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A guide to 'Avengers: Infinity War'

It's 2008 and I'm watching "Iron Man" with a packed house in the Regal Elmwood.

After the end credits, Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark steps back into his home. A figure stirs in the shadows. "You think you're the only superhero in the world?," he says. "Mr. Stark, you've become part of a bigger universe. You just don't know it yet."

The audience sucks in a breath.

Stark stops. "Who the hell are you?"

"Nick Fury, director of SHIELD," answers the man (Samuel L. Jackson). I stopped breathing. Then, he drops the line: "I'm here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative."

The screen goes black. The crowd goes wild.

That scene - lasting less than a minute - announced the dawn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, granting our dreams for a cohesive, interwoven comic book movie universe.

Eighteen films and almost 10 years to the day after "Iron Man" was released, we get the ultimate payoff with "Avengers: Infinity War," the first film to connect every corner of the MCU. And the fans are ready: the film broke the first-day ticket sales record set just a few months earlier by "Black Panther," and has sold more advance tickets than the past seven MCU films combined.

While our excitement hasn't faded, things are about to get bad for our heroes. Here's what you need to know about "Avengers: Infinity Wars."

The story

Still a splintered group, the Avengers must pull together with the help of allies like the Guardians of the Galaxy to battle the greatest threat to existence - Thanos.

Call him the Dark Lord or the Mad Titan, the power-hungry Thanos seeks all six Infinity Stones, powerful objects that are intimately connected to the fundamental foundations that shape All Existence. To have one stone gives the ability to manipulate all to which it is connected. To possess all six? In the hands of Thanos, it could mean The End of … everything.

Created from CGI motion capture, Thanos is voiced by Josh Brolin. (Marvel Studios-Walt Disney)

The characters

The Big Bad

THANOS (Dione)

Played by: Damion Poitier (2012), Josh Brolin (since 2014)

Film debut: "Marvel’s The Avengers" (last seen in "Avengers: Age of Ultron")

Status: Finally emerging from the shadows, Thanos intends to bring balance to the universe by killing half of it -- as in, half of everything that lives. He's got the muscle to do it with his army (the Outriders) and his lieutenants (the Black Order). But if he gets his hands on the Infinity Stones? Game. Over.

The Avengers

IRON MAN (Anthony Edward Stark)

Played by: Robert Downey Jr.

Film debut: "Iron Man" (last seen in "Spider-Man: Homecoming")

Status: With the loss of Steve Rogers, Tony is now effectively the leader of the Avengers and a mentor to Peter Parker (Spider-Man). (We all hope he’s gotten over his attraction to Peter’s Aunt May.)  His relationship with Pepper Potts is apparently on again and there may be a proposal in the future.

Iron Man Tony Stark, right, is played by Robert Downey Jr. in "The Avengers." (Marvel-Disney)

THE VISION

Played by: Paul Bettany

Film debut: "Avengers: Age of Ultron" (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War")

Status: He continues to pursue a relationship with Wanda Maximoff, splitting his time between visiting her in Europe and attending to his responsibilities in the Avengers.

WAR MACHINE (Col. James Rupert Rhodes)

Played by: Terrence Howard (2008), Don Cheadle (since 2010)

Film debut: "Iron Man" (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War")

Status: Rhodey remains the best friend of Tony Stark. After being critically injured, he was last seen undergoing physical therapy. Fans are hoping he will benefit from the advanced medical technology in Wakanda.

Gwyneth Paltrow, left, as Pepper Potts in Marvel's Iron Man 3." (Marvel)

VIRGINIA "PEPPER" POTTS

Played by: Gwyneth Paltrow

Film debut: "Iron Man" (last seen in "Spider-Man: Homecoming")

Status: The chief executive officer of Stark Industries, Pepper has apparently recovered from her exposure to the Extremis technovirus. The new film should shed light on her relationship with Tony Stark.

