE HULK RECAP: In a move that's a bit unheard of these days, The Incredible Hulk skips the origin story, jumping straight into the action of Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) on the run and hiding from the US Army in Rio. You could argue that the groundwork had already been done by Ang Lee's Hulk of 2003 – but the less said about that mess the better, and it's not really touched upon in Marvel's cinematic universe.

In this semi-reboot, Bruce splits his time between day labour at a local soft drink bottling plant, and researching ways to try and cure his condition with the aid of a mysterious internet ally 'Mr Blue'. The condition? Becoming the giant green rage monster that rears his ugly head whenever Bruce's heart rate gets too high.

Unfortunately a minor accident at the bottling plant leads to one of the drinks being contaminated with Bruce's gamma-infused blood, and when an old man (Stan Lee) winds up with radiation sickness it leads the Army straight to his door. The chase eventually leads back to the bottling factory, where local thugs accidentally cause Bruce to 'Hulk out' and attack the pursuing soldiers.

After the Hulk escapes, Bruce ends up begging his way through South and Central America back across the border to seek Mr Blue's help in person. Meanwhile General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) rethinks his strategy to capture the Hulk, and injects Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) with a super soldier serum (a crude recreation of the same formula that produced Captain America – more on that to come later). Bruce eventually arrives at his old lab at Culver University where he hopes to claim the research data from the experiment that originally turned him into the Hulk. The data was confiscated by the Army, but Bruce is able to reclaim it after reuniting with Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), a former girlfriend. But the Army isn't far behind, having been tipped off to Bruce's whereabouts by Betty's current boyfriend Leonard Sampson (Ty Burrell).

This leads to an open battle at Culver University where the Army attempt to subdue the Hulk using sonic cannons. The attempt is unsuccessful, and in the process the enhanced Blonksy is seemingly killed after attempting to take on the Hulk by himself. The Hulk escapes with an injured Betty, and the two hit the road to reach Mr Blue at Colombia University in New York. Meanwhile Blonksy miraculously recovers from his injuries, and requests to take more of the super soldier serum. Ross refuses his request, fearing what the effects might be.

Bruce and Betty reach Colombia and meet Mr Blue, who turns out to be biology professor Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson). Sterns believes he has a cure for Bruce's condition, which he administers by inducing a Hulk out - successfully causing the Hulk to revert back into Banner. At this point the Army storms the building, taking Bruce into custody. Shortly afterwards Blonksy forces Sterns to inject him with Bruce's blood in an attempt to gain more power. In the process Sterns is injured and exposed to Bruce's blood, while Blonksy is transformed into a large beige Hulk-like creature (known in the comics as the Abomination).

Abomination goes on a rampage through Harlem, and is confused by many to be the Hulk. Bruce convinces Ross that he is the only person able to take on Abomination successfully, and jumps from the Army helicopter not knowing whether he will turn into the Hulk or not. He does shortly after hitting the ground, battling Abomination and causing a serious amount of damage to the surrounding area - including crashing (and nearly blowing up) Ross's helicopter. He is eventually successful in defeating Abomination, nearly killing him in the process, and escapes.

The film ends with Bruce living in the Canadian wilderness, attempting to induce his transformations in a more controlled manner.

A post credits scene shows Ross getting drunk in a bar, shortly before being approached by Tony Stark about "a group that's being put together". I wonder which group he means?

Super Awesome Fun Fact #2

Director Louis Leterrier was originally not in favour of casting Edward Norton, instead wanting to cast Mark Ruffalo. Norton was studio execs' choice due to his similarity to Bill Bixby (star of The Incredible Hulk TV series) and his experience playing characters with conflicting dual personalities. Ruffalo, as most people now know, went on to play Bruce Banner in The Avengers after Norton chose not to reprise his role.

Links to other films

There are two big links in The Incredible Hulk, the main one being the super soldier serum. Both Banner and Blonsky were transformed by an attempt at recreating the serum that turned Captain America into a super soldier (plus radiation). The other is the appearance of Tony Stark in the post credits sequence.

SHIELD is also subtly referenced at times, and the sonic cannons used by the Army to try and subdue the Hulk are manufactured by Stark industries.

Marvel Cameos

Lou Ferrigno (the 1970s star of the Hulk TV show) as a campus security guard and voice of the Hulk | Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark | Stan Lee as the man poisoned by Banner's blood

You can buy The Incredible Hulk on DVD or Blu-ray, or as part of the complete Phase 1 box set

Iron Man 2 (2010)

IRON MAN 2 RECAP: Set around six months after the events of Iron Man, Tony Stark is back to work as a superhero/genius/billionaire/playboy/philanthropist. At this point in time the world has embraced Tony as Iron Man, but the US government is concerned that the technology could be obtained by its enemies and used for bad things. They demand that Tony hand over his technology so that they might better protect themselves (or better fight wars), but he refuses. Instead Tony argues that the enemies of the US are too busy trying to recreate some form of Iron Man technology of their own, and failing miserably. As long as they continue to fail, Tony insists that nobody is going to bother trying to take on the US. Iron Man has become, what Tony calls, a new nuclear deterrent.

As this is happening Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a disgraced Russian physicist, loses his father Anton. Anton Vanko used to work for Howard Stark, but was apparently too motivated by greed and was deported after being caught trying to sell plans for arc reactor technology to the USSR. Ivan blames the Starks for his family's suffering, and begins work on his own suit of armour powered by a miniature arc reactor similar to Tony's. Using the reactor to power electrified whips, he attacks Tony at the Monaco Grand Prix before being defeated and imprisoned.

Following this event, Tony ends up hiring a new assistant Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) since he made his old assistant Pepper Potts CEO of Stark Industries. While this is happening, Vanko is broken out of prison by Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a rival of Tony's, who wants some revenge for the humiliation Tony caused him - which he plans to do by having Vanko create him super-powered armour that can be sold to the military.

Due to blood poisoning brought on by extended use of the arc reactor in his chest, Tony, fearing death, goes on a self-destructive binge which leads him into conflict with long-time friend James 'Rhodey' Rhodes (Don Cheedle). Rhodey steals an older version of Tony's armour, leading to a fight that blows up part of Tony's mansion. Rhodey then takes the suit to the Air Force who hire Justin Hammer to make it combat ready.

Deeming his behaviour unacceptable, Tony is confronted by SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) who gives a box of his father's old things with instructions to create a new element that will solve the negative repercussions of prolonged arc reactor use. In the process he also reveals that Natalie is in fact SHIELD agent Natasha Romanov/Black Widow, sent to keep an eye on him.

Tony is successful in his attempt, crafting a brand new element using a particle accelerator he built in his garage. As you do. At the same time, Vanko has ditched plans to build Hammer suits of armour and presents him remote controlled combat drones. Hammer presents these drones at the ongoing Stark expo, including Rhodey in his fully-weaponised War Machine armour. Unfortunately the drones (and Hammer) are hijacked by Vanko who uses them to attack civilians and later Tony himself. Romanov manages to free Rhodey from Vanko's control, allowing the two to take out the drones together - as well as fighting Vanko in an improved version of his original armour. Vanko is defeated, and despite detonating explosives in his suit and the drones there are minimal casualties.

The film ends with Tony being informed by Fury that he isn't a suitable candidate for The Avengers due to his difficult personality, and is instead relegated to consultant status.

A post credits scene features Agent Coulson arriving in New Mexico, at a crater containing Thor's hammer Mjolnir.

Super Awesome Fun Fact #3

Iron Man 2 is the first part of what has been dubbed 'Fury's Big Week', covered in the comic tie-in of the same name. It's named as such because the events of Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor all happen within the same seven day period - roughly in that order.

Links to other films

Iron Man 2 has long been criticised for how it really tries to set up an awful lot of things in the wider MCU. The main link is the appearance of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) who is impersonating a Stark Industries employee in order to assess Tony Stark as an Avengers candidate. Nick Fury also turns up again in order to put an end to Stark's self destructive behaviour and later to tell him that he's not really suitable to take a position on the superhero team. The post-credits scene also features Thor's Hammer, Mjolnir.

Other smaller links include a copy of a comic book featuring Captain America knocking out Hitler, a longer cameo for the prototype of Cap's shield, as well as background footage from The Incredible Hulk featuring the Hulk fighting soldiers at Culver University.

Marvel Cameos

John Slattery as Howard Stark | Stan Lee as not-Larry King

You can buy Iron Man 2 on DVD or Blu-raybundled with Iron Man 1 & 3or as part of the complete Phase 1 box set

Thor (2011)

THOR RECAP: Thor begins with astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) in a van in the desert attempting to observe a bizarre astronomical phenomenon with colleague Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and intern Darcy (Kat Dennings). Instead they get caught up in a bizarre sandstorm and end up running over a blonde man, Thor, (Chris Hemsworth) standing in the middle of the desert.

