Previously on The Infinity Saga: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes assembled to fight off an alien invasion, SHIELD was infiltrated by Hydra, Loki faked his death before taking Odin’s place on Asgard, the Guardians of the Galaxy took down Star Lord’s real father (Ego the Living Planet), Tony Stark accidentally created Ultron, and it was revealed that a cosmic despot called Thanos is seeking the six Infinity Stones! So far we’ve encountered 4 of them: the Tesseract – a mysterious cosmic cube of infinite energy, the Aether – a dark matter substance that can alter reality, the Power Stone – an incredibly powerful weapon that can wipe out planets, and the Mind Stone – which gave Wanda Maximoff her powers, and brought The Vision to life…
This time, we’ll be covering most of “Phase 3”, which mostly centers around the events and fallout from “Captain America: Civil War”, and leading up to “Avengers: Infinity War”!
SPIDER-MAN: FRESHMAN YEAR (?)
Although “Spider-man: Freshman Year” was just recently announced and Disney hasn’t yet revealed a release date, from what we understand it’s an animated series that finally shows the secret origin of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, prior to the events of “Captain America: Civil War”, and his official introduction into the MCU!
For more context on Spider-man and his origins, check out Sam Raimi’s original ‘Spider-man’ trilogy starring Tobey Maguire, Marc Webb’s ‘The Amazing Spider-man’ movies starring Andrew Garfield, and the excellent animated movie, “Into the Spider-verse”, all of which will become much more important when we eventually get to ‘Phase 4’. (For more, listen to Comic Zombie #10: Ranking the Spider-man Movies!)
Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) hires an ex-con, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), to help him stop his cutting-edge shrinking technology from falling into the wrong hands, by enlisting him in a heist as his old alter ego “The Ant-Man”! Initially reluctant, Scott decides to help Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) stop Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) aka “The Yellow Jacket”, ultimately saving his own daughter, and becoming a hero in the process. He even holds his own against The Falcon at the new Avengers compound!
This is easily one of the funniest MCU movies to date (Baskin Robbins always finds out), along with some of the craziest visuals yet, and one of the most innovative fight scenes ever put to film – as Ant-Man and Yellow Jacket rapidly change size as they battle through suburbia! We get some random shenanigans from Scott’s ex-con friends, Kurt (David Dastmalchian), Dave (T.I.), and Luis (Michael Peña). Luis practically steals the show with his tangential narrations that we see acted out in real time. This movie also gives us our first glimpse at the quantum realm, when Scott goes subatomic, which we’ll come back to later…
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
In the Russo Brother’s follow-up to the incredible “Captain America: Winter Soldier” (still arguably one of the best MCU movies), Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson are looking for Bucky, who’s still on the run, a year after the events of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”.
During the opening, an Avengers team: Cap, Falcon, Black Widow, and Wanda Maximoff are on a mission to stop a former Hydra double-agent, “Crossbones” (Frank Grillo), from stealing a biological weapon. During the mission however, Wanda uses her telekinetic abilities to deflect a bomb blast which destroys a nearby building, tragically killing dozens of innocent civilians.
Secretary of State, Thaddeus Ross (General Ross from ‘The Incredible Hulk’), meets with the Avengers as a representative of the UN to inform them of the upcoming Sokovia Accords to oversee the Avengers following the Ultron incident. Steve Rogers / Captain America opposes the proposition, while Tony Stark / Iron Man fully supports the measure, which ends up dividing the team.
Meanwhile, a mysterious man named Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is manipulating events behind the scenes in order to get revenge on the Avengers for the death of his family in Sokovia – including framing Bucky for the murder of T’Chaka (John Kani), the King of Wakanda, hunting down former Hydra agents, and eventually pitting Cap and Iron Man against each other by revealing to Tony that Bucky assassinated his parents, while he was brainwashed as the Winter Soldier!
