So let’s say that you (or more likely, your friend who sent you to this webpage and is dragging you to the Doctor Strange movie, or maybe the Google search algorithm that directed you here) want to get a quick handle on what the Marvel Cinematic Universe is before you go see the movie that’s coming out in a few weeks’ time. And because you only have so many hours in the day, you want to do it without watching thirteen movies in a row. You basically need a quick summary of everything that happened that you can read on your lunch break, something that will let you know what’s going on without having to watch everything at 1 1/2 speed just to fit it all in and winding up convinced that ‘The Avengers’ is a Benny Hill sketch.
No problem! Gotcha covered. Read on! (Oh, um, spoilers for the Marvel movies, but really at this point you should not be able to complain about spoilers for any of them except possibly Civil War and that’s way down at the bottom so you have no excuse.
Iron Man: Tony Stark is a rich douchebag who makes money selling bombs, but doesn’t feel guilty because he doesn’t drop them. Then he gets captured by terrorists and forced to confront the consequences of his actions, and also to build a cool suit of power armor to escape. (The suit also keeps him alive because he got shrapnel in his chest.) He comes back and decides to be nice to everyone while using his power armor to stop bad guys, which ticks off his business partner who hired the terrorists to kill him. Business partner builds his own power armor, they fight, Tony wins and announces to the world that he. Is. IRON MAN! (Stinger: Samuel L. Jackson shows up and says, “Hey, wanna join my superteam?”)
Incredible Hulk: Bruce Banner is on the run from military man “Thunderbolt” Ross because he tried to recreate the ultimate super-soldier (HINT HINT!) and it instead turned him into a big green guy whenever he gets angry. He’s hunting for a cure but that isn’t going so great. A British guy offers to help the government catch Banner in exchange for some of that sweet sweet super-soldiery goodness, but it goes bad and he becomes an even crazier big green guy. Banner turns into the Hulk to defeat him, then goes on the run again. (Stinger: Tony Stark tells “Thunderbolt” Ross, “You know I’m way better at this superhero stuff than you are, right? I’m part of a superteam!”)
Iron Man 2: Tony Stark is having a crazy bad week. His dad’s friend’s son is trying to kill him because he (the son) thinks Tony stole the Iron Man design, the government wants him to turn over the plans to the suit so they can make more, his business rival Justin Hammer is trying to steal his designs, and oh by the way he’s dying from heavy metal poisoning because the suit has to be plugged into his chest to keep his heart going. After Samuel L. Jackson and a cool superspy named the Black Widow (who’s been posing as his new secretary) give him a pep talk, he busts Justin Hammer for espionage, invents a new version of the suit that doesn’t kill him, blows up his dad’s friend’s son, and tells the government (in the form of Garry Shandling) to fuck off. (Stinger: Samuel L. Jackson’s right-hand man, Phil Coulson, finds out that a big weird hammer is in New Mexico. HINT HINT!)
Thor: All the Norse gods are real and they’re aliens from the planet Asgard and all the Frost Giants and stuff are more aliens. Thor, who’s nice (but hot-headed and kind of dumb) gets tricked by his brother Loki (who’s a manipulative little shit) into picking a fight with Frost Giants, so Odin takes his powers away until he learns how to control his temper and exiles him to Earth. Thor, having learned all the wrong lessons, picks a fight with the government to get his hammer back (which is where his powers are) but it doesn’t work because he’s not being good yet. Odin takes a nap and Loki decides to send an Asgardian killer robot called the Destroyer to kill Thor, but when Thor risks his life to protect ordinary people he gets his powers back and wrecks it. He and Loki fight and Loki winds up cast into the void, fate unknown. HINT HINT! (Stinger: Thor’s scientist buddy is invited by Samuel L. Jackson to study a weird super-science artifact called the Tesseract. He agrees…but he’s being mind-controlled by Loki!)
Captain America: The First Avenger: FLASHBACK TIME! Back in the 40s, ordinary guy Steve Rogers signed up to test the original super-soldier serum that Bruce Banner was trying to replicate. He becomes Captain America, and hangs out with his best friend Bucky and Agent Peggy Carter and Tony Stark’s dad to fight Nazis. Meanwhile, a Nazi super-science dude called the Red Skull, who took the same super-soldier serum but got his face melted off because he’s bad, and his sidekick Arnim Zola, decide the Nazis are probably going to lose and form a secret super-science cult called HYDRA. They use the Tesseract that Samuel L. Jackson will later ask Thor’s buddy to study to power their death cult, and Cap fights them. Bucky dies…apparently (HINT HINT!) and Cap defeats the Red Skull but is frozen in the Arctic for decades until Samuel L. Jackson finds him.
