Are you still reeling from the colossal impact of Avengers: Infinity War? The climax of the box office-busting epic makes one thing very clear: the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is about to take some very bold and exciting twists as it moves into its Phase Four period next year. But nevertheless, there are many questions to be asked...
WARNING: THANOS-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
The ending of Infinity War
To recap, then: Infinity War is a movie where the bad guy wins. In one of the boldest and most shocking developments in the MCU thus far, villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) acquires all six Infinity Stones, the gems he needs to balance the universe. During the movie's powerful climax set in Wakanda, the Avengers are ultimately helpless to prevent Thanos from removing the sixth and final one, the Mind Stone, from Vision's (Paul Bettany) head.
Applying it to his gauntlet, Thanos achieves his aim of obliterating half of humanity. We then see half of our heroes, T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and Steven Strange/Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) among them, dissolve into nothing. In short, half of the ensemble are dead, their return seemingly impossible. The bereft reactions of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and others say it all.
Seriously, how many superhero movies (aside from The Dark Knight) have we known to end on such a sobering, disquieting note? Even the end credits forego the usual stylised graphics, instead placing emphasis on Alan Silvestri's increasingly ominous score, one that builds Thanos' dark musical theme into ironically triumphant heights.
The post-credit scene
There's just one at the end of Infinity War, but it's an eerie extension of the film's climax. We're reunited with former S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) as they come face-to-face with the devastation wrought by Thanos. As cars and helicopters crash around them, both characters experience the same fate and crumble into nothing. (Yes, this is one of the rare occasions where we get to see Jackson die on screen, prompting an obscured expletive that generates laughs even as we're despairing at what's happening.)
But help is at hand: before Fury passes on, he manages to get a distress signal out. As the camera draws in closer to his beeper/device thingy, a logo appears signifying the MCU's first acknowledgment of Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel. An Air Force pilot whose genes have been spliced with alien DNA, Danvers (played by Oscar-winning Room actress Brie Larson) is getting her own solo movie in March 2019, before she joins the fight to come in Avengers 4, released in April of that year.
Danvers is one of the most powerful figures in the Marvel canon, and will be a valued ally in the battle against Thanos. Next year can't come soon enough...
Wait a minute, they can't all be dead... can they?
Apparently so. This is what Thanos was promising right from the very start of Infinity War, and it's the fate his step-daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) warned us about. As the film proceeds, we become aware of just how single-minded the 'Mad Titan' is in his aims, even sacrificing Gamora in order to achieve the elusive Soul Stone.
Dramatically, this needed to happen. The MCU is now 10 years old, and we've been through enough disposable threats in the earlier movies to realise the Avengers need to start facing real danger. With various actors' contracts up in 2019 (Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth), we're at the crucial transition period where many of the so-called 'old guard' need to give way to new characters like Black Panther and Captain Marvel.
This is critical to the Marvel Phase Four strategy going forward. With studio President Kevin Feige now promising movies up until 2025, the universe is both expanding and saying goodbye to those who were there at its inception.
Hang on, some of these guys have more movies coming!
You're absolutely right. Spider-Man: Homecoming 2 is released in 2019, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is turning up in 2020 and a Black Panther sequel is on the cards. (There's no news yet about a Doctor Strange sequel.)
We therefore know that at least several prominent characters who died at the end of Infinity War will be back in some form or another. After all, you can't have a Spider-Man movie without Tom Holland, or Black Panther without Chadwick Boseman. And Star-Lord and Gamora are of course pivotal to Guardians Vol. 3, unless the latter stays dead, her absence used as a dramatic device to cause Quill greater heartbreak. After all, he was pretty angry upon discovering Thanos had killed her in Infinity War – maybe this will be a way of darkening the persona of the Awesome Mix-loving hero?
So how can they possibly return in Avengers 4?
If you remember, prior to his death, the dimension-manipulating Doctor Strange used the Time Stone to explore alternate futures (14 million of them in fact) in which the Avengers beat Thanos. He tells Tony there is only one out of those 14 million in which they emerge victorious.
