The Fate of The MCU...
Well…. Crap. Is uh… is anyone else mentally and physically exhausted from watching Avengers: Infinity War? I mean what a movie! I honestly can't remember ever being more invested in a movie. I have seen every prior movie multiple times. I know the differences between the on-screen characters and their comic counterparts. I've digested literally hundreds of articles, podcasts, think pieces, behind the scenes rumors, and fan theories pertaining to this movie. I've combed through every trailer dozens of times looking for that final piece to cement my own theories… And I couldn't have been more wrong about what happened in the movie.
BE WARNED! THERE'S SPOILERS AHEAD!
Yeah, I got a few things right. A hell of a lot of characters, and people in general, died. I called that Tony Stark would live to see his nightmares come to pass. And you know what? Thor did make his triumphant return to ultimately fail… So I'm counting that. But I got SO MUCH wrong as well. The characters that did die where almost literally the opposite of who I expected. As formidable as the Black Order was, they all met their ends to Earth's Mightiest before Thanos ever even touched Earth. Captain Marvel was teased but didn't make her appearance. AND WHERE THE HELL IS HAWKEYE! Imagine my embarrassment at basing my ENTIRE theory around Hawkeye being the secret savior when in reality he wasn't in any marketing because he wasn't in the damn movie.
Marvel and the Russo Brothers pulled off a feat. They tricked us. Literally. They ACTIVELY fooled the audience leading up to Infinity War’s release. The trailers have scenes with characters removed and/or added, swapped dialogue, and several that don't appear in the movie at all. There are even conflicting interviews between Kevin Feige (the President of Marvel Studios) and the directors about who would appear in the movie. Most of these will never be noticed by the average film goer, but they weren’t for them. These smokescreens were set in the months prior to the film for the “hardcore” fans, the ones that would be searching out the easter eggs and spoilers and anything that might help unlock the story before its release. In a previous article I referenced that the Russo Brothers “got” comics. What I have now learned is that the Russo Brothers, and Marvel Studios, “get” us as well. What made The Winter Soldier and Civil War so good were that they played off of the classic comic tropes all comic fans knew and twisted them with cinematic updates that played well for the average fan. So when it came to Infinity War, that’s the lens used to make our predictions. They changed the game, so it’s time for us to change as well.
First, we need to know what we have to work with, so let's set the scene. Thanos has succeeded in his plan to wipe out half the sentient universe. In doing so, he has lost all of his “children”, the generals known as the Black Order, and his entire Outrider army. His mothership is still intact and we see that there is at least some form of staff that operates it but their fighting prowess is in question. Thanos himself is much the worse for wear. The entire left side of his body is burned from the use of the gauntlet, the skin looking much like Star-Lord’s when he grabs the Power Stone, and the gauntlet is charred and smoldering. The wound caused by Thor's Stormbreaker Axe appears to have healed, but his exhaustion and physical fatigue is obvious. He is last seen on a serene, lonely world, enjoying the first peace he has had since his journey began.
Tony Stark and Nebula are stranded on the dead planet, Titan, living their own personal nightmares. Tony's fears, spawned from Loki's attack on New York, have finally come to pass. His team is crushed, his protege killed, and all of his preparation has proven fruitless. His nanobot armor is no longer able to fully rebuild itself and he has been disconnected from his AI and anyone from Earth. He is wholly and fully alone for the first time in years. Nebula’s adopted family has fallen as well, leaving her alone to face the Mad Titan now powered by a weapon of unimaginable power. She has lost her sister and the only group of people to ever treat her as more than a weapon. They still have the Milano, Star-Lord's spaceship, and Nebula's escape pod.
