A Gambler’s Guide to the Deaths in Avengers: Infinity War
We’re five days out, folks. Five days.
Avengers: Infinity War is poised to be one of the biggest movies of the year, if not ever. The showdown between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the alien conqueror Thanos is the climax of ten years and eighteen films of storytelling, and with five days to go, (four if you’re nasty and like your Thursday night premieres) it’s time to dig into what is possibly the intentionally worst-kept secret in Hollywood: that someone isn’t going to make it out of the whole shebang alive.
The question is, who?
With a few exceptions, almost every major character that Marvel has ever introduced in their movies is slated to make an appearance. That includes all of the Avengers, all of the Guardians of the Galaxy, all of the independent heroes, and a few supporting characters along the way to boot. It’s hard to imagine a bigger concentration of star power, and with that many characters at hand, there’re probably a few people due to meet the Reaper.
So! Seeing how I can’t bring myself to write about anything political at the moment because it’s relentlessly depressing, I’m going to apply my years of comic-book nerddom to try and suss out who’s shuffling off the mortal coil in Infinity War this weekend, or possibly its suspiciously-still-unnamed sequel next year. Granted, this isn’t an original idea, but I’ve never let that stop me before. Let’s handicap this thing.
And on that note, I want to offer a preliminary disclaimer:
The original Infinity Gauntlet comic book event, from which Infinity War is adapted, had an astronomical death toll. I mean that quite literally: Thanos successfully gathered the six Infinity Gems (I still don’t know why they were switched to “Stones” for the movies, but que sera sera), wiped out half of the life in the universe in an instant, and then proceeded to lay waste to the vast majority of the survivors who stood against him. But when the dust finally settled, the Mad Titan’s machinations were eventually undone, and everyone he’d killed was brought back to life by the end of the story, courtesy of the ever-nifty time reset.
While I doubt that Marvel plans on fully recycling that particular plot point in the film adaptation, it is possible that some of the people who fall here might not stay that way — especially since we’ve already seen time travel put into effect to reverse death in 2016’s Doctor Strange. On top of that, a few cast members have been confirmed to make appearances in next year’s sequel, albeit in suspiciously anachronistic attire. So, take this all with a grain of salt, and let’s just pretend that Infinity War truly is the End of All Things that Marvel is positioning it to be, and that for now the deaths are gonna stick.
It goes without saying that there will be spoilers for every preceding film in the MCU discussed below, and if I’m right about my prognostications, some spoilers for the upcoming ones as well. Consider this your final warning.
Ready? Okay, let’s go.
King T’Challa/Black Panther
For my non-black readers, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: every black person in the world saw this movie in theaters. All of us. Every last one of us. Some of us saw it twice. I can neither confirm nor deny that I saw it three times.
“But,” you may say. “I know of a black person who didn’t see it. In fact, I know several!” Verily, you yourself may even be a black person who didn’t see it.
To which I say, shush. Let me be hyperbolic in peace.
The point is, Black Panther was a bonafide hit. It’s already inspired memes that black social media is going to run with for years, made legitimate stars out of its cast, and earned a loooooot of money. It doesn’t hurt that it was also a great movie along the way, one that resonated with all audiences of all hues, but especially black moviegoers who powered it to record-breaking heights at the box office. Marvel knows that they’re sitting on a goldmine with the Black Panther character, and to kill him off so soon after his feature debut would be the height of foolishness. Indeed, the studio confirmed a sequel last month, and while the traditionally-hereditary title of Black Panther technically doesn’t have to be borne by T’Challa, when you consider that the source of his powers was destroyed after Killmonger’s short-lived coup, it’s unlikely that anyone else is going to be taking the mantle away anytime soon.
So, no. T’Challa will almost certainly take his licks in Infinity War, seeing how Thanos’ army is set to invade Wakanda in force to further his pursuit of the Infinity Stones. And after the slate of tragedies he will have suffered in so short a period of time, there’s a lot of material for T’Challa to grapple with in a sequel, not the least of which will be dealing with a world that now sees Wakanda for what it is.
But until then, T’Challa is safe.
And while we talk of the Wakandan Royal Family…
I’ll keep this one brief. Black people liked T’Challa just fine, you can be sure of that.
But we loved Shuri.
We loved her humor, we loved her style, we loved her devotion, but above all else, we loved her unapologetic genius, the likes of which easily rivaled the Starks and Banners of the MCU. If Shuri dies, there shall be much weeping and gnashing of teeth. And then there shall be a reckoning.
That is not a threat. It is a guarantee. If the princess falls, vengeance shall be had upon the House of M with the most furious invective Black Twitter can conjure, 280 characters at a time. Best not to chance it.
Yeah, Shuri is safe.
Scott Lang/Ant-Man and Hope Van Dyne/The Wasp
This one seems like a no-brainer: the next Marvel movie after Infinity War, dropping on July 6th, is literally called Ant-Man and The Wasp. Open and shut case, mais non?
It may not be that easy. Marvel’s directors have been somewhat cagey about where this falls in the internal chronology of the films; while it takes place after Civil War, it’s yet to be confirmed if it’s also necessarily after Infinity War. If it isn’t, and considering that there’s barely been a glimpse of either character in the film’s marketing, they may well be in danger.
Doubt it. Ant-Man defied the odds of the name’s inherent silliness and lack of recognition among the broader public to become a hit in its own right in 2015, and it wasn’t long before it become clear that a sequel featuring his longtime partner the Wasp was on the way. And with The Wasp moved to co-billing for the sequel, there’s finally a Marvel movie with a woman headlining, although Captain Marvel isn’t far behind. The timey-wimey ball notwithstanding, it strikes me as unlikely that Marvel would stick a fork in this franchise just when it’s heating up, and the absence of the characters could very well be an indicator of a larger role in Avengers 4.
Nope. Though they be but little, they are fierce. Scott and Hope are safe.
