Iron Man 3 opened in several overseas markets over the weekend and beat the international box office opening numbers of last summer’s The Avengers. The success is expected to continue as the first chapter of Phase Two opens in North America this Friday and it’s raising a lot questions about the future – in a good way – as fans and media poke and prod about where the unsigned Robert Downey Jr. and co. fit into the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Tony Stark is a critical part of The Avengers 2, and the sequel to the biggest opening film of all-time already has its first draft in place, writer and director Joss Whedon confirmed last week. He also dropped a major hint of two of the new characters joining the team in The Avengers 2 and chatted about one of the core villains fans are eager to see return.

In chatting with Desde Hollywood, Whedon explained why Earth’s Mightiest should be afraid of Thanos while also hinting at how the character may have a rather long-term role to play in the franchise.

“Well, Thanos is more powerful. He is so powerful he is not someone you can just try out and punch him. Like he did in the comics, you want him threading through the universe and to save the big finale for the big finale. He is definitely a part of what I have got going on.

The thing about The Avengers is that they are very powerful but not very stable. So, there will definitely be some people that will shake them up in the next installment.”

What is Thanos up to?

Assuming Thanos shows up in some capacity in both Guardians of the Galaxy as well as The Avengers 2 – as the character’s creator Jim Starlin indicated would be the case – that’s only two films, and not exactly “threading” the character known as the Mad Titan throughout the universe. From Whedon’s words about Thanos being “a part of” his script and plans for Phase Two, it’s a safe bet that Thanos isn’t the primary antagonist The Avengers battle in the sequel and rather, is a villain behind-the-scenes being saved for Phase Three and its final chapter, The Avengers 3. Thanos is simply too powerful and too important to just show up and be defeated that quickly.

Marvel President of Production Kevin Feige said as much last year in discussing the Thanos post-credits button at the end of The Avengers and planning the future:

“Clearly, there’s a purpose to us putting him in the end of that movie. We do have plans for him[…] I wouldn’t say we ever feel the need to rush anything one way or the other. We succeeded in Phase One because we stuck to our guns and stuck to the plan. That plan took place over many, many years and it ultimately paid off. I see Phase Two unfolding in the same way of us taking our time, us doing what’s right for each individual movie, while folding in elements that will not only build up to the culmination of Phase Two, but even Phase Three.”

The more interesting discussion is then determining who will threaten Earth in the next big team-up and how much of the film will delve into the cosmic story setup in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy versus staying grounded on Earth. With aliens attacking New York in The Avengers and Guardians serving as the lead-in before The Avengers 2, there will be ties between them and a strong otherworldly influence but we don’t yet know if that means the Cosmic Avengers will join Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man and Thor come time for 2015, or if that super team-up with Avengers, new and old, alongside the Guardians, is being saved for The Avengers 3.

Thanos & Death

What we do know is that bad things are going to happen to the team in 2015. The Avengers introduced the dynamic and put them together and in the sequel, Whedon has gone on record explaining that he wants to make it more personal, more “painful,” more emotional, and twist the knife, so to speak. He’s also teased the idea of “death” which works on several levels for fans of Marvel Comics. Knowing Whedon’s track record of storytelling, it’s expected that heroes will fall in The Avengers 2.

“The creation of the team is not the happy ending. It is the beginning of something that is complex and difficult, and now I get to dig a little deeper. And maybe, while I’m digging, just twist that knife. And that’s exciting for me.”

What villain(s) will cause this? How many characters will fight against Thanos in The Avengers 3? Will Joss Whedon write and direct beyond The Avengers 2?

Iron Man 3 releases May 3, 2013, Thor: The Dark World on November 8, 2013, Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014The Avengers 2 on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on November 6, 2015, and Doctor Strange sometime after that.

Let me know on Twitter @rob_keyes your theories on The Avengers 2!

Source: Desde Hollywood