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DIMINISHING RETURNS: A comedy podcast about movie sequels, prequels, spin-offs and reboots. Hosted by Allen and Chris. WARNING: Contains Scottish accents and spoilers.
In This Episode:
We have another bonus episode featuring a round up of franchise adjacent news, Trailer Talk and recommendations. Plus we help out a listener with a round up of the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe leading up to Infinity War. Before that we talk about the possibility of Willow 2, Bill & Ted 3, Zombieland 2, Karate Kid: Cobra Kai’s success and think that news of the theft of an Iron Man prop suit might make a great movie.
Our Definitive Guide to the MCU:
On the show Chris freestyles and riffs on his loose recollection’s of the movies from Iron Man to Black Panther. Here, though, is Allen’s abbreviated synopsis and run down of where things stand, just in case you want to skip everything and just go to see Infinity War.
Phase 1: Things kick off with Iron Man (2008) where genius, billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr,) sees the destruction his weapons tech causes first hand. Gets kidnapped in a war zone and invents the Iron Mam suit to save his life and escape. Along the way we meet “Happy” Hogan, Pepper Potts, James “Rhodey” Rhodes and Agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D. who will all pop up again throughout the MCU. At the end of the movie Stark publicly reveals himself as Iron man then, in the post credit sequence, we meet Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and hear about the “Avenger Initiative”.
Then Edward Norton is Bruce Banner and hulks out in The Incredible Hulk (2008), which is a reboot after Ang Lee’s box office stinker Hulk (2003) which starred Eric Bana as Banner. Nothing happens you need to know about except we meet General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) and there is a tiny post credit scene with Downey Jr. and Hurt where they talk about “A little team” being put together. Norton will not return to the role of Hulk.
Iron Man 2 (2010) is a mostly disappointing follow up, but we meet Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and Tony’s dad Howard for the first time, plus Don Cheadle, replacing Terrance Howard as Rhodey from here on out, dons the suit and mantle of War Machine. The only other thing to note is that in the post credit sequence Coulson is in the New Mexico desert at a large crater created by Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir.
Which leads to Thor (2011). We get shown around Asgard and meet a host of mythic figures including Chris Hemsworth as the titular god of thunder his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and brother and MCU antagonist/ annoyance Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Jeremy Renner makes his first appearance as Hawkeye and we meet Thor’s pals Sif and the Warriors Three, his love interest Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Idris Elba as Heimdall keeper of the rainbow bridge the Bifrost, just go with it! Post credits Loki, while impersonating Jane’s colleague astrophysicist Erik Selvig, is shown a mysterious cosmic blue cube by Nick Fury.
In Captain America: First Avenger (2011) we find out that cube is called the Tesseract and it’s a powerful weapon. This movie is set in during the Second World War. Chris Evans gets roided up going from weakling Steve Rogers to super soldier Captain America. The patriotic shield bearer goes toe to toe against the evil Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and agents of the secret organization Hydra. We meet Agent Peggy Carter, who get a spin of TV show, see Tony’s dad as young Howard Stark and get lots of stuff with Cap’s BFF Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Shaw). Cap’s shield is made of Vibrainium, it looks like Bucky dies and Red Skull touches the Tesseract and gets sucked into a wormhole. The Tesseract then falls in the ocean and Captain America crashes into the Artic Sea and freezes. Then in the post-credit scene gets thawed out in the modern day where Nick Fury suggests to Cap how he may spend his time now that he’s out of the ice.
Which is of course to say that he should join The Avengers (2012). Which was called Marvel’s Avengers Assemble in the UK to avoid confusion with the Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman and Sean Connery bomb from 1998. Here all the heroes team up to save the world from a cosmic threat, in that classic at first they don’t get along sort of a thing. Bruce Banner/Hulk is now Mark Ruffalo, agent Coulson “dies” and Loki is the bad guy, taking over peoples minds with a sceptre which holds a blue stone (important for later). Loki got his sceptre from Thanos who is in the post credit thing looking nothing like he does the next time he shows up.