Doctor Stephen Strange
It’s a little surprising, even to me as I write this, for Strange to be this low. After all, the plot of the movie is about Thanos’ pursuit of the Infinity Stones, and the good doctor is literally wearing one in the form of the Eye of Agamotto’s green Time Stone around his throat. All the Wu-Tang in the world shouldn’t be able to protect ya neck from that.
But much like Black Panther, Doctor Strange opened up a new dimension of storytelling in the MCU by introducing legitimate magic into the proceedings. And while the movie was nothing particularly groundbreaking from a plot perspective (save for the finale, which may be the most brilliantly creative in the entire superhero canon), it was a visual feast for the eyes. Although the movie hasn’t had a sequel announced yet, with even star Benedict Cumberbatch being uncertain of the character’s future, I have to believe that one is coming. With no other tethers to the mystical realm of the Marvel Universe, it feels as though Strange is a lock to make it through this, even with the high-risk factor that wielding a Stone brings. The film still needs to pay off its post-credits stinger of a newly-villainous Mordo, and it’s earned at least one more sequel to see where that goes.
And far from dooming him, it may well be the fact that he possesses an Infinity Stone that protects him; not just in this movie, but in serving as the key to whatever the plot of Avengers 4 will be. Tortuous encounter with Ebony Maw notwithstanding, I think Doctor Strange is safe.
Trailers have made it clear that Wong will be standing alongside the Avengers at least part of the time during Infinity War, and admittedly, that’s not the safest place to be if you’re not an Avenger yourself. And in both the first Doctor Strange movie and the official prequel comics to Infinity War, the bookish Wong has established himself as a font of knowledge into the mystical goings-on in the MCU, including the nature of the Infinity Stones themselves.
All of this could mark Wong for death, were it not for the fact that he’s quite possibly the only ally that Strange has left after the events of the first film. The Ancient One and Pangborn are dead, Mordo has defected, and Dr. Christine Palmer has broken ties. It would be a little bizarre for a potential sequel to get off the ground without an established supporting cast, and magical wunderkind though he might be, it’s been made clear that Strange still has quite a bit to learn about the mystic arts from his teacher. Factor in that Marvel is still likely smarting from the backlash to the Ancient One’s racelifting from an Asian man to a Celtic woman, and I think all the behind-the-scenes considerations end up trumping the on-screen risk factors.
Fear not. The mono-monikered Wong will be safe to peep his girl Beyonce’s Coachella performance when the war to come has ended.
Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch
After only two movies, you could be forgiven for finding it a little hard to get a handle on Scarlet Witch. She’s swung back and forth from being one of the more subtly passive characters in the MCU to being one of its destructive powerhouses. She primarily relied on mental manipulation in her debut in Age of Ultron and during its final battle, she had to be coaxed out of hiding in fear by Hawkeye. But when she finally cut loose, she tore through the Ultron drones like origami paper, and delivered the final blow to Ultron Prime by ripping his heart out of his chest for killing her brother. She went along with her confinement in Civil War, but threw her erstwhile teammates around like ragdolls when she committed to escaping. The primary motivation behind Wanda seems to be that she’s a defender to the core; you might be able to get the best of her in a straight-up fight, but threaten the people she cares about, and you will be in for a world of pain.
Considering that the trailers have been strongly hinting that Wanda’s comic romance with the android Vision will be replicated here, and that Thanos’ forces will be literally targeting Vision’s head for the Mind Stone embedded in the middle of it, it seems that the world of pain is on its way. And as strong as Wanda has shown herself to be at times, it’s hard to believe she’s reached her limit — this is the same woman, after all, who single-handedly rewrote reality in the comics. There’s so much more potential to be mined with her character, and that’s before you get into the matter of her family line, now that Disney’s almost set to acquire the rights to the X-Men.
Wanda is safe. So much the better for us, so much the worse for her enemies.
C’mon, man. They’re not about to kill off the new girl!
There’s not much else to say about Mantis heading into Infinity War. She’s the newest member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, both the in-universe team and the real-world franchise, and while she was one of the highlights of an otherwise alright sequel, audiences haven’t had a chance to see too much of her within that dynamic as she only joined up in the finale.
It’s for that alone that I think Mantis is as clear as anyone on this tier of the list. There’s simply nothing to be gained and everything to be lost in killing her off so soon after her debut; it’ll have next-to-no impact on audiences, and it robs director James Gunn of a fun, funny, and fascinating new character to work with in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
Nah. Mantis is safe.
This is another short one; Groot’s safe because he’s already died before.
…well, that depends on who you ask. Most fans assumed that the ending of the first Guardians of the Galaxy, where Groot sacrificed himself to shield his fledgling family from a catastrophic starship crash, was mitigated when it was revealed that Rocket was able to regrow a baby Groot from one of his twiggy remains in the final moments. But according to director James Gunn, this isn’t a reborn, resurrected, or reincarnated Groot; it’s a different person entirely, and the original Groot is well and truly dead.
Yeah… nah. I’m invoking death of the author here; it’s the same Groot, for no other reason than because I say it’s the same Groot, dagnabbit. Full-on petulant comic-fan here, it’s the same Groot. He is Groot, we are all Groot, and so let it be both written and done.
In all seriousness, I think the impact of a second Groot death would be necessarily lessened by the emotions wrapped up in the first, regardless if you believe that this is the same Groot or his son. And considering the fates I think lie in wait for some other Guardians, I say Groot makes it to Vol. 3 alive and well.
Groot is safe. Because they’re not going to kill off a teenager in Infinity War, are they?
No, they’re not gonna kill off a teenager in Infinity War. Especially not when he’s probably the most popular superhero in the world behind DC’s Superman and Batman, when he just had a successful movie in last summer’s Homecoming, when actor Tom Holland is signed to a six-movie contract, and when Marvel fought tooth and nail to get the film rights to the character back from Sony. What new height of folly would it be, to kill off a character as titanic as Spider-Man after only two movies? What is this, Batman v. Superman?
