'Ant-Man': Here's what you need to know before seeing the newest Marvel film

If you miss a Marvel movie or three, you can suddenly find yourself baffled by new plot developments. Here's where we are in the Marvel universe so you'll go into 'Ant-Man' all caught up.

Zade Rosenthal/Disney/Marvel/AP
'Ant-Man' stars Paul Rudd.

The newest Marvel film, “Ant-Man,” is coming to theaters and while its hero may be small, the amount of plot you’re now required to keep track of is not.

“Ant-Man,” which is the twelfth film released by Marvel Studios (not as a co-production with another studio), centers on thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who is recruited by scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to keep safe Hank’s technology – which allows a person to become tiny – and battle Hank’s former assistant (Corey Stoll) who has some new technology of his own.

The Marvel universe as represented in movie theaters and on TV (in, for example, the ABC program “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) has gotten more and more complicated over the past several years, though thankfully it remains downright simple compared to the extravagantly complex Marvel Comics multiverse. 

Who’s Hydra? Why are there now more Avengers than the original faces we know? Are we supposed to not trust S.H.I.E.L.D? (Spoilers for all the movies follow, obviously.)

If you’re planning on heading out to theaters this weekend to see “Ant-Man” but have skipped a few Marvel features, here are some of the basics of where we are in the universe so you’re not totally confused.

To start: the primary adversaries in the Marvel film universe are the villainous cabal known as Hydra, first seen in the film “Captain America: The First Avenger.” In the film, the titular captain (Chris Evans) confronts Hydra, headed up by the Nazi super-soldier Johann Schmidt, also known as Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), and helped by scientist Arnim Zola (Toby Jones). After being confronted by Captain America, Red Skull disappears.

Around the same time, Captain America also becomes acquainted with powerful industrialist and inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), and falls in love with Allied spy Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).

Cap’s plane crashes during World War II but is later recovered by the The Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), an organization set up by Howard Stark and Peggy Carter to protect America. Captain America wakes in the present day, un-aged since the 1940s.

[Editor's note: The original version of this article misstated the circumstances of the founding of S.H.I.E.L.D.

S.H.I.E.L.D.'s director, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), convinces Cap to team up with Howard’s son Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), also known as Iron Man; Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner); the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to form the superhero team The Avengers. The Avengers defeat Asgardian god of mischief, and Thor’s brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who is bent on enslaving humanity, in a massive battle that leaves swaths of Manhattan in ruins. 

As Captain America continues his work with S.H.I.E.L.D., however, he discovers that the organization has been infiltrated by Hydra. The Avengers attack a Hydra stronghold in eastern Europe, where Hydra had been experimenting on a powerful scepter that had once been used by Loki. This scepter contains a powerful item called an infinity stone. Hydra's experiments on twins Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) Maximoff, also known as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver resulted in them getting superpowers. 

Tony Stark creates a peacekeeping robot named Ultron, but Ultron goes rogue and begins to fight the Avengers. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, who initially hate Tony Stark because their country (the fictional Sokovia) was attacked using his company's weapons, join with Ultron. But after discovering he wants to obliterate humanity, they switch sides and fight with the Avengers to bring down Ultron. After defeating Ultron, the Avengers decide to bring on more people for the team. Scarlet Witch, an android named the Vision, and two other superheroes named War Machine and Falcon join the group.

You’re welcome. I just saved you watching 11 films. “Ant-Man” hits theaters on July 17.

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