So everyone’s talking about this new Ender’s Game or whatever it’s called. You know, the one with all the superheroes. There’s a rich guy in an iron suit. A hunk with a hammer. A self-aware racoon for some reason. And they all fight a purple spaceman who snapped half their fingers. It’s very confusing.
Let’s unconfuse you. For the person who hasn’t kept up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you can get up to speed before Avengers: Endgame by watching just six films.
“Blashphomy,” a fan may cry, “you need to watch EVERY film to get the full experience!” They’re not wrong. There will be gaps. However, with only a few weeks till Endgame‘s release, time is of the essence, and the following films will give you the essence of all the films that have led up to what will surely be one of 2019’s biggest films.
Iron Man, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger are all fine films that are worth your time. However, they’re also well-represented in the MCU’s first crossover film, as is The Hulk and sidekicks Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. You’ll also get everything you need to know about Loki (AKA: Thor’s brother, Prince of Mischief, total dickhead) and catch the first ever glimpse of Thanos.
Also, this film’s just a tonne of fun. Writer-director Joss Whedon made his pencil extra-sharp when he wrote the quippy dialogue between the key characters and the climax delivers everything you want from a blockbuster.
Next, you’ll want to go to space. With hardly a foot set on Earth, Guardians of the Galaxy delivers a hugely entertaining introduction to the intergalactic side of the MCU. You’ll get to know five important assholes who band together to become heroic assholes. This includes a space-adventuring try-hard (Chris Pratt), a green assassin (Zoe Saldana), a comedic genius (Dave Bautista), a bloody-thirsty racoon (voice by Bradley Cooper), and a sentient tree (murmured by Vin Diesel).
There’s also the bitter Nebula—you’ll want to commit her to memory for later on.
This is the one that split The Avengers. Tensions were raised. Loyalties were made. It was Iron Man V Captain America, making it the “Mummy, Daddy, please don’t fight” entry into the MCU. That emotional baggage will carry over to Endgame.
The film also introduces Spider-Man and Black Panther while getting you familiar with other characters you would’ve missed (Ant-Man, War Machine, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, and Winter Soldier). Seems like a lot to take in, but The Russo Brothers’ refined direction never makes it feel overwhelming—except for one fight at an airport terminal, which overwhelms for all the right reasons.
Let’s head back to space with Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, a three-quel that introduces key player Valkyrie who’s suspected to return for Endgame (she even has her own poster). You’ll also see Heimdall, who you missed from the previous Thor films, as well as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em appearance from the Warriors Three.
The film’s almost designed to destroy the uptight reputation of Thor’s previous two films. This is largely a good thing, as we get one of the funniest entries—if not, THE funniest—in the MCU. And you’re gonna want a chuckle-fest following the super-serious Civil War and before you head into the MCU’s climax.
While most of Ragnarok doesn’t hold much consequence for what’s to come, the conclusion clicks firmly into place with…
…the film formerly known as The Most Ambitious Crossover Event in History. You’ll come to understand this and another meme soon after the film’s end.
If my calculations are correct, you should be familiar with almost everyone in the roster by now. The only ones you’ll catch up on here are Doctor Strange, his cohort Wong, Black Panther’s Shuri, Okoye, and M’Baku, as well as GotG 2‘s Mantis. Again, it seems too huge to contain in one film, but again, the Russos somehow made this colossal undertaking work without it descending into an incomprehensible mess.
Moreover, Infinity War gives the MCU its best villain to date in Thanos. This is his film, elevating the story above and beyond a blockbuster brawl.
The latest MCU release gives us its most powerful hero to date, so you’ll want to get to know her. Set in the ’90s, this film somewhat reverses the traditional origin story template to show a hero who comes to understand herself, her superpower, and the systems designed to suppress her.
You’ll also get to know her relationship to a younger Nick Fury and there are potential moments here and there that may (or may not) play into Avengers: Endgame. It’s a relatively smaller entry too, making it the perfect breather in the lead-up to what is the MCU’s biggest (and, at three hours, longest) film ever.
Can you squeeze in another film or two?
Then you simply must see the Russos’ first film Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s not necessary for this catch-up, but it’s one of the absolute best films in the MCU.
Ant-man and the Wasp also slots significantly into Endgame, though I suspect the vital stuff will be explained (i.e. subatomic travel) pretty succinctly for those that didn’t see that film or the previous one.
If the world ‘subatomic’ got you curious, you’ll definitely want to check out the mind-bending Doctor Strange. In the same way GotG introduced the galactic side of the MCU, Doctor Strange portrays the otherworldly elements of this universe in numerous, visually creative ways.
Winner of multiple Oscars this year, Black Panther is undeniably the most critically lauded film in the MCU catalogue—and for good reason. The incredibly constructed world of Wakanda, a tragically complex villain, one of the greatest superhero scores ever… there’s a wealth of reasons to see this right now.
And then there’s Iron Man, the one that started it all. For the sake of history, this is a must-watch after you’ve done the catch-up.