When Jeff Goldblum was cast as The Grandmaster, one of the enigmatic Elders of the Universe, in Thor: Ragnaork, the inner fanboy in all of us rejoiced that someone with so much sci-fi/nerd cred was joining the MCU. Behind the scenes at the MCU Exchange, we debated what role The Grandmaster might play in the film and, ultimately, came to the conclusion that he most likely runs the gladiatorial arena that will serve to bring Thor and Hulk back together. To be clear, if that’s all he ever does in the MCU, it will probably be a memorable and quotable role because, if we’re being honest, that’s why you put Dr. Malcolm in your film. However, there’s a chance (and it may be smaller than Ant-Man when he entered the Quantum Realm) that The Grandmaster will do more than just manage a gladiatorial arena.
The Elders of the Universe are nearly as old as the Marvel Universe itself. Introduced in 1966, they’ve had nearly 50 years of back stories from which to cull something interesting but yet, other than Benecio Del Toro’s appearance as The Collector in a stinger to Thor: The Dark World and a minor, but informative role in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, we haven’t seen these incredibly powerful and ancient denizens of the multiverse.
Del Toro’s role as the eclectic collector offered us a glimpse into the the origins of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Given his knowledge of how things came to be and his fantastic collection of one of a kind artifacts, including the Aether, we should expect that Del Toro’s role in Avengers: Infinity War (revealed here last week) could provide some rich exposition to the main plot and some satisfaction for Thanos as he assembles the Infinity Stones.
Though there’s been no confirmation of Goldblum’s return for Avengers: Infinity War, it feels safe to say nobody would be totally taken off guard were he to appear. If the Grandmaster were to reappear, nobody would be surprised to find out that he was around to provide some further explanation of events or have some connection to the Infinity Stones. As cool as that would be, there is one more remote, yet comic-based, reason to have brought The Grandmaster to the MCU: the introduction of the Squadron Supreme!
Each of the Elders of the Universe are nearly immortal beings who were born into existence with the universe itself. As time passed, they each became dedicated to singular pursuits: the Collector collected; the Gardener gardened; the Runner ran. En Dwi Gast took his pleasure in playing games. Given his lifespan, the Grandmaster began mastering games of all sort from every corner of the universe. As time went on, he began a bit of gambling on the side and the games took on higher and higher stakes. It is his love for high stakes games that makes likely his inclusion as the man behind the gladiator games in Thor: Ragnaork.
The Grandmaster was fond of games that pitted a team of his choosing against a team of his opponents choosing: a contest of champions. It was during one such game that Gast chose four powered people from an alternate Earth for his team: The Squadron Supreme. Introduced by Roy Thomas in Avengers #69 as the 4 member “Squadron Sinister”, the team has undergone some confusing retcons. Originally introduced as pawns of The Grandmaster while playing a game against Kang, they returned as the Squadron Supreme in Avengers #85.
The Squadron Supreme, from Earth-712, acted as Marvel Comics analogue to DC’s Justice League. Each member shared an uncanny amount in common with their DC counterparts and, over time the team found its own footing in a 12-issue series written by Mark Gruenwald. The team was recently brought back to the mainstream during Secret Wars in the Squadron Sinister limited series before landing another ongoing series (as the Squadron Supreme) written by James Robinson.
The potential for Marvel Studios to even hint at the inclusion of its own version of the Justice League in Thor: Ragnaork (which comes out just 2 weeks before the Justice League film) is almost too much to consider. DC’s films while financially successful, have not been met with the same critical acclaim as Marvel Studios’ and while Kevin Feige has not shown any interest in engaging in a “we do it better” campaign, this would represent a colossal backhand to the DCEU.
More than that, the Squadron Supreme represents and entirely different sort of team for an MCU that certainly must expand. With Doctor Strange opening the doors to other dimensions and the Grandmaster (in the comics) having free reign over time and space, this could be an opportunity to expand the multiverse in a very interesting way. Having a post-credit scene in which the Grandmaster goes cosmic shopping for a team of champions to take on the Avengers would build a new kind of anticipation for what comes next. While I certainly believe it will take every bit of 2 films to reach a proper denouement to the story of Thanos, it would be a bold move by the studio to take the heroes out of the frying pan and into the fire in a Contest of Champions type film.
Nothing but speculation by a long time comic reader here, but I know that Feige and company have made a mint by thinking several steps ahead and could have chosen quite literally a dozen or more characters to run the gladiatorial games in Thor: Ragnaork. For now, I choose to believe they settled on the Grandmaster not just because he likes games, but because Feige has a larger plan in place to launch Phase 4 with some new and powerful blood.