May: Avengers Infinity War
Okay, this is stuffed with spoilers, so if you haven’t seen Avengers: Infinity War (2018) yet, you probably want to skip this until you’ve seen it, unless you either have no intent to see it or just like some good old fashioned spoilies. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’ll get the big spoiler out of the way now: it turns out “Thanos” is just the name of Tony Stark’s sled when he was a kid. There, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get down to business. This is the 19th Marvel Cinematic Universe movie in the ten years Marvel Studios has existed and in the chronology of my MCU+ movie list, Infinity War currently sits between Thor: Ragnarok and Logan. Odds are if you haven’t seen this movie or any of the other of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), this may come off as a lot of gibberish.
This movie is the culmination of a whole lot of usage and mentions of the Infinity Stones in the MCU so it might take a bit of boning up to keep track of all of the balls in the air. The stones are first seen chronologically in Captain America: First Avenger as The Red Skull is using the Tesseract to try to influence World War II in favor of HYDRA, a secret sect branch of the Nazis (although Agents of SHIELD made it clear that they are much older organization that worships a weird alien monster that lives on another planet in another dimension). Inside the Tesseract is the Space Stone, which is used for powerful weapons in World War II by HYDRA, but during The Avengers it is used to open up a portal to allow the Chitari to come in and attack during the Battle of New York.
The next stone that is introduced in the movies doesn’t come until the sixth movie in the MCU, The Avengers, in the form of Loki’s Chitari Staff. The staff is given to Loki by The Other who is acting as an agent for Thanos. The mind stone is in the head of this staff, although it is not clear that its brainwashing power is because of an Infinity Stone or some other kind of Loki induced magic. I was completely oblivious that The Avengers was a movie with two Infinity Stones at work until Avengers: Age of Ultron, three years later reveals the staff's secret. Age of Ultron uses the confiscated staff’s stone, the Mind Stone, to bring consciousness to Tony Stark’s JARVIS AI to create the superhero Character of Vision. In doing so, Paul Bettany plays his third version of almost the same character in the MCU plus the ABC TV show as he played the human butler Jarvis who worked for Howard Stark and helps Peggy on Agent Carter, then the voice of JARVIS, Tony’s computer in what seems like a twisted act of indentured servitude beyond the grave, and later as Vision, AI come to life.
Thor: Dark World introduces a power that doesn’t seem to be a stone, the Aether, that acts like a floating liquid or gas that can bond onto a host, or it can come together into a solid even into the shape of a stone to be the Reality Stone. When it it first encountered in present day it is in the shape of a large solid cube that is floating in a mysterious place between dimensions. In Dark World the Aether is used to bring together several realms during the convergence (a once every five thousand year event when all the realms line up). The powers of the Aether as an infinity stone aren’t really ironed out until Thanos uses it in some pretty interesting ways in Infinity War and the marvel-movies wikia for the Reality Stone claims that it can alter reality, raise the dead and grow back lost limbs. At the end of Dark World, the Reality Stone is dropped off with The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) because the Asgardians don’t want two infinity stones too close to each other (they already have The Tesseract after The Avengers).
The Guardians of the Galaxy don’t know about these unwritten infinity stone rules about not keeping two in one place, or about knowing what an infinity stone is. Lucky for them, they visit The Collector trying to cash in the Power Stone they have hidden away in The Orb and he gives them a very informative history of the dangerous power of infinity stones and the beings that reaped destruction around the universe yielding them. Unlucky for them, they don’t know The Collector already has The Reality Stone. One final “Unlucky for,” and it’s for The Collector as Ronan comes to Knowhere on behalf of Thanos without knowing there is more than one infinity stone to be taken so Thanos has to come back for the Reality Stone in Infinity War. Things don’t go well for anyone in Knowhere aside from Thanos, although he seems a bit emotionally damaged in general. The Power Stone in The Orb is the ultimate destructive force of the Infinity Stones as it causes complete destruction to anyone that is an “insufficient being,” a standard that means pretty much anyone who doesn’t have the powers of a god. That destructive force means it can kill on a planetary level.
