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Friday, May 13, 2016

A Guide to the MCU

Written by Jon Williams

Captain America: Civil War landed in theatres last Friday and dominated the box office, and it looks to do the same this weekend. It tells the story of an ideological rift in the superhero team that leads to conflict between Captain America and Iron Man, as well as their various allies. It’s the latest installment in Marvel’s cinematic universe that dates back to 2008. In the eight years since, there have been a number of films and TV shows that have contributed to this universe, with plenty more on the horizon, and it can be difficult to keep up with everything that’s out here. With that in mind, here’s a look at what you need to know about this ultra-popular series.

The whole shebang began in 2008 with Iron Man, in which Robert Downey Jr. plays billionaire playboy and technological genius Tony Stark, who fashions a powered armor suit for himself after being abducted by terrorists. Shortly thereafter came The Incredible Hulk, with Edward Norton in the role of Dr. Bruce Banner and his rage-fueled alter ego. Iron Man 2 was the first sequel in 2010. Then, in 2011, two new superheroes were introduced: Thor starred Chris Hemsworth as the god of thunder, and Captain America: The First Avenger told the WWII-era origin story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and brought him into the modern day. In 2012, Marvel brought Phase One of their cinematic universe to a close by assembling all these heroes (plus a couple of others, and replacing Edward Norton with Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk) into an unstoppable fighting force known as The Avengers.

Phase Two began with movies featuring three of the individual avengers: Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World in 2013 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 2014. That year also saw the introduction of a new team, more aliens and misfits than superheroes: Guardians of the Galaxy was popular almost as much for its classic rock soundtrack as for its fun and action-packed plot. In 2015, the Avengers came together once again for Age of Ultron; then, for the first time in Phase Two, another individual superhero made his entrance in the form of Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man.

Captain America: Civil War, which is the first film in Phase Three, actually seems much more like an Avengers movie. While the Hulk and Thor are absent, the other members of the team, including War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), all play prominent roles. In addition, it also provides an origin for a new Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who will be rebooted into this Marvel universe with Homecoming in 2017, and introduces Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who gets an individual movie in 2018. Next on Marvel’s docket is Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, which releases in November; other films to look forward to include a second Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), and a two-part Avengers Infinity War (2018 and 2019).

And of course, those are just the movies; the MCU has spread to the small screen as well. It started in 2013 with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which airs its two-hour Season 3 finale next Tuesday. Starring Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, it deals with the government agency tasked with countering enemies like Hydra that pose monumental threats to humanity. In early 2015, it was joined on the airwaves by Agent Carter, in which Hayley Atwell plays Peggy Carter, a secret agent in the 1940s who works often with Howard Stark (Iron Man’s father) and played a large role in Captain America’s back story. Daredevil (starring Charlie Cox as a blind crime-fighter) and Jessica Jones (starring Krysten Ritter as a traumatized former superhero who now runs a detective agency) both debuted in 2015 as well. All those shows are ongoing (with the exception of Agent Carter, which will not continue past its second season), and Marvel has plenty more in the offing. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) will premiere at the end of September, and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) is filming now. A bit further down the line, once those two series have begun, the TV superheroes will get their own team-up in the form of The Defenders, currently slated for sometime in 2017.

(Please note: Daredevil and Jessica Jones are not yet available in a physical format. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (beyond the first season) and Agent Carter are currently unavailable to us, but are expected to become available at some point. We’ll keep you posted.)

The box office numbers for Captain America: Civil War show that the popularity of Marvel and its characters and stories continues unabated. As their universe grows, make sure you have these movies and shows on your shelves for fans who want to relive them and for new converts who want to catch up.

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