Ever since Avengers: Age of Ultron was released, it has inspired a whole next level of theorizing concerning the rest of the Marvel franchise. It definitely wouldn’t be a Marvel movie unless we spent the entire two hours looking for hints into the ensuing sequels. Needless to say, Age of Ultron was jam-packed full of MCU goodies that not-so subtly foreshadowed the future of the series.
There’s plenty to unravel amid the exciting action sequences and Whedon-esque dialogue. Within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there are massive things coming up that will fundamentally change the framework of the franchise. This next stage, known popularly as “Phase 3,” kicks off after Ant-Man, giving us two of Marvel’s best-known storylines and including some new standalone Marvel heroes. This, of course, all wouldn’t be possible without the necessary setup from Age of Ultron.
1. Laying the groundwork for Captain America: Civil War
Phase 3 kicks off with the third Captain America movie, pitting Iron Man and the Cap himself against each other in a superhero battle royale. Most of the heroes of the Marvel universe take sides, either fighting for the Tony Stark-led Superhuman Registration act, or against it with the First Avenger. Age of Ultron may not overtly mention any of this, but it’s become fairly clear the Avengers are almost single-handedly putting the world in constant peril.
The movie shows a distressed Hulk almost level an entire African town, while Ultron, a Tony Stark creation, almost creates an extinction-level event that requires the evacuation and ensuing destruction of another town in the fictional country of Sokovia. Civil War is all about holding super-powered individuals responsible for their collateral damage, and boy, did the Avengers cause a lot of that in Age of Ultron.
2. The new Avengers
The ending of Ultron saw Bruce Banner disappear into the ocean (we think), Tony Stark driving off into the sunset to settle down with Pepper Potts, and Hawkeye going back to his secret family. This left the team down to Captain America and Black Widow, highlighting a need for some new blood. Enter the newest members teased at in the closing moments: Scarlet Witch, Falcon (as seen in The Winter Soldier), the newly born cyborg Vision, and War Machine (still played by Don Cheadle). We’ll see the old team assembled for Civil War (which, in the comics, includes everyone), as well as Infinity War (more on that soon).
In the meantime, three new heroes will be on the roster that we’ll likely get to see a lot more of coming up. The comic history shows us a whole host of Avengers that shuffle in and out regularly, so we’d best get used to the idea that some members won’t be around forever.
3. The inevitable exit of Robert Downey Jr. (and Tony Stark)
Leading into the second Avengers movie, there was talk that Robert Downey Jr. might not return. Following extensive negotiations with Marvel, though, the franchise’s highest-paid actor officially signed on for Age of Ultron, Civil War, and the two-part Infinity War. Even so, there are no plans for a fourth Iron Man movie, and with War Machine set to take on a more significant role, the groundwork has been laid for an eventual departure. Combine this with the fact that in many ways Tony Stark acts as a villain of sorts in Civil War, and we could see the beginnings of a protracted plan to write Downey Jr. out of the franchise.
That’s not to say any exit wouldn’t be entirely amicable. Downey Jr. has long expressed an interest in being freed up to take on other projects, and given that his star has never burned brighter, now would be the time to capitalize on that. If Infinity War Part 2 is indeed his final Marvel film, we wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.
4. The Infinity War and Thanos
This time around, Joss Whedon featured just a single cutscene (rather than the customary two that many Marvel movies opt for). In it, we see Thanos grab hold of what we know is the Infinity Gauntlet, matter-of-factly stating, “I’ll do it myself.” He’s likely referring to the collection of the six Infinity Stones, four of which we’ve already seen appear in the MCU:
- The Space Stone: As seen in Captain America and The Avengers as the Tesseract, this one has played a large part in the Marvel movie world already. It was used to open a portal for the Chitauri into New York, and its energy was harnessed to teleport Thor and Loki back to Asgard at the conclusion of The Avengers. To the best of our knowledge, it currently resides in Odin’s vault.
- The Mind Stone: This particular gem made appearances in both Avengers movies, first in Loki’s mind-control scepter from the first installment, and most recently embedded in the forehead of The Vision after helping create Ultron. Thor departs Age of Ultron feeling comfortable that The Vision will keep it safe, but knowing that Thanos (at least in the comics) ends up with all the stones, odds are it’ll leave Earth soon.
- The Reality Stone: You may know this one as The Aether, as seen in Thor: The Dark World. The Reality Stone deals in dark matter, and came damn close to unmaking the universe thanks to the efforts of the Dark Elves. It currently is in the possession of The Collector, played by Benicio Del Toro in Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s worth noting that The Collector almost came to possess a second stone in that same movie.
- The Power Stone: This one was the MacGuffin of Guardians of the Galaxy, used by Ronin (played by Lee Pace) and eventually recovered by Starlord and the rest of the Guardians. Its history is explained as an item with the potential to destroy a world when touched to its surface, making its Death Star-level destruction levels that much more terrifying. Currently, the Nova Corps are keeping it safe in their vaults on Xandar.
Age of Ultron does a pretty solid job setting Thanos’s quest for the Infinity Stones into motion, and we could see him finally become a direct player for the first time in the MCU.
5. The first appearance of the Black Panther part of the Marvel Universe
In one sequence in Age of Ultron, we see the team travel to the fictional nation of Wakanda, the home of none other than that country’s chieftain, T’Challa, also known as Black Panther. The primary villain from the Black Panther comics, Ulysses Klaue (or Klaw, depending on whom you’re talking to) also got his own miniature origins story. Ultron descends on Klaue’s vibranium mining operation, steals his haul, and severs his arm in the process. Black Panther doesn’t officially release until 2018, but we at least finally have our first look at the world he exists in.
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