SPOILER ALERT: Warning, this article contains spoilers from the complete Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline through Avengers: Infinity War. Proceed at your own risk.
An original version of this article appeared on December 13, 2016. It was updated on April 30, 2018 to reflect the events of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War. See subheading “Wrapping Up Phase 3” for the newest info.
The juggernaut franchise that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe launched Phase Three of its plan to dominate cinema in 2016. The year began with the massive superhero slugfest that was Captain America: Civil War, and ended by introducing magic and mysticism in Doctor Strange. Looking ahead to 2017, Phase Three continues with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok. With another five films scheduled for Phase Three, the MCU will stretch to twenty-two individual films by the end of 2019.
Over the course of fourteen films starting with Iron Man in 2008, numerous interconnecting storylines have been weaved through the narrative. It can be hard to keep them straight, especially when the concepts jump films. Which Infinity Stone is which? How many are there? Who is Thanos? What happened to a certain character? What exactly is shawarma? As 2017 approaches, we look at where the Marvel Cinematic Universe currently stands, and what we can expect in the films to come.
United in their common goal to defend the Earth from alien threats and the scourge of HYDRA, the Avengers soon faced a product of their own (well, mainly Tony Stark and Bruce Banner) creation: Ultron. Although they ultimately won the day, it marked the start of the Avengers’ downfall. In the wake of the battle, the Hulk went missing and Thor returned to Asgard, worried by a vision he had. And both Tony and Clint Barton effectively retired from the field. Steve Rogers organized a new Avengers team with himself and Natasha Romanoff as the core. They were joined by Sam Wilson, James Rhodes, Wanda Maximoff, and Vision.
A disastrous mission to Lagos caused international outrage as many considered that the US-based Avengers were operating unilaterally on foreign soil. This led to the creation of the Sokovia Accords which called for the registration of all super-powered individuals and vigilantes. The Accords also called for regulation of the Avengers under the auspices of an international oversight committee. The signing of the Accords split the Avengers along philosophical lines as they decided to be either pro- or anti-registration. During the signing of the Accords, the meeting was seemingly bombed by the Winter Soldier, killing the king of Wakanda, T’Chaka.
Steve’s refusal to sign the Accords and his insistence that the Winter Soldier was not behind the attack led to a Civil War between the Avengers. By the time the dust settled, the Avengers were torn apart with one major casualty – James Rhodes suffered severe spinal injuries that left him paralysed. Tony also found out that the Winter Soldier was responsible for the deaths of his parents, and that Steve knew the truth, leading to an almighty battle between the three of them. Now, the Avengers Facility stands virtually empty, home to only Tony, Rhodes, and Vision.
Captain America and the Winter Soldier
In the wake of the Avengers Civil War, Steve Rogers has given up his shield. As Tony pointed out at the end of their fight in Siberia, the shield was made for him by Howard Stark. The same Howard Stark who Bucky Barnes – the Winter Soldier – assassinated. And since Bucky is (literally) Steve’s oldest friend, he refuses to abandon him, knowing that he was brainwashed into committing murder. Tony considers him unworthy to wield the shield, and Steve agreed.
But Steve is still Captain America. And Captain America does not leave comrades behind. Because they supported Steve in the Avengers Civil War, Sam Wilson, Clint Barton, Wanda Maximoff, and Scott Lang were imprisoned in the Raft. But Steve could not let them remain incarcerated, and broke them out. Now they are fugitives, but Steve promises Tony that the Avengers will be there when the world needs them. Which, with Thanos after the Infinity Stones, will probably be sooner rather than later.
Appropriately enough, Bucky Barnes lives up to the name of the Winter Soldier once more. Despite being free of HYDRA, Helmut Zemo proved that he was not free of their influence. Using trigger codes, Bucky reverted to the mindless assassin that HYDRA created. Afraid of what he might do if anyone else obtains his trigger codes, Bucky voluntarily returns to cryogenic suspension under the watchful eye of Prince T’Challa in Wakanda until he can be free of HYDRA’s influence.
Black Panther and the nation of Wakanda
Wakanda has come out of its own self-imposed isolation after Vibranium was used by Ultron to create both Vision’s body and his own upgraded form. One of the Wakandan’s outreach missions was in Lagos, and eleven relief aid workers were accidentally killed by Wanda Maximoff as she tried to contain the explosion from Brock Rumalow’s bomb vest. The tragedy in Lagos set into motion the creation of the Sokovia Accords. During the signing, King T’Chaka was killed in a bombing perpetrated by Helmut Zero and blamed on the Winter Soldier.
Prince T’Challa has now taken the mantle of King of Wakanda after the death of his father. Not only is he now ruler of Wakanda, he is the superhero known as the Black Panther. He initially blamed the Winter Soldier for the death of his father and sought vengeance. Eventually, T’Challa discovered that the true culprit was Helmut Zemo. Seeing how the vengeance Zemo held against the Avengers had consumed him, T’Challa refused to follow the same path and let go of his own.
