This post contains Avengers: Infinity War spoilers.
We’ve spent months debating and theorizing over who would die in Infinity War. Turns out, the better question would have been to ask who lives because this time Marvel wasn’t messing around.
In the comics, Thanos famously wipes out half the Marvel universe with the mere snap of his fingers, and that’s exactly what’s happened in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, it’s even worse than that. For a movie containing speaking parts for over 20 different superheroes, Infinity War closes with well over half of them pushing up daisies or just fading away into nothingness. It’s caused audiences everywhere to sit through the closing credits in stunned silence, racing to check their phones or consult their nerdiest friends to find some kind of assurance that most of this is probably going to be undone a year from now. Black Panther and Spider-Man can’t really be dead. We already know they’re making sequels!
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s backs are painted squarely into a corner of their own making. The mystery will be seeing exactly how they write themselves out of it in Avengers 4 and how much of what they did in Infinity War will actually stick, long-term.
For now, let’s assess the damage and try to figure out some of the film’s unanswered questions. Let’s start with a simple listing of the dead:
1. Who died and who lived?
Dead: Heimdall, Loki, Gamora, Vision, Winter Soldier, Black Panther, Groot, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, Mantis, Drax, Star-Lord, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Maria Hill, Nick Fury. Plus, all of Thanos’ Black Order members die as well.
Alive: Iron Man (albeit with a nasty wound to his abdomen), Nebula, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, Thor, Rocket, War Machine, Okoye, M’Baku. Plus, even though he’s not too looking hot after taking Thor’s ax to the chest Thanos is still alive at film’s end.
Presumed Dead: The Collector. There’s no on-screen death so who knows what exactly happened here, but the implication is Thanos arrived on Knowhere and killed The Collector prior to the Guardians getting there.
Unknown: Valkyrie, Korg, Shuri, Ant-Man, Wasp, Hawkeye, Wong. Of these 7, only Shuri and Wong are actually in the movie. The last time we see Shuri is when she’s knocked out by one of The Black Order, and Wong disappears from the movie when he retreats back to the Sanctum Sanctorum after the opening fight in New York.
2. Let’s get real. Who is actually dead and who is just dead for now?
Dead for Real: Heimdall, Loki
Dead for Now: Vision, Winter Soldier, Black Panther, Groot, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, Mantis, Drax, Star-Lord, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Maria Hill, Nick Fury
3. How can you tell the difference between dead for real and just dead for now?
Anyone who died prior to the ending is most likely gone for good; anyone who died simply because Thanos finger-snapped them out of existence is likely, though not guaranteed to return once the surviving Avengers somehow undo it. Gamora, however, falls somewhere in-between.
4. Right. Gamora. What was that place Thanos went to at the end when he talked to the younger Gamora?
That’s…a bit above my pay grade. I know some about comics, but I’m by no means a walking encyclopedia. The people over at ComicBook.com are, though, and according to them that place might be another dimension known as the Soulworld, which might just be where everyone Thanos killed with the Infinity Gauntlet ends up:
Comic fans will know why the Soulworld is a key part to this whole revival equation. The world is a pocket dimension within the Soul Stone that holds all of the souls the stone takes. All of those reaped reside within the stone and live peacefully, allowing them to exist as if frozen in time. In the comics, characters like Adam Warlock are able to visit the dimension at will, but the MCU could make some tweaks to do a mass revival is need be.
When it comes to Gamora, the key to her resurrection may lie with the Soul Stone. If Thanos did truly visit the Soulworld at the film’s end, then it was Gamora’s soul he saw. The MCU may find a way to tap into the Soulworld to revive those killed by the snap, and that would likely include Gamora since she was the life sacrificed to unlock the stone in the first place.
Incidentally, even though the lighting is entirely different the place actually reminded me of the mysterious waystation Harry Potter goes to near the end of The Deathly Hallows Part 2.
5. What about Vision?
From the moment the first Infinity War trailer premiered and featured shots of the Black Order attempting to scrape Vision’s Infinity Stone out of his skull, the question has been if there’s actually any way to remove the Stone without actually killing him. The answer offered in the movie is yes. Shuri’s the only one capable of figuring out how to that exactly, but immediately prior to being attacked by the Black Order she appears to have finished her task, suggesting that though Vision’s body dies his mind has been preserved by the smartest woman in the world. He probably wouldn’t have all of or even any of the same superpowers if transferred to a new body, but he could still be an asset.