During the events of the movie, we’re introduced to Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who dons the mantle of ‘The Black Panther’ and seeks revenge against Bucky for the death of his father, bringing him into conflict with Cap and Falcon. At one point, Black Panther’s vibranium claws are able to scratch Cap’s shield!
Rogers and Wilson go rogue to protect Bucky, with some help from Agent Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), the great-niece of the late Agent Peggy Carter. They assemble a new team: Wanda, Hawkeye, and Scott Lang / “Ant-Man” to their team. In response, Stark recruits: Black Panther, Black Widow, War Machine, and The Vision to his side. He then tracks down a teenage kid named Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in Queens, New York, and asks for his help. Tony reveals that he knows he’s Spider-man, and even offers to make him a new suit if he’ll help him take down Cap and apprehend Bucky.
Eventually, the two Avengers teams clash in an epic battle at an airport in Germany! During the fight, Spidey steals Cap’s shield, Scott reverses his Pym tech and becomes ‘Giant Man’, Black Widow unexpectedly switches sides to help Cap and Bucky escape, and War Machine is accidentally paralyzed by Vision. Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and Falcon are all captured and sent to a top-secret supervillain prison called ‘The Raft’, and Black Widow goes off the grid.
It all culminates in a emotional showdown between Captain America and Iron Man at an abandoned Hydra base in Siberia. Cap tries to reason with Tony who’s gunning for Bucky, “This isn’t gonna change what happened.” To which Tony retorts, “I don’t care. He killed my mom.” Cap uses his vibranium shield to block Iron Man’s repulsor blasts, and eventually is able to come out on top, smashing Tony’s suit’s arc reactor. Tony tells him, “That shield doesn’t belong to you. You don’t deserve it. My father made that shield!”, and Cap drops the shield in the snow, before walking out, with an injured Bucky, draped over him…
At the end, Black Panther discovers the truth, that Zemo manipulated everyone, and killed his father as a ploy to divide the Avengers. Instead of murdering him though, he chooses to take him into custody, where he’s overseen by CIA agent, Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). Rogers, now a fugitive of the US government, helps to free his allies from the Raft. In the mid-credit scene we learn that Bucky was granted asylum in Wakanda, where T’Challa’s scientists are working on a cure for his Winter Soldier brainwashing.
Overall, ‘Civil War’ is probably the most crucial movie up to this point, as it directly affects the next several movies on the list! – in fact, these next few movies all take place vaguely around the same time, so it sort of makes placing them chronologically a little challenging…
BLACK WIDOW (2021)
Picking up soon after the events of “Captain America: Civil War”, Natasha Romanov / Black Widow is on the run from Secretary Ross and the US government, for breaking the Sokovia Accords, after betraying Stark at the airport battle in Germany. While she’s laying low, her past comes back to haunt her when a mysterious cybernetic assassin called ‘Task Master’, tracks her down.
We learn that she was recruited into the Black Widows – a top-secret Russian spy program, as a young child in the early 90’s, along with her surrogate sister: Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh). Both were posing as an American family along with KGB agents posing as their parents – ex-Black Widow, Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei Shostakov (David Harbour), also known as “The Red Guardian” – the Soviet Union’s own super soldier.
Natasha is eventually reunited with her ‘sister’, Yelena, in Budapest (where Black Widow and Hawkeye first met – which eventually led to her becoming a SHIELD agent, and later an Avenger) and the two unveil an elaborate conspiracy involving a new method to brainwash and control Black Widow agents, robbing them of their free will completely. With the help of Red Guardian and their their adopted mother, they’re able to infiltrate the ‘Red Room’ – a floating fortress, and are able to take down the sinister General Dreykov (Ray Winstone).
Note: The end credits scene to this one takes place after the events of “Avengers: Endgame” and leads into “Hawkeye”, with Yelena being recruited to track down Clint Barton.
