It’s being billed as “the biggest crossover event of all time” – and even if that phrase ends up being little more than the inspiration behind some genius memes, it’s safe to assume that Avengers: Infinity War is going to be big. Like, massive. Having embedded clues and dropped narrative breadcrumbs for this storyline over the past 10 years of Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbusters, this all-out battle between cosmic deathmonger Thanos and virtually every single superhero that the franchise has brought into the fold – Spider-Man! Black Panther! A smell-like-teen-spirit Groot! – assembles the group for one gigantic winner-take-all fight over the fate of the entire universe.
But lets say that, after sitting through so many of these adventures, you’ve forgotten which Infinity Stone is which. Or perhaps you aren’t exactly sure why that small throwaway moment or post-credits teaser is the key to everything that’s happening in this clear-the-benches superhero battle royale. Or maybe you simply can’t remember whether that major universe-changing event happened in Wakanda or Asgard. With all of the subplots, characters and cameos added to the MCU since that first Iron Man movie was released in 2008, it can be overwhelming trying to keep track of everything. And you probably don’t have time for an 18-film marathon before this latest installment takes over the multiplex this Friday, April 27th. If you’re pressed for time or simply need a quick refresher, here’s a quick guide to everything you need to know about Marvel’s prelude to Armageddon.
It’s all about the Infinity Stones, and the interstellar bad guy named who wants them.
Since his introduction at the end of The Avengers, the villainous Thanos has been the major lurking threat to almost every character in the MCU. The through line to his recurring appearances has been his quest to find six legendary Infinity Stones, which he plans to put into a shiny Infinity Gauntlet. The result is unlimited power and the opportunity to unleash – you guessed it – Infinity War. We’ve already seen five of the stones in previous films; it’s safe to assume that the final one will be revealed in this new film. So where are the fabulous five now?
The Space Stone started it all.
Way back in 2011, Captain America: The First Avenger opened with the Red Skull searching for the all-powerful Tesseract, an interstellar cube that housed one of the infamous Infinity Stones, also known as the Space Stone. In the film’s finale, the Red Skull touched the Tesseract with his bare hands and vanished and/or exploded. We learned in The Avengers that Howard Stark, Iron Man’s father, found the Tesseract shortly thereafter and handed it over to S.H.I.E.L.D.
The government agency spent years exploring the stone’s potential as an unlimited power source – making the Captain pretty angry – until it was stolen by Loki who used it to open a portal unleashing alien hell on New York City. Thor eventually took the Tesseract back to his homeland of Asgard for safekeeping, but we also learned that Thanos had been behind Loki’s plan all along. The closing scenes of 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok returned the magical stone into the hands of Loki, who swiped it from Asgard – and considering he was captured by Thanos (along with his brother and the Hulk), it’s possibly in the hands of the purple-skinned bad guy now.
The Collector has the second Infinity Stone – the Reality Stone.
Thor: The Dark World saw the hammer-wielding Asgardian fighting a race of dark elves who were searching for a weapon called the Aether, which turned out to be the second Infinity Stone, a.k.a. the Reality Stone. In the tag scene after the credits, it was revealed Thor sent the Reality Stone to Benicio Del Toro’s eccentric Collector – to be stored in his collection. For all we all know, his pal Howard the Duck has been playing with it for years.
The third stone – the Power Stone – is on Xandar.
Yes, you got tough-talking raccoons and sentient trees – but the Guardians of the Galaxy movie also gave you what Marvel fans know as the Power Stone, which Chris Pratt’s Starlord “liberated” in the opening scenes. When you steal an orb holding an Infinity Stone, however, you’re likely to attract the attention of Ronan the Accuser, one of Thanos’ underlings … and someone who’d like to have that precious world-shattering jewel in his possession, thank you very much. After Ronan is defeated, the Power Stone was given to the intergalactic space-cops, the Nova Corps, to be kept on their home planet of Xandar.
The fourth stone – the Mind Stone – is essentially a part of Vision.
We first spotted the Mind Stone in the initial Avengers movie on a scepter given to Loki by Thanos; most of us didn’t realize it was an Infinity Stone at the time. It came up again in Avengers: Age of Ultron when Tony Stark tried to use the stone’s artificial intelligence to create the title’s boss robot, which backfired pretty spectacularly. The Mind Stone was later used to turn JARVIS, Stark’s friendlier A.I., into the android Vision – it still resides on his forehead to this day. In Civil War, Vision claims to not know much about the Mind Stone, but the fact that it basically powers him and Thanos needs it for his gauntlet … you can guess what’s going to happen next.
Doctor Strange has the fifth stone: the Time Stone.
One of the most ancient and powerful Infinity Stones first appeared in Doctor Strange, which revealed that the Sorcerers Supreme have been the keepers of the Time Stone, which, not surprisingly, can manipulate time. The stone resides in an amulet called the Eye of Agamotto, which the Master of the Mystic Arts used to defeat the malevolent Dormammu. (Strange also wears the Time Stone amulet in his Thor: Ragnarok cameo.)
Iron Man and Captain America still aren’t getting along.
The two alpha males of the MCU have had a playfully adversarial relationship from their first scene together, but they really don’t like each other now. The drama started in Captain America: Civil War when the red, white and blue hero refused to be overseen by the UN and chose to protect his brainwashed pal Bucky instead of siding with Iron Man. When the smoke cleared, Cap and his allies – Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Falcon and Scarlet Witch – became fugitives and presumably went underground with the assistance of Black Panther. Black Widow was caught in the middle, but eventually sided with Cap (detailed in a tie-in comic book that’s apparently canon). Most importantly, Mr. Rogers also left a phone with Iron Man to use if his old friend ever needs him again. Spoiler: It will probably ring in Infinity War.
Spider-Man isn’t technically an Avenger … yet.
In the final moments of Spider-Man: Homecoming, Peter Parker was offered a chance to join the Avengers by his mentor Tony Stark, who even built him a nifty new Iron Spider suit. He turned it down. Of course, that kind of refusal won’t keep him from web-slinging in Infinity War, but it might be worth remembering that he’s still something of an outsider. (For that matter, Ant-Man is also something of a free agent, in terms of his official Avengers status … which could factor into the film as well.)
Thor’s hammer went boom.
One of the most iconic weapons of the MCU, Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, was destroyed by Hela in Thor: Ragnarok. Ye olde God of Thunder learned he was still powerful without the superweapon, of course, but Infinity War will apparently see the big guy looking for a replacement somewhere other than a hardware store.
Bruce Banner runs the risk of being the Hulk forever.
One of the subplots in Thor: Ragnarok was the disturbance of the balance between the peaceful human Bruce Banner and his rage-filled alter ego, the Hulk. It appears that Banner’s time spent as the big green guy is getting longer all the time – and could even become permanent.
Shuri brought Bucky back just in time.
Civil War ended with Captain America’s best bud Bucky being placed into a cryogenic state in the hope that his Manchurian Candidate-esque brainwashing could be reversed by the super-scientists of Wakanda one day. Then the post-credits tag for Black Panther revealed that Shuri had completed that process – so Cap’s sidekick is now back to normal and ready for action. Bucky will likely join the Black Panther crew, now an international force after T’Challa revealed the existence of Wakanda to the world at the end of his blockbuster movie. Which is great: The Avengers are going to need all the help they can get.