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Marvel’s Ant-Man opens in U.S. theaters next Friday, and a lot of people are going to go see it. And there is the chance that at least some of these will be completely new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). So to help these people out, I decided to write a “Too Long; Didn’t Watch” summary of the MCU to date, focusing especially on what is relevant to Ant-Man. At the end I will offer my three suggestions for movies that you should watch (or rewatch) before going to see Ant-Man, and why those three. We’ll start from the beginning, with Iron Man.
Note: There will (obviously) be spoilers.
Iron Man – Tony Stark becomes Iron Man. He meets Phil Coulson and Nick Fury, Director of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division, who tells him about the “Avengers Initiative.”
The Incredible Hulk – Bruce Banner subjected himself to gamma radiation which turns him into the Hulk, a large green monster that becomes more powerful the angrier he gets.
Iron Man 2 – The US Government is attempting to take control of Iron Man to build more suits; Tony resists them. We meet Natasha Romanoff, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent sent undercover to keep an eye on Tony. Additionally, Tony’s friend, U.S. Air Force pilot James Rhodes (“Rhodey”), takes one of Tony’s earlier armors to Tony’s rival weapons manufacturer, Justin Hammer, who outfits it with conventional weapons systems, creating the first “War Machine” armor.
Thor – Thor, crown prince of the alien planet Asgard, is banished by his father Odin to Earth (“Midgard”) to learn humility. Thor lands in New Mexico, where he meets humans and has a run-in with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Coulson and Clint Barton (Hawkeye). His adopted brother Loki attempts to usurp the throne. Thor learns his lesson and defeats Loki, who falls into the void. Oh, and S.H.I.E.L.D. is working on utilizing the Tesseract, a mysterious object of virtually unlimited power.
Captain America: The First Avenger – Steve Rogers is a weakling who really wants to fight in World War II. He volunteers for an experiment which turns him into a super soldier, giving him increased strength, reflexes, durability, and healing. He, along with the SSR, including Peggy Carter and Howard Stark (Tony’s father), defeat the Nazis and Hydra—a group of Nazi scientists bent on taking over the world using the power of the Tesseract. However, in the process he falls into the Arctic Ocean and is frozen in ice for about 70 years, waking up around 2011-2012.
The Avengers – Loki returns to the picture, drawn by S.H.I.E.L.D.’s experimentation on the Tesseract, wielding a very powerful scepter. Using the scepter Loki brainwashes Hawkeye and Erik Selvig into becoming his lackeys to carry out his plan. Fury and his second-in-command, Maria Hill, bring together Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, Black Widow, and Thor to confront Loki’s forces, revealed to be aliens called Chitauri brought through a portal generated by the Tesseract. Eventually the five heroes (joined by Hawkeye after he was freed from Loki’s control) defeat Loki and his Chitauri army. Thor takes Loki and the Tesseract back to Asgard. At the very end of the movie, Loki’s master is revealed to be Thanos, an immensely powerful villain from Marvel Comics known for his obsession with death.
Iron Man 3 – Tony Stark, suffering from PTSD as a result of the Chitauri invasion, begins constructing dozens of extra, specialized, Iron Man armors. Meanwhile, also as a result of the Chitauri invasion, Rhodey has been working for the US Government as a government-sanctioned hero going by the name “Iron Patriot”—Iron Man with a Captain America-inspired color scheme. When a terrorist threatens the US, Iron Man and Iron Patriot team up against him.
Thor: The Dark World – Thor is back in Asgard following the events of The Avengers, attempting to keep the peace between the realms. He is called back to Earth when Jane Foster, his girlfriend from the first Thor movie, discovers a powerful substance called the Aether. Dark Elves attack Asgard to claim the Aether and use it to plunge the universe into a new period of darkness. Thor teams up with Loki to defeat the Dark Elves, though in the process Loki fakes his own death and usurps Odin’s throne without anyone finding out. At the end of the movie, the Aether and Tesseract are revealed to both be mysterious, powerful objects called Infinity Stones.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Captain America and Black Widow are going on missions for S.H.I.E.L.D. At the same time, Fury reveals that S.H.I.E.L.D. is in the middle of a project which will place three helicarriers in the air with the ability to enforce world peace. However, during the course of a mission they discover that S.H.I.E.L.D. was infiltrated by Hydra following World War II, and the Hydra faction has succeeded in taking over the organization’s leadership and other key departments. In fact, the helicarriers will be under Hydra’s control and execute anyone perceived to be a threat to Hydra’s domination of the world. Additionally, Hydra turned Captain America’s old friend Bucky into the Winter Soldier, a brainwashed assassin. Captain America, Black Widow, Maria Hill, Fury (who fakes his death), and a new friend of Captain America (Sam Wilson, aka Falcon) must team up to take out the helicarriers before they are operational. At the end of the movie, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been dissolved, Fury has gone off the grid to hunt down Hydra leads, Cap and Falcon are chasing the Winter Soldier, and Maria Hill went to work for Tony Stark. In a mid-credits scene, Hydra leader Baron von Strucker is shown to be in possession of Loki’s Scepter, along with super-powered twins Pietro (Quicksilver) and Wanda (Scarlet Witch) Maximoff.
