A Beginner’s Guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe
There hasn’t been so much interest in the world of comic book superheroes since Christopher Nolan’s rendition of Batman. And especially so with Heath Ledger’s stupendous performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” and his seemingly cryptic and abrupt death associated with his role. The recent release of the Avengers movie with its star studded cast and its unique continuum has sparked a renewed vigor and curiosity towards the world of super heroes.
I am by no means a comic buff. But I do have enough knowledge of the Marvel universe to have enjoyed and appreciate all the little Easter eggs and cameo appearances that Marvel Entertainment decided to insert in their six movies. But beyond the obvious, there are a few references that are considerably more significant to the Marvel Universe that one without any background knowledge could completely miss. For the benefit of those that are completely new to comic books, I hope you’ll have a better understanding and a deeper appreciation for our heroes and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe after reading this. And maybe it just might give you a reason to watch the movies a second time through. If you haven’t viewed any of the five movies at all, you may want to stop here to avoid major spoilers. But you’re definitely missing out on some quality entertainment.
Comic Superheroes Meets Production Studios
Before I start, let’s clear up some facts about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s been some confusion about Marvel in the cinemas as a result of multiple movies coming from the different production studios over the years. When I mention the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I am referring to the independently made movies by Marvel Studios. The Marvel Universe refers to the actual comics published by Marvel Comics. Both Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios are subsidiaries of Marvel Entertainment which is owned by Disney now. DC Comics is also another universe in itself and has nothing to do with Marvel’s superheroes. So we don’t talk about Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Swamp Thing, and Watchmen when we talk about Marvel. They belong in the DC universe.
Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Wolverine, Blade, Daredevil, Ghost Rider are all from the Marvel universe. But sadly, none of them will ever meet the Avengers in the theaters even though they all live in New York. They aren’t part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Studios don’t have the rights to use them. All the previous Marvel movies before 2008’s Iron Man were produced by other Hollywood studios, with the major films mainly produced by Columbia Pictures and 20th Century Fox. Columbia Pictures is owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment and holds the rights to Spider Man and Ghost Rider while 20th Century Fox holds the rights to Elektra, X-Men, and Fantastic Four. But if Marvel created all the superheroes, why can’t they have them back? Well this issue involves all sorts of legal complications which I won’t be talking about. But thanks to them some of Marvel’s most crucial characters and storylines will never make it to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its upcoming movies. One can only hope that Marvel gets the license for all their characters back or at the very least, decide to work together so they can expand on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now onto the fun stuff.
In the first Iron Man, the first notable allusion you’ll see is the ten rings. The terrorist group that holds Tony Stark captive is known as the Ten Rings. The banner in the background of Tony Stark’s kidnapping video shows the ten rings in a circular formation. And the leader of the terrorist group, Raza subtly says “The man whose ring I wear”. So what does this mean? The Ten Rings is a reference to the ten rings worn by Iron Man’s arch-nemesis, the Mandarin.
If you grew up in the 90s and watched the Iron Man cartoons, you’d almost immediately recognize this reference. I never caught the ten rings the first time through the movie.
It wasn’t until the introduction of Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2 when I thought about the possibility of the Mandarin’s involvement in the movies. Justin Hammer isn’t just a random schmuck competing with Tony Stark in the weapons industry. He is also a known ally to the Mandarin.
The part of Nick Fury is played by none other than Mr. Bad Mofo and Mace Windu himself, Samuel L. Jackson. Now this character is someone whom I’m very relieved that Fox no longer has rights to. Fox actually casted David Hasselhoff to play Nick Fury in their Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. back in 1998.
Now aside from making the connection that he’s appeared in every movie except the Incredible Hulk (although, Nick Fury’s name did make it into the opening of the Incredible Hulk), no one really stopped to ask who this guy was or what he was talking about when he told Tony Stark, “I knew your father well” in Iron Man 2. To the general audience, Nick Fury was just Juelz from Pulp Fiction re-skinned to be some super bad mofo spy in charge of a highly secretive government agency. There’s more to him than meets the eye… See what I did there?
Nick Fury has a long history in the Marvel Universe and was most notably known as a decorated hero in Marvel Comic’s World War II series where he led a group called the Howling Commandos and fought along aside Captain America. He also got that eye patch during World War II when a grenade blast injured his left eye. So how does he know Howard Stark and how come he hasn’t aged one bit if he’s been around since the 40s? He was used as a test subject for something called the Infinity formula and it has halted his aging. Whether this will be revealed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is yet to be seen. Eventually he landed himself as the director of the S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Infinity Gauntlet
In my opinion, the Infinity Gauntlet has by far the most interesting back story among all the relics found within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maybe because there was a video game about it on the Sony Playstation. Remember Marvel Super Heroes by Capcom? The Infinity Gauntlet was a major deal breaker in the Marvel Universe. You get a quick glimpse of the Infinity Gauntlet among other Marvel relics in Odin’s vault when Loki sends the frost giants to try and steal the Casket of Ancient Winters. I’ll just say that the Gauntlet has something to do with the sinister looking grinning guy at the end of the Avengers movie and involves nearly the entire spectrum of characters in the Marvel Universe. Sounds a bit overblown doesn’t it? It is… How things pan out from there and whether Marvel Studios will be able to portray the scope of epic proportions that is the Thanos storyline will no doubt have fans eyeing very closely.
It’s the Little Things that Enhance the Marvel Cinematic Experience
When Marvel Studios produced Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America, they had the cheeky but brilliant idea to throw in subtle references and hints with some weighing more than others in each of their movies. This has the fantastic effect of creating the continuum that their superheroes were all in the same world and sharing the same timeline. What I’ve talked about here is only the tip of the iceberg, something for the less familiar to start with. There’s a whole lot of other source material within the movies I haven’t touched like the Red Skull and the Tesseract, Wakanda and Black Panther, the Human Torch cameo, project Pegasus, and even S.H.I.E.L.D itself. But what’s the fun in it if I told you everything.
If I’ve convinced you to watch the movies a second time through, be sure to be on the lookout for any references, big or small. These little bits of reference are what glue the movies together in a single timeline and make the Marvel Cinematic Universe that more much more vast, unique, and deeper than any other movie sagas out there. Having read this article, it should save you from the embarrassment of saying something as lame as “The Marvel movies were kinda shallow and lacked story”. The next time you hear someone say that, you slap them in the face and send them to this article.