On Earth we have the rest of the original Avengers team, the remaining Wakandan military, and Rocket. Steve Rogers has lost his two closest friends in Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson (AKA the Winter Soldier and the Falcon). His drive to protect his loved ones and fight for what's right has never slowed since WWII but this is the first time he has actually failed. The Hulk is in a similar situation, having lost for the first time, he refuses to fight anymore and has left Banner to fend for himself. Thor had Thanos at his mercy and instead of ending him, he gave Thanos enough of an opening to enact his final plan. As much the God he is, Thor's hubris once again got the best of him. Rocket is trapped on a foreign planet, with people he doesn't know, and has just lost his best friend and surrogate son. Even the Wakandan’s have felt great loss, though the city was saved, they have lost their leader and protector. There will be a power vacuum between Okoye, the military leader, M’Baku, the leader of the strongest fighting force, and Shuri, the technological genius and sister of the previous king.
Next, we need to determine what we don't know. Obviously, we don't know who else has died, we only saw a few characters but just because we didn't see them die, it doesn't mean Hawkeye, Ant-Man, the Wasp, Shuri, even Captain Marvel herself haven't been wiped from existence. We don't know the state of the Gauntlet and the Stones, Thanos was able to teleport away after “the snap” but by using that much power he might have irreparably damaged one or the other. The Stones are proven to be destructible and the Gauntlet can be destroyed just like Thor's Hammer was.
Finally, we need to reconsider what we know about Marvel Studios and the Russo Brothers as storytellers. Heading into Infinity War we were under the assumption that this movie would be a send off to a majority of the more senior Avengers’ members and the turning point in which the newer characters step up and take over. Why would Marvel spend years building up these new characters to just kill them off? It wouldn't make sense! So. The newer characters are killed off and we are left with the core team. It's actually a pretty brilliant left turn because it allows for a more focused movie with a smaller cast that can give the old guard their proper send off. Marvel has also announced sequels for several of the characters and teams that have been killed off, both giving us the false impression of plot armor prior to the film, and leaving us questioning after. Will these characters be brought back to life? Or will these movies follow new characters? Keeping all of this in mind, I have 3 separate theories. for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The MCU Theory:
The first one is very similar to my original, involving time travel and slight retcons to allow certain actors to be replaced. Our remaining heroes will regroup, Thor's newfound control of the bifrost will allow him to rescue Tony and Nebula, and they will plan their assault on Thanos. They will manage to take control of the Time Stone, travel back to famous scenes from the MCU’s history, and make adjustments that will better prepare them for the coming of Thanos. This was my prevailing theory during the build up for Infinity War since it would give Marvel a chance to take a look back at it's previous accomplishments as well as allow for tweaks, retcons, and recastings. This theory has a big flaw however, as the only human who can successfully control the Time Stone was Dr. Strange and… uh… he's dead.
The second theory is the one that will most likely ACTUALLY happen. The Avengers will regroup and take the fight to Thanos and with the help of Captain Marvel, defeat him. After he is felled, a hero, most likely Steve Rogers or Tony Stark, will sacrifice their self by using the Gauntlet to bring everyone back to life. Thanos is unimaginably strong and the Gauntlet dealt serious damage to him, the toll it would take on a human to wield it will would surely kill them. They, most likely Steve, die but bring the dead back to life. Tony retires from Iron-Manning and becomes the mentor to the new and improved Avengers, and everyone is happy! Yaaaay!
As fun as that would be. I have a final theory that will DEFINITELY not turn out to be true but would make the universe so much more interesting. Our heroes regroup, our heroes fight and most likely even defeat Thanos, and that's it. No one is brought back from the dead, there's no happy ending, only the new reality in which they live. “Come on Matt,” you might say, “it's a comic book movie, one ending with the heroes losing is understandable, but Marvel isn't going to let THAT MANY characters stay dead. I mean come on. There's a Spider-Man 2 slated for next year for crying out loud”. And there is, there's also a Black Panther 2 and a Guardians of the Galaxy 3 coming in the years to come, but nowhere does it say Peter Parker: Spider-Man 2. Every character who died, and I mean EVERY CHARACTER, has a legacy character to replace them, is a legacy character themselves, or had completed their personal story arc.