Guardians of the Galaxy – This movie does not have much connection to Ant-Man. In it a group of criminals must come together to fight a villain intent on using the power of the Orb (another Infinity Stone) to wipe out all life on a planet. We learn that Thanos is trying to bring all the Infinity Stones together and is using others to do it.
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Avengers: Age of Ultron – The Avengers assault a Hydra base and recapture Loki’s Scepter. Tony uses the scepter to create Ultron, a “peacekeeping” AI to run an army of drones to protect the world. However, Ultron goes crazy and tries to destroy the world. The Avengers team up with Pietro (Quicksilver) and Wanda (Scarlet Witch) Maximoff, a pair of orphan twins, to stop Ultron (Quicksilver dies). Ultron creates a vibranium body for himself into which Tony uploads JARVIS, creating the Vision. The original team goes their separate ways, and Captain America and Black Widow put together a New Avengers team: Scarlet Witch, Vision, War Machine, Falcon, and themselves.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – During season 1 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. we learned that Coulson had been brought back to life through alien experimentation (something the Avengers do not know). After the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., Fury tasked Coulson with rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D. and defeating Hydra, plots which have carried through the entire second season as Coulson took down several Hydra heads and acquired the information the Avengers used to find Strucker in Age of Ultron. Additionally, season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. introduced the Inhumans, a group of naturally super-powered individuals in the Marvel Universe.
Agent Carter – Peggy Carter, Captain America’s love interest from his first movie, is adjusting to life in post-war America while working for the Strategic Scientific Reserve, one of the espionage agencies which would eventually merge into S.H.I.E.L.D. Over the course of her investigation, she comes into conflict with the Russian espionage agency LEVIATHAN and one of its agents—who is a precursor to the Black Widow.
Daredevil – Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer whose other senses were enhanced by a chemical spill, begins to act as a vigilante in post-Avengers New York City, confronting organized crime and becoming a symbol to the honest citizens.
Marvel has also released “tie-in comics” for most of these movies. The first one for Ant-Man is “Ant-Man Prelude,” in which we see Hank Pym use his suit on his first S.H.I.E.L.D. assignment. The second tie-in comic is “Ant-Man – Scott Lang,” which explains Scott Lang’s circumstances at the beginning of the movie.
So there’s a “quick” rundown of everything that has happened in the Marvel Cinematic Universe up until now—or at least everything relevant to Ant-Man. It’s a lot of movies and TV series, but some of them only have some basic background information—at least as far as Ant-Man is concerned. Next up is a quick summary of everything that happened before Ant-Man:
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After the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers team tried to fill the void in world security. However, Tony’s efforts to protect the world led to the rise of Ultron and near-destruction of humanity. As a result of this and his previous experience with S.H.I.E.L.D. as the costumed hero/agent Ant-Man, Hank Pym distrusts the Avengers—and heroes in general.
That is all the information you need to see Ant-Man and know what’s going on. If you have time before next Friday, I would definitely encourage you to watch as many of the movies/TV series as you can to get caught up. However, if you only have about 4-6 hours, I would encourage watching the following:
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier – The fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and rise of Hydra (optional)
- Avengers: Age of Ultron – Ultron tries to take over the world (recommended)
- “To Steal an Ant-Man” (Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, 2x05) – This is the animated version of Scott Lang’s origin story. Paul Rudd (Scott Lang) actually teased that he was watching this episode for his homework to prepare for this role! You can find it on Netflix if you’re interested.
I hope that this guide proves helpful! Enjoy the show!
Do you think I missed anything in my summary? What 2 or 3 movies would you recommend to someone looking to get caught up on the MCU before seeing Ant-Man?
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