One of the main focuses of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is building on what already exists within it. The creative teams for its projects are constantly working to improve on what came before and make each project better than the last in some respect. In some cases, they are even able to "improve" previous movies and shows.
Having such a long-lasting cinematic universe with so many projects allows Marvel Studios to make clarifications and add context to old films in new ones. Many fans have said these moments have made some older MCU movies more rewatchable, and in some cases even better to watch back than initially.
Here are six MCU movies that have been improved by ones that came out later down the line.
Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2 touches on Tony Stark's relationship with his family, specifically his late father, Howard. It's clear that Howard was not a good father, but Tony still wishes he'd had a better relationship with him. There's a scene in the film in which Tony watches an old video message from him, but it isn't until future movies that Tony's issues and regrets with this relationship are explored more fully.
Near the beginning of Captain America: Civil War, Tony is shown demonstrating new technology allowing people to explore their memories. The memory he uses for this is the last time he saw his parents and says what he wished he'd told them before they were killed in what he believed to be a car accident at the time (but was actually an assassination mission carried out by the Winter Soldier).
In Avengers: Endgame, Tony actually gets the chance to speak with his father one more time, albeit a version of Howard from before he was born. While Tony doesn't reveal his identity to him, he does say what he wished he'd been able to in the main timeline, finds out more about Howard's feelings on being a father, and gets some much-needed closure to the situation.
As a prequel serving as the final MCU release prior to Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel contains a bunch of nods to events that occur in movies that were made before it but take place later in the franchise’s timeline.
Some of these changes - most notably, the reveal of how Nick Fury lost his eye - turned out to be polarizing among fans. However, one thing that worked really well was the origin of the Avengers - the team name, that is.
Everyone seen serving in the Air Force during the film has a nickname, and Carol Danvers’s is none other than “Avenger”. At the end of Captain Marvel, Nick Fury notices the nickname on a photo of Carol and is inspired to change his new plan to keep Earth safe from “The Protector Initiative” to “The Avengers Initiative”.
It’s a small tidbit of backstory, but it does allow fans to feel the presence of Carol’s spirit while watching Nick Fury assemble the team for the first time in The Avengers.
Iron Man 3
When Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was announced in 2019, Marvel made it clear right off the bat that the film would include the true Mandarin. The villain was first introduced in Iron Man 3, and that movie’s version of the character turned out to be nothing more than an actor named Trevor Slattery playing the role of the Mandarin.
This twist angered and disappointed many, especially those who had been looking forward to seeing the Mandarin from the comics on the big screen. Eight years later, however, they would get to see another Mandarin who, while not quite the same as the comics, was much more of a real threat to the hero.
The true Mandarin turns out to be Wenwu, the father of Shang-Chi himself. Not only does the movie introduce the real Mandarin, but it also continues the story of Trevor Slattery, who was captured by the Ten Rings for impersonating the Mandarin in the Marvel Studios short, All Hail the King.
It isn’t necessary for one to have seen the short to appreciate Trevor’s turn in Shang-Chi, though. The movie explains what he’s been up to in the years since Iron Man 3 and makes him into a comedic highlight of Shang-Chi. He even apologizes to both of Wenwu’s children for impersonating their father, which can be read as Marvel Studios apologizing to the fans for the Iron Man 3 twist.
For fans who didn’t enjoy Iron Man 3’s Mandarin twist, Shang-Chi doesn’t just make up for it with the real guy, it makes the story of the fake Mandarin better.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Avengers: Age of Ultron is probably the Marvel movie that has been improved the most by what has come after it. Several films took what was introduced in this story and ran with it, making the film a more satisfying watch in retrospect.
The nightmare scenes in particular wound up paying off in dividends in future projects. Thor’s nightmare comes to pass in Thor: Ragnarok, which explains why it actually needed to come true. Black Widow gives further context to Natasha’s nightmare by showing the brutality of the Red Room in much more detail than Age of Ultron was able to.
It’s Avengers: Endgame, though, that uses these nightmares to wrap up character arcs. Tony’s Age of Ultron nightmare is not being able to do enough to save his teammates, and as Nick Fury points out, the worst part is that Tony remained alive while they all died, seemingly leaving the blood on his hands due to not doing enough to stop whatever the evil was from killing them.
The opposite of this comes true in Endgame, as Tony is able to do enough to save everyone by snapping the Infinity Gauntlet he creates in the film. But in doing this he loses his own life.
Steve’s Age of Ultron nightmare shows his fear of “the fight” coming to an end, seemingly not knowing what to do afterward. This comes in the form of Peggy Carter telling him the war is over in a dance club. Steve mentions no longer wanting to settle down to Tony in this movie, but it’s likely he was trying to convince himself of this or simply couldn’t handle having to do so without Peggy.
