8 key MCU moments that have led us to Avengers: Endgame

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Before the end, it is time to go right back to the beginning.

Now more than a decade old, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has changed the world of superhero cinema forever. The 20 movies so far (soon to be 21 with this month's Captain Marvel) have all been leading to Avengers: Endgame. Which of our heroes will survive the final showdown with the dreaded Thanos (Josh Brolin)?

The next Avengers movie closes phase three of the MCU and anticipates many changes to come in phase four of the franchise. We're therefore taking a look back at the key moments in the MCU that have got us to this point...

1. "You think you're the only superhero in the world?"

Way, way back in 2008, a metal-clad superhero was about to change the world as we knew it. Of course, fast-forward 11 years and the MCU is an all-conquering cinematic behemoth, and perhaps one of the most talked about elements are the now-famous post-credit stings.

Whether it's a hint at the next film or just a funny extra surprise, all Marvel movie fans know not to move a muscle until the bitter end. The post-credit scene of Iron Man however is arguably still the biggest game changer.

Emerging from the shadows, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) informs Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) that he is not the only superhero, and introduces him to "the Avengers initiative". After this short scene, the world would never be the same again, and it was the first hint of the incredible things to come…

2. A source of unlimited power

The final sting of Thor (2011) introduced us to a key player in the films to come. No, not another new superhero or big bad, but an unassuming looking blue cube that boasted the promise of unlimited power, if harnessed in the right way of course.

Inevitably, the cube, known as the Tesseract, later fell into the wrong hands and later still was revealed to be the Space Stone, one of the six Infinity Stones. Thor's crucial post-credits scene was in fact our first glimpse of one of the stones, and as we now know, these were being sought by the universe's ultimate super-villain, Thanos.

In this moment it was clear the MCU was always building to something greater, and this scene proved to be another important step towards Avengers: Endgame.

3. The birth of Captain America

Released in 2011, the enjoyably nostalgic Captain America: The First Avenger is a critical puzzle-piece in the wider MCU mythology.

It introduces us to weedy yet plucky New Yorker Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), who is denied the chance to enlist in World War II. However, one top-secret science experiment later and Rogers is transformed into a bulked-up weapon: invulnerable and unerringly patriotic, who goes on the offensive against evil Hydra leader Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).

It sets up one of the most important characters in the MCU, one who undergoes possibly the most compelling dramatic arc of any of the Avengers. In 2014's The Winter Soldier, Rogers is forced to confront the moral murkiness of the 21st century while 2016's Captain America: Civil War (more on which momentarily) challenges the character's patriotic ideology.

There's no denying the Captain has been through a lot, but his spiritual, mental and physical strength makes him one of the most important players in the fight against Thanos.

4. Avengers assembled!

After solo movies that introduced MCU heroes Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Hulk (Edward Norton, later replaced by Mark Ruffalo), the MCU unleashed the ultimate team-up in Avengers Assemble (2012).

The entire film saw our nerdy comic book dreams come true, but the final battle of New York between the Avengers and the Chitauri alien race proved to be the most crucial moment in the film. Of course it gave us that now-famous shot with the camera circling our heroes, cementing the Avengers team for the first time, but this moment proved to be important in many other ways.

It was a scene that weighed heavy on Tony Stark's mind in the following movies - as explored in Iron Man 3 (2013) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), he's haunted by the memory of carrying a nuke through an alien wormhole, which also made him realise the sheer scale of the various threats facing mankind.

This particular battle's impact on ordinary citizens was also seen in the opening of Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), as villain Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) scavenges parts of Chitauri machinery for his own ends.

Avengers: Endgame set photos have hinted at a return to the Battle of New York, further emphasised by the sight of Captain America in his old suit. Does this imply some sort of time travel? And is this what's needed to defeat Thanos? We will just have to wait and see…

5. Six singularities

By the time we first met the Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014, we had already spotted four out of the six Infinity Stones. These were the Space and Mind Stones in Avengers Assemble, the Aether in Thor: The Dark World (2013) and the Power Stone, which Star-Lord picks up at the beginning of the first Guardians movie.

At the movie's outset their potential and purpose remains a mystery, but when the Guardians take their treasure to the enigmatic 'Collector' (Benicio Del Toro) on the planet Knowhere, they discover the universe-altering potential of the Stones.

6. Team Cap or Team Iron Man?

With the Avengers now established as a coherent, if somewhat fractious, team, Captain America: Civil War shook us to our very core by pitting the heroes against each other.

This division came about as a result of the consequences of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), primarily the destruction of Eastern European city Sokovia, and also forced us the audience to pick a side as well. Were we Team Cap, dedicated to the idea of the Avengers initiative, or Team Iron Man, harbouring the belief that the Avengers should be held accountable for their actions?

The rippling effects of this saw Captain America turn his back on the Avengers and flee to Wakanda, teeing up his partnership with Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in Infinity War and Endgame.

Although the Avengers are now united in conflict against their common enemy Thanos, the team are now scattered across locations both earthbound and in different galaxies – will they be able to cohere once again and defeat the Mad Titan once and for all?

7. The snap

Of course, it would be remiss of us not to mention perhaps the biggest moment in the MCU so far, the moment that all these films had been leading up to. It occurred at the end of Infinity War when Thanos carried out his promise of destroying half of all life in the universe with just a snap of his fingers.

This moment left us absolutely desperate for answers, and quite frankly we're still having sleepless nights worrying about the fate of our favourite characters…

8. One more tiny thing…

With Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) noticeably absent from Infinity War, many were intrigued about how his second adventure, Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018), would explain this.

Well, for the most part the movie operates as a standalone adventure, but it also introduces us to the very crucial Quantum Realm, a dimension that exists outside of space and time. The post-credits scene revealed that Ant-Man is currently stranded in the Quantum Realm, but then we got the trailer for Endgame.

Not only is the shrinking superhero revealed to be alive and well but he has also escaped the Quantum Realm, seemingly with answers that might just help our beleaguered heroes. Could this realm hold the key to defeating Thanos?

We cannot wait to find out when Avengers: Endgame is released on 25th April. What would you consider to be the most important moments from the MCU? Let us know @Cineworld.

Sarah Buddery is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.