Sunday, 5 July 2015

A Complete Guide to the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’: Phase Two

by Tim Bustin

Iron Man 3

In a phrase: 3 times as awesome as Iron Man 1 (watch it, I won’t talk much of the plot). Little of the MCU is developed here, more Stark’s character development. Psychologically affected after the events of the Avengers, where he fears earth is unsafe from aliens once again coming through a space portal (and just in general), Stark spends his time tinkering away, distracting himself by building masses of Iron Man suits (the Iron Legion). He spends the film defeating the Mandarin (his biggest foe from the comics), and learns to spend more time with Pepper Potts again, and finally gets the shrapnel (and hence Arc Reactor) removed from his chest (which he could’ve done years ago but, erm, just didn’t). However, he says that he will always be Iron Man.

Post credits scene: Stark wakes up Bruce Banner, after he fell asleep listening to Stark’s story (Stark narrates the start and end of Iron Man 3).

Thor 2: The Dark World

Characters first introduced:
·         Malekith (ruler of the Dark Elves)
·         The Collector

Infinity Stones in film (out of 6): Reality Stone (the aether)

the Convergence of the nine realms,
centring around Greenwich. Isn’t it pretty?
This film received mixed reviews, and if you watch it you can kind of see why. So let’s focus on how it develops the MCU, rather than the, erm, ‘plot’.

In 2987 B.C. an event that repeats every 5000 years, called the Convergence, occurred. Remember how in Yggdrasil the universe is divided into nine realms? In the Convergence the boundaries between these realms become thin, allowing temporary easy passage between. A race called the Dark Elves, who existed before the universe and want to see it return to its former state of an eternal night, are led by Malekith use the Convergence to try and achieve this, using the extremely powerful aether. They are stopped in battle by the Asgardians, led by Thor’s grandfather Bor. Malekith suicidally drops many of his ships on the Asgardians (killing many of both sides), though escapes himself and goes into suspended animation until the 2nd Convergence, in 2013.

The liquid aether, or Reality Stone (one of the 6 Infinity Stones), transforms matter into dark matter, releases huge amounts of energy (like all the stones), and can transform the entire universe. Don’t worry, the backstory to these stones will be explained soon enough.

the aether, or Reality Stone
In 2013, Thor is attempting to bring peace to all nine realms. Loki is in eternal imprisonment for his crimes in The Avengers (spared death when his adoptive mother, Frigga, intervened). Odin is insisting Thor give up his mortal lover theoretical physicist Jane Foster, for Sif, one of Thor’s fellow Asgardian warriors. On Earth, Jane Foster comes into contact with a thin boundary between realms and, after being temporarily transported, discovers and binds with the aether. This wakes the remaining Dark Elves from their slumber (they come from Svartalfheim, or ‘The Dark World’)

Only extremely powerful beings can wield Infinity Stones – weaker ones die, and Thor takes Jane to Asgard to try and save her. When Asgard is attacked, Thor is forced to free Loki, who knows secret neuron passages through Yggdrasil to Svartalfheim (Loki wants revenge for his adoptive mother’s death, who died in the attack).

Loki tricks Malekith into drawing the aether out of Jane, and they eventually kill him on Earth with the help of Dr. Selvig. Loki appears to die too.

At the film’s end, Thor permanently declines the throne to Asgard from Odin, and the last shot reveals to us that really this is Loki in disguise as Odin (so Loki didn’t really die – again! And has taken the throne of Asgard for himself – again!)

Post credits scene: Sif takes the aether to a man named The Collector (whom we meet later in Guardians of the Galaxy), stating that having two Infinity Stones so close together is dangerous (the Tesseract is also at Asgard). It is then revealed to us however that The Collector is not a safe protector, as he is seeking to collect all 6 stones himself, saying to himself “One down, five to go.”

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Character first introduced:
·         Sam Wilson/Falcon (Powers: flight)
·         The Winter Soldier (previously Bucky, Captain America’s best friend in the 1940s)
·         Quicksilver (Powers: superhuman speed)
·         Scarlet Witch (Quicksilver’s sister) (Powers: telekinesis, fear manipulation)
·         Baron von Strucker (H.Y.D.R.A. agent)
·         Sharon Carter/Agent 13
·         Brock Rumlo/Crossbones (a H.Y.D.R.A. agent who has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D.)

