‘Infinity War’s Biggest Surprise

In the same way that the first Avengers was the culmination of Marvel’s entire first phase of films — the entire cinematic universe up to that point — Infinity War is the culmination of the MCU in its entirety.  From showing us what that weird purple guy from the end of The Avengers could actually do when unleashed on Earth’s mightiest heroes to finally assembling all of the Infinity Stones (from their first appearance in Captain America: The First Avenger), Marvel Studios drove every long-standing narrative thread and disparate plot point home in the most bombastic way imaginable.

And there were so many payoffs made over its more than two and one half hour run time.  We finally got to see Bucky, armed and back in action.  The Guardians of the Galaxy finally met up with the franchise’s terrestrial heroes.  Thor got a suitable replacement to the dearly departed Mjolnir.  Rhody returned to active duty.  Spidey got the Iron Spider suit.  Wakanda was finally, irrevocably, brought into the fold of the rest of the world.

And, of course, it answered the question that was on everybody’s lips for the past year: where was the Soul Stone.  The answer, as discussed previously, was the planet Vormir: an obscure rock in space controlled by the Kree (the species that Ronan the Accuser belonged to).  But Vormir housed more than just that previous bauble, however.  It contained what was, for me at least, the biggest and more satisfying surprise in the entire movie — a point of continuity that was, at least chronologically, the longest coming.

You see, Infinity War finally showed us what happened to the Red Skull Captain America’s arch nemesis that had been MIA since the final days of World War II.

Even at the time, the concluding moments of Cap’s fight with the Red Skull were an obvious setup for… something.  It was never clear what exactly they were seeding for future movies (and, looking back, it may very well be that the filmmakers themselves did not rightly know).  In a desperate gambit against his American rival, the Red Skull grabbed the Tesseract: the blue cube that housed the Space Stone.  Rather than imbuing him with the power necessary to defeat his enemy, it opened up a wormhole to an unrecognizable galaxy and teleported him into the cosmos, leaving Captain Rogers and the Tesseract back on Earth.

Over the past three decades, Hollywood had trained me to anticipate his return.  Call it Chekov’s Nazi.  He clearly wasn’t dead.  Cap had clearly bought a one-way ticket to the 21st Century.  This was not the last time that we were going to see these two come to blows.

Being at the time unfamiliar with Marvel’s cosmic antagonists, I actually thought that it was the Red Skull that was seen briefly at the end of The Avengers pulling Loki’s strings from some distant corner of the cosmos, not Thanos.  When Hydra was revealed to be puppet mastering SHIELD and the US government in The Winter Soldier, I was waiting for the Skull to quietly step out of the shadows.  And when Thanos sent his best underlings to retrieve the Power Stone from the Guardians of the Galaxy, I was diligently scouring the screen for the red-faced bastard.

The last place I expected him to show up was Vormir: the desolate rock that the Stone had evidently exiled the one-time head of Hydra to.  There he appeared as the Ghost of Movies Past: a spectral grim reaper doomed to eternally watch over the Soul Stone.  Forever in sight of ultimate power but, due to the quirk how the Stone had to be retrieved, unable to ever recover it for himself, he stood a silent, eternal vigil on the frozen wastes of Vormir.

While it wasn’t what I was anticipating for his eventual reveal, I can’t argue with its effectiveness.  It was my biggest gasp of the entire movie — including Thanos’ third-act gotcha and that gut-punch of an ending.  It was a twist seven years in the making and proved to be worth every last one of them.

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