Warning: This post contains spoilers for Captain Marvel and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Last year’s Avengers: Infinity War and the upcoming Avengers: Endgame both hinge on an important question: Who controls the Infinity Stones? These are powerful gems that, when put together, grant the being that possesses them ultimate power. Perhaps the most well-known and important Infinity Stone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the Space Stone, which pops up in six different movies, including the most recent film, Captain Marvel.
The Space Stone allows the person who holds it to control the fabric of space and teleport anywhere in the universe. A blue cube called the Tesseract was built to contain the stone. The Tesseract spent much of its life on Asgard before it was brought to Earth for safekeeping. Humans who worshipped the Asgardian gods guarded it at Tønsberg.
The Tesseract makes its onscreen debut in Captain America: The First Avenger and then plays the role of MacGuffin over and over again in various Marvel films. Here’s a timeline of the Tesseract’s journey from Norway to Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet.
Captain America: The First Avenger (1942)
In 1942, Johann Schmitt (a.k.a. the Red Skull, played by Hugo Weaving) retrieved the Tesseract from Tønsberg. Schmitt was the leader of HYDRA, the scientific branch of the SS under the Nazi regime in Germany. He used the power of the Tesseract to create weapons to fight the Allies during World War II.
When Captain America (Chris Evans) fights Schmitt on a plane, Red Skull tries to handle the Tesseract himself. As fans learn in both this film and Guardians of the Galaxy, most beings cannot handle an Infinity Stone without being destroyed by it. In this case, the stone opens a wormhole and sucks Red Skull into it. The Tesseract then falls out of the plane and into Nordic Waters. Captain America crashes the plane in the ocean so that it won’t crash into a building in New York.
We find out later in Thor that Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) father, Howard Stark (John Slattery), recovered it while looking for Captain America’s body in the ocean. After studying the object, he handed it over to agents at S.H.I.E.L.D.
Captain Marvel (1990s)
Mar-Vell (Annette Bening), a Kree alien working undercover as a S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist on earth, harnesses the power of the Tesseract in order to create an engine that will let a ship travel at the speed of light. She intends to use the engine to help an alien race called the Skrulls, who are being persecuted and murdered by the Kree, escape to a faraway galaxy.
The Kree discover Mar-Vell’s betrayal and kill her as a pilot named Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) watches. Carol shoots the super-powered engine so that the Kree cannot get their hands on it and during the resulting explosion, gains superhuman powers. The Kree wipe Carol’s memory and make her a part of their military forces.
Carol returns to Earth years later and follows clues to a hidden ship where Mar-Vell was keeping Skrull refugees and the Tesseract. That’s where Goose, an alien that looks like a cat but is actually part of a species called the Flerken, comes in. The feline — who worked with Mar-Vell — swallows the Tesseract to protect it from the attacking Kree.
The Tesseract remains in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s possession for decades. In an end-credits scene for Thor, Fury shows the Tesseract to Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), a friend of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and asks him to study it. But Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who seemingly died at the end of that film, lurks nearby. It becomes apparent that Loki is controlling Dr. Selvig’s mind.
Loki hears about the powerful Tesseract and plots to steal it.
Loki decides he wants to become supreme ruler of earth. He cuts a deal with a big, bad purple alien named Thanos: Thanos will lend Loki an Infinity Stone called the Mind Stone (which Loki wields in his scepter) so that Loki can retrieve the Tesseract (and Space Stone inside it) for Thanos. In exchange, Thanos provides Loki with an alien army to attack Earth.
Loki steals the Tesseract from S.H.I.E.L.D. and creates a wormhole above New York City to summon the alien army. The Avengers stop Loki, and Thor takes both Loki and the Tesseract back to his home of Asgard.
When Thor’s sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), destroys Asgard, Thor and Loki hasten to escape. Loki visits the vault of Odin, Thor’s now-dead father. As he walks through the roon, he spots the Tesseract and pauses. The movie implies that Loki, now a good guy but still the God of Mischief, steals the cube for himself.
Avengers: Infinity War
At the beginning of Infinity War, Thanos overtakes the ship that Thor, Loki and many Asgardians used to escape their destroyed home planet. Thanos demands the Tesseract. Thor says that it was destroyed with the rest of Asgard, but when Thanos threatens to kill Thor, Loki admits to taking it.
Thanos kills Loki and takes the Tesseract, which he crushes to reveal the Space Stone. He adds the stone to the Infinity Gauntlet, the glove he uses to wield the power of all six Infinity Stones.