SPOILER ALERT: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS PLOT POINTS AND DETAILS RELATING TO AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON.
No one rushes out of the theater after a Marvel film, at least not until the much-anticipated post-credit sequence—or sequences. Avengers: Age of Ultron, by the way, has only one post-credit sequence. As reported by EW, there is no team schwarma eating, no additional “let’s see who can really pick up Thor’s hammer besides Vision” competition. Just a mid-credits tag.
On one level, you could argue that the post-credit scenes for all of these films are meant to be overarching rather than specific (introducing Thanos at the end of Avengers, Sif and Voltagg taking the Aether to the Collector in The Dark World.) On another level, with the end of Winter Soldier clearly setting the stage for the events of Ultron—and with Ultron consequently setting the stage for next year’s Civil War—I expected to see some sort of larger tie-in. Maybe an extended scene with the New Avengers, or a scene with either Iron Man or Cap doing something that would further extend the philosophical chasm that is growing between them.
We didn’t get anything like that, though. What we got was another cameo from Thanos—a character who most likely won’t appear again until Guardians of the Galaxy 2 hits theaters in 2017.
Why go through the trouble of revisiting a character that doesn’t have any particular relevance to the next two or so films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? The simple answer: Infinity War. And since Thanos figures more into the Avengers movies than any of the other stand-alone films, Whedon and Feige and Co. wanted to remind us that he’s still out there. He’s still searching for his precious Infinity Stones. He’s still incredibly pissed that the people he’s gotten to do his bidding have failed in their missions. In the tag, Thanos opens up a closely guarded vault, which gives us our first official look at the empty gauntlet (more on that later.) He looks at it, dissatisfied, before putting on the glove and proclaiming that he needs to take matters into his own purple hands. (No pun intended.) In other words: we may have Ant-Man, Civil War, Dr. Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, and a host of other Phase Three movies on the way, but don’t forget about that double feature of Infinity War—just don’t.
As we prepare to deep-dive into the ending of this film, let’s take a moment to recap Thanos’ failures, and where said Infinity Stones currently stand:
AVENGERS: Bad boy Loki was recruited to steal Tesseract (the space stone.) Instead, tantalized by the promise of unlimited power, Loki tried to use the scepter, given to him by the Other, to rule Earth by staging an alien invasion. Nick Fury assembled the Avengers, who ended up defeating him, and Tesseract was retrieved and returned to Asgard. The scepter, meanwhile, was lost… at least, until Hydra got a hold of it.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD: After the Aether (the reality stone) was reactivated accidentally by Jane Foster, Malekith and his Dark Elves were awakened and wreaked havoc on Asgard. Malekith was eventually destroyed by Thor during the events of The Convergence, and believing that it was too dangerous to keep two Infinity Stones on Asgard, Lady Sif brought the Aether to The Collector for safe keeping.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: Peter Quill found the Orb (the power stone) while looting the planet Morag, and Kree Accuser Ronan was supposed to retrieve it and return it to Thanos in exchange for the destruction of the Nova Corps’ planet, Xandar. But Ronan was greedy, and when he finally got the stone in his possession, he decided to keep it so he could destroy the planet himself. After Star-Lord and his friends saved the stone, it ended up in the care of Nova Corp.
Which brings us to Age of Ultron, and, in a roundabout away, back to the first Avengers film. The scepter gem is also a separate stone called (appropriately) the mind stone. In Ultron, it was used to create the A.I. robot after the Avengers took the scepter back, and then it was also used to create Vision. Once Vision proved himself by fighting alongside the team, Thor decided to let him keep the gem, trusting it would be safe.
As of right now, we’ve seen four of the six gems that are needed to complete Thanos’ gauntlet—the gems that, once assembled, will give him unlimited power. (It seems likely the final two stones will pop up in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 or possibly Doctor Strange, and probably Ragnarok.) Thor notes at the end of the film that it’s no coincidence the stones have started randomly appearing in the past few years, which is basically a not so subtle nod to Infinity War.
So what is Infinity War? (Aside from a nine-month shoot.) We can assume that the story will be restructured from the six-issue comic series by Jim Starlin that was first published in 1992, largely because it includes characters like the Fantastic Four that are, well…not exactly controlled by Disney and Marvel. (On the upside, Spider-Man now is!)
But in any case, the Infinity War comic is actually a sequel to The Infinity Gauntlet, which basically follows Thanos assembling the gauntlet and becoming a killing machine. I mean, the guy is called “The Mad Titan” for a reason. The heroes assemble under a character named Adam Warlock, who you’ve kind of seen but you haven’t really seen (his cocoon—yes, cocoon—was seen in both Thor: The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy.) Essentially, the moral of this story is that Thanos becomes so powerful from the gauntlet that he becomes one with the universe, which of course is when his daughter Nebula steals it.
