Keeping track of the continuity between all the various films in the Marvel cinematic universe can be tricky. 2012's monster hit The Avengers brought together four existing franchises, and in the next few years the world of superheroes will only expand further as Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man join the fray (along with future unannounced titles to fill Marvel's two-movies-per-year quota).
Despite their co-existence, the Marvel movies have so far managed to at least have independent storylines for each member of the superhero team, and the upcoming release of Thor: The Dark World will feature a return to Asgard and a new threat in the form of Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston), who apparently harbors some kind of plan to plunge the Nine Realms into darkness. Thor: The Dark World will be followed next year by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which will show Steve Rogers' continued relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Natasha Romanoff, and which will also introduce Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon.
At the start of The Avengers, Steve was hidden away in a gym with a punching bag as a means of coping with his new life in the "future." He was still struggling to fit into a world of iPhones and The Real Housewives of New Jersey when he was approached by Nick Fury and offered a membership card for Earth's Mightiest Heroes. By the time Captain America: The Winter Soldier begins, however, Steve will apparently have had quite a bit of time to settle into the 21st century. In an interview with Refinery 29, Scarlett Johansson explained that Marvel fans aren't alone in waiting two years for the next chapter in Captain America's story:
"This film is in real time. It's been two years since [the characters] appeared, and now both are agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fighting in the streets. We are not superheroes flying side by side. They help each other because we are fighting in a similar way. It’s a working relationship."
Though all the Marvel movies released so far (with the exception of Captain America: The First Avenger) have taken place in chronological order, they have wavered off the course of real time. Iron Man 3 was released a full year after The Avengers, but was set only six months after the battle in New York. It's still not clear when Thor: The Dark World - which will be released 18 months after The Avengers - takes place, and Guardians of the Galaxy is even trickier to pin a date on, since it will take place out in space and away from the events of the movies so far (and possibly in an alternate future?).
In short, it's safe to say that the "real time" approach for Captain America: The Winter Soldier probably isn't going to become a rule for the Marvel cinematic universe, though it's likely that the films will continue to take place in chronological order across the various franchises, in order to keep things from becoming overly confusing. This does, however, mean that Captain America: The Winter Soldier will have some explaining to do when it comes to getting the audience caught up with Steve's movements.
Tell us in the comments what you think Captain America and Black Widow have been occupied with in the two years since The Avengers, and what exactly they were doing while Iron Man was dealing with The Mandarin.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is out on April 4th, 2014.