From Assemble to Infinity War: your essential history of the Avengers before watching Avengers: Endgame

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Get ready for the cinematic event of the decade when Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of phase three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), arrives in Cineworld on 25th April.

After Avengers: Infinity War left us on a massive cliffhanger, we’ve been holding our breath as we wait to see how Thanos's (Josh Brolin) reign of galactic terror will be brought to an end by the heroes we’ve come to love.

A lot has happened in the MCU since Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) first appeared on the big screen in 2008. With each MCU movie building on the last and adding to a broader, overarching plot, the franchise now resembles a feature-length TV series.

So, if you’ve missed out on a film or two, it can be difficult to follow everything that’s transpired between our Avengers characters. To prepare you for Endgame's release next month, here’s your all-important history of the superhero collective.

Who are the Avengers?

It might seem like an obvious question, but if this is your first time getting acquainted with the blockbuster MCU series, it’s possible you’re unsure just who and what the Avengers actually are.

Established via S.H.I.E.L.D leader Nick Fury's (Samuel L. Jackson) Avengers Initiative, they were to be, as Fury explains in Avengers: Assemble (2012), "a group of remarkable people" who could work together to protect Earth from world-ending threats.

Originally consisting of core members Tony Stark/Iron Man, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the team subsequently acquired some new recruits.

These have included (but are not limited to) Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Vision (Paul Bettany), Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Hope van Dyne/The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).

And if that seems like a lot of names to remember, there’s also the Guardians of the Galaxy (a team of intergalactic heroes complete with a talking raccoon and anthropomorphic tree) in the mix who’ve also found themselves in the war against Thanos. They are Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel).

A civil rivalry

After banding together to form the Avengers initiative, our heroes won the Battle of New York and defeated the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in their first group outing, Avengers Assemble. It hasn't all been plain sailing, however.

Following the devastating destruction caused in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), which saw the entire Eastern European city of Sokovia annihilated, the team were asked to surrender their autonomy by signing the Sokovia Accords. Tony Stark, feeling responsible for the huge loss of life, believed signing was the best thing to do, but Captain America, driven by his unwavering sense of duty to do what he considered right, disagreed. A schism subsequently formed in the group during Captain America: Civil War (2016), which led to a massive airport standoff between Team Cap and Team Iron Man.

When we arrive at the events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the Avengers are now disbanded, half of them seen as war criminals and living off the grid. Tony and Cap haven’t seen eye-to-eye (or even each other) in several years – in fact the latter took shelter in Black Panther's kingdom of Wakanda, driven by a desire to protect his friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan).

At the end of Infinity War, Thanos destroyed 50% of all life in the universe, including several of our favourite Avengers, although Tony and Steve were two of the survivors. Will they be able to put aside their differences in Endgame and reform the group?

With Stark now drifting through space and Cap still on Earth, this is one reunion we can’t wait to see. And indeed the latest trailer teases said reunion, not to mention some funky new grey and red Avengers uniforms.

What are the infinity stones?

The central MacGuffins in the MCU, the infinity stones, are six incredibly powerful artefacts that can cause massive, life-changing levels of damage.

Forged before the universe came into existence, there are six stones in total scattered throughout the universe, each with their own unique power, and all of which have been helpfully colour-coordinated to make identifying them easier. They are space (blue), reality (red), mind (yellow, used to power Vision), power (purple), time (green, harnessed in Doctor Strange's mystical artefact the Eye of Agamotto) and soul (orange).

The infinity stones have cropped up throughout the series, beginning with the space stone (contained within the Tesseract) in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Since then, the power of the stones has constantly been sought by numerous villains looking cause trouble for our heroes – these include The First Avenger's villain Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), leader of the deadly HYDRA organisation, and also the aforementioned Loki in Avengers Assemble.

If one stone falling into the wrong hands wasn't bad enough, just imagine what would happen if all six were wielded by a being with less-than-noble intentions. Enter Thanos and his quest to claim the stones for himself...

The 'Decimation' 

The ultimate big bad, Thanos’s appearance was teased way back in the post-credit scene of Avengers Assemble. From his first attempts to acquire the Tesseract and later the power stone in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), it was established pretty quickly that the Mad Titan wanted to get his hands on the artefacts. But it wasn’t until he was spotted taking up the infinity gauntlet in Age of Ultron that we knew he was planning something much, much bigger.

Thanos's aim has always been to collect all six infinity stones and to obliterate half of all life with merely a snap of his fingers. This, he believes, will restore balance in an overpopulated universe. Unfortunately, he achieved his goal during the climax of Infinity War and consequently killed many of our beloved characters in an event known as The Decimation.

With a bare minimum of our Avengers heroes now left, the odds are dramatically stacked against them.

Or are they? The trailers for Endgame reveal that Ant-Man has somehow managed to escape the Quantum Realm, where he was believed trapped during the post-credits scene of Ant-Man and The Wasp. This potentially makes him a secret weapon in the Avengers arsenal – and he's not the only one...

Captain Marvel is a game-changer

But all hope is not lost. During the final moments of Infinity War, Nick Fury used a high-tech pager to contact someone prior to his death at the hands of Thanos. This person was Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), who is set to turn the tide in Endgame.

With her standalone film now established as a roaring blockbuster success, we’ve finally got a look at what she could bring to the table when placed alongside the wider Avengers ensemble. Her abilities include fearsome binary powers (basically she glows, flies and blows lots of stuff up) that will no doubt give Thanos pause for thought.

Although we still have no clue what the endgame to save the universe will be, we know the newest hero will have a huge role to play.

Avengers: Endgame
arrives in Cineworld on 25th April. Which characters do you think will survive – and perish – as we march forward towards phase four of the MCU? Let us know @Cineworld.

Andy Murray is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.