Welcome back for the second part of my recap of Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Last time, we talked about what happened in Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. This time, we discuss (briefly) the Agents of SHIELD television show, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the most important Marvel movie to date, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Once again, as this is recapping the events leading up to Avengers: Age of Ultron, there will be plenty of spoilers. Let’s get started…
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Two years after the Battle of New York, life has been pretty good for Steve Rogers, better known as Captain America. He’s getting used to being a man out of time and catching up on the things he’s missed, he’s making new friends like ex-pararescuer Sam Wilson, Natasha (Black Widow) is trying to set him up on dates, and he’s running high risk missions for SHIELD.
On one such mission, Cap thinks he’s there to save a SHIELD naval vessel and a group of hostages from an attacking force with Widow and the elite SHIELD team, STRIKE, as backup. However, he’s not the only one with a mission, as Widow has been tasked by Nick Fury himself with stealing valuable data stored on the ship. After Widow’s extended absence during the mission almost causes it to fail, Cap heads to the Triskelion, SHIELD headquarters, demanding answers for being left out of the loop. As a sign of trust, Fury reveals Project Insight: three Stark-technology enhanced helicarriers that can wipe out thousands of hostile targets in seconds thanks to advanced targeting technology that allows the ships to connect to one another.
Reeling from the revelation, Cap attempts to reconnect with his past by visiting a Smithsonian exhibit dedicated to the World War II unit he led against HYDRA, the Howling Commandos. While there, Cap comes face to face with the memory of the only Commando lost in the line of duty, Cap’s childhood friend Bucky Barnes. Meanwhile, Fury learns that the data retrieved by Natasha is inaccessible, even to him. Fury goes to the Secretary of the World Security Council and Project Insight creator Alexander Pierce, explaining that he believes there is a mole inside SHIELD and the project needs to be shelved temporarily. Pierce reluctantly agrees to speak to the Council.
Suspicious, Fury leaves to rendezvous with trusted agent Maria Hill, but is ambushed and nearly killed by a group of highly-trained assailants being led by a mysterious assassin called the Winter Soldier. Barely escaping, Fury turns to Cap for help, breaking into Rogers’ apartment. When Cap discovers Fury, the SHIELD Director informs him that SHIELD has been compromised. Fury is barely able to hand over a USB drive containing the encrypted data from the ship before he is sniped by the Winter Soldier. Cap pursues the assassin, but is unable to subdue him when the Winter Soldier actually catches Cap’s shield with his robotic arm.
Meanwhile, Fury is rushed to a hospital, but it is too late. Cap, Natasha, and Hill watch on as Nick Fury dies on the operating table. Hill recovers the body in order to prepare a funeral service. Cap, unsure of who to trust, stashes the USB drive deep inside a hospital vending machine.
When Pierce summons Cap back to the Triskelion, our Star-Spangled Hero refuses to divulge any of the information Fury has given him. Now even more suspicious, Cap attempts to leave the Triskelion, but is assaulted by the STRIKE team and, later, a Quinjet. After Cap dispatches his friends-turned-foes with ease and escapes, Pierce brands Rogers a fugitive and an enemy of SHIELD.
Returning to the hospital to retrieve the USB drive, Cap discovers that it is gone. The mystery of “who took it” doesn’t last long as Natasha steps up behind him, holding the drive. Together, Rogers and Natasha are able to gather information from the drive that points them to a secret SHIELD facility at a retired Army base in New Jersey; the same base that Rogers trained at before being injected with the super soldier serum. Inside the facility, they find an antiquated supercomputer connected to a USB hub. When the drive is inserted into the hub, our heroes are greeted by the preserved consciousness of Arnim Zola, the Swiss scientist who served as the right hand man of the Red Skull and who was one of the top ranking members of HYDRA.
Zola reveals that he was granted immunity and recruited into the newly-founded SHIELD for his technical know-how. It is then that Zola drops the biggest bombshell yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: HYDRA has reformed inside of SHIELD, infiltrating its ranks and sowing disorder, persuading humanity to give up its freedom willingly.
