Marvel's Avengers in 2012 took comic readers on quite a ride, specifically at the end of the film as the credits began to roll. Not only did Earth's Mightiest defeat an alien invasion of New York, we learned that the leader behind the attack was one of Marvel Comics' most notable villains of all-time: Thanos.
Thanos returned in a larger role (this time with a voice thanks to Josh Brolin) in Guardians of the Galaxy, a film that built upon the revelation of aliens and other worlds in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and told an all-cosmic tale. In a few years, after Captain America: Civil War begins a new phase for the MCU, the cosmic and Earth-based brands will collide as Thanos begins the Infinity War in the third and fourth Avengers movies. And he won't be doing it alone.
Speaking with Vulture during the Avengers: Age of Ultron press junket over the weekend, Joss Whedon spoke about the role of Thanos so far in the MCU and how he's (obviously) not going to be alone.
"A lot of people were surprised that Thanos wasn't the villains in Avengers 2, but he was never meant to be. He was always meant to be the puppet-master until he was done doing that, and then he'll be the big villain they face off with. Not solely - I'm sure there'll be plenty more [villains] in that monstrous epic, because one thing Marvel doesn't do is string a story out into two movies that shouldn't be two movies. They'll give you two big movies. I feel like we got two movies into this one!"
It's important to put this conversation in context since it touches on a few other things said over the weekend. Firstly, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige explained that Avengers: Infinity War, although split into two "parts" really are two separate, full movies, and that since there are so many connective threads they wanted to try something new in the naming. Secondly, Whedon is responsible for introducing Thanos in Avengers in the first place, launching the character's career of villainy, and as Whedon took the job of helping oversee Phase 2 of the larger franchise, he wanted Thanos held back (minimizing his role in Guardians of the Galaxy). That's why he's not the villain of Age of Ultron. He's still pulling the strings in the background.
Whedon is passing the reins to Cap 2 & 3 directors Anthony and Joe Russo for the next Avengers films however, so Whedon unfortunately won't be making a movie where Thanos is one of the leads.
So, when Thanos finally dominates the screen and comes face-to-face with Marvel's movie heroes, who will fight with him?
Who Fights For Thanos?
If Thanos is on his way to Earth (via movie theaters) in 2018-19, he'll likely be leading a fleet of alien starships, not too dissimilar to his attack on Earth during Jonathan Hickman's Infinity event in Marvel Comics that ran throughout 2013. In that event, the Avengers leave Earth to join an interstellar alliance in an attempt to protect the galaxy from a new, powerful threat known as the Builders (the creators of the universe) and Thanos takes advantage of the distraction and leads an attack on Earth (to kill his last known child) with a wide variety of mercenaries and space pirates.
In that story, he has not only a large fleet, but an elite inner circle of top-tier supervillains known as the Black Order (Corvus Glaive, Black Dwarf, Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight, and Supergiant). These violent and powerful villains provide one option for Marvel Studios to give Thanos' some memorable minions and it gives Earth's heroes plenty of opportunity for various skirmishes (in the comics, these guys attack various spots on Earth, from New York to Black Panther's homeland of Wakanda).
The more likely option however is looking further into the Marvel Comics history for inspiration, back to the original Thanos Quest and Infinity Gauntlet miniseries where Thanos first acquires the six Infinity Gems, then assembles the Infinity Gaunlet, becoming the most powerful being in the universe to impress the one he loves: Death (a personified being in the Marvel universe). From what we've seen throughout Phase 2 and the introduction of The Collector (Benicio del Toro) and Thanos' adopted daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan), these characters will likely be factors and the other villains could include returning characters already familiar to Marvel movie fans.
And let's not forget. Gamora(Zoe Saldana) and Nebula are not the only adopted kids of Thanos - there's another we've not yet met...
The Familiar Antagonists
Hydra is still at play in the franchise and so it's possible Red Skull can make a return. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) may still be up to no good after the events of Thor: Ragnarok and fans would love to see him share the screen with Thanos. Maybe even the "real Mandarin" can be developed for Iron Man fans. There's no telling just yet, but expect much of what you've seen from Phases 1-3 to be at play in the two-part Avengers: Infinity War with elements from modern Marvel Comics events (like the aforementioned Infinity event and its followup, Inhumanity) being saved for later Phases of the MCU after the Inhumans movie in 2019.
That doesn't mean all the villains will be on the same side, but during the ultimate showdown, you can expect all sorts of baddies to take advantage of the situation.
Who would you like to see appear in Avengers: Infinity War?
Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” stars Robert Downey Jr., who returns as Iron Man, along with Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk. Together with Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, and with the additional support of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine, Cobie Smulders as Agent Maria Hill and Stellan Skarsgård as Erik Selvig, the team must reassemble to defeat James Spader as Ultron, a terrifying technological villain hell-bent on human extinction. Along the way, they confront two mysterious and powerful newcomers, Wanda Maximoff, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and Pietro Maximoff, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and meet an old friend in a new form when Paul Bettany becomes Vision.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron releases in theaters on May 1 2015, followed by Ant-Man on July 17 2015, Captain America: Civil War on May 6 2016, Doctor Strange on November 4 2016, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on May 5 2017, Spider-Man on July 28, 2017, Thor: Ragnarok on November 3 2017, Avengers: Infinity War - Part 1 on May 4 2018, Black Panther on July 6 2018, Captain Marvel on November 2 2018, Avengers: Infinity War - Part 2 on May 3 2019 and Inhumans on July 12, 2019.