King T’Challa now leads Wakanda as they move into the international community. He has also provided refuge for Bucky Barnes, cryogenically freezing him at his own request to prevent him from being used again to hurt and kill.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
By the end of Ant-Man, Scott Lang had found a sense of peace. He was a burgeoning superhero, a real hero to his daughter, Cassie, and finally on friendly(ish) terms with his ex-wife and her new husband. Scott was no longer a wanted man and had paid his debt to society. He was embarking on a romance with Hope van Dyne. And Sam Wilson was looking for him since the Avengers were interested in his abilities. Life was getting pretty interesting for Scott.
Scott’s association with Sam Wilson and the Avengers led to him siding with Steve Rogers during Civil War. During the battle, he demonstrated a new ability to grow to giant-sized proportions. Like all of Steve’s allies, he ended up imprisoned in the Raft after the battle at Flughafen Leipzig-Halle. Steve broke them all out at the end of Civil War, but Scott Lang is once again a man on the run. How that will affect his new relationships is yet to be determined.
Hope van Dyne pleaded with her father, Hank Pym, for years to let her wear the Ant-Man suit and was furious when he passed her over in favor of Scott. But now, Hank is finishing the suit he intended for his wife before she was lost in the Quantum Realm. Hope will become one of the newest superheroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – the Wasp.
The Guardians of the Galaxy
A group of ragtag misfits and criminals – Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot – were united by a common love of money and vengeance. They became the Guardians of the Galaxy and lived up to their name. They defended Xandar and the rest of the universe from the machinations of Ronan the Accuser and the Power Stone. But it was not without cost. Groot sacrificed his life to save his comrades. Pardoned for their previous crimes by the Nova Corps, the Guardians resolved to do something good. Or something bad. Or a bit of both.
Ronan may have been the main villain of Guardians, but it was Thanos who set events in motion. Thanos, known as the Mad Titan, is seeking the Infinity Stones for his own ends. Through his machinations, he has now tested the mettle of the Avengers and the Guardians. Thanos is now heading for a confrontation with the assembled superheroes. But not just yet.
Armed with an entirely new soundtrack, the Guardians are joined by unlikely new recruits Yondu, Nebula, and Mantis. They are heading back into adventure, and this time, Peter Quill will be meeting his father. Oh, and Groot? He’s kind of still alive. Or a version of him is, at least. And he is adorable. The biggest question though, will be whether Cosmo the Spacedog will join the team. Or if Howard the Duck will make another cameo.
Thor, Loki, and Asgard
Following the Dark Elf assault on Asgard that left Queen Frigga dead, Asgard stands at a crossroads. Thor left for Earth to be with Jane Foster and generally pal around with the Avengers. Loki was seemingly dead, slain by Kurse in Svartalfheim, and Odin was grieving for his wife. In reality, Loki sits on the throne of Asgard, disguised as Odin after faking his death and returning to Asgard in secret. Whether Odin is dead or alive is currently unclear, and will most likely be cleared up in Thor: Ragnarok.
Loki has his own agenda, and no one on Asgard is any the wiser that their king has been replaced. But Thor knows doom is coming to Asgard. Wanda Maximoff used her powers to give him a vision of Asgard and Heimdall claiming that Thor would lead them all to their deaths. Thor sought clarity in the Water of Sights, and learned that at the time that four of the Infinity Stones had been discovered. Following the defeat of Ultron, Thor returned to Asgard seeking answers.
From the post-credit sequence of Doctor Strange, it becomes clear that Thor learns of Loki’s survival and (presumably) his impersonation of Odin. The brothers come looking for him in New York City, and enlist the help of Doctor Strange. Thor’s absence from the events of Civil War were explained because he was on vacation in Australia, taking some “me time,” and rooming with Darryl. He was not idle however, investigating the Infinity Stones and Thanos (purple, magic glove, doesn’t like standing up).
The Masters of the Mystic Arts
The Masters of the Mystic Arts, led by the Ancient One, have protected the Earth from extradimensional and mystical threats for centuries. While heroes like the Avengers protect the physical world, the Masters protect everything else. Their order is secret, spoken of in whispers. But they stand as Earth’s defense against the likes of Dormammu.
Doctor Stephen Strange has now joined their ranks, showing remarkable talents that allowed him to harness the power of the Time Stone to defeat Kaecilius and Dormammu. However, the battle to stop them resulted in the death of the Ancient One. With the Ancient One gone, Doctor Strange now stands to inherit her mantle as Sorcerer Supreme. But while he is now the protector of Earth from mystical and extra-dimensional threats, he is still learning to be master his new powers.
Doctor Strange may be one of the new superheroes to surface in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but he is quickly becoming a player. Now in charge of the New York Sanctum Santorum, Strange maintains a watchlist of otherworldly threats to the Earth, which includes affably evil Asgardian schemer Loki.
