Avengers: Infinity War is the beginning of the end, one of two films (the second coming in May 2019) which mark the conclusion of “Phase Three” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a universe that began a decade ago with the first Iron Man. Marvel has been very clear that these movies will mark a decisive endpoint to many of the heroes’ journeys, as Phases One through Three act as a sort of unofficial multifaceted trilogy—one long story about the birth of the Avengers and the tale of the Infinity Stones. Before you watch this all-superheroes-on-deck culmination of the 18 films that came before, here are the key facts you need to know: a quick refresher on who each character is and where we left off with their story. (If you’re at the gym or making dinner, just watch the video below to get an audio version of the same catch-up guide.)
Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, technically retired at the conclusion of Avengers: Age Of Ultron, but came out of retirement during Captain America: Civil War to convince his teammates to sign the Sokovia Accords, a document putting the Avengers under the control of the United Nations. Some did, some didn’t, and by the end of that film there was a huge wedge driven between our heroes, with some even imprisoned for their resistance. Tony continued to serve as the public face of the Avengers, and tried to recruit young Peter Parker (Spider-Man) as the newest member, only to be rejected, with teenage Spider-Man sticking to his New York neighborhood for now. (Tony did give the high schooler a fancy-ass new Spider-suit.) At present, Tony’s splitting his time between Stark Industries, representing the Avengers, and his relationship with Pepper Potts, who graciously took him back after an unfortunate breakup.
Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, is currently a wanted fugitive. See, he refused to sign those Sokovia Accords that Tony was pushing for, and after fleeing in order to defend his best friend, Bucky Barnes—the Winter Soldier—he quit his role as Captain America, giving up the shield, and going underground. He was last seen helping Bucky Barnes enter cryo-sleep in the nation of Wakanda until his friend could get his unfortunate habit of being possessed by Nazi code words under control.
Speaking of which, Bucky Barnes is busy trying to make sure he’s never going to be anyone’s pawn again. After decades spent as the Winter Soldier, during which he was brainwashed and doing the bidding of the evil secret organization Hydra, he broke free, and accompanied Steve Rogers to Wakanda—we last saw him at the end of Black Panther, where it looked as though he’s come to terms with his past and is ready to reenter the world.
Meanwhile, Thor went on an unsuccessful search for the Infinity Stones—immense sources of power (more on those shortly)—but was kidnapped by intergalactic forces and forced into alien gladiator matches (as seen in Thor: Ragnarok). Luckily, he found and teamed up with Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Hulk, to escape and get back home, where he had to put down his vengeful sister, Hela, sadly destroying Asgard in the process. (And also losing an eye—like father, like son.) He’s currently trying to ferry the remaining citizens of Asgard to safety on Earth, but their ship was interrupted by a much bigger—and more threatening—one.
Since we just mentioned him, it’s worth noting that the Hulk abandoned Earth a while back (the end of Age Of Ultron), feeling like there was no longer any place for him there. He remained in his big green form for some time, until Thor showed up and convinced him to transform back into the very human Bruce Banner. It’s strongly suggested that if he keeps turning into the Hulk, Banner might not be able to become himself again. Nonetheless, he reverted to Hulk once more to help Thor defeat Hela, and was last seen with the rest of Asgard traveling to find a refuge home on Earth.
Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, joined Tony Stark to try and convince the rest of the Avengers to sign the Sokovia Accords, but when that went south, she entered the fight to help Iron Man subdue Captain America and his allies. However, she also didn’t feel like capturing them, letting Steve Rogers and Bucky escape. Currently, she’s still an Avenger but presumably doing her own thing, just as she always does.
Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch, was also last seen in Captain America: Civil War, where she joined with Captain America and others in refusing to sign the Accords. She was captured during the ensuing fight, and sent to an underwater prison facility called the Raft, along with her fellow resisters. However, the last time we saw them, it looked a lot like Steve Rogers was breaking her out of prison.