BLACK PANTHER (2018)
Ryan Cooglar’s “Black Panther” starring the late great Chadwick Boseman, is one of the most groundbreaking entries in the MCU – with an all star cast and crew of African American talent (including: Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger, Forest Whitaker as Zuri, Letitia Wright as Shuri, Winston Duke as M’Baku, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Florence Kasumba as Ayo, Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Sterling K. Brown as Prince N’Jobu, and Angela Bassett as Ramonda), an incredible soundtrack, and a story that really resonates with people of color around the world, as well as their allies. This movie isn’t just a key entry in the Marvel story, it isn’t just a great superhero movie, it’s an important one.
After his father was murdered during the events of “Captain America: Civil War”, T’Challa aka The Black Panther returns home to Wakanda and takes his place as the new king. Wakanda is a technologically advanced civilization in Africa, isolated and hidden from the modern world. Their civilization harnessed a metallic ore from an ancient meteorite, known as “Vibranium” (the same metal that Howard Stark used to forge Cap’s shield). M’Baku, leader of the ‘5th tribe’, challenges T’Challa for the throne in ritual combat. Although T’Challa defeats M’Baku, he spares his life.
Meanwhile, in London, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and Ulysses Klaue – now armed with a cyborg prosthetic arm, with a sonic weapon (see: Age of Ultron), rob the Museum of Great Britain of it’s stolen Wakandan artifacts, pillaged generations ago by colonizers. Killmonger later reveals that he is the long lost heir to the throne of Wakanda, the son of T’Chaka’s brother, Prince N’Jobu, who was exiled after betraying their people, by selling vibranium weapons on the black market.
Black Panther (aided by Okoye, Nakia, and his tech genius sister Shuri) intercepts Klaue in South Korea at an underground club, and inadvertently interferes in a CIA sting operation, led by Agent Ross (see: Civil War). Ross is injured protecting Nakia when Killmonger breaks Klaue out of captivity, and T’Challa decides to save his life by bringing him back to Wakanda, where Shuri is able to heal him.
Killmonger then betrays Klaue, killing him, and returns to Wakanda with the slain villain and reveals his identity to the tribal elders before challenging T’Challa for the throne. Killmonger defeats T’Challa, mortally wounding him and throwing him over a waterfall, claiming the title and powers of the Black Panther, vowing to use their technology to topple the governments of the world that have oppressed their people. T’Challa’s family flees and discover that M’Baku saved T’Challa’s life.
When a recovered T’Challa returns home, aided by M’Baku and his warriors (along with Agent Ross), he confronts his cousin, and a large battle ensues between the two factions. T’Challa and Killmonger, both armed with nano-tech Black Panther armor, fight in the Vibranium mines for the fate of Wakanda. Ultimately, T’Challa comes out on top after being forced to stab Erik Killmonger, who refuses to be healed stating, “Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships because they knew death was better than bondage.”
Inspired by Erik’s desperate actions, King T’Challa decides to end their countries isolation, and reveals Wakanda to the world at the UN, and begins a peaceful mission of outreach to help impoverished black communities around the world who were subjugated by generations of discrimination.
The end credits scene then teases a recovered Bucky Barnes, without his Winter Soldier arm, who the Wakandan kids refer to as ‘The White Wolf’!
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)
Following his official MCU debut in “Captain America: Civil War”, where he fought alongside Iron Man and the Avengers against a rogue Captain America, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is back home in New York, and trying to find his place in the world as the ‘friendly neighborhood Spider-man’.
“Spider-man: Homecoming” (directed by Jon Watts) opens with a flashback to the devastation in New York following the Avengers battle against the alien invasion (see: The Avengers), where Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton!?) is a construction worker, recovering alien tech from the rubble. Toomes and his crew lose their jobs when Damage Control takes over, and Toomes begins a personal vendetta against Tony Stark.
