Worldbuilding and the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Last September, I embarked on a mission that somehow didn’t seem as ambitious as it actually was once I started. I decided to watch the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe — including the television shows. I wanted to watch in the chronological order of the universe, meaning not the order the movies came out in our world, but in the order of events that take place in the universe. I’d done MCU marathons before, but never like this. The main reason I did this is because I love worldbuilding. While I went into it knowing some of the early movies are rough (hello Incredible Hulk where it rains every time they want us to feel emotional), I went into it more interested in the way Marvel built a world for the screen in a way that encompasses so many movies and television shows.

Setting up was fairly easy. I randomly expressed an interest in doing this watch and pretty quickly after, I was sent a very detailed list outlining the correct order (shout out to Amani Herron). I chose to live tweet it (which I wouldn’t do again because live tweeting makes it hard for me to focus and the thread became ridiculous). I started with Captain America: The First Avenger and decided to end with season 4 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., since the newest season would be starting soon and I didn’t want to fall behind. Because Marvel never stops putting out content, I ended up skipping more recent series at the time (The Punisher and Inhumans), but by some stroke of luck I was able to include Thor: Ragnarok at the right moment.

Though it forced me watch Iron Fist, doing a complete viewing helped me understand all of the moving pieces, meet and learn about different aspects of the universe and its characters, and really get to see how planned and fleshed out the world is. Having to switch so frequently between different stories, most notably Daredevil Season 2 and Luke Cage season 1 because they happen around the same time, could sometimes be jarring because of the different tonal shifts. It also quickly began to feel like an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. binge but with breaks for the movies and Netflix shows, because at that point they were 88 episodes in. This wasn’t a problem for me, not least of which because I do a S.H.I.E.L.D. binge before a new season drops anyway, but also because seeing how one story, or multiple, fed into another was amazing, and especially paid off in time for Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.

One of the fun things about doing a chronological binge is picking up on the easter eggs and small worldbuilding moments that bring all of the properties together. Even obvious moments like mentioning Stephen Strange in Captain America: The Winter Soldier long before he gets his own movie, or attributing the evacuation hellicarriers from the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron to Phil Coulson at S.H.I.E.L.D. tie the world together in a way that doesn’t feel forced but also provides other points of entry for people who are interested in the stories but may feel intimidated about diving head first into the world. Watching them so close together also helped me catch small things that I’d somehow missed, especially on S.H.I.E.L.D., which is really good at using tech introduced in other properties to connect themselves to the current events while continuing with their own stories. Moments like the Centipede organization using the explosive serum from Iron Man 3 to create super soldiers or the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. being attacked by the Judas bullets introduced in Luke Cage really work to make the world feel smaller even as our heroes are putting out a thousand separate fires at the same time.

Having watched all 18 films and 179 (at the time) television episodes, the hot takes about Infinity War relying on previous stories while setting up the next Avengers film got on my nerves. Infinity War has always been marketed as part 1 of a sequel to the 18 other movies. However, while I do think there are certain stories you need to see to understand what’s happening, I don’t think you have to watch every single property to be a fan of the MCU or to even understand the Avengers movies. I do think you should come prepared in some way; there are interviews and recaps on YouTube and all over the internet to help you understand what’s going on, and which are way less time consuming than watching almost ten days worth of television and movies. And, of course, some of the movies and TV are just not good and you shouldn’t have to subject yourself to them if you already know better. I do think it’s essential FOR ME because of the commitment I’ve put in to see this universe through, and because I love the worldbuilding at this magnitude. While it means that I will eventually watch Inhumans and season 2 of Jessica Jones, suffer through bland romances, and the movies pretending the TV shows don’t exist, I still feel like I get something out of it. I’ve already decided I’m going to do another chronological rewatch in the future, though not anytime soon and definitely not on Twitter.

Have you watched every single movie and TV episode of the current MCU? If so, what was your experience? If not, what percentage are you at and will you give watching them all a try? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter at @weblackandnerds.