Spider-Man is safe. Spider-Man is so safe. Sure, Peter may be out of his depth, and he may catch a direct chokeslam from Thanos, and he may have a successor lined up and waiting in the wings courtesy of the much-beloved Miles Morales. But if recent clips are to be believed, Peter’s going to be pulling his weight, and then some. If Holland and Marvel play their cards right, he could very well be portraying Spider-Man for decades. And the chance to see Marvel’s most beloved character grow from boy to man onscreen, echoing his fifty-year journey from teenage outcast to iconic hero in the comics, is one that’s far too good to pass up.
Bet on it, y’all. Spidey ain’t going no place.
Despite a pretty cool introduction in the original Guardians of the Galaxy, Gamora hasn’t had the best character development over the first two movies. Part of that can be chalked up to oxygen needing to be split at least five ways in an ensemble movie, but there were moments in both films when the sum of her character seemed to be just serving as Star-Lord’s love interest in some fans’ eyes. That didn’t stop either movie from being smash hits, and she’s still a solid character. But in any event, Director James Gunn has vowed to make Gamora a greater focus in Vol. 3, and while there’s a lot that I don’t believe about Gunn’s statements (the aforementioned Grootery above and his suspicious insistence that all seven Guardians will survive Infinity War), I do believe that he has a larger role in store for Gamora.
On top of that, there’s also the factor that by his own admission, Thanos sees Gamora as his favorite daughter. Even when confronted with the possibility that she’s betrayed him, Thanos has stayed his hand, implying that for all the Mad Titan’s evil, he still has a soft spot for his “adopted” (re: kidnapped) child. It remains to be seen how far that goes, but it could be enough to let Gamora off the hook.
I think she’s safe.
Valkyrie and Some Asgardians
The credits stinger for Thor: Ragnarok made it clear that the Asgardians who managed to survive the destruction of their home are not even close to being out of the woods. Indeed, it may be out of the frying pan and into the fire for the denizens of the Realm Eternal, as they escaped the clutches of Surtur and Hela only to fall into the gold-plated grasp of Thanos, whose massive ship was last seen utterly dwarfing theirs as they fled to Earth. That kind of set-up demands payoff, and I think it’s likely that many Asgardians will die.
But… all of them? I don’t think so. After everything Thor and company went through to save Asgard in that film, for all their efforts to come to naught via the complete slaughter of its remaining people seems needlessly cruel on the part of the filmmakers. I have to believe that at least some of those aboard will get out alive, and one of the major names leading them will be Valkyrie, coming off a strong debut in Ragnarok.
Other Asgardians might not be so lucky, and we’ll get to them in time. But I think Valkyrie, and more than a few of her countrymen, will escape Thanos’ assault alive. They are safe.
And on that note, one brief aside…
Korg and Miek
Fellow refugees aboard the Asgardian ship, Korg and his silently knife-obsessed buddy Miek stole the show during Thor: Ragnarok. I refuse to believe that they are marked for death.
Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine
I’m operating by Groot Logic here with a short post here; in another world, I very well might have bumped Rhodey up a couple tiers. But after he was the only significant casualty in Civil War, nearly becoming paralyzed from the waist down after an errant shot from the Vision, I don’t think there’s much drama to be drawn by returning to the well of Rhodey’s death.
Of course, that could very well be a red herring, but I doubt it. And given what might befall other characters, there’s a part of me that suspects that Marvel will need Rhodes alive and well in the future.
The colonel’s battle isn’t finished. Rhodey is safe.
Sgt. James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier
Bucky’s not going anywhere. Not yet.
Simply put, there has been far too much effort put into keeping Bucky alive and free for him to die here. In the original Captain America film, it was Bucky’s capture during World War II that drove Steve to stop being a propaganda pin-up boy selling war bonds and truly become the Sentinel of Liberty by running a one-man rescue mission behind enemy lines. In the sequel set decades later, Steve was prepared to sacrifice his life if it meant saving Bucky’s from his reprogramming as the Winter Soldier, and in Civil War, Steve sacrificed his freedom, his title, his shield, and his country to save Bucky once again. And all of that’s before we dig into the fact that Bucky was one of the first people in years to get Wakanda to break its rules of isolationism to deprogram his Soviet brainwashing, and fully restore the person he was born to be. If Shuri’s as good as she says she is (and proven herself to be), the deed may finally be done.
And while putting himself on the front lines of a battle to defend his temporary home may seem like an unnecessarily risky way to repay his debt, I’m positive he’ll pull through. After everything he unwittingly did as the Winter Soldier, Bucky has a lot of work to do to redeem his name and reclaim his honor. And I think he will, in the biggest way possible.
More on that later. For now, just know that Bucky is safe.
At Risk Tier
I’ve thought for a while that in order to make Infinity War hurt, the pain needs to be felt on both sides of the two-team spectrum. In other words, at least one Guardian and at least one Avenger needs to bite it, and despite all insistence that the Guardians are ancillary characters to this tale that will all make it to the end unscathed, I’m not convinced. I’ve already said that Groot, Mantis, and Gamora look like locks to survive. Let’s look at the folks who may not be so lucky.
Were it not for the events of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I’d have Quill safely entrenched in the safe tier. After all, the climax of the original movie showed that despite looking like a normal human, the self-styled Star-Lord was actually something more, as proven by his ability to channel an Infinity Stone without immediately dying. But at the end of the sequel, Quill’s nigh-almighty Celestial powers vanished after an act of (wholly-deserved) patricide. He’s still the face of the franchise, and it’s hard to imagine that Marvel will commit to axing him off before they can tie off the trilogy with a bow.
Nevertheless, Quill’s just a dude now. A dude with a great crew, a sweet mask, a killer sense of style, and two guns, but still just a dude. And Thanos doesn’t seem like the kind of dad who’d be respectful and supportive of his “daughter’s” suitors if he disapproved of them for one reason or another, like say, thwarting his plans of galactic conquest.
