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Thursday Treasures

May 3, 2012

The Marvel Cinematic Universe
by Kelvin Cedeno

'You've become part of a bigger universe. You just don't know it, yet.' These words were spoken by Nick Fury to Tony Stark during the end credits scene to Iron Man. Comic book fans may have jumped for joy knowing full well what that would be leading up to, but no one could've expected Marvel Studios' films to have such an intricate and layered pattern spread out. Known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the six films produced by Marvel Studios all exist in the same continuity and therefore are linked together in, at times, mind-boggling ways. The films in question are 2008's Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, 2010's Iron Man 2, 2011's Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, and 2012's The Avengers. That last film is the reason all the others exist as they were designed to pave the way for something unseen and unparalleled in the world of film: a motion picture that brings together characters from four different franchises into one epic event.

In this article, we will be taking a look at the five films that lead to The Avengers and how they form the tangled (non-Spider-Man) web that makes up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Before diving into all of that, it's probably best to do a quick recap of each film to better understand where each 'easter egg' comes from.

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR ALL MOVIES IN QUESTION. Skip ahead to the final two paragraphs for my personal suggestion on how to approach this series fresh.

IRON MAN (2008)

Tony Stark is a brilliant-but-irresponsible weapons manufacturer who has taken over his father's company. When kidnapped by a terrorist organization known as The Ten Rings, Tony is almost fatally injured. Another prisoner known as Yinsen, however, creates an electromagnet that keeps the shrapnel stuck in Tony's body away from his heart. Tony and Yinsen are forced to recreate Stark Industries' Jericho missile, but instead they create a robotic suit of armor to escape. Yinsen dies in the attempt, but Tony makes it back home a changed man.

Disturbed at finding that The Ten Rings somehow gained access to his weapons, Tony develops his suit (and the electromagnet) into a defense mechanism that will wipe out all weapons they've obtained. It is revealed that the manager of Stark Industries, Obadiah Stane, has not only been the one double dealing weapons to The Ten Rings under the table, but was also responsible for what should've been an assassination attempt on Tony's life. Stane creates his own version of the suit, named Iron Monger, and confronts Tony with it. With the help of his secretary, Pepper Potts, and his best friend James 'Rhodey' Rhodes, Tony manages to defeat Stane and comes out to the press as Iron Man.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)

Gifted scientist Bruce Banner one day performs a gamma radiation experiment on himself only to lead to disastrous results. The gamma poisoning in his system causes him to transform into a giant green monster known as the Hulk whenever he becomes upset. Upon finding out that General Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross' purpose for the experiment was to replicate the infection and create hulk super soldiers, Bruce flees. This leads to a long, worldwide chase as Ross has labeled Bruce a fugitive who, as far as he was concerned, was government property.

Bruce is coaxed back to his hometown when finding out that Dr. Samuel Sterns may have been able to find a cure. Ross decides the only way to fight Bruce as the hulk is to resurrect the failed super soldier program on Emil Blonsky. Drunk with power the serum has given him, he still is no match for the Hulk, and so he forces Sterns to inject him with Bruce's blood. The mixture of Bruce's contaminated blood and the super soldier serum transforms Blosnky into a beast called the Abomination. Bruce attempts to control his hulk persona, and he and Abomination do battle. Defeating Blonsky, Bruce once again goes on the run, only this time Ross chooses not to pursue him.

IRON MAN 2 (2010)

When the arc reactor that's keeping him alive starts to release toxins into his blood stream, Tony realizes his days are numbered. He revives the Stark Expo, an exposition that showcases the latest in technology and inventions, in order to keep both his and his father's legacy alive. A Russian criminal by the name of Ivan Vanko seeks revenge on Tony as both of their fathers worked together, but Tony's revealed Vanko's to be a Russian spy and had him arrested. Vanko partners with Tony's rival, Justin Hammer, to create improved versions of the Iron Man armor.