Of course, it’s debatable if audiences actually care about Vision as much as the characters in the film do. This is only his third MCU appearance, and he’s the mansel in distress MacGuffin the entire time. On some level, he is to Infinity War what Winter Soldier is to Civil War, except in this case the opposition force tracking him down is led by a unifying external threat and not simply a splinter group of Avengers. However, the film’s straightforward treatment of his bond with Scarlet Witch is effectively heartbreaking. Going forward, he may yet reunite with her or at least have some hand in her return.
6. What exactly is Doctor Strange’s plan?
In fitting with Infinity War’s insane escalation of scale, we learn immediately prior to the final battle Doctor Strange has seen all of their potential futures and gives them just a 14 million to one chance of winning (14,000,605 to 1, to be exact). Beyond that, we enter that stage of the film knowing he’s already warned Iron Man if it comes down to saving them or saving the universe he will pick the universe every time.
So, why does he go back on that and give Thanos the Time Stone in exchange for Iron Man’s life? Why, when asked why he did that, does he sidestep the question and solemnly declare, “We’re in the endgame now.” Sure, it’s a nice bit of symmetry since that’s exactly how Tony referred to the fight in Civil War (“That up there. That’s the end game.”), but there’s got to be more to it than that. And why in his final line in the film does Doctor Strange simply promise, “Tony, there was no other way.”
The obvious answer to all of those questions: Doctor Strange knows more about what’s going to happen next than anyone. He’s following through on what he saw in the one timeline where they did win and didn’t warn anyone that to win they would first have to lose.
Secondary explanation: Thanos mocks Doctor Strange for putting up such a big fight without ever using his best weapon, the Time Stone, and he’s right, at least based on what we actually see in the movie. However, don’t forget the way Doctor Strange used the Time Stone to outsmart/outlast Dormammu in his own film, or how the Ancient One was able to slow down time to carry on a conversation with him prior to her death. Just because Infinity War doesn’t show Doctor Strange using the Time Stone doesn’t mean he wasn’t. Exactly how, though, I have no idea. There’s no suggestion of a time loop, which is how he defeated Dormammu, but there’s every possibility he astral projected back to the Sanctum Sanctorum to work with Wong on how to tamper with the Stone.
7. How do Bruce Banner and Thor suddenly know so much about Thanos’ plans?
By the time Bruce lands on Earth, he knows Thanos was the one truly behind the attack on New York in The Avengers, and by the time Thor ends up with the Guardians he knows exactly where Thanos just came from (Xandar) and where he’s going (Knowhere). It’s an expositional convenience on the script’s part, and in such a fast-moving, historically epic movie the logic police are supposed to give the screenwriters a bit more leeway than usual.
Still, the question remains: how the heck do Bruce and Thor suddenly know so much about Thanos? Guess: Thanos (or one of the Black Order members) told them.
We start the film at the tail end of the Asgardians’ clearly losing battle with Thanos. Thor lies on the ground, battered and bloodied. The Hulk lurks in the shadows and Loki plots their escape. Stands to reason that in the moments preceding this opening Thanos and his crew, likely through their interactions with Loki, revealed a lot information that was entirely new to Bruce and Thor. That Ebony Maw sure was a talkative fellow. I could see him, like an oversharing Bond villain, chastising Loki for failing them in New York as well as extolling Thanos’ virtues by recounting the glory of their Xandar conquest.
8. Xandar’s destroyed. Does this mean no more Glenn Close and John C. Reilly in the MCU? And what of the Nova Corps?
No idea on any of that. The first Guardians makes such a huge point of explaining the Infinity Stones and emphasizing how safe the Power Stone would be in the possession of the Nova Corps on Xandar. So, it’s a bit surprising to see their destruction happen off-screen, communicated to us quite quickly in a mostly funny scene involving Thor and the Guardians. However, that does sound like the perfect beginnings of the tragic origin story for the superhero Nova.
9. Why so glum, Black Widow and Captain America?
Some serious shit seems to have gone down in-between Civil War and now for Cap’s crew. Combined, they have barely more than 40 lines in the entire film, and they all look impossibly glum the entire time, with Natasha being especially harsh toward Wanda after saving her and Vision. Even during triumphant moments during the final fight their reactions, especially Black Widow’s, are more muted than usual. It makes you wonder what exactly happened to them. Natasha flashes the slightest hint of a smile when she sees Bruce for the first time, but she does so as if she’s almost forgotten what a smile feels like.
The Marvel comic book Avengers: Infinity War Prelude reveals simply that Steve, Natasha, and Sam kept busy by busting illegal arms trades in Syria and Lebanon. In various interviews, the actors have referred to their characters as suffering from a sort of hopelessness and general fatigue from being on the run from the law, and the writers and directors have pointed people to the Nomad era of the Captain America comics – a time when he was a man without a country – as their inspiration for him in the film.
