Though the two-part Avengers: Infinity War was announced only recently, those of us who recognized that ugly purple face in the first post-credits scene of Joss Whedon‘s Avengers have known it was coming. The seeds for Infinity War were planted early, and clearly Marvel isn’t done yet. Only three of the six legendary Infinity Stones have been revealed, while Thanos has appeared briefly in two Marvel Studios movies, he has yet to take a more active role, and we have a whole bunch of movies scheduled between Avengers: Age of Ultron and its 2018 sequel Avengers: Infinity War, Part I.
Thanos often sought powerful artifacts to realize his nihilistic dreams. His first target was the Cosmic Cube (a.k.a the Tesseract of the Marvel Cinematic Universe). To this end he sought out the Kree hero Captain Marvel who shared bodies with Marvel’s favorite rotating sidekick, Rick Jones. Through Jones, Thanos learned the location of the Cube. Though he captured it and won his omnipotence, the Avengers were able to stop him by destroying the Cube. Later, Thanos hunted the Infinity Stones, though again he was defeated by the Avengers, Spider-Man, the Thing, and the enigmatic Adam Warlock.
Resurrected by Death (as in, a woman who is actually the manifestation of Death, though not nearly as cool as Sandman’s Death), Thanos hunted down the Infinity Stones again in the limited series Thanos Quest. Once the stones were gathered,Thanos could do anything. In the limited series that followed – the immensely popular Infinity Gauntlet – Thanos killed half of the living things in the universe literally with a snap of his fingers, including a healthy chunk of Earth’s heroes. An alliance of those heroes remaining on Earth, Adam Warlock, and the more godlike creatures making up Marvel’s space pantheon assaulted Thanos and many were killed in really, really mean ways. Thanos eventually defeated himself by resurrecting his granddaughter Nebula in order to torture her for Death’s amusement. While he was distracted, Nebula stole the gauntlet from him and undid all of the damage he had wrought. Eventually Thanos made peace with the heroes in order to win the gauntlet from Nebula, though the contest ended with Adam Warlock taking the stones for himself.
Closely following Infinity Gauntlet was Infinity War and Infinity Crusade. Later came Infinity Abyss and, most recently, just plain Infinity.
While the subtitles of the third and fourth Avengers flicks include “Infinity War,” it seems unlikely the story will be culled from that specific series. Though Thanos is a pivotal figure in that series, it has more to do with Magus – Adam Warlock’s evil half – and a bunch of evil clones of super-heroes with big, scary fangs, and Kang and Doctor Doom and Galactus flying around with Doctor Strange and really it’s way too convoluted for newbs to the Marvel Universe to grok. Infinity Gauntlet has much more potential to appeal to general audiences, and my guess would be they just gave it a different name because “War” sounds more exciting than “Fancy Word For Glove.”
So what’s coming between now and Avengers: Infinity War? What seeds will be planted throughout Phase 3?
Starting with Captain America: Civil War, let’s go through the upcoming Phase 3 films and see what we’re likely to see, what we might see, and what I might just make up because it’s funny.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (May 2016)
We don’t know just how closely Cap’s third film will follow the comic book event of the same name. Probably it will be significantly different, if for no other reason than that there simply aren’t enough heroes in Marvel’s cinematic world yet to stage the kind of conflict we saw in the comic book series.
However, we do know Robert Downey Jr. will be appearing as Iron Man, meaning likely some kind of conflict between Cap and Shellhead will be central to the plot. Put that together with the enduring rumors that Avengers: Age of Ultron will end with a much smaller team of Avengers, and it seems possible Civil War may give a world of fractured heroes, unready to work together once it’s time to take down Big Daddy Thanos.
Also, Iron Man’s involvement may point to something else. In the comics, a secret group called The Illuminati exists of which Iron Man is an important member. Recently, the Infinity Stones were trusted to individual members of the Illuminati, and eventually most of the stones were destroyed.
Now, it’s impossible to assemble the Illuminati on the screen exactly as it’s existed in the comics because it includes heroes from the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises (controlled by Fox). But once Phase 3 is complete, we will have at least three more members of the Illuminati – Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and Black Bolt (assuming he’s in The Inhumans, and it would be really weird if he wasn’t) – established in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
DOCTOR STRANGE (November 2016)
Doctor Strange has not only been an Avenger and a member of the Illuminati, but he was an important figure in most of the Infinity series. For him to not appear in Infinity War would border on the criminal.
