Tomorrow, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s vast, decade-spanning plan reaches a climax with the arrival of Avengers: Infinity War, a movie fans have been yearning to see for almost four years. Whether you need a reminder of the story so far or a primer for the movie itself, io9 has you covered here.
Note: Most of this information has come from trailers, interviews, and other officially released details. This includes info about Infinity War’s new characters and settings, but will not include any major story spoilers. But, if you’re truly trying to see the movie knowing as little as possible, consider this your point of no return.
Although Infinity War features almost every live-action Marvel hero we’ve seen over the last 10 years (not all of them, though—more on that in a bit), they won’t be starting the movie as one cohesive unit of Earth’s mightiest heroes. Because, well, you remember how Civil War ended, right? With Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) feuding with each other about the death of Tony’s parents at the hands of a brainwashed Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)?
Well, long story short: That’s still sort of an issue, and when you throw in the other superhero groups at play in the movie, it means a lot of characters are all over the place. Here’s a rundown of where everyone is and what they’re up to going into the movie. Deep breath!
- Captain America broke his group of superheroic dissidents—Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)—out of not-so-secret prison the Raft at the end of Civil War, and then united with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to continue their task of protecting the world covertly. Thanks to a tie-in comic, we know Ant-Man returns to San Francisco to be with his daughter after escaping, and Hawkeye re-retires from superhero service. As far as we know, the rest of the team is still together by the time of Infinity War, but with one addition...
- The Vision (Paul Bettany), who goes into hiding with Scarlet Witch when forces seeking the Infinity Stone lodged in his head—the Mind Stone—come to Earth.
- Oh, back to Hawkeye for a second. While the prelude comics have hinted about his retirement, we’ve not seen a single snippet of footage featuring the poor guy so far, and the team behind the film are tight-lipped about what the hell he’ll be up to. It must be important if they’re keeping it so secret... right?
- Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is living his life as everyman-nerd-teen Peter Parker, having turned down an offer to join the Avengers and get a sparkly suit upgrade at the end of Spider-Man: Homecoming. When stuff starts to go down in New York in Infinity War, he eventually meets up with his kinda sorta mentor...
- Iron Man, who is off doing Tony Stark things, like, interfering with the lives of spider-teens and whatnot. All we know going into the movie is that he’s still together with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and that when the threat of Thanos (Josh Brolin) becomes clear, Tony teams up with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), his comrade Wong (Benedict Wong), and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has somehow made his way back to Earth following a team-up with...
- Thor (Chris Hemsworth) who, alongside his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, who we don’t know is actually in Infinity War) are on their way back to Earth with a ship full of Asgardian refugees after the events of Thor: Ragnarok. Thanks to Ragnarok’s post credit scenes, we’ve seen them get waylaid by Thanos’ ship, and Infinity War trailers have shown Loki giving Thanos the Tesseract, a.k.a. the Space Stone, presumably in exchange for surviving the attack, which is not good.
- Also not good: Thor gets discarded into space, but he soon bumps into (literally) the spaceship of the Guardians of the Galaxy—Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff). From there, we know that Thor goes to find a weapon to replace his hammer Mjolnir, which was destroyed in Thor: Ragnarok, and some trailer shot imply that Rocket and Groot may join him. Meanwhile, Star-Lord, Drax, and presumably Gamora and Mantis, eventually team up with Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man to fight Thanos on Titan.
- Meanwhile, over in Wakanda, we have Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who’s recently opened up Wakanda’s existence to the wider world after the events of the Black Panther movie. Eventually, he and his friends like Okoye (Danai Gurira) and his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) will be roped into the events of Infinity War when Captain America and his crew bring the Vision to Wakanda to be kept safe, and for Cap to be reunited with the Winter Soldier, who was kept on ice there after Civil War so Shuri could deprogram his Hydra brainwashing. It seems like Cap must reach out to Tony at some point in the film—or at least his allies—because we know Bruce Banner and War Machine (Don Cheadle) head to Wakanda to prepare for Thanos’ assault with Cap and the rest of his team.
- Given that there’s so much other stuff going on in Infinity War, it’s easy to forget that the movie will also be a bit of a family reunion for Thanos. Both Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are his adoptive daughters, both raised as villainous right-hand women, only to rebel when they were older and side with his enemies. In fact, Nebula left the Guardians at the end of GotG2 specifically so she could find and kill her dad, which is presumably why she’ll come to Earth to join the fight. This will probably play a major role in Thanos’ arc, but it also going to be an important boon for our heroes (beyond two extra bodies in the fight against the Mad Titan) because both Gamora and Nebula can provide information to the Avengers about what Thanos’ actual deal is—for instance, as we’ve seen in the second trailer, Gamora fills in her fellow Guardians about Thanos’ plans for the Infinity Stones. Either way, it’s going to be important to remember that there’ll probably be a major case of the daddy issues at some point in the movie.
So the reason Thanos comes to Earth is that he wants to collect all six Infinity Stones, wield them on his Infinity Gauntlet, and use their basically omnipotent powers to “bring balance” to the universe. Unfortunately, Thanos’ idea of “balance” actually means destroying exactly half of all sentient life in the galaxy. As for why he’s so determined to snuff out so many lives—well, in the comics Infinity War is inspired by, he’s doing it to literally woo the female personification of Death, but Death (the character) isn’t in either Infinity War or Avengers 4. So it’ll have to be something else motivating the Thanos of the MCU, which will presumably be explored in the film.
This brings us to the Infinity Stones themselves—most importantly where where they are, and how has them.
- Space—A.k.a. the Tesseract from Captain America: The First Avenger. Loki took it from SHIELD in Avengers, and after he was beaten it was put in Odin’s vaults. But during Thor: Ragnarok, Loki almost certainly took the stone out while Asgard was falling—because we’ve the trickster-god giving it to Thanos in various trailers.
- Reality—This was called the Aether in Thor: The Dark World and nearly killed Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Rather than keep in the Asgardian vault with the Space Stone—best to keep them separated as much as possible—Sif and Volstagg gave it to the Collector for safekeeping, which was probably a bad idea.
- Power—Located inside the Orb, found by Star-Lord at the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy, who nearly delivered it to the Collector, which would have been very bad. Instead, it was given to the Nova Corps—essentially the space cops of the Marvel universe—for protection on Xandar, and they should still have it. Should being the operative word, as it’s one of the two stones we’ve seen Thanos have attatched to his gauntlet in various trailers.
- Time—Located inside Dr. Strange’s mystical amulet called the Eye of Agamotto. Still around his neck at last check.
- Mind—This is the stone Thanos gave Loki to help lead the alien invasion of Earth during Avengers. It was put into his staff, which he used to brainwash people, incuding Hawkeye. Tony Stark experimented on it in Age of Ultron, which resulted in Ultron, but ultimately it was stuck on the Vision’s forehead, bringing him to life.
- Soul—This is the only one we haven’t seen in any Marvel movie yet, although we have some theories about it.
Thanos won’t be alone in his quest to pry the Infinity Stones on Earth; he also has a few cronies who act as his heralds. Collectively, they’re known as the Black Order. There’s Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon) and Corvus Glaive (Michael Shaw), who we know go to Earth in an attempt to get the Mind Stone from Vision, which necessitates taking him to Wakanda. There’s two more figures in the order, Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), who we’ve seen torturing Doctor Strange in the trailers, and the brutish Cull Obsidian (Terry Notary), who we’ve only seen as part of Thanos’ initial attack on Thor’s refugee ship so far. If you want to learn more about their comic origins, click here!
Despite the fact I’ve just told you the status of what feels like approximately 300 different characters who’ll be in Infinity War, at least some of the characters we’ve met over the last decade won’t be showing up for the party:
- Neither Ant-Man or The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) appear to be in Infinity War... at least, as far as we’ve seen, unless the micro-sized shrinking heroes are just hiding in plain sight in every scene. We know they’ll definitely be in Avengers 4, but in the meantime, they’ve got their own things to do in Ant-Man and the Wasp.
