With the Russos Brothers in Atlanta and beginning work on Avengers: Infinity War, a lot of mystery surrounds how the story will come together. While Thanos has been looming for years, very little of his plans or motivation has actually made the screen. He may be the most anticipated character in cinema history to only appear on screen for about 7 minutes. The mystery has been ratcheted up by Marvel’s decision to drop the “Part One” and “Part Two” elements to the titles of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4. The films are still being shot at the same time and will have some connection, but they are separate entities as far as story. Reading between the lines, it seems like Marvel has a title in mind for the fourth installment of their largest franchise, but sharing it would reveal something of the plot to Infinity War.
One way to guess at the future is to look to the source material. Such an approach can be hit and miss. Often a comic storyline, such as “Age of Ultron,” has almost no relationship to the film of the same name. The name just sounds cool and plays on brand loyalty. Other comic storylines have some similar elements to the film, like the Sokovia Accords/Superhero Registration Act, while having a largely different narrative structure. So, more than a shot-by-shot tutorial, fans should see the comics as a source for plot elements or characters or even a particular scene. With that in mind, let’s turn to the comics for some hints at what might happen in the upcoming Avengers movie.
First off, many casual fans will not recognize that it’s almost certain that very little of Avengers: Infinity War will actually come from the comic of the same name. Why? Well, the most famous and beloved Infinity Stone storyline is actually “Infinity Gauntlet.” “Infinity Gauntlet” opens with Thanos in control of all the Infinity Gems, placed within the golden gauntlet. What unfolds is the cosmic battle to defeat him in his omnipotence. “Infinity War,” however, is a bit smaller in scale. That story features Thanos as a reluctant ally to the Marvel heroes and Magus as the main villain. Given the story thus far, it would seem that the first series is far more likely to be the main base, regardless of the title confusion. So what will make the cut and what won’t? Here is your breakdown with % probabilities that those elements make the movie.
DEATH AND MEPHISTO Thanos has two main companions in his quest to rule the universe. The first is Mephisto, Marvel’s incarnation of the devil. From the opening panels of the story, Mephisto is hedging his bets, cozying up to Thanos as an advisor but also recognizing that he might not have a universe to live in if he doesn’t subvert the “Mad Titan’s” plans. This character has been rumored to appear in Marvel properties recently, but he could be a harder sell. Whereas Thor and Odin are gods connected to largely extinct religions, bringing in a character more tightly connected with the religious beliefs of the largest religion in America can be tricky. Certainly shows like Lucifer and Constantine have shown that comic properties focusing on demons or the devil struggle to find a footing with audiences. It’s hard to see Marvel unnecessarily adding such an element to their film, particularly when they could use another character like Loki or Hela or some other villain in a similar role.
Death, on the other hand, will be far more likely to appear. Reading through “Infinity Gauntlet,” one finds that Death has a necessary role. Thanos, with the Gauntlet, is literally omnipotent. This kind of power makes him the ultimate opponent in one way but creates a significant narrative problem. He is capable of defeating just about any entity in the cosmos. He literally could have his will with the snap of a finger. As such, the only way to defeat him is to exploit some internal weakness he may have. That may be his mortal self, struggling to wield the power he has. More often, it’s his undying love for Death. He wants to please her and in doing so is willing to risk defeat. At one point, Mephisto convinces him that Death is not impressed with Thanos because he is too strong. His victories ring hollow because he lacks a true contest. Thanos immediately chooses to de-power himself! Ultimately love is an important motivator for Thanos. He cannot make Death love him because forced love is not truly love. Her whims and opinion thus are the greatest limiter on his power and handicap on his plans.
Likelihood of Appearing: So, let’s give Mephisto about a 30% chance of showing up, and Death an 80% chance. If she does not appear then the screenwriters need to be very clever to find an Achilles heel for Thanos.
KILLING HALF OF THE UNIVERSE Thanos first overture to the lady Death is to kill half of the universe. This decision really doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why half, and not say a third or all but him and her, is a bit of a mystery. Also, the heroes are lucky enough that his half happens to be mostly B-level Marvel characters or at least the least powerful characters. So Hawkeye and Black Panther and Daredevil don’t make it, but Thor and Hulk and many other heavy hitters manage to survive. This is either incredible fortune or terrible planning on Thanos’ part! For the writers of the comic series, this is a convenient plot device. Whatever characters they found unhelpful or uninteresting they could just kill at the start. The task of creating a universe-spanning story is far smaller when half the roster of the company is no longer in play.
