Top 7 Marvel Cinematic Universe Surprises
Any great story has its share of twists and surprises; a story spanning 10 movies, 2 TV shows, and 5 shorts is bound to be packed with them, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe does not disappoint. As always, with all the memorable moments it’s hard to whittle down a list like this, but we’ve picked our Top 7 below. Each of these surprises were watershed moments for the MCU, not only shocking audiences (often pleasantly), but leaving lasting impressions with real ramifications for the characters and the universe as a whole.
In case you need a refresher: With Phase Two of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe wrapping up after this summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man, we decided it was a good time to take a look back at some of the best moments Marvel Studios has brought to the silver screen. Between now and Age of Ultron’s release we’ll be counting down several Top 7 lists that celebrate many of the greatest moments from the MCU so far. For reference, this includes every movie released to date (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy), as well as all the straight-to-video Marvel One-Shots (“The Consultant”, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer”, “Item 47″, “Agent Carter”, and “All Hail the King”), and also Marvel’s ongoing foray into television (as of print date: 12 episodes into Agents of SHIELD’s second season, the entire first season of Agent Carter, and before Daredevil has aired). Finally, this should go without saying, but you’ve been warned: SPOILERS AHEAD!
7) Nick Fury and “The Avengers Initiative” (Iron Man)
We touched on Nick Fury’s MCU debut in our Top 7 Cameos countdown, but we’d be remiss to leave him off this list as well. Heading into Iron Man, there were whispers that Marvel would be including a now-standard post-credits scene. The idea itself wasn’t groundbreaking; other superhero movies had used the trick before. The difference in Iron Man‘s post-credits scene is that it featured a huge actor and a huge character that was otherwise never mentioned in the rest of the film–and doubled to set the stage for an unprecedented shared movie universe. Seeing Samuel L. Jackson emerge from the shadows, eye patch and all, gave a tremendous amount of credence to the presence of SHIELD that Phil Coulson had constantly been teasing; an unnamed character with a few short scenes is one thing, but showing the massive organization’s director and casting him with an A-list actor despite the brevity of his screen-time showed Marvel was very serious about its ambitious plans moving forward. Even on the cusp of a second Avengers movie, I’ll never forget the wide-eyed excitement I felt the first time I heard Nick Fury mutter the words “Avengers Initiative”.
6) Nick Fury dies…and then lives (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
By the time we get to The Winter Soldier, Director Fury is already a well-established figure. After his debut cameo, he took on key roles in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, and even stopped by Agents of SHIELD. After a crazy chase sequence through the streets of DC where he only survives because of the strongest SUV ever built, it seemed pretty safe for fans to assume that the head of SHIELD was pretty much untouchable. Then, out of nowhere, it happened–Nick Fury was killed. Right there in Captain America’s apartment. Cap, Black Widow, and Maria Hill all fought back tears of remorse while Fury’s inanimate body lay on a metal slab. Almost as surprising as his death was the reveal that he actually faked the whole thing! (Well, he did actually get shot and suffer some serious injuries, but he faked the part about actually dying). Characters coming back from the dead is notoriously common in comic books, but both ends of the bait-and-switch in The Winter Soldier felt genuinely shocking. Coming back from the “dead” was a great nod to comics, especially in a movie featuring Bucky Barnes, but Fury’s status at the end of the movie–where he was, officially speaking, still dead–is something to watch as the MCU continues.
5) Loki survived, and he’s pretending to be Odin (Thor: The Dark World)
Loki’s storyline has been one of the more fascinating aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To date, he’s been the only villain to be featured in multiple films, and he’s actually shown up in three of them so far. In The Dark World, we got to see a more nuanced approach to the character than we had in the past; director Alan Taylor played on both our and Thor’s mistrust of Loki with a back-and-forth, is-he-or-isn’t-he game around whether or not Loki was scheming. The Master of Mischief appeared to finally redeem himself to his brother with a seemingly selfless sacrifice during the penultimate battle against Malekith. It could have easily been a fitting end to the character’s arc, but thankfully for fans of Tom Hiddleston’s performances, Taylor was not done there. After Thor saves the Nine Realms from Malekith’s wrath and returns to Asgard, he declines his father Odin’s offer to take the throne, electing instead to return to Earth to be with Jane Foster. Or so he thinks, for once Thor leaves the throne room, it is revealed that “Odin” is actually Loki in disguise. Effectively, that means that Loki has currently weaseled his way into Asgard’s seat of power. We don’t even know yet what happened to the real Odin, and Queen Frigga isn’t around any longer to ask questions. We probably won’t get any answers until Thor: Ragnarok, but it certainly leaves Asgard in a peculiar state and leaves us admiring Loki’s cunning more than ever.
