Upon watching the trailer for The Marvels this week, I was immediately hit with a feeling that I hadn’t felt since high school – that I hadn’t done my homework for a big test.
I love the Marvel movies and TV shows – so much so that Into the Spiderverse is among my favourite movies ever – but the entry point for these flicks is getting convoluted.
This is by no means a new take, or even a hot take, but I think The Marvels is the first MCU property in quite a while that really exemplifies how much of a pre-requisite the larger MCU has become for new entries.
Of course, the movie isn’t out yet, so we don’t really know yet… But come on. Let’s look at what we’re presented with.
What you need to watch before seeing The Marvels
The movie’s protagonist is Captain Marvel, aka star of Captain Marvel (homework #1) and one of the strongest superheroes in the MCU canon. She’s also appeared in Avengers Endgame (optional homework) and was teased in the end-credit scene for Avengers Infinity War (honestly, unnecessary homework, not really on the test).
She’s joined by Monica Rambeau, a relatively new superhero in the MCU canon, who originally appeared in Captain Marvel as a child, but was fleshed out as an adult in the MCU’s first Disney+ show, WandaVision (homework #2). That show, in itself, is quite convoluted and relies heavily on Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers Infinity War and Avengers Endgame (all optional homework to understand the motivations of the Marvel universe). It even goes out of the MCU at one point to make a reference to the Fox X-Men movies, but that’s obviously optional homework.
Then we have Kamala Khan – personally one of my favourite superheroes ever.
Kamala Khan’s interesting – she’s a new hero in the MCU named Ms. Marvel, and was introduced with a self-titled Disney+ show in 2022 (homework #3). The show was great because it was remarkably self-contained. While it often referenced the outside MCU with throwaway lines about specific superheroes or events, and although the show is set up by a superhero convention dedicated to the Avengers, this is all referential in a set-dressing way. All of its links to the MCU boil down to osmosis – you know it’s a world with superheroes, and that’s where you can leave it.
Nothing really links back to the MCU until the end credits scene of the last episode – which leads directly into The Marvels.
We also have Nick Fury returning, who has always been a background character in the MCU, though was a sidekick in Captain Marvel. If you want to know about Fury’s whole deal, you may as well commit to The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, along with Secret Invasion when it comes to Disney+ this year (all optional homework, except for maybe Secret Invasion).
Already in this article I’ve lumped a university lecture level of homework on your desk for a superhero flick.
There are only three previous MCU TV shows and movies that I would consider essential viewing to understand who’s who in The Marvels, but there are more than enough auxiliary movies and TV shows that will further enhance your viewing. That being said – there’s plenty you don’t need to see. You won’t need to watch Loki or Thor: Ragnarok to understand The Marvels, nor many of the films in the MCU canon.
And despite my rant, there’s no inherent requirement for Marvel to make every movie canonically accessible – with so many balls being juggled in the air at any given time, Marvel’s longtime viewers expect story arcs to be paid off in satisfying ways. There are also several villains being set up in this current ‘phase’ of the MCU – Valentina Allegra de Fontaine and Kang in particular – that Marvel needs to build out across several shows and movies to influence climactic events.
There’s also a lot of commercial value in Disney structuring the MCU like this. More tie-ins and crossovers mean more content for viewers to watch, meaning more subscriptions and sales.
And, remarkably, we’ve gotten several self-contained MCU properties over the past couple of years. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever only really has a couple of throws outside of its own storyline, as has Moon Knight, the aforementioned Ms. Marvel, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantamania (relying on the other Ant-Man movies of course) and arguably The Eternals. Each of these flicks has at least a small link to the established MCU, but rarely anything that’s required viewing.
And, to be honest, the MCU has had this problem since just after its conception. Once The Avengers rolled around, viewers of Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk were all off to a better start, knowing where these characters had come from.
In my opinion, it’s a bit different this time around with all of these extra movies and TV shows in the mix. It’s a lot less simple.
If it makes things any easier, there’s nothing wrong with watching the MCU in chronological order and skipping what you’re not interested in. And, to be honest, at the end of the day, these are action flicks. With stories playing out in a two-hour timeframe, it’s unlikely that a curveball reliant on an entirely different movie is going to be introduced (though not impossible).
But for the best results, you need to study for the test. The Marvels head to theatres on November 9.