On the one hand, this could be convenient for the Russos too. They have already teased about trying to balance dozens and dozens of characters. Making it all fit is a nightmare. So they could just have Thanos kill a bunch of characters and then they’d have a smaller headache (and budget!). This move is significantly unlikely for a couple reasons. The comic universe has many more characters to draw from than the films. So, they needed to cut things down more. Secondly, a big part of the draw of these movies is that everyone will be involved. Already fans are crying foul over the chance that the Defenders might miss out. Imagine if Jessica Jones popped on screen for ten seconds and then disappeared in a Thanos purge of humanity. Finally, the pre-emptive killing off of characters would open the door for yet more fake deaths. Fans are growing exhausted of the death-fake-out. Thanos will likely kill someone, but undercutting the seriousness of that danger by a mass death that never will hold up is a bad call.
Likelihood of Appearing: 10% chance of half the universe blinking out of existence. Such a decision would undercut the very thing fans are excited about
ADAM WARLOCK Adam Warlock is a vital part of the “Infinity Gauntlet” story. While earth’s heroes are generally distrustful of Warlock, they know that he is capable of grasping the challenge at hand better than they can. The film will need some kind of character who can translate things to the “normal” folks. Captain America is a great leader, but it is a far way from fighting against Nazi tanks and fighting the universe’s most powerful being. Someone needs to serve as the cosmic expositor, a character to take the weird new elements of the story and explain them the main characters, as well as the audience. Already Warlock has been hinted at via the cocoon in the Collector’s menagerie. Also, Marvel is introducing a related character in Ayesha in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. If Warlock doesn’t appear, then Thor might take on this role, as he already is investigating the Infinity Stones.
Likelihood of Appearing: We’ll give Adam Warlock a 90% chance of appearing. Marvel has developed a habit of adding new characters in during their bigger movies (see Vision and Scarlet Witch in Age of Ultron and Black Panther and Spider-man in Civil War). Warlock is a good bet for the major addition in Infinity War.
THANOS’ SPACE FORTRESS Much of the main action of the series occurs on a temple of sorts that Thanos has built in the middle of space. (Don’t worry about oxygen, Doctor Strange has a spell for breathing in space.) The design is a bit garish. (Masters of the Universe called and they want their aesthetic back.) When it comes to the final showdown, however, space is almost prerequisite. Given that previous films have included a full-scale invasion of NYC or the trashing of London with inter-dimensional portals, the ante needs to be raised. Really no place on earth will be big enough to feel like it really can host such a titanic battle.
Likelihood of Appearing: This one is a 95%. Thus far the depiction of Thanos, floating in his chair is pitch perfect to the depiction of him in “Infinity War.” His costuming has been also very similar to the comics. Hard to see Marvel changing up the aesthetics in this way, giving their loyalty thus far.
DRAX & HULK TEAM-UP At one point Hulk and Drax do a combo super punch.
Likelihood of Appearing: Probably 189%. Already there have been major rumblings about Drax appearing in the film. Who doesn’t want to see this? Both characters are big, strong, simple-minded, green, and adored.
THE CAP/THANOS SHOT From time to time Marvel sets up a shot to be a direct call back to a panel from a comic book. Two examples from Civil War would be the Ant-Man on an arrow scene and the climatic shot of Iron Man unloading his hand blasters into Cap’s shield. The best candidate from “Infinity Gauntlet” would be the panel where Captain America and Thanos come face to face. Most of the heroes, including many far more powerful than the super soldier, have already fallen. Yet Cap stands defiantly and says, “As long as one man is standing against you Thanos, you’ll never be able to claim victory.” The bravery very much fits his defiant, “I could do this all day” motif. Thanos’ response, however, is so defining of his arrogance and power. “Noble sentiments from one who is about to die.” Ultimately this scene is just an attempt to distract the gauntlet holder, but it’s a great moment in the history of Steve Rogers.
Right now Rogers is no longer Cap, but almost everyone assumes that this situation will be remedied somewhere in Infinity War. The scene just is too resonant with Cap’s character in the films and the character of Thanos to be left out. Even if the plot is vastly different it’s terribly likely that at some point Cap will stand toe to toe and defiantly take on Thanos. The dialogue would be pretty easy to adapt.
