Avengers: Infinity War is very nearly here. Maybe even some of you in the UK are going to midnight screenings tonight to finally find out what Thanos is up to with those Infinity Stones. But wait... there's a problem. You can't remember what happened in the other 18 Marvel movies leading up to this point! Eeek!
Don't feel bad - it's a lot of films! And they span a decade (in real time) and deal with multiple worlds, cultures, and characters all with their own issues and histories. Unfortunately, it sounds like you are going to need to know at least some of what's happened in the MCU up until this point if our spoiler-free review is anything to go by (read it in the link above), but the good news is that we've got you covered!
We've spent all year recapping every MCU movie, from Iron Man to Black Panther, so that we'd have a full Marvel recap ready to go in time for Infinity War and here it is! Behold the most beautiful (not true) and probably best (definitely true) MCU recap of all time...
If you have the time, read on and get fully caught up on what happens in every Marvel movie so far, or, if you're reading this seconds before you're seeing Avengers: Infinity War, just skip to the 'Things you need to remember' sections at the end of each recap and quickly read the bullet points. Either way you'll be caught up in time to watch Avengers: Infinity War in all its glory!
Iron Man (2008)
Tony Stark is a super suave, super rich, genius womaniser who runs weapons manufacturing company, Stark Industries, along with his Dad’s old partner Obadiah Stane. He has an invaluable PA called Pepper Potts, a chauffeur/friend called Hogan, an AI assistant called Jarvis, and a military friend called Rhodey.
While in Afghanistan, Stark is ambushed by a group of terrorists and suffers serious injuries thanks to one of his own grenades. He wakes up in captivity, full of tiny fragments of sharpel travelling towards his heart, but fellow captive, Yinsen, fits him with an electromagnet to stop the sharpel from killing him. The terrorists want him to build one of his "Jericho" missiles for them, so Stark pretends to agree and then he and Yinsen create a small, but powerful electric generator called an arc reactor to power Stark's electromagnet and a suit of powered armor to help them escape.
Yinsen dies during the escape, but Stark eventually makes it home where he announces to the world that his company will stop making weapons having seen the damage they can do. Stane isn’t happy and tells him to take some time off, which Stark uses to design a more advanced version of his arc reactor and suit. He uses it to save some people, but finds out that Stane has been double dealing under the table and selling Stark weapons to terrorists as well as ‘the good guys’. When he confronts him, Stane gets him kicked off the board.
Meanwhile, the terrorists who captured him find the remains of his original suit and try to put it back together. Stane kills them all and takes the suit for himself, then he tries to kill Stark by taking his arc reactor and using both to create an even bigger and more powerful suit. He intents to create an army of super soldiers to sell to the highest bidder, but Pepper finds out what he’s up to and rushes to stop him with the help of Agent Coulson from the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. Stane tries to kill them using his Iron Monger suit, but Stark turns up with his old arc reactor (which Pepper kept as a keepsake) and (eventually) defeats and kills Stane.
Rumours abound in the press about the super suits, and Agent Coulson helps cover up what happened, giving Stark an alibi and telling him to keep to the official version of events. During a press conference, Stark promptly proclaims: “I am Iron Man.” Once back at home, Stark is met by Nick Fury who tells him he’s putting a team together...
Things you need to remember:
- Tony Stark is Iron Man
- The arc reactor in his chest doesn’t just power his suit - it’s keeping him alive
- Agent Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D.
- Nick Fury and that team he was talking about
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Scientist Bruce Banner is on the run after a failed experiment which turned him into a huge, green monster (for short periods of time), who smashed up the lab where he and his girlfriend Betty worked killing some and injuring others. He’s hiding out in Brazil, working on a potential cure, and practicing meditation to keep his heart rate below 200 as he only changes into ‘the Hulk’ when he gets angry. Betty’s Dad, General “Thunderbolt” Ross is trying to find him so he can weaponize the Hulk for the US army.
