War. What is it good for? Well, if you’re Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios, it’s good for at least two huge mile markers in the cinematic universe of Iron Man, Captain America, Peter Quill and the rest of both the Avengers and the Guardians Of The Galaxy. At its big event this week, Marvel confirmed that third Cap film as Civil War (more on that here) and announced that the third Avengers film would actually be split into two sprawling parts, subtitled Infinity War, with one movie arriving in May 2018 and the other a year later in 2019. So if you’re already scratching your head at the idea, allow us to provide some background…
The Infinity Gems were introduced in the ’70s. They are six over-powered and indestructible artefacts, the most powerful in the Marvel universe. Comprising The Soul Gem, The Power Gem, The Time Gem, The Space Gem, The Reality Gem and The Mind Gem, each of the six has a unique property but together they can be used to alter, destroy or recreate the entire universe. During a particularly apocalyptic run of comics in 1991 called The Inifinity Gauntlet, Thanos The Mad Titan (seen briefly at the end of Avengers Assemble and as a full character in Guardians Of The Galaxy) collected all six gems and mounted them on the aforementioned accessory. The ensuing dust-up dragged in every strata of Marvel’s mythology from everyday heroes to celestial beings, resulting in half the life in the universe being snuffed out. Thankfully Thanos was ultimately stopped and Nebula (Karen Gillan in Guardians) helped repair the damage using the gauntlet.
There is also a 1992 storyline called Infinity War, which is even more complicated and features evil doppelgängers of many Marvel heroes and the twisted, dark side of Guardians comics regular Adam Warlock called The Magus who… look, all this happens after Thanos has his go with the gauntlet and features characters that the current MCU doesn’t even have access to, so we’ll assume for now that the studio is simply borrowing the title (see also: Age Of Ultron, which has nothing to do with the story of the Age Of Ultron comics run).
In the movies, the gems are called Infinity Stones and we’ve already met at least three of them – the Tesseract introduced in Captain America: The First Avenger and later used in Avengers Assemble (likely The Space Stone), the Aether seen in Thor: The Dark World (The Reality Stone) and The Orb (confirmed as The Power Stone), which we got up close and personal with in Guardians Of The Galaxy. Some theories have it that there is a fourth lurking in plain sight – the stone in Loki’s sceptre, which has powers akin to the Mind Stone given how he uses it to control other characters.
Oh, and we’ve also seen the Infinity Gauntlet already – it’s glimpsed in Asgard’s vault in the first Thor film. Crafty foreshadowing! And all part of the plan. Could the presumable chaos of Thor: Ragnarok allow Thanos a chance to break in?
One of the cleverest elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the amount of planning that has gone into each film; this isn’t some random assortment of movies and storylines. While not even Kevin Feige could have foreseen how popular and successful his company’s films have become, seeds were planted from the very first outing. If the original Phase One Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and even Incredible Hulk movies can be said to be leading up to Avengers Assemble, and Phase Two is headed for Avengers: Age Of Ultron (though Ant-Man is the final film of that run), then Phase Three is definitely pointing us towards this conflict with Thanos in Infinity War. After all, if, as rumoured, Age Of Ultron puts some major cracks in the comradeship of the Avengers, there are few bigger or better reasons to have them band back together than a mad space being with a special-glove that gives him the power of a heavyweight god. You can see the three phases as three acts of a screenplay – introductions and rising action, a big plot turn and then the finale. Well, the finale of that cycle…
So how will the movies tackle this?
Journey with us for a moment into the land of speculation, since very little is really known about the latest batch of films beyond which characters will be featured. But we can reasonably assume that some line-up of the Avengers will unite with the Guardians and other heroes (Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel and possibly even The Inhumans) to take on Thanos. The ramifications for the MCU are massive: expect some losses along the way, though this being a cinematic universe based on comic books, there are always ways around death. Most of the current cast is contracted for around six movies, so there may be some recasting once the dust settles on the third and fourth Avengers outings. And though they remain the most popular characters, Tony and co. may take a backseat after that, so expect the others (particularly given the success of Guardians) to step up, especially since the casts have more options left on their deals. With Josh Brolin voicing/performance capturing Thanos for future films, he’s sticking around at least until Infinity War and we’d expect to slowly see more of him as the movies explore the further reaches of the universe. Speaking of which…
Until parts of Thor and then the end of Avengers, the Marvel Universe had stayed primarily earthbound, but that definitely changed with Thor: The Dark World and Guardians. Audiences embracing the films so far have clearly given the Marvel team the confidence to go further, dipping into the realms of the supernatural. Doctor Strange is the next step there. “The idea of this film is to open up a whole new corner of the cinematic universe,” Kevin Feige said at this week’s event. “We want to enter, through Strange, the world of parallel dimensions." Doctor Strange is, for those who might not know, the story of an arrogant New York surgeon who loses his professional skills in a car crash. After falling on hard times, he visits a healer in the Himalayas known as The Ancient One (above right), and learns to tap into psychic and magical powers… Then there’s Captain Marvel, AKA Carol Danvers. In the incarnation most likely to hit the screen, she’s an Air Force combat pilot turned CIA officer and Nick Fury comrade who is caught in an explosion alongside a Kree (think Ronan from Guardians) and granted incredible powers – she has even more abilities than Steve Rogers and Thor. Definitely someone you want on your side in a clash of galactic proportions.
Black Panther, meanwhile – who will be played by Chadwick Boseman – will likely have more of a role to play in Captain America: Civil War but should prove a useful ally in the coming Infinity War. Black Panther has superhuman strength, senses, speed and agility and, oh yes, a vibranium suit of armour (his African country is where most of the world's supply of the fictional metal used in Cap's shield originates).
And the future?
Beyond Infinity War, it’s anyone’s guess right now. Marvel will almost certainly lay some hints for future storylines and characters into the later Phase Three films, but for now 2019 is a long way off, and there’s no predicting how the current crop of releases will perform. Still, we suspect that Team Marvel is already looking towards Phases Four, Five and Six.