At this point, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of “The Avengers,” Marvel’s surprisingly great superhero team-up extravaganza that hits theaters this weekend.
One of the questions that keeps popping up as we approach the film’s premiere is whether you should see all of the previous Marvel movies in order to understand “The Avengers,” or whether it can be appreciated on its own. The answer is yes… to both questions.
While the five films leading up “The Avengers” (“Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Thor,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger”) can be a little hit or miss, the sense that they’re building toward something larger only adds to the spectacle of this weekend’s big crossover. They also offer a nice introduction to each of the primary characters and, to be honest, their differences in tone and style add some perspective to the success of “The Avengers.”
Still, you’re not alone if you don’t have the urge to watch (or re-watch) all five movies before seeing what all the “Avengers” fuss is about. That’s why I’ve put together a crash course on what you need to know before you head to the theaters this weekend for “The Avengers” — but be warned, if you haven’t watched the Marvel characters’ solo movies yet, there are some big spoilers coming up.
Lesson 1: Loki
Loki is Thor’s adopted brother, who attempted to take over the realm of Asgard (an alien world populated by powerful beings that resemble the Norse gods) in the movie “Thor.” After the bridge from Asgard to other worlds (including Earth) was broken at the end of “Thor,” Loki fell into the cosmic abyss surrounding the bridge and hasn’t been heard from since that film.
Lesson 2: S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers Initiative
S.H.I.E.L.D. is a powerful, international, covert-operations organization headed up by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Throughout the previous Marvel movies, S.H.I.E.L.D. has repeatedly popped up as a thread between the characters, with Fury and his agents — usually Agent Phil Coulson (played by Clark Gregg) — approaching each of the characters from the solo movies to discuss their potential roles in “The Avengers Initiative.” S.H.I.E.L.D. has also served as a police force of sorts that is called in to handle affairs that transcend the abilities of the regular military or police force (i.e., Thor’s arrival on Earth or Hulk’s rampage).
Lesson 3: The Tesseract
Referred to as the “Cosmic Cube” in the Marvel Comics universe, The Tesseract is a powerful energy source that was first introduced in “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Its origins are unknown — and possibly alien (or magical) in nature — but what is known is that it generates a nearly limitless amount of energy. In “Captain America,” the evil Red Skull attempted to harness the Tesseract’s power for his own purposes, and created an arsenal of weapons powered by the Tesseract’s glowing, blue energy. At the end of “Captain America,” the Tesseract was seemingly lost in the ocean, but in a post-credits scene from “Thor,” it’s revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D. recovered the Tesseract and it is now being studied by one of Thor’s human friends, Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard).
Lesson 4: Captain America, Man out of Time
Captain America’s solo movie sports the tagline “The First Avenger” for a reason — that reason being that he started his superhero career back during World War II, decades before Iron Man, Hulk, and the rest of the team. (Although now that I think of it, Thor might have him beat. But anyways…) At the end of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” soldier-turned-superhero Steve Rogers makes the supreme sacrifice, plunging himself and the Tesseract-powered bomber he’s piloting into the frozen ocean. As we see in the film’s closing scene, his body is later recovered and thawed out in the present day, giving him quite the shock when he discovers how much has changed in the world since WWII. As we learn in “The Avengers,” acclimation to the modern era isn’t an easy task for a hero of bygone days.
Lesson 5: Yesterday’s Captain America is today’s Hulk
In “The Incredible Hulk,” we learn that the experiment that caused Bruce Banner to become a raging green behemoth every time he gets angry was actually a failed attempt at recreating the procedure that turned scrawny Steve Rogers into the star-spangled superhero Captain America. When Banner and his colleagues attempted to use gamma rays to replicate the results of the WWII-era experiment (which was lost when Dr. Abraham Erskine was killed by a Nazi assassin), the result was a Hulk-sized catastrophe, and the need for Banner to stay calm or risk the beast inside of him destroying everything around him.
And that’s about it, folks! That’s nearly everything that you’ll need to go into “The Avengers” with a firm grasp on the last five movies’ worth of events in the Marvel universe.
And though I still can’t recommend enough that you check out all of the movies before watching “The Avengers,” this information should give you all the knowledge you need to get the most out of your “Avengers” experience.