Avengers: Endgame, the final instalment in the Avengers franchise, is set to be released next week and will be the culmination of the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) so far. Over the last decade, the MCU has grown significantly since the release of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk in 2008, consequently becoming far more intricate. For some, this alone is confusing enough, especially for those who haven’t seen every film, but as the MCU has grown it has become harder to keep track of all of the clues indicating Thanos’ arrival over the years.
The purpose of the first few films Marvel released was just to introduce some characters and lay the foundation for The Avengers. Whilst Captain America: The First Avenger (released in 2011, starring Chris Evans) also served this purpose, it introduced the first of the Infinite Stones which Thanos (Josh Brolin) used in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) in order to gain the power to perform the snap. The Tesseract holds the Space Stone and has made an appearance in several films since including, but not limited to The Avengers (2012) and, most recently, Captain Marvel (2019). Loki (Tom Hiddleston) spent the duration of the film trying to gain control of the Tesseract to retrieve it for Thanos.
The next Infinity Stone to be introduced was the Reality Stone in Thor: The Dark World (2013) in which Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) was imbued with the Aether (energy from the stone). In the post-credits scene, the stone is delivered to The Collector (Benicio del Toro) for safe keeping.
The Collector is properly introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), as is the Power Stone. Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace) fights to gain possession of the stone for Thanos (who is also introduced for the first time in this film). Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Thanos’ daughter and also the key to the Soul Stone (guarded by Red Skull from the first Captain America instalment) in Infinity War, teams up with the rest of the guardians to prevent Ronan from getting the stone. They succeed, and deposit the stone into the care of the Nova Corps – which later proved to have only delayed Thanos, rather than stopped him.
Whilst Avengers: Age of Ultron was not a fan favourite, it did give us another infinity stone, this time the Mind Stone which Loki’s sceptre had been housing until it was used to create Vision who became a major character in Infinity War. The visions that Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) gave the Avengers team led to Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) return to Asgard and the events of Thor: Ragnarok (2017) which then brought him, along with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Loki, face to face with Thanos for the first time in the opening scene of Infinity War. Thanos himself makes an appearance in the post-credit scene of Age of Ultron as, after several failed attempts at using others to retrieve the stones, he dons the infinity gauntlet, declaring that he’ll “do it [himself]”.
The sixth and final, infinity stone made its first appearance in Doctor Strange (2016). The time stone was in the care of the Sanctum where Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) learned to use magic. He later wielded the stone in order to defeat Dormammu by reversing time repeatedly until the aforementioned entity became too weary with the repetition to continue fighting Strange. This stone has perhaps the most significant role in Infinity War as Doctor Strange used it to look forward in time to determine how best to defeat Thanos – discovering that there is only one way to do so. This meant that he could at least start them off right, even if that did mean giving Thanos the stone to save Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr).
In 2015, Marvel released Ant-Man (starring Paul Rudd) which, at the time, did not appear to link very strongly with previous films. This was the first time that the quantum realm had been introduced into the MCU and many fans have theorised that it will be a key element in defeating Thanos in Avengers: Endgame. In a recent interview, Paul Rudd mentioned that he has known about the ending of Infinity War for a while due to the Ant-Man films introducing elements that would become pivotal later on in the MCU, which many assume to mean the quantum realm.
Looking at the signs – and knowing how far in advance directors Joe and Anthony plan – Thanos has been coming for a long time, perhaps longer than some realised. Fans who either had not read the comics or did not take note of Thanos prior to Infinity War may have underestimated the threat posed by him but one thing is for sure, we all know what he is capable of now.