Considering the balancing act it has to pull off, Avengers: Infinity War is pretty great. The movie has the gargantuan task of advancing and paying off ten years of storytelling, and directors Joe and Anthony Russo handle the assignment well. That said, Infinity War is the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that might leave casual viewers behind. If you haven’t been keeping up with the franchise, the film contains a number of moments that may leave viewers scratching their heads rather than fully engrossed.
After 20 movies in this series, it’s easy to lose a few. And even if you saw them when they came out, how long’s it been since then? So if you left the theater with questions, don’t worry — we’re here to clear up some of those muddier moments for you. If you haven’t seen the movie, you should prepare for some spoilers.
In your head
The Mind Stone, implanted in the forehead of The Vision, is the second Infinity Stone we see in the MCU — we see it in the scepter that Loki wields during The Avengers. But it’s changed hands so many times since then that it’s easy to forget how it ended up in the powerful android in the first place. After Loki is defeated in The Avengers, SHIELD confiscates the scepter, supposedly for safekeeping. Unfortunately, the organization turns out to be rife with undercover HYDRA agents, who smuggle the scepter into the hands of their boss, Wolfgang von Strucker. Von Strucker uses the stone to perform experiments on humans and give them powers, which is how Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch come to be. During the events of Age of Ultron, The heroes manage to get the scepter back from von Strucker during a raid on his compound.
Iron Man realizes it can be used to power his version of Ultron; unfortunately, Ultron goes rogue and uses the Mind Stone to power up a new body for himself. The heroes steal both the stone and the robot body, and then combine the two to bring their new teammate, the Vision, to life.
A most unexpected cameo
Infinity War wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without an out-of-nowhere cameo from Stan Lee, a deep cut Marvel Comics character, or someone else in the movie series that you didn’t count on showing up. Sometimes they’re played for laughs, like Bruce Banner and Captain America popping up in Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. But Avengers: Infinity War features a cameo from a character we were all but certain we’d seen the last of: Red Skull. His appearance to Gamora and Thanos on the planet Vormir is an awesome moment, but it’s also one that some viewers couldn’t help but respond to with an “Uh, what?”
Red Skull is the villain of 2011’s The First Avenger, where he’s obsessed with using the Tesseract to fuel HYDRA’s plans of world domination. His downfall comes in the film’s climax, when he picks up the cube, which begins to envelop him in awesome energy like Indiana Jones’ Ark of the Covenant. With a scream and an explosion, he’s shot out into space with a blue laser beam, seemingly never to return. It’s the last we see of the character until his surprise return in Infinity War. His tampering with the Space Stone in the Tesseract led to his imprisonment on the distant planet, where he’s cursed to guard the Soul Stone, never able to possess its power or to leave. Joe and Anthony Russo have since discussed the scene’s inclusion of Red Skull, explaining, “It felt like there was more credibility than just a random character.” As his ambiguous fate in The First Avenger demonstrates, the Red Skull’s re-emergence on Vormir wasn’t completely random — it just might have felt that way.
You’d think a father would love his children equally, but then again, Thanos isn’t exactly father of the year. Even the daughter he claims to love, Gamora, is sacrificed by Thanos so he can wield the Soul Stone. AND she was kidnapped to begin with — that’s not exactly top-tier parenting. It begs the question as to why Thanos doesn’t seem to harbor the same sort of “affection” for his other daughter, Nebula. It can also lead to some confusion as to why Gamora had to be the sacrifice on Vormir when Thanos already had Nebula imprisoned on his ship. Wouldn’t she be a worthy sacrifice for the Stone as well?
It’s established in the Guardians of the Galaxy films that Thanos raises Nebula and Gamora as competitors rather than siblings, pitting them against one another in battle time after time. Gamora constantly wins, and every time she does, Thanos mutilates Nebula, replacing one of her limbs or organs with cybernetic appendages to improve her skills as a warrior. Nonetheless, she never defeats Gamora. There’s a Darwinian side to Thanos that finds Nebula to be inferior to Gamora, his masterpiece. She’s the ultimate warrior and he gives himself the credit for making her that way. In his own sick way, he truly loves Gamora in a way he can never love Nebula — not that it worked out that well for her.
Paging Captain Marvel
The post-credits scene is a hallmark of the MCU, and for the most part, they expand the universe and set up future films. Infinity War’s post-credits scene is no different. It pulls away from the battle in Wakanda to show the effects of Thanos erasing half of all life on Earth. Nick Fury and Maria Hill realize what’s going on and Fury pages someone as he disintegrates. Who could he be reaching out to at a time like this? And what does that little red and blue symbol on his pager mean? The moment can be a bit confusing for anybody not already familiar with the character Captain Marvel, who’s getting her own solo movie in March 2019.