The Time Stone is the one Infinity Stone that is utilized to demonstrate the unlimited power of an infinity stone in the movie where it is introduced (Doctor Strange). Dr. Strange finds it in the wizard relics in Nepal housed in the Eye of Agamotto, a device to manually alter time. Dr. Strange later puts a spell on the Eye to create a time loop while fighting Dormammu not so that he can defeat him while fighting, but so that Dormammu will feel trapped in the fight for eternity and eventually yield the battle without any time passing on Earth. The Time Stone allows the user complete power over the past, present and future, Dr. Strange also uses it to see all outcomes of battles with Thanos, numbering in the millions of possibilities.
The last stone to be introduced in the MCU is the Soul Stone. This one is so elusive that Red Skull makes his return to the MCU after he was last seen getting sucked through a Tesseract induced wormhole in 1940’s Captain America: First Avenger. Apparently this wormhole spit him out on a distant planet called Vormir and after all these years on that barren planet he hasn’t aged a day. It turns out the trick to beat aging is to have a hideous red skull for a face. It turns out that being right next to the Soul Stone for all that time without a single loved one to kill really defeats the purpose of camping out next to an Infinity Stone. After the film was released, the filmmakers conceded that a fan theory that Gamora is not dead, but is still alive inside the Soul Stone. I don’t know how much to believe any “confirmations” from the filmmakers right now, it seems as though it is in their best interests to use a bit of subterfuge with the fans before the next yet-to-be-titled Avengers movie comes out next year. I’m not really certain what the Soul Stone does, but it is said in comics that it “holds a certain wisdom over the stones” which might mean that it is a bit of an activator and binding agent for the stones when they are together so that they can all be used together in concert and has the power of a hundred macguffins.
While it seemed as though the Infinity Gauntlet was first seen in Thor while we were given a quick view of the trophy room, there is a confusing post-credit scene to Age of Ultron where Thanos slips on the stone-less Gauntlet. It isn’t until Thor: Ragnarok when Hela (Cate Blanchett) is strolling through that same trophy room and nonchalantly slaps that Gauntlet to the floor while calling it a fake that it is cleared up that Thanos has in fact had the real deal the whole time. The Gauntlet was forged by giant dwarves that use a form of Dyson sphere to take the power from a star to create powerful objects. When a user wears the Gauntlet with all six of the stones they possess infinite power.
Who is this Thanos character, anyways? Behind Stan Lee and Nick Fury, Thanos is the one of the most cameoed characters in the Marvel Universe. In the first Avengers movie, Thanos uses The Other, The Chitari soldiers and Loki as his subordinates although he is not seen himself until a mid-credits cameo. It is in Guardians of the Galaxy that he is actually featured as Ronan, The Other, and adopted (abducted) daughters Gamora and Nebula fight with each other either to influence or push back against him. In the post-credit sequence of Age of Ultron, Thanos makes it clear that he’s done with relying on subordinates alone as he dons the Gauntlet.
Pieced together from the books Infinity, Thanos Rising, various internet explainers and Infinity War movie, Thanos has a rather dark and twisted backstory. He is an alien from the Saturn moon Titan from a civilization that died off a long time ago. At birth, his mother tried to kill him because he didn’t look like the other Titans, he grew up a brilliantly smart and peaceful child, who was isolated from his peers. When he finally did have friends they were killed by lizards, Thanos takes revenge on the lizards of his moon by killing them all in what he believed was a scientific experiment on killing and death. He later escalated to killing and dissecting bigger creatures and later to classmates.
The movie mentions that there was a resource problem with Titan that threatened to kill off the whole moon’s population, and Thanos as a child prodigy offered a solution of killing off half of the population in order for the other half to live. He leaves Titan as his proposal is roundly shunned to join a crew of space pirates. He and his gang are very successful and over time Thanos mutinies against his captain, killing him and becoming his captain, himself. Over his reign as captain, Thanos seeks happiness around the universe by getting into relationships with female aliens where ever he stops, and impregnating them as a side scheme to his pirating and killing. He returns to Titan to find that the planet has died off and at his mother’s grave he meets a woman that was a childhood romance of his, who no one else seemed to have noticed. Because the story of Thanos is a bit of a Greek tragedy, this woman reveals herself to be Death and reveals that Thanos’s feelings of emptiness from his lovers and offspring are because his true love is for killing, not creating. So, because he’s an intergalactic serial killer, Thanos retraces his steps through space and kills all of his lovers and children.
