I've written about the Marvel Cinematic Universe before. It's no surprise that after eighteen movies (as of the time of this article) and ten years, the franchise has become something of a cultural landmark. This has all been building up to the end-all be-all of superhero movies, the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, where the entire universe comes together to fight Thanos, now wielding the Infinity Gauntlet. The movie has been a decade in the making, and has what is easily the best cast ever assembled for a major motion picture. Now I'm not going to go into the production and the rise of the MCU, I've already done that. Rather, I just want to take a few minutes and talk about the movie that years ago, we never thought would be possible.

In summer 2008, the first two installments in the MCU were released – Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. These were major successes for the studio, though The Incredible Hulk wasn't as well received as Iron Man. It was one thing to see Samuel L. Jackson cameo as Nick Fury in the now-famous after credit scene, but it was something else entirely when Robert Downey Jr. appeared to discuss the “team” being assembled at the end of Hulk. Slowly, more and more actors were hired onboard the franchise, leading their own series of movies. Of course those release dates were moved around, which is just a fact of Hollywood. After four years, The Avengers premiered in theaters, proving that this wasn't just an attempt – all these separate heroes were coming together. The superhero film genre was now a major force to be reckoned with, compared to the occasional Spider-Man or X-Men movie (even at this point, DC had only had Batman Begins and Superman Returns, and before that, their last big hit was Batman Returns). It was not unlike the current revival of Star Wars in the public eye. People across all demographics were gathering to watch these movies and follow the story.

Much like how Iron Man's after-credits scene showed Marvel Studios' gameplan for what would be called “Phase 1,” the mid-credits scene of Avengers revealed there was a bigger threat than Tom Hiddleston's chilling Loki – the Mad Titan, Thanos. There, we knew Marvel was in it for the long run. Over the next couple of years, the Infinity Stones were introduced, and it was revealed Loki's staff and the Tesseract from Captain America: The First Avenger were Stones as well. The audience now had a story that tracked through every single movie in some way, whether it was a minor reference or a major plot point in the movies. Josh Brolin was cast as Thanos in 2013 for a cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy, and the crowds at Comic Con went nuts. We really had never seen this sort of thing before. Casting someone years before the actual movie about them so we could follow his character's path? We had seen Nick Fury and Black Widow go between movies before, but now we had the villain for a future movie already being set up. His goal was even the same, gathering the Infinity Stones to rule the universe as he sees fit. The universe was quickly filling up, and the audience was loving every minute. They had been able to assemble the team for the first film, and continued through the second, before 2016's Captain America: Civil War involved the entire catalog of Avengers characters, as if even the solo films had weight on the franchise as a whole. The Thanos storyline has tracked through each Avenger's personal arc in some way, as well as the Guardians of the Galaxy – as if Marvel knew exactly who the villain needed to be to tie it all together.

Now there was the issue involving rights to certain characters. Many of which were moved to television, such as Daredevil and Ghost Rider, but even still – those television programs were just as much a part of the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe as Thor and Ant-Man. Meanwhile, Marvel Studios did not own the rights to using the Fantastic Four, X-Men, or Spider-Man in their movies, and attempted to get them back, at least the rights of the latter. By 2015, Sony, who owned film rights to Spider-Man and all related characters, was willing to make a deal, and the MCU incarnation appeared in Captain America: Civil War to the excitement of the moviegoing public. And was with most MCU decisions and projects, it was debated whether or not the franchise could introduce such a major character this late in the game. But they did, and Tom Holland's take on Peter Parker was very well received, leading to him being involved in a solo trilogy and a major focus of the next Avengers film, which just happened to be Infinity War. That same movie introduced Black Panther, and now look what they've done. Years ago, this was impossible. Characters were owned by different film studios, and none of them would work together to do a project like this. But Marvel proved themselves to be a powerhouse, and as the rights came back in, they were immediately put into the list of usable heroes.

And now, the MCU is evolved. Black Panther took the world by storm, and Marvel is likely to get the rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four characters after the Disney/Fox deal goes through. Nobody expected this to work over a decade ago, and now we're coming up on a massive crossover film involving every aspect of the heroes we as an audience have come to love. After Infinity War, Marvel will have to find a way to show that even after building and building, there is still a story to tell, and at the same time keep the audiences coming back for more. And if they were able to do it when that kind of movie series was just a dream, then I have no doubt they'll be able to do this once again. It'll just take time, and as with this film and the Infinity Gauntlet arc, that's exactly how to keep it going – making the audience want to know what is going to happen next.