All things considered, he probably lives. But all the same, Quill is at risk.
Following up from Quill, Rocket is another popular and relentlessly marketable Guardian that, on first glance, might be a lock to survive. Especially since my money’s on Groot making it through; of all the Guardians, the bond between those two may be the deepest, a pairing in which one character simply doesn’t work without the other somewhere nearby.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s the lingering Harry Potter fan in me that still mourns Fred Weasley’s untimely death, but it would certainly be an effective way to throw a wrench into Teen Groot’s development by eliminating a father/brother figure from his life. And as trigger-happy as he is, Rocket’s no brawler; stripped of his guns and tech, he could go down as easily as, well, a regular raccoon.
Betting on the safe side, Rocket makes it out. I’m still putting him down for at risk.
Master Sgt. (maybe?) Samuel “Sam” Wilson/Falcon
Sam is quite possibly the character I’m least sure of when it comes to placing on this list. He’s never been a headliner in his own movie, he’s been relegated to a supporting role in most of his appearances, and his powers, so to speak, render him a kind of poor man’s Iron Man. Wings and guns aren’t going to get you far against the likes of Thanos.
All the same, Falcon is a popular character both in and out of universe, to say nothing of his legacy as the first African-American superhero in mainstream comics. Sam’s loss would hurt just enough to make it effective, but maybe not enough to be a game-changer. I could really go either way on this one.
In any event, I’m of the mind that Sam will make it despite being at risk, thanks to a major possibility that I’ll dig into at the end of this list.
Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk
Conventional wisdom is that if you ever need to prove yourself in a tough environment, such as prison, you go up to the toughest and biggest person in the room and put them down. I’m not sure how it applies in the real world, as I’ve thankfully never needed to test it. But it does make for a good rule of thumb in fiction. You wanna showcase how much of a big badass a new villain is? Have him take out the biggest established badass right from the opening jump. And in the Marvel Universe, they don’t come any bigger or badder than the Hulk. Putting him down would go a long way to establishing Thanos as a legitimate threat for any who yet doubted the Mad Titan. It doesn’t help that Hulk is one of the original six Avengers.
That said, it feels as though Marvel is just starting to hit their groove with how to portray the Hulk. Thor: Ragnarok was probably the best depiction of the not-so-jolly green giant yet, as a solid portion of the movie was dedicated to parsing the dichotomy between man and monster and really hammering home that Bruce Banner and the Hulk are two different people sharing the same body. As frustrating as it is that Marvel has gone back and forth on deciding if Banner can control the transformations into or out of his alter ego since 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, this is something that’s worth exploring in future films. And since Marvel can never make another standalone Hulk movie thanks to a rights issue, it makes sense to keep the big guy in the back pocket as a supporting character whenever he’s needed.
He’s as huge a target as anyone, and for that, he’s at risk. But I think Hulk and Banner pull this out.
M’Baku was one of the more surprising characters in Black Panther, as much for his resonance with audiences as for his unexpected avoidance of living up to his villainous comic legacy. But from the second he and the Jabari came marching and barking to challenge for the Wakandan throne, his place was set in a lot of fans’ hearts. And while the character undoubtedly still has his rough edges, he’s still a loyal Wakandan. After the unprecedented respect he was shown by T’Challa, M’Baku and his Jabari tribe will be right on the front lines to answer the king’s call when Thanos comes knocking.
Again, that’s not the safest place to be. But after the filmmakers held off on using M’Baku as a villain and opted to roll with the duo of Klaue and Killmonger instead, I’d like to think that there’s still something in store for his character moving forward, whatever side of the line between heroism and villainy he ultimately falls on.
He’s at risk, but I think the Jabari chieftain makes it out.
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow
The newly blonde Black Widow is another character who I think could be bumped up a tier, both for her status as an original Avenger, and because her particular set of skills would leave her severely underpowered for the fights to come. But if Natasha has proven herself to be anything, it’s that she’s one of the most resourceful and adaptive characters in the franchise, and easily one of its best hand-to-hand combatants. You don’t ascend to becoming the Avengers’ second-in-command without some major chops, and Black Widow has more than proven herself in that regard.
She may not have any powers, and that does put her at risk, but Nat’s plenty super enough to not only pull through, but open a fresh can of whoopass along the way.
(Also, she’s way past due for her own movie. Make it happen, Marvel, c’mon.)
Of the original six film Avengers, he had the shortest amount of screen time in the first crossover movie, most of which he spent brainwashed, and his prior introduction in the first Thor amounted to little more than a cameo for in-the-know comic nerds. On top of that, he has received next-to-no promotion in the marketing for Infinity War, despite assurances that he’s in it from the filmmakers. But there hasn’t been a trailer, a clip, or so much as a character poster for the poor guy.
And as Clint himself has noted, he’s just a guy with a bow and arrow. When someone like that gets into the realm of gods and monsters, it’s hard to imagine that he’s going to be coming out the other end unscathed, and it feels like the odds get slimmer with each outing. Were it not for the intervention of the late Pietro Maximoff, better known as Quicksilver, he’d be dead already. Add in the loving wife and children awaiting him on a farm that Age of Ultron introduced, and that Hawkeye’s technically retired from the hero business?
Woof. It’s almost overwhelming how high the odds are stacked against the Amethyst Archer, even with the million and one Ronin rumors swirling around. But when you’re as accurate as Clint is, maybe the odds don’t matter?
Mmm. Hawkeye’s definitely in danger, but don’t be surprised if he skates by, or if his absence is tied to a greater role in Avengers 4. Call it a hedge, but it’s all I’ve got to work with.
