©Marvel Studios (4); Ben Rothstein/Marvel Studios 2018
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May 03, 2018 at 09:00 AM EDT

So … score one for the bad guy.

If you’re reading this, you should have already seen Infinity War, and you’re aware that this time the good guys were far from victorious in the final reel. Thanos (played by Josh Brolin) succeeds in assembling the cosmic power crystals that give him dominion over time, space, reality, and all living things.

With a snap of his fingers, he wipes out half the sentient beings in the universe, who disintegrate into heaps of ash with just enough time to register the horror on their faces.

It didn’t end with a cliffhanger as much as a plunge into the abyss. And there’s a whole year to go before learning what happens next.

©Marvel Studios 2018

We’re currently in the “anger” stage of grief, affixing blame to the mistakes that helped Thanos succeed. Some say Star-Lord is at fault for letting his emotions get the better of him and punching Thanos over the death of Gamora, which did nothing but awaken the purple space tyrant from his Mantis-induced hypnosis before Iron Man and Spidey could pry the Infinity Gauntlet off his fist.

Others say Scarlet Witch should have sacrificed the Vision much sooner, destroying the Mind Stone long before Thanos drew close enough to render her last-second decision to do just that utterly irrelevant.

Once Thanos had the green Time Stone, his victory became an inevitability. If at first he doesn’t succeed, he can try, try again.

Which brings us to Doctor Strange. He was guardian of the Time Stone for most of the film. What happened to “be kind, rewind” when Star-Lord lost it and threw that punch?

Keep in mind that Strange went into a trance before the battle and witnessed more than 14 million “possible outcomes” of the conflict. They defeated Thanos in only one. During the entire exchange between Star-Lord and dream-state Thanos, the other heroes are begging their ally to stop, to back down, to not undermine the plan. But Doctor Strange says … nothing.

There has to be a reason for that. In the end, after having surrendered the Time Stone to Thanos to spare Iron Man, Strange explains, “There was no other way.”

That’s cold comfort, but it means we’re still on the one path forward that he saw in his vision.

Now it’s up to the survivors. And there is room in the ranks, so they’ll need help.

MISSING IN ACTION

God bless the absentees — they’re the key to fixing everything.

Infinity War was missing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, and Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp. Mark Ruffalo was mainly Bruce Banner this time around, but count on Hulk to be a key player in the follow-up — as soon as his keeper can figure out how to coax him back to the surface.

We already kinda know that will happen. This shot from the trailer wasn’t in the movie. Either it was solely constructed as a red herring, or it was a covert first look at the sequel.

Marvel

With luck, maybe we’ll even see Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie and Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia join the fray. There has been much fan handwringing over their fates, but Nakia was an undercover “war dog” for Wakanda, so she was probably on assignment elsewhere in the world when Thanos and his Outrider army came knocking on the force field.

Joe Russo, who co-directed Infinity War and next year’s sequel with his brother, Anthony, spoke at a high school in Iowa City recently and reportedly confirmed that Valkyrie and other Asgardian refugees escaped Thanos’ attack aboard escape pods.

We’ll find out soon where some of the other missing heroes have been.

Ant-Man and the Wasp opens July 6 and will be set in the “present,” concurrent with Infinity War, and Captain Marvel — which will introduce the hero summoned by Nick Fury’s I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up LifeCall device in the post-credits scene — will hit theaters March 8, 2019. Captain Marvel will take place further back in time, during the 1990s, so one of the mysteries is where Carol Danvers has been all these other times that life on Earth hung in the balance.

Ant-Man and the Wasp can go quantum, shrinking down so small they pass into another reality, and Captain Marvel has as-yet-undetermined powers that, like DC’s Superman (remember him spinning the world backward in the original Christopher Reeve movie?) could grant her the ability to break through into different timelines.

She could very well be suspended in another era, or a parallel dimension, awaiting the signal that things are so desperate they need to call in her secret weapon.

While those two movies are are otherwise self-contained, Infinity War screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely say they will foreshadow events in the Avengers follow-up that will hit theaters May 3, 2019.

“There are certain requests we’ve made,” says McFeely.

“It has been a weird coordination/dance,” Markus says. “Sometimes you have to ask what they’re doing and sometimes you have to tell them …”

“… what would be helpful,” McFeely adds.

“Or, ‘You kinda absolutely have to do this,’” Markus says. “A lot of times it worked out perfectly.”

Even though Infinity War and its sequel were shot back-to-back last year, the Russos have been warning fans that the first installment would have … let’s call it finality. “We like to think of them as two complete narratives. You’re getting two whole films. It’s not like we just chopped them in half,” Joe Russo told me. “Marvel is serialized storytelling, and the stories continue one movie to the next.”

One thing is certain: Some kind of reversal is in order. In a sense, Infinity War overplays its hand by disintegrating Black Panther, the entire Guardians of the Galaxy squad, and Spider-Man. We know we’re getting more movies from those guys, so we know this catastrophe must be corrected somehow.

NO MORE TAKEBACKS

Nevertheless, the Marvel brain trust promises there will be ramifications that stick.

“It’s exciting, because you start to even think differently about how the characters are interacting, what characters’ stories are coming to a close, and what characters’ stories are only just beginning, albeit in different ways,” says Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige.

So again, yes, there will be a Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, another Spider-Man stand-alone movie with Tom Holland, and a return to Black Panther’s kingdom of Wakanda.

“All those stories will continue,” Feige says. “I think they’ll continue in surprisingly different and unexpected ways after these two Avengers films.”

Right now, it’s a matter of letting the dust settle. But from the dust, Earth’s mightiest heroes will return.

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