While Avengers: Endgame is the closing chapter of a 22-film story arc, the first true test of the “cinematic universe” came with the first team-up, 2012’s The Avengers, which put all the then-solo film superheroes into one supergroup (along with a trio of other important supporting supers).
The original six Avengers — Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hulk, and Hawkeye — are now just a fraction of the all-encompassing superhero group defending not only Earth but the entire galaxy. And now, they’re preparing for their biggest mission yet: bringing back the next generation of heroes lost in the wake of Thanos’ snap.
How they’ll do it has everything to do with everywhere they’ve been up until this point. So before walking into this movie, here are the key character moments — and all the baggage — to remember before seeing the new film.
Steve Rogers / Captain America (Chris Evans)
- Has appeared in 11 MCU films: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), The Avengers (2012), a cameo in Thor: The Dark World (2013), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), a post-credits scene for Ant-Man (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016), a cameo in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), a post-credits scene of Captain Marvel (2019), and Avengers: Endgame (2019)
- What’s he been up to? Meek but persistent Brooklyn kid who gets a super serum in World War II, fights Red Skull over the Tesseract (aka Space Stone), gets frozen until the present day. Saves New York City from Loki and a Chitauri invasion. Uncovers a Hydra infiltration in SHIELD, works over many movies to save his recently thawed friend Bucky Barnes from Hydra manipulation, fights Ultron, abandons his shield and goes off the grid over the Sokovia Accords. Fights Thanos’ battalion alongside the Wakanda army.
- Best meme (TIE): “I understood that reference” and “So.”
Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.)
- Has appeared in 10 MCU films: Iron Man (2008), The Incredible Hulk post-credits scene (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), The Avengers (2012), Iron Man 3 (2013), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019)
- What happened to him? Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist who inherits his father’s defense contractor company. Has a change of heart (...) when he is injured in the chest with shrapnel and kidnapped in war-torn Afghanistan. Escapes with a makeshift “Mark I” Iron Man suit and reclaims the company after a hostile takeover bid. Builds more suits. Reluctantly joins the Avengers, saves New York City from Loki and a Chitauri invasion. Builds even more suits. Saves his girlfriend Pepper Potts with the help of a 10-year-old kid and a lot of remote-controlled suits. Accidentally creates Ultron, an evil robot. Turns his personal AI Jarvis into a good robot, Vision, who helps defeat Ultron. Splits with Captain America and “breaks up the band” over the Sokovia Accords. Becomes a pseudo-surrogate father figure for Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man). Stows away on a spaceship to Thanos’ home planet Titan. Last seen post-Snap with Nebula — and only Nebula — on the ruins of Titan.
- Per MCU canon: has built at least 50 different Iron Man suits up through Infinity War
Thor (Chris Hemsworth)
- Has appeared in eight MCU films: Thor (2011), The Avengers (2012), Thor: The Dark World (2013), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), a post-credits scene in Doctor Strange (2016), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019)
- What happened to him? This one is a bit more complicated than the rest… Asgardian god of thunder who is banished to New Mexico by his father Odin after some trickery by his adopted brother Loki. Falls for Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), regains his standing and returns to Asgard, watches Loki “die.” Joins the Avengers, saves New York City from Loki (very much alive), whom he takes with him back to Asgard to stand trial. Defeats dark elf Malekith after the “Aether” (aka the Reality Stone in swirling red air-goo form) passes between him and Jane Foster, losing his mother Frigga in the middle of all this. Watches Loki “die” a second time. Has a vision about the Infinity Stones, helps Tony “activate” Vision, and defeats Ultron. Discovers Loki is alive and pretending to be Odin on Asgard. Together, they find Odin in Norway just before he “dies” (turns into golden sparkles and fades away). Teams up with Loki and Hulk to escape garbage planet Sakaar, returns to Asgard, and triggers apocalyptic event Ragnarok to stop his newly discovered sister Hela from taking over the world (she dies). Flees with Asgardian refugees on spaceship, only to be immediately attacked by Thanos. Watches Loki “die” a third time — maybe for real this time? — along with half the Asgardians. Discovered floating in space by the Guardians of the Galaxy. Builds a new weapon (Stormkiller) after Hela destroyed his hammer Mjolnir. Joins Wakanda battle, tries to kill Thanos pre-Snap, doesn’t aim for the head.
- Most important moment: Hanging out with his roommate, Darryl.
Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)
- Has appeared in eight MCU films: Iron Man 2 (2010), The Avengers (2012), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), a post-credits scene for Captain Marvel (2019), and Avengers: Endgame (2019)
- What happened to her? Grew up in Russian orphanage, adopted by a spy training agency. Works for SHIELD, keeps tabs on Tony Stark and later convinces the Hulk to join the Avengers. Helps save New York City from Loki. Joins Steve Rogers in taking on the Hydra-controlled SHIELD. Helps fight and defeat Ultron. Sides with Steve, then Tony, then Steve in the whole Civil War thing. Last seen on Wakanda battlefield with the Avengers.
- Will there ever be a stand-alone Black Widow film? Though not officially official, Black Widow’s all-star cast has been all but confirmed in the trade press.
Bruce Banner / Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)
- Has appeared in eight MCU films: The Incredible Hulk (2008, played by Edward Norton), The Avengers (2012), a cameo in Iron Man 3 (2013), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), a post-credits scene for Captain Marvel (2019), and Avengers: Endgame (2019)
- What happened to him? Fought Abomination. Pissed off General Ross. Enlisted by Natasha Romanoff to find Loki and ultimately save New York City. Tries to stay awake while listening to Tony Stark detail the plot of Iron Man 3. Helps Tony create Ultron, then Vision, then saves the world from Ultron. Decides at the end of the battle to fly off into space in Hulk form. Hangs out on garbage planet Sakaar as a celebrity gladiator until Thor pops by, and together they leave to save the people of Asgard (by ... triggering Ragnarok and destroying it). After Thanos attacks the refugee ship, is sent to Earth to warn everyone about the Mad Titan. Can’t get Hulk to hang out, so puts on the “Hulkbuster” suit during battle of Wakanda.
- Better Hulk origin movie: Ang Lee’s non-canonical Hulk from 2003. Sorry, Edward Norton.
- Will there ever be another stand-alone Hulk film? That’s a tricky conversation — better ask lawyers.
Clint Barton / Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)
- Has appeared in five MCU films: a cameo in Thor (2011), The Avengers (2012), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016), and Avengers: Endgame (2019)
- What happened to him? SHIELD archer who keeps an eye on Thor’s hammer after it falls to Earth. Later hypnotized by Loki, before being knocked unconscious by Black Widow. Joins rest of Avengers to save New York City from Loki and Chitauri invasion. Hangs out with family on a farm. Saves the world from Ultron. Retires from SHIELD to hang out on the farm with his family. Joins team Cap for the events of Civil War. Retires again and hangs out on the farm with his family.
- Will there ever be a stand-alone Hawkeye film? He’s getting a Disney Plus series — does that count?