When Iron Man premiered in 2008, no one could have foreseen what it would spawn. When Nick Fury stepped out to say “you’re entering a larger world” to Tony Stark, it birthed one of the most epic cinematic undertakings ever. Today, the Marvel Cinematic Universe dominates. The movies are all huge winners with monster box office success. They’re currently in their “Phase Three” and brilliant in how they build up and connect. Meanwhile, in television, they boast six shows on Netflix and the popular Agents of SHIELD. True, they have had a few misses (Inhumans) but for the most part, fans love how they bring these beloved comic characters to life. It also shows how they bring to life so many great comic book moments and some truly amazing twists. True, a few are predictable by comic-savvy fans and even those into action films can see it, but other times, they’re more subtle.
The producers are quite savvy– putting in minor bits and backdrop items, sometimes stuff only visible in freeze-frame. These “easter eggs” are always fun to see but sometimes they pay off in other ways. Quite often, the MCU is genius in how they give a subtle clue to a shocking twist right in plain sight. It’s usually not obvious until you watch it again and see the clues laid out nicely. Even some of the less popular turns are still set up well, so those not into the comics can be taken aback– occasionally even leaving the comic buff surprised. Here are 15 cases where the MCU subtly hinted at a big twist before it hit and how it adds yet another layer of fun to this franchise.
Obviously, SPOILER ALERT for all of these.
15. He Had The Tank The Whole Time
This is actually a great bit. Throughout Ant-Man, Hank Pym is shown as a former scientist and hero who is now retired. He helps his charge, Scott Lang, master the suit and shrinking powers as they try to stop Cross from selling Pym’s tech to Hydra. During the film, Hank is shown constantly bouncing a set of keys on a chain, a nervous habit of his. In the climactic battle, Scott rescues Hank from Cross at a big company party while his daughter, Hope, comes to help him. Hope says they’re outnumbered but Hank says he has it covered. Holding up his chain, he points out that he’s been using his shrinking particles and that the tiny tank on the chain “isn’t a toy.” Cut to a now full-size tank smashing out of the building.
Obviously, the touch is that Pym had been carrying this thing around for the whole movie. But also, look closely and you’ll see the tank is just like the one from the movie Cross showed earlier about Pym’s military arsenal. So Pym shrunk it down and kept it on him just in case. Talk about a case of a small thing becoming huge later.
14. How Hela Was Able To Destroy Thor’s Hammer
On first glance, casting Cate Blanchett in a Marvel movie seemed an odd move. The two-time Oscar winner is known for her amazing talent but hardly one for this sort of fare. But Blanchett has earned raves for her turn in Thor Ragnarok as the evil Hela and many cited her as the best part of the movie. From the first trailers, her power was shown when Thor throws his hammer at Hela… and she catches it. Thor is as shocked as the audience as Hela then crushes his hammer in her hand. Naturally, one has to wonder why this is possible but the answer comes after Hela storms Asgard. Wandering through the palace, she sees a mural showing Odin’s history of peacefully building up his kingdom. Scoffing, Hela destroys it, showing the true mural of how she and Odin worked together to conquer the Nine Worlds. It also shows that Hela was the original holder of the hammer and in fact, Thor’s half-sister. That’s why she could destroy it so easily and points to how tough she truly is. If nothing else, Blanchett was great bringing the Goddess of Death to brilliant life with this turn.
13. The Stone In Loki’s Staff Hinted At Thanos Joining
The post-credits scenes have always been a big deal for the MCU from the moment Nick Fury stepped out of the shadows in Iron Man. Thus, fans knew The Avengers had to have something huge. It started from the first scene as Loki is given a staff with a special stone and talked of answering to a higher power. An agent talks reverently about this power and wants to bring mass death with it. The staff has mind control powers with that stone looking very familiar to fans. The alien armies, meanwhile, look like living corpses behind their masks, almost as if someone wanted them to resemble an army of the dead. It all builds up to the final scene as that agent reports to his master on how Earth is far more dangerous than they thought and “to challenge them is to court Death.” Turning to smile right at the audience is Thanos, a monster literally in love with Death. Thus, we have the set-up for the upcoming Infinity War as eagle-eyed comic fans could tell Thanos was the master behind this first attack.