When Zola remotely signals the HYDRA moles inside of SHIELD to to launch a missile at the bunker, Cap and Natasha barely escape the explosion. With no where else to turn, the pair shows up on Sam Wilson’s doorstep. After sharing their incredible tale, Wilson agrees to help Cap and Natasha. After recovering Wilson’s “Falcon” wingpack, the now-trio capture and interrogate Jasper Sitwell, a SHIELD agent that they have deduced is secretly a HYDRA mole. It is from Sitwell that they learn the true purpose of Project Insight: when the three helicarriers sync upon their launch, the flying battle-carriers will eliminate all who would stand against HYDRA, killing millions and bringing the rest of the world to its knees.
Shocked at this revelation, our three heroes head for the Triskelion with Sitwell in tow to confront Pierce and to bring this news to the World Security Council. Before they can get there, they are ambushed by the Winter Soldier, who kills Sitwell. A battle ensues, resulting in Rogers, Natasha, and Wilson being captured, but not before the Winter Soldier is revealed to be Bucky Barnes. However, Barnes has no memory of his former identity.
While being hauled away in a prison van, the trio are rescued by Maria Hill, who is disguised as a guard. Hill takes them to a secret facility where it is discovered that Fury faked his own death and is actually alive. Fury reveals that Project Insight is only hours away from launch and that the only way to stop HYDRA is to install a special chip inside each helicarrier that will break SHIELD’s control of the vessels, allowing Hill to hack in and cause the carriers to fire on one another. Cap agrees to the mission, but only if the truth about SHIELD and Hydra is made public. Fury reluctantly agrees.
Meanwhile, Bucky/Winter Soldier is beginning to have flashbacks to his past. Through these flashbacks, we learn it was HYDRA that found Bucky in a cryogenic sleep after he fell into frigid waters during the mission that was thought to have claimed his life. After his discovery, Zola fitted Bucky with his cybernetic arm. He was then brainwashed and used as an assassin, being refrozen between missions to keep him young. Afraid that Bucky may flip sides due to his newfound memories, Pierce (revealed to be one of HYDRA’s top members) orders Bucky to be re-brainwashed for the coming battle.
At the Triskelion, the World Security Council arrives to view the launching of Project Insight in person. Pierce gives each a name tag that will grant them full access to the building. While the Council and Pierce sip champagne in his office, Cap and Wilson break into the Triskelion, get to an intercom, and reveal that Hydra has infiltrated SHIELD. A gunfight breaks out between loyal SHIELD agents and the HYDRA infiltrators. In the turmoil, Brock Rumlow, head of STRIKE, is able to begin the launch of the helicarriers.
His cover blown, Pierce pulls a gun on the World Security Council, only to be stopped by Natasha, who was using a photostatic veil to pose as one the Council members. She begins the process of uploading all of SHIELD’s secure files to the Internet, Pierce taunting her the entire time, reminding her that her secrets will be laid bare as well. Undeterred, Natasha calls in Fury to perform a retinal scan along with Pierce to clear security protocols and complete the upload. As the files are uploaded, Pierce activates a device that uses the name tags to burn a hole through one of the Councilman’s chest and grabs Natasha from behind. He threatens to activate the one Natasha is wearing unless she flies him to safety. However, Natasha uses a taser disk on herself, stunning Pierce long enough for Fury to shoot and kill him.
At the helicarriers, Cap and Wilson have managed to insert the chips into two of the three carriers. Just as Wilson is about to insert the third, he is grounded by Bucky. Wilson drops the chip before crash landing inside the Triskelion where gets caught up in a fight with Rumlow.
Cap recovers the chip and prepares to insert it before he is also confronted by Bucky. A fight ensues, Cap the whole time appealing to the man he knows that Bucky could still be. After incapacitating Bucky, Cap is about to insert the chip when Bucky is able to shoot him multiple times. However, Cap is still able to get the chip in place, giving Maria control of the helicarriers, forcing them to target one another.
Before passing out, Rogers tells Bucky that he will be there with him until the end, a promise that Bucky himself had made to Cap. The carrier, with Cap and Bucky still inside, crashes into the waters below. Just as Cap is about to drown, Bucky pulls him out and brings him to shore, leaving our hero to be rescued. Fury and Natasha escape in a helicopter, barely rescuing Wilson from the collapsing Triskelion.
Because of the information being released, top Hydra agents (including US Senators) are arrested. Because of her past, Natasha is forced to testify before a Senate subcommittee. Fury, officially believed to be dead, burns all evidence that he still lives, telling Cap to inform no one that he is alive. Natasha leaves, set on forging a new identity, but not before giving Cap a file giving information on all involved in the Winter Soldier project. Cap, along with Wilson, set out to find Bucky, knowing that he can be redeemed.
