So, let’s take a step back.
We’re now finishing up Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a lot of my preconceived notions going into this have proven to be incorrect. The timeline we have so far is beginning to look much closer to Marvel’s official chronology than I initially expected (though there are some key differences). Phase Two of the MCU almost unilaterally retcons the timeline of Phase One, pushing events forward about two-and-a-half years to better line up with the assumed present day setting of these films. That means Spider-Man: Homecoming really is going to be problematic because it reverts back to the Phase One timeline despite a half-dozen other movies retconning that out of existence. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
For now, much like Age of Ultron, the final film in Phase Two is pretty vague on when specifically it’s taking place. We know roughly when it occurs in relation to the other films in the series, but there’s no way as of yet to plot a specific date on the timeline with any measure of confidence. Let’s dive in, shall we?
Rule #1: Only the movies are canon.
Rule #2: Title cards are always true.
Rule #3: References to dates in spoken dialogue are always true unless they conflict with rule #2.
Rule #4: Written dates that are prominently displayed in the world are usually true, unless they disagree with rules 2, 3, or each other.
Rule #5: Props and background objects that can be tied to a specific date almost never count.
Ant-Man opens with a prologue set in 1989 featuring Hank Pym refusing to turn over his technology to S.H.I.E.L.D. Allusions to the recent death of Janet van Dyne. More on that in a bit.
This is as close as we get to establishing a firm setting for this film, and as we’ve discussed previously, “Present Day” is a somewhat fluid distinction. For what it’s worth, though, the film was released in July of 2015.
We still don’t know definitively when the film takes place, but we’re starting to establish a timeline of events prior to the film. Scott was in prison for three years, two of which he shared a cell with Luis. We also learn that Kurt was in prison for five years, but it’s unclear how long he’s been out. If we’re assuming that this film takes place in 2015, that would put Scott’s arrest in 2012.
No dates are given in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s archival footage of Ant-Man, but it’s meant to evoke the Cold War, lining up with the setting of the prologue and giving some context for when Hank Pym operated as Ant-Man.
We may not know the precise setting of the film, but we do learn the year and make of Hank Pym’s safe for all you comic book safe enthusiasts out there. We also get a glimpse of a newspaper story about Scott’s arrest with a photo dated 2004, which seems like an odd choice for a story about an arrest that likely happened sometime around 2012, but what do I know about journalism?
We do, however, learn that Hank Pym developed the Pym particles 40 years prior to the events of this film. Again, assuming it’s 2015, that would put it in roughly 1975.
This piece of dialogue, along with the appearance of the new Avengers facility in upstate New York later in the film, firmly establishes the setting of the film as being after Avengers: Age of Ultron. But since we can only guess at the year that one took place as well, we’re not much better off than when we started.
We learn that hope was seven when her mother “died,” though we’re not totally certain yet of when that was.
And now we are! Janet van Dyne disappeared into the Quantum realm in 1987, which means Hope would have been born right around 1980.
And, that’s it. The dates stop coming about halfway through the movie. In terms of what we’ve learned, we get some background information on Hank, Janet, and Hope, and we learn about Scott’s arrest, but beyond “after Age of Ultron” there’s no good way to definitively place this on the timeline. For now, we’ll put it right alongside the second Avengers film in 2015 with an asterisk. As we enter Phase Three, the MCU is going to start getting a lot more specific with dates again, and that will help clear up the setting of these two films, but also cause a whole lot more problems.
We’re more than halfway through, but man, we’re just getting started.