Meanwhile, the government is concerned at just how powerful Tony's suit is and feels it should be relinquished. Tony and Rhodey get into heated conflict over this as Rhodey feels Tony has reverted back to his irresponsible ways. Nick Fury and his members of S.H.I.E.L.D. try to steer Tony on the right track, and in the process, Tony discovers a new element that can safely energize his arc reactor. Vanko sabotages the Stark Expo, and Tony and Rhodey reconcile to stop him and his drone army. They succeed, and Tony is brought on as a consultant for S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Avengers initiative.

THOR (2010)

In the realm of Asgard, Thor Odinson is next in line for his father Odin's throne. On the day of his coronation, however, Frost Giants somehow manage to break their way win. They're easily defeated, but Thor is ready to start a war with the Frost Giants' realm of Jotunheim. His temperamental actions succeed in giving the Jotunheim ruler Laufey the perfect excuse to ignite one. Odin in rage banishes Thor to Earth, stripping him of his powers. Meanwhile, Thor's brother Loki discovers that Laufey is his true father, and the ensuing argument between Loki and Odin sends Odin into the odinsleep.

Back on earth, Thor struggles to make sense of mortal way of life, but manages to befriend an astrophysicist named Jane Foster. Although she's wary of Thor's sanity, she still finds herself smitten, and the duo's relationship teaches him humility. Loki, now king of Asgard, attempts to have Thor killed on earth, but Thor's sacrifice for the mortals makes him worthy of regaining his powers. Loki, who had let in the Frost Giants, enacts a plan to make himself appear a hero and tries to wipe out the entire Jotunheim realm. Thor stops him by destroying the bifrost bridge that connects Asgard to the other realms, and in doing so, is seemingly unable to return to Earth.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2010)

Steve Rogers longs to fight for his country during World War II, but his small stature and numerous illnesses prevent him from being accepted. Dr. Abraham Erskine is working with the government on a super soldier serum and chooses Steve for the experiment based on his strong moral ethics. The serum transforms Steve into a seemingly perfect specimen, but Erskine is killed by a Nazi spy, and the research is mostly destroyed. Unsure of what to do with Steve now that he's the only soldier of his type, the military relegates him as a poster boy for the war effort known as Captain America.

When hearing that his best friend, James Buchanan 'Bucky' Barnes has been captured by H.Y.D.R.A., Hitler's scientific research division, Steve goes to rescue both him and the rest of Bucky's platoon. He runs into Johann Schmidt, the leader of H.Y.D.R.A., who forced Erskine to conduct the super soldier experiment on him earlier. The early stages of the serum, mixed with Schmidt's own defects, disfigured him and earned him the name Red Skull. Steve overtakes Schmidt's plane which harbors a missile bound for New York. In order to stop it, he crashes it into the Arctic and is frozen until S.H.I.E.L.D. agents thaw him out 70 years later.

THE END CREDIT SCENES

The biggest and most obvious way these five films connected was via post-credit codas. At the end of Iron Man, Tony Stark comes home to find Nick Fury waiting there for him. Nick introduces himself and the Avengers Initiative. The Incredible Hulk ended with a scene where Tony approaches General Ross about assembling a team. That scene, like the other Marvel epilogues, was meant to be after the credits, but Universal was so concerned about erasing the damage their 2003 Hulk film caused that they wanted to be sure everyone knew Tony Stark was going to be in the film. They even went as far as to spoil the cameo in several TV spots.

For Iron Man 2, there was a scene that overlapped with Thor (and was, in fact, directed by that film's director Kenneth Branagh rather than Iron Man's Jon Favreau). In it, Agent Coulson arrives in New Mexico and calls Nick Fury about the discovery of Thor's hammer Mjolnir. A similar approach was taken for Thor, where Joss Whedon, writer and director of The Avengers, filmed a scene where Nick Fury shows Erik Selvig the cosmic cube found in Captain America. It also directly sets up The Avengers by revealing that Loki lives and is inhabiting Selvig's body. Finally, for Captain America, a brief scene between Nick Fury and Steve Rogers leads to what was the first look at The Avengers. All of these scenes helped plant seeds to lead up to that film and managed to generate great anticipation.