While working in a factory, some of Banner’s blood accidentally gets into a bottle which eventually gives an elderly gentleman in Wisconsin gamma sickness. This tips Ross off to Banner’s whereabouts and he sends in a team, led by British Royal Marine Emil Blonsky, to capture him, but Banner turns into the Hulk and escapes. After Ross reveals to Blonsky how Banner became the Hulk, he agrees to be injected with a small amount of a similar serum, which gives him enhanced abilities, but also starts to impair his judgement.
Banner reunites with Betty, but is attacked by Ross and his forces again causing him to transform into the Hulk. He escapes for a second time, seemingly killing Blonsky in the process, and he and Betty go on the run. They make contact with Dr. Samuel Sterns - the person Banner has been communicating with online about a potential cure - and conduct a seemingly successful experiment which turns the Hulk back into Banner. Sterns warns though, that the cure might only work for each individual transformation and then reveals that he’s synthesized Banner’s blood with the intention of using it for good. Knowing what it can do Banner wishes to destroy it all, but is captured by Ross and Blonsky who has made a remarkably quick recovery from his injuries.
Ross takes Banner and Betty into custody on a helicopter, but Blonsky stays behind and forces Sterns to inject him with Banner’s blood, which transforms him into an even bigger monster than the Hulk. Driven mad by the combination of the serum and Banner’s blood, he rampages through Harlem putting everyone in danger. Realising Banner is the only one who can stop him, Ross releases him and he transforms into the Hulk and fights and finally defeats Blonsky. Betty stops the Hulk from turning on anyone else and he eventually flees.
A month later and Banner is hiding out in British Columbia and rather than trying to supress the Hulk, he manages to transform in a safe and controlled way. In the final scene, Tony Stark approaches Ross in a bar to talk about the team which is being put together.
Things you need to remember:
- Bruce Banner only transforms into the Hulk when he’s angry
- He’s on the run/in hiding
- General Thunderbolt Ross
- That team everyone keeps mentioning...
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Everyone knows that Tony Stark is Iron Man, including Ivan Vanko in Russia. His father, Anton, worked on the original design for the arc reactor with Tony’s father Howard Stark, and has just died, so Ivan makes his own arc reactor which he uses to power a pair of electrofied whips.
Meanwhile in America, Tony reinstates the Stark Expo, which his father started in the ‘70s to encourage technological inventions. He’s called to a government hearing where Senator Stern demands he had over the Iron Man suit for the protection of America. Stark refuses saying that no one else in the world is even close to copying his design so the government doesn’t need to worry - he’ll continue to protect them.
The palladium core which powers the arc reactor that keeps Tony alive is slowly poisoning him to death, so he’s trying to find a replacement power source (with little luck). He hasn’t told anyone and is becoming more and more reckless and isolated. No longer interested in running Stark Industries, he makes Pepper CEO and hires Stark employee Natalie Rushman to replace her as his PA.
He competes in the Monaco Historic Grand Prix and is attacked mid-race by Vanko wielding his Iron Man-like suit with whips, and although Starks defeats him and Vanko is imprisoned, this appears to disprove Stark’s assertion that no one else can make one of his suits. Stark’s rival Justin Hammer fakes Vanko’s death and tasks him with making Iron Man-like suits for Hammer Industries, but instead he makes a fleet of drones.
On what Stark believes will be his last birthday, he gets drunk in his suit and puts everyone in danger, which causes Rhodey - who’s changed a bit since the last movie (*nudge, nudge, wink, wink*) - to believe he’s no longer fit to be Iron Man. Rhodey puts on one of Stark’s spare suits and the pair fight until Stark’s house is almost completely destroyed. Afterwards, Rhodey delivers his suit to the US army.
Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., reveals to Stark that Rushman is actually an undercover agent for him and that Howard Stark was a S.H.I.E.L.D. founding member. They know he’s dying and give him some of his father’s old material believing it might help him find a cure. Stark finds a hidden message in the diorama of the 1974 Stark Expo which is actually a diagram of the structure of a new element, which he might be able to use to power the arc reactor. J.A.R.V.I.S. helps him synthesize the new element, but before there’s time to test it, Stark finds out Vanko is still alive and uses it to power his arc reactor so he can take Vanko down.