King Thor Odinson
If Marvel wants to make Infinity War really sting, one of the Avengers they’ll kill off will come from the Big Three of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. They’re to the Avengers what Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are to the Justice League; you can technically have a team without them, but it won’t be the same. It can’t be. These three characters are so far the only heroes to have completed legitimate trilogies in the franchise, accounting for half of the premiered MCU movies to date. And that means that one, two, or all are ripe for the offing.
Of the three, I think it’s least likely to be Thor, even though it should be of some consternation that he’s supposedly the character with the most screen time opposite Thanos. I say this mostly because he’s the one whose character seems to be in the most flexible spot at the end of his trilogy; whereas Tony and Steve seem to have had more closed off arcs, Thor’s tale seems like it’s just beginning a new chapter. He’s now the King of Asgard, and has to find his people a new home after the cataclysm that destroyed theirs. It also helps that unlike the Iron Man and Captain America trilogies, the Thor trilogy’s last note was also its highest; after the hit that was Thor: Ragnarok, it seems unlikely that Marvel would give up on the character now. Especially since Mjolnir’s been destroyed; Ragnarok made it clear that in this continuity, at least, that the famed enchantment granting the power of Thor to whoever wielded the hammer was a smokescreen; the power of Thor belongs to Thor, and Thor alone. There aren’t going to be any successors anytime soon.
That said, he’s in trouble. Without his armor, Tony Stark is just a man, as is Captain America. But Thor is as close to a god as it gets in the MCU, and the same big guy principle that painted a target on Hulk’s back puts one on Thor’s. Given that he’s still getting used to fighting without his hammer, though he’s reportedly due for a replacement, the new king may not be on his game when Thanos comes calling, and that’s why I’d say that he’s in danger. But of those big three, I think he’s best situated to come out the other side in one piece.
It’s difficult to overstate how many characters were arrayed to challenge Thanos in the original Infinity Gauntlet story; far more than those who’ll be doing so in the movie. Heroes, villains, vigilantes, cosmic entities, gods, primordial beings; all stood against him. Almost all fell before him.
But as you well know by now, he lost in the end. And the key person that was his undoing wasn’t Captain America, or Thor, or Iron Man, or Doctor Doom, or Galactus, or any of the usual suspects you’d expect to pull off that big of a win in the Marvel Universe.
It was Nebula. I won’t spoil how she pulled it off in detail, but… let’s just say the word “yoink” was involved.
That’s a big reason why I think she’s in danger in this movie. What better way to establish that the stakes of an adaptation are higher than the original tale than to remove the mechanism by which the latter was resolved? Factor in that in comparison to Gamora, Thanos has been far more abusive to his other “daughter,” and that Nebula was last seen storming off in a rage alone to try and take down Thanos by herself, and it doesn’t look good for her.
I hate writing this. I hate writing this.
Okoye was my favorite character in Black Panther, and she faced stiff competition to claim that mantle. But the no-nonsense general proved herself time and again to be as deadly a warrior as the king she swore to protect, and as merciless a snarker as anyone in the entire MCU. As I wrote in my Black Panther review, there’s a reason why she’s leading the charge alongside the Avengers themselves: she’s that much of a boss.
And that’s precisely why I think she’s in danger.
I mentioned that each side needs a death for Infinity War to have its intended impact. Well, Wakanda is effectively a side unto itself, neither Avenger nor Guardian. And if T’Challa and Shuri are safe by dint of their integral heroism and M’Baku is safe by dint of his potential villainy and unrepentant hamminess, then the odd woman out is Okoye.
It would be a fitting end to the character, surely. With Wakanda facing the first full-scale invasion of its entire existence, there is no place that the general of the royal guard would rather be than on the front line, laying waste to those who would seek to harm her home. But that does put her directly in the line of fire, and Okoye’s just popular enough that her death, while not altering the trajectory of the overall Black Panther storyline, would really upset her fledgling fanbase from Black Panther.
God, I do hope I’m wrong. Homegirl deserves her Olympics and Starbucks, and heaven help the person who would try to have her arrested from the latter.
Anthony “Tony” Stark/Iron Man
Now we’re getting into the serious danger zone.
Tony’s not just one of the Big Three, and he’s not just the Cassandra-esque character who has been most on edge for years, banging the gong that a follow-up invasion was coming for Earth. He’s also the very first Avenger we saw on screen in this continuity. Add all of those together, and who better to kill at the end of the universe than the man who was there at the beginning? Whose death would be better to show that the old ways are giving way to the new than the person who had a major role in seven, count ’em, seven Marvel movies? Especially when you factor in that unlike many people on this list, Tony has a primed and prepped successor waiting in the wings in the form of Rhodey, who’s ascended to the role of Iron Man in past comics when Tony was incapacitated?
Yeah, Iron Man’s in danger, just barely straddling the line between this tier and the next. It really doesn’t help that an unofficial poster fan poster for the film, courtesy of the fantastic bosslogic on Instagram, re-imagines the biblical Last Supper with Tony assuming Jesus’ position at the center of the table. And that should signify nothing… were it not for the fact that the directors of the film, the Russo Brothers, used the photo as their Twitter header leading into the movie.
Clue? Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. But we all know what happened to Jesus after the Last Supper, and how it happened to him. I suppose if there’s no official artwork, like a theatrical poster, depicting Tony in a position evoking the Crucifixion, he could be all righ —
The Big Bad himself.
MCU villains tend to die. Of the major villains in the first eighteen films, only the Abomination, Zemo, the Vulture, and Loki managed to survive the events of their films — the latter managing the feat twice. The rest (in order, Obadiah Stane, Anton Vanko, Red Skull, Aldrich Killian, Malekith, Alexander Pierce, Ronan, Ultron, Yellowjacket, Kaecilius, Ego, Hela, and Killmonger) all bought the farm. With those odds, and given that the Avengers almost to the last have no compunctions against killing, it really doesn’t look good for Thanos to get out of this one alive.