The film then flashes back to a few days previously, where Thor is about to be crowned as heir to the throne of Asgard by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). The ceremony is cut short thanks to two frost giants infiltrating Odin's vault in order to steal the Casket of Ancient Winters, a confiscated relic that gave Frost Giants the power to conquer multiple worlds roughly a millennium ago. Enraged at what he considers an act of war, Thor enters the Bifrost wormhole generator and heads to the Frost Giants homeworld of Jotunheim with four friends and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). They plan to find out how the two giants made it into Asgard undetected.

The trip does not go according to plan, with Thor's arrogance and ego causing conflict between the group and the Frost Giant leader Laufey. The six of them are rescued by Odin who then scolds Thor for acting without thought and accidentally igniting a war. Thor berates his father for apparent cowardice, and is banished to Earth without his powers as a result. This leads to him being hit by Jane's van.

While Thor is taken to hospital, his hammer crash lands not far away. The hammer had since been enchanted by Odin, meaning nobody unworthy of wielding its power is able to lift it, leading to locals competing to see if anyone can move it. Not long afterwards, SHIELD arrives and contains the area to try and figure what the hammer's deal is. Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Loki discovers that he was adopted, having been born as a Frost Giant and abandoned by his true father (Frost Giant leader Laufey). Loki angrily confronts Odin, and the stress causes Odin to fall into the 'Odinsleep' to recuperate his lost strength. Until he awakens, Loki is crowned intermediary king of Asgard.

On Earth Thor struggles to acclimatise to the culture, discovering that actions that are acceptable on Asgard (like declaring himself a true warrior and smashing a mug to get more coffee) are totally unheard of on Earth. He discovers that Mjolnir is in a crater not far from town, and breaks into the temporary SHIELD base in order to retrieve it along with research papers that had been confiscated from Jane's lab. Finding himself unable to lift it, he is taken into custody and briefly interrogated by Agent Coulson. Loki then appears to Thor, lying and telling him that Odin is dead. Hearing of his father's demise sends Thor into a mild depression, and he resigns himself to the fact that he can never return home. Loki also discovers he is unable to lift the hammer.

Thor is eventually freed by SHIELD thanks to some poorly constructed lies by Erik, and after drinking him under the table he presents Jane with her recovered notebook and explains to her some of the science and magic of Asgard.

It's then revealed on Asgard that Loki was the mastermind behind the original Frost Giant incursion, and Thor's subsequent exile. He makes a pact with Laufey that would see Odin killed in his sleep, allowing Loki to become the official King of Asgard. Meanwhile Thor's friends find themselves unhappy with Loki's rule and head to Earth in order to bring him home. When Loki discovers this, he sends the mystical weapon The Destroyer to Earth to hunt down and kill Thor once and for all.

Thor is reunited with friends who inform him of Loki's lies, but are attacked by The Destroyer before they can return to Asgard. Realising that the battle cannot be won, Thor sacrifices himself in order to save his friends (old and new) - an act that makes him worthy of wielding Mjolnir once more. He then easily defeats the Destroyer, which is salvaged by SHIELD, and returns to Asgard to confront Loki.

While this has been going on, Loki snuck more frost giants into Asgard to kill Odin. That was, in itself, a ruse, with Loki's true goal being the destruction of all frost giants - an act that he hopes will earn him Odin's respect. After sabotaging the Bifrost to destroy Jotunheim, he is confronted by Thor. After realising that he can't stop the Bifrost by himself, Thor destroys it - saving Jotunheim but also preventing him from returning to Earth. An ensuing struggle with Loki ends up with the treacherous demi-god realising that all his actions were in vain, and he deliberately falls from Asgard into the depths of space.

The final post-credits scene has Selvig meeting with Nick Fury about working on the Tesseract, in the hopes of turning it into an unlimited energy source. Here it is revealed that Selvig is being influenced by Loki.

Links to other films

Thor is more of a stand-alone film in comparison to other parts of the MCU, but there are some links if you look carefully. The main one is the appearance of Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and SHIELD. Another minor link is when Eric Selvig mentions a missing scientist who was a "pioneer in gamma radiation", an obvious allusion to Bruce Banner.

Marvel Cameos

Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury | Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye | Stan Lee as an unnamed pick-up driver

You can buy Thor on DVD or Blu-raybundled with Thor: The Dark Worldor as part of the complete Phase 1 box set

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

CAPTAIN AMERICA THE FIRST AVENGER RECAP: While most MCU films are set in the modern day, The First Avenger sends the action back to the early 1940s, while the world was knee deep in World War 2. Things kick off in a Norwegian town that is attacked by Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), head of Nazi advanced science division Hydra, who is in search of the ancient Tesseract, a powerful artefact supposedly of Asgardian origin. At roughly the same time, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is once again attempting to enlist in the Army to head to Europe and fight against the Germans. Sadly a weak physique and a string of health problems means he is rejected.

Later, while attending a scientific expo featuring the work of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) with his friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), he makes another attempt. This time is a success, thanks to government-sponsored scientist Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) overhearing an argument he had with Bucky about wanting to do his part. Steve is then sent to a government training facility led by Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) and SSR Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). The purpose of this camp is find someone suitable to test Erskine's super soldier serum on, with the idea of creating soldiers who are at peak human condition. Despite reservations from Phillips, Steve is chosen after proving his bravery and worth. Erskine then reveals to him that Schmidt once used an imperfect version of the serum, and while that improved his physical condition it seared the flesh away from his face.

In Europe, Schmidt has presented the Tesseract to his chief scientist Armin Zola (Toby Jones) who harnesses the cube's power to power advanced weaponry. At this point he learns Erskine's location, dispatching assassins to kill him. The assassin is successful, killing Erskine shortly after successfully treating Steve with the serum. Steve gives chase, but the assassin kills himself with a cyanide capsule before he can be taken into custody. At the same time, all existing samples of the super soldier serum end up destroyed.

Steve is then put to work as 'Captain America', a colourful patriotic caricature used to sell war bonds and help fund America's war effort. A while later, after a cold reception from troops stationed on the European front, Steve discovers that Bucky has been captured by Hydra. With the help of Peggy and Howard Stark, he parachutes behind enemy lines to rescue him and other captured Allied troops. The rescue is successful, but in the process Steve comes face-to-face with Schmidt in the burning Hydra facility. Schmidt then reveals his disfigured visage, and the reason he is referred to as the Red Skull.

Upon returning to base, Steve recruits Bucky and other rescued prisoners into an elite team referred to as 'The Howling Commandos'. The team is tasked with destroying Hydra weapons facilities across Europe, and Steve is outfitted with a new uniform and lightweight indestructible shield (made of vibranium) by Howard Stark. Eventually the team hijacks a train transporting Zola, capturing him but losing Bucky in the process. Zola is taken into custody, and he reveals the location of Schmidt's base and his plans to attack the USA with weapons of mass destruction.

Steve storms the facility, making his way onto Schmidt's fighter just before it takes off. Steve prevents individual aircraft from splitting off from the main fighter, and confronts Schmidt in the cockpit. In the process the Tesseract's container is damaged, and after handling it Schmidt disappears (it's not clear whether he was transported into deep space or disintegrated). The Tesseract then burns through the plane and falls into the ocean. Seeing no other way to prevent the fighter from causing massive amounts of damage to the US, Steve deliberately crashes it into the Arctic Ocean. Search parties are eventually called off after the Tesseract is recovered, since there is no sign of the downed fighter.

Steve eventually wakes up in what appears to be a 1940s hospital, but sees through the ruse and escapes to find himself in the middle of modern day New York. He is then surrounded by SHIELD agents, and informed by Nick Fury that he's been frozen in the ice for the past 70 years.

The post credit scene is a clip from The Avengers, showing Fury approaching Cap in a gym to recruit him for a world-saving mission.

Links to other films

A few biggies in here, the most obvious of which are the inclusion of a young Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), and the appearance of the Tesseract. As some of you might know, The Tesseract plays an integral role not only in The First Avenger, but the big The Avengers film too. It's also one of the six Infinity Stones, which have been popping up across the MCU and will be playing an integral role in Avengers: Infinity War Parts 1 & 2 (set to be released in 2018 and 2019).

Marvel Cameos

Stan Lee as an unnamed General | Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury

You can buy Captain America: The First Avenger on DVD or Blu-raybundled with Captain America: The Winter Soldieror as part of the complete Phase 1 box set

The Avengers (aka Avengers Assemble) (2012)

THE AVENGERS RECAP: Taking place several months after the events of the previous Marvel movies, The Avengers kicks off at a joint SHIELD/NASA research facility designed to tap into the power of the tesseract. Unfortunately all this accomplishes is bringing Asgardian Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to Earth, who immediately takes control of scientist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and SHIELD agent Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) before escaping and causing the destruction of the research facility.

SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) uses this opportunity to reactivate The Avengers Initiative, bringing in a group of special individuals from across the world. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) locates Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in India, and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) brings in Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr). Fury himself brings in Steve Rogers/Captain America, who is still trying to adapt to life in the 21st Century, and send him to Germany to retrieve the tesseract and bring in Loki. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is knocking about, too.

With the help of Tony Stark, Cap is able to bring Loki into custody on the SHIELD Helicarrier, but is unable to prevent the mind-controlled Hawkeye from stealing Iridium (a rare stabilising agent). En-route to SHIELD, the quinjet carrying Loki is assaulted by Thor who kidnaps his brother and confronts him in the forest. Tony and Cap arrive to retrieve Loki, engaging Thor in a fight and accidentally flattening the entire forest. Eventually Thor accompanies the group to the Helicarrier, while Bruce and Tony begin a search for the Tesseract's energy signature.

Tensions rise when it's discovered that SHIELD plans to use the Tesseract to power advanced weaponry as a means to fighting off potential alien invasion. This fight is cut short by the arrival of a strike team, led by Hawkeye, who blow up a number of the Helicarrier's engines, cause Bruce to transform into the Hulk, and free Loki. Tony and Cap set about getting the engines back online, while Thor attempts to prevent Loki from escaping. Tony and Cap are successful but Thor is imprisoned in a cage built to contain the Hulk. Loki is then attacked by Coulson, but is mortally wounded as Thor's cage is then dropped from the Helicarrier. At the same time, the Hulk falls out of the sky after jumping onto, and attacking, a fighter jet.

After being briefed by Fury (who manipulates them with Coulson's death), Tony and Cap realise that Loki is enacting his master plan in Tony's skyscraper in New York. Tony flies off to confront Loki, while Cap recruits Black Widow and Hawkeye and commandeer a quinjet to head to New York. Tony tries to stall Loki, before being attacked and suiting up into a more advanced version of his armour.

Erik Selvig then opens a wormhole over New York, allowing an army of Chitauri to travel to Earth and attack the city as Cap, Widow, Thor, and Hawkeye arrive to contain the damage. In the meantime Bruce awakens inside an abandoned warehouse, after hitting the ground and reverting back to human form. Banner eventually arrives in the city, and helps the rest of the Avengers fight off the invasion and evacuate civilians.

Black Widow eventually snaps Selvig out of his mind control, and learns of a way to close the wormhole. At the same time Hulk beats Loki into submission, and the World Security Council launches a nuclear missile at Manhattan - despite Fury's attempts to prevent it. Thankfully, Tony is able to intercept the missile and flies it though the wormhole where it explodes and destroys the majority of the alien fleet.

Thor then claims the Tesseract and uses it to transport himself and Loki to Asgard, while the rest of the Avengers go their separate ways.

The post credits scene features The Other (Alexis Denisof) declaring to Thanos that attacking Earth would be like "courting death itself".

Links to other films

Pretty much all of it. This film was the whole reason the MCU was put together after all.

Marvel Cameos

Damion Poitier as Thanos | Alexis Denisof as The Other | Ashley Johnson as an unnamed waitress | Stan Lee as TV interviewee who doesn't believe in superheroes.

You can buy The Avengers on DVD or Blu-raybundled with Avengers: Age of Ultronor as part of the complete Phase 1 box set

Phase 2

Iron Man 3 (2013)

IRON MAN 3 RECAP: The film opens up in 1999,where Tony Stark has been speaking at tech conference. He is ambushed by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pierce), a nerdy-looking crippled man who wants Tony to contribute to his think tank Advanced Idea Mechanics (AIM). Tony agrees to speak with Killian, but later stands him up after meeting Maya Henson (Rebecca Hall), a scientist who has created a drug called Extremis. Extremis grants organisms extra durability and healing abilities, but a glitch also causes them to spontaneously explode.

Back in the present, a few months after the events of The Avengers, Tony is suffering from a form of anxiety which prevents him sleeping and brings on periodic panic attacks - all caused by his near-death experience of travelling through the Chitauri wormhole. At the same time, the US has fallen victim to a number of terrorist attacks from a mysterious warlord known as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), and Killian reappears at Stark Industries looking slightly less nerdy and no longer crippled.

Shortly after, Tony's friend and former bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is seriously injured in one of the Mandarin's attacks causing Stark to publicly issue a threat against him and his organisation. As this is happening Maya confronts Stark and informs him that she has been working with AIM, believing them to be working for The Mandarin. Minutes later Stark's mansion is attacked and destroyed (again) by The Mandarin's forces. Maya and Tony's girlfriend Pepper both survive, but Tony is believed to be dead after going down with the wreckage. In reality Tony is able to escape, but not before losing consciousness.

Tony finally awakens many hours later to find JARVIS (Paul Bettany) has piloted the armour to rural Tennessee, the site of an explosion exactly the same as other Mandarin attacks that were blamed on a local veteran rather than the terrorist ring-leader. After his suit runs out of power, Tony manages to get help fixing and recharging it with the help of a local boy Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins). After Harley helps him overcome an anxiety attack, Stark discovers that the attacks are being caused by disabled military veterans who have been exploding thanks to them being treated with Maya's still-glitched Extremis. Tony is then attacked by two of the Extremis-powered assassins, who appear to be working for the Mandarin. He is able to beat them with Harley's help, and manages to trace The Mandarin's terrorist broadcasts to a compound in Miami.

Tony then infiltrates the compound using improvised weaponry, and is captured by Killian who is confirmed to be working with the Mandarin. Killian also exposes Pepper to Extremis in order to blackmail Tony into fixing the compound's fatal glitch. He also kills Maya after she has a change of heart and demands Tony be freed.

Tony obviously escapes due to the arrival of his recharged armour, and rescues James Rhodes/Iron Patriot/War Machine (Don Cheedle). Rhodey was captured while trying to locate The Mandarin, and had his armour hijacked by one of The Mandarin's men. Tony and Rhodey then discover that 'The Mandarin' is actually an English actor called Trevor Slattery, and not a very good one. Trevor was hired by Killian to play the Mandarin, and provides an explanation for the explosions caused by the Extremis-infused test subjects. They also discover Killian is planning on kidnapping US President Ellis (William Sadler) using the hijacked Iron Patriot armour.

Tony heads off to rescue the president from Air Force One. He is unsuccessful in his attempt, but is able to rescue the rest of the passengers and staff members on the plane. The president is taken to an abandoned oil tanker, where Killian plans to execute him and leave the US under the control of the vice president - a puppet controlled by Killian who has promised to heal the VP's disabled daughter.

Rhodey is able to save the president, while Tony uses dozens of specialised suits of armour (controlled by JARVIS) to rescue Pepper and take on Killian's men. He eventually succeeds, but not before Pepper falls apparently to her death. Thankfully her new Extremis abilities meant she was able to survive, and uses them to kill the enraged super-powered Killian.

The film ends with Tony destroying all of his suits in an attempt to salvage his broken relationship with Pepper. He also undergoes surgery to remove the pieces of shrapnel that had been lodged near his heart since the events of the first film. Despite no longer needing an arc reactor to survive, Tony declares that he will always be Iron Man.

The post credits scene reveals that the entire film has been Tony Stark recalling the past to Bruce Banner, who fell asleep near the start of the story.

Links to other films

The appearance of Ho Yinsen in the opening scene is a call back to the conversation he had with Tony in the first Iron Man film. Many references are made to the events of the Avengers, most notably related to Tony's panic attacks and nightmares.

Marvel Cameos

Stan Lee as beauty pageant judge | Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner | Shaun Toub as Ho Yinsen

You can buy Iron Man 3 on DVD or Blu-ray, or bundled with Iron Man 1 & 2

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

THOR THE DARK WORLD RECAP: Thor: The Dark World begins with a narration from Odin (Anthony Hopkins) who details an ancient war between Asgard and a race of Dark Elves, whose leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) wants to use the Aether to destroy the nine realms. Malekith was defeated by Odin's father Borr, and the Aether was sealed away while the Dark Elves fled to enter suspended animation.

A further flashback shows Loki's return to Asgard, and subsequent imprisonment for attempting to conquer Earth in The Avengers. The film then jumps ahead a year or so to show Thor and his team fighting to return peace to the nine realms, which had since fallen into chaos after the destruction of the Bifrost at the end of Thor.

Back on Earth, physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is doing research in London, travelling to an abandoned factory where portals are disrupting the laws of physics. These portals are the result of a 'convergence', a time period where the nine realms align, which only takes place every few thousand years. Jane is transported into one of the portals, where she comes in contact with the hidden Aether. On Asgard, Thor realises something is wrong when the all-seeing Heimdall (Idris Elba) realises that he cannot locate Jane.

Jane eventually returns to Earth, and is reunited with Thor. Unfortunately Jane displays otherworldly powers in a scrap with the police, forcing Thor to bring her to Asgard for observation. Odin recognises the power she possesses is the Aether, and warns of catastrophic consequences that would occur should it fall into the hands of Malekith.

