Warning! The following contains spoilers for the entire MCU to date, including Avengers: Age of Ultron.
I've always been the kind of story fan that loves to try and figure out the ending part way through and see how close I can get. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been amazing so far. It's been keeping us guessing at every turn and it's captured our hearts and imaginations. I swear, I nearly teared up when Iron Man blasted his repulsor off Cap's shield in the first Avengers film. I remembered the great moments reading about the beginnings of the Avengers when I was a kid. Over the last few years, we've been absorbing the new MCU storyline, trying to predict the outcome of each movie. Since Thanos is the main continuous thing in all of the Marvel films to date, I've been working on a pretty good layout of Thanos' plans, goals, and history through the Infinity War and the end of Phase 3. If you take all the films into account as one big story, you can see certain patterns starting to develop. Let's start at the beginning.
We have the 6 Infinity Stones, and we have the Infinity Gauntlet. As far back as we can go for the MCU storyline is this. About 5000 years ago, the Asgardians fight the Dark Elves over the Aether and win. They hide the Aether away somewhere that no one could find it. About 4000 years later early in the Middle Ages, an alien being brings the Tessaract to Earth to hide it. So these would be the Reality stone (the Aether) and the Power stone (the Tessaract).
After the events of Captain America the Tessaracts general location would be known to Thanos. In my mind, he would recognize this opportunity and start paying attention to the events on earth. He already has the Mind Stone in the scepter he will later give to Loki. The Space Stone is in SHIELD's possession and he's closing in on the location of the Power Stone which is hidden in an orb on an unknown dead planet. He knows that the Reality Stone is tied to the approaching Convergence, and that it's location will be revealed soon. He could use the Tessaract to find the Aether, but it's still lost on earth. Since the Tessaract had been used by Red Skull, he's noticed it's energy signature using the Mind Stone because the Stones are sensitive to each other. He knows the planet, he just doesn't know exactly where or quite how to get it. He also knows the only 2 races in our universe that will be looking for the Reality Stone at the time of the Convergence are the Asgardians or the Dark Elves. He's now over half-way there. He just needs to acquire the Space stone before the Convergence without anyone knowing it's him to kick things off.
He needs to buy his time and proceed carefully. If the Nova Corps or the Kree realize his plans, they would surely throw everything they have at him. Suddenly Loki literally falls into his lap fresh from his defeat on the Byfrost. Thanos offers to give Loki the scepter and control of his Chitauri warriors. He doesn't tell him what the Scepter is and in exchange for earth he wants its return along with the Tessaract. Unknowingly using the Mind Stone, Loki starts his war against SHIELD and the Avengers. The Tessaract ends up going back to Odin's vault, and the scepter becomes lost although it's known to be on earth.
After Loki's defeat at the hands of the Avengers, Thanos starts to get desperate. The only single Stone with enough power to take the others is the Power Stone, and it so happens it's also the only one Thanos can acquire easily. The Power Stone is the one hidden in the vault StarLord steals in the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy. As we know, Thanos dispatched Ronan to retrieve it. The two had just recently come to an alliance following the peace treaty between the Kree and Xandar, or the Nova Empire. Somehow, the Ravagers had learned of someone important wanting it, and decided to steal it before Ronan's men got there. Since Thanos felt the need to keep Ronan from knowing what it was, Ronan thought this was something below him, and sent his underlings. Then unfold the events of Guardians, and the stone ends up in Nova's care.
We already know the story of the Reality Stone. Hidden for centuries from the Dark Elves somewhere in the galaxy. Malekith, leader of the Dark Elves, says wants the Aether to create a new darkness across the universe. So we at least have an idea of what the Reality Stone does. At the end of [Thor: The Dark World](tag:206462), we see Malekith destroyed and the Reality Stone in the hands of the Asgardians. The Reality Stone is then given to the Collector for safe keeping and to keep the Infinity Stones apart. Now comes a pivotal theory.
The Collector is working for Thanos.
Who else would the Mad Titan employ? He knows that all unique things eventually either reach the collectors hands or his gaze. The Infinity Stones would be the pinnacle of his accomplishments. To own the 6 oldest and most powerful objects in the known universe. When Lady Sif brought the collector the Reality Stone, he says '1 down, 5 to go'. The Collector shows his reverence of the Power Stone when the Guardians bring it to him. It's also specified that the Guardians have no idea what he'd do with it or who he was acquiring it for. He's no fool. Thanos would have no plans to separate the Stones from each other again, which is the Collector's whole purpose. He would help Thanos just for the opportunity to see them assembled together. I have a feeling that Taneleer Tivan will be making a much larger impact on the Infinity War. With his nearly unlimited resources and his particular skill set, he's the perfect candidate to help hunt down the remaining Stones. Plus anyone that's read the Marvel comics in the past knows that the Collector has a habit of consorting with the worst in the galaxy.
