Happy 1st of May everyone! It’s that time of the year again. That particular time of the year when adrenaline rushes through me as I walk pass the cinema in excitement BUT ALSO as I attempt to once again put together a comprehensive guide for a series of movies. That’s right. If you’ve been on Fool’s Bench for awhile now, you would probably remember Star Wars for Beginners, the result of my first shot at meeting the need of an average moviegoer.
Well today, I give you my second shot – this time for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Because even though the MCU has only existed for 8 years in contrast to the almost 40 years lifetime of Star Wars, it has birthed forth twice the number of films in one-fifth the time. And unless you are an expert in “MCU Studies” like me, you would find it hard naturally to catch up on all 12 films and digest everything before Captain America: Civil War, which may I add, is already showing in my country. So don’t even get me started on the TV series & shorts!
Once again, I must say that the highest motivating factor for me as I write these guides are my friends. I love them too much to see them walking into the cinema this weekend unprepared for Civil War like how a kid walks into the exam hall unprepared for the Mathematics paper. Okay, it’s not that bad.
But how do you know whether this guide is for you? How do you know if you even need it? Well here are some indicators. One, you think that Captain America: Civil War is some sort of propaganda film filled with historical drama. Two, whenever you go watch an MCU film, you leave the theater as soon as the credits roll. Lastly, which is the worst of them all, you think that Iron Man and Batman are best buddies. Can relate to those examples or anything along those lines? This post is for you.
Okay! I am about to begin. But before that, I must warn you that beyond this paragraph lie potential spoilers for every single MCU film, short film and TV series before Captain America: Civil War. Of course, this article does not include every single detail there is. As much as I want to talk about every interesting fact, I also want to avoid giving you an information overload. So that is why, I have written this article in a way that relates the most to Captain America: Civil War, keeping it relevant to you now. If you find that there are missing information (which I have left out on purpose), you probably don’t need this post anyway. But for the rest of you, consider this your cheat sheet to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Let’s first talk about the universe itself, shall we?
1. Film Rights, Studios and Universes
The first thing that we got to address is what films are in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and what films are not. Because as much as we’d like it to be, not every film that has a “Marvel” label slapped on its opening credits belong in the same shared universe. And this is due to different film studios owning the film rights to different Marvel Comics characters. So this means for example, if you and I own two different film studios, and I bought the rights to use Iron Man in my movies, you can’t. Because you don’t have the right to. Let me explain further with a few well-known examples – namely 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Marvel Studios.
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox owns the rights to all the X-Men characters, which is why every film in the X-Men film series are produced and distributed by them. Fox also owns the rights to the Fantastic Four. Unfortunately, these two groups of superheroes as of now do not belong in the same fictional universe. Here are all the films under 20th Century Fox:
Now I must make a special mention about one X-Men, and that is Quicksilver. This guy is a special case. He is the only character so far that exists (or existed) simultaneously in two universes – the X-Men film series and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The reason why this is possible could be because of the nature and history of the character itself. You see, in the comic books, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch hang out regularly with both the X-Men and the Avengers. So I guess you can’t completely own the twin characters even if your studio has the film rights to one of the super teams.
That’s not to say that there are no limitations to their usage in film though. For example, Marvel Studios cannot mention the word “mutants” or even talk about “Magneto” when handling the two characters, while Fox can’t link Quicksilver to the Avengers. You think that’s complicated? Wait till you hear about Spider-Man!
Sony Pictures Entertainment
This is where things get a little interesting. Sony owns the rights to Spider-Man and produces & distributes all of the character’s films through Columbia Pictures (one of their studios). The movies in the original Spider-Man trilogy, as well as those in the recent The Amazing Spider-Man film series belong to them. That is why you never see Peter Parker hanging around Tony Stark. Well that is, until now. Because just last year, Sony Pictures managed to strike a deal with Marvel Studios in a way that allows Spider-Man to be reintroduced again (but hey, I’m not complaining) within the Marvel Cinematic Universe!