But still... it’s Thanos. One of the biggest baddies that Marvel has to offer, probably on par with the likes of DC’s Darkseid in that regard. Even with so many people personally invested in his death, is he really going to die in his first major movie, after anywhere from six years to a decade’s worth of buildup?
It’s possible. It’s very possible. The only thing in my head that would suggest otherwise is the original Infinity Gauntlet comic. After the time reset that undid the events of that story, Thanos literally bought a farm and worked a quiet life in the country, his thirst for conquest significantly muted. It wouldn’t last, because nothing ever does in comics. But for a time at least, Thanos was at peace with losing, and the heroes who remembered what happened were at peace with letting him be.
So Thanos is indeed in danger. But there’s a chance that he could get away, if not necessarily scot-free, then certainly alive.
The Black Order
The same, I’m afraid, cannot be said for Thanos’ lieutenants, the Black Order. However fearsome their appearance and names (Corvus Glaive, Proxima Midnight, Ebony Maw, and Cull Obsidian all sound like they were ripped straight from the handbook of 101 Death Metal Band Names), there’s no way that the Avengers let them get away, win or lose. As Tony Stark once said: if they can’t protect the earth, they’ll damn well avenge it. And if they can’t get to the big guy himself, they can at least pull down his four horsemen and see to it that they meet with their own personal apocalypse.
(Didja see what I did there? It was a whole X-Men thing with the — forget it.)
Case in point: in one of the teaser clips, Glaive and Midnight are shown facing off against Black Widow, Falcon, and Captain America. And they’re getting bodied. If you can’t knock off the normals of the Avengers, I can’t imagine they’d hold up well if someone like the Hulk or the Vision were involved.
Yeah. The Black Order are screwed. Boned. Doomed. And there shall be much rejoicing.
Heimdall and Many Asgardians
As I noted above, the Asgardians are going to run into a buzzsaw right out the gate in this movie. And while I feel certain that some are going to survive, I’m just as certain that many won’t. And on the wrong end of the mirror’s edge between life and death is the Asgardian gatekeeper, Heimdall.
It pains me to say it. Less Idris Elba in anything is never a good thing. But if Thor: Ragnarok established one thing moving forward, assuming the titular character survives, it was a totally and complete rejection of the status quo. Odin died, Jane Foster and Thor broke up offscreen, Mjolnir was shattered, Thor had his eye ripped out of its socket, the Warriors Three were cut down in seconds, the Lady Sif is nowhere to be found and goes unmentioned, as are Darcy and Dr. Selvig, and Asgard was vaporized. Heimdall is one of the last links to the old days for Thor, and with his death, very little will remain of the old Asgard.
It will suck. But as long as he gets to die a warrior’s death, I can live with Heimdall being doomed.
W’Kabi and Much of the Wakandan Border Tribe
Granted, it’s very possible, even likely that he’s not in the movie at all. But assuming W’Kabi survived and was forgiven or freed at the end of Black Panther after supporting Killmonger’s usurpation over the reclamation efforts of his former friend, it’s likely that he returned to his role as a leader of the Wakandan Border Tribe, entrusted with maintaining the illusion that Wakanda is a poor country to hide the truth from the rest of the world. If that’s the case, that puts him at ground zero for Thanos’ invasion, and as the trailer makes clear, the force field shielding Wakanda very clearly falls under sheer numbers.
The trailer scene that shows T’Challa rallying his forces seems to suggest there will be a few Border Tribesmen standing beside him in the final battle for Wakanda. But it doesn’t look good for W’Kabi himself. He is doomed.
Irani Rael/Nova Prime and What’s Left of The Nova Corps
Let’s keep this simple. Nova Prime and the Nova Corps have an Infinity Stone; specifically, the Orb that houses the purple Power Stone. Which just so happens to be one of two that the marketing for Infinity War has repeatedly hammered home is in Thanos’ possession.
They are so very doomed.
Taneleer Tivan/The Collector
Echoing the above: The Collector has an Infinity Stone; specifically the Aether that, when concentrated, forms the red Reality Stone. And if you look carefully at Thanos’ hand in the Twitter version of the “Chant” trailer, you’ll see that he got it.
Yup. The Collector’s doomed too.
Again: Thanos is trying to collect the six Infinity Stones, and The Vision is kept alive by the yellow Mind Stone embedded in his forehead. This one is frankly a no-brainer — which, fittingly, is precisely what the Vision will be once Thanos or his minions pry the Mind Stone from his noggin. No matter how you slice it, Viz is probably a goner.
Of course, that death might not be permanent. In fact, I’ll say that it probably won’t be, seeing how Vision is an android fueled by an artificial intelligence that’s already cheated “death” once before as J.A.R.V.I.S. in Age of Ultron. In the comics, the Vision has been destroyed only to be rebuilt before, and if the heroes succeed in getting the stones back from Thanos, there’s a good chance that the good robot will be back in action when all is said and done.
‘Til then, Vision is doomed.
(As, in all likelihood, his killers will be once Scarlet Witch gets her hands on them.)
Hero. Rogue. Villain. Pariah. Prince. Prisoner. Pawn. Thief. Rescuer. Murderer. Savior. Usurper. Refugee. Invader. Reclaimer. Lord of a Thousand and One Tumblr Posts.
Over the course of four films, Loki has worn a great many hats while Gangnam-styling his way up and down the sliding scale of morality. He’s been every shade of grey imaginable and shown himself capable of both great good and great evil, with a fresh betrayal or deception never being too far away. That’s part of what makes the character so much fun, and while it took him a while to grow on me, it’s become clear why people like him so much. You never know when he’s going to switch sides.
But if Loki has truly turned face for good, as the ending of Thor: Ragnarok seems to suggest, then the game may well be up for the God of Mischief. Because like the last three entries, Loki is the bearer of an Infinity Stone; specifically, the blue Space Stone embedded at the heart of the cubical Tesseract. And unlike the last three entries, Thanos will have a very personal reason for wanting Loki dead, seeing how he entrusted him with the Mind Stone and a massive army to secure the Space Stone from Earth, only to lose all three in the process the first time the Avengers assembled in 2012.