4) The Aether and the Tesseract are Infinity “Stones” (Thor: The Dark World)
Ever since we found out Thanos exists in the MCU (more on him in a minute), we knew that the movies were likely building toward the Infinity Gauntlet storyline–we even glimpsed the Gauntlet itself in the first Thor. So we knew the Infinity Gems that give the Gauntlet its power must come into play at some point. We just didn’t know that we had already seen some of them in action! Numerous clues were dropped throughout The Dark World, but the post-credits seen unequivocally revealed that both the film’s Aether and the Tesseract we had seen in Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers were actually “Infinity Stones”. We’ve since added the the Orb from Guardians of the Galaxy and Loki’s Scepter from The Avengers to the list and we’ll have all of Phase Three to discover the last two. It’s fun to see the seeds be planted for such a long-term story arc, and considering the power each individual Infinity Stone carries with it, the heroes of the MCU are sure to have a tough fight on their hands in Avengers: Infinity War. To paraphrase The Collector a bit: four down, two to go.
3) The real Mandarin is still at large (“All Hail the King”)
If you didn’t watch “All Hail the King” (and let’s be honest, there’s going to be a significant number of you), you’re probably looking at this header thinking, “huh?” First of all, I implore you to go watch it; it was originally on the Thor: The Dark World Blu-ray but you should be able to track it down online. If Iron Man 3‘s handling of the armored hero’s most iconic villain, The Mandarin, left you with a sour taste in your mouth, “All Hail the King” may be the sweetest thing you’ll watch in the MCU. The main reason, of course, is the short’s 100% canonical bombshell: The Mandarin is very much a real person, not just a persona that Aldrich Killian created for Trevor Slattery to act out. Devout fans will of course remember The Ten Rings as a very real criminal organization from the original Iron Man, but they haven’t been mentioned in the MCU since. In “All Hail the King”, it is revealed that the real Mandarin is not too happy about an actor stealing his name, and he uses agents of The Ten Rings to make his point. So The Mandarin is real, The Ten Rings are still very much at large, and though there’s no Iron Man 4 in the announced Phase Three slate, it’s very possible that the iconic villain still has a role to play in the MCU’s future.
2) Thanos is the puppet master behind Loki’s invasion attempt (The Avengers)
It was a question that hovered over The Avengers, but not one audiences spent too much time thinking about given all the awesome action: who was it that was pulling Loki’s strings and supplying him with a Chitauri army? In the mid-credits scene, we got our answer, and it was bigger than fans could have possibly imagined. Sure, eagle-eyed sleuths spotted the Infinity Gauntlet in Odin’s vault in Thor, but at the time it seemed more like a clever Easter egg rather than a dangling clue; surely the nature of the Infinity Gauntlet storyline was much too ridiculous for the big screen, right? And yet, there was Thanos in the Avengers credits, turning halfway toward the camera with his signature purple skin and devilish grin. It was a sense of wonder and far-flung excitement that fans could hardly ever dreamed that they’d ever see, much like the initial reveal that The Avengers might happen on-screen at all. All of a sudden, not only had the Avengers teamed up in an awesome slugfest of a movie, but it became clear that Marvel Studio’s plans were actually much, much, bigger– cosmic, one might say. It was a great moment that really spoke to the true potential of what such a massive unified universe could actually build to. On the precipice of Age of Ultron, we are still building toward that future, but by the time we get there we will have 20 movies worth of groundwork to establish what will have to be considered as the biggest battle in the history of cinema.
1) The Return of Hydra (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Agents of SHIELD, S1:E17: “Turn, Turn, Turn”)
The re-emergence of Hydra in the modern day was one of the biggest moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s history. Up to that moment in The Winter Soldier, there was a clear status quo in the Marvel universe where SHIELD was a sort of all-powerful, far-reaching shadow organization that seemed to be involved with just about everything, everywhere. But all of a sudden, that got flipped on its head, and the villainous organization that had seemingly met its demise with the fall of the Red Skull was suddenly more fearsome than ever, having infiltrated and infected the world’s most powerful organization up to its highest ranks. This had immense ramifications across the universe–which are still playing out–where all of a sudden the safety net that was SHIELD was gone. We’ve still yet to see how SHIELD’s collapse will impact the Avengers themselves, but in an unprecedented moment in entertainment history, we still got to witness the immediate aftermath of the movie’s events play out during Agents of SHIELD. Of course, a show about the very organization that would be destroyed from the inside out was going to get hit hard by the revelation, and Marvel embraced this unique opportunity, airing “Turn, Turn, Turn” as the very next episode that immediately followed The Winter Soldier‘s release. The event wreaked havoc on the team and completely shuffled our expectations, and the show hasn’t been the same ever since–it’s been far better. The presence of an antagonistic organization that now far outstripped SHIELD in resources gave a very credible threat to a team that previously had none. The Hydra reveal was shocking in its own right, but the lasting impact it’s made across both the movie and TV mediums is truly a special, unique moment in Marvel history.
Want more Marvel? Be sure to check out our other articles in the series, and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @RaggySays!
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Though deleted scenes place in continuity is debatable the 10 Rings are also responsible for giving Whiplash started in Iron Man 2 in a deleted scene on the DVD/Blu-ray