Don't believe me? The Winter Soldier and The Falcon both take up the mantle of Captain America after Steve Rogers. T'Challa isn't the first Black Panther and he is replaced by Shuri as the protector of Wakanda. She even has a cooler suit than him, rocking a sick fur collar. Groot, Gamora, and the rest of the Guardians seem irreplaceable but we literally see the formation of another team of space scoundrels at the end of Volume 2! Those characters are THE ORIGINAL Guardians of the Galaxy and the team we know is actually their successors. Scarlet Witch has lost her parents, brother, and now lover and soulmate, her death is almost a blessing at that point. As awesome a sorcerer as Dr. Strange was, his partner Wong is nearly as talented and, although maybe not worthy of his own movie, definitely able to hold the New York Sanctum together.
Don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean I'm guaranteeing any of our survivors will live through Avengers 4. The comics have even more legacies that might hint at who we will lose next. Kate Bishop is a young female archer who knows and works with Clint Barton and LITERALLY goes by the codename Hawkeye. Since Clint was never seen on screen we have no idea whether he is currently alive or dead (he's got to be alive…please don't be dead) and replacing him wouldn't be too difficult. Tony Stark has a legacy in Riri Williams, a 15 year old engineering student and hyper genius who builds her own power armor to fight crime. When Tony finds out he upgrades her with the Ironheart suit. Damn, doesn't that sounds JUST LIKE the Tony/Peter relationship in the MCU? We know Tony works great as a mentor and Riri allows him to continue building a team of the future. Marvel Comics loves doing this thing where when Marvel Studios does one thing, the comics do the exact opposite. There are a ton of examples: just as Dr. Strange came out in theaters his comic counterpart became seriously depowered as magic vanished from the world, just as we start to really care about Bruce Banner in Avengers: Age of Ultron he get a brand new Hulk in Amadeus Cho, and every time a Captain America movie is released something happens to him in the comics. The most recent is the introduction of SHIELD Agent (and love interest to Steve Rogers) Peggy Carter as Captain America! Of course she has died in the MCU but her niece, Sharon, may very well take up the mantle. Thor is actually the character that I'm most excited to see replaced. I'm not saying that because I don't like him, he has been portrayed so well by Chris Hemsworth and has had one of the best arcs of any hero in the past decade. He is funny and strong and caring and so believable as a hero, but he has one more thing he has to do to truly be seen as a God. He has to die. He has to die and pass his legacy on to cement himself as a champion of Asgard and Earth. In the comics it's to the dying Jane Foster. In the movies there's no telling who it might be but don't be surprised to see the Osinson fall to Thanos and someone unexpected take up the mantle.
And then there's Peter Parker. Boy, I'm big enough to admit that when he reached for Tony and begged him “I don't want to go” I shed tears. DON'T PRETEND YOU DIDN'T TOO! Losing Peter would be a crushing loss for the MCU, but he's not Marvel's only Spider-Man. In Homecoming we met Aaron Davis, small time thug and uncle to a young boy named Miles. Miles Morales is a comic character with powers similar to Peter Parker, who witnessed him die a heroic death, and chooses to honor him by taking up his mantle. That sure sounds like a great sequel doesn't it?
Marvel Studios announced that after Avengers 4 there would be no more Phases. The claim is that this experiment needs to continue to evolve or it will ultimately fail. They are aware that if they don't continue to change the playing field that they will lose their audience and fanbase. If next year comes and Thanos is defeated and the universe is reset with a tidy, little bow, where are the stakes? Kevin Feige knows that as important as this movie is, it's sequel needs to top it and continue to keep us coming back. The Russo Brothers know that the status quo is the enemy of strong storytelling and these characters work best when their worlds are burning. They turned SHIELD evil, they broke up the Avengers, and now they've killed half the universe.
Is Marvel Studios going to make such a drastic change to their universe? Are they going to kill off their youngest and most popular new stars, including the record setting Black Panther? Will they give us an MCU that is reeling from the loss of half the population of Earth? No, of course not. Whether through time travel, the Gauntlet, or Stan Lee revealing himself to be God and rewriting the universe, we will have at least the majority of our heroes back. As much as the Russo's have proven time and time again that comic stories don't end well. As much as Kevin Feige has warned us to watch what we wish for; As much as this entire franchise has given us chances to steel ourselves for the ultimate collapse. They have to give us a happy ending right? Right?