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To Infinity – and Beyond

So thanks to that leaked trailer at San Diego Comic Con, we finally have an idea of what Avengers: Infinity War will look like (however grainy the footage was), and as well as an indication of the gargantuan main cast. However much Marvel tried to shut it down after the leak, they were surely aware that screening any footage at all would run the risk of the leak – and as such it’s hyped up Infinity War even more.

But if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about (and it’s likely at least some of you are), here’s a rough guide to Marvel’s Magnum Opus.

Image via Disney/Marvel Comics

What’s it about?
Basically the end of the world, the Universe, and life as we know it. The story focuses around Thanos, the Titan (a race of near-gods not yet referenced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), who has been pursuing the Infinity Stones ever since he reared his ugly head in the mid-credits scene of 2012’s Avengers Assemble. Thanos is obsessed with Death – not just killing people, but the physical embodiment of death (who happens, in the comics, to be a foxy lady with facepaint), and so to get her to love him, he goes to great lengths to commit genocide on an intergalactic scale so she’ll fall in love with him. He does that with the aforementioned Infinity Stones, and the Infinity Gauntlet. Now, the Infinity Stones are the shiny things that have been at the centre of so many of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies – they’re six singularities that existed before the Big Bang, that were compressed into the Stones after the universe began. In order of introduction, they are:

The Space Stone (Blue): You’ll have seen this in Captain America: The First Avenger, and Avengers Assemble as The Tesseract, a blue cube capable of generating it’s own energy and allowing travel across space and dimensions. Thor’s people, the Asgardians, currently have possession of it.

The Mind Stone (Yellow): First seen in Avengers Assemble, and then in Avengers: Age of Ultron, it had been embedded in Loki’s sceptre that he used to turn people into mindless slaves, before it was implanted into the head of Vision, where it remains as of Captain America: Civil War. It allows the bearer to control the minds of others.

The Reality Stone (Red): Otherwise known as the Aether from Thor: The Dark World. Capable of destroying anything by deconstructing it – essentially removing it from reality but also enhances the user’s physical strength and durability to the extent they can defeat much more powerful opponents. It’s currently in the custody of The Collector, who was first encountered in Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Power Stone (Purple): Notable for being the power behind Ronan The Accuser in the first Guardians movie, the Power Stone imbues the user with unlimited destructive capabilities. It can produce beams of energy, explosions, fires and shockwaves that can obliterate anything in their path. The Nova Corps ended up with it under lock and key on the planet Xandar at the end of the Guardians film.

The Time Stone (Green): Otherwise known as the Eye of Agamotto, revealed in Doctor Strange. This stone can alter time and allow the user to go back in time infinitely and change the past or see into the future. Unlike the other stones, it requires at least some understanding of magic to use it, and can also create alternate dimensions. It resides in the Temple of Kamar-Taj in Nepal as of the end of the Doctor Strange movie.

There are though, six Infinity Stones, so one will be introduced prior to the Infinity War movie, likely to be in the upcoming Thor: Ragnorok. The Infinity Gauntlet itself is the vessel with which the Stones can be combined into one, powerful entity capable of turning the wearer into a god. Thanos already has this in his possession (or one of the two that exist in any case), and so Infinity War will likely involve him, however briefly, collecting the Stones before fusing them together, prior to his attack on Earth.

Why Earth? Quite simple, as evidenced in the first Avengers movie, the human race is far from the empty threat Thanos considered them to be prior to the abortive Chitauri Invasion. So with unlimited power at his disposal, one of his first priorities is to wipe out those capable of stopping him.

Image via Marvel Comics

What’s it based on?
As with many of the other Marvel Cinematic Universe projects, it has its roots in an iconic story from the printed page. The Infinity Gauntlet, first published in 1991, was a six issue plot centering around Thanos’s desire to murder virtually everyone in the Universe so Death would take him as her lover. He acquired the stones in a prologue story, so by the time the main event started, he was omniscient, omnipotent and more powerful than any other being in existence. The cosmic beings in the Marvel Universe gather together to try and talk Thanos down (never a good idea). Adam Warlock (who’s the guy in the big golden pod at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), is selected to lead them, but Thanos would much rather start exploding people. The world heroes attack him to minimal effect (featuring LOTS of deaths of main characters that we won’t spoil here), but it eventually comes down to Captain America and the Titan himself, leading to an epic last man standing fight where the hopelessly outmatched Cap stands his ground in the face of being crushed and doesn’t give Thanos the satisfaction of giving up.

Eventually the cosmic beings weigh in, only to be crushed themselves before Thanos becomes so powerful, he ascends to a higher plane of existence. Both Adam Warlock and Thanos’ daughter Nebula play a role in taking him down eventually, but the ending is so complicated it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Marvel streamline it for the purposes of converting it to the big screen.

