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Back in 2008, Marvel Studios began one of the most ambitious projects ever conceived in the medium of film. The plan was to create and release individual movies about Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America and then bring them all together for a team-up film called The Avengers. In that time the studio has had its ups and downs, successes and mistakes, but this Friday it all comes together when the Joss Whedon-written and directed movie arrives in theaters. But while fans have likely been following along these past four years, the truth is that there are probably still a lot of people out there who have no idea what The Avengers is, who the characters are, or what makes the project so special. So I’m here to lend a hand.
Just as I did before the releases of Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger, I’ve drawn up a quick encyclopedia with need-to-know information that will help you better understand not only what’s going on in The Avengers, but what’s driving the various characters. Whether you have no idea what a “Hulk” is or just what to read more about the The Tesseract, this article is for you.
WARNING: This article contains some minor spoilers for The Avengers. While the first nine entries are safe, the last one may affect the surprise element and is clearly marked. Please be careful while scrolling!
How Does He Fit? Even as The Man Out of Time, Captain America is called on by S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers as a natural leader who can bring his team into battle and craft brilliant strategy. He is hampered by the fact that he is lost in our age, but his strength and determination make him one of the greatest weapons (and shields) that our world has ever seen.
How Does He Fit? Stark is one of the earliest super-powered individuals to be recruited for The Avengers Initiative, but that doesn’t make him the perfect candidate. Known for his arrogance and inability/unwillingness to work with others, Iron Man doesn’t like being a government puppet or taking orders, which makes him a poor candidate for the Avengers team, but he is also a man who knows when it’s time to shake off his own personality flaws and become a hero. The new movie also sees him create The Stark Tower, a new building in New York City that is entirely run on pure, clean energy.
How Does He Fit? As the only other-worldly member of The Avengers, Thor has somewhat different motivations than the rest of the superhero team as he wants to see the criminal known as Loki brought to Asgardian justice. That said, Thor also sees himself as the protector of Earth and will use all of his powers to help the humans. At the end of his solo movie, the character seemed to be trapped in Asgard and unable to return to Earth, but is told that there are other ways to make it back.
How Does He Fit? Banner isn’t brought on as part of the Avengers Initiative for his strength as The Hulk, but rather his intelligence as a scientist. The Tesseract that Loki has stolen (more on both of those things in a bit) gives off gamma radiation and Banner is hired to track it. That said, the nature of Banner’s condition makes him the definition of wild card…
How Does He Fit? Loki is the central villain of The Avengers and is quite the powerful one at that. At the start of the film he finds his way back to Earth so that he can claim control of The Tesseract, a powerful device that will allow him to unleash his army on the world (but more on that later). He sees himself as a god and believes that humanity is meant to bow to him. The Avengers are out to prove him wrong.
The Tesseract a.k.a. The Cosmic Cube
How Does It Fit? Best known from Captain America: The First Avenger, the Tesseract was first the ultimate weapon of H.Y.D.R.A. and The Red Skull, but this time around it’s Loki who sees its power. Knowing that S.H.I.E.L.D. is protecting the ancient device (as seen in the stinger at the end of Thor, the God of Mischief steals the cube and uses it so that he can bring his alien army to earth.
How Do They Fit? It is the Chitauri who call on Loki to lead them in a fight for control of Earth. They need Loki to attain the Tesseract and open a portal from their world to ours. But while Loki is the key, the race is actually lead by a mysterious figure who keeps to the shadows and is actually orchestrating everything behind the scenes.
How Does It Fit? If it weren’t for S.H.I.E.L.D. there would be no Avengers. It’s the government agency that both creates and enacts the Avengers Initiative, the protocol that calls for superpowered individuals to be brought together in times of crisis to battle against forces of evil that otherwise could not be stopped. What’s more, key members of the organization, Hawkeye and Black Widow, were agents prior to agreeing to fight alongside Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and The Hulk.
How Does He Fit? He’s shown up in bits and flashes in previous films – most notably in Iron Man 2, but it’s in The Avengers that Nick Fury finally has time to shine. Though Captain America is the team’s leader in the field, as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fury is the real leader, as he was the one who calls for everyone to be brought together. Whether or not he can be trusted at all times is a different story entirely.
How Does He Fit? Remember how I said that the Chitauri were being controlled by a mysterious figure who keeps to the shadows? Well, Thanos is his name. The character appears in the after-credits sequence of The Avengers and smiles when his henchman tells him that anyone who goes up against the humans of Earth and The Avengers is a fool. As of now it’s unclear how Thanos will work into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the assumption at large is that he will be the central villain of The Avengers 2.