At the Stark Expo, Hammer unveils the droids Vanko made for him, led by Rhodey in the now heavily armoured suit he took from Stark, called War Machine. Stark arrives and tries to warn Rhodey, but Vanko takes remote control of War Machine and his droids and attacks Iron Man and the civilians watching. Pepper corners Hammer and finds out what’s happening. He’s arrested and Romanoff and Happy Hogan head to Hammer HQ to find Vanko and stop him. Vanko escapes, but Romanoff returns control of War Machine to Rhodey just as he and Iron Man are surrounded by the droids and they destroy the remaining machines together.
Vanko arrives in a new and powerful suit of armor and although neither Iron Man nor War Machine are a match for him, together they take him down. Defeated, Vanko activates his suit's self-destruct mechanism (along with that of his drones), and Iron Man rushes to save Pepper just in time. Pepper says she can’t handle the stress anymore and quits as CEO, and then she and Stark kiss.
In the aftermath, Fury tells Stark that he’s not suitable for the Avengers initiative, but S.H.I.E.L.D. would like to keep him on as a consultant. In the post-credits scene, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson reports the discovery of a large hammer in New Mexico.
Things you need to remember:
- Tony Stark is still Iron Man
- Rhodey is now played by Don Cheadle and is War Machine
- Natalie Rushman is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Nick Fury is her boss
- That hammer belongs to someone important
Now Thor is finally in the MCU. But before we start with him, let's go waaaay back to 965AD. Two armies collide, one led by the king of Asgard, Odin, and the other headed by Laufey, king of the Frost Giants. This is Odin's last-ditch attempt to stop the Frost Giants from conquering the Nine Realms. He's successful (sigh of relief here), and seizes their weapon - the Casket of Ancient Winters.
Back to Thor himself. The blonde Norse god starts off as a bit of a… well, to put it bluntly, a bit of a dick. He gets filled with righteous fury when he hears that a Frost Giant somehow made its way to Asgard, and almost got its hands on the Casket of Ancient Winters, during his coronation ceremony. Talk about bad timing. To settle matters - and against the wishes of his father Odin - Thor, his brother Loki, and their friends (well, Thor's friends: Sif, Volstagg, Fandral, and Hogun) voyage to the home of the Frost Giants to settle the score. Idiots. Odin comes and saves them from almost certain death, then exiles Thor to Earth. Odin enchants Thor's hammer Mjolnir with a spell that allows only the worthy to wield it.
Devoid of his powers, immortality, and Mjolnir, Thor's bad luck continues when he gets hit by Dr Jane Foster's car in New Mexico, an astrophysicist who's accompanied by her intern Darcy and Dr Erik Selvig. They take him to hospital.
Mjolnir is also found in New Mexico in a giant crater. After the locals have some fun trying to pull it out of the ground, S.H.I.E.L.D. descends and takes control of the area to study the mysterious artefact. Thor gets out of hospital, hears about Mjolnir, and decides he'd quite like it back. Unfortunately, he can't lift Mjolnir because he's not worthy. S.H.I.E.L.D. captures him, but Dr Selvig talks him out of captivity.
Back in Asgard, Loki finds out he's a Frost Giant and was adopted by Odin. Confronting him, the exertion of arguing and of exiling his eldest son uses up the last of Odin's energy and sends him into a deep sleep. Loki takes his chance and ascends to Asgard's throne. The two-faced trickster then goes to Laufey and proposes that he kill Odin and steal back the Casket of Ancient Winters.
Sif and the rest of Thor's friends aren't very happy with Loki being king and try to get Thor back from Exile. Using the Bifrost bridge, the four voyage to Earth. Loki finds out and sends the Destroyer after them, an almost invincible metal being. The friends find Thor in New Mexico and fight the Destroyer, but to save his friends Thor suffers an especially nasty blow and is close to death. But have no fear! This giant selfless act means Thor is finally worthy of wielding Mjolnir.