Likelihood of Appearing: This one is 90%. It is just such a perfect image.
CELESTIAL BEINGS VERSUS THANOS One of the more interesting features of “Infinity Gauntlet” is that the main superhero action happens in issue 4 of 6. Ultimately, the big hitters of the Marvel Universe fail. Issue 5 escalates things with the arrival of Galactus and a bunch of other bizarre celestial powerhouses. It’s the kind of trippy, pseudo-philosophy turn off which Marvel Comics can at times be guilty of. Thanos defeats a series of beings who are concepts made flesh. Order & Chaos are sentient persons, Love & Hate are embodied in the shape of two humanoid creators. Time itself, in the shape of a being called Chronos, also fights the gauntlet wielder.
The major problem is that these conceptual entities are really abstract. Comic audiences are a bit more forgiving of this kind of thing than a film audience will be. Also, comic fans are aware of some of these characters from previous stories, but film audiences are not. In order to include these characters, Marvel would need to introduce them into the film. That’s a tall order in a film that already needs to introduce the Infinity Gauntlet, collect the Infinity Stones, and include meaningful storylines for dozens of characters. There is no way they will attempt something so grand.
Likelihood of Appearing: This one sits around 20%. The 20% represents the chance that they will instead use an element like the Elders of the Universe in a similar function. This plot turn has been rumored (and debunked), but the appearance of characters like The Collector and Grandmaster in Infinity War makes some sense. Still, it seems highly improbable that the defeat of Thanos occurs via the agency of any characters except the heroes that Marvel has built up for a decade leading into this movie.
THE FINAL BATTLE WITH NEBULA In the comics the final issue features Thanos teaming with the heroes after Nebula somehow snatches the gauntlet. The turn is interesting in that it causes Thanos to form an alliance with the Avengers and company. It also is a short-lived gambit and leads to a lengthy epilogue to the story as a whole.
Given the build up to Thanos, audiences would be quite annoyed if he wasn’t the ultimate villain of the story. Marvel has struggled to create a truly great bad guy and making Thanos a more cosmic version of a Trevor Slattery-style bait-and-switch would be truly infuriating. Also, Nebula’s character would have to go through a lot to really fit the character in the comics.
Likelihood of Happening: This idea falls into the same 20% range as the last one. The only way this kind of plot element would make any sense is if Loki somehow gets the gauntlet. If Thanos were to fall to the Avengers and Loki sweeps up the power, setting up a cataclysmic battle between the opponents of the first Avengers film, it would make many people happy. It would be a fitting conclusion to the first three-phase arc of the MCU. It seems more likely that Loki will go the other way, becoming, begrudgingly, an ally to Thor and co.
INFINITY WAR At the start of the piece there was reference to the difference between “Infinity Gauntlet” and “Infinity War” and the likelihood that the next Avengers’ film will be based on the former. The latter, however, could make an interesting movie. In some ways, it is smaller in scope, but the plot is actually a bit more sensible and intriguing. Warlock is split into several distinct beings and the evil part of him (Magus) works to take over the Stones and Gauntlet. His plan is complicated but clever, and Thanos and earth’s heroes again play off each other as enemies yet allies. A lot of backstabbing occurs. The plot plays out a bit like a celestial Maltese Falcon with three or four parties lying, scheming, and betraying each other in the attempt to get a McGuffin.
Likelihood of Happening: This storyline is terribly unlikely, at least now, at about a 5% chance of happening. Marvel could be prepping the comic storyline “Infinity War” as the sequel to the film Infinity War (aka Avengers 4), leading to incredible confusion for comic fans worldwide. While “Infinity War” is an interesting story, it’s a less grand story. Producing that story after the “Infinity Gauntlet” story would be a bit of de-escalation in the action. Whatever Avengers 4 will be, it probably will be bigger in scope, not smaller.
In the end, it is all speculation. My personal gut instinct is that Infinity War will actually be about the race to collect the Infinity Stones and then the battle with Thanos will be the story for Avengers 4 (maybe titled Avengers: Thanos of something more generic like Avengers: The Final Battle). But all of that is just guess work. The relationship between the films is still a mystery, as is the way Captain Marvel and Ant-Man and the Wasp will fit in between. One way or the other, its fun to see the roots of it all in the comic storylines from decades ago.