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Captain America: Keeping Up With the Marvel Universe

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We're less than two weeks away from the opening Thor: The Dark World and, just in case you were thinking about skipping this one, Marvel has released its first trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which doesn't come out until April 14th next year.

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Anyone who grew up on Marvel comics in the '60s & '70s knows the drill: if you want to keep up with all the  themes and plot lines in the Marvel Universe, you're going to have to invest in a few titles that might not exactly catch your interest.

In the seven movies released since the first Iron Man in 2008 (three Iron Man, one Captain America, one Hulk reboot, one Thor and the first Avengers movie), the studio has carefully salted in plot points that will pay off in future films. None of the movies have been unwatchable and, aside from The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2, they've all been pretty-good-to-great.

In addition to the new Thor and Captain America movies, there are three more films in production with release dates set, so your can mark your calendars now and make plans through Christmas 2015: Guardians of the Galaxy is due August 1st next year, Avengers: Age of Ultron hits May 1, 2015 and the long-rumored Ant-Man movie finally arrives November 6, 2015

That's 12 movies in just over 7 years: it will have taken 38 years before we get a seventh Star Wars movie. And that's not counting the X-Men and Spider-Man movies Marvel's still making at other studios.

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Next week we get Thor teaming up with his villainous brother Loki to save the universe from a new threat from a primeval race in a movie by longtime HBO series director Alan Taylor, whose resume includes a bunch of episodes of Game of Thrones. Loki was the most interesting character in the first Thor movie (and arguably the most interesting character in the Avengers), so it's a relief he'll be there to back up what might be the dullest character to topline a superhero movie.

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Captain America: The First Avenger is definitely one of the top-tier Marvel movies. Directed by Joe Johnson, who made an excellent and little-seen movie based on The Rocketeer comic, the film captured just the right tone for Captain Steve Rogers' World War II backstory.

Joe and Anthony Russo take over for The Winter Soldier and they continue Marvel's history of surprising director choices for the movie series. The Russos have a long history directing television sitcoms like Arrested Development, Community and Happy Endings. Their one high-profile movie was the Owen Wilson/Matt Dillon comedy You, Me and Dupree.

So it's surprising that this trailer suggests a movie that's darker than Iron Man and less campy than Thor. Samuel L. Jackson is back as Nick Fury, Scarlett Johannson plays a big role as the Black Widow (still no solo movie for her character) and Anthony Mackie is introduced as The Falcon.

So, see Thor next week if you want to keep up with Loki or just to make sure you've got all your Marvel plot points straight while you wait six months for Captain America at which point there will surely be a Guardians trailer to keep the pressure on.

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