Avengers: Endgame ends with Steve returning to the past to live out a full life with Peggy and passing the Captain America shield on to Sam Wilson. Thanks to Tony’s sacrifice and the suggestion he live his own life, he is no longer afraid of giving up the fight and moving on to a world beyond it.
Another Captain America moment from Age of Ultron that is paid off in Endgame is the scene in which the Avengers are trying to lift Mjolnir after the party. None of them besides Thor are able to, except for a brief moment in which Steve is seen being able to move it ever so slightly.
In Endgame, he summons Mjolnir for real during a one-on-one fight with Thanos, prompting an “I knew it,” from Thor.
While the movie doesn’t provide an explanation on how Cap is able to wield Mjolnir, the creators have said that he had the ability in Age of Ultron but chose not to at the time in order to spare Thor’s feelings.
Pretty much any MCU origin movie is improved upon watching later installments, but it's interesting to return to the film that introduces the mysteriousness of the mystical arts to the MCU after it has been elaborated on in projects that came later.
Avengers: Infinity War is a particularly great showcase of Strange's powerset, especially his ability to rapidly examine millions of potential future scenarios. This and his spell-casting in Spider-Man: No Way Home show how far his studying of the mystic arts has come, and how much more powerful he is as a sorcerer because of it.
It's especially interesting to rewatch Doctor Strange knowing the character becomes a more central figure in the MCU as time goes on. With the Multiverse seemingly set to play a big role in the overall story moving forward, Strange might just become the new linchpin of the entire franchise.
One aspect of Avengers: Endgame that confuses many is the element of time travel. One set of rules is explained in the middle of the movie, but those rules are potentially broken by Captain America living his life in the past at the end of the film.
It doesn’t help that the writers and directors are notoriously torn on how they view the logistics of how Cap’s big decision works. At first, it seemed like Joe and Anthony Russo’s vision of him creating a branched timeline was the only option that made sense. But Loki’s introduction of the Time Variance Authority to the MCU brought a bunch of new time travel rules along with it that specifically don’t permit branched timelines to exist. The show quickly explains that the Time Heist the Avengers go on in Endgame fits into the “Sacred Timeline” but makes no mention of Steve choosing to live in the past.
It’s not until the final episode that an explanation of how Steve’s ending can still work is provided, albeit indirectly. When Sylvie frees the timeline from He Who Remains, branches to it are allowed to remain in existence instead of being pruned by the TVA like they were before, allowing alternate realities to form and grow.
This scene, like the majority of the events of Loki, takes place outside of time and space, meaning it’s possible that Steve’s return to the past in Endgame was permitted to occur by Sylvie’s actions in the show.
The storyline in which Clint Barton goes from Hawkeye to Ronin during the five years between the Snap and the Blip doesn’t get a lot of focus in Endgame, but Hawkeye allows for a much deeper exploration of the character, much of which focuses on the Ronin mantle.
The show reveals that Ronin made a lot of enemies during the years he was active, and when the mantle resurfaces those enemies do as well.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this deeper dive into the story of Ronin, though, is how Clint feels about his time operating under the mantle. He has to wrestle with the consequences of his actions, not only in the sense of dealing with Echo, who wants to get revenge for him killing her father but what it means to him internally as well.
All of this makes the brief Ronin scenes in Endgame more meaningful to watch in retrospect.
Spider-Man: No Way Home may have been the first MCU movie to dive into the Multiverse, but it wasn’t the first Marvel project to do so. Loki on Disney+ had introduced the concept of Variants of the same being from different universes, and No Way Home expanded upon this idea, clarifying a few things for fans in the process.
Like Loki, No Way Home demonstrated that not all Variants of a being look the same, and the movie further showed that they don’t all have the same or even similar histories. The Sam Raimi Spider-Man and the Amazing Spider-Man movies being canon to the MCU’s Multiverse means that each Peter Parker seen in No Way Home has had vastly different experiences than the others.
Uncle Ben, for instance, plays a key role in the lives of the Peter Parker Variants played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, but it is still unknown if he ever even existed in the main MCU timeline. The same goes for certain friends, villains, and more.
While most of these “rules” were established to a certain degree in Loki, some fans found the concept of Variants confusing and Loki didn’t always make it clear how close the experiences of the different Loki Variants really were.
The differences between the people in the lives of each Peter Parker Variant could mean that the family of the main MCU Loki looked and potentially acted differently from Sylvie’s, for example.
As more projects featuring the Multiverse are released, fans will likely learn more and more about Variants and how the concept works.