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“The Avengers” 101: What to know before you head to the theater

Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans in The Avengers

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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.


Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at


Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.


Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…