In the meantime, Malekith and the remaining Dark Elves have awoken from hibernation, having sensed the Aether's power. He turns his lieutenant Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) into one of the Kursed, Dark Elves imbued with enhanced strength. Algrim infiltrates Asgard as a prisoner, and stages a breakout while Malekith invades Asgard with his army. Thor and Loki's mother Frigga (Rene Russo) is killed protecting Jane, enraging both of her sons.

Malekith flees Asgard, prompting Thor to demand Odin use Jane as bait to finish the threat once and for all. Odin refuses, causes Thor and his allies to break Loki out of prison to find another route to Svartlheim, the planet once home to the Dark Elves. Their attempts are successful, and they manage to lure Malekith and other elves to the Dark World. Thor and Loki attempt to use trickery to defeat Malekith and destroy the Aether, but are unsuccessful. Malektih successfully removes the Aether from Jane and absorbs it into himself. Loki manages to kill Algrim, but at the cost of his own life.

Thor and Jane appear to be trapped on Svartleheim, until they discover a portal to London. It's there they reunite with Jane's intern Darcy (Kat Dennings), and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) who has been placed into a mental health facility after appearing to have a breakdown. They realise Malekith plans to use the Aether in Greenwich, in order to restore the Dark Elves to dominance during the convergence. Thor fights Malektih, attempting to stall him and prevent him from destroying the nine realms, sending the two battling through portals and all over the galaxy.

Jane, Darcy, and Erik eventually use their own equipment to portal away sections of Malekith's body, preventing him from using the Aether, and eventually transporting him to Svartleheim where he is crushed by his own ship. Thor then returns to Asgard, where he refuses Odin's request to take the throne - instead choosing to return to protect Earth. It's then revealed that 'Odin' is actually Loki in disguise.

The mid-credit scenes feature Sif and Volstagg (Jamie Alexander and Ray Stevenson) delivering the Aether to The Collector (Benicio Del Toro), stating that keeping two Infinity Stones in the same place is unwise (referencing the Tesseract). A final post-credits scene features Thor reuniting with Jane once again.

Links to other films

A few references to The Avengers, mainly Jane demanding to know why Thor didn't get in touch before or after battling the invading Chitauri. Loki disguises himself as Captain America for a few seconds as a joke. The post-credits scene featuring Benicio Del Toro links into Guardians of the Galaxy and makes reference to the Tesseract being kept safely in Asgard after the events of The Avengers.

Marvel Cameos

Chris Evans as Loki/Captain America | Stan Lee as a mental hospital patient | Chris O'Dowd as Richard | Benicio Del Toro as The Collector | Tony Curran as Bor

You can buy Thor: The Dark World on DVD or Blu-ray, or bundled with Thor

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

CAPTAIN AMERICA THE WINTER SOLDIER RECAP: Set two years after the events of The Avengers, The Winter Soldier has Cap working for SHIELD and leading a covert strike force across the world with the help of Black Widow. The film opens with the team being sent to a SHIELD vessel overtaken by mercenary Georges Batroc in order to free hostages. While he fights Batroc, he discovers that Black Widow also has another agenda - she's been ordered to retrieve the vessel's research data by Nick Fury.

Unhappy with being deceived, Cap confronts Fury at the Triskellion, SHIELD's main base of operations. It's here that he's briefed about Project Insight, three permanently airborne helicarriers able to identify and pre-emptively eliminate threats. Cap expresses reservations about infringing civil liberties in this way, but resigns himself to the fact there isn't much that can be done. Later on Fury attempts to decrypt the data retrieved by Black Widow, and finds himself unable to do so - apparently at his own order.

Later that day Fury is ambushed by assassins while driving, saved only by his quick thinking and the armour on his car. He escapes and heads to Cap's apartment, giving him a USB drive containing all the information from the SHIELD vessel. Fury is then gunned down by an assailant, leading Cap to discover that his neighbour Sharon (Emily Van Kamp) is a SHIELD agent and not a nurse. Cap chases down the gunman, also known as the mythical assassin The Winter Soldier, and throws his shield in an attempt to incapacitate him. To his shock the gunman catches the shield in mid-air, and throws it back in order to escape. Fury later dies in surgery, and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) recovers the body.

Cap is then summoned back to the Triskellion by Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), a senior member of SHIELD and a member of the World Security Council. Not knowing who to trust, Cap hides the flash drive inside a hospital vending machine before heading to meet Pierce. Before he can reach Pierce's office, Cap is assaulted by his former team in the lift and is forced to flee. Pierce brands him a fugitive, and Cap is only narrowly able to escape the base. He is reunited with Widow at the hospital, discovering that she retrieved the data for him. The two then use the data to discover a hidden bunker beneath the base where Cap first received his training, and inside they discover a computer bank containing the mind of Armin Zola (Toby Jones).

Zola explains the situation, informing Cap and Widow that ever since SHIELD was founded in the late 1940s Hydra has been secretly growing within its ranks. Zola's mind was digitised and saved in the 1970s after his body succumbed to terminal illness, and has been put to use advancing Hydra's goals ever since. Zola then admits he was stalling for time as a SHIELD missile hits the bunker, destroying it and almost killing Cap and Widow in the process.

Realising that Pierce is the leader of Hydra, Cap and Widow enlist the help of Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), an Air Force veteran Cap befriended earlier in the film. Retrieving the flight pack Wilson used during his time in the air force, the trio then kidnap Jasper Sitwell - a Hydra mole within SHIELD. Sitwell is coerced into explaining what Project insight really is, an algorithm written by Zola that identifies and eliminates possible threats to Hydra's plans. Shortly afterwards Sitwell is killed in an ambush by The Winter Soldier, who Cap recognises as his old friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). They manage to escape with the help of Maria Hill, and discover that Nick Fury is alive after all. Gravely injured, but not dead. Fury then explains his plans to sabotage the three helicarriers by swapping out their control chips.

Using the arrival of World Security Council members to infiltrate the Triskellion, Cap informs SHIELD of Hydra's plans. Meanwhile Black Widow, disguised as one of the WSC members, disarms Pierce and forces him to unlock the SHIELD database so Nick Fury can leak classified information and expose Hydra to the public. Following a struggle, Fury kills Pierce.

During this time Cap and Falcon infiltrate the helicarriers and manage to swap two of the three control chips. Falcon's suit is then damaged by the Winter Soldier, and while trying to replace the third chip Cap is forced to fight his former friend. Finally swapping out the chip, control of the three helicarriers is handed over to Hill who uses them to destroy each other. Cap continues to try and reach through to Bucky, despite all the brainwashing he received at the hands of Hydra with little success. The third helicarrier eventually crashes into the Triskellion, throwing Cap into the river below. Luckily he is rescued by Bucky who has started to remember glimpses of his past life.

The film ends with SHIELD in complete disarray, and Black Widows testifying about the event in front of a Senate subcommittee. Fury, who the world still believes to be dead, abandons his old life to hunt down Hydra in Eastern Europe, while Cap and Falcon both agree to search for Bucky.

There are two credits scenes, the first shows Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker in his secret base telling his second in command not to worry about being exposed as Hydra, then revealing the newly empowered Maximoff twins in cells.

The second features Bucky visiting the Captain America exhibit, and realising what Cap had told him about his past life was true.

Links to other films

Numerous references to Cap having been asleep for 70 years are made throughout the film. Agent Sitwell name-drops one Stephen Strange, due to be played by Benedict Cumberbatch in his own film in 2016. Tony Stark is mentioned as having had some input in the design of SHIELD's new Helicarriers, particularly with the 'repulsor' engines.

Marvel Cameos

Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter | Stan Lee as an inept security guard | Danny Pudi as a SHIELD technician | Gary Sinise as the narrator of the Captain America exhibit | Aaron Taylor Johnson as Quicksilver | Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlett Witch | Thomas Kretschmann as Wolfgang von Strucker

You can buy Captain America: The Winter Soldier on DVD or Blu-ray, or bundled with Captain America: The First Avenger

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY RECAP: Guardians of the Galaxy begins in the 1980s, with a young Peter Quill in the hospital visiting his dying mother. Unable to cope with losing her, he runs out into the night in grief. Upon reaching a patch of grass, he is abducted by a spaceship pirated by Yondu (Michael Rooker), leader of a gang of pirates known as the Ravagers.

The film then jumps to the present day, where Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) is exploring the ruins of a former civilisation on a desolate planet. He eventually retrieves an orb suspended in an energy field, and is accosted by Kree warrior Korath (Djimon Hounsou) and his team of Sakaaran soldiers. Quill escapes with the orb, and it's revealed that by taking it he was intentionally screwing over Yondu who insists that he saved Quill's life by not letting him be eaten as a child. Quill then takes the orb to Xandar, where he unsuccessfully tries to sell it to a private broker.