Is it going to be any good?
Marvel have far too much invested in this to be a dud. The culmination of ten years worth of stories and nineteen movies, not to mention spin off TV series’ one shots and comics, so much work has gone into laying the foundations for this it can’t afford to fail. The excitement level for seeing The Avengers (as well as those who become Avengers) and the Guardians team up is already at fever pitch, and when you put them into the mix with Marvel’s most marketable character in Spider-Man, you have a recipe for success. That’s not to mention is carries a level of dramatic tension that goes with such a titanic project. Marvel has teased irreparable damage to its characters, and even their deaths, without following through (we don’t count the easily sacrificed Quicksilver as there was never any plan for the Fox-established character to begin with). There was speculation Tony Stark could die at the end of Avengers Assemble, and rumour mongering increased that Steve Rogers was about to bite the bullet in Civil War, mainly down to The Winter Soldier hefting his shield in the movie of the same name (and also due to the fact the character shuffles off his mortal coil at the end of the comic book story). Hawkeye seemingly had the death notice nailed to his forehead in Age of Ultron too. None of those have followed through on their threat.

Image via Disney/Marvel Comics

Here though, the stakes are different. While it’s unreasonable to assume the newer members of the MCU are in jeopardy (so Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Spider-Man fans can rest easy), the founder members – Iron Man, Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow and to a lesser extent Hulk and Thor – are all in the frame. Chris Evans is signed up for Infinity War and it’s as-yet-untitled sequel, but Robert Downey Jr’s future is much less clear. He’s made no secret of the fact he doesn’t want to play Tony Stark forever, so a heroic death for Iron Man is once more on the cards. Some ancillary characters – Erik Selvig, Maria Hill, maybe even one of the Guardians – might be waving goodbye, and don’t count out a full circle noble sacrifice from Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.

Who’s in it?
As you might have gathered already, pretty much hero Marvel has chucked onto the big screen at this point. In fact, the only ones confirmed NOT to be in on the big showdown are the Netflix continuity heroes (who Thanos could probably squash flat in less than a second anyway), and Brie Larsson’s Captain Marvel, who’ll be along with her own movie after the first installment of Infinity War takes place (but expect her to have a big role to play in the second one). Other than that, all the big hitters are there: Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Winter Soldier, Black Panther, Vision, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot are all on board.

Why that many? Well, the threat posed by Thanos can’t be understated. Josh Brolin is embodying the biggest threat in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hydra, Loki, The Chitauri, Ultron, The Dark Elves, Ronan, Ego and anyone else can’t hold a candle to this guy. Brolin has talked about making Thanos almost elemental – and while Kurt Russell made Ego quite personable and human in Guardians Vol. 2, Thanos is the exact opposite: Cold, alien, obsessed with death and treating every other being as tiny, insignificant irritants. The production staff on the movie itself have talked of Thanos “rebalancing the universe as he sees it”, and Brolin embodies that feeling of absolute terror by presenting an antagonist who genuinely has no motivation other than to wipe out everything.

Image via Disney/Sony Pictures/Marvel Comics

What happens afterwards?
Infinity War is technically the first part of a two-film plan that Marvel has been building towards, but what happens after then remains to be seen. There are films slated to be released after the Infinity War sequel (scheduled for 2019), but interestingly, they focus on Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. The lucrative Captain America and Iron Man franchises might even be laid to rest depending on what happens in the ensemble pictures. In terms of focus though, it’s likely that the new generation of Avengers will end up front and centre when the dust settles. The likes of Sebastian Stan (The Winter Soldier), Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange), Tom Holland (Spider-Man), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and Brie Larson (Captain Marvel), have all signed long term deals to appear as their respective characters. The likes of Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson haven’t – which makes you think that they’ll be phased out post-Thanos Smackdown.

Image via Disney/Marvel Comics

What does it mean for Marvel’s movies?
The landscape of the continuity is also likely to change, with more movies focused around cosmic threats in the future. More lower level threats become the bread-and-butter of the Daredevils and Spider-Mans of the world after Thanos has rolled up on your doorstep and obliterated half of the Universe for giggles. A shift too towards the younger heroes is also on the cards, as the original Avengers hand over the reins to their more youthful counterparts (who also resonate far more closely with the lucrative merchandise market).

If Marvel chooses not to take the step of killing off their legacy heroes, they also have the opportunity to use them as special “one off” appearances – with the likes of Captain America coming out of retirement only for the biggest events. That would also mean that they didn’t lose out on the possibility of more merchandising connected with them every time they wanted to bring them back.

And of course, there’s the question of whether, in the far future, Marvel’s parent company Disney will reclaim the rights to any of their more popular heroes that are currently at the disposal of other studios – namely 20th Century Fox. While the Hugh-Jackman-as-Wolverine-in-an-Avengers-movie ship may now have sailed, Marvel would still like the opportunity to reintegrate the X-Men into their cinematic continuity, as it would also give them a rich new vein of characters mine for future movies. That, however, remains a remote possibility, as unlike Sony’s mishandling of Spider-Man, Fox is still turning a profit with its teen-friendly X-Men movies, and as long as that is happening, they probably wouldn’t want to co-operate with Marvel on any shared property. The Fantastic Four are a different proposition though – Fox’s attempts have been critical and financial damp squibs, and given the latest incarnation drew widespread derision and was a flop at the box office, it’s possible they may be offered up by Fox executives to their Disney counterparts to end up at least making some money in the short term. That would send definitely send the MCU off in a more cosmic direction with the inclusion of the Silver Surfer and his boss Galactus. And if you think Thanos is bad – wait till you see him…

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