WARNING: This article contains spoilers from Avengers: Infinity War.
So you’ve seen Avengers: Infinity War and are now a broken mess from seeing half your faves disintegrate before your very eyes. I was that broken mess too, cursing screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus as the credits rolled. How could they so callously destroy Bucky, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, Drax, Groot, Mantis, Star-Lord, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange? They’re the good guys — they’re meant to win!
But then the post-credit scene hit and we saw Nick Fury, back once again with a Plan B in the form of a pager and a message to Captain Marvel, and my grief came to a swift end. With the most powerful Avenger in the Marvel Cinematic Universe set to make her debut in a solo movie, two months before the fourth Avengers movie hits cinemas, surely this means that all of our evaporated favorites will be making a comeback.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest so, and not just because of Captain Marvel’s involvement. Infinity War left several clues hinting that Thanos’ successful wipeout of half the universe wouldn’t last, and a lot of it had to do with Doctor Strange.
Stephen Strange and Wong probably have the best understanding of the Infinity Stones out of all of the human heroes. As you know, it’s through Wong’s explainer to Tony Stark and Bruce Banner that we learn exactly what each stone represents and how Thanos wants to utilize them to bring balance to the universe.
Doctor Strange has been keeping the Time Stone handy since his own solo movie, and we saw how he wielded it to defeat Dormmamu by using the time loop function. But in Infinity War he barely used it and gave it up to Thanos when they lost their window to remove the Infinity Gauntlet (nice one, Star-Lord) and Tony’s life was at stake. This move was especially surprising given that Strange had previously promised that, when push came to Titan shove, he would sacrifice both Stark and Peter Parker if it meant protecting the Time Stone.
So why did he hand it over? Probably because he was focused on the long game rather than the short. If you remember, while Star-Lord and Iron Man are fighting over which plan of action to go with, Strange is meditating, sifting through 14 million possible futures using the same sort of magic The Ancient One wields in Doctor Strange. He says there’s only one future that sees them defeat Thanos. The film makes us believe that this one outcome is caused by their group effort to take the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos, but after Star-Lord learns that the Titan sacrificed Gamora, that plan goes up the creek.
Later, when he hands the Time Stone over to Thanos, Strange says, “We're in the endgame now," and just before he evaporates he tells Tony, “There was no other way,” implying that every action he’d taken was a calculated response to ensure that the one outcome that saw them defeat Thanos could happen.
Now the specific defeat could still potentially take place during that moment on Titan. If Captain Marvel and the remaining Avengers work out how to travel through time they could go back to that exact point and help get the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos and stop him carrying out his plan. There’s also a chance that Strange kept Stark alive because he was needed to help bring about the events that would see the universe restored. That certainly seems a more likely option than the Doctor suddenly becoming emotionally attached to Tony.
As well as Doctor Strange’s actions in Infinity War, there’s also the knowledge that the film was originally going to be part one of two that hints at a comeback for the dead. The Russos said that when it came down to formulating the stories for the third and fourth Avengers movies they felt that they weren’t going to fit into a traditional two-parter.
“There’s a narrative thread that is connecting these films, but at the same time, there’s an independence in terms of what the experience is or where the story goes,” Joe Russo explained. "But as we developed the movie, in execution, it ended up being more of two singular expressions.”
That might be the Marvel party line, but Avengers 4 will obviously feel like a continuation of Infinity War, as the remaining heroes aren’t going to just accept the destruction of half the universe and the loss of their friends. Maybe the war for the Infinity Stones is over, but another war to reverse Thanos’ actions is certainly brewing, and there are several storylines in the Marvel Comics that could see them achieve that.
In 2015’s Avengers Assemble by Brian Michael Bendis, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the Guardians of the Galaxy team up to defeat Thanos, who is in control of the Cosmic Cube. However, the Cube isn’t the destroying kind and instead sends them to the "Cancerverse." Eventually, they break out, take the Cube, and beat Thanos into submission. The MCU has a long history of tweaking original storylines to fit in with their own narrative, so we might learn that the evaporated heroes weren’t killed but rather transported into another dimension, like the Quantum Realm featured in Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and is set to play a bigger role in Ant-Man and The Wasp.
It might be no coincidence that this subatomic realm is explored further in the Ant-Man sequel, which we will see Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfieffer) escape the Quantum Realm after being trapped there for decades. The Quantum Realm is also set to play a role in Captain Marvel, according to quantum physicist and Marvel Studio's scientific consultant Dr. Spyridon Michalakis. It seems Kevin Feige is purposefully leaving Quantum Realm breadcrumbs in the two movies that come before Avengers 4 so it can be part of the narrative of it too.
These theories certainly account for the heroes who seemingly died after Thanos achieved his goal, but what about Heimdal, Loki, Vision, and Gamora? Sadly for fans of the first two, it’s likely that they won’t be coming back. Their deaths had nothing to do with the Stones, and if Strange’s master plan comes from allowing Thanos to get all of them then their deaths might have to stick. The same goes for Vision and Gamora, though there is a chance that both could be returned.
Infinity War reminded us that Vision’s consciousness is part JARVIS, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, and Ultron, so when Shuri attempted to remove the Mind Stone she was hoping to keep the remainder of his patchwork mind intact. She may well have been able to make a copy of that specific cerebral make-up before sending Vision into battle, so even though Thanos destroyed that specific body he could potentially have his mind transferred into another.
Gamora’s life could also be restored if the writers borrow a bit of Soul Stone storyline from the Marvel Comics. Adam Warlock is normally associated with this gem, which allows him to sense the souls of others as well as house them in a dimension contained within it, but he won’t be appearing until Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Knowing that the Soul Stone has the ability to draw souls into it, however, there’s a chance Gamora’s soul is residing in it too.
It would certainly make sense given Thanos’ final scene sees him on a planet with an orange glow (the same color as the stone) and talking to a younger version of his favorite daughter. If the Titan has transported himself inside the stone (as Adam Warlock has often done in the comics) it could mean that he’s in there with Gamora. As it’s rumored that she is central to the third Guardians film’s narrative, it could mean the deadliest assassin in the galaxy is going to return from the dead in Avengers 4 too.
Theories aside, there’s also the plenty of real-life evidence that several of these characters will return. The Spider-Man: Homecoming, Black Panther, and Doctor Strange sequels can’t exactly happen without Peter, T’Challa, and Stephen. Cast members have also been waxing lyrical about a massive fight scene in the next Avengers movie that basically includes every hero, including the dead ones.
Sebastian Stan said as much during the Infinity War press tour. "There was one scene, I think, we had where everybody was there," he said at Ace Comic-Con. "You look around and you just saw everyone from Samuel L. Jackson to Michael Douglas to Michelle Pfeiffer. Everybody was there." If evaporated Bucky and Nick Fury are shooting scenes with Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, it’s safe to say they’re back in corporeal form.
Of course, some characters might meet their ultimate demise in Avengers 4, as contracts run out and actors move on with their cinematic lives, but there will certainly be several “dead” characters coming back to life and expected to fight on into Phase 4 of the MCU. So until then, chin up, Marvel fans.
It’s not the end for (half of) Earth’s Mightiest Heroes just yet.