The epic conclusion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not far away, but the timeline is much distorted. In fact, Phase 3 of the MCU has been the most out-of-order run of movies yet.
Marvel Studios have made many highly rated successful Marvel movies. In this regard, they’ve treated the MCU’s official timeline a little laxly. Phase 3 has jumbled up the continuity, with the release and timeline order almost completely different.
By summer of 2019, after Avengers 4 has released, fans are advised to watch all the films of Phase 3 in chronological order rather than in order of release.
Here’s how Marvel Phase 3 should be watched according to MCU’s timeline:
MCU PHASE 3 IN TIMELINE ORDER
Captain Marvel: The film starring Brie Larson as Marvel’s first female solo superhero is set in the 1990s. Captain Marvel will finally join the action in ‘Avengers 4, but her solo film will be the ninth movie released in Phase 3.
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: although this is the third Phase 3 film, it takes place after the events of the first Guardians film from 2014. This technically takes place between Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
This allowed the development of Baby Groot for four years, to become an adult Groot in time for their appearance in Avengers: Infinity War.
Doctor Strange: the second Phase 3 release is set in the timeline. Stephen Strange was mentioned in The Winter Soldier; although it’s not clear whether that’s a Sorcerer reference. How much time passes in the film before the primary events of Phase 3 begin is also unclear and the mid-credits scene synchs with Thor: Ragnarok years into the future.
Captain America: Civil War: is set a year after Avengers: Age of Ultron, so it is presumably one of only a handful of films in the run set around its release date. It’s been “eight years since Tony Stark revealed himself as Iron Man” when in reality the film was released eight years after Iron Man.
Black Panther follows closely behind Civil War and is the sixth Phase 3 film and most recently released. It takes place a week after T’Challa’s revealed himself to the world though the flashbacks in the film occur in 1992.
Spider-Man: Homecoming: It begins with Peter Parker’s involvement in Civil War, but the main story begins two months later, which also places it after Black Panther – this shows that the movies released are all set in the same period. Homecoming begins with a flashback to the aftermath of the first Avengers movie “8 years ago”.
Ant-Man & the Wasp: is the eighth Phase 3 film and seems to take place in the aftermath of Civil War.
Thor: Ragnarok: follows next, being in a new and separate realm, the timeline could have been set anywhere. As Thanos’ ship arrives in the post-credits scene, Ragnarok is brushing very close to Infinity War.
Finally, Avengers: Infinity War: the seventh Phase 3 film, which will be the epic conclusion in the MCU. Avengers 4 is expected to involve time travel, however, so who knows how it will all actually fit in.
MARVEL DOESN’T CARE TOO MUCH ABOUT ITS TIMELINE
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige explained that MCU movies didn’t have to overlap as they did in Phase 1 (wherein Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor all took place in the same week). In this case, however, Phase 3 is more complicated than “Fury’s Big Week.
The only difference this around is that fans aren’t looking for clues, nor is Marvel concerned with continuity. This is why there are alarming numbers of “plot holes.” Feige is, of course, aware of the discrepancies in the timeline, promising to address the issues within the shared universe’s chronology. However, Feige has stated that the films will take place in the year they were released.
WHY THE MARVEL TIMELINE IS SUCH A MESS
With the evolvement of the MCU, new developments naturally create problems. Spider-Man, for example, wanted Peter Parker to be a teenager in high school again, Marvel Studios had to engineer a way to establish him as a potential Avenger. It shows that Peter will still be a high school student in the events of the next two Avengers movies and the Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel.
Infinity War is also a major criterion in the entire MCU leading to the ultimate confrontation with Thanos over the Infinity Stones and Gauntlet. For the past few years, Civil War has been the touchstone, with Avengers 3 with an end goal of sorts.
Above all, the haphazard timeline is a side effect of Marvel becoming more filmmaker-friendly and allowing their directors to put their stamps on the MCU. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films are comedy-melodramas about finding family. Jon Watts made the Marvel version of a John Hughes teen movie with Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Taika Waititi’s comedic sensibilities powered his intergalactic 1980s-style romp Thor: Ragnarok. Ryan Coogler forged Wakanda into its universe within the MCU while addressing areas of colonialism, isolationism, and global humanitarianism – along the way, he also made Black Panther into a Marvel-style James Bond film. The overwhelming reception from critics and audiences shows it’s been a formula for success.
Trying to make sense of the timeline in Phase 3 can be frustrating, there can be no real fix to this issue the films have created. Still, the truly important thing is how great the movies are. With 18 films released and more still on the way, it’s simply remarkable – as evidenced by Black Panther‘s record-breaking success – that the MCU keeps somehow outdoing itself.