Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS ahead for Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Infinity War's final act includes a shocking moment in which Doctor Strange willingly hands over the Time Stone to Thanos, thereby sealing the universe's terrible fate. However, it's safe to say that the man who outfoxed Dormammu probably has a few tricks up his sleeve. Before he fades from existence, Strange says that handing over the Time Stone was the only way to ensure a victory over Thanos, and we'll presumably see his plan come to fruition in Avengers 4 - even in he's not there to orchestrate it personally.
So, if Doctor Strange deliberately lost a battle in order to win the war, how exactly will the rest of the war play out?
Why Doctor Strange Really Gives Up The Time Stone
Doctor Strange proved in his solo movie that he has a talent for scheming, and specifically for tricking incredibly powerful beings into thinking they've won, only to reveal that they've stepped right into his trap. In Doctor Strange, the sorcerer smuggled a time loop into the Dark Dimension so that no matter how many times Dormammu killed him, he would simply return with his refrain, "Dormammu, I've come to bargain." It would not be at all surprising if Avengers 4 revealed that Doctor Strange pulled a similar trick on Thanos: pretending to surrender the Time Stone in exchange for Tony Stark's life, when really he knew he needed to give the Stone to Thanos, and just needed a plausible reason to do so.
Related: Avengers: Infinity War Review
If Doctor Strange's goal was to get Thanos to let his guard down, he succeeded. At the end of the movie, we see Thanos finally retiring, content in the belief that he has brought balance to the universe by wiping out half of all the people in it. With Thanos no longer vigilant, the way is clear for the Avengers to undo the damage he has done. Unfortunately, the one guy they know who is capable of manipulating time is gone, along with the artifact that he used to manipulate it, so how can the remaining Avengers possibly undo Thanos' act of mass destruction?
What Is the Endgame?
The most obvious solution is for the Avengers to track down the Infinity Gauntlet and use it to turn back time and/or bring back the people who have disappeared. Of course, few are powerful enough to wield one Infinity Stone - let alone six - but Infinity War's end-credits teaser heralded the arrival of Captain Marvel, who might just be strong enough to use the Gauntlet.
Thanos is set to return as the main villain of Avengers 4, but given that he's now living a quiet life out in the countryside, there needs to be a catalyst for him to return to his old ways. The Avengers stealing the Infinity Gauntlet back from him, threatening to destroy what Thanos considers to be his greatest work, would certainly be a good reason for the Mad Titan to come out of retirement.
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