And now here comes Ultron. With the events of [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](tag:293035) finally out, we can see where this is going. We discover that Loki's scepter from the original Avengers film in fact houses the 4th Infinity Stone, the Mind Stone. It's used to create Ultron indirectly, which is why Ultron goes insane. Used to its full power the Mind Stone empowers the ultimate body Ultron created for himself. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner fuse the intelligence of the Stone with Jarvis, and the Vision is created. With the Mind Stone at the center of his forehead, it now has a new protector. Plus there is now a permanent Infinity Stone located on earth that nobody is in a rush to take, save Thanos.
That makes the current locations of the stones:
Tessaract (Space Stone) Located in Odin's Vault
Aether (Reality Stone) Located in the Collector's vault
Mind Stone Located on Vision's forehead
Power Stone Located in Nova's vault
Time Stone Location Unknown
Soul Stone Location Unknown
So, given all that, here's what I see as an endgame in 10 steps.
1. Thanos neither has the last 2 stones, nor knows their locations
Why else would the Collector say 5 to go? If Thanos has the last 2, then it would have been 2 to go. Plus if he had the other Stones, he would have long before made a play for the ones he doesn't have. Plus in the AoU after credits Easter Egg, we clearly see the Infinity Gauntlet sockets empty.
2. Thanos has decided to come out of the shadows
Until now, he's been playing the long game. Using underlings and puppets to do his work like chess. The only ties shown so far are Ronan who's now dead and can't betray him, and Loki who's been hiding in Asgard playing Odin. It's doubtful that Loki knows anything of Thanos' true ambitions. Nobody except for possibly the Collector could know his true intentions. Thor is beginning to suspect someone is playing this long game, but the who is unknown. This could play into Thor: Ragnarok. We can expect to see a much more aggressive role to Thanos in the upcoming films.
3. Time to find #5
The best assumption I can make is that it will be introduced in one of the many origin films Marvel has planned. Those would be Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, or Spider-Man. I doubt it will be in the Ant Man origin film nor would it really fit into a Spider-Man film. That leaves Doctor Strange, which would be fitting. They've rushed a bit of the story so far. Now Marvel has the daunting task of making the locations of the final 2 stones come over a 3 year period. Doctor Strange is well known for housing and protecting a number of powerful artifacts as the Sorcerer Supreme. To find the Time or Soul Stone in his collection would be logical. My money is on the Time Stone.
4. His play for the last Stone will draw the Avengers and Guardians together
The Guardians will more than likely encounter Thanos again while he's trying to find the remaining Stone. They'll also be searching out the last Infinity Stone (nothing like a space race!), possibly finding it. Now the hunted will become the hunter. Thanos (or one of his henchmen) will be after the Guardians for the newly found Stone. Although they defeated Ronan and will probably beat whatever new bad is in the 2nd film (probably Nebula), they know that Thanos is another matter. They'll need help. One loose tie we still have in the Guardians storyline is Peter Quill’s father. I have a theory that could tie Thor to StarLords father, if somewhat indirectly.
6. We Learn How StarLord’s Father Ties to the Story
The Tessaract is mentioned in Captain America: the First Avenger as the Jewel of Odin's Treasure Room. This implies that it was in Odin's possession preceding it's coming to earth. In the church where Red Skull finds it, it's hidden behind a carving of Yggdrasil, the Asgardian name for the Tree of Life (which Loki almost destroyed in Thor). This hints that the Cosmic Cube (shout out to anyone that remembers THAT name for it) was brought to earth by an Asgardian, but why? It would be safer in Odin’s vault. If you're trying to tie a movie universe together you need something for continuity. We don't know much about StarDad, but we know that he came to earth, possibly more than once over the centuries. We know he's an ancient and powerful being, as found out by Nova. Peter Quill has a natural knack for thievery so we presume his father did also. So, the Tessaract, stolen from the vaults of Odin by StarLords father, finds its way to earth where he hides it away during the Middle Ages. The monks of that time, realizing it was the jewel they had heard of in tales told by the Asgardians to the Norse, hid the cube with a clue to that truth in the Yggdrasil carving. SL's father come back to earth searching for it sometime after WW2 and the loss of the Tessaract in the Arctic, and eventually meets his mother, and the story goes on. After the Guardians find this out, they seek out the Asgardians looking for answers. The meeting will likely take place towards the end of the film, possibly even the after-credits Easter Egg. This introduces the Guardians to the Avengers.
