Here is everything we want to see paid off in the two climactic MCU installments.
It’s all been building to this: 18 films; 67 total characters. That’s a lot of narrative thread to weave. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and the directorial team of the Russo Brothers have promised that Avengers: Infinity War and the as-yet untitled Avengers 4 will be a culmination of every single plot element introduced since 2008’s Iron Man. That’s a lot to ask. Can they possibly pull it off?
Next Tuesday will see the release of Thor: Ragnarok on DVD and Blu-ray (you can already purchase it on Digital HD), and it’s a disc packed with special features, mini-docs, bloopers, and the like. The one bonus feature that got our attention, though, is “Marvel Studios: The First Ten Years.” Towards the end of it, Feige declares:
“With ‘Infinity War,’ we’re paying off every little thread and every little tease that we’ve had in what will be 18 films prior to ‘Infinity War.’ There’s never been anything like this. Being able to, film after film, tease at a larger story. Really building these stories up into a giant conclusion. While at the same time introducing an entirely new direction for the future.”
For the obsessed like myself, who spend week after week anticipating the next link in the chain, the entire appeal of the MCU is watching just how these characters come together to oppose the great galactic threat. I’m less interested in Thanos and his Infinity Stone collection than I am in the playful bickering centered around Mjolnir’s worthy judgment of the team. That being said, we’ve all been waiting a long time for Thanos to prove himself formidable, and if Infinity War sputters on that front, the collective disappointing sigh of fandom will be heard beyond the reach of our galaxy.
What does Feige’s assertion that Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4 act as a culmination of everything the MCU has constructed actually look like? What do we want to have witnessed when Avengers 4‘s credits finally roll and we wait for its stinger to launch the next decade’s worth of Marvel stories? I’m sure you have an opinion. I sure do. Dammit, Rocket better trick Bucky outta his Vibranium arm to please his own sick humor. If we don’t get that, I riot.
Below are the 10 other plot threads I want to see addressed before all is said and done. I’m sticking to the characters I deem to be Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, so don’t expect much in regards to Hawkeye or Ant-Man’s climax. That opinion might change post Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp, but for now they’re not the folks stoking my interest.
10. Thor vs. Loki – This sibling rivalry ignited the first great threat that brought the Avengers together. A Shakespearean squabble of two boys slugging it out for their father’s impossible attention. In the process, Thor shaved off some of his arrogance and found compassion for the simpletons of Earth. Loki simply plunged further into contempt. But Tom Hiddleston is a star, and we can’t get enough of this rascal.
When last we saw the brothers, they were together again, leading the Asgardian people to a new home in Norway. Cut to Thanos’s ship blocking their path and the Infinity War trailer revealing Loki’s Tesseract presentation to the Mad Titan. Is Loki a bad guy? A good guy? Marvel now has him poised promptly on their “First Ten Years” banner. It seems he’s more of an Avenger than Hawkeye at this point.
Infinity War needs to seal the deal on his moral compass. Is he redeemable after the Battle of New York? Is he mischievous or villainous? If he’s going to continue beyond the next 10 years, that question has to be answered.
9. Hulk Hearts Black Widow – In Age of Ultron, Natasha found kinship in Bruce’s battle with the monster within. The Hulk has as much red on his ledger as the Black Widow. I’ve never understood those that dismissed this romance. Here are two broken human beings that fell in love because of their fractures. In his pain, she saw her own.
Of course, Natasha had to betray Bruce’s trust to unleash the beast in their battle royale with Ultron. Bruce’s only response was to lose himself in The Hulk and flee to space. After Banner crashes back to Earth, Infinity War must address their relationship. Can he forgive her for that manipulation of the monster? Has she already found another strong, wounded bird to care for in Steve Rogers? I don’t see a happy ending here, but it’s the kind of internal conflict that keeps the Avengers relevant over other pretender superhero films.
8. The Global Spotlight on Wakanda – At the conclusion of Black Panther, T’Challa stated to the United Nations that they are finally willing to join the world’s stage. The consequences of such good intentions will probably not be addressed until the sequel, but the next two Avengers films will show a nation ready to fight for the one tribe of humanity. The trailers certainly reveal Wakanda to be a major battleground against Thanos’s army, and it amplifies the global threat beyond our narcissistic worries for the United States.
Is the Soul Stone in the Necropolis? Is it the source of the Vibranium’s power? Honestly, that speculation holds little interest. What I want to see from these next Marvel mega events is a T’Challa that has learned from those painful conversations he experienced in his own film. We need to see the King. We need to see his influence on Captain America and Iron Man. Entering Phase 4, Black Panther will be a major leader for the Avengers.
7. Nicky Fury and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Where’s Nick been? We haven’t seen him since he dusted off that Helicarrier at the end of Age of Ultron. Does S.H.I.E.L.D. even matter in the wake of The Winter Soldier’s Hydra revelation? Marvel probably wants to keep that going, but as the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television show gallops around the cosmos, the super secret agency seems to be less and less relevant to the cinematic adventures.