Marvel’s been pretty good about keeping plot beats in this movie under wraps, save for a few broad strokes here and there. But it’s almost impossible not to guess the film’s opening, at least partially: Thanos’ ship intercepts the Asgardians, and lays waste to them, gods, warriors, civilians, and Hulks alike. Outnumbered and outgunned, Loki realizes that they will all die if he doesn’t act and offers Thanos a deal: the Space Stone in exchange for the lives of his brother, his people, and himself. In a rare concession, Thanos grants Loki the first two. He denies him the third. After cheating death so many times, Loki finally goes down as a true son of Odin, spurring Thor to pursue Thanos to Avenge his fallen brother.
He’ll be missed, and it’d be great if the trickster god had one last gambit to stay alive. But I think Loki’s time is up, and it’s so much the better for the story that it happens when he’s batting for the good guys than when he’s batting for the bad. And I’m almost certain that it’s the former: just look at this face up there. That’s not the look of a conniving mastermind. That’s the look of a man desperately trying to protect what matters most to him.
He may be doomed. But Loki will at last die a hero.
At long last, here’s my pick for the Guardian most likely to fall in Infinity War. By my reckoning, Drax simply fits too many bills not to be the odd man out. He’s a party to the Big Guy rule, he has a personal vendetta against Thanos that he’s likely ill-equipped to carry out on his own, he’s one of the more entrenched side characters in the Guardians franchise, and of all the characters on the original team, he’s arguably had the most growth as a character. Star-Lord is still a caddish rogue, Gamora is still an acerbic badass, Rocket is still a profane gunslinger, and Groot is, well... Groot.
As a Groot does.
But while he still possesses his thirst for combat and his boisterous personality, Drax has cooled off a lot from the brutish figure we first met in Guardians. While he’s still driven by his search for vengeance, he’s no longer consumed by it. While he still has his loner tendencies, he’s grown to care for his adopted family as much as his lost one. And while he’s always going to be something of a blunt asshole, only Drax could earnestly tell a woman (played by Pom Klementieff, no less!) to her face that he finds her “horrifying to look at,” and make it come off as a heartfelt compliment attesting to her inner beauty as a person. For a pretty niche comic character, even by the standards of the Guardians, Drax has made a big impact in a short amount of time with audiences.
And that’s why I think he’s doomed. The strength of the Guardians as a franchise is that no one character is necessarily integral to their success, and losing Drax won’t cripple future films. But as big of a hole as he’s going to leave, if Thanos does go down by the time all is said and done, I think Drax can die happy.
Even if none of us will be.
The Deader Than Dead Tier: We’re Talking Folded Flags, Three-Volley Salutes, and Taps
Capt. Steven “Steve” Rogers/Captain America
Here it is. The big one. The biggest one. The good captain gets this tier to himself, because when the dust settles in either Infinity War or Avengers 4, he’s the one character I’m positive won’t be coming back.
The ruthless calculus makes too much sense no matter how you look at it. The Captain America trilogy was probably among the most consistently beloved of Marvel’s filmography so far, by critics and fans alike. Arguably, Cap has had the most complete character arc of anyone in the franchise, especially now that he’s finally able to lay the ghost of his failure to save Bucky to rest. And if you as a filmmaker had only one death to make an Avengers event hurt, then you’d kill Captain America. Good guys come no better, hearts come no purer. This is the guy who managed to budge Thor’s hammer. This is the guy whose leadership the Avengers immediately deferred to in their first battle. He’s a living legend, an icon unto himself. It’d be like killing Superman… you know, if you waited three more movies to do it.
(I really don’t like Batman v. Superman, guys.)
But more than that, there’s no other way for Captain America’s story to end than for him to die. Look back at every other heroic name on this list. Assuming they survive, you can see the narrative threads that tie them to some sort of a happy ending that doesn’t demand that they continue the hero life full-time. To wit:
- Thor finds a new homeland for his people and reigns as King of Asgard until the end of his days, as Valkyrie rebuilds her order and Heimdall resumes his post supporting the new king, joined by an oft-suspected Loki.
- Tony finally drives into the sunset with Pepper Potts and never puts on an Iron Man suit again… although he does tinker from time to time.
- Natasha finds a way to black out the red in her ledger, Bruce finds an equilibrium with his raging alter-ego, and either together or apart, the two find a measure of peace.
- Hawkeye goes back to his farm and his family and sticks to his retirement.
- Sam gets back to helping veterans adjust back to civilian life.
- Rhodey gets on with his illustrious military career, likely helping to repair the country’s trust in heroes.
- Hope finds her mother and rebuilds her relationship with her family, Scott continues to support his while staying on the right side of the law.
- Strange and Wong rebuild the sanctums from the damage wrought by Kaecilius and his zealots, continue to study magic, and recruit new sorcerers. The former possibly patches things up with Christine Palmer.
- Wanda and Vision embrace their place in the world as outcasts, and take their unlikely relationship to new heights.
- T’Challa rules peacefully over Wakanda, leaning upon M’Baku and Okoye along the way, while Shuri’s unleashed genius revolutionizes the outside world.
- The Guardians of the Galaxy get back to doing what they do best as roguish guns for hire, and never have to live up to the lofty expectations of their title again.
- Korg gets back to his revolution, remembers to print enough pamphlets this time, and pulls it off with Miek’s help.
- Not even the sky is the limit for the young Peter Parker.
The only character, the only character, that doesn’t have that kind of happy ending lined up is probably the one guy who deserves it most. To support this, I’ll turn to 2014’s Winter Soldier and 2015’s Age of Ultron.
