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With Avengers: Endgame around the corner, it’s time to look back to the start of the story. Not the history of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, but something far more focused and, arguably, more important to the story at hand: the Infinity Stones, and just where they’d been before Thanos used them for a cosmic genocide.
Get ready; this isn’t entirely straightforward.
As revealed by the Collector in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the Infinity Stones are the remnants of the reality that existed before the Marvel Cinematic Universe; as such, each stone contains a seemingly unlimited amount of energy that can be used in specific ways, but controlled only by a rare few. At one point, the Power Stone was used by the Celestials as a method of genocide to wipe out civilizations deemed unworthy; it had also been controlled by an unnamed group — potentially the Celestials — who ended up destroyed as a result.
Also in the distant past — as shown in 2013’s Thor: The Dark World — the Dark Elves attempted to use the Reality Stone to wipe out the Nine Realms, but the attempt was thwarted and the Reality Stone (under the name “the Aether”) ended up in the possession of Asgard. Well aware of its power, then-ruler Bor ordered the Reality Stone be buried so deep that none be aware of its location.
Through mechanisms still unclear, the Space Stone ended up on Earth by the time of World War II. Known as the Tesseract — technically, the cube-shaped vessel containing the Space Stone — it would be the MacGuffin for a number of Marvel movies, including 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, 2012’s The Avengers and this year’s Captain Marvel.
While there, it was used by Mar-Vell while disguised as a U.S. Air Force scientist to develop faster-than-light transport technology for the Skrulls, before Mar-Vell was killed; nonetheless, it was in part responsible for giving Carol Danvers superpowers, transforming her into Captain Marvel. After a standoff with the Kree Starforce, Danvers left the Tesseract with SHIELD for safekeeping — it remained there until Nick Fury invited Erik Selvig to investigate its potential for creating an unlimited power source for humanity.
Selvig’s experiments alerted those seeking the Infinity Stones to the Space Stone’s location — most notably Thanos who, using the alien Chitauri as go-betweens, employed Loki to try and retrieve the stone. Loki, unwittingly, was using another of the Infinity Stones to do so, in that his scepter was powered by the Mind Stone. After Loki’s invasion of New York was unsuccessful — aside from being the event that brought the Avengers together, which was hardly his intent — the Tesseract was returned to Asgard by Loki, while the Mind Stone-powered Scepter was left with SHIELD. This wouldn’t last long, however.
While SHIELD was, unbeknownst to most, falling under the control of Hydra — and the Scepter being moved from SHIELD control to Hydra boss Wolfgang von Strucker, who’d use it to create Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch ahead of 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, events were happening elsewhere involving other stones: the Aether — aka, the Reality Stone — was discovered by Thor’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Jane Foster before being used by the Dark Elves in an attempt to destroy the entire universe.
The attempt was, as seen in Thor: The Dark World, unsuccessful, and the Reality Stone ended up in the hands of Asgard; Odin, worried about storing more than one Infinity Stone in the same location, passed the Reality Stone on to Taneleer Tivan, aka the Collector. There was only one problem: Tivan was, himself, trying to collect the stones and had contracted the Ravagers to retrieve the Power Stone, hidden inside an Orb on the planet Morag. Guardians of the Galaxy showed that Tivan did, in fact, have two Infinity Stones for the briefest of moments, before the conflict between Ronan the Accuser — in the employ of Thanos, like Loki before him — and the Guardians led to the death of Ronan and the Power Stone given to the Nova Corps on Xandar for safekeeping.
The Mind Stone, meanwhile, was freed when the Scepter was first freed from Hydra by the Avengers, and then destroyed by Ultron in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron; the Mind Stone was then transferred into the Vision’s body, where it provided the newborn hero with superpowers and, arguably, a soul all his own. (Age of Ultron, it should be noted, also included Thor having a vision of all of the Infinity Stones being used as one, although that entire plot is a bit confusing.)
The Tesseract returned in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, with Loki quietly stealing it before Asgard’s destruction, a decision he’d soon regret after Thanos and his Black Order attacked the few remaining Asgardians in space, searching for the Space Stone in the post-credit sequence of that movie. As established in the opening of 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos came for the Space Stone having already laid waste to Xandar to collect the Power Stone. From there, he went to Taneleer Tivan to take the Reality Stone, and then used all three — as well as the kidnapped Gamora, from the Guardians of the Galaxy — to visit Vormir where the Soul Stone had been hidden all along. Upon the (unwilling) sacrifice of Gamora, Thanos possessed four of the six stones necessary to power the Infinity Gauntlet.
Soon enough, it was five, when Doctor Strange surrendered the Time Stone in exchange for Tony Stark’s life on the planet Titan. And then, despite the best efforts of the Scarlet Witch and the Vision — it’s hard to sabotage the plans of a man who can control time, after all — Thanos collected the final stone necessary by killing the Vision. The Infinity Gauntlet was complete, and all that remained was one single snap.
As trailers for Endgame have already revealed, Thanos uses the Infinity Gauntlet at least once more during the final chapter of the story. Just how important are the Infinity Stones to the rest of the movie? Find out when Avengers: Endgame opens April 26.
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