The Black Widow is played by Scarlett Johansson. (Zade Rosenthal/Marvel)

THE AVENGERS: GONE ROGUE

BLACK WIDOW (Natalia Alianovna "Natasha" Romanoff)

Played by: Scarlett Johansson

Film debut: "Iron Man 2" (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War")

Status: A former spy and assassin for the KGB and the Soviet Red Room program, Romanoff went rogue, later joining SHIELD. Best friends with Clint Barton (Hawkeye), she went off the grid after the events of the last film.

THE FALCON (Samuel Thomas "Sam" Wilson)

Played by: Anthony Mackie

Film debut: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War")

Status: Since being rescued from the Raft prison by Steve Rogers, the former U.S. Air Force pararescue airman has gone off the grid after defying the Sokovia Accords.

CAPTAIN AMERICA (Steven Grant "Steve" Rogers)

Played by: Chris Evans

Film debut: "Captain America: The First Avenger" (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War")

Status: The World War II supersoldier was last seen in Wakanda, where he took his friend James Barnes (Winter Soldier) for treatment. Having surrendered his shield, he also has gone off the grid after defying the Sokovia Accords.

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Chris Evans, with the star on his chest, plays Captain America in "The Avengers." (Marvel)

NICHOLAS JOSEPH “NICK” FURY

Played By: Samuel L. Jackson

Film debut: "Iron Man" (last seen in "Avengers: Age of Ultron")

Status: Fury remains off the grid since the events of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." While he surfaces in time to help confront dangerous threats, he may be pursuing his own agenda. A popular fan theory is that he is supplying Natasha Romanoff with the intelligence she provides her current covert action team. His appearance in "Avengers: Infinity War" remains unknown.

HAWKEYE (Clinton Francis “Clint” Barton)

Played by: Jeremy Renner

Film debut: "Thor" (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War")

Status: Since being rescued from the Raft prison by Steve Rogers, the former agent of SHIELD has retired, spending time with his wife, daughter and sons.

THE SCARLET WITCH (Wanda Maximoff)

Played by: Elizabeth Olsen

Film debut: "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War")

Status: Since being rescued from the Raft prison by Steve Rogers, the former Sokovian freedom fighter and Hydra agent has retired, and is now living in Europe. She continues to pursue a relationship with the Vision.

ANT-MAN II (Scott Edward Harris Lang)

Played by: Paul Rudd

Film debut: "Ant-Man" (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War")

Status: Since being rescued from the Raft prison by Steve Rogers, Lang has presumable retired. From information in the trailers for "Ant-Man & The Wasp," he appears to have turned himself in after the break-out, in an effort toward increased visitation with his daughter, Cassie.

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THE OUTSIDERS

DR. HENRY "HANK" PYM (formerly Ant-Man I)

Played by: Michael Douglas

Film debut: "Ant-Man"

Status: Having saved his company from Darren Cross, Pym presented his daughter, Hope van Dyne, with a prototype for a new Wasp suit that he and her mother, Janet van Dyne, created. Later, he upgraded Scott Lang’s suit so that he could grow to tremendous heights, as well as shrink.

Dr. Hank Pym, left, is played by Michael Douglas, while Scott Lang / Ant-Man is played by Paul Rudd in "Ant-Man." (Marvel Studios/TNS)

THE WASP II (Hope Van Dyne)

Played by: Evangeline Lilly

Film debut: "Ant-Man"

Status: The daughter of Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne, she has patched up her differences with her father since the loss – and presumed death – of her mother to the Quantum Realm. She was last seen looking at the Wasp suit prototype with her father. She is scheduled to debut as the Wasp when "Ant-Man and The Wasp" debuts in July.

Hope Van Dyne is played by Evangeline Lilly in "Ant-Man." (Zade Rosenthal/Marvel)

DOCTOR STRANGE (Dr. Stephen Strange)

Played by: Benedict Cumberbatch

Film debut: "Doctor Strange" (last seen in "Thor: Ragnarok")

Status: The Sorcerer Supreme of Earth since the death of the Ancient One, Strange was last seen assisting Thor – and thoroughly messing with Loki, much to the delight of fans – in locating the banished Odin. Currently operating out of the New York Sanctum, he has been researching the Soul Stone, which remains unrevealed.