5. Thanos will destroy Asgard to retrieve the Space Stone
With the Guardians in possession of the final Stone and Thanos hot on their heels, they reach Asgard looking for help and answers at the end of Guardians 2. If Thanos is smart at this point, he’d back off. Unknown to our heroes, though, he has an ace in the hole, so to speak. You see, Marvel is going to have to kick off Infinity War with a huge bang. In the movie series business, a big bang is unknown info. A HUGE bang is a massive defeat. This will be Marvel’s version of The Empire Strikes Back, with a great blow to our heroes morale (such as the farm scene in AoU). Well, two actually.
6. Loki will be directly responsible for Thanos invading Asgard
Loki still owes him. Thanos discovers Loki's illusion. Even though the mischievous Asgardian/Jotun is in complete power in Asgard, he's not the AllFather. So far, he hasn't even been able to defeat his adopted brother, let alone protect Asgard. Thanos being the master strategist he is will take advantage of the favor owed to him by Loki. Not only did Loki fail in retrieving the Tessaract, but lost the Mind Stone in the process. This leaves Asgard vulnerable and Thanos has an inside man. He will more than likely send his armies to battle with the Asgardians, but someone is going to have to defeat Thor. Thanos will be there himself, ready to take on the thunder god in a great action climax.
7. The Collector will reveal his loyalties
Whether this happens in Thor: Ragnarok or the first Infinity War I'm not sure. It would probably be in Ragnarok. It would be a great twist to kick off the war. Thanos and Thor going at it, and as his ultimate weapon he unleashes the power of the Reality Stone on Asgard. The Reality Stone would twist it into the dark Hell that Thor saw in his AoU vision and what Malekith had intended for the universe. The loss of one of the most powerful races on the side of light. This is the final blow that brings all of our heroes together to fight Thanos, his minions, and the Infinity Gauntlet across the galaxy.
8. Thanos will go after the Mind Stone last
Vision, while never being one of the main or even more popular Avengers characters, is always the one in the middle of the worst of it. This one’s tricky. It may be that Vision will be killed, culminating in the completion of the Infinity Gauntlet. Perhaps Vision will be essential in stopping the Mad Titan from his ultimate goal of destroying the universe. Taking the Mind Stone will assuredly kill Vision, so I truly believe that Marvel will want this to be the pivotal idea in the final Infinity Wars film. For the final film, we’ll have the additions of Captain Marvel and Black Panther.
9. Another great origin film
T’Challa will be easily introduced after the mention of Wakanda in AoU. I don’t think Black Panther will have a ton to do with the actual story of the Infinity War, but he’ll definitely be involved in the fight. I have a feeling his film will remind us of the earlier Iron Man and Captain America origins. A lot of character development and back story, with a final conclusion leading to him joining the Avengers (probably the New Avengers).
10. Captain Marvel retains her comic origin
Since the Carol Danvers Captain Marvel was originally a genetic combination of human and Kree, I don’t see any reason to change her basic origin as such. Having her just pop into the mix wouldn't be quite right either. We’ve already seen that Thanos likes to ‘adopt’ daughters and turn them into living weapons. He would need a new champion after losing first Loki, The Other, Ronan, Gamora, and presumably Nebula. He would be impressed with all the trouble the puny humans have caused him. Ronan impressively used the Power Stone. He needs someone to take on Vision while he focuses on destroying the Guardians and the remaining Avengers. He kidnaps poor Carol Danvers, experiments on her, and turns her into Captain Marvel. Thus the film will be more of a redemption story as she battles her own humanity and her new reprogramming. It would be a first true origin within the story film, wrapping things up nicely just before the final confrontation.
Now, these are speculations, but from not only a fan viewpoint but a cinematic one it flows. It’s fitting with Marvel’s current story within a series process. It also fits what we’ve heard about actor’s contracts. Several of the A-list Avengers (like what I did there?) will be leaving after just 2-3 more films. Some aren’t even contracted for any more solo films. I love to try to figure out where this story is going. What does everyone else think?