The scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been expanding ever since the multi-movie project dipped into the cosmic and mystic sides of the company’s expansive canon. It’s no longer enough to simply take down a former business partner gone rogue or to accept your own selflessness while in earthly banishment. The recent slate of Marvel movies has made room for personal stories along the way, but the stakes are now so high that even those personal wins end up being ground lost for Earth.
The upcoming Avengers: Infinity War looks to be where all of these losses come to a head. The film sees the Mad Titan Thanos make landfall on Earth and immediately set about executing his master plan, ten years in the making. Had things gone a little differently for the Avengers (or what’s left of them), they might have some backup in this fight. As it stands, it looks like they’re on their own, with only the Guardians of the Galaxy ready to leap to Earth’s aid.
So, how is it that Earth is only able to pull together a loose group of superheroes to defend against the titanic might of Thanos and his Black Order, especially after having ten years to prepare? The answer lies in those personal wins that ended up overshadowing cataclysmic losses, leaving Earth wide open for invasion.
Spy in the Sky
Captain America was right to be worried about S.H.I.E.L.D.’s helicarrier fleet in Captain America: The Winter Solider. The fleet would have become the organization’s spy in the sky had the project been finalized. The geopolitical ramifications would have been immense, giving S.H.I.E.L.D. unlimited power to exact its own brand of subjective justice on whatever threat it deemed worthy -- a power that was almost hijacked by HYDRA. Still, the helicarrier fleet might also have shot Thanos out of the sky, or served as a deterrent.
That’s maybe giving the giant, armored war machines a little too much credit. In all likelihood, a fleet would have been swatted out of the sky by a massive invading alien force like a hot knife through butter, but they were at least something. Now, a single helicarrier remains in Earth's arsenal, which is a whole less than was originally intended. Cap saved the day, but we're only starting to get a glimpse at the cost now.
Dr. Ultron's Monster
Make no mistake: the Ultron Project was a bad idea. Tony Stark had a bit of a Dr. Frankenstein moment in Avengers: Age of Ultron, putting the entire world at risk because, as a scientist, he couldn’t separate what could be accomplished from what should be. The result was a cybernetic monster that rampaged through the world and nearly created an extinction-level event by dropping an entire city from the sky.
At the end of the day, though, Ultron was a highly-intelligent, networked fleet of capable warrior robots built to protect Earth from otherworldly threats. If they gave the Avengers as much trouble as they did, then they certainly would have been, at least, an annoyance for Thanos. Reprogramming Ultron for good likely would have been a fool’s errand, but if Tony had been successful then the AI fleet would have served their original intended purpose with aplomb.
Captain America: Civil War revolved around the framing of the Winter Solider (and Captain America by proxy) in what turned out to be a far-reaching HYDRA plot devoted to the creation of Nazi super soldiers. Those soldiers were destroyed before Captain America could find them, but that mattered little in the grand scheme of things.
The process of tracking down these soldiers, and the man who supposedly wanted to wake them for his own nefarious means, created a yet-to-be-healed rift in the Avengers' ranks that left the superhero group deeply divided. Not only that, but the group’s former leader, Captain America, was branded an outlaw for not wanting to submit to government oversight. That means that when Thanos makes it to Earth, the Avengers will be down their leader and operating without a full roster. The trailer reveals Cap will be making his return, but will he make it in time?