Based on what I know, Sony still owns the character. But because of this collaboration with Marvel Studios, Spider-Man can now exist in the MCU with a brand new cast & story, which could be the best thing that has ever happened to Spidey! And that is all that matters now, right? So enjoy these following films if you will, but when Civil War comes out, just know that the new Spider-Man and his future movie(s) are unrelated to any of these past tales:
This film studio, now owned by Disney, is the one we want to focus on today. Because these are the guys that have brought us and will continue to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe, our main topic of the day! “Which characters do Marvel Studios own?” Every character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Which characters or films are in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?” I am glad you asked.
Now you see why you need this guide. Thankfully, unlike Star Wars, most if not all of the MCU stories are released and told chronologically. So there’s no confusion about that. Still, there’s just way too much content to digest in a short amount of time. Of course, the best way to enjoy the entire MCU is to watch every single one of those movies and TV series above; or at least, all the movies. In fact, just watching all the movies would prepare you for Phase Three, which kicks off with Civil War. So if that’s your style, go ahead. You’ll understand every cross-reference, see every link, and be awed by every connection across the films. But once again, time is the problem.
If you just want to be ready for Captain America: Civil War however, I can recommend you to watch the following films. Just these 4 SHOULD be sufficient for you to fully enjoy Civil War:
Yet again if you’re reading this, why worry? Let’s get on with the real stuff today.
2. The World
The world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a big one. And though so far, most of its stories take place on Earth, some of them like Guardians of the Galaxy has increased the scale of this fictional universe. And sometimes, you might forget that these stories are actually interconnected even though sometimes they happen so far apart. So today before we focus on and talk about some of the more prominent characters & events in the MCU, let me first give you a general idea of the world in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“The Nine Realms”
This interesting concept was first introduced by Thor when he was banished to Earth five years ago. It basically describes how nine different planets from separate distant star systems are aligned in a figurative tree known as Yggdrasil. And yes, Earth – just like Thor’s home world Asgard, is one of these planets. How far exactly these planets are apart from one another is unclear, but what we do know is that they are far enough to exist on different planes of space with their own laws of “science” that even the greatest scientists on Earth cannot explain/understand. But of course, these are not the only planets in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These are just nine of them that happened to be positioned in a certain way and in this case – in a tree-like alignment we call Yggdrasil. So definitely, there are many other planets and galaxies existing outside this alignment, which is what I am going to talk about next.
Neighboring Galaxies & Planets
Okay this is pretty simple. Our Earth is part of the Solar System. Our Solar System is part of a galaxy. Our galaxy is known as the Milky Way. The Milky Way is only one out of many many galaxies in the universe. All of that is real. What I’m about to say next is fictional. The Guardians of the Galaxy and all of their shenanigans, conflicts and battles are found in a neighboring galaxy to ours. In fact, we can safely say they are in the galaxy closest to our galaxy. But still, that is pretty far away! So now you understand, right? The Guardians of the Galaxy roam a galaxy with its own stars & planets that are all outside the Nine Realms. But despite all that, you must know that they together with the Nine Realms and Earth, all exist within the same universe. Now that all the dust is cleared up, let’s talk about our planet Earth and some of its important characters & events, the usual subjects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
3. Important Characters
There are a lot of characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it will be almost insane to introduce every one of them to you here. So today, I will be focusing on some of them who are more important in the MCU or more relevant to Civil War now. And I will try to keep the descriptions short! But come to think of it, who doesn’t know these guys?
Tony Stark / Iron Man
A self-proclaimed genius, billionaire and philanthropist, Tony Stark’s life took a different turn when he was captured by terrorists 8 years ago. Forced to build a weapon of destruction, he witnessed first-hand the horrible possibilities & consequences that have resulted from weapons manufactured by his company. So instead, he built himself a mechanical suit of armor and escaped, leaving the man that he was behind; well for the most part, except his egoistic self. Eventually, he became the armored Avenger – Iron Man and continued to develop his suits & technology to fight the terrors of this world. When we last saw him in 2015, he accidentally unleashed an evil artificial intelligence named Ultron upon the world. Fortunately with the aid of all the Avengers, Ultron was stopped. Tony Stark will once again appear in Captain America: Civil War as the main man siding against the Captain.
