Thursday, April 23, 2015

The MCU Pre-Age of Ultron: TL;DW

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Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron opens in U.S. theaters next Friday, and just about everyone in the world is going to go see it.  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 Age of Ultron.  At the end I will offer my three suggestions for movies that you should watch (or rewatch) before going to see Age of Ultron, and why those three.  We’ll start from the beginning, with Iron Man.

Note:  There will (obviously) be spoilers.

Iron Man – Tony Stark is a weapons designer who has a change of heart when he is captured by terrorists and forced to build weapons for them.  Instead, he builds his first Iron Man armor, escapes from the terrorists, and begins using his armor to fight against those who would use his weapons to hurt the innocent.  Along the way he comes into contact with a government agent named Phil Coulson.  The movie ends with Nick Fury, Director of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division, meeting him and telling him about the “Avengers Initiative.”

The Incredible Hulk – Bruce Banner subjected himself to gamma radiation as part of an experiment to create a serum to protect soldiers from gamma radiation (it didn’t work).  Instead, the radiation turned him into the Hulk, a large green monster that becomes more powerful the angrier he gets.  Whenever Bruce gets angry or his pulse gets too high, he turns into the Hulk.  During the movie he attempts to cure himself, but fails, instead running off on his own.

Iron Man 2 – The US Government is attempting to take control of Iron Man to build more suits; Tony resists them.  In this movie 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.  The two of them team up (with help from Romanoff) to take down Ivan Vanko, the crazed son of Tony’s dad’s ex-business partner

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, in addition to having a run-in with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Coulson and Clint Barton (Hawkeye).  Meanwhile, his adopted brother Loki attempts to usurp the throne.  Thor learns his lesson and defeats Loki, who falls into the void—though he is shown to still have some influence on Earth, specifically over Erik Selvig, a scientist brought in by S.H.I.E.L.D. to work 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 helps defeat the Nazis and Hydra—a group of Nazi scientists bent on taking over the world using the power of the Tesseract—with help from his Howling Commandos.  However, in the process he falls into the Arctic Ocean and is frozen in ice for about 70 years, waking up around 2011-2012.  Shortly after Captain America was lost, S.H.I.E.L.D. recovered the Tesseract.

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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 is able to brainwash Hawkeye 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.  The heroes argue at first, but are brought together by Coulson’s death at Loki’s hands.  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.

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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”—a combination of Captain America and Iron Man.  When a terrorist threatens the US, Iron Man and Iron Patriot team up against him.  In the final battle we see Tony deploy an entire army of Iron Man armors (dubbed the “Iron Legion”) under the control of his Artificial Intelligence butler, JARVIS.  This movie also shows that Bruce Banner has been staying with Tony at least part-time since The Avengers.

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.  Infinity Stones have unlimited power over specific facets of reality—and are the object of Thanos’ quest.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Captain America and Black Widow are shown 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 something is not quite right with S.H.I.E.L.D.—it was infiltrated by Hydra following World War II, and the Hydra faction has succeeded in taking over the organization’s leadership and other key deparments.  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 Age of Ultron.  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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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 of now on the show, Coulson’s team is attempting to confront Hydra—specifically von Strucker and his second-in-command, Liszt—to get information.  Additionally, season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been exploring 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 one for Age of Ultron is “Avengers: Age of Ultron Prelude – This Sceptre’d Isle.”   In it Baron von Strucker acquires Loki’s scepter after the Battle of Manhattan in The Avengers.  He then uses the scepter to activate latent superpowers within Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, a pair of Sokovian (a fictional country in Eastern Europe) twins.  Pietro acquires super speed, while Wanda acquires a number of powers:  telekinesis, mental manipulation, etc.

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 Avengers: Age of Ultron.  It’s a lot of movies and TV series, but some of them only have some basic background information—at least as far as Age of Ultron is concerned.  Next up is a quick summary of everything that happened before Avengers: Age of Ultron:

Since the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers team has come together at Tony Stark’s Avengers Tower to fill the void in world security.  Tony Stark has upgraded the uniforms and weapons of the team members (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, War Machine (Rhodey), and possibly Falcon) as well as provided a number of other resources for the team’s use.  In addition, Tony created a full Iron Legion army of drones and worked with Bruce to create Ultron, an AI program to control the drones.  The drones help keep the peace around the world, and when a situation arises that the drones can’t handle, the Avengers can respond.  Currently, the Avengers are primarily occupied with the battle against Hydra.

That is all the information you need to see Avengers: Age of Ultron 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:

  • The Avengers – The team comes together for the first time
  • Iron Man 3 – The first Iron Legion, Iron Man’s first attempt at an armor he can summon, introduction of War Machine/Iron Patriot (Rhodey) as a U.S. military superhero (skip this one if you don’t have the time for it)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier – The fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and rise of Hydra; introduction of Falcon, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episodes 18-19 – This is where AoS really ties in and crosses over with Age of Ultron.  There's more, but these episodes really make it explicit.  Unfortunately, if you haven't been following the show you might be lost, so you can skip this one if you don't have time or get lost.

I hope that this guide proves helpful!  Enjoy the show(s)!

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 Avengers: Age of Ultron?

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