Launched in 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become the stuff of legend. It spans more than just a range of films - it embraces TV series, one-shots, Netflix original series, and even tie-in comics. It's testimony to the commitment of Marvel's staff (particularly Marvel visionary Kevin Feige) that the whole things holds together, but the truth is that there are still going to be continuity problems. Here are four of them - and how Marvel wriggled out of them!
1. Fury's Big Week
When Marvel Studios released The Avengers in 2012, it was accompanied by a number of tie-in comics. One of these, Fury's Big Week, was a fascinating miniseries. Fury's Big Week was really Marvel's first attempt to put together a cohesive timeline; it imagined a world where The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Thor all happened in the same seven-day period. Iron Man 2 and Thor already closely overlapped (Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson heads off to the Mjolnir site during Iron Man 2, meaning Thor was banished from Asgard at the same time as Tony Stark was taking on Whiplash. But attempting to tie in The Incredible Hulk just leaves us with an awkward, over-stuffed timeline.
Here's the catch. In preparation for Captain America: Civil War, Kevin Feige set up a rule where a Marvel movie is set in the year of its release. That's why the film mentions Tony Stark unmasking as Iron Man "eight years ago". It was a smart move, done to create a sense of escalating global conflict, and to give us a version of Spider-Man who'd grown up with hero-worship for the Avengers. But Feige's principle doesn't gel very effectively with Fury's Big Week.
I think it's safe to say that Fury's Big Week is simply no longer viewed as canon. My hope, though, is that some elements remain. One I'm particularly fond of is the notion that S.H.I.E.L.D. picked up the wreckage of the Destroyer armor and reverse-engineered the energy weapon. It's strongly hinted in the comic that this becomes the gun Agent Coulson uses on Loki in The Avengers.
2. Robert Downey Jr.'s Cameo in The Incredible Hulk
Nowadays, we all take it for granted that Kevin Feige - President of Marvel Studios - has a long-term plan. Back in the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though, Feige's plans were still in flux. The Incredible Hulk makes that pretty visible, with an end-scene featuring Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark and William Hurt's 'Thunderbolt' Ross. Where Iron Man gave us a first hint at the Avengers, The Incredible Hulk shows Stark offering to help Ross hunt down the Hulk.
As we all know, events played out very differently. Although S.H.I.E.L.D. tracked down the Hulk, they didn't bring him in until they needed Bruce Banner's help in The Avengers. What's more, Banner was recruited as part of the team, and was never a target.
Marvel actually filmed a one-shot, The Consultant, to explain this. In the one-shot, we learn that S.H.I.E.L.D. was under pressure to recruit Tim Roth's Abomination into the Avengers Initiative. Unwilling to do this, S.H.I.E.L.D. hit upon a bright idea; send "the Consultant" (Tony Stark) to Ross. The idea was that Stark would irritate Ross so much that he'd refuse to play ball. As a result, the Abomination never became a member of the Avengers, and - crucially - Ross refused to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. on his continuing quest to capture the Hulk. It's a smart retcon, and it saves us from an awkward continuity problem.
3. How Does Thor Get to Earth in The Avengers?
Although Thor's first appearance in The Avengers is tremendously cool - particularly that awesome battle with Iron Man and Captain America - it left fans with a simple question. How did he get to Earth?
As we saw in Thor, in order to save Jotunheim, Thor was forced to destroy the Rainbow Bridge, leaving him unable to return to his lady-love Jane Foster. So this became something of an awkward continuity problem.
It fell to the Thor: The Dark World Prelude comics to explain this. This miniseries shows us events on Asgard between the events of Thor and Thor: The Dark World, and includes Odin learning of Loki's schemes on Midgard. The All-Father has the power to send Thor to Midgard, but doing so will cost him a terrible physical toll; it will push him to the boundaries of his abilities. The travel is equally agonizing for Thor, who is shown collapsed in pain upon his arrival on Earth. At the end of The Avengers, Thor uses the Tesseract to return to Asgard.
In a nice touch, the Asgardians use the power of the Tesseract to restore the Rainbow Bridge.
4. Doesn't Iron Man Quit at the End of Iron Man 3?
It's no surprise that, when he was working on Avengers: Age of Ultron, Joss Whedon got an advance viewing of Iron Man 3. His reaction was amusing; Kevin Fiege told Two Kids and a Coupon:
"We have what I think is the biggest, you know, most action packed finale we’ve had. I showed the film to Joss Whedon who is our writer-director of Avengers, is currently working on Avengers 2, and he saw the finale of this and he goes, now what am I supposed to do now? What am I going to do in Avengers 2?"
The spectacle of Iron Man 3 wasn't the only problem, though. Iron Man 3 wraps up the story of Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark, bringing him to a place where he seems to have retired; his suits are destroyed, his home is destroyed, but he's ready to live his life with Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts. How do you get him from that place, to Avengers: Age of Ultron, where he's a committed member of the Avengers and has a new Hulkbuster suit?
In the end, Joss Whedon made a simple choice. He ignored the problem. Whatever arc is going on for Tony Stark is off-camera, unseen. Pepper doesn't even make an appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron, although Tony and Thor try to out-brag each other about their respective girlfriends.
In the end, it fell to the Russo brothers to explain this in Captain America: Civil War. There's a cool bit of dialogue where Tony talks to Captain America, and reveals that he and Pepper are on a break. It seems that, although Tony tried to give up on the superheroics, he couldn't stick to it. That seems to have left him with a sad choice, where he could continue as Iron Man or stay with Pepper.
The scene's pretty fascinating, because it feels almost as though the adrenaline rush of being a superhero has become an addiction to Stark. Over in the comics, he's always been portrayed as having an addictive personality - struggling with alcoholism in the famous "Demon in a Bottle" arc - so I suspect this was entirely deliberate.
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- The Reason Why Captain America and Iron Man Were Always Going to Come to Blows
As you can see, for all its grandeur and fan acclaim, the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn't have perfect continuity. In some cases, that's because the idea of the MCU was so revolutionary that it was impossible to plan ahead before the franchise had really gotten going; in other cases, it's simply that you can't cover everything in one film. The majority of the continuity errors are easy to fix, but I think the most impressive fact is that there are so few problems. Marvel really is doing a top-rate job!
Can you see any other continuity problems in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Let me know in the comments!