Avengers: Infinity War saw Thanos snap his fingers and apparently kill half the life in the universe - but that may not have been the the case at all. In the MCU, the snap was Thanos' greatest accomplishment, the very reason he had gathered together the Infinity Stones in the first place. The Mad Titan believed that explosive population growth threatened to result in a universal extinction-level event. His insane "solution" was to kill off half of all living things in the cosmos. Shockingly, Thanos proved to be the one villain who truly succeeded in his goal, and in Avengers: Endgame, he died content.
In reality, Thanos' snap doesn't make sense at all. Thanos literally erased half the life in the universe - not just sentient beings, but half the plants, animals, and bacteria as well. He destabilized ecosystems across the entire universe, no doubt triggering environmental and ecological catastrophes, and depleted vital resources. Given that's the case, it wouldn't be a surprise if in reality Thanos had basically set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the extinction of all life. He believed he fought on the side of life, but in truth he was a champion of death. Fortunately, of course, the Avengers were able to put the matter to rights.
But how exactly did the snap work? Thanos himself believed he literally killed his victims, and in interviews the writers and directors of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame have used the same language. One subtle detail, however, suggests that may not be the case at all - and it has important implications for the end of Avengers: Endgame.
Doctor Strange Suggests The Snap Didn't Kill Anyone
Doctor Strange introduced the Masters of the Mystic Arts, and revealed that the Ancient One had served as the Time Stone's guardian for centuries. "I've spent so many years peering through time," the Ancient One told Stephen Strange, "I've prevented countless terrible futures. And after each one, there's always another, and they all lead here, but never further." The Ancient One had protected reality itself by using the Time Stone to explore countless alternate futures, identifying threats and working out how best to deal with them. It was the same trick Doctor Strange used in Avengers: Infinity War, when he identified the one timeline in which the Avengers ultimately triumphed, and began carefully orchestrating events so that timeline was the one that came true.
But according to the Ancient One, anyone who uses the Time Stone to explore the future will be unable to see past the moment of their death. Indeed, that was confirmed by Avengers: Endgame, when the Hulk attempted to take the Time Stone from her. Although the Ancient One knew that she was destined to be replaced by Doctor Strange, she had no idea the threat of Thanos was approaching, or that Strange would trigger an Endgame plan involving time travel.
In Avengers: Infinity War, Doctor Strange was able to use the Time Stone to see "all the possible outcomes of the coming conflict" - all 14,000,605 different futures. According to the Russo brothers, that includes timelines in which Scott Lang never escaped the Quantum Realm, and the Avengers never got the idea to use time travel to restore Thanos' victims. But in those timelines - and probably in the majority of those 14 million futures - Doctor Strange was never restored. So how was he able to see past his own death? Logically, if a person using the Time Stone can't see past their own death, but Doctor Strange could see all the futures that flowed from the snap, it must mean the snap didn't kill people at all. It did something else.
What Happened With The Snap?
Let's try to reconstruct what actually happened with the snap. The physical bodies of Thanos' snap victims were reduced to dust. That wasn't just a convenient special effect, either; look closely at the post-snap world of Avengers: Endgame, and you'll notice that the lighting levels are slightly darker. That fits perfectly with the idea that a massive amount of dust particles have been introduced into the atmosphere, and are preventing some of the sun's radiation reaching the planet. The lighting changes after the Hulk's snap, when Ant-Man looks at the birds, because that dust has been extracted again and used to reform Thanos' victims. (It then returns to a darker hue because Thanos' attack on the Avengers Compound kicks up a whole lot of dust in that local area.)
Meanwhile, in the MCU it's now clear that there is such a thing as an immortal soul; that's proven by the existence of the Ancestral Plane in Black Panther, which T'Challa can visit in order to interact with the spirits of his ancestors. Avengers: Endgame didn't so much as hint as to what happened to these souls; all that can be said for sure is that, for Peter Parker, there was no awareness of the passage of time. If that was true for Black Panther and Shuri as well, then it supports the theory that they weren't really dead, because otherwise T'Challa at least would have been on the Ancestral Plane during the five-year period. Some fans theorized that the souls were consumed by the Soul Stone, but that's unlikely, simply because the Soul Stone's destruction would have meant their souls would either have been released or gone for good, unable to be brought back - even by another snap. Another theory is that the souls were transported to the Quantum Realm, explaining why it was flooded with energy at the moment Thanos snapped his fingers.
Putting the pieces together, the most reasonable explanation is that the snap functioned akin to transporters in Star Trek. In Star Trek, a transporter converts a person or object on a molecular level, transforming them into an energy pattern. This energy pattern is stored in a memory buffer, then transmitted to another point, where it is converted back into matter. In the same kind of way, the snap appears to have deconstructed people right down to a molecular level. However, it seems to have stored details of their form somewhere, on some plane of reality - perhaps the Quantum Realm. That's why, when the Hulk snapped his fingers, people returned exactly as they were; their clothes reformed as well, the things they had in their pockets, even items as esoteric as Bucky's cybernetic arm or Falcon's wings. By this logic, nobody was truly killed when Thanos snapped his fingers; instead, they were shunted into a sort of cosmic cold storage, where they were held in stasis. This would neatly explain why Doctor Strange could see the ultimate outcome of all these 14 million different futures; because in all but one of them, he would remain in this strange form of stasis forever.
This Also Means That Thanos Is Still Alive
So far this seems like nothing more than an interesting theory, of no practical importance to the MCU. In actual fact, though, if the snap didn't kill people at all, then that has massive implications for the future of the MCU. Because it means Thanos and his armies aren't really dead at all.
Avengers: Endgame ended with Tony Stark stealing the Infinity Stones from Thanos, and forming his own Infinity Gauntlet. He snapped his own fingers, sacrificing himself to turn Thanos and his armies to dust. It's clearly intended to be a direct parallel with the snap Thanos subjected to the entire cosmos to, and notice that it involves the disintegration of everything loyal to the Mad Titan - and even of the wreckage of his Sanctuary-II spacecraft. Presumably even the bodies of fallen Chitauri and Outriders crumbled away. But if this is indeed a parallel of the first snap, then it means Thanos, too, isn't truly dead; like his original victims, he has simply been disintegrated, with his pattern stored on some other plane of reality.
If this is the case, then there's no reason to assume Thanos is gone for good from the MCU. It's entirely possible that, somewhere in the depths of space, some alien races studied into the science behind the snap and worked out what had happened - even managing to reverse it. Doctor Strange, after all, focused only on events on Earth and Titan, meaning he'd have been unaware of what was happening in the distant corners of the cosmos. That in turn means there's no reason someone couldn't successfully work out how to bring Thanos himself out of this cosmic cold storage.
The truth is that this probably wasn't intentional; it's the kind of oversight that inevitably slips in when a franchise has been running for over a decade, albeit quite a dramatic example. And yet, from an in-universe perspective, the logic is sound. The Time Stone has specific constraints, and those force us to interpret the various snaps of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame in a way they probably weren't intended to be interpreted. And that logically raises the possibility that Thanos could return.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019