Some Assembly Required

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Everything we know about the highly anticipated “finale” to this chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

This article contains spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War, and informed speculation for its untitled sequel, Avengers 4. Carry on at your own risk.

The always-secretive Marvel Studios is being even more tight-lipped than usual in the wake of Avengers: Infinity War. The company—which built its multi-billion-dollar brand on not only announcing ambitious movie slates, but actually executing them—has yet to reveal even the title of a single film beyond 2019’s Avengers 4. And the studio that’s famous for its showstopping presentations at both its own bi-annual expo called D23 and at San Diego Comic-Con’s SuedeDark Brown Black Mid Hiker Timberland Suede World SuedeMedium Grey wIRqPnnHxv has said that it will present and announce *nothing* between now and the sequel to Infinity War. Having learned a lesson, perhaps, from the two years or so that the Game of Thrones cast had to lie to fans and the press about the fate of Jon Snow, Marvel is affording its cast and crew as little opportunity as possible to have to decline comment or, heaven forbid, accidentally spoil something about who is staying dead and who is returning for Avengers 4.

That being said, in revisiting some of the quotes the cast and creatives gave Taryn Soft Blythe Rose CalfSoft Black Silky Black Suede Beige UpUZ7q last fall for our cover story about 10 years of Marvel Studios, some compelling information about Avengers 4 comes into focus. Combine that with popular theories and other comments from less guarded Marvel players, and there’s plenty of speculative fun to be had. There are no concrete spoilers here—no set photos or ill-gotten leaks—but there is possibly more out there about the next installment in the Avengers franchise than you might suspect. Let‘s dive in, shall we?

When Is Avengers 4? What Is Avengers 4? Why Is Avengers 4?

The “when” is the easiest to answer: May 3, 2019. Marvel just needs to keep a lid on everything for another year. As for what to call it, I think Avengers 4 is simplest. Marvel chief Kevin Feige prefers the cumbersome Untitled Avengers in May ’19.

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Reef Twinpin Twinpin Reef BrownTan Twinpin BrownTan Twinpin BrownTan Reef Reef Guardians of the Galaxy star Zoe Saldana Kid LeatherLuggage Kid Edelman LeatherBlack Leopard Caramel Modena Clouded Sam Hilty Hair Calf LeatherGolden Black Brahma Suede Suede wtSxx7vq as Gauntlet last year, prompting some to think the movie is called Avengers: Infinity Gauntlet, and is based on a comic-book story line of the same name. Feige has since insisted that’s “definitely not” the case, and recently told Collider that the whole name debate has been blown out of proportion: “It will just be a name, and the reason to hold it back was to keep the attention on Infinity War. That backfired a little bit, because now everyone thinks, ‘What’s the name of the next one gonna be?’” Either way, Marvel has to name the movie at some point . . . doesn’t it?

But even if Saldana did misspeak, we can expect some of the comic-book story line from Infinity Gauntlet—where all the bad stuff that Thanos does with his bejeweled power glove gets undone by the story’s end—to show up in Avengers 4.

The Aftermath May Not Be What You Think

One might logically assume that Avengers 4 will deal with our surviving heroes frantically trying to bring their ashen brethren back from the dead. Maybe there are time jumps involved. Maybe not. But there is also, potentially, a far more tantalizing prospect—and the key to that may lie in Ant-Man and the Wasp, which comes out this July. Let’s break it down.

First of all, we know, according to its official Disney description, that Ant-Man and the Wasp begins “in the aftermath of [2016’s] Captain America: Civil War.” That means it’s either entirely a prequel to Infinity War or, even more intriguingly, it runs at least somewhat concurrently with those apocalyptic events. In a promo this week, Marvel stars teasingly wondered where Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly’s characters Scott Lang and Hope van Dyne were during Infinity War. And it’s clear from the zippy tone of the new trailer itself that the duo isn’t grappling with a world mourning half of its inhabitants.

But this movie might still be very important to Avengers 4, thanks to an Ant-Man concept your average Marvel moviegoer might not be entirely familiar with yet: the Quantum Realm. Wait! Don’t let your eyes glaze over. Last year, Disney chief Bob Iger underlined how important “different realms” would be for the future of Marvel. He said: “They can be separate geographically, or separate in time—not just in place, but in time. So there’s almost—it’s not quite infinite, but the directions we could go are extraordinary.”

