Now that Captain America: The Winter Soldier has arrived, we have a fairly clear view of the Marvel universe onscreen. Through nine films thus far, we've explored the deepest regions of the Nine Realms, met aliens and government double agents, been to Harlem and the Himalayas. People have lived, people have died, and heroes have established themselves as Earth's defenders and Avengers. And it's all been connected through Marvel's complex interlocking mythology.
But that mythology has undergone some growing pains, in the form of questions that these movies ask and do not answer. The benefit of these films is that you can introduce a plot element without having to pay it off, knowing that it's an ace in the hole for a later date. But different writers and filmmakers have been free to mix and match varying elements of this new canon, changing what came before and disregarding some of the more complex developments in the world of Marvel. As a result, we have nine films worth of unanswered questions, unresolved cliffhangers and nagging mysteries that no one has been in a rush to conclude. Knowing Marvel, some of these topics could become major story ideas at a later date, while others could be completely forgotten forever.
A couple of notes. First off, obviously, this piece will be discussing major spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Secondly, none of these questions will deal with the tired hand-wringing over why Captain America didn't drop into Iron Man 3, why the Hulk didn't fight The Winter Soldier, and why Hawkeye hasn't been compelled to help his Avengers buddies at all. If you need an answer, actors are expensive, so there it is. And third, surely many of these issues have been addressed through various supplemental material in video games, comics and the like, but so much of that is not canon so we won't be pursuing it too hard
Where Is The Red Skull?For all its pleasures, it's hard to be too satisfied with the way Captain America: The First Avenger ended. Cap and the Red Skull are facing off, nearly physical equals, but then the Tesseract pops out and randomly sucks the mad Nazi inside. Since then, we haven't heard from the bad guy, and he's barely mentioned in The Winter Solder. Many of us had Alexander Pierce being Red Skull in disguise in our office pools, which would have been a terrible bet.
So, uh, where is he? The Tesseract is perhaps providing a supernatural prison for the villain, but now that Loki's scepter is in the hands of Baron Strucker, as seen in the end credits to The Winter Soldier, there could easily be a Red Skull/HYDRA reunion. This all makes sense logically, but we can't forget about the Hugo Weaving situation: he has gone on record saying that he doesn't have much interest in returning to the character. This is unfortunate given that the Red Skull is one of Cap's most iconic villains, and if HYDRA remains a presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward it doesn't make a lot of sense for them to not try and get back their fearless leader.
What Happened To Doctor Samuel Sterns?The one movie in the Marvel Studios canon with the most loose ends has to be The Incredible Hulk, given that it was not a tremendous success in theaters and that there hasn't been a follow-up since. That film, which may or may not have wiped 2003's Hulk from continuity (I vote no!), introduced several plot strands that were never picked up. A credits stinger involving Tony Stark calling on General Ross (William Hurt) to recruit the Hulk for the Avengers also turned out to be a red herring, as Marvel later used a One Shot short film to establish that Stark was recruiting the Abomination (Tim Roth), a tactic made to purposely fail so that the Abomination would stay behind bars.
The most notoriously ignored development from the film, however, has to be what happened to Bruce Banner's friendly gamma-obsessed friend, Dr. Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson). During the final battle, Sterns' head is splashed with chemicals and it begins to pulsate as he smiles. As fans know, this is meant to be the birth of a supervillain. Sterns is the alter-ego of The Leader, a longtime Hulk villain in the comics. Nelson was reportedly signed on to do a sequel, but one of most Marvel's iconic bad guys was still seen lying on the floor of a destroyed lab in Harlem. He's not the only character who got a splash of gamma radiation in that film: a throwaway guard played by Stan Lee drank a soda with a drop of gamma material that apparently caused a situation offscreen. Maybe it caused him to multiply into various Stan Lee-looking characters all across the Marvel universe...
What Has The Winter Soldier Been Doing All These Years?The timeline between World War II and the present is a bit fuzzy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but a key detail about the Winter Soldier is unveiled when Black Widow says that brainwashed assassin born as Bucky Barnes has been performing wetwork missions all over the world for decades. In addition to the fact that he is loaded up with HYDRA’s version of super-serum (administered to him during Arnim Zola’s experiments), he is put into cryogenic sleep between missions, which explains his youthful appearance, but what exactly kind of scary stuff has Bucky been doing in the last half-century? It’s material that can be used to create an amazingly detailed and devastating backstory for the character in Captain America 3, so hopefully it will be an answer given to us in May 2016.
Is Tony Stark Gong To Find Another Use For Vibranium?In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark makes a pretty incredible discovery. With the help of some blueprints his father, Howard Stark, hid in a model of the Stark Expo, Tony was able to build a lab and synthesize an incredibly rare element known as Vibranium. The element wound up helping Tony stop his arc reactor from poisoning him and comic book fans are well aware of the material thanks to the fact that it’s the incredibly powerful metal that makes up Captain America’s shield. But what does the future hold for the scientific breakthrough?
