Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was an unqualified smash this weekend, grossing $145 million at the domestic box office and cementing its status as one of Marvel’s crown jewels. Or perhaps we should say, Guardians is one of the prized stones in Marvel’s gold power glove, given that such a device will now take center stage in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War, which will feature Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and company joining forces with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and the rest of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes against the mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin). And while James Gunn’s sequel does little to overtly set up the studio’s forthcoming all-star extravaganza (set to debut May 4, 2018), Vol. 2 does provide two small — but immensely telling — clues about how that super-team-up blockbuster may play out.
Warning: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 spoilers to follow.
The first hint comes toward the conclusion of Vol. 2, when half-mechanical Nebula (Karen Gillan) takes her leave of sister Gamora (Zoe Saldana), promising to find and kill Thanos. The reason for her fury was established in the original Guardians — Thanos is Nebula and Gamora’s adoptive father, and his desire to turn his girls into his sidekick–warrior–minions involved pitting them in battle against each other. When Nebula would lose those skirmishes (which made Gamora the favorite of Thanos), she would have an organic piece of herself replaced with a cybernetic part, a situation that invariably left her furious and hell-bent on exacting revenge on her daddy.
The fact that the only Vol. 2 reference to Thanos comes from Nebula when she expresses her vengeful plans suggests that she’ll not only be participating in Infinity War but that she may assume a key role in eventually topping the villain. Lending further credence to that idea is the 1991 comics mini-series The Infinity Gauntlet, which — far more than its follow-up, 1992’s Infinity War — boasts a premise similar to next year’s Marvel series. That’s because, in The Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos acquires the six Infinity Stones in his gold gauntlet and, with ultimate power, immediately murders half the universe. In retaliation, a collection of galactic beings and Earth’s superheroes band together to stop him from destroying reality — and, toward its conclusion, the comic-book Nebula wrestles control of the gauntlet from Thanos, halting his homicidal rampage.
As Karen Gillan recently revealed, Nebula was originally slated to die in the first Guardians of the Galaxy, only to have her fate rewritten a number of times until they finally settled on making her a key part of the franchise. And we also know that Nebula is one of Gunn’s personal favorites because he has stated that she’d be the character he’d most like to spin off into a solo film. That hardly makes it sound like Nebula is destined for background duty going forward; on the contrary, all indications are that she’ll continue to be a prime factor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And that, in turn, solidifies the possibility that she could be facing off against her purple daddy in the not-so-distant future.
If Vol. 2 foreshadows Nebula’s potentially vital function in Infinity War, it also hints at another intergalactic being taking on a major part in the battle against Thanos. We’re speaking about Adam, the only-seen-in-a-cocoon being whom Sovereign high priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) introduces by name in one of Vol. 2’s post-credits scene. While most moviegoers are likely — and understandably — baffled by this “reveal,” Marvel-ites have probably already assumed that Ayesha is referring to Adam Warlock, a god-like figure with a deep connection to the “Soul Stone” (one of the Infinity Stones). And wouldn’t you know, in The Infinity Gauntlet, it’s Adam Warlock who assembles an army against Thanos — and ultimately proves to be the one who defeats him. Seizing the Infinity Gauntlet for himself, Warlock — now an individual of unfathomable power — departs from his comrades to travel through time and space, as a more reliable guardian of the Infinity Stones.
Does this mean Nebula and Warlock will be the two heroes — rather than any of the Avengers — who save the day against Thanos in Infinity War? It’s certainly conceivable, although it’s not even clear if Thanos will be defeated in next year’s film; for all we know, his demise could be relegated to 2019’s Avengers 4, whose title can’t even be revealed because, according to Kevin Feige, it’ll spoil Infinity War’s conclusion. (Both Feige and Gunn have said that Warlock was introduced to be a participant in future Guardians films, not Infinity War, but that could be a misdirect.) However, these cinematic superhero events transpire, though, some brief third-act moments in Vol. 2 intimate that an unexpected Guardians player or two could have a big hand in shaping Marvel’s future.
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