‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ (Marvel/Disney)
Be warned, this whole post is a giant spoiler.
At the conclusion of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Avengers as we know them have disassembled. Tony Stark drives off to parts unknown in one of his countless Audis. Hawkeye retires to the countryside to become a family man. Thor heads back to Asgard to deal with a looming Armageddon. Hulk is literally off the grid. And Quicksilver is dead.
Credits roll. And then Thanos, that familiar snarling purple space villain, whips out a golden glove. What does it all mean? Director Joss Whedon crammed in a befuddling amount of details in those waning minutes; we’re here to unpack the ending for you.
Perhaps the most jarring fallout is that Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are a little less mighty. Lone holdovers Captain America and Black Widow are left overseeing a lineup that includes newbies Vision and Scarlet Witch alongside hitherto sidekicks War Machine and Falcon.
Clockwise from upper left: Falcon, Vision, War Machine, Scarlet Witch (Marvel/Disney)
This retooled roster serves three functions: First, fans will see it as a wink to the Avengers’ comic-book origins. After all, Hulk only lasted two issues before he quit. And while Iron Man, Thor, and Cap have been mainstays since the 1960s, the team’s membership has been fluid, with myriad heroes coming and going. There have also been spinoff groups, like the West Coast Avengers and the New Avengers.
The Age of Ultron shakeup also sets the stage for next year’s Captain America: Civil War, which will pit rival bands of heroes against each other, with one group working under the leadership of Iron Man, and another pledging allegiance to Captain America. At least some of the newly constituted Avengers will be forced to choose sides, but expect Thor and Hulk (and possibly Hawkeye) to sit out the conflict. In their stead, we’ll get Black Panther and Spider-Man, the latter of whom will be making his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut. (Reports have varied to exactly how much of a role Spidey will play; while he was central to the Civil War comic’s storyline, filming starts within days and the role has yet to be cast, leading to speculation that the web-slinger will only have what amounts to a glorified cameo.)
Watch our primer on what you need to know for ‘Age of Ultron:’
Finally, the Avengers revamping also serves a business purpose: the changes help shuffle the decks as Disney and Marvel’s contracts with several key actors, including Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) approach their expiration. The studio must find ways to creatively limit the screen time of the bigger stars while chugging along with their overarching narrative, and that entails spotlighting newer heroes and promoting the B-players.
Then there’s the Age of Ultron mid-credits segment. Unlike with Marvel movies past, filmgoers don’t have to hunt down comic-nerd friends to explain the provenance of some obscure character. Instead, we get our old tormentor Thanos (Josh Brolin), whom you might remember from previous appearances in Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. In Age of Ultron, the so-called Mad Titan slips on the Infinity Gauntlet, the most powerful glove this side of a Michael Jackson video.
Infinity Gauntlet at Comic-Con (Marvel/Disney)
The gauntlet, last seen in Odin’s trophy room in Thor before the Destroyer went amok, has receptacles for the six Infinity Stones (aka Soul Gems); once they are in place, the wielder has virtual omnipotence.
Here’s Benicio Del Toro’s Collector explaining how the gems work in Guardians of the Galaxy (at the 1:15 mark):
So far we’ve seen four of the powerful gems: The Tesseract, or Cosmic Cube — which was coveted by Red Skull (in Captain America: The First Avenger) and Loki (in The Avengers) — is the Space Stone and has been locked up in Asgard since the end of the first Avengers. The Mind Stone, which fueled Loki’s Chitauri scepter from The Avengers, has been entrusted to the Vision. The Orb, or Power Stone, was recovered by the Guardians of the Galaxy, and is under the watch of the Nova Corps on Xandar. Finally, the Aether, or Red Stone, was given to the Collector at the end of Thor: The Dark World, but its whereabouts are unknown following the destruction of his Knowhere lair in Guardians of the Galaxy. Expect the final two stones to surface in one of the next batch of Marvel films, perhaps Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, or Thor: Ragnarok.
Teaser for 'Infinity Wars’ (Marvel/Disney)
As with previous MCU credits sequences, the Age of Ultron closer foreshadows an upcoming movie. In this case, it’s movies: The two-part Infinity Wars will focus on Thanos’s quest for the stones and his subsequent reign of doom, which wreaks havoc across the Marvel Cinematic Universe and requires an ultimate team-up that includes the Avengers (expect both vintage and newer members), Spider-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and scads of other heroes you’ll get to know in the coming years. The first part, to be directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, will begins production next year for a May 4, 2018 release.
Watch the actors talk about their work anxiety dreams: