The following article — expressly designed to get you to speed on the first 21 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — will, by its very nature, contains SPOILERS. Just FYI.

“Dread it. Run from it. Destiny arrives all the same. And now it's here.”

Thanos might be a deranged, sociopathic mass murderer. But credit where credit’s due: Dude has a way with words. You can run, you can hide, but you can’t escape Avengers: EndgameIt is coming to end the current version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whatever is left in its wake, the MCU will never be the same. And you better be prepared.

Ideally, a serious viewer would probably rewatch all 21 previous MCU movies before Avengers: Endgame — or at least rewatch last year’s Avengers: Infinity War and brush up on the rest of the movies with our extensive column on The History of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That said, I recognize that nothing in the world of 2019 is ideal. So this is, in the words of Spaceballs, the short, short version; everything (and everyone) you need to know and remember before you go to theater for Avengers: Endgame.

1. The Snap and The Fallen

Doctor Strange: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are decidedly less mighty than normal as Avengers: Endgame begins. The Avengers technically broke up following the events of Captain America: Civil War, where several heroes fought legislation designed to compel them to register with the government. Then, in last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, the good guys tried to put aside their differences long enough to stop a big purple alien named Thanos from collecting the six Infinity Stones — ancient cosmic gems that, when possessed by a single being, grant their wielder almost limitless power. Despite their best efforts, the Avengers failed. Thanos acquired all the Stones — Space (blue), Power (purple), Reality (red), Soul (orange), Mind (yellow), and Time (green) — and then used them to wipe out half of all life in the universe with a snap of his fingers. That act is often referred to as “The Snap.”

Those who were erased by Thanos’ actions or died defending the Infinity Stones are called “The Fallen,” and they include many fan-favorite characters. The confirmed “dead”:

  • Black Panther (T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman)
  • The Winter Soldier (Bucky Barnes, played by Sebastian Stan)
  • The Falcon (Sam Wilson, played by Anthony Mackie)
  • Doctor Strange (Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch)
  • Groot (played by Vin Diesel)
  • Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana)
  • Drax (played by Dave Bautista)
  • Mantis (played by Pom Klementieff)
  • Star-Lord (Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt)
  • Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson)
  • Maria Hill (played by Cobie Smulders)
  • Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston)
  • Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff, played by Elizabeth Olsen)
  • The Vision (played by Paul Bettany)
  • Shuri (played by Letitia Wright)
  • The Wasp (Hope van Dyne, played by Evangeline Lilly)
  • The Original Ant-Man (Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas)
  • The Original Wasp (Janet van Dyne, played by Michelle Pfeiffer)
  • Spider-Man (Peter Parker, played by Tom Holland) [single tear]

Most of these characters were erased by Thanos’ Snap, but a few others died by other means. Thanos choked Loki to death with his bare hands, and he sacrificed Gamora in exchange for the Soul Stone. Definitely some of these heroes are coming back to life — Spider-Man, for example, has another movie coming out later this summer that he needs to be alive to star in. (Also, he’s Spider-Man. Come on.) So there isn’t much doubt about whether the Fallen come back to life; the question is more how and why.

2. The Surviving Avengers

Avengers Endgame Chinese poster

As Endgame begins, the surviving heroes on Earth are:

  • Captain America (Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans)
  • Thor (uh ... Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth)
  • Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff, played by Scarlett Johansson)
  • War Machine (James Rhodes, played by Don Cheadle)
  • The Hulk (Bruce Banner, played by Mark Ruffalo)
  • Rocket (Rocket Raccoon, although he hates being called that, voiced by Bradley Cooper)
  • Okoye (played by Danai Gurira)

Meanwhile, two more characters are alive out in deep space: Iron Man (Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (played by Karen Gillan). They’re the only Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy who survived the Snap following a battle with Thanos in the ruins of his home planet of Titan. Since their respective ships were destroyed, they seemingly have no way of returning home and no hope of rescue — but we know from various Endgame trailers that they do make it back to Earth somehow.

Once they do return to Earth and are reunited with the other surviving Avengers, they must figure out a way to avenge their fallen colleagues and perhaps find a way to bring them all back to life. Although the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy have lost more than half their ranks, they will have some new help in Endgame too...

