Petty service announcement: It is okay if you haven’t seen every Marvel movie.
The sheer excellence of Thor: Ragnarok has brought a lot of fans back into the Marvel fold after quite some time away. (You can blame the disappointing one-two punch of The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War for that.) Marvel’s capitalized on that momentum with the perfect timing of the Avengers: Infinity War trailer. I thought I no longer had feelings about the Avengers, but by the end of the trailer, I was all in. I got myself a Marvel Unlimited subscription to catch up some comics over the holidays and have made plans to sit down and revisit some old favorites to see if they hold up.
I have the advantage of being an early adopter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; I’ve been on board, more or less, since it started in 2008. But for someone who never really cared until Taika Waititi got involved or has their interest piqued only by Black Panther, it can be an intimidating undertaking to jump into a universe over a decade in the making. You might feel like you’re going to miss something key or, worse, that some jerky gatekeeper is going to tell you you’re not allowed to be a “real” fan if you haven’t seen every last episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Iron Fist. That’s a lot of tension for just wanting to see a movie you’re interested in.
To these intrepid souls, I say: It is okay if you haven’t seen every Marvel movie! You don’t need to.
It’s normal to be worried you won’t get what’s going on unless you start from the beginning, but as someone who cut her teeth reading and yelling about plot structure in fantasy novels, let me reassure you: A good, contained installment in a series should be able to orient new viewers on the fly. True, it will be more affecting and rewarding if you’ve seen the previous installments, but it’s still going to, like, work. If it doesn’t … that doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong for not doing your homework; that means the film isn’t doing its job.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is also a universe. It’s built, unsurprisingly, like a comic book universe, not like an aggressively serialized television series. Back in the day, Chris Claremont would open up most issues of Uncanny X-Men with a scene designed to reorient the reader and get the plot moving, because it was never assumed or expected that the reader would want to be precisely up to date or, even if she did, that she would have the resources to do so. (Nowadays, of course, she has Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men.) Comics are best navigated by character, and the wise reader would focus on specific arcs rather than titles. And that holds true for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Its different branches are all uniquely appealing due to their central character. If you don’t like Iron Man but you love Captain America, by all means, you are released from the obligation of sitting through an Iron Man movie.
(Though Captain America: Civil War kind of makes you do that, but I digress.)
Lastly, y’all, it is a lot. According to Reddit user aaronp613’s definitive MCU VIEWING ORDER spreadsheet, it would take you just under 200 hours to watch the whole thing as of this writing, and next year brings us three Marvel movies—Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp. And not all of them are good. Iron Man 2 is just a weird, bad time for everybody. Doctor Strange is an Orientalist palette swapped Iron Man. And full disclosure: I did not see Ant-Man. I am sure it is perfectly fine! But I only have so many hours in the day, and I want to devote them to rewatching Thor: Ragnarok.
The benefit of being a late adopter is that you don’t have to put up with the growing pains or subpar product. You get to benefit from the wisdom of the early adopters without any risk at all, picking and choosing what you’re most interested in and what works the best. And that applies just as equally to a new phone as it does for a new Marvel film.
At the end of the day, this ought to be fun. If watching all 200 hours sounds fun to you, great! Have a fantastic time and make sure to take some bathroom breaks. But if you just want to watch a couple hours to relax, you’re good. And if any gatekeepers come sniffing around to yuck on your yum, I will personally write you a pass.
This has been a test of the petty service announcement system.