Nick Fury jumpstarted this whole thing in Iron Man, but he’s never really been given his due. Tony called him “the spy’s spy” and I’d like to see how that figure has been preparing for Thanos. Is he simply just the pied piper that brought this threat response team together, or is he truly the James Bond badass we were promised 10 years ago?
6. Is Thor Still Worthy? – At the start of Ragnarok, Hela crushed Mjolnir to teeny tiny bits, shattering Thor’s confidence before sending him into gladiatorial combat against The Hulk. He got his groove back before the film’s end, and he certainly seemed worthy of the title despite his father’s prop hammer. If you’ve glanced at leaked toy images (how dare you) then you might have some clue as to the answer of Thor’s worthiness, but is there still a king without a kingdom?
Thor will be entering Infinity War with a heavy burden. Either he’ll be leading the last stragglers of Asgard or Thanos will have completely wiped out his race. Whichever option turns out to be true, Thor will be bouncing back and forth between intense rage and profound doubt in himself. By the end of Ragnarok, the god that accepted the royal chair led his people from destruction into further destruction. Avengers 4 will need to reevaluate the god as a citizen/protector of Earth.
5. The Daughters of Thanos – Possibly the most exciting element of Infinity War will be finally getting to see the Guardians of the Galaxy standing next to the rest of the Avengers. Rocket meet Tony. Those two monsters of sarcasm will be good for several hours of bloopers.
However, the conflict I’m most looking forward to seeing come to a head is the one between Thanos and his two abandoned daughters: Gamora and Nebula. They were raised to be extensions of his tyranny, so Thanos should probably meet justice at their hands rather than Tony Stark’s repulser blasts. Coming out of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as sisters, Gamora and Nebula look to be a major dramatic force against the big bad.
4. The Infinity Gauntlet – What’s the big deal? Since Thor: The Dark World, we’ve been hearing about how great and powerful these infinity stones are, but how much worse could it possibly get when they’re assembled in Thanos’s magic glove? The mind stone, the reality stone, the power stone, the space stone, the time stone, the soul stone. So what? We need to see their horror.
Planets will certainly be pulled from the sky, but we could also be seeing Thanos wield his might over time and space. The dead could be resurrected. Anyone screaming for the return of Quicksilver? It would absolutely shatter the Scarlet Witch and could splinter her abilities into a million different places. A brutalized Wanda could serve as a painful starting point for Phase 4. Could her comic book damnation of “No More Mutants” be adapted to “No More Avengers?” The Infinity Gauntlet needs to destroy our heroes in a way the’ve never experienced before. Otherwise, what’s the point?
3. Tony and Pepper Together Forever – What started out as the will they/won’t they flirtatious couple of the franchise has become its driving romance. When it looked like the MCU was phasing out Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts I was deeply disappointed. Iron Man 3 was just starting to find a home for her character, and Tony without his heart is a dangerous cocktail with the potential for causing catastrophe. When Pepper made her cameo return in Spider-Man: Homecoming, I was delighted. Tony needs a reason to fight beyond his own ego.
2. The Man Out of Time Finds His Home – Since Steve Rogers was awoken from his 70-year slumber in the ice, he has been searching for a home in our time. He thought he had found it with S.H.I.E.L.D., but the clearcut good fight of World War II had transformed into a morally gray quagmire. The Winter Soldier showed Steve that blind allegiance was no longer possible. In Age of Ultron, he thought the Avengers would be his new platoon, but then Tony Stark had to go and screw that all up in Civil War.
Infinity War will be the ultimate test of faith for Captain America. We’ve been crying out for stakes in the Marvel Universe, and some wonder if it’s time for Rogers to make that sacrificial play he so admires. Will Bucky take up the mantel? Will Sam Wilson? But Rogers has already done that in The First Avenger. We know he’s got a death wish. Since the first film he’s been hunting for a life and he needs to find it.
Rogers may never pick up his shield again. His time as Captain America may be over. He will have to find his home elsewhere as a direct result of Phase 3’s climax, but I don’t think he’s going to die at the conclusion of Avengers 4. I think that task will fall on another hero (see below).
1. Tony Stark’s Terrifying Legacy – In the “Marvel Studios: The First Ten Years” special feature, KFeige refers to Tony Stark as “the heart of the MCU.” He has been there since the very beginning and he must be there for the conclusion. His death will serve as a chrysalis for the next phase in this never-ending franchise. Forget contractual agreements, he’s got to go for the story.
Tony Stark is a hero plagued with demons. Demons of his own making. In 2008, he learned that his terrifying brain was the genesis for a lot of the world’s misery. He attempted to redeem his past sins through his Iron Man prosthesis. He hoped to put a blanket on our fragile planet when he created an A.I. security system. More misery followed.
At the start of Age of Ultron, Stark got a glimpse of his legacy courtesy of the Scarlet Witch’s magical manipulation. He saw an Earth conquered, his friends dead at his feet. He saw himself helpless. This fear would drive him into further conflict with his team, and eventually shatter the allegiance the formed after The Battle of New York. Can Stark fix it? Is he the hero for the job? Avengers 4 should conclude with Tony Stark finally putting his demons to rest. He will serve as the inspiration for the next roster.