What you need to know leading up to Marvel’s 'Captain America: Civil War'

The Marvel Cinematic Universe can be confusing. Here’s a guide to the films to help you understand the big picture.

By Jack Cronin | May 3, 2016

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In the film industry, where franchises and series have recently come to dominate, one genre has become the most prominent of them all. That genre is superhero movies, and it has been led by Marvel Studios.

Sure, all these sequels and spin-offs can be obnoxious. We all want to see more original ideas.

However, despite a few exceptions, Marvel movies are exciting and fun. They have actually created an interesting and cohesive longform narrative about the heroes who inhabit their world.

With “Captain America: Civil War,” Marvel’s 13th movie since 2008, set to be released May 6, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture of their cinematic universe. How will their latest installment fit into the narrative as a whole? Why are Captain America and Iron Man fighting against each other in this civil war?

Unlike the recent “Batman v Superman,” we have the answers to these questions.

Phase One

The first wave of Marvel movies gives us some general origin stories before eventually uniting our heroes in “The Avengers.”

Kicking off, the first two “Iron Man” films show the narcissistic billionaire genius Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) coming to grips with the devastation his own Stark Industries has created by selling military weaponry. After nearly killing himself twice, Tony realizes the potential for good he has as Iron Man.

A weak, fragile kid named Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is transformed into the super-soldier Captain America in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” which is set during World War II. He quickly recognizes that he has a soldier’s duty to put the lives of others before his own, shelving his personal life in the process before being frozen in ice for nearly 70 years.

Marvel’s other origin stories are fairly similar. In “The Incredible Hulk,” Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, later recast as Mark Ruffalo in “The Avengers”) ultimately learns to use his alter-ego, Hulk, to stop a greater danger than himself. A literal god and prince, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), overcomes his personal arrogance to understand the great responsibility of those who rule in “Thor.”

Phase One concludes with each of these heroes colliding in the epic “The Avengers.” When Loki steals the Tesseract and threatens Earth, Marvel’s heroes, along with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), butt heads over how to responsibly handle Loki and the power he possesses. Here, we see the first instance of these god-like beings at odds with each other. Like any other movie, the heroes ultimately put aside their differences to stop Loki and save New York from an invading alien army.

Phase Two

Picking up right where “The Avengers” left off, the second wave of Marvel movies shows each character grappling with the events in New York.

Tony, for example, seems to have chronic panic attacks and episodes of PTSD in “Iron Man 3.” As a response to his fear of being hopelessly outmatched by another alien army, Tony builds prototype after prototype of new Iron Man suits, which he eventually uses to stop yet another revenge-seeking villain.

The aftermath gives Thor a newfound responsibility to protect Earth. In “Thor: The Dark World,” Thor must save Earth, along with his love interest Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), from the Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and the powerful Aether.

Back on Earth, Captain America works with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow and the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop future threats in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” He quickly learns that S.H.I.E.L.D. is full of secrets, lies and traitors, as it has been infiltrated by the evil organization Hydra. Cap is also forced to confront an old friend named Bucky (Sebastian Stan) who has been transformed into the super-assassin known as the Winter Soldier. Throughout this installment, Cap begins to question the morals of a large government and the extent to which he can trust supposed friends like Fury and Widow, setting the groundwork for future movies.

Pausing for a moment, Marvel takes the action into outer space with “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Here, a ragtag group of talented weirdos, led by Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), team up to stop the evil Ronan. Although this film may not directly affect other Marvel movies for some time, the real teamwork amongst its characters serves as a direct contrast to the clashing of egos shown in Marvel’s other movies.

Returning to Earth yet again, the team unites in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” There are a lot of moving pieces in what is, admittedly, a disappointing movie. In short, Tony continues his efforts from “Iron Man 3,” creating Ultron without the other Avengers’ input. Not so shockingly, Ultron goes rogue and the team must stop him. Along the way though, tensions heighten as egos clash over the debate of whether Tony should have done this, questioning the limits of their own power and who, if anyone, should control them. “Age of Ultron” also introduces the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Vision (Paul Bettany) into the Avengers team.

The most recent Marvel Studios’ movie is last summer’s “Ant-Man,” in which Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) becomes the titular hero. This origin story is relatively underwhelming, but its post-credits scene alludes to the possibility of Ant-Man joining Cap and Falcon when they recapture the Winter Soldier.

Summary

Okay, so where does all of this put us as we head into “Captain America: Civil War”?

As seen in their reactions to Loki’s attack on New York and through their arguments in “Age of Ultron,” Tony and Cap clearly disagree about how their power should responsibly be enforced. Tony wants more oversight and control; Cap wants to avoid that, especially if it involves the government. That alone might not prompt these two to fight each other, but the possibility of government intervention and the Winter Soldier, who is assumed to be looming at-large, could surely become factors.

Many specifics of “Civil War” remain unclear, such as how heroes will align in the titular battle. Regardless, if early reviews are any indication, it should be a thrilling new installment. At the very least, “Civil War” will be yet another piece of a long narrative, playing on themes of trust, friendship, power, responsibility and the fragile egos of powerful men.

Edited by Katie Rosso | krosso@themaneater.com

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