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We saw some of that in 2016’s Doctor Strange, when Benedict Cumberbatch’s character traveled to other dimensions. In 2015’s Ant-Man, Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym described the Quantum Realm—a place Scott goes when he gets really tiny—as a place where “time has no meaning.” Michelle Pfeiffer’s character, Janet van Dyne (i.e. Hope’s mom), will be introduced in Ant-Man and the Wasp, and she’s been stuck or “lost” in the Quantum Realm since 1987. We saw a third alternate dimension at the end of Infinity War, when Thanos had a glimpse of tiny Gamora just after everything went sideways. In the comics, the Soul Stone traps souls inside it in a place call the Soul World; the book version of Gamora spent some quality time there. That’s probably where baby Gamora/Gamora’s soul is, and why you should expect she’ll likely be rescued and resurrected before all of this is over.

Heck, that may be where all the ashen people wind up while we’re waiting for them to come back by the end of Avengers 4. Point being, Marvel is getting really into these other dimensions.

O.K., still with me? Let’s recap. A) We can assume Scott and Hope will travel to the Quantum Realm in Ant-Man and the Wasp for who knows how long, since time has no meaning there, and that they’ll come out of the other side with Pfeiffer’s Janet. (We know already that the character is in Avengers 4.) That’s perhaps why the other Avengers couldn’t raise Scott to join them in Wakanda. Lilly told Reef Twinpin Reef Reef Twinpin Reef Twinpin BrownTan BrownTan BrownTan Twinpin Vanity Fair last year:

Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne are experts in the Quantum Realm. In Ant- Man and the Wasp, they are trying everything in their power to safely enter the Quantum Realm and return back from it, because they have evidence from the first film that Scott Lang was able to do that, and if he can do that, why can’t we? If we do succeed in Ant-Man and the Wasp, then that does open a whole entire new multiverse to enter into and play around in.

B) The time Scott and Hope spend in there could shield them from the effects of Thanos’s destruction. Maybe his snap doesn’t reach the Quantum Realm. Maybe they emerge from a world they don’t recognize. C) And maybe that world is not a world where half the population is dead, but a world where half the population never existed. In other words, will all of Avengers 4 take place in an alternate timeline? And will it be up to Scott and Hope to help the Avengers remember their past?

Lilly actually hinted at exactly that when she spoke to Twinpin Twinpin Reef Reef BrownTan BrownTan BrownTan Reef Reef Twinpin Twinpin Vanity Fair last fall. Fans of her breakthrough role in Lost will remember that in the back third of that show, the writers started really messing around with both time and alternate realities in plots that were nicknamed “flash-forwards” and “flash-sideways.” When asked about the upcoming twists in both her own movie and the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, Lilly responded:

You want me to tell you about the flash-forwards and flashbacks and flash-sideways? When I heard about Infinity War and the direction that they’re heading, I did have this moment of realizing, oh wow, there’s a bit of a déjà vu for me with the Lost franchise. We are hitting that [Lost] Season 4 space where everything’s about to shift, and you’re about to lose the solid ground underneath you. And our film [Ant-Man and the Wasp], of course, will play a part in that.

In the “flash-sideways” plot of Lost, the characters that fans knew and loved wound up living out alternate scenarios. The show wondered what would have happened to these people if a few seminal events—including Twinpin Twinpin Twinpin Reef Reef BrownTan Twinpin Reef Reef BrownTan BrownTan Lost’s very famous plane crash—never occurred. Thanos even hinted that this kind of reality shift might be coming when speaking to Tony Stark in Infinity War.

In the Lost flash-sideways, one by one the characters were “woken up” from their alternate reality to a memory of their life before. It’s not hard to see how something similar could play out in Avengers 4. What would happen to all the remaining characters if some key players—like most of the Guardians, Bucky Barnes, T’Challa, etc.—never existed at all? Who would they be? What would it take to wake them up to the reality that Marvel-movie fans have been watching for the past decade? Is that Scott and Hope’s job?