Throughout this time, Thanos has established his small pirating band into a genocidal group of raiders, becoming very powerful. He establishes his henchmen as the Black Order, or Cull Obsidian and they follow his every murderous order as they all adhere to his death worshipping cult. They are so loyal to Thanos and his creed that as a gesture of their obedience, as a threat to The Inhumans, to show the depth of madness in Thanos’s army’s ranks and to show their love of death, four original Cull Obsidian slit their throats with glee in Black Bolt’s throne room.
Thanos does find his own family in space as he abducts children to be his children, rather than creating them through reproduction. The two most notable members of Thanos’s family in the MCU are Gamora and Nebula. Nebula has been taken apart and rebuilt from an alien into a mostly machine entity and trained to kill. She was mostly neglected by Thanos and at times she has tried to win back his favor before Gamora convinced her to take her own agency and fight for herself. Gamora was always the favored child of Thanos, who was known to even give her Christmas Gifts in space… maybe it was Life Day, Patton Oswalt can explain it… despite her anger toward him. She is Thanos’s one soft spot and his only other love in life aside from Death and killing. Either Star Wars and Marvel Comics share the same universe or Thanos is really into Jesus.
This movie has everything: a giant little person, a noiseless squidman, and two Sherlocks Holmes. It’s said that the heroes number in the 60’s after initial counts of the production reaching over a hundred. A lot of the dialogue in the movie is of characters we have already gotten to know in previous movies finally introducing themselves to each other in funny ways.
The graphic novel (or, to be more specific, a collection of portions of comics that are related to the Infinity Gauntlet story) doesn’t spend a lot of time establishing characters, unless it’s establishing their existence, so it opens with a two page spread that is just headshots, names, and affiliations of the characters involved. This falls in line with the supplemental family trees provided with the first season of Game of Thrones when it was released on blu-ray. It worked for that show as most viewers were just getting used to the characters and the story and it was stuffed full of actors with the same hair color and costumes. However, in the book, it gets a little awkward to see a character talking to Captain America, look them up in the beginning of the book to see they’re “Abigail Brand” then Wikipedia them to learn they work for SWORD (SHIELD in space).
When I was little, I had a cousin who ordered soda “graveyard style” meaning a little bit of everything mixed together. Infinity War is the “graveyard style” of movies meaning that there’s a little bit of every MCU movie (excluding Ant-Man who is under house arrest) in it from the Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Panther, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Dr. Strange, and Guardians of the Galaxy movies. In the end a little bit of all of them end up in a graveyard classic.
There is a little bit of mixing and matching of the movies as War Machine joins the Captain America crew who later visit Wakanda, Rocket and Groot follow Thor on a rocket ship, Dr. Strange and the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy join Spider-Man and Iron Man and Ant-Man can’t get his ankle bracelet off yet.
The Russo Brothers
It was a bit of a surprise when it was announced for Captain America: Winter Soldier that the Russo Brothers were going to direct as they were pretty much only known for their work in TV comedies. While that had an indie film on their resume, they were known for their work on Arrested Development and Community. With Infinity War breaking box office records, the awards for Atlanta and praise for This is America for Donald Glover and the cult-like success of Rick and Marty and the podcast Harmontown for Dan Harmon, this has been a great time for the Community alumni association.
The Russo Brothers aren’t just a couple of comedy guys who came from TV, they’re a couple of indie movie makers willing to try anything. They made their first movie, Pieces, only intending to entertain Steven Soderbergh. He saw it at Sundance and liked it so much that he produced their follow up feature, a crime comedy Welcome to Colinwood. That film got them a pilot on FX that impressed Ron Howard who hired them for Arrested Development where they won an Emmy. That success gave them another feature film, You, Me and Dupree (that made $130 million, I had no idea anyone saw it) and execute producer and directing gigs on both Community and the incredibly funny Happy Endings.