Bruce Banner / The Hulk
When an attempt to experiment and recreate a super soldier program from World War II goes terribly wrong, Dr. Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk – “an enormous green rage monster” whenever he gets angry, extremely stressed, or put directly into harm’s way. Originally choosing to live a life of isolation for the safety of others, Bruce Banner has since become a part of the Avengers, a team of remarkable people commonly known as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”, who uses their unique abilities for the protection of the world. Banner has even recently learned to control and channel his inner monster and is able to use the Hulk to his advantage… most of the time. After the Battle of Sokovia against Ultron, the Hulk left the Avengers, leaving his current whereabouts and status unknown.
Thor was once childish, arrogant and unwise. But after his father Odin banished him to Earth for provoking a war between Asgard and the Frost Giants, he realized his mistakes and has changed ever since. After regaining his powers and ability to wield the legendary hammer Mjölnir, he went on to fight numerous battles for the Nine Realms. Some of these battles even helped to protect Earth against its enemies. And that was also how Thor became part of the Avengers, when he joined the fight against the alien forces that invaded Earth during The Battle of New York. Last year, he teamed up once more with the heroes and defeated Ultron’s army. Afterwards, he returned to Asgard to investigate mysterious forces that seemed to have orchestrated recent events.
Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
Having been brought up in cruel ways to become a trained killer, Natasha Romanoff is an ex-assassin turned agent who worked for S.H.I.E.L.D as a highly-skilled spy until its fall in 2014. But more than that, she is an Avenger and was one of them who stood against both the aliens in 2012, and the robotic army of Ultron in 2015. Today, together with Captain Steve Rogers, she has trained up a new group of Avengers that we will see more of in Captain America: Civil War. Of course, she will be making an appearance as well; but from what we know, she is on Tony’s side.
Clint Barton / Hawkeye
Most commonly recognized with his trademark bow and arrow, Clint Barton was a S.H.I.E.L.D agent like Romanoff, but with skills in archery that have been trained to the peak of human ability. He has since joined the Avengers and have fought dangers no mere mortal should have ever encountered. During the period of their fight against Ultron, Clint reveals to the bewilderment of the team that he is both a husband and a father and has a family residing in a remote area. After the battle in which he nearly lost his life, Clint “retired” from the Avengers and committed himself to his family. In Captain America: Civil War however, we shall see him again fighting alongside Cap.
Steve Rogers / Captain America
Alright, before we move on to talk about some newer characters, let’s first talk about the Captain, our titular character of Captain America: Civil War. Originally living in the time of World War II, Steve Rogers was just an ordinary man who wanted to serve in the military and help fight alongside his countrymen against the enemies. However, due to his extremely poor physical & health condition, it was impossible for him to do so. And it remained that way until he was chosen to be a subject for Project Rebirth – a secret super soldier program created for the Americans and their allies.
Steve Rogers then became the world’s first superhero and fought many battles during the war. He was also usually seen with his signature shield that was made out of vibranium – the strongest metal in the world. Eventually in one battle however, he sacrificed himself by crashing an explosive-rigged aircraft in the Arctic. Fortunately, he survived frozen in the ice and was kept in suspended animation until 70 years later when he was found and brought home by S.H.I.E.L.D. Soon after, the events of The Avengers unfolded and he became part of the team ever since.
Now, with all the original Avengers covered, it’s time to take a quick look at some of the more new/unfamiliar faces of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Sam Wilson / Falcon
Being one of the new Avengers who are on Team Cap, Sam was first introduced during the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. By now, he has grown to become one of the most trusted & treasured comrades of Captain America. He wears a highly advanced wing pack and is most proficient in aerial combat.
