The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was established in summer 2008 with the first Iron Man film. Their end game? To establish four main heroes and have them all team up for an Avengers film. This was later revealed to be Phase I of their semi-ambitious plan.
Each movie is littered with references to the others, from off-the-cuff remarks to actual character cameos in end credit scenes. While these just seemed like fun Easter eggs at first, it was apparent later on that they were building a chronology that would carry them to a climax of getting the Avengers to actually assemble. We are now on our way to a final battle with the mighty Thanos, and the chronology of the movies still seems to be holding strong.
Or is it?
If you are like us and have a memory bank of useless information regarding movies, then you have seen the cracks as well. For those who have not, though, let us examine the MCU with a magnifying glass.
Spoiler Alert: We will be covering information from all the current Marvel movies, so there will be plenty of spoilers for all these movies. You’ve been warned.
To start off, let’s examine the long-awaited, Marvel-helmed Spider-Man movie Spider-Man: Homecoming. After getting a taste of the newest web slinger in Captain America: Civil War, we finally get to see him in his first solo outing. It was fun, it was exciting, it was everything you would want from a Spider-Man movie. It was also the most obvious chink in the MCU chain.
Well, the movie starts off with Adrian Toomes, later becoming the Vulture, working as a construction foreman and cleaning up after the Avengers’ battle against the Chitauri in Manhattan. A job that this cleanup crew ends up losing due to the creation of the Department of Damage Control by the government and Tony Stark.
His team leaves the site but with Chitauri technology in tow. They later use this to make superpowered weapons. The movie then skips to present day (2016, since this is placed a few months after the events of Civil War) with the title card “Eight Years Later.”
This would all be fine if not for The Avengers coming out in 2012, which was only four years earlier at this point. Now you may be thinking, “Whoever said that these movies were following actual time?” It would be a solid argument if not for a throwaway line in Civil War.
9Captain America: Civil War
Released in May 2016, Captain America: Civil War was the third movie of the Captain America trilogy. In this movie, rounding out Phase II of the MCU, we see Captain America and Iron Man at odds with each other over the Sokovia Accords, an order that would put the Avengers under government control due to the collateral damage that occurs whenever they assemble. A lot goes down before the big climactic brawl, but the scene in question happens right after the Accords are brought to the Avengers.
As they are all discussing their stances on the matter, the Vision decides that he is for the Accords. His reasoning is that ever since Tony Stark went public as Iron Man, the number of superpowered attacks has increased. Why are we focusing on this? Because of how he words it.
“In the eight years since Mr. Stark announced himself as Iron Man . . . ”
Eight years. It has been eight years since Tony Stark had the press conference where he announced himself as Iron Man. In other words, Tony Stark coming out as Iron Man and the battle in Manhattan occurred in the same year. Now you may be thinking, “That seems totally possible.” But . . .
8Iron Man 2
In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark is made to go to a Congressional hearing about how his Iron Man suit is a weapon in the eyes of the government. In typical Tony Stark fashion, he deflects these accusations like a goalie with a spider-sense, leading them to bring out Justin Hammer, an old rival of Tony’s while he was still a weapons manufacturer. While laying out the argument against the Iron Man suit, he announces the following:
In the last six months. If the events of Iron Man take place in 2008, as noted by the “eight years” comment by the Vision, then this takes place six months after that. When would six months land us?
If we take a look at the other events in the movie, we can actually pinpoint when. Not too long after this, we see Tony join in on the Monaco Grand Prix, which takes place at the end of May. There is also a scene where Tony, whose birthday is not long afterward, is absolutely trashed at his birthday party.
With these two events, we can establish that this is in the end of May. If we take the announcement as 2008, this would be 2009, seven years before Civil War. If we take the announcement as 2007, this would be 2008, meaning the announcement was nine years before Civil War.
With all of this said, let us narrow down when he actually made that announcement.
Hey, we are back at the beginning! We know that this is the movie that started the whole shebang. Tony, testing weapons for the military, gets kidnapped by terrorists and is forced to build them his Jericho missile. Fearing for his life, he totally does and they use it and the end . . .