We’re now in Phase 2 and Tony Stark is suffering from PTSD after the events of Avengers in Iron Man 3 (2013). He’s got loads of Iron Man suits and they almost all get blown up in a battle at the end of the movie. Rhodey is here, now looking like Iron Patriot but that doesn’t get mentioned.
We also get a second Thor movie, Thor: The Dark World(2013), which may be the worst MCU movie of the whole franchise. A Dark Elf, Maliketh, who tries to open holes to the nine realms with the Aether, Loki “dies” and Natalie Portman makes her last appearance to date. This movie has the first mention of the Infinity Stones and The Collector is introduced, mid-credits, when Sif and Volstagg, one of the Warriors Three, entrust him with the Aether, which is an Infinity Stone. Volstagg says that with the Tesseract on Asgard it is safer to keep the Infinity Stones separated.
NB: We’ve already glimpsed the Infinity Gauntlet in Odin’s treasure room in Thor, which will come up later, and The Collector looks like he has Adam Warlock’s sarcophagus. Which is irrelevant in the MCU so far.
So from, possibly, the worst MCU movie to one of the best in Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014). This is more like a political thriller but, you know, with big fist fights. Cap is out to save Bucky, you thought he was dead right? Bucky is now a metal armed assassin under Hydra’s mind control code named Winter Soldier. Hydra have infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. Black Widow and Captain America are on the run. They meet Falcon who gets to just become a hero after, like, two seconds. Nick Fury is in hiding. Bucky gets deprogrammed and goes on the run. Cap finds out his pal Bucky killed, his other buddy, Tony Stark’s, parents in 1991. Lastly Hydra have Loki’s sceptre and two mysterious twins.
Now we leap out into space for some light relief and a killer 70’s soundtrack in The Guardian’s of the Galaxy (2014). We meet loads of characters, two of whom are daughters of Thanos, Gamora and Nebula and find another Infinity Stone. Which gets taken to The Collector who explains about the Six Singularities which form the Infinity Stones, the collector also has Howard the Duck (unimportant). There’s a big fight and the space police, the Nova Corp, are left in charge of the stone.
As we ramp up to the end of Phase two we assemble the Avengers again for the overly convoluted Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Here the Avengers are out to get Loki’s sceptre and destroy the last Hydra base. We find out the twins from Winter Soldier are Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. There are some Marvel Sony rights issues at play here so Quicksilver isn’t a mutant and get his power from an Infinity Stone. Tony uses Loki’s sceptre and accidentally creates Ultron, a super-duper AI robot who sees the human race as beneath him. Along the way Ultron builds a Vibranium body (remember that stuff) from Vibranium stolen from the secret country of Wakanda (important later) by Klau (Andy Serkis) and discovers the Mind Stone inside Loki’s sceptre. The Avengers steal back the stone and Tony, Banner some Thor lightening and the Mind Stone are used to create Vision a good guy super-duper AI robot. The Avengers destroy a place called Sekovia, Quicksilver dies but The Avengers manage to defeat Ultron. Hulk flies off to protect everyone from his anger issues and Thor goes to investigate why there’s suddenly a bunch of Infinity Stone action in the Galaxy. Tony steps back from his role in The Avengers and Captain America takes over a new Avengers line up including Vision, Scarlet Witch and Falcon. Post-credit Thanos shows up looking different and says he’ll go and get those pesky stones himself.
Then there is a funny film called Ant-Man (2015). We meet a hero called Ant-Man, he meets Falcon. There are two end of credit scenes, one sets up a sequel and the other is actually a clip from the next Cap movie. End of Phase 2.