- Literally anyone from the Marvel TV shows, whether or not that’s Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) or the rest of the cast of Agents of SHIELD, or any member of Netflix’s Defenders series of shows—Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), or Iron Fist (Finn Jones). There’s long been a back and forth about whether these TV characters would finally get a movie cameo in Infinity War, but while the reasons behind them not showing up are long and complex, the simple official answer is: Look, it’s hard enough wrangling all these movie stars into one story, there isn’t time to explain all these people to moviegoers who’ve not kept up with the TV shows. So sorry, Marvel TV fans!
- Here’s the big one: after a lot of confirming, and then denying, and then several more rounds of confirming and denying, the last official statement was that Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is no longer appearing in Infinity War. There were scenes shot with the character, but they were ultimately cut from the film according to Disney. You can hold out hope for a cameo, but you’ll likely be waiting until Avengers 4 for Carol to team up with her friends. At least there’ll be the ‘90s-set Captain Marvel movie to enjoy before that next year?
So now you know who is, and who isn’t, in the movie, here’s where the whole thing actually takes place, at least from what we’ve seen so far.
- Early on in the movie we check in with Thor’s Asgardian refugee ship as it’s attacked by the Sanctuary II, Thanos and the Black Order’s teeming, huge ship glimpsed in the post credit scenes of Thor: Ragnarok. From there, Thor is scattered to wherever the Guardians are hanging out in space, and the Mad Titan and his Black Order set their sights on Earth.
- New York, specifically, because the trailers have shown a giant ring ship menacing the city, prompting a team-up between Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Wong, Hulk, and eventually Spider-Man. That ring ship appears to be a key location as well, as we’ve seen shots of Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Doctor Strange aboard it in the trailers, and we’ve seen it crashing into the next location on our list, so it’s probably how those characters get from Earth to...
- Titan, the desolate homeworld of Thanos. In the comics, it’s one of 62 moons orbiting the planet Saturn—however, when discussing the MCU’s Titan, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige described it in a way that it could potentially be a completely different planet from far beyond our Solar System that also just happens to be named Titan.
- Meanwhile, a lot of the big action footage we’ve seen in the trailers is set in Wakanda, as the gathered heroes and T’Challa’s armies stand ready to protect Vision from Thanos. He not only sends a gigantic army of four-armed aliens called Outriders (because a movie with this many characters needs a big bad army of goons to punch), but, if the trailers are anything to go by, eventually shows up there himself.
- The second trailer for Infinity War also revealed that the movie will include a flashback to the moment Thanos first encountered his adoptive daughter Gamora. We don’t know where this takes place in the MCU, but if it matches up with the comics, then we’ll be paying a brief visit to the planet Zen-Whoberi for this flashback. But it also might be a place whose name no one in the movie bothers to mention.
That’s all the basics—in exhaustively detailed form, at least—but in the recent months as Infinity War has gotten closer and closer, we’ve heard some intriguing things from the creative forces behind the movie that are worth noting as well:
- Thanos might as well be the main character of Infinity War. Marvel’s long had a bad rap for not really using its movie villains to their full extent, which has lead to some concern that, after years and years of post-credits build up ever since the end of the first Avengers movie, Thanos will just be a big purple chump for the gathered heroes to beat down on. But according to Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus, the movie’s screenwriters, the villain is such a huge driving force in the story that Infinity War is, in their eyes, more Thanos’ movie than an Avengers film.
- This is the beginning of the end for the characters we’ve known since the Marvel Cinematic Universe started. Infinity War and Avengers 4 mark the end of several of the main Avengers’ contractual obligations to Marvel, which likely means they’ll either be retiring—or expiring—at some point during these next two movies. Prepare yourself to potentially have to say goodbye to some of these heroes for good.
- It’s not over yet. Back in the heady days of 2014 when Infinity War was first announced, it was announced as two movies, Infinity War Parts I and II. Now, it’s Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4—which has a title the company is keeping top secret until well after Infinity War is out—and Marvel has gone to great lengths to say that they are two, very different movies that can stand on their own instead of simply being two halves of one whole. But as you might tell from all the above, there is so much going on in Infinity War that it would be insane to actually think of it as a wholly standalone movie, and you’d be right, judging by early reactions to the film’s premiere this week. This film is setting the stage for an even bigger and wilder conflict in Avengers 4 next year—so buckle up.