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SYFY WIRE Marvel Cinematic Universe

All the MCU's One-Shots are now on Disney+, here’s a primer on what they are and where they fit

Some of the MCU's greatest adventures come in very small packages.

By Matthew Jackson

Thanks to the rise of Disney+, we've gotten used to absorbing the MCU in doses of various sizes at this point. You can go to the movies and watch Marvel superheroes battle evil and save the day in features running nearly three hours, but you can also stay home on your couch and watch different sets of heroes do battle in episodic TV series. But even the streaming shows aren't the smallest doses of the MCU out there. 

As of this month, each of the MCU's eight "One-Shot" short films has finally arrived on Disney+, and they've even got their only little section under the "Marvel" banner on the streaming platform. If you're still relatively new to the MCU, or you've watched every film without ever delving into the physical media side of things, there's a chance you missed a few of these when they first arrived. So, to celebrate their wide, collective streaming availability, let's take a look back at these delightful, bite-sized entries into a massive universe, and examine what each film does, and where it fits in the greater Marvel tapestry. 

The Consultant

Long before the days of Disney+, Marvel Studios executives were experimenting with using smaller stories to introduce characters, ideas, and timeline additions to the MCU without the expense of a full-length feature film. This led to the "One-Shot" program, named for comic book issues that feature self-contained stories separate from any ongoing series. The first of these, The Consultant, arrived on the Thor DVD/Blu-ray release, and served as a follow-up to both Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk

Essentially an expanded version of the post-credits scene you saw in The Incredible Hulk, the short follows SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) as he tries to stop the release of Emil "Abomination" Blonsky from prison because the World Security Council would like to try and make the Abomination into an Avenger (yes, really). To make this happen, he needs to dissuade General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt), and decides to send none other than Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in to get the job done. Thanks to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, we now know this wasn't the end of Abomination's story, but The Consultant still serves as an interesting depiction of the earlier years of The Avengers Initiative, as it shows how divided various movers and shakers were over who did and didn't deserve to be included.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer

Another short picking up on a post-credits scene, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer is set between Iron Man 2 and Thor, and follows Phil Coulson just before he shows up at the site in New Mexico where Mjolnir fell to Earth. Even by One-Shot standards, this is a pretty self-contained adventure, as it follows Coulson into a gas station in New Mexico, where he witnesses a robbery and decides to do something about it. That's it, but that doesn't make it any less entertaining. In the days before The Avengers would change the character's trajectory, this short was a nice insight into what Coulson was capable of as a standalone character, and helped pave the way for the days of Agents of SHIELD. 

Item 47

Perhaps the most influential of the One-Shots, Item 47 picks up after the events of The Avengers in the wreckage of New York City, and follows a couple named Claire (Lizzy Caplan) and Bennie (Jesse Bradford), who pick up a Chitauri weapon and decide to use it rob banks. Naturally, this eventually draws the attention of SHIELD, and Agents Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández) and Blake (Titus Welliver) are sent in to retrieve the artifact and the couple. The weapon is secured, Claire and Bennie are recruited into SHIELD, and that's seemingly the end of it. 

Only it wasn't the end of it, at least not in terms of wider influence. Item 47 was one of the key building blocks of Agents of SHIELD, a TV series that largely began with the premise of SHIELD agents picking up after various superhero-level events into the MCU, including various artifacts. Agent Blake even made his return to the universe via the series, and while the show later evolved into something much different, Item 47 had a hand in letting executives know that a SHIELD-focused show could work. Plus, the idea of ordinary people picking up Chitauri weapons and using them for criminal gain later became a key plot point in Spider-Man: Homecoming, as Chitauri tech became a key driver behind the success of The Vulture (Michael Keaton). Interestingly, while Sitwell and Blake are both recurring MCU characters, we have yet to see Claire and Bennie again. Which of course, doesn't mean we never could...

Agent Carter

Agent Carter

Speaking of One-Shots that led to TV series, there's this Hayley Atwell-starring adventure that primed her Agent Peggy Carter character for a TV run of her very own. Set after the events of Captain America: The First AvengerAgent Carter finds Peggy reduced to boring paperwork in the old Strategic Scientific Reserve offices, until she gets a call one night about the location of a mysterious, and dangerous, weaponized serum. Though it should be a multi-agent job, Peggy decides to go by herself to retrieve the serum, and proves herself worthy once again of hero status in the process. Released on the Iron Man 3 Blu-ray, elements of the overarching story served as a prelude to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, while the overall concept of Agent Carter solo adventures proved popular enough that we got the Agent Carter ABC series two years later. 

All Hail the King

Released on the Thor: The Dark World home media release and set after the events of Iron Man 3All Hail the King turned out to be a setup for a payoff that wouldn't come until seven years later. The story follows Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley), the actor who portrayed "The Mandarin" in Iron Man 3, as he acclimates to life in prison. It turns out he's living large in captivity, so large that he's caught the eye of a documentary film crew who want to ask him how he got mixed up in the business of playing a fake terrorist. Over the course of the film, it becomes clear that the documentarians are actually representatives of the real Ten Rings organization and their leader, the real Mandarin. 

This setup, and Slattery's removal from the prison so he could go and meet the actual Mandarin, was finally paid off in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, where we once again meet Trevor. This time, he's at the Ten Rings compound, held captive by the organization and its actual leader, the master of the Ten Rings, Wenwu (Tony Leung).

The Team Thor trilogy

By 2016, Marvel's original One-Shot program had died down, and the energy involved in producing the short films had essentially been repurposes for a growing roster of feature films and TV projects. Still, that didn't stop director Taika Waititi from scaling things down and producing three new shorts with a mockumentary style and a focus on character comedy. Set after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron and roughly in the lead-up to Captain America: Civil War, the first two Team Thor shorts attempt to basically answer the question "Why wasn't Thor involved in Civil War?" The answer seems to be that he was... just sort of taking it easy for a while, hanging out in Australia with a human roommate named Darryl (Daley Pearson), who struggles to adjust to the Asgardian's warped view of Earth life. Both Team Thor and Team Thor Part 2 lean heavily on this premise, and help introduce Waititi's conception of Thor as a fundamentally lighter character. 

Team Darryl, set after the events of Thor: Ragnarok, follows Darryl after Thor has moved out and he's landed himself a new roommate... none other than The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who's decamped to Earth after his exile from Sakaar and, like Thor, has a very particular way of living that Darryl can't always adjust to. All three films are straightforward, delightful comedy pieces that are relatively easy to produce compared to the bigger budget early efforts of the MCU One-Shots, and since Waititi's at work right now on Thor: Love and Thunder, it seems possible that the trilogy could get a fourth installment somewhere down the line.