The Marvel Cinematic Universe has strived to make every entry relevant in recent times, best seen through the connection between the TV series WandaVision and the feature film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. While intertwining stories is the norm, there are certain movies that are primarily about the story within themselves.
Whether it’s a plot that has continuity issues like Tony Stark’s destruction and subsequent reclaiming of Iron Man suits or a character-driven joyride like Spider-Man’s debut, the MCU definitely has skippable content. Fans who want to save time by watching just the films that tie into the larger universe will appreciate learning about the stories that they can easily choose to disregard.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The second MCU movie has little to no bearing on the series at large, with Bruce Banner and The Hulk starting off on a new note by The Avengers. The film focuses on Bruce’s attempts to find a cure for his transformations while he’s pursued by Thaddeus Ross and his forces.
Ross would show up eight years later in Captain America: Civil War but had no involvement with The Hulk and could be seen as a different character. The Incredible Hulk portrayed the titular character in a fearful light while later MCU entries have him veer more toward comedic material. None of the conflict here comes into play later apart from an alternate universe in the What If…? series.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
The lack of continuity with the rest of the MCU is what has aged badly about Iron Man 3 since its release. The movie shows Tony overcoming his anxiety about Thanos’ future invasion, getting a kid protégé in Harley Keener, and destroying his suits to be with Pepper, yet none of these stand by the next movie.
Tony later becomes a mentor to Peter Parker, assembles his suits once more, starts fretting over Thanos’ invasion to a greater degree, and briefly splits up with Pepper. Iron Man 3 is essentially a way to round off the trilogy for fans who like Tony as the central character but has no impact in the long run.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
The Reality Stone is introduced in Thor: The Dark World and Frigga is killed, yet these things are revealed through exposition sequences in other movies that make this one easy to skip. Thor’s battle against the Dark Elves never comes up again, with Malekith largely considered a weak villain.
At the time, the film was notable for bringing Thor and Jane back, but their offscreen breakup before Thor: Ragnarok turned this unimportant. He reunites with the Avengers in Age of Ultron with no reference to The Dark World and fans can check out the former without worrying about missing out on integral plot points.
Many fans feel the MCU Ant-Man movies are better than the comics, although that’s restricted to the viewing experience rather than relevance to the overarching story. The first entry introduces important elements like the Quantum Realm, but these are detailed in Ant-Man and the Wasp, where they’re also reintroduced for the benefit of new viewers.
The first Ant-Man is largely about Scott Lang’s acquisition of the Ant-Man suit and a personal antagonism with the villain Yellowjacket. It’s no doubt a fun film to check out but isn’t essential viewing in the grand scheme of things because Scott is once again introduced to viewers in Captain America: Civil War.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
While the second Guardians of the Galaxy had a powerful villain in the form of Ego the Living Planet, he never threatened anyone outside of the movie. Moreover, the story is very self-contained, being about the Guardians’ dysfunctional relationship and how they become closer once they foil Ego’s plans to steal Star-Lord’s powers.
Everything viewers need to take from this movie is summed up by Star-Lord and Nebula in Avengers: Infinity War when they talk about Ego’s death and the attempt at Thanos’ life, respectively. This means that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is purely an additional film to check out that fans of the larger storyline don’t have to worry about watching.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Peter Parker’s personal story arc didn’t truly kick in until Spider-Man: Far From Home, prior to which his relevance to the MCU’s plot was in team-up movies. Spider-Man: Homecoming is pretty much a peek into Peter’s life as Spider-Man, with his battle against Vulture more of a subplot than a full-on story.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a good experience for fans of the MCU looking for lighthearted fun. Apart from that, though, elements like Peter’s relationship with Tony are present with greater emotional weight in Avengers: Infinity War while his introduction in Captain America: Civil War is good enough for viewers to know about him without the need to watch Homecoming.
Black Panther (2018)
Another film that’s fairly self-contained, Black Panther mainly answers questions about Wakanda, such as what its history is and T’Challa’s ancestry. However, those who catch T’Challa’s debut in Captain America: Civil War and skip to Avengers: Infinity War won’t miss anything of note in terms of the larger universe.
The Black Panther movie has a solid story nonetheless, depicting the flaws of the Wakandan system for hiding its technological advancements. It’s not likely to be relevant even to its own sequel due to Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing, which means someone new will be the protagonist. Meanwhile, characters like Okoye and the Dora Milaje can be found in more relevant movies like Avengers: Endgame and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Captain Marvel (2019)
The placement of Captain Marvel’s release between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame was purely a strategic move on Marvel’s part to gain hype for the movie. However, Carol Danvers has a better introduction in Avengers: Endgame since her powers directly come into play against Thanos.
Captain Marvel answers things like how Nick Fury came up with the concept of the Avengers, but that’s mainly a fun fact rather than an important piece of the plot. Carol’s story of gaining her powers through the Tesseract and foiling Ronan’s plans are relevant only to this movie and don’t factor into other MCU works.
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