Like most of Marvel Studios' previous films, Avengers: Infinity War succeeded in pleasing both general audiences and hardcore comic book fans. The movie was faithful to the source material, and it took liberties in certain aspects that proved necessary. The result was a thrilling epic that changed the landscape of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Still, the crowd-pleasing movie did somehow prove to have somewhat of a divisive ending. As everyone knows by now, the ensemble film ended with the Mad Titan Thanos collecting all six Infinity Stones and snapping his fingers, an act that led to half of all life in the universe being wiped out into dust. The turn of events was appropriately shocking, seeing as how fan-favorite characters such as Black Panther, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Star-Lord, Drax, Groot and Mantis all seemingly died, crumbling into dust to the horror of viewers.
While shocking and emotional, to some people, these deaths came with an asterisk of sorts: considering that such MCU films as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will be released in the coming years, this would effectively mean that most of these big deaths should be undone in the upcoming as-yet untitled Avengers 4. Right? Well, not necessarily. Recently, Infinity War and Avengers 4 directors Joe and Anthony Russo not-so-subtly reminded fans that there is a four-year gap between the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Infinity War. Therefore, could the third Guardians film be a flashback adventure, set in the days before Thanos arrives on Earth? It's certainly possible.
Part of the reason some fans felt the big deaths in Infinity War lacked urgency is because most assume that these characters will be back in their upcoming franchises. For example, Dave Bautista has already confirmed that Drax will return in Guardians Vol. 3, meaning that his death in the third Avengers film won't stick. Thanks to Marvel's long-term planning, there is a lot of information fans can use to chart a path of the future. If Guardians 3 is coming with Drax, then that means the tattooed alien will likely come back to life in Avengers 4. But that may not be the case.
Given the Russos' comments, we might be back to square one. Like they said, four years separate the events of Guardians Vol. 2 and Infinity War, meaning that a lot of adventures must have happened in-between the two. In stands to reason that the "final" Guardians story could be their last big space adventure together before they get separated and then fade away in Infinity War. After all, it's not like Marvel hasn't done flashback movies before. Captain America: The First Avenger did it in Phase 1; the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp will take place between Civil War and Infinity War; and March 2019's Captain Marvel is completely set in the '90s.
There is nothing stopping writer/director James Gunn from making a third Guardians film that takes place a year or two after Vol. 2. In fact, there is a lot of character growth and potential adventures we missed out on. We didn't see Groot grow up from Baby to Teen, we didn't see Peter and Gamora make their relationship official, and we didn't see Nebula as part of the team, before striking out on her own to kill Thanos. On top of all that, we didn't get to see how Gamora came to learn the location of the Soul Stone, something which played a big part in Infinity War. Finally, we never saw what became of Adam Warlock, who was teased in a Vol. 2 mid-credits scene.
There is actually a lot of ground left to cover in that 4-year span, and it would make for an equally fascinating film. Sure, the stakes wouldn't be the same, considering we know where the characters end up, but that ultimately wouldn't matter. We saw the Guardians become a family and go through their first crucible together, but we didn't get to see them strive as a unit. Maybe a time-displace Vol. 3 is the perfect way to do that.
Of course, the Russo brothers might simply be playing with our expectations in order for us to invest in Avengers 4. The truth is, we won't know for sure until next year whether or not the characters who crumbled to dust will return to life -- or at least how it happens.
In theaters now, Avengers: Infinity War is directed by Joe and Anthony Russo and stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Bettany, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Tom Hiddleston and Josh Brolin. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will release in theaters in 2020.