As Peter tries to balance his life of crime fighting and high school, while eagerly awaiting a call from Happy Hogan (Tony’s bodyguard, see: Iron Man 1-3) about his “Stark Internship”, we meet: his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), his best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon), his crush Liz Allen (Laura Harrier), the school bully, Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori), Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr), and MJ (Zendaya).
On a field trip to Washington DC, Peter comes in to conflict with “The Vulture” – Adrian Toomes in a high-tech flight suit, reverse engineered from the alien tech. Tony Stark warns Peter to stay away from the Vulture, after using an Iron Man drone to save him. Peter goes behind Stark’s back to try and prove himself, but ends up messing up an FBI operation to try and capture Toomes, and a ferry is destroyed in the process. Tony shows up in person and demands the Spider suit back, because he’s proven himself irresponsible.
Peter tries to go back to his normal life, and asks Liz out for the homecoming dance. However, in a shocking twist, Adrian Toomes turns out to be Liz’s father! Toomes quickly figures out that Peter is Spider-man, as he’s dropping them off at the homecoming dance. Peter chooses to leave Liz at the dance in order to try and stop her father, and suits up in his original, home-made Spider-man suit to take down the Vulture!
Peter manages to stop the Vulture from hijacking a Stark plane full of Avengers tech, and even saves his life. In prison, Toomes decides to protect Peter’s secret identity. Later, Tony Stark thanks Peter for stopping the Vulture and was about to offer him a new suit and a place on the Avengers, but Peter turns him down, realizing he still needs to grow into the hero role. Tony then proposes to Pepper Potts. At the very end of the movie, Peter comes home from swinging around as Spider-man, only to have Aunt May walk in and realize his secret identity! After a cool credit sequence set to the Ramones, we get a funny post-credit scene with a PSA from Captain America.
Note: This movie also introduces us to proto-versions of several other Spider-man villains, including: The Shocker, The Tinkerer, and The Scorpion!
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) was a renowned neurosurgeon until one fateful night when his hands were injured in a horrific car accident. Consumed by his personal quest to fix his hands, Stephen Strange ends up throwing away all his wealth, and even pushing away his closest friend and former lover, Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).
Out of desperation, Dr. Strange travels the world in search of a cure beyond traditional medicine, after hearing rumors about a mystical place known as “Kamar-Taj”. His journey eventually takes him to Kathmandu where he meets Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who introduces him to “The Ancient One” (Tilda Swinton). At first, Strange is dismissive and skeptical, but she quickly opens his mind, but giving him a mind-bending glimpse into the vast and bizarre dimensions of the infinite multiverse!
Although she finds him egocentric, ambitious, and arrogant, the Ancient One ultimately, somewhat reluctantly, decides to give him a chance. Strange begins his training in the mystic arts under the tutelage of Mordo and first meets Master Wong (Benedict Wong), the guardian of the ancient library. Strange learns how to harness the power of the ‘sling-ring’ to make portals, and soon after masters the art of astral projection. He quickly proves himself as one of the most gifted students, so the Ancient One introduces him to the ‘Mirror Dimension’ – a realm between realities.
Mordo trains Strange in combat and how to conjure energy weapons from thin air. Mordo explains how there are many relics hidden around the world imbued with magical properties, like the ‘Staff of the Living Tribunal’, and the ‘Wand of Watoomb’. One day, out of curiosity, Doctor Strange decides to read the ‘Book of Cagliostro’, disregarding Wong’s earlier warnings. He then attempts to harness the “Eye of Agamotto”, and manages to use it’s power to bend time! (We later learn that this is ‘the Time Stone’, another one of the Six Infinity Stones!)
Meanwhile, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), one of the Ancient One’s former students, is attempting to obtain eternal life by channeling the evil Dormammu’s powers from the ‘Dark Dimension’ using ‘the Forbidden Ritual’, stolen from the Book of Cagliostro.