James Rhodes / War Machine
Alongside Tony Stark, James Rhodes is a character that has been with us since the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Also known as War Machine, he has been on countless adventures with Iron Man so obviously, you know whose team he is on. Most recently, he was seen undergoing training in the new Avengers facility.
James “Bucky” Barnes / The Winter Soldier
Bucky was the closest friend that Steve Rogers ever had. After Captain Rogers witnessed his demise in World War II, he was thought to be dead until he showed up again in 2014 in Washington, D.C. It turns out that he survived his fall but was brainwashed, physically enhanced and used throughout history by the rogue organization HYDRA to sow chaos whenever & wherever needed. When he’s not needed however, HYDRA would put him back to sleep in suspended animation, similar to the state that Steve Rogers was in. The last time we saw him, Bucky almost killed Captain America, but instead saved his life, seemingly to have recovered his memories.
Scott Lang / Ant-Man
Scott Lang was once a thief, but has now become the latest superhero to be introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His unique suit allows him to command armies of ants and also to shrink in size. When he is tiny & unnoticeable, his strength is retained & even multiplied to the point in which his tiny punch can feel “like a bullet”. He has had a previous encounter with Falcon and will be appearing in Civil War on the side of Steve Rogers.
The result of the combined efforts of Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and Thor, Vision is like the perfect version of Ultron without his twisted side. Bestowed with powers from the Mind Stone (the gem on his forehead) and created with a body laced with vibranium, Vision is also currently known as the only being other than Thor worthy of lifting Mjölnir. He is now a new Avenger siding with Tony Stark in Civil War.
Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch
Wanda Maximoff was a subject of HYDRA’s human experiments. This successfully granted her telekinetic & telepathic abilities, as well as powers of energy manipulation. After losing her twin brother in the Battle of Sokovia, she has since become an Avenger under the training of Captain Rogers and Agent Romanoff. She is also on Team Cap.
Sharon / Agent 13
In 2014, Sharon was a S.H.I.E.L.D agent tasked to live as a neighbor to Steve Rogers to watch over and protect him from any threats. But today, she works for the CIA and will also be appearing in Captain America: Civil War. As to which side she is on in the conflict, it is still currently unclear.
Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross
Back in 2008, General Ross was the man who led the pursuit on Dr. Bruce Banner. But of course as we all know, his plans on capturing Banner did not come into fruition. 8 years later today, he makes an appearance once again in Civil War.
I’ve mentioned HYDRA a few times before, but let me explain now who they really are. Originally started as a cult, this rogue terrorist/criminal organization have turned into one of the greatest enemies of S.H.I.E.L.D and the world due to their extreme beliefs in world domination. Basically, these are the bad guys. After World War II, HYDRA was thought to have been extinguished until their re-emergence in 2014.
Another organization that I’ve been talking about over and over is S.H.I.E.L.D. The Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division is an intelligence agency tasked with global security. Their job scope in recent years include protecting the world from the threats of super powered individuals. Even the knowledge of these people and their not-so-subtle activities have been successfully kept under wraps by S.H.I.E.L.D. But all these changed after some large-scale events in recent years, which I’ll be talking about now.
4. Important Events
Since Tony Stark first revealed to the world his superhero identity 8 years ago, many things have happened. But some of them I am about to list are probably considered the historical ones that have changed the world.
The Battle of New York
As I’ve said before, S.H.I.E.L.D has done a pretty good job over the years in keeping watch over the people who could be potential threats to the world. This includes individuals like Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, even though they might not have any ill intentions or whatsoever. More than that, they have also kept a lot of information about these people and their activities from the world – “classified” as they liked to say it. But all these efforts of keeping secrets went down the drain in 2012, when a hostile alien army invaded New York City.
This was the event that first united the Avengers against a common enemy, and introduced Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to the world. The battle that ensued also revealed to people across the globe that their world is even bigger and weirder than they have ever known. In the end, the Avengers successfully defeated the alien forces, though unfortunately, a trail of destruction was left behind and many still lost their lives.