This film is dedicated to the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D., through Cap and Black Widow eliminating its secret H.Y.D.R.A. agents, who go right up to the top of the chain.

the Winter Soldier fighting Captain America,
 with Falcon in background top left
Two years after the events of The Avengers, Cap is working for S.H.I.E.L.D. and still trying to adjust to 21st century life. He visits a now 96 year old Peggy Carter, saying how he only stayed with S.H.I.E.L.D. because she set it up, and that they never had their dance. Black Widow attempts to set Cap up on many dates, and nearby neighbour Agent 13 is actually there to keep an eye on him (she is Sharon Carter, Peggy’s niece in the comics, and a love interest of Cap’s). Cap also befriends former USAF pararescueman Sam Wilson who, with the ‘Falcon’ wingpack, can fly and be in combat.

Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s director, is attacked by a mysterious assassin called the Winter Soldier. This is Cap’s best friend from WW2, Bucky Barnes, who (in true Marvel fashion) isn’t really dead – he was brainwashed into an assassin by H.Y.D.R.A., and then frozen unless his skills were required. Nick Fury warns Cap about H.Y.D.R.A. in S.H.I.E.L.D. before seeming to die (because, of course, he doesn’t really), and Cap, Black Widow, and Falcon take down H.Y.D.R.A.

the 6 Infinity Stones, next to the Collector
At the conclusion, Cap refuses to fight his friend, and he and the Winter Soldier fall from a great height. The Winter Soldier rescues an unconscious Cap before disappearing into the wilderness.
H.Y.D.R.A. agent Crossbones (or Brock Rumlo) ends up heavily burned, though alive.

Post credits scene: ever wonder what happened to Loki’s sceptre from The Avengers? Well, turns out that after S.H.I.E.L.D. confiscated it, H.Y.D.R.A. got their hands on it. We see Baron von Strucker, a H.Y.D.R.A. scientist, after having experimented on 2 test subjects (using the sceptre) – in one cell, one subject appears to have superhuman speed (Quicksilver) and the other telekinetic powers (Scarlet Witch). We’ll be seeing more of these chaps very soon (say, two films’ time?)

Guardians of the Galaxy

Characters first introduced:
·         Peter Quill/Star Lord
·         Gamora (Thanos’ adopted daughter)
·         Drax the Destroyer
·         Groot (a living tree)
·         Rocket (a talking racoon, after being experimented on)
·         Nebula (Thanos’ adopted daughter)
·         Nova Prime Irani Rael
·         Howard the Duck

Infinity Stones in film (out of 6): Power Stone (the orb)

This fun, sub-film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is actually extremely important, for 2 reasons: it introduces the 3rd Infinity Stone; and secondly, it finally, yes finally, explains to the viewer what all this fuss is about said Infinity Stones.

the orb, or Power Stone
Peter Quill, an intergalactic Indiana Jones type abducted by aliens aged 8 after his mother’s death, leads a sort of alternative, space Avengers group, of Groot (a living tree, with some nifty tree-powers), Rocket (a talking racoon made from experimentation), Drax the Destroyer, and Gamora, the adopted daughter of Thanos’ whom she betrays. Quill steals a mysterious orb at the film’s start, and is consequently chased round the galaxy for it by Ronan the Accuser. Ronan has a deal with Thanos – he obtains the orb for Thanos, and Thanos, the most powerful being in the universe, will destroy the home planet of the peaceful Nova Corp for Ronan. Why does Thanos want the orb? Because, as the Guardians discover when they try to sell it to the Collector (of Thor 2 cameo fame), that the orb contains one of the 6 Infinity Stones:

The idea is that before the universe began, there were 6 singularities. The entities Death, Entropy, Infinity, and Eternity, condensed these singularities after the universe’s birth, into 6 concentrated ingots – the Infinity Stones (Space, Mind, Reality, Power, Soul, and Time), each stone with different powers (the Space Stone, or Tesseract, allows the user to exist in any point in space, be omnipresent, move any object, warp space; the Mind Stone, or Loki’s Sceptre, is the manifestation of the universal subconscious, and allows the user to control and hence the mind of anyone in the universe). The orb contains the Power Stone, allowing the user nearly unlimited power. If one should own all 6 Stones (wielding them on an Infinity Gauntlet) the user would become omnipotent – however, only powerful beings (such as Thanos) can wield the stones – lesser ones (like Red Skull in Captain America: the first Avenger) would be destroyed by them.