Back in Kamar-Taj, when Strange uses the Time Stone to restore the missing pages of the book, he nearly breaks the fabric of space-time before Wong and Mordo interfere. Impressed by his skills, Wong explains how they guard Earth from mystical threats from beyond their realm, and how there are three sanctums around the world (New York, Hong Kong, and London) that help to keep Dormammu’s power at bay. That’s when Kaecilius appears and attacks the London Sanctum!
During the chaos, Strange is blasted through a doorway that leads to the New York Sanctum. While he’s exploring the grounds, he’s attacked by Kaecilius and his zealots, and manages to hold his own against them. Doctor Strange improvises with the various magical artifacts that he comes across in the Sanctum, and is saved by a sentient red cape: the Cloak of Levitation – which bonds itself to Strange.
After being critically wounded, Strange manages to teleport himself to the hospital where Christine helps to save his life, with the help of Strange’s astral form. We then get a mind-bending sequence as Strange and Mordo are chased through the Mirror Dimension in New York. When they’re cornered by the zealots, the Ancient One gives her life to save them. Before she dies, she reminds Stephen that death is what gives meaning to life, and that it’s not about him.
Wong and the other sorcerers make a last stand to defend the Hong Kong Sanctum from Kaecilius. Doctor Strange and Mordo arrive too late, after they’ve opened a rift to the Dark Dimension! Strange reverses time, saving Wong, and fixing the city’s damage.
As a last ditch effort to save their world, Doctor Strange flies into the Dark Dimension and confronts Dormammu in person. Using the Eye of Agamotto, he creates a time loop to trap the evil deity, in one of the trippiest scenes in movie history. Every time Dormammu kills him, Strange reappears and says, “Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain!” Eventually the entity relents and leaves Earth, for now…
Doctor Strange takes on the role of the new ‘Sorcerer Supreme’ and the defender of the New York Sanctum, and we see that he still kept the broken watch that Christine gave him, all those years ago.
The mid-credits scene teases Doctor Strange’s appearance in “Thor: Ragnarok”, and the post-credit scene shows Mordo going rogue and hunting down other sorcerers.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)
After briefly helping Captain America fight off The Avengers in “Captain America: Civil War”, Scott Lang is under house arrest, but his relationship with his daughter and ex-wife is better than ever, and he’s finally starting to get his life back together, when he gets dragged back into the superhero life by Hope and her father (Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man) who have set up a secret ‘mobile’ lab to study the quantum realm, and rescue her mother, Janet van Dyne – the original ‘Wasp’ (Michelle Pfeiffer), who disappeared years earlier, when she went subatomic to stop a Russian ICBM.
Scott and Hope are forced to team-up as Ant-man and The Wasp, when “Ghost” aka Ava (Hannah John-Kamen) steals their lab (in it’s shrunken state). Ghost has the ability to phase through walls, because of a quantum experiment gone awry. Ghost is working with Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), Hank’s former business partner, to try and find a cure for her condition.
The movie ends with Hope and her father being reunited with her long lost mother, after being trapped in the quantum realm for decades, who has the key to fixing Ava’s condition.
Note: The mid-credits scene takes place during the “snappening” at the end of “Avengers: Infinity War” – and shows Scott entering the quantum-verse before Hank, Janet, and Hope vanish into thin air!
THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)
“THOR: RAGNAROK” is a hilarious psychedelic rollercoaster through the cosmos, thanks in a large part to Taika Waititi’s unique directorial style!
After the events of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, Thor left Earth to discover the meaning behind his visions of ‘Ragnarök’, and eventually finds himself imprisoned in Muspelheim by Surtur, the fire demon. Surtur is prophesized to bring about the end of Asgard with the “Eternal Flame”. Turns out, Thor meant to get captured, and was waiting for the right moment to call Mjolnir to free himself! We get one of the most badass openings, with Thor fighting a whole army of demons to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’!
