Movies

Why Infinity War’s Ending Isn’t As Shocking As It First Appears

Don’t believe Thanos when he says, “No resurrections this time.’’

Thanos at the end of Avengers: Infinity War
Looking to the comics—and one 1991 comic in particular—should provide fans some solace.
Illustration by Slate. Still from Marvel.

This post has more spoilers than Avengers: Infinity War has characters.

Sweet Christmas! What just happened at the end of Avengers: Infinity War?

Thanos, the big bad of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, got what he wanted all along: to collect all six Infinity Stones, pop them into his gauntlet, snap his fingers, and kill half the living creatures in the universe—or, to be more precise, to make them fade out of reality like so much scattered ash. Alas, his randomly chosen victims include about half the heroes in this overpopulated superhero epic.

So Black Panther, Star-Lord, Spider-Man … they’re all gone?

Ostensibly!

Do you have a full list?

Sure do. The casualties are Bucky (aka the White Wolf), Black Panther, Groot, the Scarlet Witch, Falcon, Mantis, Drax, Star-Lord, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and—in the post-credits scene—Maria Hill and Nick Fury. And that was after a number of other (presumably more permanent) deaths in the film: Heimdall, Loki, apparently every remaining Asgardian but Thor (though perhaps not Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, who did not appear), the Collector (who presumably died off-screen), Gamora, all the Children of Thanos, and the Vision.

Dark.

Yeah.

Like, really dark!

I know!

Wait, you said “more permanent.” So most of these characters are coming back?

They will almost definitely be brought back to life—presumably in next summer’s as-yet-untitled Avengers movie, the sequel to this one. Marvel reportedly already has plans for another Spider-Man movie (in 2019) and a third Guardians of the Galaxy film (in 2020), so those characters can’t stay off the table. Meanwhile, the first Black Panther film, released in February, has already made more than $1 billion. Do you really think T’Challa and Co. aren’t getting a sequel? There have also been reports of plans for a Doctor Strange follow-up. Also, Sebastian Stan, who plays Bucky, is contracted to appear in as many as nine Marvel movies, and this was only his sixth.

I’d also venture that a movie franchise that expends a significant amount of runtime restoring the missing eyeball and broken hammer of Thor is probably not in the business of putting storytelling needs above extracting value from its beloved IP. Marvel’s movies have come this far—they’re not going to throw out a script that their paying customers love.

So despite Thanos’ promise in Infinity War of “no resurrections this time,” there will definitely be some resurrections next time.

Phew. But this all seems like it was very avoidable! Why did Doctor Strange give Thanos the Time Stone? Didn’t he know it would allow Thanos to complete the set and kill everyone—including him? Was it just to save Iron Man?

No, he wasn’t doing it for Iron Man—remember, earlier in the movie he promised he would put the safety of the stone above Iron Man and Spider-Man’s lives. But you’ll remember that he also used the Time Stone to foresee every possible scenario in which Thanos lost. There was just one—a sequence of events that presumably had to include Thanos’ murder of half the universe, including Doctor Strange himself.

OK, so how are they going to undo all of those deaths?

For one thing, we know that whatever the Infinity Stones can do, they can presumably undo. That’s what happened in The Infinity Gauntlet, the 1991 Marvel crossover series upon which Infinity War is primarily based. In that book, Thanos also succeeded in eliminating half the universe—and killing off a bunch of major heroes one by one to boot. The plot of the six-issue series was even more tangled than this latest Avengers movie, but it basically ends with Nebula (played in the films by Karen Gillan) gaining control of the stones (they’re called gems in the comic books) and Thanos teaming up with the heroes to defeat her and set the universe right. My guess is that’s not what will happen in Avengers 4, but it seems like a good bet that the cosmic abilities of the stones will somehow play into however the day is saved.

Given that there’s a Time Stone, could they just … go back in time?

Good guess! That seems like a real possibility, especially considering photos snapped on the set of Avengers 4 that seem to take place during the action of past Marvel films. Not to mention the fact that we’ve already seen time-travel plots both at the end of Infinity War, when Thanos resurrects Vision (contradicting what he said just two hours earlier!) before killing him again, and in Doctor Strange.

We also have characters with the ability to hop between planes of existence—including Ant-Man, who in his first film briefly traveled to the microscopic “quantum realm.” While Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd) wasn’t in Infinity War, he will return later this year in Ant-Man and the Wasp—a film that will surely play into the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s larger plot.

So that’s it? We’ve solved it? Ant-Man will help them go back in time to undo everything?

Not necessarily. Those could also be flashbacks or dream sequences—or, as Infinity War and Avengers 4 directors Joe and Anthony Russo have suggested, we could simply be seeing another demonstration of the technology Tony Stark introduced in Captain America: Civil War, called Binary Augmented Retro-Framing (B.A.R.F.), that allows users to experience their memories as if they were the present. Perhaps, by Avengers 4, Tony will even have fixed that acronym.

(Another possibility I have to mention is the appearance of two characters who were essential to the original Infinity Gauntlet series: Adam Warlock, another cosmic character who was teased in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and the Silver Surfer, who could only appear if between now and next summer Marvel’s parent company gets regulatory approval for its proposed purchase of 20th Century Fox, which currently has the rights to the Fantastic Four and related characters.)

Well, then what about that post-credits scene? Who did Nick Fury ping with his beeper before turning to ash? And could this superhero save everyone?

A better question would be, “Why is Nick Fury carrying a beeper in 2018?” But I have your answer: His beeper showed us the insignia of Captain Marvel, a character with a history that’s too convoluted to get into. (There’s also a Captain Marvel in DC Comics, better known as Shazam. Confusing!) We know, however, that the Captain Marvel in these films is Carol Danvers, a cosmically powered hero who will be played by Brie Larson in a solo movie early next year, before Avengers 4 drops. That film is set in the 1990s (hence the beeper?!) and involves not only Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, but also some Thanos-adjacent characters, like Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser and Djimon Hounsou’s Korath, who appeared in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Nick Fury always plans for the worst, and this time, his plan involves Captain Marvel.

What about that scene with the Red Skull? How did he end up on the planet Vormir? Did that make any sense?

Not really. Apparently because of his attempts in the first Captain America movie to control the Space Stone, which was then contained within the Tesseract, he’s been banished to guard the Soul Stone and warn any visitors of the cost it demands—in Thanos’ case, the sacrifice of his adopted daughter Gamora. Why not?

Sure, why not. Remind me: Which heroes are not dead?

Sure. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk (although he’s apparently feeling shy, so for now it’s just Bruce Banner), War Machine, Okoye, Nebula, and Rocket—in other words, the core Avengers plus a few friends, including the voice of Bradley Cooper. (Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye wasn’t in this film, so we don’t know whether he’s a pile of ash right now.) If you thought this movie’s massive cast was a bit unwieldy, it’s possible Avengers 4 will be more manageable. Oh wait, its IMDB page has how many characters?