Kicking off in 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a unique Hollywood creation. It's not just a shared universe of movies — the #MCU embraces films, TV series, and Netflix shows. What's more, it's supported by a range of tie-in comics, fun one-shots, and even a range of in-universe YouTube videos.
But even as the MCU grows, the timeline becomes ever more difficult to keep track of. Even the movies don't always get it right; Spider-Man: Homecoming, for example, introduced some pretty tricky continuity issues. Let's take a look at the timeline...
The Basic Timeline
Now, it's worth noting that this timeline ignores the recent continuity issues raised by Homecoming. I'll discuss those in detail later. Here are some basic notes on how the timeline works:
- As you can see, Captain America: The First Avenger was released in 2011, but is mostly set during World War II. The tie-in comic book miniseries Captain America: First Vengeance is set in April 1944, during the war between the SSR and Hydra, and uses flashbacks to help us connect more deeply with the characters.
- We've visited the period between World War II and the present day in a number of flashbacks, as well in the sadly canceled Agent Carter series. The show's existence sits awkwardly with the Agent Carter one-shot, which is ostensibly set one year after the end of World War II (I've shaded that out to indicate it's likely no longer canon).
- The Ant-Man Prelude miniseries is set during the Cold War, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Hank Pym infiltrates what appears to be a real Hydra base, with brainwashing technology that's clearly similar to that seen decades later in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
- At #SDCC2017, we learned that Captain Marvel will be set during the 1990s.
- In the buildup to 2017's Captain America: Civil War, Marvel visionary #KevinFeige declared that — unless otherwise specified — every Marvel movie is set in the year of its release.
- From this point, Marvel Comics released a range of tie-ins that set the scene for every movie. Until this year, these tie-ins were mostly original content, but they've recently become simple comic book adaptations of earlier films. I've only included tie-ins on the chronology when they add new content into the MCU.
- A news report during Iron Man 2, as well as the Thor sub-plot, sets three Marvel movies as being contemporaneous; Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Incredible Hulk. That's reinforced by the tie-in comic, Fury's Big Week; significantly, Daredevil Season 1 includes a brief glimpse of a newspaper cover setting the Hulk's rampage in Harlem in June 2011. That means that all three events can be fixed at this date.
- A WHiH news report released in the run-up to Ant-Man dates the tie-in comic Ant-Man - Scott Lang: Small Time, setting it in 2012.
- Iron Man 3 is set over (and shortly after) Christmas 2012.
- From 2013, #AgentsOfSHIELD acts as a useful reference point for events.
- #GuardiansOfTheGalaxy has become a subject of real controversy, with the official Guardians of the Galaxy Prelude comic directly contradicting the sequel. James Gunn responded to a fan question on Twitter by simply declaring that it's not canon. Meanwhile, the sequel - #GuardiansOfTheGalaxy2 - is set only a few months after the first film.
- The popular Marvel Netflix shows launch in late 2015, and have still actually taken up a few months in time. The Defenders has been confirmed to be a couple of months after the events of Daredevil Season 2, for example, and that means we can place Iron Fist in early 2016 as well.
- Both #SpiderManHomecoming and #BlackPanther are set immediately after the events of Civil War. In the case of Homecoming, it's a deliberate strategy to keep Spider-Man youthful, while for Black Panther, it's a deliberate decision to exploit the political instability caused by the death of King T'Chaka. I'l discuss the controversy surrounding Homecoming further down.
- #DoctorStrange is probably the most difficult movie to place in the wider MCU continuity, as there's an ambiguous reference that, at first glance, seems to set the film during the events of Iron Man 2. Ultimately, though, interviews and prelude comics have established a 2017 date. I've discussed the continuity of Doctor Strange in detail in another post.
- At SDCC 2017, Marvel revealed that Thor: Ragnarok is set two years after the Hulk left the Avengers in Avengers: Age of Ultron. That sets it in 2017.
The Controversy Surrounding Spider-Man: Homecoming
Unfortunately, this year's Spider-Man: Homecoming has left caused a lot of problems. The film is ostensibly set two months after the events of Iron Man, but eight years after the events of The Avengers. Worse still, dialogue in the film tells us that petty thief Aaron Davis is aged 33, and was born in April 1984. That sets the movie's date as 2017. As I've discussed in detail in another post, it's only possible to make continuity work if you make two assumptions:
- Firstly, that any references to the passage of time — such as "eight years later" — are approximate, and can be taken as indicating anywhere between "seven years and nine months" and "eight years and six months."
- Secondly, given this directly contradicts firm dates given in the TV shows, you have to embrace a model that was developed by Star Wars decades ago. Back before the Disney purchase, Lucasfilm worked by 'tiers' of canon. The movies were the top tier of canon; anything else was canon only to the extent that it didn't contradict the movies. Using this principle, then, if a TV show refers to the Chitauri invasion in 2012? It's wrong, because it contradicts Homecoming.
Here's how this timeline would look.
As you can see, with Homecoming set in 2017, Civil War has to jump forward a year. Most of the first phase of movies end up compressed into 2008-2010, while two seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are stretched out due to movie tie-in episodes. The fourth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is six months after Civil War, but thankfully the narrative stresses a swift passage of time anyway.
It's an awkward fit, but it just about works, even if it does essentially result in tie-ins and TV shows having a lower level of canonicity to the movies.That said, this adjusted timeline may well be of use to Marvel Television, as it ensures the Netflix shows aren't going to be impacted by the Sokovia Accords in the short-to-medium term; they're still set in early 2016 right now, and Civil War now doesn't happen until 2017.
It's most likely that Homecoming is in error; I can't see Marvel adjusting continuity to this extent. Still, until Kevin Feige comments on the issue, we actually have no real way of knowing for sure. So we currently have two competing models of the MCU timeline.
The MCU is like nothing else, and only looks set to expand; where Marvel's rival DC has chosen to keep their TV and film universes separate, the MCU spans pretty much every form of media Marvel can get their hands on. With an impressive slate of TV series, and plans in progress for Phase Four, the MCU is only going to get bigger and better!
What's your favorite part of the MCU to date? Let me know in the comments!
(Featured image: RockLou)