We’ve reviewed Avengers: Endgame with and without spoilers. Told you about who made it back, who’s kinda gone and who’s really gone. Told you there’s no need to wait for the postcredits sequences because there isn’t one — we think. We’ve even suggested the best times to pee during the movie.
Now, if you’ve still haven’t watched the latest MCU title, this is the moment to stop reading. Either that or you really don’t mind spoilers.
Because this is where I tell you how those people get those things (that’s the super-clever code name we used in the very spoiler-sensitive CNET newsroom for our colleagues who haven’t yet caught Infinity War‘s sequel).
This is basically how, when and where our much-loved Avengers get each of the Infinity Stones back in Endgame so they can reverse the Snapture and save the day.
The Infinity Stones are six magical gems scattered throughout time and space. To retrieve them, the Avengers divide into three teams to pull off a time heist — and they only have one shot. They’ve also been advised not to talk to their past selves or bet on any sports events.
Here’s how things go:
New York 2012
If you pick the right year, there are three stones in New York. And that year is 2012, during the events of the original Avengers movie.
Present-day Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) visits the Sanctum Sanctorum looking for Doctor Strange and his Time Stone. Only Strange isn’t the Sorcerer Supreme yet, as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) informs him. Hulk clearly should have checked out our article on how to watch every Marvel movie and TV show in the perfect order.
For once, Hulk can’t smash his way to a solution. In the end, it’s as simple as telling the wizard that Doctor Strange actually volunteered it to Thanos because it was the only way.
Meanwhile, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans, wearing an older version of his suit that does do a lot for his ass) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) deal with the mess Loki (Tom Hiddleston) created during the earlier film.
Loki is already in custody so present-day Captain America heads to Stark Tower to bag the god of mischief’s Scepter, which contains the Mind Stone. In 2012, the Avengers gave it to S.H.I.E.L.D. to store it safely. But following the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Cap now knows what he didn’t then: that S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives including Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo) are actually HYDRA double agents. Cap looks like he’s about to get a do-over of the infamous elevator moment on Captain America: The Winter Soldier … but like Hulk he just has to say the right words: ‘Hail HYDRA.
While 2023 Captain America faces his 2012 self — knowing full well how hard he can fight — Iron Man and Ant-Man devise a ploy to get their hands on the Tesseract (Space Stone). They cause 2012 Iron Man to have a heart hiccup and take advantage of the confusion to grab the aluminum briefcase carrying the stone. Only 2012 Hulk is a much less civilized creature than the 2023 version and he’s pissed because he was forced to take the stairs. He stumbles into a disguised 2023 Iron Man, causing the present-day Avenger to fumble the briefcase. The imprisoned Loki takes advantage of the double confusion, grabs the Tesseract and simply disappears, causing all sorts of timeline confusion at the same time.
Which brings us to…
Camp Lehigh, New Jersey, 1970
Forced to find the Space Stone elsewhere, Iron Man and Captain America travel to the place and time where they know S.H.I.E.L.D. stored the Tesseract. As a bonus, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) was working at the military facility at the time and they scheme to bag some extra Pym Particles for the trip back.
Finding the Tesseract is straightforward for Tony, who faces an even bigger challenge: giving parenting tips to his own father, Howard Stark (John Slattery minus the white hair). Likewise, Cap quickly finds the Pym Particles, but you can feel Steve Roger’s temptation to just stay in the past when he catches a tantalizing glimpse of his long-lost love Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).
Odd couple Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) travel to Thor’s hometown to get back the Reality Stone, or Aether. Before the mission, the husky Norseman’s rambling monologue recaps the events of Thor: The Dark World and reminds us the Aether infected his ex, Jane Foster.
Clearly Academy Award Winner Natalie Portman couldn’t be tempted to join the parade of star cameos in this scene, or she’s just underused in the most ludicrous way. But I love the tender scene in which Rene Russo returns as Thor’s highly observant mom, Frigga.
While Thor gives his mom a last comforting hug and takes the opportunity to lure back his hammer Mjölnir, Rocket gets the job done in a much less subtle fashion by stealing the Infinity Stone and making a run for it.
Nebula (Karen Gillan) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) have it pretty easy — at least at first. They see a dancing Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) from the opening credits of Guardians of the Galaxy. Only they can’t hear the Come And Get Your Love by Redbone on the soundtrack and conclude the dancing spaceman is just an idiot.
Knocking out Star-Lord, aka Peter Quill, they retrieve the Orb (Power Stone) themselves. Chillingly, Nebula burns part of her arm off in the process, but she doesn’t feel the pain.
The problem, of course, is that she never makes it back with Rhodey and the Stone to 2023 because digital minds and time travel don’t agree with each other.
On their way to Vormir, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) bond one last time about their Budapest days. If only they knew theirs is the peskiest of the stones to get. As viewers, we already know the drill when the Red Skull shows up and tells them the whole thing about a soul for a soul.
So to get the Soul Stone, one of them has to sacrifice him or herself. They’ll fight it over and in the end, it’s Natasha Romanoff, who only just learned her father’s name, who doesn’t make it back to 2023.
And that’s it. Six stones. Five locations. Four different years. One member down. And another one who’ll prove the whole plan had a few flaws.