As the MacGuffin of the original Captain America film, the blue Space Stone within the Tessaract was the very first of the Infinity Gems that we discovered in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
There’s something poetic that the first of the stones helped lead us to the last of them: the orange Soul Stone.
Where this gem was located and what exactly its powers may be were completely unknown before Infinity War — at least to everyone except for Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, who was dispatched long ago by Thanos (Josh Brolin) to locate it. She did — but chose to return empty-handed, keeping what she uncovered secret from the Mad Titan.
In the new film, Thanos tortures her sister, Karen Gillan’s Nebula, until Gamora takes him to the Soul Stone. It’s on a desolate planet known as Vormir. But it is not alone.
A wraith-like figure in billowing and tattered black robes appears: The Stonekeeper.
We know him by another name: Red Skull.
We also know him as another actor — Hugo Weaving, of The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings. That’s Weaving as the character from Captain America, pictured above.
But in Infinity War, Red Skull is played by The Walking Dead star and impersonator extraordinaire Ross Marquand.
Why the change? Marvel has kept the role under wraps, so no one from the film has answered this question. But Weaving has previously given interviews disparaging his time in the Marvel Universe, so that’s the most likely reason for the recasting.
“It’s not something I would want to do again,” Weaving said in a 2012 interview with Collider’s Christina Radish. “I’m glad I did it. I did sign up for a number of pictures and I suppose, contractually, I would be obliged to, if they forced me to, but they wouldn’t want to force someone to do it, if they didn’t want to.”
RED SKULL’S FATE
The Nazi villain had a third name, too. His birth name, Johann Schmidt.
Schmidt was Adolf Hitler’s chief weapons developer through the Third Reich’s HYDRA division. He experimented on himself with an imperfect super-soldier serum, resulting in superior strength but also his ghastly disfigurement.
At the end of Captain America, Red Skull was seemingly incinerated by the power of the Tesseract — but we now know he was merely transported by the Space Stone.
His punishment was to remain atop the mountain, condemned to stand watch over the enigmatic orange Soul Stone. He immediately recognizes Thanos and Gamora when they arrive.
“It is my curse to know all who journey here…” Red Skull tells them.
“Where is the Soul Stone?” Thanos demands, all business.
Red Skull offers a warning: “You should know, it extracts a terrible price.”
“I am prepared,” Thanos says.
“They all think that,” Red Skull answers. “At first.”
This old villain becomes the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Jacob Marley, unspooling a tale of suffering and sorrow.
“How is it you know this place so well?” Thanos asks.
“A lifetime ago, I too sought the stones. I even held one in my hand. But it cast me out, banished me here, guiding others to a treasure I cannot possess.”
While its full powers remain enigmatic, Red Skull reveals that the Soul Stone “holds a special place among the Infinity Stones. You might say it has a certain…wisdom.”
“Tell me what it means,” Thanos asks.
“To ensure that whoever possesses it understands its power, the stone demands a sacrifice,” Red Skull tells him.
Put another way:
“In order to take the stone, you must lose that which you love,” Red Skull says. “A soul for a soul.”
It just so happens, Thanos has his favorite daughter along with him. As much as Gamora hates him, she represents something unique to Thanos. She is the thing he could never conquer.
He harbors a certain respect for that. Affection, you could call it. But love?
That question is answered when he casts her off the cliff — and collects his prize. The orange Infinity Stone appears in his hand, and soon makes its way to his golden gauntlet.
THE POWER OF THE SOUL STONE
Later, at the end of the movie, we see a vision of Thanos in an orange-hued world, walking across a placid lake to where Gamora, again a child, waits for him.
“Daughter?” he asks.
“Did you do it?” she says.
“What did it cost?”
Thanos answers, haltingly: “Everything.”
In the Marvel Comics, the orange stone has the power to trap souls, both living and dead. It’s a kind of purgatory, keeping them locked away, but also — as Red Skull hints — it has an enduring connection to, and perhaps dominion over, the other gems.
This will probably be something next year’s Avengers sequel explores in more detail.
No matter where you are in time, or in space, or what your power is, or your reality, no matter your state of mind…if you don’t have a soul, you have nothing.
Want more spoiler talk about Avengers: Infinity War? Find out what the post-credits scene means.