The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the biggest and easily the most lucrative film franchise of our time. Marvel Studios hit a home run in 2008 with Iron Man, and has followed that up each year with bigger and bigger tentpoles. Avengers, or the One Where Everybody Teams Up and Things Explode, set an even higher bar in 2012, and Marvel has only to keep topping itself while the rest of the industry catches up.
Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out tomorrow, and it's clearly their biggest effort yet. But with so many interlocking stories, it's hard to keep up with how things got to where they are and where they're heading. Frankly, there's no way to head into Ultron without having a general sense of the overall Marvel mythos, but unless you're willing to shell out a bunch of money to either rent all 11 movies on iTunes or sit through an endless marathon (we're not sure how Ross Miller will survive...), you're gonna be sorely underprepared heading into the theater.
Luckily, we're huge nerds.
Marvel was so kind as to provide a timeline that led up to the Avengers before its release. It's an excellent starting point, since it dives deeply into when things happened in the Marvel Universe and why:
But 2012 was a long time ago, and these movies have only gotten bigger, weirder, and wilder. I teamed up with The Verge Video Team — who helped make our insane Fast and Furious recap, by the way — and, like Earth Mightiest Internet Heroes, we produced this 13-minute history lesson on Marvel lore and what it's all about. (It's war, you guys.) You're gonna wanna sit down. There's a lot to cover.
(Note: We chose to leave out Agents of Shield and Daredevil in this recap since they don't affect much in the films.)
Update: The video makes mention of the Kree homeworld in reference to Guardians of the Galaxy. That planet is actually Xandar. We apologize for the error.