Let’s talk about Thanos. After the first Avengers film, there was quite a bit of excitement from hardcore Marvel fans about Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet. It is one of the quintessential Avengers stories, and to see it on the big screen is a (potential) dream come true. And for Marvel Studios, it was a genius idea. The Infinity Stones give an easy and reliable way to connect movies and characters that are not otherwise linked in any way, i.e. the Guardians of the Galaxy. It was the level of connection that wouldn’t take away from the story of an individual movie, while also getting fans of the entire extended universe all giddy. Given that Infinity War is now less than a year away, it’s a good time to talk about it.
First, let’s recap what we know about the Infinity Stones in the MCU so far:
The Space Stone: the last time was saw the Tesseract was five years ago, in the first Avengers film. Thor brought it back with him to Asgard, probably to lock it up in the same vault as that other Infinity Gauntlet we got a glimpse of in the first Thor movie.
The Reality Stone: Next in the line of “Infinity Stones used by throwaway villains” is the Aether, that red liquid shit from Thor: the Dark World, which was going to leak into all nine realms through Greenwich, England. Obviously that didn’t happen, because Thor’s Warriors Three gave it to the Collector, who definitely doesn’t want to collect the whole set or anything.
The Power Stone: this Infinity Stone wins the “least creative name” award. It’s just a stone that gives the holder an arbitrary amount of power of unspecified type. Anyways, it was the main driving force for the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, where, after blowing up the Collector’s house, was locked away in a vault by the Nova Corps (aka the Space Police).
The Mind Stone: As it turns out, the Mind Stone was actually the source of power in Loki’s sceptre in the Avengers. Who knew? Anyways, the Mind Stone formed the basis for Ultron’s programming, which turned out as well as expected, then formed the basis for Vision’s consciousness, which turned out much better than expected. Now the Mind Stone resides somewhat safely in the vibranium android’s forehead.
The Time Stone: arguably the strangest introduction for an Infinity Stone, Wong kind of casually mentions that Doctor Strange had been wearing it around his neck for about a week, in the form of the Eye of Agamotto. After using it to both trap an interdimensional being in a paradox and spawn a wave of Internet memes, Doctor Strange keeps the Time Stone either locked away in the Sanctum Sanctorum, or around his strangely long neck.
The Soul Stone: I’m pretty sure the reason we haven’t seen the Soul Stone yet in an MCU movie is because it’s probably the silliest of the set. Like what does it even do? Based on the others, it should manipulate souls, but that’s still really vague, compared to manipulating minds, or time, or even power. All of the other Stones have kind of been the basis for at least one movie’s plot, but I imagine a movie based on the Soul Stone would come across at least a bit silly. But yeah, we haven’t seen it, and if I had to guess I would saying that Thanos already has the Soul Stone in his possession.
That’s all cool and all, but it gets really cool when you consider what Thanos is going to have to do to catch ‘em all:
- He has to break into the Asgardian vault to steal the Tesseract, and possibly that Infinity Gauntlet we saw there.
- He has to somehow get the Collector to part with the Aether, probably one of the most valuable artifacts in his collection.
- He needs to get into the Nova Corps vault and steal the Power Stone.
- He needs to remove the Mind Stone from Vision’s noggin.
- He needs to steal the Eye of Agamotto from Doctor Strange and the other members of his order without himself getting caught in another meme-worthy time loop.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get into some wild speculation. I’m kind of assuming that Thanos isn’t going to take the route of stealth, because, uhhh, he’s fucking Thanos, which makes all of these even more (potentially) awesome. We’ve been waiting for five years now to see Thanos in action, and that is a lot of action lined up.
But at the same time, I’m kind of worried. For a few reasons.
The first is that Infinity War is likely going to be crowded. We have 3 more movies before Avengers: Infinity War is released. Spider-Man: Homecoming this Friday, Thor: Ragnarok in November, and Black Panther in February of next year. We aren’t likely to see any Infinity Stone related shenanigans in Spider-Man, since it is still kind of sort of owned by Sony, and Black Panther has a lot of Wakandan backstory it has to cover. That leaves Thor: Ragnarok, and various post-credit scenes. There already looks to be a lot going on in Ragnarok based on the trailer, so it’s going to be hard to fit Thanos in without overstuffing a single movie. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want these kinds of events to take place in 30-second clips at the ends of these movies.
