If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ve probably now seen Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is positively cleaning up at the box office. Writer/director Joss Whedon had a herculean task ahead of him in crafting the sequel to the third highest grossing movie of all time, but it turns out he was well up for the challenge. That said, when you’re following up such a massive movie, it’s pretty much a given that the sequel is going to be even bigger. Age of Ultron is jam-packed with story, characters, action, and flying fists, so it’s understandable if the film’s ending left you a little befuddled.
In the interest of tracking how Marvel Studios’ Phase Two-capper Age of Ultron sets up the third, sure-to-be-even-bigger phase, let’s break down the very end of the film. Spoilers abound from here on out, obviously.
At the end of the movie, we see that the titular Avengers team has somewhat disbanded, and a new lineup has amassed that includes Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Vision (Paul Bettany), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), with Captain America (Chris Evans) acting as the official team leader. Hulk is missing, Tony is trying to lead a quieter life, Hawkeye is with his family, and Thor has gone off to further investigate what’s going to be driving Phase Three: Infinity Stones.
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we have now seen four of the Infinity Stones.
- The blue tesseract, which was the MacGuffin in The Avengers, is known as the Space Stone.
- The scepter that Thanos gives Loki in The Avengers holds the yellow Mind Stone, which is subsequently used to give birth to The Vision in Age of Ultron.
- The red Aether that serves as the MacGuffin in Thor: The Dark World is an unspecified Infinity Stone.
- And the orb from Guardians of the Galaxy is the Power Stone.
Assuming the Infinity Stones mirror the Infinity Gems from the comics, the other stones are the Soul Stone, the Time Stone, and the Reality Stone. Based on Aether’s importance in the convergence from Thor: The Dark World, I’d wager it’s the Reality Stone.
Age of Ultron’s somewhat disappointing mid-credits stinger further teases the Infinity Stones, as we see the big, purple alien baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin) picking up a glove and muttering, “I’ll do it myself.”
So first, the glove: this is the Infinity Gauntlet. In the comics, if someone is able to somehow collect all six Infinity Stones and insert them into this gauntlet, they basically wield an unstoppable power that can wipe out any and everything. When Thanos has the Infinity Gauntlet in the comics, he murders a number of the Avengers and is able to destroy entire planets.
Thor’s storyline in Age of Ultron leads him to the conclusion that it’s no coincidence that so many powerful objects have come across the Avengers’ path, suggesting that someone is playing them like pawns. The puppet master, it would seem, is Thanos, who has apparently grown frustrated with his efforts from afar and is now taking things into his own hands.
But the mid-credits scene raises many more questions than it answers. When we last saw the Infinity Gauntlet, it was in Odin’s vault in Thor. How did Thanos get his hands on it? Is he working with Loki/Odin now? Also, what exactly did he want Ultron or Baron Von Strucker to do on Earth? If his plan is to get all the Infinity Stones, why would he be cool with Ultron destroying the Earth?
[Update: Commenters hipped me to this interview, in which Feige reveals that the MCU actually has two Infinity Gauntlets. The one in Odin’s vault is right-handed, while the one that Thanos grabs in the mid-credits scene is left-handed. So that answers that, and presumably sets up even more set piece-inducing conflict for Infinity War.]
When the character showed up at the end of The Avengers, everyone assumed he’d be the Big Bad in Avengers 2. That’s clearly not the case, and to be honest, Thanos has thus far been presented as an incompetent and not particularly threatening villain. No doubt he’ll be getting more character development in Phase Three, but I wonder if teasing him at the end of The Avengers was a case of Marvel jumping the gun. It’s fine if they want to hold him back until later, but they’ve been bending over backwards to tease the character in Phase Two without actually using him, and the results haven’t been especially thrilling.
With Avengers 3 confirmed to be a two-movie event called Avengers: Infinity War, we now know that Thanos will finally come to the forefront at that time (at least we hope—God help Marvel if they’re holding him back for Phase Four). But will we see part of his quest in the build-up to 2018’s Infinity War – Part 1, or will that film also have to cover Thanos’ backstory and quest for the Stones, as well as the catch-up on the Avengers? Between now and the first Infinity War movie, we have six more Marvel films:
- Ant-Man – July 17, 2015
- Captain America: Civil War – May 6, 2016
- Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016
- Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017
- Untitled Spider-Man Film (a co-production with Sony) – July 28, 2017
- Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017
We don’t really know how many of these films will directly deal with the set-up for the Infinity War saga, but it’s a pretty safe bet that the space-set Guardians 2 and Thor 3 will have the heaviest amount of build-up to the showdown with Thanos, especially since Thor now seems to be on the hunt.
In any event, Age of Ultron acts as a swell swan song for Whedon as he departs the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He deftly balanced the evolution of the central characters while also providing a thrilling follow-up to The Avengers and building the foundation for Phase Three, as evidenced by the concluding minutes. The scope of Age of Ultron is gigantic, but as we follow the clues and look ahead to where Marvel is going, it’s clear things are going to get even bigger. I have no idea how, but with a title like “Infinity War”, all bets are off.