Meanwhile Kree radical Ronan (Lee Pace) awakens from hibernation to discover that Korath was unable to retrieve the orb. To rectify the situation he sends assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to retrieve it from Quill on Xandar so that he can give it to the titan Thanos (Josh Brolin), and see the destruction of Xandar and its empire. Gamora assaults Quill, who is also being pursued by bounty hunters Rocket, a talking racoon, and Groot, a walking tree, (played by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel respectively) who want the large bounty placed on his head by Yondu. In the process of fighting over Quill and the orb, the four of them are arrested by the Nova Corps and sent to prison.

In prison they are met by Drax, an angry literal brute who wishes to kill Gamora for her role in the death of his family at the hands of Ronan. Quill informs him that Gamora betrayed Ronan, who will be seeking revenge, and this will give Drax his chance to avenge the death of his wife and daughter. With the promise of a share of four million credits, the group then escapes using a plan devised by Rocket, retrieve the orb, and head to the isolated space station Knowhere.

It's here that the group (minus Drax) meets The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) who informs them that the orb houses an infinity stone, an object of immense power from the dawn of the universe. Unfortunately The Collector's abused aid decides to claim the stone for herself, and is disintegrated by it. The ensuing blast destroys most of the Collector's museum forcing the future Guardians to flee and declare that nobody can be trusted to wield this power except the Nova Corps. It's at this point that they realise a drunken Drax has informed Ronan of their whereabouts in order to try and claim his life.

Drax is easily beaten by Ronan, who is humiliated and left depressed. Meanwhile Gamora, Rocket, and Quill all flee in mining pods trying to escape Ronan's forces, led by Gamora's adoptive sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). Nebula retrieves the orb by destroying Gamora's pod, and rather than letting her succumb to exposure in space Quill risks his own life by giving Gamora his zero-g helmet. But before he does so he informs Yondu and the Ravagers, who had worked out the orb would be going to the Collector, of his location, and they pull him in from the vacuum.

Meanwhile, Ronan has discovered that the orb contains an Infinity Stone, and refuses to give it to Thanos. Instead he embeds it in his hammer, with the intention of destroying Xandar on his own.

After being threatened by the Ravagers for stealing the orb, Quill manages to convince them that it's in their best interests to save Xandar - especially when he offers them the orb in payment. The five Guardians come up with a plan, and head to Xandar to protect them from Ronan's fleet. Once Ronan reaches Xandar, the Ravagers blast a hole in Ronan's ship which the Guardians fly into to destroy it from the inside. After a confrontation with Sakaarans, Nebula, and then Ronan himself, the ship is brought down and Groot sacrifices his own life to save the other four.

Unfortunately Ronan was not killed in the crash, and attempts to destroy Xandar with the power of the stone. That is, until he is distracted by Quill's ridiculous dancing, which gives Rocket and Drax enough time to destroy Ronan's hammer and knock the stone to fall to the ground. Quill manages to catch it in mid-air, but is quickly overcome with the immense power it contains. Gamora, Drax, and Rocket all join hands with Quill and share the power between them, using it to destroy Ronan before locking the stone within a containment sphere. Yondu then claims the stone for himself and leaves, not knowing that Quill replaced the real stone with a troll doll.

The film ends with Groot recovering as a sapling in a pot of dirt, and the Guardians being thanked by the Nova Corps for saving the capital of their empire. With their criminal records expunged, the Guardians then head off into space for new adventures.

There are two post credits scenes, the first of which involves the Groot sapling dancing along to The Jackson Five and freezing whenever Drax looks over at him. The second features the aftermath of the explosion in the Collector's museum, where he is licked in the face by Cosmo, a Soviet space dog, and chastised for allowing it by Howard the Duck.

Super Awesome Fun Fact #4

Vin Diesel's casting as Groot was all thanks to him trolling interviewers and fans. Diesel claimed he had been approached by Marvel to play a role in Phase 3, and later set his social profile as an image of The Vision on his Facebook page to fuel the fire. We now know that Paul Bettany plays Vision, but this stunt caught the attention of someone at Marvel Studios who brought Vin Diesel in to voice the sentient tree. Diesel also voiced Groot in all the international dubs, since he only had to learn three words for each language.

Links to other films

Guardians of the Galaxy is the most stand-alone film in Phase 2, so doesn't have many major links. The obvious one is the appearance of Thanos, who briefly appeared at the end of The Avengers and was responsible for giving Loki command of the Chitauri. Two of the Infinity Stones (The Tesseract and the Aether) make a small appearance in hologram form when The Guardians meet The Collector. The Collector's museum also houses a Chitauri warrior, and a Dark Elf.

Marvel Cameos

Josh Brolin as Thanos | Alexis Denisof as The Other | Stan Lee as an old man flirting on Xandar | Nathan Fillion as the voice of the inmate assaulted by Groot | Seth Green as the voice of Howard the Duck

You can buy Guardians of the Galaxy on DVD and Blu-ray

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

AVENGERS AGE OF ULTRON RECAP: Following on from the events of The Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron has the Avengers working as an independent unit hunting for Loki's sceptre and taking down the remaining Hydra bases across the world. They eventually find the sceptre in the hands of Wolfgang Von Strucker at his compound in the fictional country of Sokovia. They manage to retrieve it, but not before they run into the newly superpowered Maximoff twins Pietro and Wanda (Aaron Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen). During the assault Hawkeye is injured by Hydra's advanced weaponry, and Tony discovers Von Strucker's secret work on robotics and artificial intelligence. He is also subjected to a vision by Wanda, which causes him to see the remaining Avengers killed in action.

The twins escape, while the Avengers return to their tower in New York in order to celebrate their victory. The sceptre is set to return to Asgard with Thor, but not before Tony and Bruce are able to play with it. In their experiments they discover that the sceptre functions much like an artificial brain, and realise they could use it to complete 'Ultron', Tony's peacekeeping project designed to keep the world safe from aliens. While the Avengers (and guests) get drunk, Ultron (James Spader) actually develops into a true artificial intelligence and deems humanity a threat. He then proceeds to destroy JARVIS (Paul Bettany), attacks the Avengers, and uses one of Tony's Iron Legion drones to steal the sceptre while his main consciousness escapes through the internet to Von Strucker's robotics lab.

Ultron immediately sets his plans in motion, crafting himself a body, recruiting the Maximoff twins (with the promise of letting them get revenge on Tony and the Avengers), and using robotic drones to steal advanced technology from around the world. The Avengers track Ultron's activities, and their investigations lead them to Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a black market weapons dealer based outside Johannesburg with a cache of vibranium (the same indestructible substance used to create Captain America's shield). Ultron, using his magic robot powers, transfers billions of dollars into Klaue's accounts in exchange for the vibranium before being confronted by Tony and the other Avengers. Tony and Ultron get into an aerial fight, while the rest of the Avengers (barring Hawkeye) are subjected to visions that force them to relive some of their greatest fears.

Tony destroys Ultron's main body (but not the AI itself), but then realises the twins went after Bruce who holds back in the Avengers' quinjet to avoid collateral damage on missions. Driven mad by Wanda's mind-manipulation powers, the Hulk goes on a rampage throughout Johannesburg. This forces Tony to call in 'Veronica', an enormous, incredibly powerful suit of armour, often referred to as the 'Hulkbuster', to subdue him.

After defeating Hulk and reverting Bruce to human form, the Avengers realise they have to lay low and wait for tensions to dissipate amongst the global population. Hawkeye brings them to a 'safe house', which turns out to be the farm where his wife and children live. Here the Avengers rethink their strategies, and Thor leaves to better understand his vision.

Thor eventually sees a vision containing the Infinity Stones and Asgard in turmoil. Meanwhile the rest of The Avengers deduced that Ultron would take his vibranium to Helen Cho (Claudia Kim), a geneticist with technology that can print living tissue, in Seoul.

It is revealed that Ultron is bonding the vibranium to living cells in order to create himself the ultimate body, but in doing so accidentally reveals to Wanda and Pietro that his plan ends with the extinction of all biological life on Earth. The twins betray Ultron and help the Avengers fight him, causing the casket containing the new body to be confiscated by Hawkeye. He takes it back to Avengers tower, while Black Widow is captured by Ultron and the twins warn Captain America about what Tony might do with Ultron's creation.

Back at the tower Tony reveals that JARVIS had not been completely destroyed by Ultron, and had in fact fled into the internet to prevent Ultron from taking control of the world's nuclear arsenal. Despite Bruce's reservations, Tony begins uploading JARVIS into the body. Cap returns with the Twins and attempts to stop Tony's plan, but the fight is interrupted by Thor who uses lightning to bring the body to life. As it turns out, JARVIS's code had merged with sections of Ultron's code that had already been uploaded into the body - creating a brand new being later called The Vision (Paul Bettany).