The film closes with Baron von Strucker, a high ranking member of HYDRA, discussing that SHIELD and Hydra being gone are no matter. It is revealed that Strucker has used Loki’s staff from the original Avengers, powered by one of the Infinity Stones, to experiment on people with extraordinary talents. We see two people, one male and one female, in cells. Called “the twins,” one has superspeed abilities while the other can levitate and destroy objects at will. Strucker remarks that this will be the “age of miracles.” Meanwhile, Bucky walks into the same Smithsonian exhibit from the beginning of the film, attempting to rediscover who he is.
Guardians of the Galaxy
As Guardians will likely have little bearing on Age of Ultron, we will not be discussing it beyond a brief summary. The film tells the story of Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord, a human kidnapped from Earth as a child. Now an adult, Quill steals an orb that is being sought by Ronan the Accuser, a Kree zealot in Thanos‘ employee. Ronan sends Gamora, one of Thanos’ adopted daughters, to recover the orb. Quill, who has a bounty on his head, is attacked by Rocket, a cybernetically and genetically enhanced racoon, and Groot, a… walking tree. Simultaneously, Quill must fend off Gamora and the rather unusual duo. When the combatants are arrested, Gamora reveals that the orb contains a dangerous weapon that Ronan will give to Thanos in return for the “Mad Titan” agreeing to destroy Ronan’s enemies, and that she was going to take the orb to a buyer who would keep it safe. Agreeing to split the profits of the sale; Quill, Gamora, Groot, and Rocket hatch a plan to escape.
With the help of Drax, a victim of Ronan’s murderous ways, the group is able to escape prison with the orb and head to the remote outpost Knowhere to meet Gamora’s buyer. The buyer, The Collector, reveals that the orb contains one of the fabled Infinity Stones; one that could lay waste to an entire world with a mere touch. After one of the Collector’s assistants/slaves uses the Stone in an attempt to murder her employer/captor, Gamora reseals the orb, convincing the other’s it orb needs to be given to the Nova Corps, an inter-galactic police force. Unfortunately, in his haste for vengeance, Drax has called Ronan to Nowhere. Ronan and his forces dispatch of the would-be heroes and takes the orb.
With the help of a group of pirates, Quill and gang go after Ronan, who has betrayed Thanos and plans to use the Stone himself. The group is able to infiltrate Ronan’s ship, bringing it down, although this leads to the loss of Groot. Once grounded, Ronan emerges, ready to use the Stone. Quill is able to distract him by challenging him to a dance-off (even funnier than it sounds). This gives Rocket enough time to shoot the Stone away from Ronan. Quill catches the Stone and, with the help of the other (now-dubbed) Guardians of the Galaxy, controls its power long enough to destroy Ronan.
The film ends with the Guardians turning over the Stone to the Nova Corp., having their records completely expunged, and flying off to do something heroic while also still getting into a little trouble. During the credits, we see that Groot has begun to regrow after Rocket planted part of his friend’s remains in a pot.
Agents of SHIELD
I could write an entire post about the past two seasons of Agents of SHIELD, so we will limit this recap to the most pertinent details. Despite what was seen in Avengers, Agent Phil Coulson is alive, having been revived by Nick Fury. At first, Coulson leads a team of SHIELD agents on a series of covert missions. After the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Coulson is made the Director of SHIELD and is tasked with rebuilding the organization as they continue combating HYDRA.
After many back and forth battles, Coulson and his comrades discover that HYDRA has been experimenting on superpowered individuals. Leading a mission into an arctic HYDRA base, Coulson is able extract information that proves that the evil organization has been using Loki’s staff to give people powers, along with the location of Baron von Strucker’s base of operations. Coulson relays this information to Maria Hill, telling her that it is time to call in the Avengers.
If you are interested in learning more about Agents of SHIELD, the first season is currently available to stream on Netflix.
There you have it! You should be more than prepared for Avengers: Age of Ultron, one of the biggest movie events of 2015! I hope you’ve enjoyed catching up with these fun films as much as I have. Be sure to come back soon as I will be giving my thoughts on Age of Ultron and discussing where the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going next!