Much like his father, Tony seems to be keeping the secret of Vibranium just that – but what’s strange is that he doesn’t even seem to be using it in his own work. Iron Man 3 had the superhero building a full fleet of supersuits, but as far as we know none of them were made out of the nearly indestructible metal he discovered. S.H.I.E.L.D. obviously doesn’t know anything about it, otherwise everything they owned would be made out of it. Perhaps Marvel is waiting to bring up the subject of Vibranium until they are ready to dig into the history of Wakanda – the African nation that is both a home to the superhero Black Panther and the world’s only Vibranium mine. Speaking of which…
Why Is S.H.I.E.L.D. Monitoring Wakanda?Large monitors seen at the end of Iron Man 2 reveal that Nick Fury and company have been keeping close tabs on multiple super-related areas around the globe, including the college campus destroyed in The Incredible Hulk. One of the most Easter Egg-y details, however, is map that clearly marks Wakanda as a place of interest. Has S.H.I.E.L.D. already been spending a long time monitoring the region because of its valuable resources? Or is it because of the possible presence of Black Panther? We’ve been waiting a long time for answers to this one, and hopefully they will be coming soon.
What’s Going On With Doctor Stephen Strange?If you were in a particularly nerdy theater this weekend watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier, chances are you may have missed a portion of the scene where Cap, Black Widow and the Falcon interrogate Agent Sitwell. Comic readers were buzzing over the fact that Sitwell mentions potential S.H.I.E.L.D. targets. One is Bruce Banner. Another is Stephen Strange.
WELL THEN. This is the first time that the Master of Magic has been mentioned within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though it has been confirmed that the character will be getting a solo movie in the studio’s Phase Three plans. But what does his name’s presence in The Winter Soldier tell us? If he is already somebody that S.H.I.E.L.D. (and HYDRA, by extension) is keeping a close eye on, does that mean that he has already played out his origin story and is out somewhere in the world fighting dark forces? If they stick to this seemingly-throwaway reference, and if Strange's solo movie winds up being an origin story, then we can probably expect it to be some kind of period film.
Is More Being Done To Prevent Alien Invasions?So, an alien attack ravaged Manhattan. A couple of buildings fell. The Avengers "saved the day," but there was great tragedy and loss. There was, however, also a major breakthrough: the world learned that aliens exist on a massive scale. Sure, it was amazing when Thor touched down and hung out in New Mexico for a while, but it’s also worth noting that he looks a whole lot like a human and didn't really leave anything behind when he left (except for Jane Foster). The Chitauri, on the other hand, attacked in droves and then collapsed upon their fleet being nuked. There were bodies all over the ground. Aside from a rogue weapon that served as the inspiration for a Marvel short film and a few mentions on TV's Agents of SHIELD, no one has really discussed these aliens, ones that have certainly changed the course of history.
When Fury is talking with Captain America about Project Insight and the use of surveillance hellicarriers to protect the world from undesirables, why isn’t there a bigger discussion about alien wormholes? S.H.I.E.L.D. was experimenting with HYDRA weapons before The Avengers to prepare the world for extraterrestrial attack, but now that they have a team of superheroes protecting the planet did that program disappear? Or were the resources allocated to a different project? Now that S.H.I.E.L.D. consists of just a few scattered agents around the globe, one has to wonder just how open the Earth is to another huge alien invasion.
What Does The Future Hold For The Abomination?We’ve already talked about the mysterious fate of one major Hulk villain in Dr. Samuel Sterns, but now let’s talk about another one of the green monster’s foes.At the end of the monster battle in the third act of The Incredible Hulk, the titular hero delivers a defeated but alive Abomination to General Ross and his team. The villain was a major topic of conversation in the Marvel One Shot The Consultant and we’ve on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. it was revealed that he is locked up in a cryo-cell in Barrow, Alaska, but is that the end of his story? Tim Roth was fantastic in the role, and we wouldn’t complain about the MCU setting up some sort of rematch. We’ll just have to wait and see if it ever comes together, or if Abomination will be in the deep freeze for the rest of his existence.
Are We Going To Learn More About How Captain America’s Shield Came To Be?Yes, this is the third time we’ve brought up the subject of Vibranium, but the element has played a potentially very important part in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, and still remains one of its greatest mysteries. The earliest place the metal appears on the Marvel movies timeline is when Howard Stark is showing Captain America various shields to use in the field, and the material is revealed to be extremely rare, stronger than steel, a third the weight and completely vibration absorbent. But how exactly did Howard Stark get his hands on Vibranium in the first place? Did he create it himself, similar to what his son would do decades later, or did he spend a bit of time in Eastern Africa doing research? Perhaps that’s all territory that could be explored in Captain America 3 or even a Black Panther film.
Do Any Of The Big Wigs Really Care About Coulson?The mystery of Agent Coulson's resurrection has unfolded over the course of the first season of the series Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D, but any details about his discoveries don’t seem to be bugging anyone in the big-screen Marvel Universe. Either they don’t know that Agent Coulson is still alive, or they simply don’t really care. Coulson has seen Lady Sif since his death – perhaps she didn’t think to tell Thor that the Son of Coul is still alive? (maybe she didn’t even know he was dead). If Clark Gregg’s character returns to the big screen in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, hopefully there will be at least one awkward scene where everyone has to deal with the fact that Coulson survived Loki’s stabbing.