'Avengers: Endgame': What You Need to Remember From All 21 Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies
By John Boone and Meredith B. Kile
Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Avengers: Endgame has been billed as the "grand conclusion to 22 films," a finale, of sorts, to Marvel's sprawling yet interconnected series of movies. Considering we are in the week of release, it might be difficult to binge all 21 of the preceding films. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, for their part, have weighed in on which films you should prioritize in your rewatch.
"I would say, certainly, Civil War and Infinity War are probably the two biggest lead-ins to this movie in the sense that Civil War created the situation where the Avengers were divided," Anthony told Fandango. "I would also say that the previous Avengers movies also very much factor into this film."
For a more thorough refresher on all things MCU, we've compiled the complete guide below. This is not a recounting of everything that happened in each film but what (we think) will be important to the plot of Endgame. Without further ado, let's take it back to the beginning.
IRON MAN (2008)
This is where it all started, where audiences first met Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark, saw him become the superhero Iron Man and subsequently announce as much to the world. In Marvel's first-ever post-credits scene, Agent Nick Fury recruits Stark to The Avengers Initiative, setting the foundation for every film that would follow. As the figurehead of the franchise, Tony's arc from Iron Man to Endgame, from "billionaire playboy" to whatever end he finds here, should prove most consequential. — JB
THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)
The Incredible Hulk is canon but not canon, you know what I mean? Thaddeus Ross, a supporting antagonist here, continued on to become a key player in the universe (last seen in Infinity War as the anti-superhero Secretary of State) and the film generally covers Hulk's powerset, though the "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry" dynamic between Bruce Banner and the green guy is complicated in later appearances. — JB
IRON MAN 2 (2010)
There isn't much worth recalling from Iron Man 2, even Scarlett Johansson's debut as Black Widow is all but unrecognizable when you look at where the character is now. One quote does prove interesting following the events of Infinity War, however, a line from the villainous Ivan Vanko: "If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in Him. There will be blood in the water, the sharks will come." During the skirmish with Thanos, Tony was able to draw a single drop of blood not from a god, but a Titan. — JB
Considering what fate befell Loki, Odin and Frigga, Heimdall, the Warriors Three and Asgard as a whole, there's not much left in play from the original Thor film. (Dead, murdered, apocalyptically destroyed, so on and so forth.) Even the God of Thunder himself got a much-needed retooling for Ragnarok. This one did mark the official albeit uncredited introduction of Jeremy Renner's then-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye. — JB
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)
The First Avenger brought us skinny Steve Rogers and his journey to becoming the Star-Spangled Man With a Plan. The super serum transformation may be old hat at this point, but the film also provided a meaningful look at the man behind the helmet, who's served as the Avengers' moral backbone and tactical strategist since their very first team-up, and is preparing, in Endgame, to lead them into what very well may be their final battle. (The film's villain, Red Skull, was one of the most surprising characters to pop up in Infinity War, to relinquish the Soul Stone to Thanos.)
The film also introduced the MCU's first onscreen Infinity Stone, the Space Stone, housed in the Tesseract, and gave fans their first look at just how expansive the series' temporal scope truly was. Only time will tell if Steve's sacrifice and years in the ice will be called back again in Endgame. — MBK
THE AVENGERS (2012)
The first time Earth's mightiest heroes came together on the big screen was to defeat Loki and his Chitauri soldiers in the now-infamous Battle of New York, solidifying the team's dynamic and cementing their status as the world’s first defense against threats foreign and domestic. The film also dove a little deeper into the bond between Black Widow and Hawkeye -- the only OG Avengers to not receive standalone origin stories -- and included the first appearance of Agent Maria Hill, who was snapped alongside Nick Fury at the end of Infinity War.