The Avengers: Loki shows back up and steals the Tesseract. He also brainwashes Hawkeye, who showed up in ‘Thor’ but didn’t do anything, into helping his evil plan to help a bunch of aliens called the Chitauri take over the world. Samuel L. Jackson knows this is bad shit, so he gets Black Widow, Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America to stop them. They capture Loki, just as Thor shows up to do the same (there’s a big fight because they don’t know Thor is a good guy but it’s all cool) but they don’t find the Tesseract or Hawkeye or Thor’s mind-controlled scientist buddy. Loki tricks the heroes into fighting each other and escapes in the confusion, and opens a big space portal above Manhattan for the aliens to use. The Avengers shut down the portal, recapture Loki, free Hawkeye and Thor’s buddy, and return the Tesseract with Thor and Loki to Asgard. (Stinger: The aliens were really working for an even worse alien named Thanos!) (Additional Stinger: Everyone eats shawarma!)
END PHASE ONE!
Iron Man 3: Tony pisses off a crazy terrorist called the Mandarin, but it turns out he’s not really a terrorist. He was hired to act all terroristy by a company called AIM, which is testing out another super-soldier serum called Extremis that can drive people crazy and make them explode as a side-effect. (The Mandarin’s bombings are really just people exploding.) Tony defeats them and oh by the way he gets surgery to fix his heart, but it doesn’t make him feel better because he was so freaked out by the killer aliens over Manhattan that he’s sure are going to come back and kill everyone and he doesn’t know what to DOOOOOOOO!
Thor: The Dark World: There are more aliens like the Frost Giants, but these are Dark Elves and they’ve been hiding for millions of years waiting for someone to find a super-science artifact called the Aether that they can use to unmake the universe because they believe it was really just a bad idea all around. Thor’s girlfriend Jane finds it. She gets superpowers but it’s killing her, and also elves are trying to kill her and she’s just basically having a bad week. Thor and Loki team up to stop the elves after they kill Thor and Loki’s mom, but Loki is killed…apparently (HINT HINT!) Thor defeats the elves, saves Jane and tells dad Odin he’s going to go live on Earth and be a superhero, and Odin’s like, “Sure, fine, whatever.” but it’s because he’s really LOKI IN DISGUISE! (Stinger: The Aether and the Tesseract turn out to be part of a family of super-science artifacts, and the Asgardians pawn it off on a weird alien dude called the Collector because It Would Be Bad to put them too close together. The Collector wants to do just that, though, because he’s a collector.)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Captain America is working with Samuel L. Jackson and his superspy group SHIELD, but SHIELD is acting all creepily authoritarian and Cap’s not down with that. They get worse after a mysterious assassin called the Winter Soldier kills Samuel L. Jackson… apparently (HINT HINT!) and Cap goes AWOL with the Black Widow to track down the Winter Soldier despite the orders of cool nice dude Robert Redford who takes over. Surprise surprise, Robert Redford is a bad guy, SHIELD has been thoroughly infiltrated by HYDRA thanks to decades of diligent work by Arnim Zola, the Winter Soldier is a brainwashed, cyborgized and cryonically preserved Bucky, and in just a few days SHIELD is going to bring the ultimate pre-emptive strike on line and kill everyone in the world who would even think about opposing their agenda. But Samuel L. Jackson isn’t dead so he and Cap and Black Widow and their new buddy the Falcon (an ex-soldier with a suit that lets him fly) defeat HYDRA, kill Robert Redford and Emile Zola, and free Bucky although he’s so spooked he goes on the run. So does Samuel L. Jackson, because SHIELD is kind of FUBARed by HYDRA and he needs to go undercover to make sure that he can root out all the bad guys. (Stinger: Some of the bad guys are using Loki’s magic staff to make new superpowered people!)