Thor defeats Surtur, steals his crown, escapes the jaws of a dragon, and is warped away in the nick of time by Skurge (Karl Urban), who has taken over for Heimdall as the keeper of the Bifrost, for some reason. Thor quickly figures out that Loki has been masquerading as Odin this whole time, and tricks him into revealing his charade during a play he wrote called “The tragedy of Loki of Asgard” (based on Loki’s “death” during the events of “Thor: The Dark World”, where we last saw him).
Thor and Loki travel to Midgard (Earth) in search of Odin, and meet with Doctor Strange at the New York Sanctum. After some random magical shenanigans, Doctor Strange transports Thor and Loki to Norway where they meet their father Odin. Their father reveals that he’s dying, and as a result, Thor’s sister is returning after year’s of exile, and she’s prophesized to destroy Asgard.
Odin fades, and Hela (Cate Blanchett), “the Goddess of Death” appears! Hela catches Thor’s hammer with ease, and shatters it into a dozen pieces! Loki panics and opens the Bifrost to Asgard and Hela chases them through the warp tunnel, knocking them both out into space where they crash land on a strange world called ‘Sakaar’!
Thor lands in a high-tech landfill where he’s ensnared by a group of scavengers, before being rescued and then immediately captured by ‘Valkyrie’ (Tessa Thompson), who sells him to “The Grandmaster” (Jeff Goldblum), as a gladiator. We later learn that Valkyrie is the last of the Asgardian Valkyries who fought in a last stand against Hela, centuries ago. Thor is thrown into a cell where he meets a Kronan named Korg (Taika Waititi), while Loki sets about making friends with The Grandmaster.
Thor is then forced to face off against the Grandmaster’s champion: The Incredible Hulk! Hulk and Thor duke it out in the arena, in an impressive spectacle. Thor holds his own, but Hulk quickly wipes the floor with him. Hulk is now more intelligent than we last saw him, and we soon learn that Hulk has been stuck as Hulk ever since the events of “Age of Ultron”.
Meanwhile, Hela makes quick work of the Asgardian warriors, killing everyone who crosses her path! She appoints Skurge as her executioner, unleashes Fenris (a giant wolf), and uses the Eternal Flame to raise an army of the dead! Heimdall protects the fleeing Asgardians from Hela’s wrath by hiding them.
Back on Sakaar, Thor finds the crashed Quinjet that brought Hulk there years earlier. Hulk ends up smashing the jet apart, but an old message from Natasha comes through which triggers Hulk to revert back to Banner for the first time since the Ultron incident!
Thor and Banner sneak around, while The Grandmaster orders Valkyrie and Loki to find Thor and Hulk. Loki seemingly has a change of heart and decides to help Thor, Banner, and Valkyrie to get back to Asgard and stop Hela, by inciting a revolution with Korg, and stealing one of the Grandmaster’s ships!
Back in Asgard, Banner turns into the Hulk once again and fights Hela’s hellhound, Fenris – a giant wolf, while Loki fights alongside Valkyrie. Skurge also comes to his senses and changes sides, helping to get the Asgardians to evacuate.
During his fight with Hela, Thor loses one of his eyes, and is given a vision by Odin, who reminds him that Asgard is not a place, it’s in it’s people. Thor realizes his full potential, and taps into his power as ‘the God of Thunder’, using his newfound lightning powers to overcome Hela’s legion of the dead!
Thor realizes that they weren’t supposed to stop Ragnarök, but cause it. Thor and Valkyrie hold Hela off long enough for Loki to get to Odin’s vault. While down in the vault, Loki steals the Tesseract, before unleashing Surtur on Asgard with the power of the Eternal Flame! Hulk helps Thor and Valkyrie escape just in time, as a massive Surtur brings his flaming sword down on Hela and Asgard, obliterating both!
Thor takes his place as the new King of Asgard, with Loki, Heimdall, and Korg at his side, vowing to lead his people to a new home…
The movie ends with the ominous looming threat of Thanos’s ship coming into view…