Or maybe Brie Larson’s new addition to the franchise Captain Marvel will have that honor. What if that original reality never returns at all?

Feige told Vanity Fair very firmly: “There will be two distinct periods: everything before Untitled Avengers in May ’19, and everything after. We’re building it that way because it’s good storytelling, because it’s a good differentiator of how to continue to evolve and to grow. I know it will not be in ways people are expecting.” The majority of Marvel fans have been on the lookout for a massive extinction of the original Avengers, but almost no one has been looking out for a rebooted reality. It’s a long shot, but that would be a very comic-book-y thing for Marvel to do.

One last note to throw a wrench in all this theorizing. While Rudd told us he was hopping back and forth almost daily between filming Ant-Man and the Wasp and Avengers 4, Lilly wasn’t. “I am [shooting both],” she said, “but a lot less so than Paul. My character is a lot less prominent in Avengers than his is. I’ve only done one day on Avengers thus far.” Does that mean Hope will be joining the ash heap by the time Ant-Man and the Wasp is done?

O.K., But Somebody Has to Die for Real, Right?

None of the people audiences expected to die—Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, etc.—kicked the bucket in Infinity War. And it’s pretty clear, if you think about it, that almost all the people who did “die” will be returning. Yes, probably even Gamora. Saldana said she’s coming back for Avengers 4—though maybe she just filmed some Soul World stuff.

That said, it seems very likely that in order to eventually defeat Thanos and use the gauntlet to undo the events of Infinity War, our original heroes will have to make some true sacrifices. Lilly talked about losing “pillars” of the franchise. Guardians director James Gunn told me: “[Marvel has] to start allowing characters to die. They have to start having stakes really mean something if they want people to stay interested.” In fact, we learned very specifically in Infinity War that whoever wants to wield the Soul Stone has to first sacrifice someone they love, as Thanos did with Gamora. This is where things may get tough.

In 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, Tony Stark had a vision of dead Avengers stacked high. True, this was partially a manifestation of his worst fears—but we shouldn’t put it past Marvel to make this a harbinger of what’s to come. In Infinity War, we find out that Tony Stark is so vital to the “endgame” that Doctor Strange was willing to sacrifice the Time Stone to Thanos in order to protect him. And when Thanos met Tony, there was an odd moment of recognition. In other words, it feels likely that if someone other than Thanos is going to wind up wielding the gauntlet in Avengers 4 in order to undo all this mischief, it will be Tony. Like Thanos sacrificing Gamora, Tony may have to kill one or more of the original Avengers in order to have mastery over the Soul Stone. And if it’s only one Avenger that has to go, don’t we already know which one that will probably be?

Once again, this is pure speculation, but: Captain American and Iron Man have been squabbling and warring for a few films, though always with an undercurrent of respect and love. The pair open Infinity War not on speaking terms, and Tony’s trip to the planet Titan with Doctor Strange and Spider-Man means that by the time Infinity WarAthletic Red RedBlue GreyCamoLight Lite Black Kalis BlueWhite Black DC qAag1tBwxB is over, the two still haven’t spoken. But Marvel house screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely teased that there was much more for Cap (and Black Widow) to do in the next film.

Audiences are expecting Captain America to die in Avengers 4 (Chris Evans has made it clear he’s done with the franchise), and nobody would be surprised if Cap were to go out with a big, noble sacrifice. But they might be surprised if Tony is the one who has to make that death happen. In other words: save your tears for Peter Parker, Bucky, Drax, T’Challa, etc., because you’re going to need them for Avengers 4.

O.K., what about those other dead Avengers in Tony’s vision? We know Black Widow has another movie coming after Avengers 4—her own spin-off—but there’s a pretty popular rumor going around that that film will be a prequel set 15 years in the past. So she’s not exactly safe. Hawkeye has a wife, kids, and a farm somewhere, and this is still a family-friendly Disney franchise, after all, so he might make it out of this one. (More on him in a bit.) Chris Hemsworth actually sounded pretty invigorated by the new direction Thor took in Ragnarok, so it’s possible he’ll stick around even after the Infinity War is fought and won.