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Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in a scene from the movie "Doctor Strange" directed by Scott Derrickson. (Marvel Studios/TNS)

WONG

Played by: Benedict Wong

Film debut: "Doctor Strange"

Status: Having survived the war with Kaecilius and the Zealots, this Master of the mystic arts of Kamar-Taj remains at the side of Stephen Strange, tutoring him on the Infinity Stones.

SPIDER-MAN (Peter Benjamin Parker)

Played by: Tom Holland

Film debut: "Captain America: Civil War" (last seen in "Spider-Man: Homecoming")

Status: Although Tony Stark offered him membership in the Avengers, Peter turned it down. Shortly thereafter, his aunt and legal guardian, May Parker, discovered that Peter had been hiding his super heroic life. Presumably, he survived that experience, although whether he was grounded remains in question.

WARRIORS IN WAKANDA

THE BLACK PANTHER (T’Challa)

Played by: Chadwick Boseman

Film debut: "Captain America: Civil War" (last seen in "Black Panther")

Status: Having defeated the coup launched by Erik Killmonger, T’Challa has committed the wealth and technology of Wakanda to the betterment of the world. How the world’s various political powers have reacted remains to be seen. Also, T’Challa is protecting the James Barnes, the former Winter Soldier, while his psychological programming is removed by his sister, Shuri.

Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in "Black Panther." (Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios - Walt Disney)

SHURI

Played by: Letitia Wright

Film debut: "Black Panther"

Status: The crown princess of Wakanda, Shuri is also the leader and chief technologist of the Wakanda Design Group. The designer of her brother’s nanotech combat uniform. Since the end of Killmonger’s coup against her brother, she has likely been setting up T’Challa’s outreach program in Oakland, Calif.

Fans are waiting to see three things from this beloved character: Shuri’s first meetings with Tony Stark and Spider-Man, and whether she’ll be assisting War Machine by fixing his spine.

OKOYE

Played by: Danai Gurira

Film debut: "Captain America: Civil War" (last seen in "Black Panther")

Status: The general of the Dora Milaje, the all-women special forces of Wakanda, Okoye continues to serve the throne. Fans are curious about whether she and W’Kabi, whom sided with Killmonger, remain together. Fans are also salivating over the potential for an Okoye/Black Widow fight, the potential for which was seen when they met in "Captain America: Civil War."

Three members of the Dora Milaje play major roles in "Black Panther." From left, Okoye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba). (Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios)

NAKIA

Played by: Lupita Nyong'o

Film debut: "Black Panther"

Status: An intelligence agent for Wakanda, Nakia is also the beloved of T’Challa. Since the end of Killmonger’s coup, she has likely been setting up T’Challa’s outreach program in Oakland, Calif. She will not appear in "Avengers: Infinity War."

M’BAKU

Played by: Winston Duke

Film debut: "Black Panther"

Current Status: The chieftan of the Jabari tribe, he holds the respect of T’Challa after he and his people intervened to ensure that T’Challa won back the throne from Killmonger. He is seen in recent trailers preparing for war beside T’Challa’s forces.

THE WINTER SOLDIER (James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes)

Played by: Sebastian Stan

Film debut: "Captain America: The First Avengers" (last seen in "Black Panther")

Status: The former Hydra assassin has been in cryostasis in Wakanda as Shuri has supervised the elimination of his programmed keywords. He was last seen recuperating in a small Wakandan village, with Shuri at his side - which made fans wonder whether romance was in the air.