12. Hints That Ego Is Evil All Throughout Guardians 2
When it was announced that Kurt Russell would be one of the stars in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, the reaction was huge. An iconic actor and star, Russell was a genius choice to play Ego, the living planet and Peter Quill’s father. For most of the time, he’s calm, charming and truly seems to love his son, so it’s heartbreaking when he says he had to leave his mother to die and live his life. Which is all the more jarring when the truth is revealed: Peter is just one of possibly millions of children Ego has had over the millennia. In each case, Ego wants to find the child who can mimic his powers and use it to spread his essence across the universe as he’s convinced all other life is inferior to him. A shocking moment is when Gamora and Nebula finding a cavern of the skeletons of the previous children who failed. The kicker is when Ego reveals he put the brain tumor in Peter’s mom to cut off ties.
The genius of James Gunn is how he laid in clues early on. Ego notes the song “Brandy” with how he had to give up feelings for Peter’s mom for his quest. Mantis mentions how Ego doesn’t have people on his world because “would you expect a dog to welcome fleas?” There’s talk of how somehow delivering kids to Ego got Yondu kicked out of the Ravagers and that’s because even they have standards. It really is great how it builds to reveal Ego as a monster right before everyone’s eyes.
11. The Real Reason Vulture Was Interested In The News
After years of waiting, Spider-Man finally joined the MCU in Civil War and Tom Holland won over fans instantly as the Wall-Crawler. Homecoming was terrific in how it brought him to high school and with a fun plotline. Michael Keaton was well cast as the Vulture, a more grounded but fun villain and one you could even empathize with. In an early scene, Spidey is defending a school trip from an attack and the TV cameras following it all. The Vulture is working in his lair when the story hits and stops what he’s doing to watch it. Naturally, the assumption is that the Vulture is focused on Spider-Man as a possible threat. But when Peter picks up crush Liz later in the film, the audiences discovered that the Vulture is her father. That’s why he was interested in the report, his daughter was part of that group and he was as concerned as any parent. Another genius touch that so many missed the first time around.
10. When Loki’s Hand Turned Blue
Many have cited Tom Hiddleston as one of the MVPs of the MCU. His turn as Loki turned what was meant to be an evil figure into one of sympathy and even very popular. At first, Loki is just Thor’s younger brother, shown to be mischievous but helpful. This sets up how he’s actually working to set up Thor to be exiled in order to become king himself. A big turn is Loki’s discovery he’s not Odin’s natural son but rather a Frost Giant that Odin adopted. This really burns him up and pushes his eventual turn to pure villainy. The first sign is when Loki’s hand turns blue when a Frost Giant tries to burn him. There’s also Odin’s line of how Loki and Thor were “both meant to be king.” He’s right, only Loki was meant to be the Jotuun King, not of Asgard. Plus, whenever Loki is talked down to or ignored, keep an eye on his face and you see how it affects him. It all adds up to the inferiority complex that drives him to his dark actions and turns him into one of the more fascinating figures of the MCU.
9. Natasha’s Line In Latin Gave Away That She Wasn’t Just A Secretary
Movie directors get annoyed when trailers spoil the movie. Iron Man 2 is a good example, even though comic fans had expected it. Natasha Romanoff is well known to fans as the Black Widow, ace superspy and heroine. Scarlett Johansson was well cast for the movie version but it was funny how she was presented as a simple secretary getting close to Tony Stark. Even then, the idea was setting up hints to her true identity. When Tony asks if she speaks Latin, Natasha replies with a phrase translating as “The appearances of things are deceptive.”
