See 'Avengers: Endgame' stars assemble for #7YearReunion photo, talk parting 'heartbreak'

LOS ANGELES – Chris Hemsworth has remained stoic amid the most shocking spectacles during the decade he's portrayed a Norse demigod in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

But the "Thor" star comes to a startled halt after striding into a suite at the Intercontinental Los Angeles, when a grinning Mark Ruffalo (aka the Hulk) thrusts a 7-year-old photo in front of him.

“Oh, my God! What is that?" Hemsworth asks.

"That" would be a vision of Avengers past: a rowdy group shot featuring a long-haired Hemsworth, Ruffalo, Chris Evans (Captain America) and Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), who assembled for a USA TODAY photo shoot and interview ahead of 2012's "The Avengers."

Called the "core four" by Marvel Studios president and MCU mastermind Kevin Feige, the superheroic group of stars and their classic characters were the major impetus for the first "Avengers" outing, which went on to make $1.5 billion at the box office. 

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Chris Evans (from left), Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo pose before "Avengers" in 2012 (top) and seven years later for "Avengers: Endgame."

"Getting Thor, Captain America, the Hulk and Iron Man in one room – that's why we made this movie," Feige told USA TODAY at the time. "Fighting each other, or the bad guy, seeing these guys clash was the appeal."

Seven years and a few hairstyles later, the fourth installment "Avengers: Endgame" (officially opening Friday, though theaters will show it Thursday night) will mark the end of a Marvel chapter and an unclear future for the group, making way for a new constellation of superheroes.

But getting the guys in one room again – as Downey, Evans, Hemsworth and Ruffalo reassemble to re-create the photo – demonstrates their enduring appeal. 

"We all actually look better now," says Ruffalo, inspecting the photo again. "We’re all lucky to get a second chance at this.”

Here's how the seven-year reunion went down.

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USA TODAY's 2012 interview with the stars of "The Avengers."

USA TODAY: Right off, give your thoughts on how you all look in that 2012 group shot?

Mark Ruffalo: Obviously, Chris (Evans) just got out of the joint.

Chris Hemsworth: I just got out of the salon; I had my hair bleached for the 97th time.

Ruffalo: Hemsworth just finished "Australia Has Talent."

Robert Downey Jr: I was taking a lot of training supplements and am trying to look like I could fit inside of one of Hemsworth's pant legs

Chris Evans (to Downey): Downey is looking strong! Look at you – you look jacked!

Ruffalo: I look like a stand-in. Like the guy they got to look like me.

Evans: Yes, like we needed someone to stand here until the actual actor showed up.

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Chris Hemsworth (left)  takes a selfie with Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. The four co-star in "Avengers: Endgame."

Q: Now that seven years have passed, how confident were you that "Avengers" would work out?

Evans: I was confident in financial success. You don’t have to be in a good movie to make money. I couldn’t have anticipated the quality.

Downey: If you get the right wave, it’s just a matter of not falling off the board. That’s kind of what we all have been doing for the last seven years. Making sure we maintain enough quality to not embarrass each other. 

Hemsworth: Then, we'd constantly be asked, "Will there be superhero fatigue?" Now it doesn’t come up, they've stopped asking. People love it more than ever.

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Q: We don't know which of you will live or die in the top-secret conclusion of "Endgame." How are you feeling about a possible end?

Ruffalo: You never know what is going to happen in the Marvel universe. But this is definitely the end of an era. As actors, we're all vagabonds ...

Downey (interrupting as Hemsworth vogues with his designer shades): Those glasses were mine, but they clearly don’t belong to me anymore. It's OK, it's one of 178 pairs I have. I’m sorry, Mark – you were speaking from the heart, you'd better hurry.

Ruffalo: That was enough.

Downey: The Marvel world is predictably unpredictable. It’s laughable to imagine that anything is final. But it’s just like seasons of life. We have been at this for a spell. There’s all this new talent coming in, taking center stage. We've ushered this in and it’s natural to make space for others.

Evans:  Well said.

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Q: Discuss the emotional vibe on the Atlanta set for the last group go-round?

Hemsworth: We shot the last two "Avengers" back-to-back over eight months, all of us in Atlanta. More time than any film. We’ve always gotten along, but there was far more of a family feel. We were well aware, this could be the last time we'd assemble like this. We normally eat in separate trailers. But Robert was like, "Who knows if we’re going to do this again?" You made a huge effort to bring everyone together for lunches each day.

It had a huge melancholic vibe. We’d reminisce about how we got here. And what’s going to happen next. We had a couple of conversations where I was like, "I think I’m getting emotional." It hit home.

Downey: We’ve always felt this kind of need to connect with each other. It’s like we're astronauts or something.

Evans: It’s rare. The nature of movies is you come together, build these little things, then you go apart. This required that we keep coming back together. In a million ways, that could not work. There could be a bad egg. But for some reason, this just worked in such a harmonious way with a core group. It's a little bit of a heartbreak to see the end.

Hemsworth: Everything has gone so quick. This interview we did seven years ago, that seems like last year. I felt far more aware, present and appreciative this time. The set felt like the final year of high school. We’re not going to see each other like that again. It is the closure of something. It means so much because it's meant so much.

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Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, left), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in 2012's "The Avengers."

Q: Should Marvel call future group superhero movies "Avengers" if any of you are missing?

Evans: I probably shouldn’t put this in (words). I’d be surprised if Kevin Feige ever tried to do (another "Avengers" movie). At the end of the day, Kevin Feige is a fan. The only reason this machine runs is because it’s been guided by him and his fan’s mentality. And from a fan point of view, there is something among this group that is so intrinsically "The Avengers." That sounds wicked (expletive) cheesy.

Ruffalo: No, it doesn’t. But it’s also like, let’s end it on a high note. That’s the cool thing. There is one very important scene where all 21 (Marvel) films culminate. The grand finality of these 21 movies. ... Did I just say "grand finality"?

Downey: It’s a new phrase. But trust me, it’s working.

Chris Evans (from left), Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo get goofy during their USA TODAY photo shoot for "Avengers: Endgame."

Avengers reunion adjourned, the group disperses to the hallway with backslaps and hugs, each heading in separate directions. But Ruffalo pops back into the room and grabs the 2012 photograph.

"I’m keeping this," he says. "I just cannot believe this picture."