The biggest battle in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to ignite on screens. After 10 years of build up, Avengers: Infinity War left cinema’s biggest heroes decimated and our jaws on the theater floor. This Friday, Captain America, Iron Man, and the rest will dust themselves off (too soon?) and face down Thanos for the last time, with the fate of half the universe in the balance.
As the Avengers suit up in those snazzy white-and-red space suits, it’s natural to reconsider how they got here. You could follow the path of the Infinity Stones themselves, from Red Skull’s discovery of the Tesseract to Thanos’ sacrifice to reveal the Soul Stone. Or you could go crazy and recap every single movie — but we already did that.
Instead, with the final fight ahead, let’s take a look back at the clashes that set the stage for Avengers: Endgame. Although they may not all be the most memorable encounters, they substantially shaped the MCU. These are the duels that arranged the Avengers on the board, laid out for Thanos’ Snap to knock them all down. Before it ends, it’s worth remembering how the game was played.
Battle at Mar-Vell’s Laboratory
Movie: Captain Marvel (2019)
Combatants: Captain Marvel, Nick Fury, Talos, Maria Rambeau, Goose vs Star Force (Yon-Rogg, Minn-Erva, Korath, Att-Lass, Bron-Char), Ronan the Accuser’s Fleet
T-Minus Snap: 22 years
Impact: From Nick Fury’s point of view, this is the dawn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — and not just because his literal point of view got a whole lot narrower. Though barely a fracas compared to the Battle of New York, Fury’s adventure with Carol Danvers led directly to it. The very concept of the Avengers was born in the aftermath, and the Tesseract landed in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, setting the stage for Thanos’ first invasion. What’s more, Fury and Danvers’ battle-bond would also eventually give half the universe a fighting chance thanks to the souped-up beeper, which summons the MCU’s most powerful hero to join the fray. In fact, Danvers’ refusal to back down during the ambush is what led to her unlocking her full potential, something the Avengers are going to be grateful for in the war to come.
Iron Man’s Cave Escape
Movie: Iron Man (2008)
Combatants: Iron Man vs Raza and The Ten Rings
T-Minus Snap: 7 years
Impact: Captain America may have been the first Avenger, but it was the origin of Iron Man that truly kicked off the Age of Heroes. Tony Stark’s kidnapping, chest injury, and escape set the course as much for the entire history of the MCU as it did his own. Just as it inspired the billionaire playboy philanthropist’s desire to protect people, activating the bulky Mark 1 suit essentially triggered the Avengers Initiative. Although Cap would grow to be the true leader, the team started with Tony.
Battle of New York
Movie: Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
Combatants: The Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye) vs Loki and the Chitauri
T-Minus Snap: 5 years
Impact: That moment where the camera circle-pans across the entire team pretty well sums it up: The Avengers had arrived. And so had their secret advisory. Thanos turning and smirking at the camera is arguably as big a moment as the heroes assembling, since it put the Mad Titan on a collision course with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. It also put Loki’s Scepter in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s — and by extension, HYDRA’s — hands, which connects right to the next battle…
Battle of Sokovia
Movie: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Combatants: The Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, War Machine, Scarlett Witch, Vision, Quicksilver) vs Ultron and his sentries
T-Minus Snap: 2 years
Impact: On a small scale, the skirmishes leading up to the rise and fall of Novi Grad, Sokovia gave the Avengers their first clues to the Infinity Stones, one of which was their new teammate, Vision. Longterm, this extinction-level conflict sets all the groundwork for what results in The Decimation. The United Nations signing the Sokovia Accords furcated the Avengers — who had just lost Hulk to a mood — right as Thanos decided to “do it myself.” Without Ultron’s attempt to recreate the Chicxulub impact, the Most Powerful Being in the Universe would have faced unified opposition instead of fractured heroes, and that could have made all the difference.
Duel at Maggie Lang’s House
Movie: Ant-Man (2015)
Combatants: Ant-Man vs Yellowjacket
T-Minus Snap: 2 years
Impact: How could such a small, humorous one-on-one fight have such major implications for the MCU at large? Well, we don’t rightly know yet. We do know that this is when Scott Lang first enters and, more importantly, exits the Quantum Realm. Although we get a lot more information about why the dimension is relevant in Ant-Man and the Wasp (hello, time vortexes), it’s this fight that breaks the seal. Exactly how that all plays out will be revealed in Endgame, but good money is on hearing the words “Quantum Realm” and “time travel” a lot come April 26th.