Avengers: Infinity War officially hit theaters today, and it’s expected to break box office records.

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The film’s release is like having Christmas in April for comic book fans, but its overall on-screen appeal opens the Marvel Cinematic Universe tale up for all to enjoy. However, the movie does come at you fast — throwing character after character at the audience in a dazzling and dizzying CGI spectacle filled with non-stop action, futuristic weapons, quick location changes and a slew of characters morphing in and out of their heroic forms.

If you’re a newbie and don’t want to spend the entire film whispering to the person next to you, “who’s that?” then read on to absorb all you can from our Marvel Comic Universe 101 crash course. (Characters are roughly in the order they appear in the film.)


[Editor’s Note: It’s helpful to try to match the actor to the character as there are quite literally more characters in this movie than any other Marvel Comic Universe film ever made].

Thanos: Thanos is the bad guy. Played by Josh Brolin, he’s like Iron Man on steroids, but he has this iron glove that fits six stones. If he gets all six stones (infinity gems), he has the power to destroy the whole universe. (This is the entire plot of the movie, so keep that in mind.)

The Thanos squad: Thanos largely acts alone, transcending space and time, but he does have several adopted children who pop up in the beginning (Cull ObsidianEbony MawProxima Midnight, and Corvus Glaive) and sporadically throughout the film. Make note of them, so you know they’re also repping the dark side. What you do need to know is that Thanos and his adult children  immediately crash Thor’s interstellar party much like your drunk uncle who shows up to the BBQ, drinks all your beer, doesn’t clean up after himself, and throws your brother-in-law into a closet door (or a space-time portal to another dimension).

The Hulk: Odds are that you already know what he looks like (big, green guy). Played by Mark Ruffalo, The Hulk has the potential ability to transcend from nice guy Bruce Banner to the roided-out mean, green, fighting machine under the right circumstances.

Thor: While he may be missing an eye, Thor (played by Chis Helmsworth) comes armed with a really fancy hammer, six-pack abs and a lot of angst. In the beginning of the movie, he’s kicking it with The Hulk, Loki, and Heimdall on their spaceship until Thanos and his moocher children show up and ruin everything- sort of like when Donald Trump entered the White House.

Dr. Strange: A sophisticated guy who kicks it in libraries with books that likely smell of rich mahogany, Dr. Strange is the keeper of one of the infinity stones that Thanos is looking for. He has a magic cape that comes off and can move on its own. His sidekick/assistant is Wong, possibly the chubbiest martial arts instructor in the galaxy.

Iron Man: If you don’t know who Iron Man is, then you probably need to reevaluate your life choices. Played by Robert Downey Jr., the newlywed Iron Man makes his debut in the film early on — complete with a jazzier suit, new weaponry (nanotechnology) and a slew of witty one-liners. Gwyneth Paltrow, his wife, appears onscreen briefly, then returns to jogging around Central Park before going home to (we assume) make organic kale wheatgrass smoothies or whatever she does. ($20 says it involves kale.)

Spiderman: If you’re confused as to why Tobey Maguire isn’t Spiderman anymore, you’re not alone. Apparently they change these guys out every few years. The new Spiderman is supposed to be approximately 16 years old, an assumption that we can make based on the fact that he rides a school bus. (The school bus’s super power is navigating through the streets of New York city without traffic.) Despite the fact that he’s not Tobey Maguire, Tom Holland does an excellent job filling out the legendary spandex suit.

Scarlet Witch: Bringing some eye candy to the movie, Wanda Maximoff (aka the Scarlet Witch), played by Elizabeth Olson, proves that brains and beauty are almost enough of a superpower alone. She teams up with Vision, Captain America, Black Widow, and Falcon.

Vision: He’s a man, but also a machine. (Feel free to use that line at the gym, gentlemen). Made of red and black synthetic materials, Vision is powered by solar energy, making him an enemy not just to Thanos, but to Republican lobbying groups as well.

Captain America: In addition to his charming good looks, Steve Rogers/Captain America (played by Chris Evans), fights evil with an American flag shield (and really strong hair gel).

Black Widow: Once again, Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as Black Widow, using her superpower of being really, really hot to distract you from the fact that you’re almost an hour into the movie and you kind of need to use the restroom, but you don’t want to miss anything important. (She also has some sweet gymnastics moves that help her evade intergalactic creepers- and the bad guys.

Falcon: It’s a bird, it’s a plane….or it’s both. Falcon (played by Anthony Mackie) uses his mechanical wings to fly as well as his telepathic abilities to control birds.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Bringing some comedic relief to the film, the Guardians of the Galaxy are a rag-tag band of interstellar misfits. Let by Chris Pratt as Star Lord, the team includes Mantis (who can put people to sleep or make them wake up by wiggling her antennae), Drax the Destroyer (whose super power appears to be backing up Star Lord when he runs his mouth too much). Rocket Raccoon (a cuddly little raccoon who pilots spaceships), Groot (a literal tree- likely the result of a writer’s bad acid trip in the 60’s), and finally Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana, who looks as good in green foundation as she does in blue), Star Lord’s girlfriend and Thanos’s adopted daughter. (Talk about awkward family BBQs).

War Machine: Apparently the superhero’s liaison to the Pentagon, War Machine (played by Don Cheadle) helps back up the Avengers with his superpowers which are similar to Iron Man’s, but focus more on military-style fighting skills rather than a technologically advanced suit.

Black Panther: Spoiler alert- Black Panther doesn’t make an appearance until well into the movie. If you haven’t seen Black Panther,  you should probably trade in your Avengers ticket and go check it out at the $2 theater. The visual splendor of Wakanda is every bit as good as it was a few months ago, and Black Panther’s whole army of warriors returns to team up with the Avengers.

Nebula: Nebula, who fires energy from her bionic appendages, is one of Thanos’ adopted children, who like Gamora, has some serious daddy issues. She also has some impressive CGI, showcasing why it cost approximately $400 million to make this movie.

Eltri: Playing an actual angry elf (or dwarf), Eltri (played superbly by Peter Dinklage) makes the hammers that Thor needs to fight Thanos.

There are at least a dozen more minor characters in supporting roles, but the majority of the film focuses on the aforementioned players. With the release date coming on the heels of the wildly successful Black Panther, it’s natural to compare the two films. But in all honesty, it’s like comparing apples to oranges. Black Panther is a far deeper film with a heavier plot line and stronger character development while Avengers is a smorgasbord of action, animation and non-stop adventure.

Is it recommend to see Black Panther first in order to better appreciate Wakanda’s place in the film? Yes, but it’s not necessary. Both have their place in the Marvel Universe- and if predictions are correct, in consumers’ wallets as well.