Any comic book fan worth their salt knew right away that the subtitle “Winter Soldier” referred to a surviving Bucky Barnes reprogrammed into the titular Soviet assassin, and so went into the theater smugly thinking they knew the twist of the film while being blindsided by the real one. But in the run-up to the movie’s release, I ran across an article highlighting the history of the phrase “winter soldier” itself, and why comic creator Ed Brubaker used the moniker in the first place. I urge you to read it for yourself, but the long and short of it is that it stems from the writings of Thomas Paine in which he decries fair-weather “summer soldiers” who shrink away from the fight when the going gets tough. By contrast, “winter soldiers” would be those who dig in their heels and keep fighting to the bitter end for their country, long after a reasonable point to stop.
So in a way, yes, Bucky Barnes is the Winter Soldier. But critically, the title could also refer to Captain America himself. Someone wants the fight, who needs the fight, whose life has become the fight. Not the Winter Soldier, but a winter soldier.
This gets hammered home twice in Age of Ultron, first when a then-antagonistic Wanda Maximoff takes down the Avengers by sneaking up and using her powers to show them all their worst fears. Each person she affects reacts differently; Tony sees a vision of his teammates slaughtered by an invading alien force and makes the mistake of creating Ultron as a preemptive measure. Thor sees his people in Hel(l) and flies off to make sense of what he’s seen. Natasha relives her tortuous induction into the Soviet Black Widow program and nearly falls catatonic. We don’t get to see Bruce’s vision, but whatever it was, it drove him into a blind rage that nearly destroyed a city.
Cap’s vision? A party. A raucous victory party celebrating the end of World War II that Steve never got to attend in real life, replete with his old flame Peggy Carter telling him that they can go home before everyone vanishes, leaving a uniformed Steve standing in the ballroom alone. Like a lot in Age of Ultron, the scene is open to various interpretations, but the one I subscribe to is that to a winter soldier like Steve, peace is the scariest thing he can imagine. He simply doesn’t know what to do with himself without a war to fight, and is afraid that without one, in a world where almost everyone he’s ever known is dead, the world will have no need for him.
It’s reinforced in the ending to AoU, when Tony momentarily retires from the Avengers, musing that he’ll settle down with Pepper. What follows is a little heartbreaking.
Steve: “The simple life?”
Tony: “You’ll get there one day.”
Steve: “I don’t know. Family, stability… the guy who wanted all of that went into the ice seventy-five years ago. I think someone else came out.”
Tony: “…you all right?”
Steve, over the sound of recruits drilling in the background: “I’m home.”
Everyone else gets to quit. Everyone else gets to settle down. Everyone else gets to move on. But Cap can’t. There’s always another mission, another battle, another war, because more than anyone else, Steve doesn’t know who he is without being Captain America. And this has cost Steve, dearly.
Almost everyone he has ever known is dead, courtesy of his sacrifice to thwart Red Skull displacing him through history. The cut-and-dry morality he subscribed to in the 40’s has been shaken by the murkiness of the present-day, fostering a mutual distrust between him and his country. He’s gone from being a hero celebrated with a Smithsonian exhibit to being offhandedly mocked as a war criminal for his actions in Civil War. Despite having saved the world at least four times over, Steve has next to nothing to show for it.
And that’s probably why he’s going down, in the biggest blaze of glory imaginable.
Look at that. Look at that. One of the most enduring images in comic book history comes from the original Infinity Gauntlet story, where Steve defiantly walks up to Thanos after he’s slaughtered the entire alliance of heroes knowing that he doesn’t have a chance to win but fights anyway. In short order, he falls. But here? Cap’s actually holding his ground. And Thanos knows it. With one defiant stand, Steve’s doing what few, if any, other characters in this continuity have done by putting a legitimate spark of confusion and fear in the Mad Titan. It probably won’t last, but wow. What a moment.
And when Captain America falls, his death opens up a new avenue of growth for two other characters — one of whom probably needs it much more than the other.
In their respective write-ups, I mentioned that there was a reason that I suspected both Bucky and Sam were safe. If you know your comics (or indeed, your Fox and Friends hysterics), it’s probably not so mysterious: in the past fifteen years, both Bucky and Sam have spent significant time as the wielder of the shield, both with Steve’s blessing. And as much as fun as Winter Soldier and Falcon are, they’re not Captain America. When Cap dies, you can bet that one of them will be trading up.
There is a part of me that really wants it to be Sam; partially because I loved the visual of a Captain America who could fly, and yes, partially because I thirst for the outcry that a black Captain America on screen would inspire from the Fox News crowd; it’d be Miles Morales as Spider-Man times ten. The thought of sustains my dark, shithole-American soul. But if I’m being honest, Sam doesn’t need it. The Falcon moniker is a perfectly good and respectable one, and Sam’s honor is intact across his many appearances.
Bucky’s isn’t. Through no fault of his own, an American war hero was twisted into one of the most feared assassins in history, and after being outed by Zemo, the entire world now thinks of him as a monster. Black Widow may think she has red in her ledger, but it’s a drop compared to the buckets of ink etched into Bucky’s. And as close friends as Cap and Sam seem to have become… he isn’t Bucky.
After everything that Cap sacrificed to save him, a new arc featuring Bucky taking up the shield to redeem both his name and the name of the friend who died protecting the world writes itself. And if he’s in the market for a new vibranium shield, well then, guess what country is the source of vibranium, whose crown princess seems to have befriended him, and will likely be grateful to him for his efforts in their defense — tidily echoing the comic book origins of the original shield?
(Besides, does anyone really want Bucky to be the MCU’s version of White Wolf? Ick. No. Let that have been a throwaway joke, I beg you.)
And that’s how Cap will fall. Knowing that he fought to the end, and knowing that in his death, there will be room for another to take his place and continue the fight. And Sebastian Stan gets to start moving forward on his reported nine-film contract.
And that’s all, folks. Five more days, and all will be answered. All will be revealed. Unless they pull some time-travel wonkery, in which case you’ll have to wait a year.
Either way, I can’t wait. The end isn’t near. It’s here.