MARVEL ONE-SHOTS

Along with these five features, Marvel Studios produced two short films starring Agent Coulson. The first one, The Consultant, premiered on the Thor Blu-ray and contains a diner discussion between Coulson and Agent Sitwell. We find out that General Rossis trying to hide his failure of the Blonsky incident by forcing him into the Avengers while making Hulk out to be a villain. Refusing to let someone so unstable onto the team, Coulson and Sitwell decide to send Tony Stark in to request Blonsky's enrollment knowing full well that Tony's personality will perturb Ross so much that he'd never dare comply. The plan works. The short was likely produced when it was realized that The Incredible Hulk's end credits scene wouldn't exactly work with how S.H.I.E.L.D. seeks out Bruce Banner in The Avengers, but it was luckily a vague enough sequence to allow a twist in this short.

The second short film, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer, premiered on the Captain America: The First Avenger Blu-ray. In it, we see Coulson stopping for gas on the way over to New Mexico. At the station's quick stop store, he's torn over which snacks to buy when suddenly two robbers hold the cashier up at gunpoint. Coulson takes out both of them single-handedly, decides on getting both the snacks he was eyeing, and casually lets the stunned cashier keep the change.

THE REFERENCES

Scattered throughout all five Marvel movies are what some like to call Easter eggs. They're references to other stories in the same universe that help sell the idea that this is a unified story. Many of these are references only comic book readers would know, so this section will only focus on the links within the film continuity. Iron Man mentions Howard Stark's contributions to the war effort, something we see first hand in Captain America. When Pepper is walking in on Tony struggling to get out of his suit, a work-in-progress Captain America shield lies on the table behind him. In The Incredible Hulk, S.H.I.E.L.D., Stark Industries, and Nick Fury's name can all be seen quickly during the opening prologue montage as well as a visual representation of the internet when Ross tries to track Bruce's e-mails. The super soldier program Blonsky takes part in Ross' attempt to revive the same one Steve Rogers took part in. Dr. Erksine's name is even on the canisters for the serum. An alternate opening was cut out the film in which Bruce attempted suicide out in the Arctic before transforming into the Hulk. The transformation caused an avalanche which quickly revealed Captain America's body under the ice. The removal of this ended up being for the better in the long run as Steve freezes while inside Schmidt's plane in Captain America, not out in the open.

Iron Man 2 also had its share of references. When going through his father's trunk, the first issue of the 'Captain America' comic book can be seen under the newspaper. Later, when flipping through the journal, Tony comes across a sketch of Captain America's tesseract, also known as the cosmic cube. An obvious reference played for laughs comes when Coulson discovers the same work-in-progress shield from the first film, which Tony uses to lever his machine. Coulson then tells Tony he's been reassigned to a mission in New Mexico (which Nick also mentions earlier), referring to the events in Thor.The most important one, however, comes when Tony meets up with Nick at the end of the film. There are several screens around the room. One of them is the same newscast featured in The Incredible Hulk which covered the Culver University fight. Why this reference is so vital will be explained in the next section. Another screen in the same scene features a world map with markers on it, and markers over New York (The Incredible Hulk) and New Mexico (Thor) indicate that S.H.I.E.L.D. is keeping tabs on those developments.