That leaves us with two other solutions to this problem. The first is that one or more of the Infinity Stones will be collected off-screen. I’d rather that not be the case, because like I said, there’s a lot of potential awesomeness there. The second is that all of it happens in Infinity War, and Thanos completes his Infinity Gauntlet for part 2. Those things on their own make for a reasonable, if still ambitious, basis for a movie, but it’s not that simple. We also have a ton of characters in various parts of the universe who all need to come together and get to know each other and learn about Thanos, and maybe do some fighting. That’s a lot of shit to fit into one movie, and while I’m fairly confident that it can be done… that’s a lot of shit to fit into one movie.
The second reason I’m worried is Marvel’s track record of throwaway villains. Red Skull. Malekith. Ronan. Hell, they threw the Mandarin out halfway through Iron Man 3. The MCU has made it clear that they don’t write stories about villains; they write stories about heroes. That’s not a bad thing ,but they’ve spent five years teasing Thanos. I don’t think you can justify that unless the movie focuses a lot more on him than other MCU films have focused on their respective villains. And top of that, how can you write a story focusing on heroes when there are a bajillion goddamn heroes? We know the heroes already. That was kind of the point of the extended universe thing. We don’t know Thanos. Tell us about him instead.
Which finally leads me to my last point: consequences. One of the results of working in this extended universe format is that, similar to the comic books that they came from, MCU characters have tended to develop some pretty strong plot armour. It’s a major criticism of the MCU as a whole that the films don’t really have lasting consequences. Potentially world-ending events are mostly forgotten about, relationships between character stay relatively consistent, and probably most significantly, none of the important people die (sorry Quicksilver). The audience is becoming conditioned not to fear for the lives of Iron Man, or Thor, or even Black Widow, because they are too central to the MCU as a whole to be simply killed off.
I’m worried that Marvel Studios will continue this pattern, and attempt to get through Infinity War consequence-free, because I don’t think it can happen. I don’t want main characters dead, but it’s Thanos, dude. He’s been hyped up for five years. If Feige and Friends are going to try to tell me that Thanos is going to let all of these people defy him and live, I’m gonna have to tell Feige and Friends to fuck themselves. I have expectations of Thanos. Expectations that the previous movies have set up. I expect him to be very powerful, I expect him to be terrifying, and I expect him to not give a fuck about killing some bitches to get what he wants. In the comics, the dude is supposed to be in love with Lady Death. You think that kind of guy hesitates to murder people?
Let’s take a look at Vision (get it?). A lot of people think he’s gonna have to die for Thanos to get the Mind Stone, and I generally agree. But if you want people to see Thanos as a real monster, then simply killing Vision to get the Mind Stone isn’t intimidating enough, and also pretty expected. We don’t know for sure how the Mind Stone is connected to Vision – it might just be sitting in his forehead. Rather than his entire consciousness being connected to the Mind Stone, what if it is just the part of his mind that prevents him from being like Ultron? What if, upon removing the Mind Stone, Vision loses only his sanity, and goes on a murderous rampage? What if Scarlet Witch is forced to kill him? And what if Thanos orchestrated the whole thing? Personally, that’s a lot more compelling than Thanos simply killing Vision and taking the Mind Stone.
Sequels tend to take characters that we know, and up the stakes to keep the suspense real. But usually at some point, the audience has to think “Ok, last time you guys dealt with global nuclear war. There’s no reason to think any of you will ever be in danger again.” (looking at you, Fate of the Furious) The more dangerous situations characters face, the harder it is to keep the audience believing they are in danger. The MCU has so far avoided this feeling by have a fuckton of characters, but that same kind of fatigue is going to start setting in (if it hasn’t already). The best way to keep this extended universe spinning to remind people that it doesn’t revolve around these characters. One thing that I really appreciate is that Marvel Studios has remained fairly quiet about their plans after the fourth Avengers film. I’m kinda sorta hoping that means some people are gonna die, and we’ll start to fear for our heroes again.
Or maybe that’s exactly what they want us to be speculating about, and nothing will actually happen.