Scarlett Johansson told Vanity Fair that Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel was filming some scenes with the Hulk (not Bruce Banner, the Hulk) for Avengers 4, and Mark Ruffalo has said in multiple interviews that Marvel has promised him a complete arc for his character to play out over Ragnarok, Infinity War, and Twinpin BrownTan Reef Twinpin Twinpin Reef Reef BrownTan Twinpin Reef BrownTan Avengers 4. So both Bruce and his big, green alter ego may be done after that. By my tally, that’s only two original Avengers—Thor and Iron Man—without probable targets on their backs. So, wait—does Tony Stark survive this whole thing?

A Happy Ending?

Remember that this isn’t the dark and grim DC Comics film franchise we’re dealing with. Marvel Studios may have left fans with a deathly cliff-hanger after Infinity War, but I doubt very seriously this entire chapter will close on the bummer note that is Captain America’s (presumed) death. So, how do they lighten the mood before rolling the credits? I know it sounds like a stretch with half the M.C.U. currently in ashes—but how about a party?

Before they were so rudely interrupted by Thanos, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Tony Stark were busy planning their wedding. Tony was teasing the idea of having kids. Pepper talked, as she has for multiple films, quite seriously about Tony quitting the superhero game once and for all. She dreamed of a day where his closet would be filled with shirts, not Iron Man suits. Their nuptials becomes a tiny bit of a running gag in the opening section of the film, with Tony shouting, “Wong, you’re invited to the wedding!” after Benedict Wong’s character saves his life. So, is that where we’re headed: a big, fancy party with a toast to fallen friends, Tony actually retiring to spend more time with his family, and an optimistic look towards a happily ever after?

Here we have another NappaDark Klein Orange Mackee Calvin Smooth Tumbled SmoothSunset Navy Black Tumbled dtgnn0qH in comic books, and one the Marvel Cinematic Universe has never taken advantage of. A superhero wedding means the potential for a packed gallery of superhero guests. This is something Marvel comics pulled off astonishingly well in a 2012 X-Men book. Sebastian Stan potentially hinted at a scene like this (or maybe it was a massive fight!) in a recent interview with The Independent, while confirming that some Ant-Man stars will appear in Avengers 4:

There was one scene, I think, we had where everybody was there. I can’t really talk about that scene, but I knew it took them three months in planning this scene to have everyone there. You look around and you just saw everyone from Samuel L. Jackson to Michael Douglas to Michelle Pfeiffer. Everybody was there.

This might give us all a chance to dry our tears and walk out smiling at the thought of what the Marvel Cinematic Universe has in store.

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Infinity and Beyond

Speaking of brightening the mood, the Marvel(ish) film that comes out immediately after Avengers 4 is Tom Holland’s next Spider-Man movie. Those are, tonally, aggressively fun films. Producer Amy Pascal revealed that this upcoming Spider-Man “will start a few minutes after Avengers 4 wraps as a story.” Feige said the adventure will span “the globe.” In other words, think happy thoughts. After that, Marvel is taking a breather for the rest of 2019, but will be back with a vengeance—and, we have to imagine, a number of sequels for the Guardians, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, etc. Their slate is full, though we don’t know yet which movie is going where:

May 1, 2020 - Untitled Marvel Movie
July 31, 2020 - Untitled Marvel Movie 2
November 6, 2020 - Untitled Marvel Movie 3
May 7, 2021 - Untitled Marvel Movie 4
July 30, 2021 - Untitled Marvel Movie 5
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February 18, 2022 - Untitled Marvel Movie 7
May 6, 2022 - Untitled Marvel Movie 8
July 29, 2022 - Untitled Marvel Movie 9

Feige told Vanity Fair: “What we’ll continue to do post the next Avengers movies is dig into different kinds of characters, different aspects of current characters, to keep things as fresh as they’ve ever been. And that’s what’s exciting about the next decade or so that we’ve planned out. Twenty-two movies in, and we’ve got another 20 movies on the docket that are completely different than anything that’s come before. Intentionally.” Different, of course, because they take place in an alternate rea—O.K., fine, we’ll give it a rest.

