(NEW YORK) — Captain America: Civil War hits theaters tonight, and it’s no stretch — based on the $241.5 million it’s already earned overseas — to say it’s one of the year’s biggest and most-anticipated movies.
The movie brings together almost all of the heroes from the first 12 Marvel superhero films — that’s right, there have been a dozen so far. So what if you haven’t seen any of them, or maybe just a few? Will you be able to tell who’s who and keep up with what’s going on?
We’ve got you covered. Here is what you need to know about all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films dating back about eight years, since Robert Downey Jr. first bolted on that Iron Man suit.
1. Iron Man (2008)
Hero — Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr.
Villain — Obadiah Stane, a.k.a. the Iron Monger, played by Jeff Bridges.
Arms dealer Tony Stark is in the Middle East, where he is attacked and taken captive. He builds an arc reactor to power a magnet to keep shrapnel in his heart from killing him. That reactor will later power the Iron Man suit. After escaping, Stark becomes a superhero, which forces him to have a change of heart about selling weapons of destruction. But his mentor Stane wants this suit, his arc and him out of the company. Actually, he’s the one who paid the insurgents to kill Stark in the first place. Stane, with his own iron suit, and Stark face off at the end of the film.
How it ends — Iron Man prevails, and after Tony Stark tells the world, “I am Iron Man,” Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, recruits him for the Avengers Initiative.
2. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Hero — The Hulk, played by Ed Norton.
Villain — Abomination, played by Tim Roth.
Scientist Bruce Banner was hit with gamma radiation, which turns him into a green, rage monster when he gets angry and his rate is elevated. General Ross, played by William Hurt (He’s also in Civil War), wants this technology for the military. Banner just wants to be left alone, but is also in love with Ross’ daughter Betty. Roth’s character starts taking a Super Soldier serum to catch the Hulk, but takes too much and turns into an evil Hulk, known as Abomination. After Abomination starts destroying the city, Ross wants the Hulk to fight and stop him. Hulk subdues the monster and runs away to live far away from people he may hurt or kill.
How it ends — In the post-credit scene, you see Stark run into Ross at a bar and ask about the Hulk in order to recruit him for the Avengers.
3. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Heroes — Iron Man; Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes, a.k.a. War Machine, played by Don Cheadle; and Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson.
Villains — Whiplash, played by Mickey Rourke; Justin Hammer, played by Sam Rockwell.
Six months after his “coming out” as Iron Man, Tony Stark’s superhero career has him on the top of the world, having “successfully privatized national security.” However, the technology that’s keeping Stark alive is also killing him. Stark does battle with the twin demons of palladium poisoning and the bottle, only to have to face Ivan Vanko/Whiplash, a Russian physicist with an ax to grind against the Stark family and a fearsome supersuit powered by a homebrew copy of Stark’s arc reactor. Vanko finds a deep-pocketed ally in arms dealer Justin Hammer, and Vanko uses his resources to build a drone army to try to destroy Stark and his legacy.
How it ends — After Iron Man and War Machine take down Whiplash, we see a hammer in the middle of the desert — Thor is coming.
4. Thor (2011)
Hero — Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth.
Villain — Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston.
Loki is jealous of his older brother Thor, who is set to become the next king of Asgard after his father Odin retires. But after an attack on his home, Thor disobeys his father and is banished to Earth, minus his powers and his hammer. While on Earth, he falls in love and learns humility. Loki also tries to kill him, but Thor regains his power and returns to Asgard to fight and conquer his misguided brother. Thor vows to watch over Earth, where Loki fell to after the final battle scene.
How it ends — Nick Fury recruits a doctor friend of Thor’s to work on alien technology — the tesseract. But Loki is lurking in the shadows!
5. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Hero — Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, played by Chris Evans.
Villain — The Red Skull, played by Hugo Weaving.
WWII has broken out and all tiny Steve Rogers wants to do is enlist and fight the Nazis. But he’s too fragile and doesn’t meet requirements. So, the government experiments on him with a Super Soldier serum and it works! He’s athletic, strong and ready to take down the bad guys. After he is mainly used for propaganda, he breaks command and rescues his best friend Bucky Barnes from Hydra, a Nazi-like organization also bent on taking over the world. He eventually meets and faces off against the Red Skull towards the end of the war and thwarts his plan. Bucky is presumed dead in this movie, but we later find out in The Winter Soldier that’s not the case.
How it ends — Cap lands his plane in frozen ice after taking the Red Skull out. He is found and thawed out 70 years later. In the post-credit scene, Nick Fury approaches Cap about a mission, now in the year 2012.
6. The Avengers (2012)
Heroes — Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner.
Villain — Loki and his alien army.
Loki makes a deal to work with this alien army to take over Earth after he failed to conquer Asgard. The Avengers unite — while bickering and fighting with each other at times — and band together to fight Loki and this army. The catalyst is when Loki kills S.H.I.E.L.D’s Agent Coulson, a snarky yet lovable ally. They win and go their separate ways, vowing to protect Earth or at least “Avenge” it.