While not too much is known about how the character will fit into Avengers 4, we do know that her solo film takes place in the ’90s, well before the events of most MCU films we’ve seen so far. We also know a pre-eyepatch Nick Fury will be involved. Knowing all this gives the scene a clearer context: Fury recognizes that something horrible is happening and calls on an old friend we haven’t met yet, Captain Marvel, to save the day. Where she’s been, and what she can do to help in this fight? That’s a question not even the comic books can answer.
Tony’s chest problems
Iron Man 3 closes with Tony Stark stepping down as Iron Man, and destroying all of his suits in the process. He also undergoes invasive surgery to remove the shrapnel in his chest, allowing him to finally get rid of the arc reactor that’s kept him alive since the first Iron Man. However, Age of Ultron opens with Tony in the Iron Man suit and back at it full time by the time the film is over. Furthermore, at the beginning of Infinity War, we see that he’s actually still toting around an arc reactor on his chest. So, why? As Tony explains to the long-suffering Pepper Potts, the enclosure spotted in Infinity War isn’t actually an arc reactor of the sort that was slowly poisoning him in Iron Man 2. Rather, it’s an enclosure for nanotech — basically a storage space for his newest Iron Man suit to reside.
He’s still clearly got a problem with giving up the Iron Man identity, but at least he’s stopped poisoning himself with radioactive gunk. Where’s Wong? Doctor Strange and his ally Wong are introduced pretty spectacularly in Infinity War’s first massive fight sequence, when the duo join Iron Man and Spider-Man to take on Thanos’ henchmen, Cull Obsidian and Ebony Maw. The two sorcerers are a highlight of the first act, and Wong even gets his own character poster. So why does he vanish after that fight, not to be seen again for the rest of the film? The answer lies in Doctor Strange, and is very briefly alluded to in Infinity War. It all comes down to Doctor Strange and Wong’s home, the Sanctum Sanctorum.
Part of a network of Sanctums manned by other sorcerers, it helps generate a shield against evil, otherworldly forces. There must always be a sorcerer in each Sanctum. As Doctor Strange is going to be heading off-planet with Iron Man and Spider-Man, Wong is left to stand guard and keep the planet safe. We still don’t know if he survives Thanos’ purge, but we can at least rest assured that he kept Earth safe from non-Thanos threats while the rest of the Avengers were trying to stop the big purple guy.
Who had the Infinity Gauntlet?
The Infinity Stones and the gauntlet build to bear them have been at play in the MCU since its earliest days, even if only in the form of brief cameos. When all six stones rest in the Infinity Gauntlet, the user is granted complete control over the universe. The Gauntlet actually appears in the franchise before any of the Stones do, glimpsed briefly in Odin’s trophy room in Thor. However, according to Infinity War, Thanos gets the gauntlet from Eitri, a dwarf and master weapons forger. How does this make sense? It’s quite simple, really: the Infinity Gauntlet in Asgard was counterfeit. This is revealed very quickly in Thor: Ragnarok, when Hela ransacks the trophy room. “Fake. Most of this stuff in here is fake.”
As it turns out, the real Gauntlet is with Thanos, who had Eitri build him a real one, as the dwarf describes. It might be a bit confusing if you miss Hela’s line in Ragnarok, so let’s not even talk about that third Gauntlet in Eitri’s studio.
Drax the Destroyer, a character who has largely served as comic relief over the course of his last two cinematic outings, has one of the most tragic backstories in the MCU. As the Guardians of the Galaxy movies establish, his wife and daughter are victims of the wrath of the Kree terrorist Ronan the Accuser. The title of Destroyer was earned thanks to the murderous rampage he’s been on since losing them. It does make one wonder, though, why he holds such a grudge against Thanos if Ronan is the one who murdered his family.
Here’s why: After Ronan is defeated in Guardians of the Galaxy, Drax learns that the Kree warrior has been working for Thanos all along, which means Thanos is ultimately responsible for the death of Drax’s family. Drax then refocuses his thirst for vengeance on the Mad Titan, and carries that rage into Infinity War.
What did it cost?
Most MCU films are pretty straightforward, but this changes for a moment in Avengers: Infinity War. After Thanos fulfills his goal and wipes out half of all life with the snap of his fingers, the film cuts to Thanos and Gamora in an unknown world. Between Gamora’s young appearance and the inexplicable change in location, this segment is a bit unclear. Is it all in Thanos’ head? Why is Gamora a child? What does it mean? What we’re seeing in this moment has been confirmed to be a realm existing inside the Soul Stone. In the comics, this place is Soulworld, and it’s populated by the souls of those absorbed by the Soul Gem. While there’s yet to be an explanation for the Soulworld in the MCU, we at least know that’s probably where Thanos’ conversation with Gamora takes place, and she appears as a child because it’s how he still envisions her.
This may go on to be a crucial scene once Avengers 4 arrives. Maybe Ant-Man and the Wasp will shrink inside the Soul Stone to bust everyone out, if they’re actually in there — or, maybe Captain Marvel will just beat down Thanos until he lets everyone go. We’ll all find out in 2019.