Bam! The hammer returns to Thor, and using the godly powers that have been returned to him he destroys the Destroyer. Deciding it's about time they confronted Loki and returned back home, that's exactly what Thor and his friends do, leaving Dr Foster and co on earth.
Loki is a tricksy fiend, however, and betrays Laufey just as the Frost Giant king is about to kill Odin. Using Laufey's attack as an excuse, Loki tries to destroy the home of the Frost Giants using the unbridled power of the Bifrost. All he seeks is Odin's approval. Poor Loki (but seriously, chill out). Thor arrives just in time to stop his master plan. The whole family are reunited when Odin arrives to save the brothers from plummeting to their deaths off the destroyed Bifrost, but realising that Odin will never forgive him, Loki seems to (yeah, seems to) commit suicide by falling into the never ending abyss below.
Thor decides he's not ready to be king. Dr Foster isn't content with forgetting about Asgard, and searches for a way to open a path to the otherworldly realm back on Earth. But wait, it's not over yet. An after-credits scene shows Selvig meeting Nick Fury. Showing him a mysterious object in a briefcase, Fury mentions it has untapped power - and in the mirror we see Loki instructing Selvig to agree. Uh oh.
Things you need to remember:
- Nick Fury has something cube-shaped and powerful in his possession
- S.H.I.E.L.D. know about Thor and the Asgardians
- Dr Selvig is working with S.H.I.E.L.D., and is controlled by Loki... and Loki wants Fury's mysterious object
- Don't trust Loki. Like, ever
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
It'd be an understatement to say that a bunch of scientists are very surprised when they find an old aircraft frozen in the Arctic ice. But before they explore it further, the movie jumps to 1942, when Johann Schmidt, a Nazi officer, seizes a powerful ancient relic called the Tesseract from Filch. Yes, as in the moody janitor from Harry Potter.
Jump to New York in 1942. Steve Rogers wants to serve his country, but fails every health test when he tries to enrol in the army. Lamenting about it to his friend Sgt. James "Bucky" Barnes, Dr Abraham Erskine overhears Steve's disappointment and recruits him into a secret super-soldier programme. Even though Agent Peggy Carter agrees with Dr Erskine that Steve is the right man for the job, they still have to convince Colonel Chester Phillips. After Steve shields other army recruits from what he thought was a live grenade, Colonel Phillips agrees he's the right choice.
Back in Germany, Schmidt and his scientist Dr Arnim Zola use the powers of the Tesseract to create devastating weaponised technology. Having found out his former associate Dr Erskine is in the USA, and knowing that Dr Erskine is the only one who can create the super-soldier formula, Schmidt sends an assassin to kill him.
Steve undergoes the super soldier experiment and becomes taller and a hell of a lot stronger, with quicker reflexes to boot. The assassin kills Dr Erskine. Damn it. Steve chases and catches the assassin, who swallows a cyanide pill after muttering "Hail Hydra". Now that the super soldier formula is lost with Dr Erskine's death, Colonel Phillips has to let go of his dream of a super soldier army and Steve is turned into a propaganda tool to sell war bonds to the public instead.
While touring, Steve finds out that Bucky and his squad are MIA. He rescues Bucky and his team from a Hydra base being used by Schmidt with Agent Carter's help. But before he battles Schmidt, the Nazi officer rips off his face to reveal it was a mask all along, hiding his true appearance as a fiend with a red skull underneath. Shudder.
Steve returns to base with Bucky and the other soldiers to much celebration. But he's not done yet. With a group of friends he attacks a series of Hydra bases. Oh, and he finally gets his trademark vibranium, practically-indestructible shield. The team target a train carrying Dr Zola and capture him, but Bucky falls to his death from the train tracks. Steve is kind of sad about it. After interrogating Zola, Colonel Phillips finds out the location of the last Hydra base. Steve does his duty and heads there sharpish. Following a scuffle with a couple of hundred Nazis, Steve finds out that Schmidt is going to use the weapons stored there to attack American cities.