In Thor, Erik tells Jane he knew of an expert in gamma ray technology who mysteriously disappeared when S.H.I.E.L.D. got involved, obviously referring to Bruce Banner. Later on, Agent Sitwell asks Agent Coulson if the Destroyer is one of Tony's inventions. Coulson, clearly annoyed at the mere mention of Tony, replies, 'I don't know. Guy never tells me anything.' Finally, in Captain America, we have a unique situation where the references were made after the fact even though story-wise, they came first and thus could be considered foreshadowing. The World's Fair clearly inspired the Stark Expo, and Howard Stark himself makes an appearance. The technology he shows off to make the car levitate is the same repulsor technology Tony uses to fly in his suit. After this, an instrumental version of 'Make Way for Tomorrow Today' plays, a song written by Richard Sherman for the Stark Expo. Throughout the film, Schmidt mentions Odin and the gods. The compartment he retrieves the tesseract from is part of a mural depicting Yggdrasil, the tree that links the nine realms mentioned in Thor. At the end of the film, his personal handling of the tesseract causes it create what looks like a bifrost bridge to one of the realms, beaming him up.

THE CHRONOLOGY

The biggest thing fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been trying to figure out is when the events of these five films (particularly the middle three) take place. By dropping off hints to the events of both The Incredible Hulk and Thor, Iron Man 2 indicated that that it was taking place at the same time as these two. The newscast from Hulk is airing while Tony is meeting with Nick, thus signifying they're on the same day. Using that and Coulson's New Mexico reference as starting points, what follows is a representation of how I believe these events played out. Keep in mind there are others online who have gone as far as to assign dates to these based on newspapers seen in the films, but doing so has revealed discrepancies that wouldn't otherwise be there. So instead of a formal and complete timeline, here is a breakdown of what we'll call 'Nick Fury's Big Week,' a nod to the comic series that explains what Nick has been doing during these events.

Day 1: Thor's coronation is interrupted by a Frost Giant attack. Tony discovers a new element. Thor later travels to Jotunheim to confront the Frost Giants and is banished to earth by Odin. Agent Coulson leaves to New Mexico and stops two robbers at a gas station.

Day 2: Coulson arrives in New Mexico and sets up a base around Mjolnir. That evening, Thor tries to retrieve it but fails. Vanko attacks Tony at the Stark Expo and fights him and Rhodey.

Day 3: Loki sends the Destroyer to kill Thor; Thor returns to Asgard and destroys the bridge.

Day 4: Bruce returns to Virginia and watches Betty from afar.

Day 5: Bruce searches Culver University for his data and is reunited with Betty Ross that evening.

Day 6: Tony is made the Avengers consultant by Nick Fury. General Ross' team corners Bruce at the university, and Blonsky fights the Hulk.

Day 7: Bruce and Betty go on the run to find Samuel Sterns.

Day 8: Bruce and Betty arrive in New York. Blonsky turns into the Abomination and battles the Hulk.

As for the rest of the films, they're far easier. The main events of Captain America: The First Avenger come first. Jump forward to Thor's prologue of Odin retelling the battle of Jotunheim to young Thor and Loki. Next comes the entirety of Iron Man, and its final scene overlaps with the prologue of Iron Man 2. The Incredible Hulk up until Bruce in Mexico follows, and then the events of Iron Man 2 up until Tony's birthday party. The crazy, overlapping week starts the next day. Once that week has passed, The Consultant plays out and finally the modern-day prologue and epilogue to Captain America.

So the dilemma comes as to the best order to view these films in. While a fan edit actually exists that edits together all five films (and the two short ones) into a chronological 10-hour epic, that's not a viable (or dare I say legal) approach for many. This is the order I feel is best:

Iron Man

Iron Man 2

Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer

Thor

The Incredible Hulk

Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant

Captain America: The First Avenger

My reasoning for this is that the entirety of Thor takes place within Iron Man 2, whereas The Incredible Hulk extends beyond that. As for leaving Captain America last despite most of it taking place first, it's because of the modern-day prologue and epilogue that leads directly into The Avengers. Steve Roger's story also holds more weight after you've already been exposed to the events that happened after it.

No matter what order you choose or what references you pick up on, there's a great amount of entertainment to be found in Marvel Studios films. They're filled with all the elements you could want: humor, romance, action, memorable characters, and interesting storylines. The fact that so much care has been poured into this franchise shows what a perfect match Marvel is for Disney.

 

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