They kept their admiration for Soderbergh who continued to mentor them. Soderbergh, who has worked in TV (The Knick), TV movies (Behind the Candelabra), indie movies (Sex, Lies and Videotape), blockbusters (Oceans 11) and Oscar movies (Traffic), encouraged them to jump into an opportunity like Captain America Winter Soldier despite the rest of their filmography not necessarily dictating such a move.
Marvel was probably willing to take a chance on the brothers after the success they had from another TV director with a tendency toward humor, Joss Whedon, was so successful drawing up the blueprint for Marvel team ups with the first Avengers movie (not The First Avenger). It worked fantastically for Winter Soldier, although Civil War may not have come through as seamlessly. The problem with Civil War was only that the villain wasn’t imposing enough for the heroes involved, although the whole point of it is that the heroes are fighting among themselves. It also didn’t help that there were expectations that someone, probably Captain America, would die and raise the stakes of the movies in the MCU. I don’t know if these issues were internalized or planned my Marvel or the Russo Brothers, but they are definitely handled head on by Infinity War.
This is a bit of a repository of theories of what happened and what’s to come. Infinity War is not immune to fan theories after the last few years brought fans questions over who Snoke is, Rey’s parents, The man in the black hat in West World, and John Snow’s parentage.
One of the most popular theories I have been hearing is that Thanos’s finger snap showed us the opposite of what we appeared to see. The theory goes that the people left behind are really the ones that died, and the people that blew away are the ones that survived, maybe being sent to another dimension/realm/universe. This is the theory with the most danger of being a Black Hat Westworld theory that could be true, could be a huge twist, and would really disappoint all the viewers who bought into the theory. But, no one ever really stays dead in comic books.
There’s a reason there are theories bouncing around about the dead not really being dead or when all the dead will come back and undo the Thanos finger snap. Almost no one is ever really dead forever in comic books. While the movie has a real downer of an ending with Thanos appearing to win and none of the surviving heroes acted as though they had pulled a fast one in defeat. The theater I was in had a lot of kids in it, even some pretty little kids, and with that pretty rough ending there wasn’t much distress from them. I once went to a Disney Nature documentary where there was a rather heart wrenching death of a snow leopard and it really messed up the kids in that theater who spoke through the rest of the movie and the walk out. The kids seeing Infinity War were prepared for the rules in comics that death isn’t permanent and the story was written well enough to give clues that victory was still possible based on Dr. Strange’s one chance to win speech and that he still handed over the Time Stone. Many adults were aware that this isn’t really the end for these characters because pretty much everyone killed either has lengthy contracts still to be completed or sequels to their films still on the release schedule
The end credit sequence is probably a little too vague for casual viewers, or even hard core MCU viewers that don’t read the comments or message boards. I had forgotten about the Captain Marvel news that she had been cut out of the proper movie and that she would be featured in the end credit sequence. Lucky for me, there were a lot of kids around me in the theater buzzing about a Captain Marvel sequence and even though I wasn’t well versed with her imagery, their cheers from the graphic on the pager confirmed that Carol Danvers is the 911 call for the heroes. This means she is still alive and she has an upcoming movie before the next Avengers. For me, this is a big hole in the alive/dead, dead/alive theory if the beacon for her is stuck in the so called dead world.
Speaking of offscreen people with unknown fates, Valkyrie is not seen in the opening scene massacre, Shuri is pushed aside while working on Vision and isn’t seen again and Hawkeye doesn’t show up to the battle as he has seemingly retired. Any of these people seem likely to show up again at any point. One of the most notable absences of the death scenes is Ant-Man, who is starring in the next MCU movie, Ant-Man and Wasp, and was said to be under house arrest over the Sakovia Accord after his part in Berlin during Civil War.