And let’s talk about her fellow prisoners. Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man; Sam Wilson, a.k.a. the Falcon; and Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, were also captured and sent to jail during the fight over the Sokovia Accords. Presumably, they’re right alongside Wanda, having been busted out of jail by Steve. However, it’s not clear how much they’ll be involved in Infinity War—especially Ant-Man, who has to get right back to work because he’s starring in Ant-Man And The Wasp, which comes out just a few months after Infinity War.
Vision is a half-human, half-synthetic man created during the fight with Ultron. Ultron brought him to life using the Mind Stone (still visible in Vision’s forehead), but Tony Stark uploaded his AI system, Jarvis, into the being, resulting in a new hero with impressive powers and a commitment to protect life. He fought on the side of Iron Man and law and order during the events of Civil War, but was always reluctant to do battle, especially when it came to Wanda. Right now, he’s probably still busy with his day-to-day duties as an Avenger.
Hey, remember those crazy outer-space kids known as the Guardians Of The Galaxy? Well, after having a big fight in Guardians Vol. 2 where they killed Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star-Lord)’s dad—a literal living planet—they’re back to gallivanting across the universe, though the trailer for Infinity War strongly suggests they’re about to have an unexpected meeting with Thor.
One of our newer heroes is Doctor Stephen Strange, a former surgeon who lost the use of his hands in a car crash and now studies the mystical arts as a protector of Earth against other realms and magical threats. After he saved the planet from dark-dimension bad guy Dormammu (you can watch this happen in Doctor Strange), he took up a position in Manhattan keeping an eye on interplanetary threats, even meeting with Thor to make certain Loki was no longer a problem. (He gave a strict warning that the adopted son of Odin was no longer welcome on our planet.) If a creature from another world is threatening Earth, he’ll be one of our first lines of defense.
Lastly, there’s T’Challa, the Black Panther. Marvel’s newest hero spent the events of his own movie fighting off a challenger to his throne as the ruler of Wakanda, and by the film’s end, he’s decided to reveal his country’s advanced technology to the world. It’s still kind of a secret to everyone but his own people that he’s also a superhero called the Black Panther, but maybe that will change once he starts fighting this guy:
That’s right, Thanos, who first appeared at the end of the original Avengers, is the big villain that all these films have been teasing through the years, even though he kind of looks like a giant purple reject from WWE. Thanos has also been seeking the Infinity Stones that Thor was trying to find, and Infinity War is his big coming-out party.
Speaking of the Infinity Stones: They possess unique capabilities, and can only be wielded by beings with immense power. There’s the Space Stone, better known as the Tesseract cube, capable of controlling space itself by creating wormholes for travel and the like. It was last seen being held on Asgard, which is now destroyed. (However, Loki gave it a long hard look while he was down in Odin’s vault during Ragnarok, so maybe it’s been moved…) Then there’s the Mind Stone, able to grant powerful mental abilities, which used to be contained in Loki’s scepter but is now part of the Vision, as you know if you’ve seen his forehead. Next up is the Reality Stone, which can warp reality at will—formerly known as the Aether that infected Jane Foster in Thor: The Dark World, but which was extracted and last seen in the possession of the Collector, Benicio Del Toro’s weirdo from the first Guardians Of The Galaxy. After that comes the Power Stone, capable of manipulating energy, which the Guardians Of The Galaxy rescued from Ronan The Accuser (also in the first Guardians film) and gave to the Nova Corps for safekeeping. Then there’s the Time Stone, able to—you guessed it—manipulate time, last used by Doctor Strange at the end of his movie and presumably still in his possession. Finally, there’s the Soul Stone. We’ve never seen it and know nothing about it, which probably means it’s super dangerous.
Does Thanos get the stones and bend the universe to his will? Does he kill any of our beloved heroes? Does Hulk punch someone really, really hard? We’ll find out when Avengers: Infinity War comes out April 27.