The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a sprawling saga that’s constantly kept its audience engaged across the last eight years, and Avengers: Infinity War is largely expected to be a finale of sorts to this age of mega-popular superhero movies. As producer Jeremy Latcham put it during a Q&A last year, “It's not the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I think it is the end of part of it, for sure. We're still trying to sort out which parts.”
Avengers: Infinity War parts one and two arrive on 8th of May 2018 and 3 May 2019 respectively, and while they’re not the furthest-scheduled movies on Marvel’s docket - Inhumans follows in July of 2019 - this is what these movies have been building up to ever since Samuel L Jackson rocked up as Nick Fury in 2008’s Iron Man to pitch Tony Stark the Avengers initiative. Later, in 2012’s Avengers, we saw the cosmic mad titan Thanos make an appearance in the post-credits, suggesting Marvel had a plan for where all this was going. Infinity War could be the end of the road for many of our favourite superheroes. Here’s everything we know about the only Marvel movie that’s so big it had to be split into two parts.
The writers and directors
After writer and director Joss Whedon backed away from The Avengers after what sounded like an exhausting shoot on Age of Ultron, Marvel turned to the Russo brothers, directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, one of the MCU’s best films to date. With the duo rolling straight from that onto Civil War, a technically-solo Cap film that actually has more superheroes on-screen than both Avengers movies, they appear to be the perfect choice.
In the same spirit, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who wrote all three vastly different Captain America films, are scripting Infinity War.
As shown at the end of Age of Ultron, Thanos has the Infinity Gauntlet and he’s looking for the Infinity Stones, which combined give him unprecedented power over the universe. There are six in total, and we’ve seen four of them so far. We know there’s the Mind Stone, currently residing on Vision’s forehead. The Power Stone from Guardians of the Galaxy was left with the Nova Corps. The Space Stone was taken back to Asgard at the end of The Avengers, fuelling the Tesseract in that movie. Then there’s the Aether, or Reality Stone, seen in the disappointing Thor: The Dark World, and left in The Collector’s care in the movie’s post-credits. There are two more - the Soul and Time Stones. “You will see the other two, sometime in phase three for sure,” Marvel Studios producer Kevin Feige said during a Q&A last year. “There’s a gauntlet that needs to be filled.” Thanos himself has the gauntlet (one of them, at least - another was briefly glimpsed in Thor), but not the stones yet.
The name Infinity War comes from a Marvel crossover in 1992, itself a sequel to 1991’s The Infinity Gauntlet by writer Jim Starlin and artist Ron Lim. It’s likely that the story is based on Infinity Gauntlet rather than War, as it sees Thanos gather the Infinity Gems and take control of life and death in the universe, wiping out many of the Marvel heroes we know and love in the process (though, since we’re talking about comic books, eventually the deaths are undone).
Like The Winter Soldier and its respective comic book source material, don’t expect a direct adaptation - the X-Men and Fantastic Four were part of the original story - but you can count on a lot of heroes making an appearance. This is a story that brought the entire Marvel universe together at the time. Expect the biggest roster of any superhero movie to date. “We have so many characters we’re dealing with. We’re breaking ground on Avengers: Infinity War,” co-director Joe Russo said in January. “We have a board with 67 characters on it.” They later corrected that to 68 characters in both movies. They won’t all be superheroes, of course, but clearly a lot of them will be.
The Russos also described Infinity War as everything in the MCU coming together for a conclusion of sorts in an interview with Collider. “Infinity War is meant to be the culmination of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe up to that point. It’s very ambitious in its scope, it wants to take everything that you’ve seen before and coalesce into some kinda of climactic ending. It’s complicated, ambitious storytelling.”
Expect some Avengers to die, and for other less obvious choices to get more of a spotlight in Infinity War. Speaking at Wizard World Chicago in January, Joe Russo explained that phase four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, following the conclusion of phase three’s Inhumans in 2019, will more prominently feature new Avengers characters, “then maybe some Avengers might not be around anymore.” Ominous, eh? They also explained that Infinity War will see some characters who haven’t had a major storyline yet become main characters this time around. “I think you'll see that the supporting Avengers are going to become primary Avengers.” Hawkeye, this is your time to shine.