It’s possible that this omission was more than just giving him a chance to have his movie without being overly concerned with the Infinity War plot, but this may not be the case. I recall that at the time of the first Ant-Man movie the perception was that his character was more of a joke character that didn’t fit in with the super powered MCU. Word from Marvel Studios was that this was setting up for a bigger role in the Marvel Universe and that it had something to do with Ant-Man’s trip to the quantum level. I’m not sure how this could play into Infinity War, but it seems possible that Ant-Man may be involved in the defeat of Thanos, perhaps using the space stone to transport him to a place that he cannot come back from, or by expanding the fight through the realms of Thor, the astral plane of Black Panther, the dimensions of Dr. Strange as well as the quantum level. Comic books are all about alternate realities and parallel universes, I’m sure that could be an aspect of Thanos’s defeat.
Speaking of parallel universes, sometimes in the comics when it seems like everyone dies, they're really just being sent off to another world to fight each other. In the comics, sometimes that merges the main universe with alternate universes like the Spider-Verse. A couple of years ago Spider-Man was faced with dozens of other Spider-People and Spider-Things in an alternate universe and the real world of the Marvel Universe was left free of Spider-Stuff. The Spider-Verse story is getting a theatrical release later this year in animated form. One of the last images we see of Thanos is of him suddenly in cabin in a natural setting far from the chaos in Wakanda. His snap may not have just transported half the universe to their deaths but to another universe and he might have snapped himself to that universe as well. No one ever really stays dead in comics.
Back to the Future
It was an odd thing that Dr. Strange was willing to just give up the Time Stone after he looked through all of the different possibilities of what could happen and found that only one result in over four million would give the Avengers a victory over Thanos. Dr. Strange knew that if he didn’t give up the stone he would be killed and if he did give up the stone, he would be killed. Again, the Time Stone allows the possessor to have control over the past, present and future. It’s more than just a way to look through time, it’s a time machine. It seems that Dr. Strange may not have just looked into those millions of possibilities, perhaps he visited at least one of them and in that one of them Tony Stark survived and Dr. Strange died. I’m willing to wager that the odds of the exact combination of Avenger survivors after 50/50 odds of living or dying just might be that one in four million plus.
This theory suggests that Dr. Strange went forward in time with the Time Stone when he was looking through the outcomes to collect survivor Tony Stark to go back in time to stop Thanos. Seeing as the movie started with Tony talking about how he had not called Steve Rogers and he never made contact with him in person, the two of them will meet up. I’d like to think a situation will arise where Tony will build an Iron Man suit that can only be worn by a powered person, a god-like person, perhaps utilizing the power stone to create an ultimate weapon in order to kill Thanos before he gets all of the stones for the first time, again. It also seems pretty likely that if anyone is to die in the next Avengers, especially if everyone else comes back from the big snap, it’ll be Tony and Cap dying together having patching things up between them.
It’s pretty likely that if Gamora really is alive in the Soul Stone, that she will be the one to strike a final blow onto Thanos. Perhaps if there is a lot of hand in hand closure, she will be aided by her sister Nebula. As the Reality Stone was the last stone revealed to the audience and in some pretty spectacular ways, the hope is that it has some part in taking down Thanos, perhaps to imprison him in an illusion. In the end, the big snap will be undone by never happening, thanks to time traveling heroics.
Dammit, I’ve gotten way too into these movies, and I look forward to so many more of them. I can live with four or five a year. Some critics have said that oversaturation killed westerns in the fifties, sixties and seventies, and that sci-fi movies oversaturated the market in the seventies and eighties. Maybe they went away for a while, but we are going through a time of some pretty great sci-fi movies and westerns now after decades of nothing. Superhero movies could find the same fate of going away for a few decades when these peter out, but Marvel seems to have the right idea of infusing humor and mixing genres to tell different stories.
Sharon Carter (MIA)
Thanks to those who contributed to the theory repository: Marty Breit, Steve McGinley, Steve Briggs, Tom Parkman and Sean Davis.
Next Month (June): The Natural (1984) and other baseball movies including Moneyball, 42, 61*, Eight Men Out and more.