Furthermore, after the credits rolled, fans got their first look at the big MCU's big purple space baddie, though it was Damion Poiter and not Josh Brolin playing the galactic supervillain as he first set out to collect his gems. — MBK
IRON MAN 3 (2013)
The third installment in the Iron Man franchise is most notable, in this context, for giving Pepper Potts powers. After being exposed to Extremis (don't worry about it), Pepper shows off a number of special abilities and even dons an Iron Man suit in the climactic battle. We know she survived the snap, so might we see Pepper officially suit up now that the Avengers are fewer in numbers? (In the comics, she actually has her own alter ego, Rescue.)
Iron Man 3 also introduces Tony's semi-retirement from superhero duties and considering his talk of marriage and babies in Infinity War, that thread may reach some sort of resolution in this next film. — JB
THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)
The Thor sequel brought the Reality Stone, weaponized as the Aether, into play. Eventually, it would be given to the Collector for safe keeping. This was likely more relevant to Infinity War than it will be moving forward, however. — JB
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)
Seemingly less important moving forward, plot-wise, than the other Captain America films, The Winter Soldier's strongest connection to Endgame is likely the quote from the trailer, which an elderly Peggy Carter delivered to Steve when he comes to visit her all those years later: "The world has changed. None of us can go back. All we can do is our best. And sometimes the best that we can do is to start over."
The Winter Soldier was one of the earliest indications that an on-screen death in the MCU doesn't set anything in stone, a hopeful indicator for all those dusted at the end of Infinity War. — MBK
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)
Thanos finally became a key player in the first Guardians film, as he and Ronan the Accuser squabbled for control over the Power Stone, which ultimately ended up becoming the first Infinity Stone in the Mad Titan's gauntlet. (RIP, everyone on Xandar.)
Guardians also introduced us, of course, to a new team of heroes and kicked off an interesting character arc for the only original Guardian to survive the Snappening: Rocket Racoon. It seems in Endgame, the apathetic trash panda has finally found a mission worth taking on pro bono. But will it be enough to un-dust his found family? — MBK
AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)
This divisive installment features the birth of Vision (hey, maybe hide your Infinity Stones a little better next time?) and the introduction of two secret families: Hawkeye's wife, Laura, and kids (which explains Clint's absence in Infinity War), and the Sokovian super twins, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. It also provides some possible premonitions in the form of each Avenger's respective visions under Wanda’s spell: Iron Man and Thor are haunted by apocalyptic scenes of their loved ones dying, Black Widow recalls the scars of her Red Room training and Captain America envisions a dance at the end of the war. (We don't know what Hulk sees, but it makes him angry. Though, he's always angry, so.)
If you place any credence in the "Fury is a Skrull" theory, the way the Avengers mastermind cut his sandwich at the Barton family farmhouse is also deeply suspicious. — MBK
Towards the end of Ant-Man, Scott Lang goes subatomic and enters the quantum realm, which we learn more about in Ant-Man and the Wasp. The movie also introduces Lang's family, his daughter, Cassie, and ex-wife, Maggie, and friends (Luis, Dave and Kurt), all of whose post-snap fates are yet to be revealed. If they all disappeared, it would provide Lang plenty of motivation to undo what's been done. — JB
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
The events of Civil War, a disagreement between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers that severed the Avengers and turned half the heroes into fugitives from the law, made room for Thanos to sweep in and take them all out when they were most vulnerable. Tony never quite got around to calling up Steve in Infinity War, so expect to see a major moment of reconciliation between the two as the core team must come together or die apart. — JB
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
Stephen Strange's origin story includes a few points of note: The first appearance of the Time Stone, one of the more vital Infinity Stones to what unfolds in later films. And while many fans predict the surviving Avengers' plan will involve the quantum realm, as the sorcerer supreme, Strange can tap into a number of alternate planes and dimensions, any of which could prove more helpful than we realize. — JB
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017)
The second Guardians film gave us Mantis, furthered Rocket's character development and dove deeper into the relationship between Gamora and Nebula, the latter of whom seems to be a key player heading into Endgame, where, according to trailers, Nebula will suit up alongside the Avengers to avenge her sister and ultimately defeat Thanos, the villainous father who tortured her her entire life. — MBK
SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)
Poor Peter Parker, whose dusting in the arms of Tony Stark was made that much more upsetting after their relationship deepened in Homecoming. As a superhero mentee and surrogate son, of sorts, Peter will be Tony's biggest motivation to go to any lengths to turn back Thanos' decimation. Ultimately, he feels a responsibility for bringing Peter into the superhero fold. — JB
THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)
Thor may be the titular hero here, but the real star of Ragnarok is Tessa Thompson's hard-hitting, hard-drinking Valkyrie, who was with the displaced Asgardians following the destruction of their homeworld only to be MIA when Thanos intercepted their ship at the onset of Infinity War. Her character poster for Endgame reveals she's very much still with us after the snap and, moreover, will likely prove important to the film's plot.