Captain America: Civil War (2016) kicks of Phase 3 with an exciting plot about setting up a government mandated superhero oversight committee. Wait! come back, it’s actually pretty good. Anyway General “Thunderbolt” Ross is now US Secretary of State and has plans to monitor our heroes because they destroyed a city, it was cool when he wrecked Harlem all the way back in Incredible Hulk though, yeah?. Tony is cool with the Ross plan but Cap is out. There’s guy called Zimo manipulating the Avengers into self destruction, with a totally ludicrous plan involving Bucky and a Hydra base with other Winter Soldiers. The Avengers dropped the city of Novi Grad on Zimo’s family during the battle of Sokovia, or something, so he’s pretty mad at them. Anyway Zimo bombs the United Nations in Vienna, during the conference to ratify the accord, but frames Bucky for it. The bomb kills King T’Chaka of Wakanda, so now the king’s son Prince T’Challa AKA Black Panther wants to avenge his father and kill Bucky. There are some big battles with heroes on both sides, divided by ideology. Spider-Man show up, after Sony’s mishandling of that character in his last three onscreen outings. Rhodey gets paralyzed during a big battle and Cap, still protecting Bucky, has a big fight with Iron Man, who just found out Bucky killed his folks and that Captain Amerca has know for ages. Bucky loses his arm and goes to Wakanda maybe for a new limb but definitely to unscramble his brain. Also Hulk and Thor were off on personal journeys after Age of Ultron so missed all the regulatory fun.
Sorcerer supreme, Stephen Strange, shows up for his first mystical MCU foray in Dr. Strange (2016) and has the time stone in his amulet, the Eye of Agamoto. During his magical adventure he has a wee chat with Thor, who is still looking for the stones.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (2017) is pretty self contained but has five scenes during the credits. In one of these the defeated villain Ayesha is shown creating an artificial being called Adam. It’s going to be Adam Warlock, but we’ve already seen his sarcophagus as it looks in the comics in the Collectors collection so this one looks revamped. Warlock plays a big part in the comic book Infinity War story but likely won’t show up until Guardians 3.
Spider-Man Homecoming (2017) has the erstwhile arachnid hero Peter Parker (Tom Holland) hanging out with Tony Stark and then refusing a spot on the Avengers roster, a title card tells us this happens 8 years after the Battle of New York seen in Avengers .
Filling the gap with what Hulk and Thor had been up to during Civil War we have Thor: Ragnarok (2017). Where Thor’s previously unmentioned sister, Hela, shows up tells us Odin’s Infinity Gauntlet is fake, destroys Asgard, Thor’s hammer Mjolnir and takes one of Thor’s eyes. Thor gets a haircut finds Hulk and saves some Asgardians. While escaping Asgard Loki takes the Tesseract. He, Thor and the refugees from Asgard are heading through space when they encounter what looks like Thanos’s spaceship.
The final film in Phase 3 before Infinity War is the smash hit Black Panther (2018). After the death of his father, in Civil War, T’Challa returns home to be crowned king. However a ghost from his fathers past, Killmonger, challenges T’Challa’s for the throne. Killmonger’s aim is to take the advanced Vibrainium powered technology of Wankanda to the oppressed people of the world. Black Panther defeats Killmonger and relieves Wakanda of its, centuries old, self imposed exile from the world at large. Mid credits we see Bucky Barnes, called White Wolf by some children.
So to recap our heroes are scattered across, not just Earth but the galaxy. Thanos is out to find the six Infinity Stones which before Infinity War are located:
- The Tesseract holds the Space Stone currently on Thor’s ship.
- The Nova Corp. are holding the Power Stone on Xandar
- The Collector has the Reality Stone wherever he is, but he is keen to get the others.
- The Mind Stone is embedded in Visions head, on Earth.
- Dr. Strange has the Time Stone in The Eye of Agamoto, also on Earth
- The Soul Stone, the sixth and final stone needed to complete the Infinity Gauntlet’s power, has not yet been seen.
Escape Plan 2: Hades
Allen recommends The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, based on a French comic book series. Which is good fun. And Colossal which is like Noah Baumbach made Pacific Rim.
Chris, inspired by Superfly, picked out Across 110th Street and Punisher: War Zone. A cops and robbers thriller and an uber-violent comic book actioner, respectively.
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Our next franchise episode takes a look at Jurassic World, if you want to watch along.
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