How it ends — We find out who gave Loki his power to try and conquer Earth — it’s Thanos, possibly the most powerful villain in all of the Marvel universe.
7. Iron Man 3 (2013)
Heroes — Iron Man and War Machine.
Villains — The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley, really played (we find out later) by Guy Pearce.
The Avengers’ Battle of New York has left Tony Stark wracked with PTSD. He spends his sleepless nights tinkering with a legion of armored suits in a frantic attempt to protect his one true love, Pepper; a mere “man in a can” in a dangerous new world of gods and aliens. A new threat arises closer to home, however, when the mysterious Mandarin launches a series of terror attacks, leaving Stark’s former life in ruins. Stranded without access to his suits and only his wits to rely on, Tony discovers Mandarin is merely an actor under the employ of Aldrich Killian, a scientist with a grudge against Stark, and access to the terrifying super soldier serum known as Extremis. Killian kidnaps Pepper to blackmail Tony into perfecting the deadly tech, leading to an epic showdown — and Stark’s realization that even without his armor, he’s still Iron Man.
How it ends — Funny scene where Stark tells Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Hulk, his story in a therapy-like session.
8. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Hero — Thor.
Villain — Malekith the Accursed, played by Christopher Eccleston.
Jane Foster, Thor’s girlfriend, is cursed with a dark matter called the Aether, which will eventually kill her. But Malekith wants the Aether to take over the world. After Thor and Loki’s mother is killed, the estranged brothers unite against Malekith, and Loki ends up sacrificing himself to save his brother. After Loki’s apparent death, Thor is able to defeat Malekith by banishing him. Thor tells his father he doesn’t want to be king after the victory and would rather watch over Earth. But it’s not his father, it’s Loki in disguise, who actually survived.
How it ends — A link to Guardians of the Galaxy. Thor’s friends visit the Collector to give him an infinity stone to hold for safekeeping.
9. Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)
Heroes — Captain America, Nick Fury, Black Widow, Sam Wilson/Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie, and Maria Hill, played by Cobie Smulders.
Villains — Winter Soldier, played by Sebastian Stan, and Alexander Pierce, played by Robert Redford.
Marvel’s red, white, and blue hero finds himself increasingly ill at ease with his employer S.H.I.E.L.D.’s shades of grey, especially after Steve Rogers discovers Project Insight: a plan to eliminate the agency’s enemies before they strike. “This isn’t freedom. This is fear,” Cap sums up to S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury – who is felled by a mysterious assassin known only as The Winter Soldier. After the agency targets Rogers, he and Black Widow go on the run, and discover Hydra has been festering inside S.H.I.E.L.D. for decades — and that The Winter Soldier is none other than Cap’s old friend Bucky Barnes, thought killed in World War II, but brainwashed to be a triggerman for the evil group. Along with Sam Wilson AKA Falcon, former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill, and Widow, Rogers vows to burn down both Hydra and S.H.I.E.L.D. — and save his former friend.
How it ends — We get our first look at Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who are locked up in cells in a Hydra bunker, where they are being enhanced by the power in Loki’s staff.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Heroes — Starlord, played by Chris Pratt; Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana; Drax, played by Dave Bautista; Groot, played by Vin Diesel; Rocket, played by Bradley Cooper.
Villains — Ronan, played by Lee Pace; Thanos, played by Josh Brolin.
Everyone is after one of the infinity stones, which all wield immeasurable power. Ronan plans to destroy a planet he’s been at war with by using the stone. But the gang bands together and defeats Ronan. In the process Starlord survives holding one of the stones, which is impossible for a human. There is reason to believe he’s part alien, something ancient.
How it ends — The Collector’s home where he keeps his treasures is destroyed and we see Howard the Duck for the first time in 20 years on screen.
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Heroes — Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Vision, played by Paul Bettany.
Villain — Ultron, played by James Spader.
Iron Man and the gang take down Hydra and recapture Loki’s scepter. But Tony uses the stone inside the weapon to create artificial intelligence, Ultron. This backfires and Ultron wages war against the Avengers and the human race. You start to see a real break in the team between Cap and Iron Man on their beliefs. They eventually take down Ultron, but at the cost of countless lives after the city of Sokovia is destroyed.
How it ends — After countless failures to get him the Infinity Stones, Thanos is seen vowing to get them himself.
12. Ant-Man (2015)
Hero — Ant-Man, played by Paul Rudd.
Villain — Yellowjacket, played by Corey Stoll.
Scott Lang is a convict who was jailed after he was doing what he thought was right. He gets recruited by Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, to get his shrinking technology out of the hands of his former protege, Darren Cross, who eventually creates a suit of his own. The two battle and Rudd defeats Cross. In the middle of the film, Rudd has a run-in with Falcon at the Avengers facility. This ties into the post-credit scene.
How it ends — After Rudd impressed Falcon, they are looking for another Avenger to help out with a mission. It’s explained to Lang that they want the Ant-Man.
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