Franchise Ruminations: Now What? A Post-Infinity War Marvel Cinematic Universe Discussion (SPOILERS!)

(Warning: SPOILERS are going to be discussed freely in this article so if you haven’t seen the movie STAY AWAY. For a spoiler-free(ish) review click here.)

In case the above warnings did not make it clear enough, this will be a debrief of Avengers: Infinity War which will include a discussion of MAJOR SPOILERS. It is safe to say that the movie’s ending was a true jaw-dropper as the packed theatre I was in audibly gasped with every new development at the film’s climax. The greatest twist however was that Marvel Studios, which had so publicly stated that Infinity War was only going to be one movie, basically lied as a smokescreen from avid spoiler-hunters. Infinity War is clearly part 1 of 2 and the still-not-titled May 2019 release Avengers 4 is going to be the true conclusion of the Thanos saga.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE END? 

During the climax of the movie the Avengers (and friends) are split into two simultaneous defences of the final two Infinity Stones in their possession against Thanos and his goons. In the first group Iron Man, Spider-Man, Starlord, Drax, Mantis, Nebula, and Doctor Strange are protecting the Time Stone as they launch an all-out assault on Thanos on his home planet Titan. Meanwhile on earth Steve Rogers leads Black Panther, Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, the Winter Soldier, Falcon, War Machine, and the forces of Wakanda as they seek to protect Vision and the Mind Stone against Thanos’ children and their monstrous horde before eventually being joined by a Stormbreaker-wielding Thor, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot.

However all of this effort turns out to be (presumably) in vain. After the Titan-based team is thoroughly beaten, Doctor Strange hands over the Time Stone to Thanos in exchange for Thanos sparing Iron Man’s life (after explicitly saying he wouldn’t do that early in the film). With the Time Stone in hand Thanos transports himself to earth where he easily dispatches all of the Avengers there. In a desperate last-ditch attempt, Scarlet Witch uses all her powers to destroy the Mind Stone and with that kill her lover Vision. After initially succeeding in this task, Thanos simply uses to Time Stone to reassemble the destroyed Mind Stone and claim it for his own (resulting in Vision’s death again). With the Infinity Gauntlet completed Thor tries one last ditch attempt to kill Thanos and nearly succeeds. However nearly is not enough and Thanos snaps his fingers, resulting in the death of half the population of the universe including a slew of Avengers. Thanos disappears to another world, looks gleefully at the rising sun and the movie fades to black.

WHO’S DEAD AND WHO’S LEFT (AND WHO STAYS DEAD)?

Half the known population of the universe obviously. But more importantly Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, the Winter Soldier, Spider-Man, Starlord, Drax, Mantis, Groot, Maria Hill, Nick Fury, and Doctor Strange disappear from existence after Thanos snaps his fingers. In addition, Vision was killed after Thanos extricates the Mind Stone from him while Gamora was sacrificed by Thanos as an offering to get the Soul Stone. The beginning of the movie also saw the deaths of Heimdall and Loki as well as a host of other Asgardians as Thanos successfully retrieves the Space Stone from the Tessarect. And seeing as he is already in possession of the Power Stone at that point it is safe to assume that Xandar and the Nova Corps have been decimated.

The only Avengers that we know as left standing are Steve Rogers, Black Widow, Hulk, Thor, War Machine, and Rocket on earth while Iron Man and Nebula are left alone on Titan. Meanwhile Hawkeye and Ant-Man do not make an appearance in this movie (and neither does the Wasp, all of whom are scheduled to appear in this summer’s Ant-Man and The Wasp). While it is entirely possible that Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and the Wasp could have perished, chances are Marvel would not have done so unceremoniously offscreen. So until their demise is actually confirmed in Ant-Man and the Wasp, we can assume that they are alive. Coincidentally apart from Rocket and War Machine, that would leave an extremely classic Avengers line-up (Cap, Black Widow, Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, Wasp) to take on Thanos in Avengers 4. And that is sort of exciting.

However, as I will explicate below, I find it highly unlikely that most of these deaths will ultimately stick. This is obviously true for Black Panther, Spider-Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy since all of them have sequels green-lit by the studio. Sebastian Stan also still has a huge multi-film contract running so it seems unlikely that the Winter Soldier is permanently dead. In addition, before Vision was killed he was being aided by T’Challa’s sister Shuri who was attempting to remove the Mind Stone without killing him. Since it is unclear just how far Shuri got in her attempts there is a possibility that he survives in some form. It would also be a safe bet to assume that Heimdall is dead as well as Loki despite how many times he has faked his own death. Gamora remains the one wild card but given her appearance as a child to Thanos in a vision at the end I would assume we have not seen the last of her (she is also a Guardian and her permanent death would prematurely cut off the story of her relationship with Quill which adds to the possibility that she ends up among the living by the end).