However, 2016’s Doctor Strange may help build to the coming of Thanos in a much more important, basic way. Until now, it’s been hammered home that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, magic and futuristic technology aren’t mutually exclusive. Asgard is not a home of the gods in the MCU, but one of aliens, and their magic isn’t magic. It’s just their incredibly magic-themed technology.
In Doctor Strange, however, for the first time in the MCU we’re likely to see just plain old magic all by itself. And in the comics the cosmic beings that wrestle with Thanos in the heavens are just as wrapped up in the world of magic as they are in that of big, spacey comic book science.
We have seen three of the Infinity Stones so far in the films. The Tesseract (in Captain America: The First Avenger and Avengers), the Aether (Thor: The Dark World) and the Orb (Guardians of the Galaxy). My guess is that we may see another one in Doctor Strange. A character like Doctor Strange lends himself well to hunts for powerful, world-breaking artifacts.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 (May 2017)
Well, as the sequel to the only Marvel movie so far to actually feature a Thanos with dialogue, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 has some fairly obvious potential in building toward Avengers: Infinity War.
Fourth, though the Collector lost the Orb, it’s likely he still has the Aether. Eventually, if he wants all the stones, Thanos is going to have to come knocking on the Collector’s door just as he did in Thanos Quest.
Fifth and finally, there’s Adam Warlock. Warlock has been a pivotal figure in most of the memorable comic book stories featuring Thanos. When the more recent incarnation of the Guardians of the Galaxy first appeared in the comics, Adam Warlock was a member along with Starlord, Rocket, Drax and the rest. Also, Warlock and Gamora were a couple in the comics, and it might be interesting to see Peter Quill forced to compete for Gamora’s love. If Adam Warlock does come to the MCU, it seems likely Guardians of the Galaxy 2 would be the best entry point.
THOR: RAGNAROK (July 2017)
While we know very little about Thor: Ragnarok, we know the Thor films enjoy a cosmic setting and scope. We’ve already seen one Infinity Stone in Thor: The Dark World. It wouldn’t be surprising to find another in Ragnarok.
However, I suspect the strongest connecion between Ragnarok and Infinity War will be Loki. Consider that it had to be Loki, not Odin, who sent Sif and Volstagg to give the Aether to the Collector in the first post-credits scene of Thor: The Dark World. So did that mean nothing? Was that just an advertisement for Guardians of the Galaxy, or did that mean something? Why would Loki – who craves power – send away this immensely powerful object? Is Loki still working for Thanos? And if so does that mean the Collector is working for Thanos? Or is it the other way around? Does Loki fear Thanos and is trying to keep the Aether safe from him?
It’s worth mentioning that in Infinity Gauntlet, the devilish Mephisto acts as kind of a neutral observer to Thanos, whispering in his ear and giving him ideas that sound like they’re to the Mad Titan’s benefit, but not always. Mephisto eventually turns on Thanos. Since he already knows Thanos and since Mephisto has yet to appear in any MCU films, Loki would make an excellent substitute for that particular role.
BLACK PANTHER (November 2017)
Since we know so little about Black Panther, there isn’t much obvious to connect this film to Infinity War. Though his kingdom of Wakanda is blessed with space age technology, Black Panther is historically an earth-based hero.
However, there is the Illuminati connection. Black Panther refused to join the Illuminati when it first formed, though later he joined in Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers. If an MCU Illuminati is coming, T’Challa will probably be in it.
CAPTAIN MARVEL (July 2018)
A number of Marvel’s heroes bore the name Captain Marvel. It will be Carol Danvers in 2018’s Captain Marvel, not the Kree hero Mar-Vell who was so instrumental in the early defeats of Thanos. Still, all of the characters who have held the name have had at least one foot in the stars if not deep roots. Considering that, and the simple fact that schedule-wise Captain Marvel finds itself sandwiched with The Inhumans between parts one and two of Avengers: Infinity War, it’s unlikely there won’t be a strong connection.
THE INHUMANS (November 2018)
Like Captain Marvel, by virtue of having an origin in the cosmos and being scheduled between the two chapters of Infinity War, it would be a big surprise if The Inhumans didn’t have something to do with the clash with Thanos. And if the speculation brewing about the current Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. storyline is accurate, pretty soon there might not be much in the MCU that doesn’t have something to do with The Inhumans.
Not to mention once again with the leader of the Inhumans, Black Bolt, we have another potential member for an MCU Illuminati.
Regardless, Avengers: Infinity War promises to be big and have lots of explosions and probably at least four characters who are just all CGI. Personally I think they shouldn’t do anyone CGI except Hawkeye. Just surprise everyone. BOOM. Hawkeye’s a cartoon. Deal with it, nerds.