This article originally appeared on Den of Geek UK.
You have to feel both envy and sympathy when it comes to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Current darlings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after their feted screenwriting duties on the Captain America trilogy, they’ve now been given the herculean task of nailing a story and screenplay for the forthcoming Avengers: Infinity War, a two-part culmination of three phases worth of MCU build-up.
On the one hand: what a treat to be given license to play around in that sandbox; to have access to all those incredible characters; to conceive the greatest battle the Avengers will face thus far as Thanos finally makes his play.
On the other hand: how the hell are they going to pull this off?
Because it’s not just about tying up all those plot threads and balancing a cast of several dozen superheroes and supporting characters (although that is enough to make most screenwriters wake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat). It’s also about giving the audience something new, something unexpected, and something that will leave cinemagoers with the feeling that Marvel Studios has well and truly outdone itself.
The familiar pattern of team-up, break-up, then re-unite to defeat glowing things in the sky just won’t cut it this time, especially over 5 hours worth of running time. The story will have to be something special, something different, something unexpected, while still adhering to the promised premise: Thanos is coming to get the infinity stones and only a bunch of well-loved actors reaching the end of their contracts can stop him.
So indulge me if you will, as I put on the Den of Geek speculation hat and offer one potential way that Marvel may choose to crack such a seemingly overwhelming story and provide those invested in the MCU with a new and surprising take on its much-loved roster. And my inspiration comes not from the pages of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but rather the Children of the Atom.
Now I know that (most of) the X-Men reside within the confines of Fox studios – no doubt protected by a cavalcade of aggressively litigious lawyers – but I wonder if plots and storylines are included in that exclusivity deal? Might it be possible, with a little tinkering, for Infinity War to appropriate not the characters from that universe, but rather a significant event: namely House of M?
For those unfamiliar with the story – an 8-issue miniseries written by Brian Michael Bendis that spawned a plethora of tie-ins – a mentally unstable Scarlet Witch uses her reality-warping powers to recreate the entire world so that mutants are the dominant force on the planet.
Due to the changes to reality and history we find all our heroes (and villains) in very different circumstances. Indeed, Wanda’s manipulations appear to have the effect of giving her erstwhile teammates the one thing they’ve always wanted.
So Magneto is a dictator-type in charge of everyone, the Hulk has finally been left alone in the Australian outback, Spider-Man is an internationally adored superstar happily married to Gwen Stacy, and Wolverine gets his previously Swiss-cheesed memory back (which turns out to be a critical plot point, as he is one of the few who remembers how the world was supposed to be).
Now the MCU’s Scarlet Witch doesn’t have the kind of power base that can re-write history and tamper with reality. You know who could? A mad titan wielding a fully loaded infinity gauntlet, that’s who.
Imagine for a second that the next Avengers film doesn’t feature the arrival of Thanos, doesn’t bother to show him collecting those bloody infinity macguffins one-by-one, doesn’t show the epic struggle as Earth’s Mightiest try to stop him.
Imagine if the film starts with him having already won.
Because what’s the point of decimating a planet full of unruly hero types when you can bend it to your will instead? With the power of the stones at his disposal, Thanos can tweak history, warp reality, and manipulate minds as he sees fit, recreating an Earth with a population that not only faithfully serves him, but that will defend him and his interests to the death. And his loyal army could be led by corrupted versions of our beloved heroes.
In House of M, members of the Avengers and X-Men were given what they most desired. For Infinity War, perhaps they could have the thing that makes them a hero retroactively taken away. What would Steve Rogers be like without his strong moral code? What if he was a bully? I would pay good money to see Chris Evans depicting Cap as a thug – loyal foot soldier to his master Thanos – as he quashes dissent among the cowering populace. Other familiar characters could be stripped of the things they cherish or need the most, leaving them broken and unwilling or unable to fight the Mad Titan’s oppressive regime: a poor and destitute Tony Stark or – to borrow from another X-saga – a blind Hawkeye.
In the comics, the infinity gauntlet could pretty much do anything, but giving the villain such omnipotence might prove problematic for a film striving for manageable stakes. Perhaps the wielder of the universe’s greatest power in the MCU has a slightly more localized influence. Thus while Earth is bent to his will, the denizens of places like Asgard and Xandar may be temporarily beyond his influence. We don’t know where Thor: Ragnarok or indeed Guardians of the Galaxy 2 will leave the players of those particular franchises, but if Thanos makes a re-shaped Earth his base of operations, you can bet there will be some concerned parties turning up to wrest the gauntlet from his hands. And what a thrill it would be to see Thor, Hulk, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Nova Corps attempt to overcome an army led by dark mirrors of our Earthbound heroes.
After all, it wouldn’t be an Avengers film without a bit of hero-on-hero action. Pitting those conveniently off-world when Thanos completes his set of six against twisted versions of our Earthbound heroes would be a wonderful excuse to see the kind of battles hinted at in Captain America: Civil War but on a global scale, and where the combatants aren’t holding back. Needless to say – especially given the firepower at the disposal of the purple man in charge – they would lose.
So how could such a situation be resolved? In House of M, Wolverine enlists the help of a young mutant who has the power to awaken people’s memories of how the word should be. In doing so he gathers a little resistance of heroes who fight to put things back to the way they were. There are plenty of characters who could fill such a role for Infinity War, including Doctor Strange and even Wanda herself.
Structurally, this suits the demands of a film quite well, as each attempt to “restore” a familiar character can act as its own set piece. And when enough heroes have been returned to their pre-gauntleted state – as in House of M – there’s the opportunity to formulate a secret plan and stage the mother of all final battles.
It’s interesting that the people behind the forthcoming films have stressed that both parts will be quite different to each other, going so far as to give the second part a different yet-to-be-announced title. The speculation hat is feeling heavy on my brow, but could it be that a reality-warping plot is in the cards? Could the first film follow Thanos’ ultimately successful battle to collect all six gems and end with a glimpse of this new reality-warped status quo? It would be a hell of a cliffhanger, and the second film could then focus on a more House of M-inspired resistance story. “House of T,” anyone? It would certainly make the two parts very different and would give some franchise stars the chance to play against type in a way that I’m sure they’d relish.
The other benefit of a reality-warping plot is that it opens the opportunity to make changes and tweaks to MCU continuity moving forward, which would be particularly beneficial considering the number of key actors who are out of contracts following the movie’s climax. If and when attempts are made to restore the world to its original state, it’s possible that there could be some slight wrinkles along the way: a new Captain America, a new Iron Man (or woman), etc.
“It’s not exactly the same,” a character notes to Doctor Strange.
“It’s close enough,” Cumberbatch mutters back.
One thing’s for sure: the infinity gauntlet is a powerful tool, not only in the context of the fictional MCU, but for those artists who are continuing to define it. With a relic like that in play, Markus and McFeely have license to write pretty much any story they want. It will be fascinating to see where their imaginations lead us.
And so, at long last, I doff my speculation hat and throw it out to you, dear readers. What story route would you go down? What do you think will be served to us in two years time? And how do you imagine the two parts will differ? Sound off in the comments below…