2017’s Black Panther movie will be one to watch for build-up to Infinity War. Kevin Feige revealed in an interview with Empire that, “T'Challa's story is very important to us as it links to the next Avengers films, which is why we brought it forward." That film will now release in February 2018 rather than its original July date.
A lot will be determined by what happens in Civil War - someone’s bound to die, though the constant showing of Don Cheadle’s War Machine looking dead seems like a blatant red herring. Most of what we can ascertain about the Avengers roster in Infinity War comes from the actors’ contracts, what they’ve commented on publicly and how many movies they’re lined up for. It’s a bit of a headache to figure out, but this is what we know for sure.
Robert Downey Jr. will certainly be returning for Avengers 3 as Tony Stark—Marvel confirmed this in 2013. His appearance in Civil War was negotiated separately. Chris Evans revealed in 2014 that he had a six-picture contract with Marvel, leaving Infinity War as his last one (that Thor: The Dark World cameo didn’t count), assuming Cap makes it out of Civil War alive—though he has expressed interest in continuing to work with Marvel beyond this. Curiously, Sebastian Stan, who plays the Winter Soldier, has a nine-picture contract. Shortly after the Civil War storyline in the comic books, Steve Rogers was killed and Bucky took up the mantle instead. Still, for the movies, this could just be a way of Marvel keeping their options open.
Chris Hemsworth is in for Infinity War and his upcoming Thor sequel as the god of thunder. Samuel L Jackson has two of his nine contracted films left—expect Nick Fury, the man who united the Avengers to be back for Infinity War, especially after he’s reportedly skipping Civil War. Mark Ruffalo is contracted for six films to play The Hulk and he’s only done three so far, assuming his excellent cameo in Iron Man 3 even counts - he’ll be back, as he had unresolved business after Age of Ultron, particularly with Natasha. Speaking of which, there’s no reliable information on Scarlett Johansson's contract with Marvel - but you’d hope Marvel would move heaven and earth to keep one of its only prominent female superheroes and most capable performers. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is locked in for six films and could appear, in theory.
Outside of the Avengers’ original circle, Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther is locked in for five movies - making him a safe bet for at least one part of Infinity War. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange is unknown beyond next year’s solo movie. I can’t find anything reliable on how long Don Cheadle’s Rhodey will be around. Tom Holland’s newly revealed Spider-Man is confirmed for his 2017 solo movie and Civil War, but that’s it so far. Meanwhile, Guardians of the Galaxy’s Chris Pratt had this to say to GQ when asked about Star Lord’s future in the Marvel Universe: "...I’m tied to doing three more, or five more, Guardians of the Galaxy or whatever it is, you know, two more Guardians plus another couple..." Could that ‘another couple’ be Avengers-related? Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man is an unknown quantity for the next Avengers movie, likewise Anthony Mackie’s Falcon and Paul Bettany’s The Vision, though given that the Mind Stone belongs to the latter character he seems like a safe bet to return. Josh Brolin is playing primary antagonist Thanos once again in Infinity War.
And what of Marvel’s increasingly impressive roster of Netflix characters, like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, The Punisher and Luke Cage? Marvel’s TV and film production divisions are not necessarily in sync - last year a shake-up within the company granted the film division more autonomy. They’re different parts of the company. They share the same universe, in theory, but so far it’s been a one-way street from film to TV. When asked about the two mediums crossing over, Feige mentioned the more immediate production schedule of a TV show complicates things, but also commented, “but going forward and as they get to do more shows, and cast them with such great actors they have, particularly in the Daredevil show, that may occur.” Fingers crossed - those Netflix shows have certainly earned that level of credibility, and Daredevil was one of the characters who disappeared in the Infinity Gauntlet comic book storyline (along with Luke Cage, Hawkeye and Black Panther).
We don’t know what state the Avengers team itself will be at the start of Infinity War, especially after the team clashes in Civil War. The finale of that movie will give us a better idea of where this whole saga is heading - and whether there’s a chance everyone can be pals again to stop Thanos.