The Fall of S.H.I.E.L.D
In 2014 – two years after the Battle of New York, Captain Steve Rogers & Agent Romanoff discovered to their horror that HYDRA never ceased to exist. In fact, it has been secretly operating and expanding within the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D. Together with Sam Wilson, they later helped prevent a global genocide in Washington, D.C and also exposed HYDRA to not just all legitimate S.H.I.E.L.D operatives, but to the general public and to the world. Once again, the battle in Washington, D.C resulted in much death and devastation. After this event, S.H.I.E.L.D was no more; at least to the world.
The Battle of Sokovia
After the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D, the Avengers began operating independently on resources provided by Tony Stark. Specifically, they went on a hunt against HYDRA, in search of a dangerous alien scepter recovered from New York, but were now in the hands of these criminals. After a chain of events, Tony Stark created Ultron – an artificial intelligence that went sentient and turned against the Avengers. This eventually led to a catastrophic battle in Sokovia, the latest event involving our heroes a year ago. Although many lives were saved after that because of the Avengers’ victory, the Battle of Sokovia probably became one of the main triggers to the conflicts in Captain America: Civil War.
5. The Story
Before I end my discussion today about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I would like to just bring us to an overview of the entire series so far. Because beyond what we’ve seen happening so far, there is a hidden, deeper overarching story. If you have watched all the films in Phase One & Phase Two, you would realize that a lot of them are loosely connected by similar objects filled with incredible power. And from recent events, we can identify that the source of power within these objects are actually hidden gems called Infinity Stones. Let me take one of them – the Mind Stone as an example, just to talk about why these stones are labelled the most powerful objects in existence.
The Mind Stone was found within the scepter that the Avengers recovered last year. And you know the things it can achieve. It allowed whoever that wielded the scepter to control the minds of people; it gave Wanda Maximoff her enhanced abilities and powers; it created the mind of Ultron but it also gave life and power to Vision. And all these are probably only some of the many feats that an Infinity Stone is capable of.
You must be wondering why we are talking about these Infinity Stones. The reason is because there a total of six Infinity Stones and so far, we’ve already found four of them. Why does that matter? Because I know that someone is looking for them – someone we still know almost nothing about. He is none other than Thanos, a cosmic figure apparently regarded as the most powerful being in the entire universe.
If you’ve ever seen the mid-credits scene from The Avengers (that’s why you should always stay till the end), you would know that since the Battle of New York, Thanos has been the mysterious force pulling the strings in the background, directly and indirectly causing many of the events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For example, it was his army that invaded Earth in 2012 even though on the surface, it looked like it was Thor’s evil brother Loki leading the charge. His goal in doing things like that is to obtain all six Infinity Stones for his own desires. And when (not if) that happens, the entire universe will be in trouble because he will be unstoppable. Do you now see how the entire MCU has been leading us towards its climax in Phase 3 – Infinity War? And just saying, Thanos has become impatient and has planned to retrieve the Stones personally. Great danger awaits.
So as you can see, in a sense, Thanos was the one who has inadvertently caused the formation of the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. And though we have yet to see much of him, he is a looming threat that have caused and will continue to cause much opposition for our heroes. But for now, we got to first deal with what’s currently happening on Earth.
Captain America: Civil War kicks off Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and will show us some repercussions of things that have happened previously in Phase One & Two. And though our heroes were involved previously in disastrous events and will be blamed, I place all the fault on Thanos. It’s only because of his lust for power that all these bad things could happen. Unfortunately, no one in the MCU knows that yet.
And that is all I have for you now. Hopefully I have helped you have a better idea of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, prepared you for Phase Three and also excited you for Captain America: Civil War! Personally, I can’t wait to find out what Black Panther is all about and how Spider-Man is now going to fit into the entire universe. Last tip; and I can’t stress this enough guys – always stay till the end of any MCU film, after EVERY single credit has rolled. Have a great time in the cinema.