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

In the theatre when I watched the movie, the ending caused audible gasps in the audience as well as a lengthy amount of discussion around me as to what it meant. This obviously is a sign that the movie’s ending works as a truly great cliffhanger. But more importantly it means that everyone around me in the theatre apparently hadn’t done their homework. This ending should not have come as a surprise to anyone for several reasons.

First, anyone looking at the development slate of Marvel’s upcoming movies will clearly see that coming May 3, 2019 is an untitled Avengers movie. Until only recently that Avengers movie was officially called Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 before Marvel announced that they weren’t splitting Infinity War into two parts anymore. Obviously that was a way for Marvel to deflect the attention away from the fact that Infinity War was going to end on a cliffhanger and we now know that in fact, Avengers 4 will be the conclusion of Infinity War.

But this ending also shouldn’t have come as a surprise because this is precisely what happens in the comic Infinity Gauntlet #1:

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Infinity Gauntlet #1

This scene is one of Marvel Comic’s most iconic and much like in the movie, the results are simple: one half of the global population and a great deal of superheroes disappear without a trace. What is most illuminating however is that this incident happens in the beginning of the Infinity Gauntlet mini-series as a catalyst for getting the remaining (and much more manageably-sized) heroes of Marvel to take on Thanos. It stands to reason then that Avengers 4 will take up the rest of Infinity Gauntlet at least in spirit if not in actual form (there is an open rumour that Avengers 4 might indeed be called Infinity Gauntlet).

WHAT IN THE WORLD WAS DOCTOR STRANGE DOING?

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© 2018 – Marvel Studios

One of the more pressing concerns in Infinity War is the speed by which Doctor Strange capitulates to Thanos’ demands and gives up the Time Stone in exchange for sparing Iron Man’s life. It seems especially incongruent with the fact that Strange explicitly tells Tony Stark earlier in the movie that if it came down to him having to save the Time Stone or save Stark he would choose the Stone unhesitatingly.

However this is not such an abrupt change of heart if one remembers a scene just before the final series of battles. Here Stark and his crew are discussing how to defeat Thanos when they see Doctor Strange convulsing while meditating. Strange tells them that he has gone through 14 million scenarios or so of their fight with Thanos, and in all of those scenarios there is only one where the Avengers emerge victorious. Tellingly after he has given up the Time Stone and Thanos eliminates half the universe, Strange mournfully looks at Iron Man and tells him “It was the only way.”

Thus it seems clear that Doctor Strange’s capitulation was not the result of his resolve weakening in the face of Tony Stark’s impending death but rather an intentional act of surrender. There are two possible reasons for this: Either the only scenario where the Avengers win is one in which Iron Man survives or, as is more likely, that the path to victory can only happen when Thanos gains possession of all the Infinity Stones and does his genocidal deed. It seems to reason that because of his prescience (and mystical powers) that Strange’s direct involvement in the Thanos saga is not at an end and he will figure into the events of Avengers 4 (more on that in a moment).

WHAT’S GOING ON WITH BRUCE BANNER/THE HULK?

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© 2018 – Marvel Studios

Very early on in Infinity War the Hulk takes on Thanos in a battle in which he is utterly defeated in an astonishingly quick fight. The take-down is a sign of the direct threat Thanos poses, but it also has some permanent ramifications for the Hulk. For the rest of the movie Bruce Banner is unable to call upon the Hulk for assistance which is highly inconvenient given the magnitude of the foes sent against his allies. And it seems for the most part that the Hulk is simply running scared. Banner participates in the Battle of Wakanda in a Hulkbuster Iron Man suit and the green giant doesn’t make another appearance in the movie. Because of the unresolved nature of Banner’s inner conflict, it simply pours further fuel to the fire that the next Avengers movie will in fact be a conclusion to Infinity War.

WHY DID NEBULA SURVIVE?

People who have only come to know Nebula through the MCU may be surprised to hear that she comes out of Infinity War still alive. After all she has so far been nothing more than a supporting role in both of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies who we know little about other than the fact that (a) she is Gamora’s step-sister and (b) she is another adopted child of Thanos. Of course the fact that she remains among the living gives credence to the theory that Avengers 4 is going to hew closely to the Infinity Gauntlet mini-series because in that series she does play a very important role (look away if you don’t want to be spoiled of a possible major plot development in Avengers 4):

Nebula-steals-the-Infinity-Gauntlet-from-Thanos.jpg
Infinity Gauntlet #5

In Infinity Gauntlet, Nebula spends most of the movie as a pitiable virtual corpse that Thanos continually mocks and derides when he is not busy causing chaos and death. But in a moment of distraction she manages to wrest the Infinity Gauntlet away from Thanos and claim it for herself. With this infinite power in her hands Thanos is forced to join up with the remnants of the Avengers to try and defeat her as she seeks to claim his throne, and the universe, for herself. While I doubt Avengers 4 will simply replicate this story-beat, I would be willing to put money down on the fact that Nebula is going to at least attempt to steal the Infinity Gauntlet and that she is going to play an instrumental role in Thanos’ downfall.