Thor reveals that Loki's sceptre actually contained the Mind Stone, one of the six Infinity Stones, which Ultron implanted in The Vision's head back in Seoul. The team has reservations about trusting The Vision, despite his claims that he is "on the side of life" and thus an enemy of Ultron. It's only when it's revealed that The Vision is worthy of wielding Thor's hammer that they begin to trust him.

The Avengers, Vision, and the Twins then head back to Sokovia to rescue Black Widow, discovering that Ultron plans to use the remaining vibranium to lift up the city and fire it into Earth like an asteroid. Bruce, now with strong reservations about his ability to be a hero, rescues Black Widow from imprisonment in Ultron's lair. She in turn throws him off a cliff to bring out the Hulk, since he is needed to help beat Ultron.

With the help of Nick Fury, War Machine (Don Cheedle), and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), The Avengers are able to evacuate all the civilians from the flying city and battle Ultron's drones while Tony looks for a way to blow the whole thing up. Pietro is killed protecting Hawkeye and a young boy from Ultron's attack, which sends Wanda into a blind rage. This allows Ultron to activate his final mechanism and send the city plunging towards Earth, but it ends up being destroyed by Thor and Tony - allowing the rock to break up into harmless pieces. In the aftermath Vision destroys Ultron's remaining body (having previously prevented him from escaping into the internet), and the Hulk flees in a stealth-enabled quinjet that cannot be tracked.

The finale features a newly opened Avengers base in the countryside, and has the original team disbanding to go their separate ways. Cap and Black Widow, the only original members remaining, then form a new team comprising of War Machine, Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Wanda, and Vision.

The post-credits scene features Thanos (Josh Brolin) tiring of having others fail to collect the Infinity Stones for him, and retrieves the Infinity Gauntlet to do it himself.

Links to other films

Loki's sceptre from The Avengers plays a key role, and is revealed to contain another Infinity Stone (the Mind Stone). Hawkeye mentions having fallen victim to mind control before, another reference to the first film. Thor's vision shows him a vision of a fallen Asgard (a possible reference to the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok) and shows him the four Infinity Stones we've seen on screen. Tony also directly mentions the fall of SHIELD in The Winter Soldier early on in the film.

Marvel Cameos

Josh Brolin as Thanos | Idris Elba as Heimdall | Stan Lee as a veteran at the Avengers' party | Kerry Condon as FRIDAY

You can buy Avengers: Age of Ultron on DVD or Blu-ray, or bundled with The Avengers

Ant-Man (2015)

ANT-MAN RECAP: Ant-Man begins with an enraged Hank Pym (a de-aged Michael Douglas), resigning his SHIELD commission in the 1980s after discovering the organisation has been attempting to replicate his shrinking technology (known as Pym Particles). Pym then punches Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan) after he insults Pym's late wife. Pym then hides away his technology for the next few decades to keep it out of the wrong hands.

In the present day convicted thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is released from San Quentin prison, and moves in with his former cellmate Luis (Michael Peña). After losing his job at Baskin Robbins due to them discovering his conviction, Lang is forced to take on one last heist so that he can afford to pay child support and see his daughter again. The heist has him breaking into Hank Pym's safe, where he discovers the Ant-Man suit instead of vast riches he was promised. Disappointed, he takes the suit home with him.

Upon tinkering with the suit's mechanics, Scott discovers its shrinking abilities, ending up falling down the drain and through the floorboards of his apartment building. Terrified he breaks back into Pym's house to return the suit, only to be met with police as he leaves. Fortunately Pym, having planned the entire thing, breaks him out of jail and brings him back to the mansion. The next morning he is awoken by Pym's daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and told that Pym requires his expertise in breaking into Pym's former company (Pym Tech) to prevent former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from reverse engineering the shrinking technology and selling the resulting 'Yellowjacket' technology to governments and terrorists cells.

Hope and Hank train Scott how to use the suit's abilities (shrinking and communicating with ants), as well as how to fight so that he can break into Pym Tech and destroy all research relating to the Yellowjacket and prevent geopolitical chaos. Hope remains angry that Pym is having Scott wear the suit rather than her, but relents after discovering that her mother was killed while using a shrinking suit of her own. Janet van Dyne shrunk down to sub-atomic levels to disable a nuclear missile, and was unable to return from the sub-atomic world. Pym admits that he couldn't handle losing Hope the same way.

While making preparations for the heist, Scott recruits Luis and his crew to help with the break in, before heading to a former Stark warehouse to retrieve a key piece of tech. As it turns out the 'warehouse' is actually the Avengers facility seen at the end of Age of Ultron, and Scott is forced to fight the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) in order to retrieve the tech.

With everything they need Scott manages to break into Pym Tech with an army of ants, and it's here that Pym learns that Mitchell Carson is a member of Hydra with plans to purchase Yellowjacket for himself. Cross then reveals he knew about the break in,  but despite briefly capturing Scott and Hank the building is destroyed with all of the Yellowjacket research. The only remains are a vial of reverse engineered shrink-enabling Pym particles (stolen by Carson), and a Yellowjacket suit in Cross's possession. Cross then dons the suit, and fights Scott before being subdued and shocked in a bug zapper.

But before Scott can finish the job and destroy the Yellowjacket suit, he is tased and arrested by Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), his ex-wife's boyfriend and the police officer who arrested him for breaking into Pym's mansion. As this is happening Cross is shocked back into consciousness, and heads to Scott's ex-wife's house hoping to get some sort of revenge. Paxton and Scott realise this is happening, and both rush their to save Scott's daughter Cassie.

Scott and Cross fight recommence their fight, but Scott realises that he can't match up with Cross's advanced tech, intentionally sabotaging his regulator to shrink between the molecules of the Yellowjacket suit and destroy it from the inside. Upon causing Cross to shrink randomly and uncontrollably, Scott realises that he cannot undo his action as he shrinks down beyond the sub atomic level. Luckily he is able to use a dose of size-increasing Pym Particles, added directly to his regulator belt, to return to normal size.

The film ends with Scott no longer wanted for breaking out of jail, and discovering that Falcon has been looking for him since their encounter at the Avengers' base.

The film's mid credits scene takes place during the events of Civil War, and features Captain America, Falcon, and Bucky Barnes in a situation that alludes to Ant-Man's involvement in the film.

A second credits scene features Pym showing Hope a newer version of her mother's Wasp costume, setting the stage for her to become a hero.

Links to other films

Hank Pym mentions the Avengers dropping a city out of the sky, a reference to Ultron's actions in the second Avengers film. The opening scene takes place in the half-built Triskellion, SHIELD's main base of operations that is destroyed in The Winter Soldier. Scott ends up having to fight current-Avenger Falcon when breaking into the Avengers facility.

Marvel Cameos

John Slattery as Howard Stark | Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter | Stan Lee as an unnamed bartender | Chris Evans as Captain America | Sebastian Stan as Bucky/Winter Soldier

You can buy Ant-Man on DVD and Blu-ray

Phase 3

Captain America: Civil War (29/4/2016)

Loosely based on the comic event of the same name, Civil War seems to be a third Avengers film in every way except its name. In fact, the only Avengers confirmed not to be in the film are Thor and the Hulk.

Rather than focussing on the issue of secret identities (like the comic), Civil War will be centred on the topic of superhero accountability. Tony Stark and the US government (including The Incredible Hulk's General Ross, played by William Hurt) are of the opinion that superheroes shouldn't be allowed to work without regulation and accountability. Captain America, on the other hand, does not agree with The Avengers being under the control of any organisation or government.

We don't know much else, other than the fact that the film will be a direct sequel to The Winter Soldier and deal with the aftermath of Bucky's actions during his time as an unwilling Hydra agent.

In addition to the main Avengers ensemble, Civil War will star Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man, Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Emily Van Camp as Sharon Carter/Agent 13, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier, Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa/Black Panther, Frank Grillo as Brock Rumlow/Crossbones, Daniel Brühl as Helmut Zemo, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, and Martin Freeman as Everett Ross.

Doctor Strange (6/11/2016)

The first real part of the MCU to tackle magical and mystical elements, starring Brandenburg Clavichord Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. We don't know a great deal about what's involved, other than the fact that it will tackle Strange's origin story and his journey towards becoming Earth's Sorcerer Supreme.

The film also stars Tilda Swinton as Strange's mentor The Ancient One, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Modo, Benedict Wong as Strange's friend and assistant Wong, as well as Mads Mikkelsson and Rachel McAdams in unspecified roles (rumoured to be the demon Dormammu and a surgeon, respectively).


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (7/5/2017): All we know is that the Guardians sequel will reunite the original cast, and some new members of the group. Kurt Russell joins the cast too, potentially as Peter Quill's father.  It's also rumoured to involve Sylvester Stallone in a small role, and have a Mission Impossible-esque sequence starring Baby Groot.

