Spoilers for Infinity War, obviously, as well as potential spoilers for Avengers 4, below.
We’re not even done sitting shiva for our fallen Infinity War heroes, yet the ending of the third Avengers installment doesn’t exactly encourage mournful introspection. Instead, Thanos’s genocidal victory inspires an anxious anticipation for the untitled follow-up out in theaters only a year from now — which is an incredible feat for a movie that features so many superheroes, it’s a wonder there isn’t an Avenger named Kitchen Sink.
But because of our insatiable need for instant gratification coupled with a binge-culture atmosphere, there is nothing more tortuous than the cliffhanger. Or more succinctly, as they say in comics, “Argh!” Fanboys have a tendency of passing this time by theorizing and speculating on story lines with sources as disparate as the canonical material, leaked set photos, or what Robert Downey Jr. had for breakfast (by the way, it was two eggs and three tomato slices).
Below, we’ll share with you an aggregate of the three best theories we’ve discovered online after drawing from the bottomless wells of geekdom — and one we made up ourselves.
Theory 1: The Quantum Realm
Sebastian Stan revealed in an interview with the Independent that he was excited by the opportunity of having filmed a scene with Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer, who portray Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, also known as the original Ant-Man and Wasp, respectively.
Now that we’ve seen Infinity War, we can speculate about the scene’s inclusion in the fourth Avengers movie. Either that, or at the risk of offending anyone, Sebastian Stan just safely assumes he has shot a scene with everyone in the MCU.
But this small revelation actually suggests the importance of Scott Lang’s Ant-Man to Avengers 4 and the possible inclusion of the Quantum Realm, an alternate dimension only accessed either through magic, mystical teleportation, or by shrinking to subatomic levels via the Pym Particle. This is also a dimension in which traditional notions of time and space are irrelevant.
Perhaps this alternate reality is a way for the Leftovers to access the Multiverse and travel within timelines that either manipulate the narrative or preemptively defeat Thanos before he makes like a Pokémon and collects ’em all. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the second-gen Wasp herself, Evangeline Lilly: “Ant-Man and Wasp are experts in the quantum realm … then that does open a whole entire new multiverse to enter into and play around in.” This would also help explain why Scott Lang was revealed in on-set photos alongside a 2012 iteration of Captain America.
Theory 2: The Soul Stone
There’s a scene toward the end of Infinity War that in some ways deviates tonally from the taut and frenetic pace of the movie, and it follows Thanos snapping his fingers, singing “I’ve Got the Power,” and killing off half the universe’s population. The genocidal nihilist then comes face-to-face with Gamora as a child in an ethereal landscape, presumably within the Soul Stone, which would make sense considering Dad of the Year sacrificed his own daughter’s life in exchange for collecting this gem on Vormir.
As the comics dictate, the Soul Stone enables those that possess it to steal and control all souls, both living and dead. It’s also a pocket universe, or an alternate dimension, that doubles as a purgatory for the souls it’s collected. It seems that Gamora is there — and it’s possible that the trillions of lives Thanos took are there as well.
And to get them all back, the Soul Stone requires yet another sacrifice. But not just any sacrifice: As Johann Schmidt informs Thanos, the Soul Stone requires the interested proprietor to exchange the life of a loved one for it so they can truly understand the repercussions of possessing the power stored within.
And here’s where Theory No. 2 gets truly depressing. Forgive us for going to a dark place, but the precedent of Infinity War and the promised culmination of the MCU’s ten years warrants it. As the most senior alumni and with a contract resolution in sight, it would seem that either Chris Evans or Robert Downey Jr. are up for a Big Moment, or an unprecedented mic drop. This could mean that either Captain America asks Iron Man to take his life in exchange for the countless lives lost aimlessly in the Soul Stone, or vice versa.
Are you tearing up just thinking about it? Gosh, we hope we’re wrong, but imagine the impact of that heartbreaking moment as we leave the theater having just witnessed the ultimate sacrifice.
