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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 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
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
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
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 2
Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way
to Thor's Hammer
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.