(MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD for the ending of “Avengers: Infinity War.” So if you don’t know how it ends and don’t want to know, leave now.)
Editor’s note: This post was originally published on April 26. It has been updated with information gleaned from the home video release of “Avengers: Infinity War”
By the end of “Avengers: Infinity War,” things are going really badly in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the arrival of Thanos (Josh Brolin), just about every MCU superhero had to band together to stop him from gathering together all six of the Infinity Stones — and they lost.
While most of the Avengers end up in Wakanda battling the Black Order and their horde of alien troops as they try to defend Vision (Paul Bettany) and the Mind Stone, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and three of the Guardians of the Galaxy go toe to toe with Thanos on the moon of Titan in a fight for the Time Stone.
And it all goes very wrong. Doctor Strange hands over the Time Stone to Thanos, who then teleports to Earth, murders Vision for the Mind Stone — and then snaps his fingers, killing half of all life in the universe, including most of the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Except maybe things didn’t go wrong. Maybe all those deaths were just the first step toward victory.
Okay, so let’s take a step back for a moment to about halfway through the movie. Before the fight with Thanos on Titan, Doctor Strange uses the Time Stone to look forward in time, checking “alternate futures” for a path on which he and the Avengers might achieve victory. It’s the same thing The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) was doing in 2016’s “Doctor Strange” before she died, seeing many possible disastrous futures and spending centuries working to avert them. Strange tells Tony and the others that he looked through some 14 million futures, but only saw one in which the good guys win.
We don’t know what the long game is, but we can guess pretty solidly based on his last words that everything Doctor Strange did after looking at those many possible futures was to try to bring that one victorious future about. Yes, that includes most of the heroes turning to dust. The last thing Doctor Strange said before he too turned to dust was: “There was no other way.” At that moment, at least, Doctor Strange believed everything was going according to plan.
It’s like Hawkeye said during the big airport fight in “Captain America: Civil War”: “If we’re going to win this fight, some of us might have to lose it.”
This idea was backed up by some statements made during the filmmaker commentary on the Blu-ray and streaming release of the film, which features directors Joe and Anthony Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. This specific topic — that Doctor Strange knows what’s coming after “Infinity War” ends, comes up three different times throughout the commentary.
During an early scene, when Strange and Iron Man are facing off against Ebony Maw and Black Dwarf, McFeely makes an offhand comment about how “I think Strange might know how this is gonna work out.” Later, right after Doctor Strange actually looks into the future, Joe Russo refers to Strange’s explanation of what he saw as an “ominous prophecy.”
Then, near the end of the film when Strange actually hands over the Time Stone to Thanos in exchange for Thanos sparing Tony Stark’s life, McFeely reminds us of the moment earlier in the film when Strange declared that he would let Tony and Peter PArker die if that’s what it took to keep the Time Stone away from Thanos — noting that the only thing that might have changed his mind that happened since was that vision of the future.
So we can safely assume that, for the moment at least, events are on the path to an ultimate victory even though it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it right now. And should that victory actually come about next year in “Avengers 4,” it will be because Doctor Strange willingly gave Thanos the Time Stone and thus let all those people die. At least temporarily — this is, after all, a story about a glove that gives its wearer near-complete control over space and time, and life and death.
The particulars of how it will all play out remain a mystery to us, just as it does to everyone who survived since Doctor Strange didn’t tell anyone the plan. Which is probably a good thing, because the easiest way to derail the future is to know what it holds. We have, however, developed a theory about what it was the Doctor Strange saw in his vision of the future, and you can read that here.
Speaking of which, we have some ideas about that — at least in regards to how “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and “Captain Marvel” will impact the story being told between “Infinity War” and “Avengers 4,” as well as how some other plot threads from “Infinity War” will play out. Click here for our deeper look into how “Captain Marvel” might impact this distressing plot twist. Click here for our discussion of the whole Vision situation and whether he’s really dead. And, finally, here’s our run-down on how the comic book version of these events played out.