Endgame Pre-Game: A Novice Avengers Guide to the Movie of the Year

As an army of fans assembles to make Avengers: Endgame the movie event of the year, what do you do if you want to join in, but aren’t a Marvel scholar? We’ve got you covered, True Believers.


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Let’s say you’re a hardcore Marvel fan. You’ve seen every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You’ve waited by your device for the split-second those advance tickets went on sale. You’re wearing your Avengers T-shirt, you’ve pre-ordered your Marvel Legends figures, and you’ve watched the previous 21 films one more time to get prepared for Avengers: Endgame.

This article isn’t for you.

Don’t get us wrong. You can still read and enjoy it, but this piece is for the Casual Observer. The parent or grandparent that isn’t steeped in Marvel lore, the person that has trouble separating Ant-Man from Spider-Man or wonders why there’s a talking raccoon with a gun. Maybe you’ve heard that this Avengers: Endgame movie is a big deal, breaking box-office records before it even opens, or maybe you just want to go with your more versed family and friends for some blockbuster fun. Whatever the case, you might like a quick guide to the end of this phase of the MCU. And we’re here to help.

Note: Includes spoilers to earlier Marvel movies.

1. What’s Happening?

Avengers: Endgame is the 22nd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and it’s directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. Starting with Iron Man in 2008, the various Marvel Studios movies have common threads that eventually wove all of the major players together for last year’s Avengers: Infinity War. The main plot concerns intergalactic villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) gathering the six ancient and powerful Infinity Stones; though the combined forces of the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy tried to stop him, they failed. Thanos combined the six stones into his Infinity Gauntlet, which he used to wipe out half of all life in the universe in his own twisted vision of bringing balance to existence. In Avengers: Endgame, our surviving heroes (with some help from new arrival Captain Marvel) will take one last desperate gamble to make things right.

2. Who Survived?

We’ll answer that question and its flipside, which is “Who got dusted?”

The survivors are:

  • Captain America (Chris Evans)
  • Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.)
  • Thor (Chris Hemsworth)
  • Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)
  • Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)
  • Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)
  • Okoye (Danai Gurira)
  • War Machine (Don Cheadle)
  • Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)
  • Captain Marvel (Brie Larson)
  • Nebula (Karen Gillan)
  • Wong (Benedict Wong)
  • M’Baku (Winston Duke)
  • Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow)
  • Rocket Raccoon (voice of Bradley Cooper)

Among the heroes that disintegrated when Thanos snapped were:

  • Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)
  • Falcon (Anthony Mackie)
  • Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)
  • Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen)
  • Star-Lord (Chris Pratt)
  • Drax (Dave Bautista)
  • Mantis (Pom Klementieff)
  • Groot (voice of Vin Diesel)
  • Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)
  • Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)
  • Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders)
  • Shuri (Letitia Wright)
  • Hank Pym (Michael Douglas)
  • Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer)
  • Wasp (Evangeline Lilly)
  • Spider-Man (Tom Holland)

Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Vision (Paul Bettany), Heimdall (Idris Elba), and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) all fell to Thanos prior to his use of the Infinity Gauntlet. So yes, the odds are stacked against the good guys.

3. Hey, Some of Those People Weren’t in the Last Movie, Were They?

Good eye, Hypothetical Question Asker. Hawkeye was completely absent from Infinity War, having retired after the events of Captain America: Civil War to spend time with his family. But trailers and merchandising have indicated that not only does Clint Barton return, he does so in his Ronin persona, a costumed identity that comes from the comics and has served as a rotating incognito mantle for heroes in need of hiding, like Hawkeye, Echo, and Blade. Ant-Man was trapped in the Quantum Realm at the end of Ant-Man and The Wasp, which also showed several members of his supporting cast falling victim to Thanos’s snap. In Nick Fury’s final moments, he activated a pager; if you saw Captain Marvel, you know the significance of that moment and know from that film’s post-credits scene that the good Captain hauled it back to Earth to answer her old friend’s call.

4. Do I Have to Have Seen All 21 Previous Movies to Understand This One?

No. And yes. Think of it like this: you’re essentially tuning into the equivalent of a season finale. The Marvel Studios films have told an interconnected story (with some chapters more essential than others) that introduced the heroes, slowly rolled in the Infinity Stones and the threat of Thanos, and established important character relationships and locations, all of which came to a head in Infinity War. You can probably get by with seeing Infinity War and still be okay. If you wanted to knock out a quick marathon of the most essential chapters, watch, in order of release, Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War.

Alternatively, you could watch Jimmy Fallon’s rundown of the MCU set to a parody of Bill Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” as performed by the cast. That might do it.

Jimmy Fallon and the Avengers recap the MCU to “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” (Uploaded to YouTube by The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon)

5. Why Do People Keep Acting Like It’s the End If There Are More Marvel Movies Coming?

Avengers: Endgame is the next-to-last film of the so-called Phase 3; Marvel has grouped their films into loosely connected “phases” since 2008’s Iron Man. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has indicated that July’s Spider-Man: Far from Home is the official end of this Phase, and that the next film will initiate Phase 4. Endgame, however, does mark the end of the story of the Infinity Stones and the original six-member line-up of the Avengers team. A number of actors may be departing the franchise after this chapter, so it’s seen in many ways as a conclusion and passing of the torch, even as we wait on upcoming films like The Eternals and Shang-Chi.

6. Do They Still Make Marvel Comics?

YES. Comic books are a vibrant, thriving medium, and Marvel is in the thick of it. You can find your nearest local comic shop using the Comic Shop Locator. Moreover, the annual Free Comic Book Day is on May 4; that’s when comic shops and other locations that stock graphic novels (like Barnes & Noble and your local libraries) offer free comics from a variety of companies for audiences of all ages.

If you’re curious as to where the actual story of the films started, the Marvel Universe as we know it is grounded in the work of hundreds of creators, but most notably the late Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Writer-artist Jim Starlin created Thanos in 1973; the villain’s obsession with the Infinity Gems (same thing) originated during a run of appearances in Silver Surfer in 1990, and led to a two-issue Thanos Quest special that saw him working to acquire them. The following year’s Infinity Gauntlet mini-series provides a very large amount of the inspiration behind Infinity War and Endgame. You can get some more in-depth Marvel history at the character sections of their own site.

7. Is There Anything Else I Absolutely Need to Know?

It’s three hours long with no intermission, so make a pit-stop ahead of time. Also, according to advance, non-spoilery reviews, it’s allegedly an action masterpiece, an emotional rollercoaster, and unexpectedly funny (even for Marvel). No less an authority than legendary comics writer Mark Waid (whom himself has written Avengers, Captain America, and Spider-Man comics and has seen his own work make it into animation, television, and film), wrote on his Facebook page that, “I have not experienced such unbridled joy at a super-hero movie since I first saw Christopher Reeve.”

Hopefully you’ve picked up enough info to allow you to slide comfortably into what’s likely the biggest film event of the year. Remember to arrive early, dress comfortably, and join the millions that have already gotten their tickets to assemble. As a wise man once said, “Excelsior!”

Featured image: Shutterstock

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