Just kidding. Instead, he makes something that totally is not the Jericho, tears them a new one, and escapes. Then he returns home. After Pepper repeatedly tells Tony that he should go to the hospital, Tony says:
“I have been in captivity for three months. There are two things I want to do.”
Three months. If the events of Iron Man 2 take place in May 2009/2008, then the announcement that he is Iron Man should have taken place sometime in November the previous year. Three months before this would be sometime in August. If you want to factor in the events of the movie itself, then let us say July at the earliest.
So, with all the evidence provided, we can pretty much say that the timeline is a bit messed up there. But let us go a bit further and see what else is wrong.
6Captain America: The First Avenger
Marvel’s Golden Boy! The Nazi-punching embodiment of the USA came onto the comic book scene in 1941 before Marvel was even Marvel. Seventy years later, we find ourselves sitting in theaters for the first good Captain America movie, starring a lanky then buff Chris Evans.
In the movie, we get to see Steve Rogers fight Hydra with the Howling Commandos and fight the Red Skull for the Tesseract. Some Thor stuff kind of happens, and then Steve saves the US by crashing a jet plane in the North Pole. After almost 70 years, the wreckage is found and Steve miraculously survives as an ice cube. After defrosting like tomorrow’s dinner, he wakes up in modern-day New York.
For the most part, the first half of the movie works pretty well with dates. It starts off in March 1942 with lanky Steve, and then we find the new buff Steve with the troops in November 1943.
From there, things get super vague. After Steve saves the Howling Commandos, there is a montage of them fighting off Hydra, Bucky “dies,” and then they plan to storm the main Hydra base. We get an idea of when the final battle took place in a quick shot of a newspaper showing that it is VE Day, which was in May 1945. So, Steve was in Europe for two years before he crash-landed into the ocean.
Also, after Steve wakes up, everyone tells him that he was frozen for “almost” 70 years. Judging by the language, we can decipher that he was frozen for about 65–69 years. if we go by the low number, Steve was frozen from 1945 to 2010, two years after Tony Stark announced that he was Iron Man and the battle in Manhattan allegedly took place.
This also sets up a few problems of its own.
5 Back To Iron Man 2
Back in familiar territory! If you may recall, there was a subplot in the movie about the arc reactor in Tony’s chest. It was poisoning him, and he was looking for an alternative or cure.
At a point where all seems almost lost, we find Tony watching an old video of his father talking about the Stark Expo. At what seems like the end of the film, we find his dad addressing Tony about leaving behind clues for Tony to finish what his dad calls the future. His father also says that the technology of the time limited him from moving forward with it. This turns out to be a brand-new element.
To create this new element, Tony destroys his lab again. Before doing so, though, he uses Cap’s shield to prop up one of the pipes. It does not seem like the real one, but going by Agent Coulson’s reaction, it most definitely is.
With this in mind, we have to remember that the events of this movie probably occurred back in 2008 or 2009, which would be a year or two before Cap was supposedly found and wakes up. One could argue that the shield may have been found first. But looking back at Captain America, it would seem that he and the shield were found at the same time.
Now let’s look at some other out-of-whack details about the MCU timeline.
4The Incredible Hulk
Remember back in the grand year of 2008 when there was a Hulk that was not Mark Ruffalo? If not, here is a quick refresher course.
Before Mark Ruffalo could charm us with his slight awkwardness, Edward Norton took on the role of a mild-mannered guy with a destructive alter ego. A career first for him. In this not-quite-but-kind-of sequel to the amazingly forgettable Hulk of 2003, we find Bruce Banner in the slums of Brazil, hiding out from the government and searching for a way to cure himself of the Hulk for good.
After this and that, he ends up fighting the Abomination in Harlem and escaping to Canada. Then we get an end credit scene with Tony Stark trying to sell the Avengers Initiative to a drunk General Ross.
Since Iron Man and this movie are chronologically supposed to happen around the same time (with The Incredible Hulk occurring later), it makes sense that this would happen. Ross even takes a jab at Tony about the suit, letting us know that his announcement happened pretty recently.