Captain America: Civil War introduced not only Black Panther, but was the debut of one of the most popular Marvel superheroes – Spider-Man. Fresh from the deal with Sony allowing Peter Parker and his webslinging alter-ego to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the latest incarnation of the wallcrawler has firmly established himself as a fan-favorite.
Spider-Man: Homecoming will follow Peter’s adventures as he attempts to establish himself as a bonafide superhero and prove himself to Tony Stark while presumably keeping him away from flirting with Aunt May. This is no origin story, though. Peter is already well-established as Spider-Man, and soon faces his greatest threat to date:
Batman Vulture. Also, high school.
The youngest hero to date in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man: Homecoming promises a departure from the standard superhero story. In much the same way as Guardians of the Galaxy introduced the MCU to vastness of the galaxy, and Doctor Strange introduced the mystical and magical, Homecoming looks to show what happens when an average person gains powers. And the responsibilities that come with it.
The Infinity Stones
Tying the Marvel Cinematic Universe together are the Infinity Stones – six gems of extraordinary power. In the fourteen films so far released in the MCU, five of the six stones have been discovered. The Space Stone, introduced in Captain America: The First Avenger as the Tesseract; the Mind Stone, introduced in The Avengers within Loki’s scepter and now residing in the forehead of Vision; the Reality Stone, introduced in Thor: The Dark World and known as the Aether to the Asgardians; the Power Stone, introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy and now safely held by the Nova Corps; and the Time Stone, introduced in Doctor Strange and encased in the Eye of Agamotto.
With the reveal in Doctor Strange that the Eye of Agamotto houses the Time Stone, only one Infinity Stone remains undiscovered – the Soul Stone. Viewers have kind of seen it already in Guardians of the Galaxy, and we know one thing: it is orange. But that’s pretty much the extent of our knowledge. Where it will show up, we can only speculate at this point. Considering Thanos is after all six, we can assume that it should make its debut before Avengers: Infinity War. Of all the films in Phase Three, the most likely film for the Soul Stone to debut in is probably Thor: Ragnarok.
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor learned that four of the Infinity Stones had been discovered, and knew their discovery in recent years was no coincidence. He believed that someone was playing their own game, and they were little more than pawns in his scheme. One thing is sure: once the Soul Stone comes on to the board, Thanos will make his move to secure the stones and assemble the Infinity Gauntlet.
Wrapping Up Phase 3
The bulk of this article has covered the earliest events of Phase 3, mainly the films Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange. However, A LOT has happened since then. Asgard was completely destroyed in Thor: Ragnarok, as was Mjolnir, Odin, Hela, the Warriors Three and a large amount of Asgard’s population. The survivors of Ragnarok were almost completely wiped out during the first few minutes of Infinity War, including Loki and Heimdall, which means Thor is currently without a family, without a planet, or without a people.
Spider-Man is currently an Avenger. While he wanted to keep a low profile in Spider-Man: Homecoming, he was “knighted” as an Avenger by Tony Stark during Infinity War. The events of Homecoming grounded Peter, they humbled him, they also taught him the valuable lesson of how to be a hero when the mask isn’t on.
The Guardians, who are currently MIA after the events of Infinity War, except Rocket, lost both Yondu and Peter’s father, Ego during Guardians Vol. 2. Star-Lord’s father turned out to be a self-obsessed galaxy killer, so Peter and the Guardians took him out. Sadly Yondu was lost in the battle. Nebula and Gamora also healed the rift between them during the film, which set up one of the most emotional moments in Infinity War: Nebula’s torture and Gamora’s surrender of the Soul Stone to Thanos.
That brings us to Wakanda. During the events of Black Panther, Wakanda came under siege from Kilmonger — T’Challa’s cousin. Kilmonger succeeded in becoming the new Black Panther, but not for long. At the end of the film, T’Challa and Shuri agreed to open Wakanda’s borders to the outside world. In Infinity War, Captain America brought Vision to Wakanda so Shuri could separate him from the Mind Stone. This proved unsuccessful and Vision was killed by Thanos when the Mad Titan ripped the gem from his head.
That leaves us with the aftermath of Avengers: Infinity War. Thanos used the gauntlet and wiped out half of the universe, including half of the Avengers. The only Avengers left are Black Widow, Captain America, War Machine, Iron Man and Bruce Banner. The only Wakandan leaders left are Shuri, M’Baku, and Okoye. As for the Guardians, only Rocket and Nebula are left. Even Nick Fury and Maria Hill vanished at the end of the film, which brings us to the final stand-alone movie of Phase 3: Captain Marvel. Her logo appearing at the end if the film signals that she will be a key part of Avengers: Infinity War.
The next three films in the phase are Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, and Avengers 4. Hopefully each of these films will bring the right sense of closure to what has been the most unpredictable phase yet.
Ant-Man and the Wasp hits theaters on July 6 2018, Captain Marvel on March 8th 2019, and Avengers 4 on May 3rd, 2019.