Get your tissues ready! Although [The Avengers: Infinity War](tag:738027) films are a few years away, all signs are already pointing to three of the core heroes leaving the franchise forever. Marvel has an on-again-off-again relationship with death, as most of the characters who face a fatal end usually manage to get better somehow (Fury, Coulson, Loki... need I go on?). But there may be no escape for Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man, as the epic battle against Thanos takes its toll.
So what's the evidence? Are we really going to say goodbye to three Avengers? Kevin Feige has said that we should think of [Avengers: Infinity War - Part II](tag:2390833) as the "finale" to the epic 11 year arc that started in 2008's Iron Man. With a new Avengers lineup at the end of [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](tag:293035), and more characters waiting in the sidelines, it's understandable that Marvel wants to keep their stories fresh.
The First Avenger
Thanks to the comics, we know that Steve Roger's future is uncertain. There have been no confirmations yet, but [Captain America: Civil War](tag:994409) may see some big changes that casts the Cap's fate into doubt. Let me break it down for you. In the comics, Steve dies. Many tears are shed, and the Captain America legacy is continued first by Bucky Barnes, then by Sam Wilson. Of course, the Marvel Cinematic Universe does not always stick strictly to comic canon, but the brothers Russo, directors of the film, have been dropping some huge hints...
"[Bucky] has to get everyone on his side by the end of this movie, because his role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to get a lot bigger.”
I've already talked a lot about what conclusions we can draw about this, and exactly what Bucky's plot will be, so suffice to say, Captain America 3: Civil War will be a major game changer. (Read more about that here!) Moving on then, to "the real battle": Infinity War marks the last film in Chris Evans' contract. The actor has talked about moving on from Marvel once Infinity War is over. Could this mean the final end of Cap?
Man of Iron
Iron Man has been one of the lynch pins of the Avengers franchise: Iron Man 2 saw the introduction of Nicky Fury and Black Widow, and the superhero team was first mentioned when Fury invited Stark to join "the Avengers Initiative". Tony played a central role in both Avengers films: without Tony Stark, the Avengers' world would be a very different place.
Iron Man 3 showed us a different side of Tony Wracked with anxiety and suffering from PTSD after The Battle of New York, the hero's life is obviously wearing him down. The film ends by implying that Stark is done with being a hero and yet he returns to help his fellow Avengers in the next film... only to endanger them by creating Ultron. Tony's reasoning is very much motivated by fear, if not pure exhaustion: Ultron was supposed to be the Avengers' retirement plan. Who knows how the world could suffer if Tony doesn't catch a break soon?
Robert Downey Jr is also dropping hints that he may hang up the hero's suit. On the David Letterman show in May, Downey confirmed that the release date of Iron Man 4 is never. His contract is currently movie-to-movie, which frees him up for last minute appearances and cameos. However, it also means he could be axed at any time. And after many years in the spotlight, could Infinity War mean the end of Tony Stark? Death is possible, though Tony's character points squarely towards retirement.
Thor's fate is a little less clear. As with Civil War, [Thor: Ragnarok](tag:956858) is going to see some big changes to the MCU, with many of the Asgardians left dead or resurrected. Ragnarok does, after all, mean the end of days in Nordic mythology. And after a showdown with his brother Loki, Thor may end up in a "galactic prison". Chris Hemsworth has been confirmed to appear in Infinity War part 2, but his fate is uncertain. And again, the issue of contracts raises its head...
“I’m three films away from the end of my contract; I’ve got Avengers 3 and 4 and I’ve got Thor 3.”
Marvel may extend the actors' contracts, but is it likely?
A new era, a new team
Of course, it's possible we might get an Avengers team comprised of 16 heroes: Age of Ultron's additions to the team make 9, then we have to add all the solo movies coming soon, like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange. With Captain Marvel and Black Panther joining the team after their solo films in 2017/18, and the Winter Soldier in the mix too, the Avengers team are starting to look more like an army.
With their biggest stars' contracts about to run out, it's more likely that Marvel are planning to trim the fat and move ahead with a brand new Avengers team. After all, Infinity War is going to be a fierce battle, and to ensure we know the stake are high, there have to be sacrifices. With three of the founding Avengers gone, Marvel can move forward with fresh faces, and keep their stories interesting for another decade. All that's left is to wait and see, and appreciate our favourite heroes while we can!