Blink and you'll miss it, but Captain America: The First Avenger is the first MCU movie to hint at the approach of Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods as seen in Thor: Ragnarok. In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is the End of Days, an apocalyptic prophecy of terrifying conflict that will see the gods die and the Realms plunge into darkness.
There's a sense in which the impending Ragnarok is the overarching theme of the entire Thor trilogy. Just as the laws of entropy inevitably mean the universe is moving towards heat death, so the cosmos advances towards Ragnarok. Loki's every action simply accelerates the journey; in the aftermath of Thor, the Bifrost is shattered and the Nine Realms are left in chaos without Asgard's protection. In Thor: The Dark World, Asgard has barely started putting matters to right before Loki secretly claims the throne, and Asgard's forces retreat to let their enemies grow in power. Finally, in Thor: Ragnarok Thor realizes the destruction of Asgard is inevitable and frees Surtur to do the deed.
However, the first reference to Ragnarok isn't in one of the Thor films at all: it's in Captain America: The First Avenger. The film begins in a scene set in Tronsberg, Norway, where the Red Skull raids a Norse cult who have been protecting the Tesseract for millennia. He swiftly works out where the Tesseract is hidden, examining a carving of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. At the foot of Yggdrasil is a snake, which Schmidt is the switch to unlock a hidden container that holds the Tesseract. The snake is a reference to Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, a creature that is intimately tied to the legend of Ragnarok. In the apocalyptic visions foretold by the Vikings, the Serpent would ultimately rise from the depths of the oceans and trigger the end of the world. One of its most fearsome enemies is Thor and, naturally, this is a myth the Thor comics have enjoyed exploring on occasion. Concept art has shown the Russo brothers even considered using Jormungand in Avengers: Infinity War, in one version of Thor's quest.
In thematic terms, this suggests the Norse cultists believed that the Tesseract was tied to Ragnarok, and that it would somehow bring about the End of Days. There's a sense in which they're right, depending on how you define "End of Days"; had the Tesseract's location never been discovered, Thanos would have been unable to find all the Infinity Stones and erase half the life in the universe with a snap of his fingers. When the Red Skull chose to press that snake's eye, and to reveal the Tesseract, he set history down a path towards pain and loss on a cosmic scale. Where Thor: Ragnarok was the Twilight of the Gods, the cliffhanger ending of Avengers: Infinity War saw the whole universe descend into darkness.
It's important to remember that Marvel's plans have changed somewhat since 2011. When they filmed Captain America: The First Avenger, they didn't even expect the Tesseract to be an Infinity Stone at all; it's modeled on the Cosmic Cube, a reality-manipulating artifact from the comics. But Marvel pivoted, the Tesseract became an Infinity Stone, and this brief moment in a 2011 film became smart foreshadowing of the End of Days.
- 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 05, 2019