The more practical answer is simply a decision was clearly made to highlight the Guardians and Thor in this film since they all have more of a direct connection to Thanos. The next movie will bring in Ant-Man, Wasp, and Hawkeye and give Cap and his team more to do. Infinity War operates on the largest scale possible – the entire universe is at stake! Avengers 4 will reveal this actually all comes down to two old friends – Cap and Iron Man – putting aside their differences and reuniting to save the day.
10. Why wouldn’t Hulk come out?
Hulk got his ass whooped by Thanos. No one’s ever done that to him quite like that before. Not Abomination. Not Iron Man in the Hulkbuster armor. Not even Thor. Surtur probably would have if Thor hadn’t pulled Hulk back from that fight. Either way, the implication in Infinity War is that post-Thanos Hulk is scared. It means we got a lot more of Mark Ruffalo, which is never a bad thing, but this is one story that won’t get resolved until Avengers 4.
11. How does Captain Marvel fit into all of this?
Marvel has been cagey for a while now as to whether Captain Marvel would debut in Infinity War or her own film due next February. Several times, the Infinity War directors, writers, and cast members appeared to slip up in interviews and imply they had already worked on set with Brie Larson. But we have to remember they filmed Infinity War and Avengers 4 at the same time. It’s hard for them to always to keep things straight, and we now know Captain Marvel will definitely factor into Avengers 4, likely via time travel or a wormhole or some other such outer space craziness.
Her film will be set in the 90s and see Larson’s Carol Danvers start out as a fighter pilot who Green Lantern’s her way into superpowers and, as per the official synopsis, “turns into one of the galaxy’s mightiest heroes after the Earth is caught in the center of an intergalactic conflict between two alien worlds.” Those two worlds will likely be the Kree (which is why Lee Pace’s Kree fanatic Ronan is returning) and the Skrulls, and she will befriend younger versions of Coulson and Nick Fury along the way, which is why he texts her in the Infinity War post-credits scene. If time travel comes into play that will explain why exactly Brie Larson will probably look the same in Captain Marvel and Avengers 4 despite the two decades separating the films in the timeline.
12. What about Ant-Man and Wasp?
It’s long been suspected but now seems confirmed Ant-Man and the Wasp will take place prior to Infinity War and involve the rescue of Janet Van Dyne (to be played by Michelle Pfeiffer) from the pocket dimension known as the quantum realm. The current theory is that either in the film’s ending or post-credits scene the characters will then escape back into the quantum realm to be spared from Thanos’ reckoning. After that, the quantum realm might somehow be one of the keys to defeating Thanos since it’s thought to be one place he can’t get to or at least doesn’t know about yet.
13. How is this all going to end?
“Nobody is safe. That’s the only way to tell a story these days. Game of Thrones and Walking Dead have certainly upped the ante in terms of making everyone vulnerable.”
That’s what Christopher Markus told Sci-Fi Now about his approach to the Infinity War story. Now that he and McFeely and the Russo have risen to the challenge and gone full Game of Thrones on us we are left to wonder how it all ends. The company once accused of being too reluctant to kill off any important characters just did away with over half of its roster. It’s almost an overcorrection because after this and the inevitable reversal of it all death in the MCU, as in comic books, might always feel temporary.
It’s likely no coincidence that other than Okoye, Nebula, and Rocket those left standing at the end of Infinity War – Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, Thor, War Machine – are the longest tenured in the MCU and thus those with fewer films left on their contracts. Assuming Hawkeye’s survival as well, the stage is now set for the OG Avengers to save the new guys in a blaze of self-sacrifice. How exactly they do that remains to be seen but it will surely involve some combination of time travel and alt-dimension trickery.
But what if after Infinity War led the way with death they choose to end the story with life? What if the majority of those characters expected to die for good – Cap, Iron Man, Thor, etc. – simply retire? What if this all wraps up with the universe re-balanced and everyone attending The Wedding of Tony Stark and Pepper Potts (ala the old Marvel event The Wedding! which finally put Peter Parker and Mary Jane together)? That would be nice. Unlikely, but nice.
What are some questions you have? And do you disagree with any of my answers or theories? I can tell you right now the one question I didn’t pose above is what exactly to make of Red Skull’s cameo. I’ve seen the film multiple times now, and I still don’t know if Red Skull really needs to be in it as the wide old soothsayer. Also, since they’re never seen on screen my assumption is Valkyrie and Korg escaped on a smaller ship with as many Asgardians as they could transport. Let me know what you think in the comments.