The following contains spoilers for “Avengers: Infinity War.”
After 10 years of bringing Marvel Comics’s biggest superheroes to the big screen, “Avengers: Infinity War” finally pulled together Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for a whopping standoff against biggest villain to date, the purple world-destroyer Thanos. “Infinity War” doesn’t just offer fun match-ups like Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy; it promises to pay off on every single clue hidden across multiple franchises and in countless post-credits scenes.
As one character in the movie puts it: “It’s all been leading up to this.” That means everything, from the very first time we saw Tony Stark in 2008’s “Iron Man” to his devastating fall out with Captain America in “Civil War.” But what happens now?
“Infinity War” is an implosion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a farewell to iconic heroes and fan favorites (some permanent, some likely temporary). Many of the deaths are shocking and sad. But sometimes, to move forward you have to blow everything up and start over again. That’s exactly what the MCU is doing.
The title of “Avengers 4” has been withheld because, according to the Russo Brothers, it’s a giant spoiler. After seeing “Infinity War” and watching half of the MCU either die or crumble into dust, it feels like that title can only be one thing: “Thanos Wins.”
At the end of “Infinity War,” Thanos doesn’t just get every single Infinity Stone, including the one lodged in Vision’s head. He also completes the Infinity Gauntlet and, as he does in the comic of the same name, he snaps his fingers to restore balance to the entire universe, wiping out half of all life in the process.
As Thanos explains, both to a young Gamora and to Doctor Strange, the universe and its resources are finite. Prior to his pursuit of the gauntlet, Thanos traveled from planet to planet, wiping out half of the population in a calculated but “random” form of genocide. It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor — everyone had the same 50/50 odds of survival. With the gauntlet completed, he can accomplish that genocide on a massive scale by simply snapping his fingers. So he does.
And just like that, the entire MCU that audiences have grown to love over the past 10 years is changed forever — or so it seems.
After having the Mind Stone ripped out of his head, Vision lies crumpled, gray, and discarded in front of his stunned fellow Avengers. Then their numbers start to dwindle. The Winter Soldier staggers and disappears; Okoye is horrified as Black Panther disintegrates in front of her; Scarlet Witch and Falcon fade next; Rocket Raccoon is the only Guardian left standing; and Peter Parker clings to Tony Stark, begging for help before Spider-Man vanishes as well. At the exhausting end of “Infinity War,” Thanos truly does win.
But does he really? There’s no question that Jim Starlin’s 1991 “The Infinity Gauntlet” played a role in shaping the events of “Infinity War.” Unlike the film, the comic starts out with Thanos already possessing the gauntlet, and his quest isn’t so much to provide balance to the universe but to win the love of Madame Death, a metaphysical manifestation of death not dissimilar to Cate Blanchett’s Hela from “Thor: Ragnarok.”
Thanos’ finger snap wipes out plenty of heroes in the comic, from Hawkeye to Daredevil to all of the Fantastic 4. Eventually, with the help of the Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange and Adam Warlock, the remaining Avengers assemble and try to take on Thanos. It goes as poorly as it does in “Infinity War.” In the comic, Thanos kills Scarlet Witch, he rips the wiring out of Vision, and Iron Man is left headless. Thanos touches She-Hulk and Namor as they quickly crumble into dust. Wolverine and Cyclops are also no match for the Mad Titan.
By the middle of the comic’s storyline, Thanos seems invincible. Much like the film, Marvel doesn’t have many superheroes left standing.
But then things take a big turn, thanks to Nebula — the antagonist first introduced in 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” who’s also Thanos’ daughter, and Gamora’s sister. This is where “Avengers 4” might come in to play.
Like most villains, Thanos’ pride gets the better of him, and believing himself truly invincible, he sheds his physical body and takes on a metaphysical form, becoming the center of all reality. But leaving his body behind also means leaving behind the gauntlet, which Nebula, who has been tortured beyond recognition, promptly takes for herself and reverses everything that Thanos has done.
In “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2,” Nebula explains that she has always resented Gamora because Thanos favored her. As children, the two sisters were trained as assassins, squaring off against one another, and each time Gamora won, a part of Nebula’s flesh was taken from her. In “Infinity War,” the audience sees Nebula suspended in air, her robotic body parts twisted and torn apart as she cries out in pain. He uses this torture to tease out the location of the Soul Stone from Gamora.
But Nebula escapes and heads to Titan, where she squares off against Thanos again. In the end, she’s the only one left standing on the planet with Tony Stark, and she knows all too well what has happened.
Her survival in the film, when considered in light of her role in the comic, is telling: Nebula will likely be crucial in taking down Thanos. Her hatred for him burns deeper than Gamora’s ever did. If Nebula stabs the Mad Titan, there will be no tears shed on her part. Her hatred could also cloud her judgement; Nebula wouldn’t know how to wield the massive power of the Infinity Gauntlet, but she certainly would take it for herself, and it seems likely she would reverse everything he did. And it could offer the Avengers the chance to go back in time, this time to prepare for Thanos’ arrival.
Which leads back to that shocking ending. Just before Thanos is about to kill Tony Stark, Doctor Strange stops him and offers him the Time Stone. Tony doesn’t understand, but Strange just says, “We’re in the end game now.” With the help of the Time Stone, Strange went forward in time and saw over 14 million possible outcomes of the Avengers’ face-off with Thanos and only one led to success. With this in mind, letting Thanos win has to lead to his downfall.
It seems fair to say that everyone else who disappears at the end of the film is coming back. The deaths of Black Panther and Spider-Man were the most shocking, especially as “Black Panther” set multiple box office records just a few weeks ago and remains in theaters even months after its release. But with a Spider-Man sequel film already set for next summer, and a third “Guardians” movie set for 2020, it seems unlikely that we’ve truly said goodbye to these heroes.
The Captain Marvel teaser at the end of the film suggests the remaining Avengers will get some big help to set things right.
Some viewers have wondered why Captain Marvel never helped the Avengers in past movies. If the Avengers go back in time, to the events of 2012’s “The Avengers” (where Loki is first sent to destroy New York by Thanos) she could join them and take down the Mad Titan before he even gets a single Infinity Stone. Going back in time would mean some of the deaths that seemed permanent, like Loki and Gamora and even the Black Order, could also be undone.
Thanos will return, the teaser at the end of “Infinity War” tells viewers, but plenty of clues in both the comics and Marvel’s cinematic slate suggest that Earth’s Mightiest Heroes will, too.