The Infinity War comic is, like most sequels, just a continuation of this story. Warlock decides that the safest way to wield the gauntlet is to expel good and evil from himself. (Obviously, that’s an excellent choice.) Eventually, he’s forced to give up the gauntlet and distribute the gems among other guardians, but is attacked by Magus… who is actually the evil version of Warlock that he initially purged. The final showdown has Thanos aligning with Warlock to battle Magus and a doppelganger army, and the whole thing pretty much ends with Thanos being free to roam the universe. It’s likely that Infinity War will encompass a bit of both of these stories, though specifics are a lot to theorize this far out. My colleague/Marvel expert Darren Franich will be taking you into a further deep-dive of the stones themselves, so for now, let’s talk a little about the events of the end of the film and how they set things up as we head into the next phase of Marvel movies.
There’s no question that threads are beginning to emerge for Civil War. Iron Man—who has already been using his Iron Legion to help with the whole “saving the world” thing—has a vision from Scarlet Witch that shows him being the cause of death for all his teammates. Oh, and he’s apparently also the cause of all of mankind’s destruction. It’s what propels him to take the scepter and rush into creating Ultron, because he believes that the world won’t be safe unless he can find a way to control it. Cap’s the opposite: he believes that to win a war, they need to be a team and fight together (and lose together, if it comes to that.) The tension mounts at Hawkeye’s farmhouse, where the two leaders share a heated exchange about the best way to win a battle, with everything coming to a head when Cap tries to stop Tony from bringing Vision to life. And strangely enough, at the end of the movie, the two guys leave on decent enough terms, with Cap deciding that training his new team is where he belongs while Tony drives off into the sunset.
In fact, the movie literally disbands the group, and not in the “they’ll come back because we need them” way that Nick Fury reassures at the end of Avengers. Hulk is MIA, Thor has returned to Asgard, Hawkeye’s gone back to his farm and Iron Man’s returned to New York. The only mainstays are Cap and Widow, who are helping to train the next age of superheroes: War Machine, Vision, Falcon (in a brand spanking new costume) and Scarlet Witch (also in a brand spanking new costume! And new hair!)
In press interviews leading up to the film’s release, Joss Whedon stated that by the end of the movie, the Avengers would look like a radically different team—and they do. We already know that Black Panther (teased by the film’s inclusion of Ulysses Klaue and the mention of Wakanda, Black Panther’s home base) will be joining the line-up, as well as the recently made-available Spider-Man. That’s about as different from the Avengers as you can get, though it’s not too far off from the comics, as the team has gone through different iterations over the years.
Civil War will essentially deal with what happens when the government regulates all superhero activity. In the comics, Iron Man sides with S.H.I.E.L.D. on this matter, while Cap starts a revolution. The other superheroes are forced to pick sides. Cap is certainly wary of S.H.I.E.L.D. after the events of Winter Soldier, while Iron Man knows all too well what can happen if people with power aren’t regulated. And with Widow staying with Cap to train the New Avengers, one has to wonder if that last shot wasn’t just the New Avengers, but rather, a way to show Cap’s new team. (Let’s just say we can’t see Falcon choosing to be anywhere else based on how the characters bonded.)
Anyway, what about Thor? How can we forget about Thor? (We won’t forget about Thor.) This is where Thanos’ gauntlet comes back into play. We haven’t actually seen the glove since the quick “blink and you’ll miss it” moment in the first Thor film, when the Frost Giants attempt to raid Odin’s treasure room. And when we see the glove in Thanos’ hand, it’s hard to figure out exactly where the Mad Titan is.
My initial theory was that, based on the fact that Thor’s vision from Scarlet Witch was partially about seeing the Infinity Stones, the glove was on Asgard. It made some sense: combined with the fact that it was an alien army that Thanos provided to Loki in Avengers, and that our last scene of Thor: The Dark World revealed Loki to be masquerading as Odin, it wouldn’t be hard to theorize that Loki is still Thanos’ inside man.
But then Kevin Feige revealed in this interview with CinemaBlend that there’s a really simple answer for this: the gauntlet in Odin’s treasure room is actually a double, and Thanos still has the real one locked away. (It makes sense, if you further think about it: the gauntlet in Odin’s treasure room looked to have the stones in them, while the one Thanos showed us was empty.) So maybe Thanos isn’t on Asgard after all, and maybe he’s in his own personal treasure room filled with a bunch of other cool things. But Thor’s vision still seems to suggest that Thanos has some association with his city, and given that it also hinted towards the possible destruction of Asgard, let’s just assume we’ll probably follow the comics a little bit in that regard. (We probably won’t follow the comics as much when it comes to Norman Osborn taking down the city.) Clearly, at this point in time, the story for Ragnarok is nowhere close to development. But could it make sense that regardless of where the Mad Titan is, Thanos might be the one to cause the events of Ragnarok? (With the help of Loki, of course.)
We’ve got roughly a year until Civil War, two or so years until Ragnarok, and about three long years until Infinity War. That’s a lot of time to ruminate on all of this. So share your thoughts and theorize in the comments… and for gosh sakes, watch your language.