It should go without saying that Avengers: Infinity War is going to be massive. It’s the culmination of everything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, paying off ten years and fourteen movies worth of set-up in a production that a recent report suggests will cost a whopping $400 million. And that’s nothing on the sheer number of characters it's juggling. Last year, comments from directors the Russo brothers suggested there could be as many as 67, and even taking those statements as hyperbolic you can definitely expect a large cast, as the members of at least six different sub-franchises team up to take on Josh Brolin’s Thanos.
It’s amazing to think that anyone else could be added to an incredibly stacked roster, but never tell Marvel something is impossible; the latest rumors surrounding the film suggest that Peter Dinklage is in talks for a major role in both Infinity War and the untitled Avengers 4. Getting the best actor working in television (he got an Emmy nom for his performance in the latest season of Game of Thrones despite spending most of it doing nothing but drinking and knowing things) would be a major coup for the MCU's crowning gem, but it does lead that always-delectable casting question: who is he playing?
A lot of suggestions have been bandied about since the story broke. One of the most commonly stated is Pip the Troll, the work of Thanos-creator and all-round cosmic mastermind Jim Starlin, who played a key role in the original Infinity Gauntlet arc (not that Marvel are ever that faithful to source narratives - see Civil War). There's also Uatu The Watcher, the overseer of Earth who has strong links to Doctor Strange and Infinity Gauntlet (although, because he was introduced in Fantastic Four comics, it's not known whether Marvel or Fox own the movie rights to the character).
Of course, those make the assumption of Dinklage being cast based on his stature, which isn't necessarily the case - it definitely wasn't in his previous flirtation with the superhero genre, X-Men: Days of Future Past, with his take on Bolivar Trask different to both the comic iteration and the Bill Duke version seen in The Last Stand. With that in mind, there's scope for him playing a much wider range of characters - perhaps even Him himself, Adam Warlock, who was (potentially) teased in The Collector's museum in Thor: The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy.
It's also possible the mystery role is in fact set-up for a bigger part in one of the standalone movies. Captain Marvel comes out a year after Avengers 3, so he may be laying groundwork for Brie Larson's debut a la Andy Serkis as Klaue in Age of Ultron ahead of a presumed meatier role in Black Panther. And it's worth mentioning that they still haven't cast J. Jonah Jameson yet - in lieu of bringing back J.K. Simmons, getting Tyrion Lannister is sure to be a fan-pleasing move; we know he has the dramatic chops and Elf exemplified his quick-fire delivery (which was, coincidentally, made by Iron Man director and Happy Hogan actor Jon Faverau).
However, all of these theories miss a key piece of evidence: this isn't the first time that Dinklage has been mentioned in relation to the MCU. When discussing the plans for Captain America 2 back in 2011, screenwriter Christopher Markus (who is, crucially, one half of the writing team for Infinity War) said that MODOK was the villain he most wanted to appear and the actor he had in mind was none other than Dinklage:
“I love MODOK and I think you could make a terrifying movie with MODOK but nobody seems to be on my side at the momentum… I will win you over to Peter Dinklage as MODOK. If he came around the corner and you saw him floating there you would be terrified. It would be amazing.”
This obviously never came to pass - Cap 2's villains were Alexander Pierce and the Winter Soldier, with robotic support provided by a computerised version of Arnim Zola - but Markus wasn't ready to let go of the character just yet, bringing him up multiple times in interviews during the early stages of work on Captain America: Civil War and lamenting how he couldn't convince the other creatives:
"There are people that I’m always wanting to bring in. I want to put MODOK into something, but you can’t just drop a giant floating head in! It’s not like “Oh, we have to go talk to this guy – there’s something I should tell you about him first…” [laughs]. Suddenly the whole movie needs to take on that structure in order to accommodate him. I never win that fight!"
He further elaborated on the issues with introducing MODOK in the relatively realistic Captain America films to CBM:
"I always wanted to do MODOK, but it seems like we're leaving our grounded political arena way behind when you've got a giant floating head on a rocket chair."
Well, now he's tackling Infinity War, Markus is firmly out of the "grounded political arena" and into an environment where "a giant floating head on a rocket chair" wouldn't even be the fifth weirdest thing in the film. His interest in MODOK borders on obsession, and for the actor he once stated as his ideal choice for the character to be linked to a film whose inherent scope offers a lot of freedom is one mighty coincidence. Compared to Pip or The Watcher, MODOK seems like a pretty strong contender.
MODOK is a classic "science experiment gone wrong" - an attempt by villainous organisation AIM (who were used as Killian's company in Iron Man 3) to create a living supercomputer from unwilling guinea pig George Tarleton that instead became a murderous supervillain. He was originally a Captain America baddie, raging a vendetta against Steve Rogers after a humiliating and near-fatal first encounter, but over time has taken on several of the Avengers individually (most notably, and important for this theory, Captain Marvel) and as a team. As such, while he remains a typically S.H.I.E.L.D.-focused foe (hence his consideration for Captain America 2), there's scope for him to threaten the wider group and even flirt with the cosmic side if needs be.
With a ridiculous-yet-eye-catching design and oddly touching backstory, he's pure Marvel and, given how many key villains are already accounted for, is one it really wouldn't be surprising to see in the movies eventually. Infinity War definitely wouldn't be the worst way to introduce Dinklage as the character for sure; it would have to be a supporting role to Thanos, perhaps part of an earlier Earth-set plot to introduce the Avengers, but could serve as great set-up for Avengers 4, Captain Marvel or the inevitable Captain America 4 (or even a mix of them).
Ultimately, trying to crack who Dinklage is playing is so hard because we know so little about Infinity War. Yes, Thanos gets his mitts on the six Infinity stones and the Avengers will meet the Guardians, but how much it’ll take from the comics (and which comics at that – there’s several Infinity-related arcs) and where it'll leave the MCU is currently up in the air. No doubt more will come to light when Dinklage gets closer to signing on the dotted line, but, based on everything the writers have said over the years, MODOK is the safest bet for his character. And, with that in mind, it's hard to not agree with Markus' 2011 comments - it really would be amazing.
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018