Luckily for those of you that didn’t get to catch up on Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor or Captain America, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers is pretty penetrable and the story is told in such a straightforward way that studying the first five films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe like you have the board exam next week isn’t necessary.

For those of you with only a crude and basic understanding of Marvel properties however, explanation of a few points might help you enjoy and understand the film just a bit better.

The Tesseract is a source of unlimited energy

The Tesseract (also known as The Cosmic Cube to Marvel nerds) is by far the most important object in The Avengers. In the first few moments of the film, the cube is lightly explained via voice-over before it is stolen by Loki. It’s first introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the opening of Captain America when Johan Schmidt (Red Skull) breaks into a village in Norway and steals it from its secret hiding place. He calls it “the jewel of Odin’s treasure room,” a clear reference to the character played by Anthony Hopkins in Thor and the treasure room we end up spending a surprising amount of time in.

Apparently, the cube was left there by “the gods” and contains perpetual power that some would call magic, but Schmidt explains that it’s just science that humans haven’t discovered yet. The same explanation is given by Thor to Jane in Thor to explain the multiple universes that exist (a concept explored in even further detail in The Avengers), so it makes sense that the cube is simply from a different dimension.

Captain America was the result of a WWII super-soldier experiment

This whole “super soldier experiment” thing is a big concept in the Marvel universe. The first experiment was on the Red Skull, who forced brilliant scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine to shoot him up with the serum before it was ready. The serum chemically burned off his skin and enhanced the evil that was already inside of him, turning him into the Red Skull.

After some changes to the serum and after finding the right subject (the skinny and inherently good-hearted Steve Rogers), the experiment was ready, but this time it actually worked. It turned “skinny Steve” Rogers into a super-human worthy of the title of Captain America.

S.H.I.E.L.D. is a government/military espionage and security organization

If we remember right from Iron Man, the official acronym stands for the Strategic Homeland Intervention and Enforcement- Logistics Division. S.H.I.E.L.D. made it’s first appearance in Iron Man in the form of Agent Phil Coulson, who would become a running character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the face of S.H.I.E.L.D.

S.H.I.E.L.D. is a military/government organization headed by Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson, again appearing in Iron Man) that specializes in national security. Fury’s pet project is the “Avengers Initiative,” which focuses on getting certain individuals together to work as a team. Black Widow, the spy played by Scarlett Johansson is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., even going so far as to pose as Tony Stark’s personal assistant in Iron Man 2 in order to spy on him.

Another agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. is sharpshooter Clint Barton, a crossbow professional that goes by the codename “Hawkeye.” Hawkeye had a brief introduction in Thor, but he gets more of an opportunity to shine in The Avengers. In fact, S.H.I.E.L.D. in general gets thrust into the spotlight, along with their many toys.

Tony Stark has a gigantic magnet over his heart to keep him alive

When Tony Stark’s own missile exploded in his face in the opening moments of Iron Man, it blasted chunks of shrapnel into his torso and chest. If not for a makeshift magnet hooked to a car battery installed in his body by cave-mate Yinsen, Stark would have died in a cave in Afghanistan. In fact, one of the first things that Tony Stark does is build himself a better one. In a cave. With a box of scraps.

Basically, he builds a glowing miniature arc reactor in his chest to power the magnet that keeps the shrapnel out of his heart. It’s the part of Tony Stark that’s actually a machine, and the magnet is proof, as Pepper Potts adorably put, that Tony Stark indeed has a heart.

Loki is the God of Mischief and Thor’s half-brother

In the first 40 minutes of Thor, we’re introduced to Asgard, the home of Odin, Thor, Loki, and hundreds of other Asgardians. Thor and Loki have been brought up their whole lives to believe that they are brothers, and that one day one of them would inherit the throne. Thor, of course, inherited the throne and Loki discovered that he was actually a frost giant orphan found in the Jotunheim after the end of the war with the frost giants.

After being filled with rage at the discovery of his parentage, Loki works with the frost giants to stage himself as his father’s hero by setting up an assassination attempt that he himself will thwart. Thor returns from Earth to stop this plan, but Loki forces Thor to fight him until he is dangling from a bridge. After almost being saved by Odin, Loki chooses to fall into a wormhole, transporting him to an unknown branch of the universe.

Bruce Banner turns into The Hulk when he’s angry

Yes, we know. This one is a no-brainer, but after discovering that there are in fact people out there that don’t know that The Hulk is Bruce Banner’s angry alias, we had to include it. In another super-soldier experiment gone wrong, Banner blasted himself with Gamma radiation and found that when he got angry, the beast inside of him would erupt and take control.

In this incarnation, Banner calls The Hulk “the other guy” with little-to-no introduction, so those that are unfamiliar with Banner’s condition might have thought that he was talking about another physical “other guy.”

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