Ragnarok also further complicates the relationship between Bruce Banner and Hulk, the latter of whom had had control for two years ahead of the events of the film, and indicates that Thor does not actually require a weapon to channel his powers. (Shortly thereafter he comes into possession of Stormbreaker, however, so it's to be determined how much that will come into play.) — JB
BLACK PANTHER (2018)
Wakanda played a large part in Infinity War, but I don't imagine we'll be returning anytime soon, as the Black Panther and his sister, Shuri, along with much of the Dora Milaje and the border tribes, vanished in the snap. (Shuri's fate was revealed in an Endgame character poster.) Black Panther introduces the king's loyal right-hand warrior, Okoye, who survived and should prove an interesting addition to the Avengers' squad. — JB
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)
Chronologically, the Ant-Man follow-up takes place before the events of Infinity War, so I'm going slightly out of release order here. (It also explains why Scott is not present for Infinity War.) The last act does a lot of the heavy lifting explaining the quantum realm, with Hank Pym venturing in and safely returning after saving Janet, as well as revealing that her time within the realm imbued her with certain abilities.
The most important scene to remember is the end-credits tease and a seemingly throwaway line from Janet instructing Scott to, "Make sure you stay out of the Tardigrade fields. They're cute, but they'll eat you. And don't get sucked into a time vortex. We won't be able to save you." If Endgame involves some form of time travel -- as fans predict -- this could be key. The scene ends with Scott stranded inside the quantum realm and Janet, Hank and Hope turning to dust. — JB
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)
Thanos barreled through the cosmos collecting Infinity Stones to accomplish his life's work: Eliminate half of all life in the universe to ensure the survival of those that remain. (Turns out the Mad Titan is a radical environmentalist raging against overpopulation.)
And he succeeded, stealing the Time Stone from Strange (after the good doctor looked to alternate futures and saw the Avengers beat Thanos in one out of 14,600,005 possible outcomes) and plucked the Mind Stone from Vision's head. Loki, similarly, was killed as Thanos took the Space Stone and Gamora was sacrificed by Thanos for the Soul Stone. (Following the Snappening, Thanos saw a vision of a young Gamora in an orange-hued plane that...might be inside the Soul Stone?)
In the end, the sole heroes left standing includes Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Bruce Banner (and a resistant Hulk), War Machine, Okoye, M'Baku, Nebula and Rocket. The post-credits scene, which saw Nick Fury and Maria Hill turn to dust, teased an intergalactic SOS call to Captain Marvel. — JB
CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)
Carol Danvers, the Air Force pilot-turned-alien superhero, is the only player we haven't seen in action with the rest of the Avengers. That will all change come Endgame, as we saw her give Fury a pager for emergencies only and, in the post-credits tease, we saw her receive the call and show up in Avengers HQ.
Carol's powers, we come to learn, are a by-product of the Tesseract, also known as the Space Stone, so she is the only remaining hero whose powers come from a stone and, moreover, is one of the most powerful heroes, if not the most powerful, in the universe. What's yet to be seen is how she will fit into the Avengers' plan and exactly how scared Thanos will be of her. — JB