Are We Seeing the Ripples of Time-Travel?
Neither of these theories really feels satisfactory. The first doesn't explain Thanos's specific dialogue, in which he suggests he is "cursed with knowledge." The second, while more complex, doesn't really have any supporting evidence - not even a glow around the Soul Stone. So neither of these explanations quite fits the facts.
There is another possibility, though. What if Thanos has actually met Tony Stark before? There's strong evidence that Avengers 4 explores the idea of time-travel, with the surviving Avengers traveling back to the past. As such, it's entirely possible that Thanos could have met a future Tony Stark. That would fit with the snarl of fury in Thanos's voice when he recognizes Stark's face. Meanwhile, it would also explain why Thanos didn't recognize Tony in his armor; none of the set photos suggesting time-travel have actually featured Tony in the Iron Man suit. Going one step further, this may well explain why Thanos snarls, "I hope they remember you." Perhaps he already knows when Stark will finally die - because he's seen it happen?
The fundamental problem with this theory, though, is it doesn't quite match up with the MCU's model of temporal physics. So far, all evidence seems to suggest that traveling to the past creates a new timeline. So, for example, let's say that Ant-Man travels to the Battle of New York, and takes the Mind Stone - that would create a new timeline, one in which the Mind Stone disappears, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff are never granted their powers, and neither Ultron nor Vision is ever created. If the MCU stays true to the comics, though, there's strong evidence the time-traveler could still return to their own timeline; that was proven in the classic X-Men story Days of Future Past. Assuming Marvel aims to use a consistent model of temporal physics, any encounter between Stark and Thanos should create another branch in the timeline.
But it's important to remember that the MCU - like the comics - doesn't exactly handle its pseudo-science in a consistent manner. Just look at the Pym Particles: does a person retain their mass when they shrink, or not? Some scenes suggest they do, with Ant-Man cracking a paving stone when he drops to the ground. Others suggest they don't, with Hank Pym carrying a tank on his key-chain or wheeling a shrunken building away. The MCU is scientifically consistent, right up until the moment it isn't. There's no reason to assume Marvel would take a different approach with time-travel.
Ultimately, we still don't know how Thanos knew Tony Stark. Avengers: Infinity War doesn't explain that single line of dialogue, and frankly every single theory has major issues. The time-travel theory at least fits with the little we know of Avengers 4, but it still raises some disturbing paradoxes. Whatever the truth may be, hopefully it will be revealed in next year's sequel.
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019