WARNING: This post contains heavy spoilers for both the post-credits sequence and the main plot of Avengers: Infinity War. Please proceed at your own risk!
By now, you’ve likely seen Avengers: Infinity War and had your socks thoroughly rocked off. Marvel certainly didn’t hold back on the on-screen death and destruction, with characters like Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Vision, and most of the Guardians of the Galaxy meeting their demise, either through Thanos’ finger-snapping killing of half the population of the universe or through death that came via the plot and progression of the film leading up to the big ending point. The real question now, of course, becomes a simple one: will Marvel let these deaths stand as-is, or are they planning a way to hit the “Undo button” in next year’s Avengers 4?
The “smart money” bet is on the latter; while Marvel certainly went for the big “shock factor” by essentially deleting half of their character database, it’s the characters who perished that make the move itself seem dubious. Black Panther, Spider-Man, and the Guardians all have planned sequel films already on Marvel’s upcoming schedule, and it seems unlikely that all three films would be in “X Years Ago” format to ensure they were set before Infinity War. Indeed, some of the biggest characters whose actors are at the end of their contracts – Chris Evans as Captain America, Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, Scarlet Johannson as Black Widow, etc – all survived the film, which adds further oddity to the move.
So what’s going to happen, then? I have a theory – and it’s important to note that it’s only a theory at this point, obviously nothing concrete – that revolves heavily around what audiences were given in the post-credits sequence of the film. Allow me to explain.
In the post-credits sequence, we see Nick Fury and Maria Hill driving, discussing their options surrounding the disappearance of Tony Stark. I may have misheard, but it sounds like Fury is saying something along the lines of “Make sure that Clint has–” immediately before their SUV is smashed by a second SUV – an automobile which they discover has no humans inside. A helicopter crashes out of midair as people start to panic – and then Hill turns to ash, an apparent victim of Thanos’ randomization of universal death. Fury quickly runs to the back seat of the SUV and grabs a small contraption that he, er, furiously attempts to get to work. It does – just as he starts to turn to ash as well. As Fury dissipates, he drops the device – a classic ’90s-style beeper that appears to have some heavy tech augmentation to it. The beeper is active, showing a few “connecting…” style ellipses before finally flashing to a very familiar red-and-blue eight-point star logo.
That logo, of course, belongs to Captain Marvel; she’s slated to get her own standalone movie in the MCU, one of two films that will be coming to theaters before Avengers 4 graces us with (hopefully) the answers to many of our Infinity War-related questions. The Captain Marvel film was just announced to be bumped up from its original March 2019 release date to December 2018; it will join the previously-released Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and the forthcoming Ant-Man & the Wasp in a very busy 2018 for the MCU. Captain Marvel and Ant-Man & the Wasp are the only films slated to come out between the Avengers 3 and 4 sandwich, and interestingly enough, none of the three title characters made an actual appearance in Infinity War.
My theory is that the pager that Fury is using to contact Captain Marvel is a temporal one; that is, he’s reaching back in time to let Captain Marvel know that the situation is grave and they need her assistance. It’s possible that the pager is a cosmic one, and it’s simply reaching out to CM across the universe, but I don’t think that’s the case because A) there’s no guarantee for Fury that Captain Marvel isn’t one of the 50% of the universe that was just wiped out, and B) the mere fact that the device is a pager certainly seems to connect to the already-established fact that Captain Marvel will be taking place in the 1990s.
But wait – there’s more! Remember earlier in the film when Doctor Strange handed over the Time Stone to Thanos in an oddly-too-willing fashion? He did it in exchange for Tony Stark’s life to be spared, which seems like just another random nice gesture – until you remember what Strange did even earlier in the film. Remember, the used the Time Stone and his control of the mystic arts to search over 16 million possible future outcomes of the Avengers’ fight with Thanos – and found only one instance where the good guys actually won. My guess is, in that one reality he saw, Tony Stark played a key role in Thanos’ defeat; since Strange knew that their current reality was not one in which the Avengers won, he sacrificed the Time Stone (and ultimately, himself) in order to keep Tony alive, along with the potential for Thanos to be defeated. “We’re in the end game now,” Strange tells Stark cryptically when asked why he gave Thanos the Stone.
It’s a bit of an unknown factor at this point as to how the next MCU film up, Ant-Man & the Wasp, may come into play in regards to the Infinity War story line. It seems highly unlikely that Marvel would simply give us a one-off, disconnected superhero film so hot on the heels of the devastation of Infinity War. The trailers and press-release info for Ant-Man & the Wasp have also been delightfully vague, but have made sure to clearly state that the film takes place largely “in the aftermath of the events of Captain America: Civil War,” i.e. before Infinity War in the timeline.
My theory here? Ant-Man & the Wasp does take place before Infinity War – mostly. The first Ant-Man film made such a big deal of the Quantum Realm and Scott Lang’s ability to return from the Realm when previously thought impossible that it just has to figure in to this sequel’s story line. I believe the Quantum Realm will feature a connection to the Soul Stone – one of the gems Thanos needed for the completion of the Infinity Gauntlet, and the only stone whose whereabouts where heretofore unknown prior to Infinity War. It seems like Gamora and Thanos found the stone awfully quickly and conveniently in the movie, doesn’t it? Marvel may have wanted to downplay the Soul Stone in this film because it will actually be explored in much more detail in Ant-Man & the Wasp. After all, the Soul Stone, much like the Quantum Realm, is “bigger on the inside” in its comic-book origins; in the comics, the Soul Stone traps the souls of the deceased inside of it, and its wielder can access any of the captured souls’ powers and abilities. This means that, if the films follow this canon, the interior of the Soul Stone is now incredibly crowded with half of the population of the universe – and may provide an “out” for how the characters who died may not truly be completely gone after all. After all, the one character that Thanos did directly kill pre-Snap, Gamora, is the one character he goes to talk to in a soul-like ethereal realm directly after his Snap. And that realm features a very orange hue – same color as the Soul Stone. Does the interior of the Soul Stone connect to the Quantum Realm somehow? Time will tell.
So, there’s a theory or two about how the next three films in the MCU are going to orbit around each other in paths predetermined by Avengers: Infinity War. Scott Lang and Hope van Dyne may explore the Quantum Realm and find themselves on the back-end of Thanos’ quest to utilize the Soul Stone. Captain Marvel may have to time-jump from the 1990s to our present day and work with genius billionaire playboy philanthropist Tony Stark to either “rescue” our fallen heroes’ souls or find a way to rewind the action and defeat Thanos as Doctor Strange said does happen in one lonely reality.
Leaked on-set photos from Avengers 4-specific shoots seem to confirm some sort of time-travel inclusion: Thor was spotted with his long hair, Captain America features a much earlier (and much cleaner) version of his uniform, and Tony Stark appears to be sporting a S.H.I.E.L.D.-type of uniform. We know for sure that several “deceased” characters are indeed back for Avengers 4 alongside “surviving” characters, as released cast lists and interviews have included the presence of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Ant-Man, Bucky, Black Widow, Nebula, Black Panther, Drax, Groot, Pepper Potts, Janet van Dyne, Hank Pym, and Nick Fury. All questions will be answered between now and May 3, 2019, when Avengers 4 hits theaters. Until then: keep theorizing with us!