There is only a slight problem with that, though. While this makes it seems as though Tony is completely on board with the Initiative, we later find out in Iron Man 2 that he isn’t until the end of that movie. You know, the scene in the doughnut shop where Tony tells Nick Fury:
“I told you I don’t want to join your supersecret boy band.”
If he does not want to join six months later, why would he be trying to sell it to Ross like he was peddling snake oil in a carpetbag? This may just be poking holes in a decently forgettable movie, but it is definitely worth noting.
Thor is the Norse god turned alien turned superhero thanks to Marvel!
The first Thor movie was just okay. It got the job done and established the character, which is all we really needed. We also know that this movie takes place pretty much right after Iron Man 2, which we have established as occurring in the year after Tony’s announcement. The events of this movie occur over the course of a few days, so there are no large time skips here. But we can definitely say that this happened at least seven months after Tony’s announcement.
We could also go into the numerous issues that this movie had when leading to The Avengers. How long does The Avengers take place after Thor destroys the Bifrost and Loki falls into the wormhole? How long did it take for the Asgardians to rebuild the Bifrost?
From the end credit scene in Thor, it seems as though he has taken on the form of Erik Selvig to take the Tesseract. However, at the beginning of The Avengers, it seems as though Thor just got there and then brainwashes both Selvig and Hawkeye.
Loki had formed a deal with the Chitauri to get the Tesseract for them, so when did this happen? If he was on Earth, why did it take Thor so long to go down and get him? Loki says that he saw many worlds in his exile, so he must have been exiled for a while. How long did it take him to get to Earth?
From all this, we really have no idea what the time frame between the two movies actually was. It could have been a few weeks, months, or even years.
2Guardians Of The Galaxy
The biggest surprise to come out of the MCU was definitely this ragtag group of miscreants. With a great cast, awesome soundtrack, and a brand-new landscape, these movies have proved to be box office gold and just plain fun. They are also the cleanest when it comes to any kind of timeline.
The first movie starts off with Peter Quill being abducted by Yondu’s ravagers after the death of his mother in 1988. The time skip takes us 26 years later, so we can safely say that this movie takes place in 2014 on Earth. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1, our main characters team up and take on Ronan the Accuser. After saving the day and getting back one of the Infinity Stones, our heroes go on to find another adventure.
The second movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, starts off in the past just like its predecessor. This time, we’re in 1980 where we meet Ego, the Living Planet, while he is dating Peter’s mom. Then we skip to 34 years later, which is also in 2014. We can assume that the second movie probably takes place a few months after the first one based on Groot’s development from basically an adorable twig to an adorable walking twig.
In this one, Peter finally meets his actual father, Ego, but learns that Ego has a nefarious plan to destroy several worlds to repopulate the galaxy with Celestials like himself. The Guardians fight against Ego and win—but not without the sacrifice of Peter’s adoptive, maybe cannibal father, Yondu.
In the midst of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, we got our obligatory Stan Lee cameo where he was regaling the Watchers with his other cameos. He tells them about the time when he was a FedEx delivery guy in Civil War. As we know by now, the events of Civil War took place around 2016, so that would be two years after this story. Way to throw off the continuity again, Stan.
It has been confirmed that we will get teenage Groot in Avengers: Infinity War. This means that the Guardians team will finally be catching up with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
If the movie is going to take place in 2018, which is when it will be released, we will be seeing the Guardians of the Galaxy three to four years in the future. We got our first glimpse of the moody tree in one of the five end credit scenes for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 along with dad-mode Peter Quill.
However, you have to think about how Groot’s physiology even works. In the span of a few months, Groot is able to walk, talk, dance, and absolutely thrash people while he is still the size of a rat.
If the next Avengers movie does take place in 2018, this will mean that it takes Groot three to four years to reach his teen years. This seems to take far too long considering how far he came in Vol. 2. Again, this would all depend on how long the rest of the movies take place after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Vin is just a cinemaphile who almost gets too absorbed in movies.