Thanks to a super fast car, Steve clambers onto Schmidt's aircraft just as he's about to leave on his bombing mission. He fights Schmidt on the flight deck, but during the struggle the Tesseract's container splinters. Schmidt foolishly holds onto the object with his bare hands and splinters into nothing. Burning with a bright light, the Tesseract dissolves through the plane's floor and ends up in the ocean.
Landing the plane would detonate its weapons, so Steve crashes it into the Arctic. Months later Tony Stark's dad finds the Tesseract, but is unable to hunt down Steve. Steve Rogers is missing, presumed KIA. However, the super soldier wakes up in a room made to look like it comes from 1940. Escaping its confines, he discovers he's in modern-day New York. Enter Nick Fury, who has a special mission for him…
Things you need to remember:
- Bucky is dead. Promise
- Howard Stark had the Tesseract back in the 1940s
- Captain America is now living in the present day
The Avengers (2012)
Now you've met almost all of them, it's time to get the dream team together in The Avengers. It kicks off with some ominous talk between Loki and an alien race called the Chitauri who want the Tesseract, the powerful artefact from Captain America: The First Avenger. They promise him an army to rule over Earth with if he gets them the shiny blue cube. Then he's bequeathed a special staff - one that can make people do his bidding. Creepy.
At S.H.I.E.L.D., their main facility is evacuated after the Tesseract (being studied by Dr Selvig) starts to act strange. Trickster Loki turns up, steals the blue cube, and uses his fancy staff to brainwash Clint Barton (Hawkeye) and Dr Selvig. Fury isn't too happy about this so he resurrects the Avengers Initiative with Agent Coulson, sending Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow (you'll get your movie eventually, we promise) to Calcutta to get Bruce Banner on side. Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers (Captain America) also join the team.
Brainwashed Hawkeye and Loki try to steal some iridium to stabilize the Tesseract, but both end up being caught by The Avengers. Thor tries to kidnap Loki to take him to Asgard and he and Iron Man throw a few punches at each other, but in the end everyone agrees Loki will be most secure in the vault meant for the Hulk on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Helicarrier (a big, armoured plane-ship-thing in the sky).
Steve, Tony, and Bruce figure out that S.H.I.E.L.D. want to use the Tesseract to create super weapons. They're a bit pissed off at this revelation. An argument ensues, but before they can start insulting each others mothers more of Loki's brainwashed soldiers attack the Helicarrier. Then everything bad happens all at once.
Bruce turns into the Hulk, destroys everything in his path, and eventually plummets into a ruined building. Thor gets tricked into going into Loki's cell, and is ejected from the Helicarrier in the super-prison. Loki kills Agent Coulson. One of the helicarrier's engines fails (and is kicked back into gear by Steve, Tony, and teamwork. On the plus side, Clint gets hit really hard by Natasha, which puts a stop to his brainwashing.
In New York, Loki combines the machine Dr Selvig's been building with the Tesseract to open a wormhole that lets the Chitauri through. General mayhem ensues as all the Avengers arrive in New York to fight the alien menace. Loki is smashed into the floor by the Hulk, breaking his mind control spell over Dr Selvig. Natasha finds Dr Selvig, and the two figure out that Loki's staff can shut the machine keeping the wormhole open.
But they don't quell the threat quickly enough for international powers-that-be, who send a nuclear rocket to annihiliate New York. Fury informs Tony that it's heading his way. Doing a very superhero-ish thing, Tony flies the rocket through the wormhole and puts it on a collision course with the Chitauri mothership, which explodes into a big ball o' fire. Natasha closes the wormhole with just enough time for the unconscious Stark to fall back to earth. On his way down, he's caught by the Hulk and brought back to life by his roar. Aww.
With the alien threat eliminated, the Avengers are now well and truly a team. Loki is taken back to Asgard by Thor, and everyone leaves to do their own thing. The Chitauri leader tells his master that things haven't quite gone to plan... and reveals that the mind behind the attack is none other than Thanos, the Mad Titan. Uh oh.
Things you need to remember:
- Thanos is behind the attack on New York
- Thanos therefore wants the Tesseract
- There was a lot of damage to New York thanks to the superheroes' antics