Guardians of the Galaxy: But fuck all that, let’s go to space for a caper flick! Star-Lord, a human who was abducted by aliens and raised in space, is stealing a MacGuffin that’s also wanted by crazy space terrorist Ronan. Ronan is working for Thanos and his two daughters, Gamora and Nebula, because Thanos has promised to help Ronan kill all his enemies (which is pretty much everyone) if he gets Thanos the MacGuffin. But Gamora is sick of her crazy dad and wants to double-cross everyone and sell the MacGuffin and use it to fund a new life somewhere way the hell away. So she goes to steal it from Star-Lord, then they both run into bounty hunters Rocket and Groot, and there’s a big fight and everyone gets locked up in jail. They break out with the help of a revenge-crazed alien named Drax who wants to kill Ronan, and go to sell the MacGuffin together to…the Collector! It’s part of the same family of super-science artifacts as the Aether and the Tesseract. But the deal goes bad and Ronan steals the MacGuffin. He realizes it’s a super-science artifact that he can use to get his killing done, and double-crosses Thanos. There’s a big fight, and the heroes stop Ronan and give the MacGuffin to a group of space police called the Nova Corps for safekeeping.
Avengers: Age of Ultron: Okay, back to the HYDRA guys using Loki’s staff to create supersoldiers. Turns out that the magic staff is actually just a cool staff, and all the real power is in the gem in the middle…which is, all together now, a super-science artifact with unimaginable power. After the Avengers stop HYDRA and get it, Tony Stark decides to use it to create Ultron, a robotic protector of humanity that will keep everyone safe from the aliens he just KNOWS are out there…but it goes very wrong and the robot decides to wipe out the human race. He steals the stuff he needs to do it with the help of the supersoldiers HYDRA created (Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch), but they betray him and join the Avengers, who stop Ultron with the help of Tony’s second attempt at a robotic protector of humanity known as the Vision, although Quicksilver dies. Oh and by the way it’s around here that Thor goes, “Gee, isn’t it kind of funny that all these super-science artifacts keep turning up? It’s almost like someone is looking for them!” Thor goes to find out what’s up with that, Iron Man goes off to figure out why he’s so messed up in the head about aliens and is doing so many stupid things, and the Hulk just goes off somewhere, leaving Cap in charge of the Avengers. (Stinger: The guy looking for them is Thanos!)
Ant-Man: Oh and by the way there’s this dude Hank who has a shrinking serum and he doesn’t want it to fall into the wrong hands so he hires an ex-con named Scott Lang to steal it back from an evil corporation. Which he does. And Scott becomes Ant-Man.
END PHASE TWO!
Captain America: Civil War: After sulking for about ten movies, “Thunderbolt” Ross comes back and says he’s sick of all these superheroes cowboying around and causing massive property destruction and being totally ineffective, because that’s his job. He forces the Avengers to submit to UN authority, and Tony Stark comes back to tell everyone they should do it because he can’t be trusted and so neither can they. This rightfully causes a big argument, which would probably not be enough to sustain a whole movie so we get a guy named Zemo who hates superheroes because Ultron killed his family, who frames the Winter Soldier for killing the king of Wakanda (a country that only exists in the Marvel Universe) to draw him out of hiding. Everyone thinks Zemo’s doing this because…well, no, everyone thinks the Winter Soldier really did it, except Cap because he’s loyal to his buddy, and Cap thinks Zemo did it because the Winter Soldier knows where a whole bunch more Winter Soldiers are kept and he’s not quite free of his brainwashing so Zemo can make him tell. And also make him kill people. Cap decides to help the Winter Soldier, and gets a team together to find Zemo. But Iron Man gets his own team together, and they have a big fight. Everyone gets captured except Cap and the Winter Soldier, and Iron Man chases them down by himself without telling anyone because he’s starting to suspect that Cap was right. BUT…it turns out that Zemo isn’t after more Winter Soldiers. He’s after proof that the Winter Soldier killed Iron Man’s parents so that he can get Iron Man and Cap to fight. They do, their friendship ends, and Cap and Winter Soldier break out the rest of the rogue Avengers and go on the run. (Stinger: The Winter Soldier goes back into cryonic sleep in Wakanda until he can get his shit together!)
Now, it’s debatable how much any of this will have to do with Doctor Strange, because supposedly he deals with all the weird shit that the Avengers don’t even know about. But just in case you need to know any of it, now you know it!