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LOST IN SPACE

THE HULK (Dr. Robert Bruce Banner)

Played by: Ed Norton (2008); Mark Ruffalo (since 2012)

Film debut: "The Incredible Hulk" (last seen in "Thor: Ragnarok")

Status: The Hulk and Banner are now in a war for existence – Banner remained locked inside the Hulk for years, his last memories having been during the war against Ultron before Thor freed him on Sakaar. Banner having sacrificed himself so that the Hulk could save his friends (Thor and Valkyrie) in Asgard. After the escape from Sakaar and the destruction of Asgard, the Hulk was last seen aboard the starship Statesman, which was ferrying the refugee Asgardians to Earth.

The ship was en route when it was confronted by a massive ship, presumably commanded by Thanos. Fans want to see whether Banner will resume his relationship with the Black Widow, and whether there was, in fact, a romantic connection between the Hulk and Valkyrie.

Mark Ruffalo plays The Hulk in "Age of Ultron." (Marvel)

LOKI

Played by: Tom Hiddleston

Film debut: "Thor" (last seen in "Thor: Ragnarok")

 Status: Having been instrumental in the saving of Asgard’s populace from Hela, Loki has buried the hatchet (errr, hammer?) with his brother Thor. During the battle with Hela, Loki was seen eyeing the Tesseract. After the destruction of Asgard, he was seen aboard the starship Statesman, which was ferrying the refugee Asgardians to Earth. The ship was en route when it was confronted by a massive ship, presumably commanded by Thanos.

THOR

Played by: Chris Hemsworth

Film debut: "Thor" (last seen in "Thor: Ragnarok")

Status: The new king of Asgard has received the full power of his birthright as the god of thunder. With his hammer, Mjolnir, destroyed by Hela, he now channels the lightning directly. Having saved his people from the clutches of Hela and led them past the destruction of Asgard, Thor has resettled his people on Earth. Having buried the hatchet with his brother Loki, he also was on board the Statesman.

HEIMDALL

Played by: Idris Elba

Film debut: "Thor" (last seen in "Thor: Ragnarok")

Status: The former gatekeeper of the Bifrost bridge played a key role in protecting Asgard from the predations of Hela. With Asgard gone, his new role remains unclear. He was also aboard the Statesman when it was confronted by another ship.

VALKYRIE

Played by: Tessa Thompson

Film debut: "Thor: Ragnarok"

Status: The former Scrapper 142 was also on board the starship Statesman. Although fans want to see whether there was a connection between the Hulk and Valkyrie, her appearance in the film has not been confirmed.

STILL CRUISIN’

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Peter Jason Quill (Star Lord, played by Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot II, Rocket Raccoon

Film debut: "Guardians of the Galaxy" (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2")

Status: After destroying Ego, Star Lord's biological father – and the fatal sacrifice of Yondu, his adoptive father – the Guardians are likely doing what they do best: "Something good, something bad, a bit of both." Nebula is off looking for a way to kill her father, Thanos. Fans angered by the revelation that Groot died in the first film will hopefully be mollified by the sullen teen antics of his son, Groot II.

As to how the Guardians get drawn into the fight? Having an unconscious thunder god go splat into your cockpit viewshield is guaranteed to get one's attention.

From left, Zoe Saldana, the character Rocket Racoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, the character Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, and Dave Bautista in a scene from "Guardians of the Galaxy."(Disney - Marvel)

The movies

Get caught up with the feature films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

"Iron Man" (2008)

"The Incredible Hulk" (2008)

"Iron Man 2" (2010)

"Thor" (2011)

"Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011)

"Marvel's The Avenger"s (2012)

Rocket and Baby Groot steal scenes in "Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2." (Disney-Marvel Studios)

"Iron Man 3" (2013)

"Thor: The Dark World" (2013)

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014)

"Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014)

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" (2015)

"Ant-Man" (2015)

"Captain America: Civil War" (2016)

"Doctor Strange" (2016)

"Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2" (2017)

"Spider-Man: Homecoming" (2017)

"Thor: Ragnarok" (2017)

"Avengers: Infinity War" (premieres April 26)

"Ant-Man and the Wasp" (premieres July 6)

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