WHERE DOES THANOS GO AT THE END?

Just before Thanos settles down in contentment at the end of the movie we have one more scene in which we find him in a previously unseen locale with a young Gamora. She asks him if he has done his great deed and what it cost him to which his answer is heartbreakingly “Yes. Everything.” While the whole scene could just be happening in his head, it is also likely that Thanos has entered the Soul Stone and is in Soul World. In Infinity Gauntlet Soul World is where Adam Warlock and Silver Surfer are trapped at the beginning of the story and Silver Surfer’s escape kickstarts the movie.

It is entirely possible that Soul World might be where all of the people Thanos has killed currently inhabits and thus might be key to getting all of them back alive again. I also theorize that if there isn’t a celestial hero in the Silver Surfer to break out of Soul World, this might be in fact where Doctor Strange may end up and where his mystical timey-wimey powers prove useful. Of course it may just be that Doctor Strange is completely eliminated from proceedings in Avengers 4 but I find that hard to believe given both his prominence in Infinity War and the pivotal role he plays in the Infinity Gauntlet comic..

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE POST-CREDITS SEQUENCE?

In a very somber post-credits sequence we find Nick Fury and Maria Hill at the precise moment that Thanos snaps his fingers. As people start disappearing all around them, Hill and Fury try to gain their bearings and figure out what to do next. Hill then disappears like all of the other heroes have and Fury in a fit of panic reaches back into his truck and pulls out a pager. He manages to send something before he too disappears (with one last PG-13 curse at the ready). With the camera focused on the pager on the ground the message is sent and in 8-bit glory a logo of a star appears on a blue, yellow, and red background and then the screen fades to black.

In case you were wondering what that meant, let me spare you the suspense:

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Marvel

It’s a Captain Marvel teaser. What we do know about next year’s Captain Marvel is that it is going to be set in the 90s and will centre on how the Air Force pilot Carol Danvers takes up the moniker Captain Marvel. She is going to be mentored by a Kree played by Jude Law which will mean that there is a high possibility that she will officially be the only person in the MCU to take up the title Captain Marvel which will be a refreshing change from her comic-book origins. She is also apparently going to take on the Skrulls so in one movie we will finally get the first appearances of two of the biggest intergalactic races in Marvel comics.

It seems clear that Captain Marvel is going to have a big effect on Avengers 4. My money is that since Silver Surfer is currently tied up in the pending Disney-Fox deal she takes up his role in the upcoming fight against Thanos.

SECRET AVENGERS?

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© 2018 – Marvel Studios

This is less of speculation point than an actual observation. For me the most spine-tingly moment in Infinity War happens fairly early on when two of Thanos’ “children” Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive ambush Vision and Scarlet Witch. Just as they are about to be defeated they are rescued by the sudden appearance of Falcon, Black Widow, and a shield-less Steve Rogers who beat back Midnight and Glaive. This is our only hint that in the intervening years between the events of Captain America: Civil War and now that Cap has gone underground with a bunch of former Avengers to form a black-ops superhero team known as the Secret Avengers

It is just a crying shame that the events of Infinity War ensure that we will never get to see a stand-alone Secret Avengers movie featuring this roster. Because that would have been awesome.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN AVENGERS 4?

It seems clear that given how we’ve seen both the Reality Stone and the Time Stone used in Infinity War that the culmination of Avengers 4 will have some sort of reboot of the universe so that our actors with expiring contracts can gracefully bow out and new heroes can take the helm of the series.

Thinning the Avengers herd also makes me think that though the story may be a universe traversing one, it will also be more intimate in scope. It is no coincidence that all the original Avengers are still left standing as it seems to me the culmination of the universe will somehow come down to these original six members (Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye). It also increases the odds that some, if not most, of the original six will meet their ultimate end in Avengers 4. 

As for the non-original six players, it seems clear to me that Captain Marvel will have a major role as will Nebula. I am willing to bet that Doctor Strange will have some impact on the events of Avengers 4. I will also put money down on the fact that most of the deaths in Infinity War are not going to stick, including the non-Thanos finger snap deaths of Gamora and Vision.

And that is about all I’m willing to speculate about Avengers 4. May 2019 can’t come soon enough.

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