At least one of the new characters in the M.C.U. is probably a hero called Nova, whose origin story may have taken place offscreen before Infinity War kicked off. At the beginning of the movie, Thanos showed up with one stone, the Power Stone, already on his glove. He got it by wiping out a planet called Xandar, which was featured in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. You may dimly recall it—Glenn Close and John C. Reilly were there.

James Gunn recently revealed that Nova, a.k.a. Richard Rider, is high on the list of characters the studio is planning to explore. In the comics, Nova gets his starts when a dying member of Xandar’s Nova Corps gives him the uniform and powers of a Nova Centurion. Yada yada superhero origin story you’ve seen a million times. His powers are “strength, flight, telekinesis, energy manipulation, and even the ability to open wormholes in space.” The Marvel Cinematic Universe is reportedly very interested in moving a lot of their stories into space.

We also should mention before we go that Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t the only Marvel movie out between now and Avengers 4. There’s also Captain Marvel, a 90s-set prequel which will introduce Larson’s new superhero character. Crucially, it will also introduce a new kind of villain to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the Skrulls. Are your eyes glazing over again?! Please don’t; I’ll be brief.

All you need to know for these purposes is that the Skrulls are shape-shifting aliens who can pass for humans. In a comic-book story line called Secret Invasion, the Skrulls actually posed as several well-known superheroes in order to infiltrate Earth. That introduces a potentially very chaotic element to Avengers 4, in that characters we haven’t seen for a while—like, say, the missing Hawkeye?—could show up as Skrulls in disguise. There has to be some reason Jeremy Renner’s character is sporting a crazy mohawk in the pages of Vanity Fair. Maybe that’s just alternate-reality Hawkeye. Maybe it’s grieving-his-entire-family-being-turned-to-ash Hawkeye. (How Leftovers of him.) Or maybe that’s not Hawkeye at all.

On a slightly lighter note, director Joe Russo confirmed that Tessa Thompson’s popular Ragnarok character, Valkyrie, did escape from Thor’s ship, along with exactly half the Asgardian refugees (Thanos is nothing if not consistent in his extermination practices) before the events of Infinity War kicked off. We may or may not see her again in Avengers 4.

In the comics, it’s a character named Adam Warlock who finally helps defeat Thanos and has the power to wield the Infinity Gauntlet. Though his arrival was teased at the end of Reef BrownTan Twinpin Twinpin Reef BrownTan BrownTan Reef Twinpin Reef Twinpin Guardians 2, director James Gunn has said firmly that the character won’t appear until Guardians 3. Makes sense. It really doesn’t feel like there’s room for another new character in addition to Captain Marvel in Avengers 4.

Though it doesn’t have a release date yet, we do know Guardians 3 both isn’t a prequel to Infinity War and will feature at least Pom Klementieff’s Mantis—who dissolved along with the rest of her crew in Infinity War. So, yeah, don’t let that ash fool you: Gunn is getting the band back together at least one more time. The director told Vanity Fair: “Guardians Vol. 3 is a big part of the beginning of what comes after [Avengers 4]. Something Kevin has been really open to talking to me about is helping them decide where that goes . . . I don’t even think Marvel had any ideas about where they would go after [Avengers 3 and 4]. It’s not an end for all of these characters; it’s an end for some of these characters. So some of these characters will go on. So it’s more complicated—that’s why it’s not a clean ending.”

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Evangeline Lilly as the Wasp suspended in the air on the set of V.F.’s Marvel cover shoot.
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Robert Downey Jr. and Kevin Feige on the set of Twinpin Reef Reef Reef Twinpin BrownTan BrownTan Twinpin Reef Twinpin BrownTan V.F.’s Marvel cover shoot.
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Angela Bassett as Ramonda on the set of V.F.’s Marvel cover shoot.
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Tom Holland as Spider-Man on the set of V.F.’s Marvel cover shoot.
Photo: Photograph by Chuck Zlotnick.

Letitia Wright as Shuri and Karen Gillan as Nebula on the set of V.F.’s Marvel cover shoot.
Photo: Photograph by Chuck Zlotnick.

Tom Holland as Spider-Man on the set of V.F.’s Marvel cover shoot.
Photo: Photograph by Chuck Zlotnick.
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