Not so long ago, franchises like Star Wars and Harry Potter held the title of “most impressive film universe”, creating worlds and characters beyond human imagination. But over the last ten years, Marvel Studios has taken the cake, becoming something so much more than a simple collection of films.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU as its more famously known) is huge – there’s no other word to describe it. At the current time of writing, there are 25 films (including Eternals which has just had its world premiere), and thanks to expansion of Disney+, four TV series that play as much a part within Phase Four of the MCU (I’ll go into a bit more detail about the “Phases” later).
Now unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll know that the internet was all a flutter last week when reports from the Eternals premiere revealed that (*SPOILERS AHEAD*) English singer and actor Harry Styles will be joining the MCU. Tweets from attendants at the premiere said Styles appears in the post-credits scene of the latest MCU flick as Eros, aka Starfox and brother of Thanos…
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Marvel Comics history (don’t worry, there’s A LOT of it), Eros is another Eternal, a race of superhumans who protect Earth from their evil counterparts known as Deviants. He grew up on a planet called Titan, having lots of adventures filled with mischief and womanizing.
Blood may be thicker than water but Eros leaves Thanos behind when the tyrant begins his reign as terror supreme over the galaxy, teaming up with the Avengers to help defeat his brother. The Eternal soon moves to Earth, training with the Avengers, and earns the name Starfox.
Eros really only shows up throughout Marvel history to help resolve Thanos-related issues but he does have a significant arc within a She-Hulk storyline where he’s accused of sexual assault by a number of women – I don’t think this is something the new She-Hulk series will feature though. In recent comic lore, he interacts with some of Marvel’s most famous cosmic characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy so he may make an appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3.
Like the other Eternals, Eros’ powers are similar in that he possesses superhuman strength but he also has the power to manipulate the feelings of others. This certain ability is sure to cause plenty of funny business, especially since the only other characters to hold such powers with manipulation include Doctor Strange and Wanda Maximoff.
It’s very much a clever choice to cast Styles within the MCU, helping to extend the already massive fanbase. The performer’s stature suggests he could play a big role in future MCU events (I mean, you’ve got to utilise his talents and fame). However Eros is quite a complex character so his introduction could mean quite a drastic reconstruction for the Marvel universe.
But devoted MCU fans will know that this can’t be much bigger than what is currently being discussed: sequels, reboots and multiverses! So if you’re not clued up on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, here’s a beginner’s guide to help you understand*:
Phase One (and the MCU) began in 2008 with the release of Iron Man, and concluded four years later with Marvel’s The Avengers, an ambitious superhero crossover that grossed over $1.5 billion at the box office. The six films in Phase One introduced the world to some of the most iconic MCU characters: Iron Man (Tony Stark), The Incredible Hulk (Bruce Banner), Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff), Thor, Hawkeye (Clint Barton), Captain America (Steve Rogers) and Nick Fury.
This phase focuses on the Tesseract, an alien artefact that is held and protected in Asgard, home of Thor. The Tesseract is later revealed to contain one of the six Infinity Stones, constructing one of the first building blocks for the events of Avengers: Infinity War, a film that was released six years after Phase One ended (that planning though?)
Phase One’s final film follows the alliance between God of Mischief Loki and MCU supervillain Thanos who team up to steal the Tesseract and conquer Earth. Their plan to take over the planet leads to the formation of the Avengers, who work in cohesion with S.H.I.E.L.D. (an American government agency) to stop Loki and save Earth from disaster.
Phase Two had big shoes to fill, following a film that still stands in the top 10 highest-grossing movies of all time. It opens with the final instalment of the Iron Man trilogy (Iron Man 3) and closes with Ant-Man. Again, this phase features another Avengers team-up (Avengers: Age of Ultron) and introduces more beloved heroes including Falcon (Sam Wilson), the Guardians of the Galaxy, Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff), Vision and Ant-Man (Scott Lang).
The second phase focuses on the aftermath of the Battle of New York and how the actions of the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. affect the world. S.H.I.E.L.D. collapses when it is revealed that terrorist group HYDRA have infiltrated the agency so the Avengers work on their own to bring down HYDRA. But the heroes end up unintentionally creating a much more dangerous enemy: Ultron. An artificial intelligence who is hell bent on destroying humanity.
The introduction of the Guardians of the Galaxy provides more explanation to the origin of the Infinity Stones, and Phase Two gives the first proper look at Thanos, who vows to retrieve the stones himself after his previous failures.
Phase Three changed the discourse of the MCU in a massive way, culminating in a two-part Avengers film event that both excited and broke the hearts of fans everywhere. The third phase opens with Captain America: Civil War, where conflict runs rife from the aftermath of Ultron and public opinion of the Avengers becoming divided. Spider-Man: Far From Home closes both Phase Three and the “Infinity Saga”, giving the first look at how Earth will cope with the repercussions of “The Snap”.
Of course, Phase Three follows suit in introducing even more Marvel heroes like Black Panther (T’Challa), Spider-Man (Peter Parker), Doctor Strange (Stephen Strange) and Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers). The core events of the third phase of the MCU occur in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, where our favourite heroes rejoin forces to stop Thanos from destroying half the universe using the Infinity Stones with a “snap” of his fingers.
In an ending that shocked the world, the Avengers fail at the end of Infinity War and a number of heroes are literally turned to dust. Avengers: Endgame is set five years after the snap and sees the surviving members of the Avengers attempt to reverse Thanos’ work (I won’t provide any more info than that but expect some fatalities…)
There isn’t much to say about Phase Four of the MCU as we are very much in the midst of it. This new phase sees Marvel Studios combine both film and TV series as part of the central Marvel universe, with the first feature of Phase Four being WandaVision. As of right now, it’s shown that the final project to close this phase will be a reboot of Fantastic Four.
What’s most impressive about Phase Four is the vast amount of content that Marvel fans are getting treated to: a current total of 11 films and 13 TV series – that beats the number of films within the Infinity Saga!
Some of the most exciting upcoming projects include Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Secret Invasion which will continue to explore the multiverse narrative introduced in Loki, and the literal “secret” invasion of the Skrull race on Earth.
As a self-renowned MCU expert, my best advice to get the best understanding of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is to watch as much of it as you can, preferably all of it. Yes, this does mean Thor: The Dark World and The Incredible Hulk…
Whether you’re a Harry fan that doesn’t want to miss out on any of his MCU content, or someone who has finally decided to give the MCU a go, the endeavour to explore the Marvel Cinematic Universe is truly worth it. Even if I am a little biased.
There is something for everyone, whether you are someone who enjoys big, blockbuster spectaculars or someone who is a sucker for a good romance – you’ll soon be crying over the love story between a witch and a toaster.
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