In one scene, a drunk Tony is dressing up as Iron Man at a party and messing up. Concerned, James Rhodes dons his own armor to fight him, leading to a clash of metal. At one point, the two smash into a piano and you can see Pepper Potts screaming as she jumps back. Focus on Natasha, however, and you’ll see this “assistant” falling instantly into a fighting stance. It’s a subtle but clever bit to show how Natasha is more than what she seems and pays off down the line.
8. Gwen’s Outfit
True, The Amazing Spider-Man movies aren’t part of the MCU but it can still count using Marvel characters. Many comic fans had expected this but it was still truly amazing the movies pulled off one of the most shocking moments in the character’s history. In the climactic battle with the Green Goblin in the second film, Spider-Man sees his love, Gwen Stacy, thrown from a tower. A wild sequence has him falling after her and firing off a web line which is cut. He tries again, seemingly stopping Gwen before she hits the ground. But the impact of the sudden stop causes her neck to snap. It’s exactly like her death in the iconic Amazing Spider-Man #121 and it’s pulled off nicely. The signs were there as Emma Stone had been shown wearing the same outfit Gwen had been wearing in that comic, a deliberate touch to highlight the event. Most missed it but it became obvious in hindsight and while the movies aren’t as well regarded, still a classic case of an epic comic moment brought to life.
7. Anyone Who Spoke Urdu Would’ve Known Stane Was Working With Them
As the movie that kicked off the MCU, Iron Man was terrific with its fun and drive and setting. That includes a key sequence in the film showing how Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) is a close friend and mentor to Tony, the keeper of the company and wanting to help. When she investigates, Pepper discovers that on Stane’s computer is a copy of the video the terrorists who captured Tony earlier in the movie made. Hitting a translation key, Pepper hears the terrorists speaking directly to Stane on wanting more money than they promised for this and realizes Stane was behind the kidnapping as a plot to kill Tony and take over the company himself. The moviemakers must have been betting that almost no one in the audience spoke Urdu, because the tape was already featured earlier in the film. It’s the exact same dialogue and thus gives away Stane’s involvement a full hour earlier. It’s one of those little bits only a small portion of the audience would pick up and another reason this was a smart start to the franchise.
6. Odin’s Posture Should’ve Given Loki Away
You’d expect a fun scheme from the God of Mischief. Throughout his appearances, Loki has excelled at pulling off schemes and trickery to the point he’s almost predictable at it. Indeed, a big thing in Ragnarok was him seeming to backstab Thor only for Thor to turn the tables and point out how he’s gotten so used to this by now. In The Dark World, Thor and Loki have an uneasy partnership to take on Malekith and it appears Loki is fatally stabbed in the conflict. As Thor does the final battle, a messenger comes to Odin with the news. At the end of the film, Thor talks to Odin about Loki’s sacrifice and how he’s happy going to Earth. As he leaves, “Odin” chuckles and transforms into Loki, revealing he has taken Odin’s place. The genius is in how Anthony Hopkins nicely plays it with “Odin” having a different seating stance on the throne and even a slightly different way of talking to hint at the turn. It’s brought up more in Ragnarok but Hopkins proved his great acting to make the turn hinted at before the reveal.
5. Peggy’s Advice Led To Cap’s Decision Of Rebuilding SHIELD
One of the bigger twists in all the MCU has to be in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. On the run from a corrupt SHIELD, Cap discovers the shocking truth: After WWII, Hydra secretly infiltrated SHIELD and has been spreading their influence about. Thus, SHIELD is basically Hydra and they’re ready to attack. The movie had teased Nick Fury being killed but it turns out he faked his death to go undercover and works with Cap and his allies. Fury wants to simply take down Hydra then rebuild SHIELD once more. Instead, Cap states that “It all has to come down,” that SHIELD is way too corrupt and it was their need for secrecy that led to Hydra taking over in the first place. Thus, after bringing Hydra down, Cap is open, including releasing tons of SHIELD secret files for the world to see. As it happens, Cap is already being driven by a talk he had with an aged Peggy Carter earlier in the movie. As he talks about how hard it is to pick up in this world, Peggy tells him that “the best thing you can do is start over.” Looks like Steve took her advice to knock it all down for the future and show how doing what’s right is worth the cost.
