Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
After last year's decidedly Earth-bound all-star superhero smackdown Captain America: Civil War and a reality-bending jaunt through the Dark Dimension and beyond in Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 rockets fans back into outer space in grand fashion. Writer-director James Gunn's follow up to his 2014 blockbuster that put the universe in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Vol. 2 brings more laughs, more music, and wraps it all up in a colorful starburst of action and a heartwarming theme of forging family connections. Now that fans of the MCU are back in space, however, we are also inclined to gaze into the never-ending void and ponder the possibilities of what's next.
Specifically, how does Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 set up the epic cosmic confrontation with Thanos to come in next year's Avengers: Infinity War?
Though it may be the latest movie offering from Marvel Studios, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is actually a throwback to the recent past. Marvel's Phase 2 and 3 movies unfold in real time, with the events of each movie more or less taking place on or around the month the movie is released in theaters. The first Guardians of the Galaxy took place in August, 2014. Vol. 2 is set only a few months after the original film, so on Earth it's still 2014 in the new movie's time frame. If we were to follow Uatu the Watcher's gaze to Earth at the time of Vol. 2, the Avengers are still months away from fighting Ultron in Sokovia and Thor realizing the Avengers have encountered several of the Infinity Stones.
Thanos (Josh Brolin), the Mad Titan who is the ultimate menace the Marvel movies have been building towards all along, is absent from Vol. 2 after sending Ronan the Accuser to acquire the Power Stone (the Orb) for him in the first Guardians. However, Thanos' impact looms large, especially in regards to two of his victims: his "daughters" Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). Both were abducted by Thanos from their separate planets and raised by the Mad Titan as "sisters" by setting them against each other in brutal combat to make them both the most deadly women in the universe.
As revealed in Vol. 2, Gamora won every single conflict and, with each defeat, Thanos abused Nebula, carving out parts of her body including her eyes and her brain and replacing them with machinery. Nebula blamed both Thanos and Gamora for her horrific life, and although she ultimately comes to an understanding and a detente with her sister in Vol. 2, Nebula refuses Gamora's offer to remain with her as a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Nebula instead chooses to hunt down and kill Thanos, despite Gamora's warning: "I don't think it can be done." Nebula is sure play a role in Infinity War when the Guardians and the Avengers finally confront Thanos - Nebula's fans can only hope finally confronting her father doesn't end in tragedy for her.
The Guardians are expected to meet up with the Avengers in outer space and participate in some hotly anticipated team ups, but Infinity War is first and foremost an Avengers movie. By Chris Pratt's own admission, the Guardians are only playing a supporting role in Infinity War. As Pratt says:
“We definitely will have a strong presence, but we are playing supporting cast – you know what I mean? We’re there to help them tell an awesome Infinity War story. But Guardians is cosmic. It is its own special off-shoot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.”
With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Gunn decided to leave the heavy lifting of setting up Infinity War to the other Marvel movies, like the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok. However, Ego's attempt to use a seed he planted in Missouri back in 1980 to merge the Earth into himself saw that seed morph into an amorphous blob of energy that solidified when Ego was killed by the Guardians. Did the Avengers become aware of that incident in Missouri and the cosmic ramifications of it?
No Infinity Stones are in Vol. 2 except for a brief mention of how Ego found Star-Lord because he heard Peter Quill was able to hold the Power Stone/Orb without dying. This revealed Quill to be half-Celestial and the son of Ego. If Ego could locate Quill, there's no reason Thanos couldn't either. There remains no mention of the Aether, which is the Reality Stone the Asgardians deposited with the Collector in the end credits of Thor: The Dark World, and which went missing when the Collector's museum on Knowhere was destroyed in the first Guardians of the Galaxy.
A fascinating possibility teased in one of the five end credits scenes in Vol. 2 revolves around the mysterious "Adam." In Vol. 2, the Guardians run afoul of the Sovereign, a snobby race of genetically engineered golden beings. The Sovereign spend the bulk of Vol. 2 hunting the Guardians and trying to kill them. Despondent after her failures to do so, the Sovereign High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) decides to engineer a new breed of Sovereign to kill the Guardians. In the birthing pod glimpsed in the scene is the new creation, whom she names Adam. The Adam in question is expected to be Adam Warlock.
In "The Infinity Gauntlet" comics, Adam Warlock is a genetically-engineered golden-skinned rival of Thanos who played a pivotal role in uniting Earth's superheroes and wresting the Infinity Gauntlet from the Mad Titan. He later wore the Infinity Gauntlet himself, and an evil alternate version of Warlock called the Magus was the villain in "The Infinity War," the comics' sequel. If Warlock isn't being saved specifically to appear in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, he could make his MCU debut in the Infinity War movie.
In their attempt to space jump to Ego's planet to rescue their fellow Guardians, Rocket, Groot and Yondu accidentally set their ship The Quadrant to space jump 750 times across the entire Multiverse. Vol. 2 showed us tantalizing glimpses of several unidentified planets and alien races in the MCU - all of which are subject to annihilation if Thanos uses the Infinity Gauntlet to wipe out half the universe from existence as he did in the comics. In addition, one of the alien races seen during the Quadrant's space jumps was the Watchers, who were being regaled by their informant (Stan Lee) with tales of his various cameos observing Earth's superheroes. Earth's Watcher, Uatu, is reportedly not among that gathering of his brethren, but Uatu was certainly present observing Thanos in "The Infinity Gauntlet" comics, and Uatu could make his proper MCU debut in Infinity War.
After fans soak up this summer's intergalactic fun with the Guardians, our next jaunt across the Marvel cosmos will be in November when a couple of 'friends from work,' Thor and the Hulk, team up in Thor: Ragnarok. That film is expected to both finally reveal the location of the sixth and final Infinity Stone, the Soul Stone, and lay the groundwork for the Guardians and the Avengers meeting in outer space in Infinity War. And by the time Infinity War rolls around, it'll be four years later for the Guardians since Vol. 2, which begs the question: just how big will Groot be?