Is Strange therefore playing the long game, sacrificing himself and his fellow Avengers so that the aforementioned outcome can play out? Maybe the death of everybody on Earth needs to happen in order to make victory a reality? He certainly didn't hesitate in handing the Time Stone over to Thanos, and seemed oddly calm when Thanos ultimately wrought devastation ("There was no other way"), which perhaps suggests Strange has confidence in his plan.
That still doesn't answer the question though...
Agreed. Speculation will be rife well into next year as to how our Avengers will return from the dead. But perhaps the Time Stone is key.
Thanos already used it to wind back the clock during the final fight between him, Vision and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). The latter initially succeeds in preventing Thanos from acquiring the Mind Stone, but he then uses the mother of all cheats by rewinding everything via the power of the Time Stone, incapacitating Wanda and stealing the gem, killing Vision in the process.
Maybe the final conflict against Thanos will involve removing the gauntlet, taking back the Time Stone and reversing events in order to bring our dead heroes back to life. Even so, that's perhaps a bit... easy? It would surely dramatically undercut the impact of Infinity War. Not to mention, the gauntlet appeared to implode when the final Infinity Stone was applied, seemingly rendering it useless. We reckon something else is on the cards...
Is the Soul Stone involved?
This may be the critical factor. The most elusive of the Infinity Stones, the Soul Stone doesn't operate in the manner of the others. For a start, its acquisition demands the most horrible of sacrifices, in this case Thanos executing Gamora.
This comes back to haunt our villain at the end when, upon balancing the universe, he sees a strange vision of the young, orphaned Gamora (whose people he had executed before taking her as a step-daughter). It's a disquieting reminder that his destructive actions have consequences.
More than that, it possibly indicates that the spirit of Gamora may be encased within the Soul Stone. Will she thefore lead an inter-dimensional rebellion within the Stone itself? After all, Thanos is as much at the mercy of the universe as the Avengers themselves – his tortured reaction in realising he has to kill Gamora reminds us there are things he cannot foresee.
There is a precedent for this. In the 1970s, comic book writer and artist Jim Starlin invented the Soul World, contained within the Soul Gem (his equivalent of the Soul Stone). It's known as a 'pocket dimension', containing those souls 'captured' by superhero Adam Warlock, and, as the story arc proceeded, it established an entire landscape populated by those captured souls.
Can we expect this chapter of Marvel comics history to play a part? Given Warlock was teased the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and has yet to make a subsequent appearance in the MCU, maybe this will cross over with Thanos, Gamora and the fate of the other Avengers. Watch this space...
Who's Captain Marvel?
Good question. Her human name, as mentioned earlier, is Carol Danvers, and she's an Air Force pilot who comes into contact with the alien Kree race (referenced in the first Guardians of the Galaxy). When her genes splice with that of the Kree, she's granted extraordinary abilities including superhuman strength and energy manipulation.
Her own, self-titled movie will be an origin story set in the 1990s, which means that Samuel L. Jackson will be featuring as Nick Fury when he was still operating as part of government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (If you remember, in the wake of high-level corruption, this was disbanded at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.)
Put simply, she's got the strength and leadership skills to potentially take charge of the foundering Avengers going forward. That's exactly what's needed with the beleaguered likes of Iron Man and Captain America probably having fallen to pieces, emotionally speaking, during the climax of Infinity War. After all, Tony saw his protege Peter Parker die in his arms – that alone is bound to have the kind of impact that removes him from the leadership equation.
And with Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson (pictured below left) putting a human face on this Marvel icon, we can expect something truly memorable going forward. Captain Marvel is released on 8th March 2019.
So we don't know what the road map of the MCU is going forward?
Not at the moment – but isn't that an exciting position to be in?
This August's Ant-Man and the Wasp takes place immediately before Infinity War, so we won't be getting any answers there (save for a possible post-credits reveal), and the title of Avengers 4 (released on 26th April 2019) is being held back due to its spoilerific nature.
After 10 years, we currently don't have any idea in what direction the MCU is headed. But rest assured, nothing will be the same again.