In Guardians of the Galaxy, The Collector is eventually not sold the Power Stone, and the Guardians (Quill and co.) end up giving it to Nova Prime (leader of the peaceful Nova Empire), after defeating Ronan the Accuser (by wielding the Power Stone together), denying Thanos this Infinity Stone for now.

We also learn Peter Quill’s father was not of Earth, setting up the likely plot for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Post credits scene: The Collector sitting in his collection of rare relics, which has been slightly destroyed by an accident with the Power Stone – Howard the Duck (similar to a live-action Donald Duck) is shown here (he did get his own film in the 80s, but if he will later fit into the MCU looks very unlikely)

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Characters first introduced:
·         The Vision (previously J.A.R.V.I.S.)
·         Ultron

Avengers (in this film):
·         Iron Man
·         Hulk
·         Thor
·         Captain America
·         Hawkeye
·         Black Widow
·         Quicksilver (has super speed)
·         Scarlet Witch (has telekinetic powers, and can give others visions based on their fears)
·         The Vision
Infinity stones in film (out of 6): Mind Stone (Loki’s sceptre); Power, Reality, Space (seen only)

Epic. That’s the most adequate description I can think of when describing this film. In terms of its size, its build up, its character list, and its ambition. My god was it good.

the Avengers (with new additions) battling Ultron’s many forms
In the Eastern European country of Sokovia is a H.Y.D.R.A. compound, where Loki’s Sceptre is being kept. This facility is run by Baron von Strucker, who used the Sceptre to experiment on the Maximoff twins, turning them into Quicksilver (superhuman speed) and Scarlett Witch (telekinesis and fear manipulation). The Avengers (Captain America (leader), Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye) are now a tight unit, and attack this base to retrieve the Sceptre, and hand Baron von Strucker to NATO. Here, Scarlet Witch gives Iron Man a fearful vision: of the Chitari alien army coming back through space and destroying the Avengers and Earth (Scarlet Witch lets him take the Sceptre because she thinks his fear will destroy the Avengers). Meanwhile, the Iron Legion (now made from robots) is protecting citizens. Black Widow can revert Hulk back to Bruce Banner via a ‘lullaby’.

Thor allows Stark and Banner to study the Sceptre at Stark Tower (now the Avenger’s base) for a few days. Stark’s fear leads him to convince Banner to use the Sceptre to create a replacement for J.A.R.V.I.S. – a true artificial intelligence called Ultron, that would shield the Earth like a net from all alien attacks. There is a party at Stark tower (where we learn: Pepper Potts and J.A.R.V.I.S. now run Stark Industries (not Stark); Jane Foster is studying the Convergence; Falcon is searching for the Winter Soldier; Bruce Banner and Black Widow have been flirting; and War Machine is fighting the terrorists now, as Stark did in Iron Man 1). As the party goes on, Ultron becomes sentient, and destroys J.A.R.V.I.S., then finds a physical form by hijacking the Iron Legion – he attacks the party, where the Avengers destroy his bodies, though Ultron escapes through the internet, and the Sceptre is taken too.

The Vision, with the Mind Stone visible in his forehead
Ultron uses Baron von Strucker’s research base to build an army of robots, and a new, powerful body for himself. Ultron is all about stopping the terror of humanity through evolution into metal, and he updates his body several times throughout the films. He recruits the Maximoff twins, who hate Stark as his weapons were used (by terrorists) years ago to kill their parents. Ultron however wants to destroy the world.

Ultron travels to Wakanda, to obtain vibranium – the Avengers battle him, though are overcome by Scarlet Witch (giving them different, fearful or tragic visions: Cap sees himself in 1945, finally having his dance with Peggy Carter; Black Widow remembers being sterilised as part of her Russian spy training; Thor’s vision is confusing, but he sees Heimdall predicting Thor leading them to doom; and Hulk is given near uncontrollable rage, where he then tears up a public city). 