Theory 3: Avengers Forever
As some Avengers prep for battle on planet Titan, Doctor Strange analyzes 14,000,604 timelines, but only one results in Thanos’s defeat. And as Strange says at the end of Infinity War, moments before his demise, “It was the only way.” This implies that while it may feel like Thanos and his bedazzled Isotoner are the victors, in reality, this is the timeline trajectory as Strange intended.
This timeline also unfolds, as rumor has it, with Avengers 4 opening five years after the tragic events of Infinity War. Which explains small minutiae, like why Scott Lang’s daughter, who is an adolescent in the upcoming Ant-Man and Wasp, was just cast in the final Avengers film as a teenager. Or perhaps this is also why we’re seeing photos of a gray-haired Tony Stark dressed in a S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform. However, this could also mean that in the five years since half the world turned to dust in the wind, Stark modified the unfortunately acronymed B.A.R.F. (the Binarily Augmented Retro-Framing) and with it is traveling virtually to key moments in the Avengers’ past and observing and analyzing them for insights into how to defeat Thanos.
But if you’re still insistent on the role of time travel (even though the Russos are coy about its involvement), in 1998, Marvel published a 12-issue limited series called Avengers Forever in which the character Rick Jones, who has “folk singer” listed as one of his abilities, recruits various members of the Avengers past, present, and future to form a timeline-crossing superteam. And with Avengers 4 set photos leaked online of a golden tressed Thor, or those cars from the 1940s, or the fact that Black Widow has red hair again, that’s totally a possibility.
Then again, why travel back in time to recruit the heroes still very much alive in the present? Is that really what it takes to defeat ol’ Five Goldfingers? Or maybe, just maybe, all of this retro shooting is the Russo brothers preparing for their very own “Time of Your Life” montage video?
Theory 4: The Gauntlet
With Hela smashing Thor’s hammer Mjolnir in Thor: Ragnarok, the god of thunder needs a new weapon, which brings him to planet Nidavellir. It’s here, on this far away planet, that Thor, along with Rocket Raccoon and Teen Groot, encounters the weapon-forging dwarf Eitri. It’s also here where we’re shown a forged prototype for the Infinity Gauntlet, or a first and perhaps abandoned attempt at creating the only utility in this universe that could harness the power of the six Infinity Stones.
The shot is so intentional that we have no choice but to consider its relevance and speculate about its potential as a plot device for Avengers 4.
Now remember, after Thanos uses the gauntlet during the film’s climax, we’re shown that straining its full potential has burnt the gilded mitt to a crisp. And if Thanos has lost his only functioning gauntlet, he can no longer harness the power of the Infinity Stones. The key takeaway here is that it’s his only functioning gauntlet.
Let’s take a short tangent for a moment. There’s a Hong Kong-based company called Hot Toys that produces stunning and incredibly lifelike, one-sixth-scaled collectible figure of pop-culture characters. Each of these high-priced and coveted action figures are always unveiled a few months prior to its respective and coinciding movie. For example, pictures and preorder information for the Infinity War collectibles were released as far back as March. But with these announcements come spoilers and speculation, and companies like Hot Toys, which values its relationship with movie studios, takes painstaking care to prevent gratuitous spoilers.
The preorder for Steve Rogers/Captain America Hot Toy Infinity War iteration went live a couple weeks back, and when it did, it obscured pictures of two “mystery weapons.” The figure itself also comes out in June of 2019, which is a whole month after Avengers 4. Collectors speculated that the obscured armaments could include a new vibranium shield crafted by T’Challa after Rogers gave his to Tony Stark at the end of Civil War. Others considered that this was the first appearance of Captain America’s plasma shield, which we first saw in Iron Man issue No. 145. But here’s what we’re thinking …
It’s a gauntlet.
But not just any gauntlet — it’s the one we spotted on Nidaviller. And Captain America uses it against Thanos in an ultimate showdown of epic proportions. Imagine, in this corner, standing six feet tall, weighing 200 pounds, and bearded; and in this corner, standing, gulp, eight-feet-two-inches, weighing, um, 985 pounds, and purple. Round after round of golden-fisted jabs and uppercuts. It’s the fight of the century and only one walks out alive.
And while Thanos has the formidable advantage, Steve Rogers, to his credit, could do this all day.