Even if you’ve never seen a superhero movie, there’s still a pretty good chance that you know about the Avengers, and the existence of their connected movie universe. Spanning twenty movies and eleven tv shows so far, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a vast undertaking, with massive cultural impact and no end in sight. With the sheer scale of this pop culture monolith, it’s nearly impossible to know everything that goes on behind the scenes, but there are still countless interesting stories and bits of trivia to explore. One of the most fun of these facts comes from the relationship that formed between Marvel Studios and Acura, and Acura’s subsequent role in the MCU.
Iron Man 2 was released in 2010, and was the first significant appearance of an Acura in a Marvel movie. During the movie’s post-credits scene, a character named Agent Coulson is seen driving an Acura ZDX. Agent Coulson is (spoilers) an agent, working for an intelligence organization called “The Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division,” or “S.H.I.E.L.D.” for short. The purpose of S.H.I.E.L.D. is to manage superpowered threats to humanity, whether that be alien invaders, giant robots, or maniacal supervillains. Despite the use of the word homeland in the name, they’re overseen by the “World Security Council,” which is similar to the UN, but seemingly more clandestine. (For reference, they’re the people that Samuel L Jackson swears at over group chat in The Avengers.)
A year after Iron Man 2, but still over a year before the release of the first Avengers movie and the company’s drastic increase in popularity, Marvel announced a shared promotional campaign with Acura. S.H.I.E.L.D. adopted Acura as its official brand, and multiple models went on to appear in the rest of Marvel’s first phase of movies. Of course, S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t featured quite as prominently after The Avengers, so it only makes sense that their appearances dropped off from there. Acuras were also heavily utilized during the first season of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., before the collapse of the organization following the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Iron Man 2 & Coulson’s Trip
The first Acura appearance from the end of Iron Man 2 functioned as more than just a teaser for the first Thor. The 2010 ZDX being featured at the forefront of the scene previewed the deal made between the two companies, and could even be viewed as foreshadowing the number of Acura models that appeared in Thor. The scene is short, starting with a long distance shot of a black ZDX driving through a desert and then a close up of a New Mexico license plate as the car reaches its destination. Agent Coulson gets out of the car and looks over to a crater, where we see Thor’s hammer for the first time. He says something ominous and then the scene ends, but since Marvel knew audiences were itching for more Coulson, they released a “Marvel One-Shot” short film called “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to Thor’s Hammer.” These extra couple scenes depict Coulson stopping a convenience store robbery during one of his stops for gas before reaching the hammer, and it’s likely that its success lead to the concepts that became Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Agent Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. show up throughout Thor, and every scene they appear in features a ZDX, MDX, or both. When we first see them they’re seizing research from Natalie Portman’s character, while at least two black MDXs are parked outside. The next time they show up is about halfway through the movie, when Thor attempts to take back his hammer from one of their outposts. In establishing shots of the scene both MDX and ZDX models are present at the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, though they can only be spotted by a keen eye. The last we see of S.H.I.E.L.D. (in Thor) is during the climax of the movie, when Loki sends the Destroyer to kill Thor. They’re on the scene when the giant magic robot arrives, and after trying to reason with it, it uses a massive death-beam to completely obliterate every Acura that’s been shown through the entire movie. Six MDXs and one ZDX are destroyed in that scene, and Coulson isn’t seen again until The Avengers.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America has only one scene with Acuras on screen, and it’s even more brief than the preview from the end of Iron Man 2. When Captain America wakes up in the present day, he immediately panics and runs outside, directly into time square. Just then, five black MDXs surround him, and Samuel L Jackson’s character shows up to explain the situation to him. It’s more a prelude to Avengers than it is an ending to Captain America, but I’m not here to review movies.
Out of every Marvel movie, The Avengers has the widest variety of different Acura models present, even one that was never made available to the public. Tony Stark drives a concept NSX design, made specifically for the movie. While the outside looks as modern as something you’d expect Iron Man to drive, it was actually built around a 1991 NSX with 252,000 miles on it. MDXs are still used as a part of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s fleet, though they’re joined by Acura TLs this time instead of ZDXs. Both vehicles have custom S.H.I.E.L.D. paint jobs and are outfitted with police-style bash bars and flashing amber lights. A lot of them are destroyed in the opening minutes of the film, but more are still seen later on as well. Civilian MDX and RDX models can also be seen among the wreckage during the movie’s climax, but so can a 2000 Saturn, so that’s probably of less note.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. follows Coulson and his team as they take on various villains and anomalies, and for a good portion of season one, they use the same MDX designs from The Avengers. By the end of the second Captain America movie S.H.I.E.L.D. is dissolved, but the TV show’s team continues, only without the financial backing or support from world governments. With no money and no giant high-tech headquarters, the characters don’t have access to the same luxuries they once did, and so moving forward S.H.I.E.L.D. is deprived of Acuras.
Acura – More Than Just Product Placement
I enjoy the idea of real companies being involved in fictional worlds. While sometimes product placement can feel obnoxious or overt, there are definitely times when it can be organic and fun as well. Car companies have a unique advantage over other industries in this area, of course, because the presence of a car is often required to further a narrative. When a product is used to effect a movie’s plot, it’s appearance in the story is justified; it becomes more than just a brand name in the background of certain shots. This means that just about any car brand can be naturally placed into a majority of modern stories without the viewer feeling assaulted by ads. Most of the time, having a specific car in the background of a movie isn’t worthy of much note, but the choice to have Acura named the official brand of a clandestine government agency specializing in the impossible is by far the most entertaining marketing decision that I’ve ever seen.