2. Wild Cards

Avengers: Endgame

Although they didn’t appear in Infinity War (supposedly they took deals to protect their families after Captain America: Civil War), two more Avengers will return for Endgame: Ant-Man (Scott Lang, played by Paul Rudd) and Hawkeye (Clint Barton, played by Jeremy Renner) — although Hawkeye is now going by the codename Ronin for reasons we’ll have to wait to find out. That’s him there looking all dark and angry and pointy.

Of the two, Ant-Man may serve the more important role. When we last saw Scott Lang at the very end of Ant-Man and the Wasp, he was trapped inside the Quantum Realm — a tiny dimension only accessible by those who can shrink to subatomic size. The Quantum Realm has not one but two potential MacGuffins that could factor into bringing the Fallen back to life. When Ant-Man became trapped in the Quantum Realm, he was on an expedition to collect “quantum healing particles.” While the precise nature of these doodads is unclear, I imagine magical restorative particles could be useful to the Avengers.

On top of that, the Quantum Realm itself has strange properties; the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym, once described it as “a reality where all concepts of time and space become irrelevant as you shrink for all eternity." And if time and space become irrelevant there, then perhaps Ant-Man could lead the Avengers into the Quantum Realm in order to travel back in time and stop Thanos before he collected all the Infinity Stones. (In the Ant-Man and the Wasp post-credits scene, Janet warns Scott not to get sucked into a “time vortex,” which is either another big clue or another red herring.) That might also explain why the Avengers are sporting those nifty new matching costumes in all the Endgame trailers.

The Avengers will also get help from Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers, Brie Larson) who’s been off in deep space since the events of her solo film, which was set in the mid-1990s. At the end of Avengers: Infinity War, S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Nick Fury and his right-hand woman Maria Hill activated a distress beacon and called Carol back to Earth. Captain Marvel received her powers from an explosion involving the Tesseract — AKA the Space Stone — which means she has a connection to the Infinity Stones, and might be able to use them to disrupt Thanos’ power. Even if she doesn’t, she is easily one of the most powerful Avengers, and will help balance the scales in any battle.

And finally, there’s one more Marvel hero who’s gone unaccounted for who will definitely show up in EndgameValkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a disgraced Asgardian warrior who redeemed herself on an adventure with Thor during the events of Thor: Ragnarok. She was totally MIA in Avengers: Infinity War, but she’s been featured on several Avengers: Endgame posters. Her godlike powers could also make her a major asset in any fight with Thanos. Speaking of which...

3. Thanos: What’s This Dude’s Problem?

Avengers: Infinity War Thanos

Thanos (Josh Brolin) has been a thorn in the Avengers’ side since their first film back in 2012. The Avengers’ post-credits scene revealed that the alien invasion of New York featured in that movie was engineered by Thanos, and he popped up repeatedly throughout the early years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the hunt for one Infinity Stone or another. For whatever reason, he always sent underlings to collect these things for him and they always, always, always failed. Finally in Infinity War he took matters into his own hands.

Thanos wanted to wipe out half of all life everywhere because he believes the universe is out of “balance.” On his own planet of Titan, he proposed this plan but no one listened to him. Instead, he was branded a madman; eventually Titan collapsed as a result of overpopulation and lack of resources. Afterwards, Thanos began traveling the galaxy, forcefully murdering half of the residents on every planet he visited. (This is also how he found and adopted his daughter and Guardian of the Galaxy Gamora.)

Eventually, Thanos learns of the Infinity Stones and sets off rounding them to make his murder-half-of-everyone plan a lot more time efficient. At one point in Infinity War, when asked what he would do with his life if he actually succeeds in this mad plan, he claimed he would retire from his career in mass genocide and watch the sunrise. And in the final shots of Infinity War, that’s exactly what he did.

So what is he up to in Avengers: Endgame? No one knows. At least at the start of the new movie, Thanos has no goal he’s working towards. He achieved exactly what he set out to do in Avengers: Infinity War. In some of the Endgame trailers and clips, it looks like that once Captain Marvel shows up, the Avengers decide to go fight Thanos a second time — although Marvel’s trailers are notoriously misleading. Regardless, one must assume that whatever plan the Avengers put into action to undo the Snap, Thanos eventually gets wind of it, setting up the superhero fight to end all superhero fights. It all goes down on April 26 when Avengers: Endgame opens in theaters.

Need More MCU Prep For Endgame? Watch Our Full Series Recap:

Gallery — Follow the Evolution of Every Avenger’s Costumes:

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