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The buildup to The Avengers - Marvel/Disney's half-mad gambit to infuse the superhero movie genre with the same sense of continuity-driven "shared universe" scope that's fueled superhero comics for decades - is now 5/6 of the way complete. With four individual main heroes (Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and The Hulk) and their attendant sides of the Marvel Universe have been introduced via five films and Avengers itself on deck for Summer 2012.
Comic style continuity was once thought an unwieldy impossibility for feature films. But in a digital age of instant watch and on demand where the answer to any confusing reference is a mouse click away and even mainstream fare like Lost has viewers compiling databases and debating theories, I honestly think that Marvel/Disney really could enshrine a connected universe as a semi-permanent part of their production plans, and that other studios and other genres could easily follow suit.
The actual story of The Avengers is - as it should be - still a tightly guarded secret. But one can only presume that at least some of its narrative will involve either advancing or tying up lingering story details from the previous five films. With that in mind, here's a breakdown of what I'd say are the big questions yet-to-be-answered from the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
NOTE: The following, obviously, contains major spoilers for pretty much every Marvel movie up to this point.
What Does the Tesseract Actually Do?
At the end of Thor, we found out that S.H.I.E.L.D. is in possession of "The Tesseract," AKA "The Cosmic Cube." In Captain America, we learn that this same object was discovered on Earth in early 1940s (after having gone missing from Asgard some centuries before), used as a power source for super-science weaponry by The Red Skull and ultimately wound up in the hands of future S.H.I.E.L.D. co-creator Howard Stark.
But what is it for?
In the comics, The Cube is basically a magic wishing rock. If you have it, you can re-write the rules of reality. Thus far, all the movies have managed to discern about The Tesseract is that it's a kind of unlimited energy source - even the super advanced HYDRA was mostly just using it as a big-ass battery. But when The Red Skull grabbed it bare handed, it seemed to rip open a hole to the cosmos and suck him into it. Is that what it does - enable inter-world travel that is otherwise impossible without the Bifrost Bridge from Thor? That would be pretty damn impressive in its own right, along with providing a handy explanation for why the various alien beings who formed the basis for Earth's legends of gods and monsters haven't been around as they seemed to be in the ancient past.
Is the Red Skull Dead?
As mentioned above, Captain America climaxes with The Red Skull getting zapped into pure energy and blasted into what looks like the deep cosmos glimpsed in Thor. So does this kill him, or is he floating somewhere in intergalactic limbo waiting to make a comeback? The answer, of course, probably has more to do with the question of "Is Hugo Weaving available to shoot Captain America 2?" than technical issues of how cosmic transport actually works.