Spider-Man (7/7/2017): The upcoming Spider-Man reboot will be skipping the origin story (thank god), and will focus on a teenage Peter Parker struggling to balance his school and crimefighting lives. Tom Holland will play the title role, and Marisa Tomei will play Aunt May. The film will be directed by Jon Watts, with a script from John Francis Daley.

Thor: Ragnarok (3/11/2017): We don't know much about this film yet, other than the fact that Thor and The Hulk will team up on a 'cosmic roadtrip' and Cate Blanchett is rumoured to be playing the film's villain. Flight of the Conchords' Taika Waititi will direct.

Black Panther (16/2/2018): All we know about this is that Chadwick Boseman will reprise his role as T'Challa/Black Panther, with Creed's Ryan Coogler the perfect confirmed choice to direct.

Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 (4/5/2018): Infinity War Parts 1 & 2 will reunite the core Avengers team, have a major role for Josh Brolin's Thanos, and will be directed by The Winter Soldier's and Civil War's Russo Brothers.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (6/7/2018): No plot details exist yet, but Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly will reprise their roles from the first Ant-Man film. Peyton Reed is returning as director, and the script is being written by Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari, and Paul Rudd.

Captain Marvel (8/3/2019): Next to nothing has been announced here, other than the fact the film will focus on Carol Danvers as the titular hero, rather than the original Kree Captain Marvel from the comics.

Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 (3/5/2019): Finishing the story started the previous year in Infinity War Part 1.

Inhumans (12/7/2019): We know absolutely nothing about this film yet, other than that it's confirmed to be in development. I'm still hoping Vin Diesel gets cast as the Inhuman king Black Bolt.

Phase 4 and Beyond

As far as Phase 4 of the MCU goes, Marvel has three release dates lined up for 2020. The three dates in question are 1st May, 10th July, and 6th November.

Other than those three release dates (which currently have no films attached to them), Marvel has said absolutely nothing about its plans for films beyond 2019. It would be a bit silly for them to have said anything about Phase 4 before Phase 3 has even begun, right? That doesn't mean we can't speculate, though.

You can bet that after finally getting Spider-Man back (in a way), Marvel isn't going to let the character fall to the sidelines. So you can be damn sure more Spider-Man films will be heading our way, even if the 2017 film doesn't do particularly well. It's also likely that a third Guardians of the Galaxy film is coming, given how successful the first film was. There's a reasonable chance that a third Ant-Man film will get made at some point, but that will depend on how well the sequel does. The same goes for sequels to any other characters introduced in the Phase 3 films

Short Films

A small number of short films, or One-Shots as they are officially known, were made as Blu-ray extras to help bridge some of the gaps between MCU movies. Marvel appears to have stopped making One-Shots, and the last one to be released was Hail to the King on the Thor: The Dark World Blu-ray in 2013.

The Consultant: The first One-Shot film explains why Tony Stark appears in The Incredible Hulk's post credits scene, featuring SHIELD agents Coulson and Sitwell. It turns out the World Security Council wanted Emil Blonsky to join The Avengers Initiative, so they sent an unwitting Tony to negotiate with General Ross and secure his release - knowing full well that Tony would cock things up and Blonsky would stay in the custody of the US Army.

Available on the Thor Blu-ray.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer: Following on from the events of Iron Man 2, but before the events of Thor, this short focusses on Phil Coulson stopping at a petrol station to buy snacks. As it turns out that same petrol station gets robbed, and it's up to the lone SHIELD agent to stop it.

Available on the Captain America: The First Avenger Blu-ray.

Item 47: Set after The Avengers, Item 47 focusses on two bank robbers who managed to obtain and fix a Chitauri energy weapon, which they then use to commit their crimes. Obviously this ends up with them on SHIELD's radar, and the peacekeeping agency isn't too happy about it.

Available on The Avengers Blu-ray.

Agent Carter: Set after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger, this short focuses on Peggy working within SHIELD's predecessor, the extremely sexist Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR). The men won't let Peggy undertake any dangerous missions, but when an opportunity to retrieve the Zodiac virus presents itself she takes on the job without telling anyone.

The canon status of this film is a bit sketchy, due to the Agent Carter TV series. It's still a great watch to find out more about what Peggy got up to after the first Captain America film.

Available on the Iron Man 3 Blu-ray.

All Hail the King: Set after the events of Iron Man 3, All Hail the King follows Trevor Slattery in prison where he has ended up a minor celebrity. It shows Trevor's life and career up until the events of the film (he's from Liverpool, apparently), before revealing that the Mandarin is a real person and isn't too happy about being impersonated. This short also revealed what happened to Justin Hammer after the events of Iron Man 2.

Available on the Thor: The Dark World Blu-ray

TV Programmes

TV programmes are a little bit different to the films, and despite them being set within the MCU they are not produced by Marvel Studios. They are instead developed by Marvel Television, a division of the wider Marvel family rather than being a separate entity. All that really means, however, is that they do produce stuff that isn't part of the MCU. This lot is, though, so if you want to binge on all things MCU don't miss out on these.

Agents of SHIELD

The very first MCU TV programme, set up by Avengers director Joss Whedon to follow the now-not-dead Phil Coulson and his small group of SHIELD agents as they fight against the forces of evil.

The first season of Agents of SHIELD ended up moving incredibly slowly, and only really picked up following the crossover with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Before that it got a bit stuck teasing how Coulson had recovered from his encounter with Loki during the events of The Avengers, along with a number of fairly average 'monster of the week' episodes. Luckily once Hydra got involved towards the end of the season, things got interesting.

The second season had Coulson leading an underground SHIELD, working in the shadows to fight back against Hydra's forces. Artefacts left on Earth by ancient alien races became a big part of this fight, eventually causing both teams to uncover the Inhumans, descendants of humans experimented on by the alien Kree millennia ago. These are the same Inhumans (kind of) who are set to appear in their own movie in 2019. Coulson's team discover that when people carrying Inhuman genes get exposed to a substance called Terrigen they end up developing superpowers, essentially making them the closest thing the MCU has to mutants (mutants can't be in the MCU because Fox owns the film rights to the X-Men).

Season 3 is still ongoing, and focuses on the world reacting to members of the general public that have been exposed to terrigen and have started developing superpowered abilities they can't control. It also features the remnants of SHIELD dealing with the continued activity of an underground HYDRA.

Tom's Super Awesome Fun Fact #5

Adria Pasdar, the actor who plays Glenn Talbot in Agents of SHIELD, also happens to voice Tony Stark in animated series Avengers Assemble, Lego Marvel Super Heroes, and Disney Infinity. Clark Gregg also voices Phil Coulson in every media adaptation of the character.

You can buy Agents of SHIELD Season 1 and Season 2 on DVD or Blu-ray

Agent Carter

The Agent Carter short ended up functioning as an unofficial pilot for the character to get her own TV series, set in the years following the end of World War 2 and featuring Peggy as an agent of SHIELD's predecessor the SSR. It's a bit like Agents of SHIELD if it was set 70 years in the past and focussed on fewer characters. It's very good.

The first season has her still dealing with the loss of Captain America at the end of the first film, while at the same trying trying to prove Howard Stark hasn't been selling advanced weaponry to enemies of the USA. The only problem is that everyone she works with thinks Howard is a traitor, forcing her to work in secret. This investigation sets her up with Howard's butler Edwin Jarvis (a real person, not an AI) and ends up with her facing a member of the same secret Soviet training programme that produced Black Widow.

The second season has Peggy sent to Los Angeles, where she ends up having to deal with frozen dead bodies, ends up tangled in a strange political conspiracy and a mysterious (and deadly) substance called Zero Matter.

Obviously the 1940s weren't the best times for women not content with getting married and being good little housewives, so on top of all the dangerous spy stuff she has to deal with blatant sexism from her colleagues and superiors. It's not quite as bad as it is in the Agent Carter short, but it's still pretty bad. Luckily Peggy is a badass who can easily fight back against that nonsense.

Unlike the other Marvel TV programmes, Agent Carter requires a lot less time to watch, since each season only has eight 45-minute episodes.

You can buy Agent Carter Season 1 on DVD and Blu-ray


The first of four fully-fledged Marvel TV programmes to hit Netflix, Daredevil had a lot to prove after the disastrous Ben Affleck version in 2003. Pretty much everyone agrees that it did, which led the series to be renewed for a second season, kicking off near the end of March 2016. Starring Charlie Cox in the titular role, Daredevil follows a blind vigilante with super-powered senses in his bid to rid New York's Hell's Kitchen of crime and corruption.

Season 1 was very much Daredevil's origin story, focussing on him close to the start of his vigilante career and before he even got his hands on the famous red suit and horned mask. The series also focuses on Wilson Fisk (Vincent D'Onofrio), the future Kingpin, as he endeavours to reach the same end goal as Daredevil - albeit with slightly different methods. The exploits of both characters are the focus, looking at their public and private activity, walking them down the road to the people that they are destined to become and inevitably leading them into conflict.