4. The Date
This… was sheer genius and so subtle that it took a few viewings to fully appreciate it. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Cap and Widow are on the run from SHIELD and find themselves in an old base. There, they’re met by a computer recreation of Arnim Zola who informs them how Hydra has secretly been infiltrating SHIELD for years and now able to bring the entire organization down. He shows them headlines on things like the deaths of Howard and Maria Stark, hinting Hydra was behind it. The date on the newspaper with that headline is December 11th, 1991… which is then flashed on the screens in the opening scenes of Civil War. Those scenes have the Winter Soldier waiting to ambush a car. The payoff is the movie’s climax as Cap and Tony see a video of the attack and Tony realizes Bucky killed his parents. Thus, the big conflict was set up two full years earlier and missed. A great clue!
3. Mordo’s Turn
Obviously, comic book fans expected this. In the origin of Dr. Strange, Baron Karl Amadeus Mordo was shown as another apprentice to the Ancient One. However, Strange discovers Mordo is working for the evil Dormammu and turns him into the Ancient One. This turns Mordo into Strange’s arch enemy for centuries. In the movie, Mordo is shown as a good guy and great aide to the Ancient One. However, there are hints to things such as when the Ancient One is shown using the same style of magic as villain Kaecilius, revealing she also draws power from the Dark Dimension. In a conversation, Mordo claims he has conquered his demons but the Ancient One responds “we never lose our demons. We only learn to live above them.” Mordo also talks a lot of what he sees as Strange’s pride and putting so much faith in the Ancient One. Thus, realizing she was hypocritical breaks him and in the post-credits scene, he’s out to get rid of other magic users. It’s not sudden but built as pride goeth before the fall and Mordo’s pride in his strength shows how he falls to become an enemy.
2. Ward’s True Loyalty
When Agents of SHIELD first began, it seemed low-key and didn’t reach its potential. The reason is that they had to wait for Winter Soldier to reveal the huge turn of SHIELD being controlled by Hydra. Fans were already thrown by the revelation that Coulson’s old friend Garrett was a Hydra agent. But that was nothing compared to how Grant Ward, the supposed hero of the show, was a long-ranking Hydra spy who murdered his own boss. It was shocking but in reality, the clues had been there in plain sight. When Garrett is shown as Ward’s old teacher, he jokes “you wouldn’t believe what I could talk him into.” Sure enough, he talked Ward into joining Hydra.
A deadly enemy claims that if he wanted, he could have the team killed at any time and it’s obvious he meant Ward. A chilling example is when Ward asks Fitz and Simmons how long they can hold their breath underwater. Later on, he dumps them out of a plane into the ocean where they both nearly drown. The show even had a flashback montage showing how Ward was working for Hydra all along. As with any twist, it was in plain sight to make this all the more jarring for fans.
1. The Act
Many complain about this huge twist. Fans weren’t happy when the Mandarin, long an Asian character, was to be played by Ben Kingsley. He was built up as a cult leader doing transmissions and such and snapping about his power. But when Tony finally tracks him down, he discovers Tony Slattery, a boozing British actor who’s being used as the face of Killian, the true baddie of the movie. Watch again and you see subtle clues to the truth. Take his rant on how fortune cookies “look Chinese, sound Chinese but they’re an American creation.” That’s him to a tee. When you see his studio, you spot a teleprompter, which seems odd, and underlings are told not to make eye contact… not for fear but because it can distract him and break character.
Also, when he appears to kill someone, the Mandarin’s voice becomes shaky as if affected by this. On that, when you see the President and his cabinet watching, keep an eye on the Vice-President; he’s the one person who doesn’t react in shock to the killing. That’s because he’s working for Killian and in on the whole scheme. So fans complain about the twist but at least they were fair setting it up.