The world blames the Avengers for the destruction the Hulk caused, and the Avengers hide at a safehouse, which is Hawkeye’s country farm. It turns out this loner has a family (which was really nice character development). Meanwhile Thor goes to a confusing magic pool with Dr. Selvig to find something he missed from his vision.

Ultron uses this vibranium, a machine that prints living tissue, and the Mind Stone (from the Sceptre) to create a near invincible body for himself – as he is updating his consciousness, Scarlet Witch learns Ultron plans to destroy all humanity, and the Maximoff twins switch sides – the Avengers attack, and take the body for themselves. Stark persuades Banner to attempt A.I. again, this time using J.A.R.V.I.S., who survived the attack (by dumping his memory – his protocols blocked Ultron from nuclear codes and what not, and this is what is updated to the body). Cap and the Maximoff’s disagree, but their fight is broken up by Thor, who says his vision foretold this body being created. And with Ultron’s intelligence, the Mind Stone, and J.A.R.V.I.S.’s protocols, The Vision is born.

Just to fanboy briefly, but The Vision is so perfect – he is the reason why I began loving the MCU. He is an utterly pure humanoid, played hesitantly, as a man quickly having to discover what he believes, by the same actor as J.A.R.V.I.S., and his powers are endless: density control (can fly and go through walls), telekinesis, powerbeam (from the Mind Stone), shapeshifting, regeneration etc., and during the final battle he continues to discover these powers as he fights. So very awesome.

The final battle is in Sokovia’s capital – Ultron lifts the whole city from the ground, his plan being to drop it from a great height like a meteorite and kill all life, then repopulate with robots that essentially him. He has harmony, something the Avengers never will. After The Vision blocks Ultron out of the internet, the Avengers only have to destroy his every robotic form to destroy Ultron. To describe the visually, and scripturally amazing battle would be a crime, but essentially the Avengers win, with Nick Fury bringing a Helicarrier to evacuate the flying city, War Machine turning up to help, Quicksilver sacrificing himself for Hawkeye (he is staying dead btw), and then Scarlet Witch, in destructive grief, killing Ultron’s main form (she is rescued by The Vision – they have a relationship in the comics). It is The Vision who afterwards hunts down Ultron’s final form, have a father and son talk, and finally The Vision destroys the stubborn Ultron.

So the world is saved, for now only the 6th time or something. Yay!

A few months later, at the new Avenger’s base, most of them leave – Thor going to Asgard, saying it’s no coincidence 4 out of 6 Infinity Stones have emerged these past few years, Stark having had enough and quitting, Hawkeye too retiring (to his family), and Hulk flying away from the others, undetected, to try and remove himself as a threat from the rest of the world (leaving Black Widow, who wanted to run away with him, emotionally torn) (btw, Joss Wheldon has said plainly the Planet Hulk comic storyline isn’t going to be in the films). Captain America and Black Widow are left to train their new team of Avengers: War Machine, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, and The Vision.

Post credits scene: so Thanos (remember him?) is getting a little tired of all his pawns failing to acquire the Infinity Stones for him – we see him putting on the Infinity Gauntlet before menacingly saying “Fine – I’ll do it myself.”

Planned Marvel films:
From here on we are in the realms of speculation and rumours, though some details have been released on each of the planned 11 films.

Ant-Man (2015 – July 17th)

Characters first introduced:
·         Scott Lang/Ant-Man
·         Darren Cross/Yellow Jacket
·         Dr. Hank Pym/Ant-Man (original)

How do you make a superhero less powerful? You create… Ant-Man! Just kidding, this film looks like it might be quite cool.

So in the comics Dr. Hank Pym (a former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist) discovers particles that can change the size of a person. He becomes Ant-Man, only later to hang up his suit and mentor former criminal Scott Lang to take over the role. As Ant-Man, he has incredible strength (just as ants can lift much more than their own body weight), can shrink as to be undetected, and erm, talk to ants.
The particles also allow for super-size, leading to the alternatives to Ant-Man that Dr. Hank Pym created (Yellowjacket (main bad guy in this film), Giant Man, Golaith, and The Wasp). Peggy Carter and Howard Stark are also set to star somewhere in the mix.
This should probably be quite a fun film, and I’m sure Ant-Man will turn up in another MCU film somewhere (very soon) down the line…

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