Daredevil Season 2 focusses on the further adventures of Daredevil. It features Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle/The Punisher and Élodie Yung as Elektra Natchios, an assassin and Matt Murdoch's ex girlfriend.

Jessica Jones

Another street-level superhero show from Netflix, but this time focussing on Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), a private investigator suffering PTSD brought on due to her treatment by the mind-controlling Killgrave (David Tenant). She also happens to have super-strength, gained from a car accident that claimed the lives of her parents and brother.

Jessica discovers that Killgrave is not dead, as she had previously believed, and that he is using his powers to stalk her as well as exploiting and abusing other woman. This inevitably forces Jessica to face her past and fears in order to put an end to Killgrave's fucked-up plans for good.

The series also introduced Mike Colter's Luke Cage ahead of his own series, which is set to debut later this year. Jessica Jones has been renewed for a second season on Netflix, but it's unknown when it will air.

The Future

While it may not be on the same grand scale as the Marvel films, the television arm of the MCU still has a bright future ahead of it. The next big thing to arrive will be a standalone series for Luke Cage, a character first introduced in Jessica Jones in 2015. Luke Cage will arrive on Netflix on the 30th September.

Also heading to Netflix is a standalone series for Iron Fist, and The Defenders miniseries that will see the four Netflix-based heroes team up to battle against a greater threat. We know very little about those series at the moment, other than the fact that Game of Thrones' Finn Jones (Loras Tyrell) will be playing Danny Rand/Iron Fist.  You shouldn't expect them any time in 2016.

It's also rumoured that Jon Bernthal's Punisher, who is set to appear in Daredevil Season 2, will be getting his own Netflix series at some point in the future.

The Disney-owned ABC also has plans for expanding its Marvel TV portfolio, with more series on the way. First up is Damage Control, an Office-style comedy that follows staff members of the titular Damage Control, a company that cleans up all the mess left over by superhero/supervillain battles. We don't have a set release date, but quotes indicate that it will première later this year.

ABC has also ordered a pilot for a series called Most Wanted which would focus on Lance Hunter and Bobbie Morse/Mockingbird, two characters that currently appear in Agents of SHIELD. No word on if and when that will go into development as a full series. In addition to that, it has been revealed that a second Marvel comedy is in production at ABC, but we have no details on what will be involved just yet.

Comic Tie-ins

As you might expect from a company primarily concerned with publishing comics, Marvel has released a number of MCU tie-ins designed to fill in some of the gaps in canon that aren't covered by any on-screen work. Since these are official releases, they are considered canon.

That being said, due to the fact that Marvel Studios is a separate institution that answers to Disney rather than Marvel itself, there is the chance that at some point the comics and the films are going to contradict each other. There's no official word on what happens here, but I like to think of it the way Lucasfilm used to treat the Star Wars expanded universe. Comics are canon material, but if they are directly contradicted by the films or TV shows then the comics is the one that loses.

Here are the comic tie-ins that have been released since the inception of the MCU:

Iron Man: I Am Iron Man: A two-issue adaptation of 2008's Iron Man. It also includes some scenes that were cut from the original film, including one where Tony invites Rhodey to come and test out his armour.

Iron Man 2: Public Identity: A prequel to Iron Man 2, covering Howard Stark's relationship with Anton Vanko (father of Ivan Vanko a.ka. Whiplash), the aftermath of Tony's revelation that he is Iron Man, flashbacks to Tony's childhood, and background information on Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer.

Iron Man 2: Agents of SHIELD: A one-shot comic following Nick Fury and Phil Coulson monitoring a SHIELD agent working against the Ten Rings, as well as explaining how Black Widow ended up as Tony's assistant in Iron Man 2.

Captain America: First Vengeance: Follows Captain America as he attacks a Hydra base in 1944, flashing back to his childhood and the events that led him to where he was at the start of the film.

Avengers Prelude: Fury's Big Week: Following SHIELD director Nick Fury as he tries to deal with the events of Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor, which just happened to take place during the same week. All the while, SHIELD agents are continuing to track down the crashed plane containing the frozen body of Captain America. It also covers the fate of Samuel Sterns following his mutation at the end of The Incredible Hulk

Black Widow Strikes: Follows Black Widow in a routine SHIELD operation to keep classified weapon specs out of the hands of terrorists. This miniseries also touches on some of her training when she was still a Russian agent.

Iron Man 3 Prelude: This explains the question some people asked when The Avengers came out. Where the heck was War Machine? Turns out he was fighting terrorists in China and couldn't help fight Chitauri.

Thor: The Dark World Prelude: A comic explaining just what Thor was doing since the events of The Avengers and Jane Foster's attempts to open up a wormhole similar to the one that brought Thor to Earth in the first place.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Infinite Comic: A mini-prequel to The Winter Soldier, this short comic focuses on Cap leading his SHIELD strike team to retrieve a sample of the Zodiac virus from terrorists.

Guardians of the Galaxy Infinite Comic – Dangerous Prey: A short comic serving as a prequel to Guardians of the Galaxy and sequel to the post-credits scene after Thor: The Dark World. It focuses on the Collector, who is now in possession of an Infinity Stone (The Aether) and hunting for the remaining five. He then hires Gamora to collect the Power Stone featured in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Guardians of the Galaxy Prelude: A collection of two prequel comics, the first focussing on Gamora and Nebula being trained as weapons by Thanos during their childhood. The second focuses on what Rocket and Groot are doing in the run up to the film

Avengers: Age of Ultron Prelude – This Scepter'd Isle: A comic detailing how Loki's sceptre fell into the hands of Wolfgang Von Strucker and Hydra, who then uses it on two volunteers - Pietro and Wanda Maximoff.

Ant-Man Prelude: A prequel to the film, focussing on how Hank Pym first developed his shrinking technology and how that led him into working as a SHIELD agent.

Ant-Man: Scott Lang: Small Time: Another prequel to the film, this detailing how and why Scott Lang stole from his former employer and ended up in prison.

Jessica Jones: A short prequel to the TV series, focussing on Jessica attempting to get small-time crook Turk Barrett to pay child support. Barrett also happens to have been hospitalised after an encounter with Daredevil.

Other Points of Interest

Why are some characters not appearing in the MCU?

Sadly, Marvel and Disney do not own all the film rights to a number of characters that have remained popular members of its comic universe for many decades. While many people have been critical of Marvel selling off the film rights to its characters, it started happening decades ago and has been credited with saving the company from bankruptcy in the '90s. A bankrupt Marvel wouldn't have been anywhere near as interesting as the one we have now.

The characters/franchises that Disney and Marvel do not own all the rights to are: The X-Men (which includes Deadpool), the Fantastic Four, Namor, Spider-Man, and Hulk.

Yes, that's right; the Hulk. It's the reason why there hasn't been a stand-alone Hulk film since 2008. The character rights belong to Marvel/Disney, while the distribution rights to a solo film belong to Universal. That means Disney and Marvel can throw the Hulk into whatever films they like (like The Avengers or Thor: Ragnarok), but if they want him to be the title character they'd need to work out a deal with Universal.

Any and all characters associated with X-Men and the Fantastic Four also belong to Fox. That's not just core members, either, it's all characters generally associated with those two segments of the Marvel universe. That includes big name characters like Deadpool, Silver Surfer, and Galactus, as well as less well known characters like Kang, The Badoon, and so on.

Namor, known as the Marvel equivalent of Aquaman, is a bit of a confusing situation. Kevin Feige has gone on record saying that Marvel does own the film rights to the characters, but there are old contracts with Universal that need to be considered. While Universal can't make a Namor film of its own, Marvel can't go ahead and make one without some sort of negotiations. You can read more about the whole situation here.

Spider-Man is a bit of a special case...

What's the deal with Spider-Man?

Spider-Man is in an odd situation, since he is set to appear in MCU films (starting with Civil War in April 2016), but the film rights are not owned by Marvel or Disney. Instead they're owned by Sony, which has been responsible for making Spider-Man films since 2002. Following the success of other Marvel film franchises and the 2012 Amazing Spider-Man reboot, Sony had grand plans to turn Spider-Man into a shared-universe film franchise featuring a bunch of the Spider-Man related characters they had the rights to.

This idea fell flat after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 underperformed at the box office, and Sony was thrown into turmoil by the infamous hack towards the end of 2014. Marvel had reportedly been trying to make a deal with Sony to allow Spider-Man to appear in MCU movies for some time, but it wasn't until 9th February 2015 that it was finalised and announced to the public.

This deal means that Marvel Studios is able to use Spider-Man and associated characters in its own films. Sony still retains the rights, but also gets to use certain MCU characters in future Spider-Man films. The 2017 stand-alone Spider-Man film is primarily a Sony production, but Kevin Feige is one of the film's producers and both studios had a say in the casting of the character.

There's also a completely separate animated Spider-Man comedy coming in 2018, made by Sony without any input from Marvel Studios.

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