What Happens After Infinity War? The State of the MCU (Spoilers Ahead)

After 10 years of buildup, Avengers: Infinity War is finally in theaters. It's — actually, you know what? I’m not going to discuss it here. If you've followed the Marvel Cinematic Universe for 18 films, you're probably going to go see the 19th, and you can draw your own conclusions about it. Your favorite character almost certainly does something cool during the film's massive, 160-minute runtime. (Unless your favorite character was specifically Terrence Howard as Jim Rhodes. There is probably a very interesting parallel universe where that casting is still playing out.)

Now, if you've already seen Avengers: Infinity War, you know without a doubt there is a lot going on. There are more than 40 important characters from previous movies who show up, to say nothing of a few new cast members and a couple of fan favorites who did not show up (this time). The next Avengers film will come out just about a year from now, and if you want to keep the film's myriad subplots and characters straight in your head until then, Tom's Guide can help.

Just bear in mind that anything past this point in the story constitutes massive spoilers. Let me reiterate, but in caps: There are MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR past this point. I'm going to put a big publicity shot from Infinity War right below this paragraph, then anything past that is fair game. Deal? Deal. Enjoy the picture, then let's talk details.

OK, so, Infinity War. Did you guys and gals like it? I liked it. The film wasn't perfect, but it did a good job of balancing its massive cast while keeping the story moving. Josh Brolin nailed this interpretation of Thanos. Some of the cameos took me completely by surprise. And seeing the Guardians of the Galaxy fight (some of) the Avengers was about as satisfying as I hoped it'd be.

And that ending! Avengers: Infinity War raises more questions than it answers, but hopefully the sequel (due out next May) will resolve some of Infinity War's most pressing issues. So, with that in mind:

What the heck happened at the end?

That is a very good question! To give you a quick refresher: At the very end of Infinity War, Thor lodges his brand-spanking-new axe, Stormbreaker, in Thanos' chest. This slows down the Mad Titan, but doesn't kill him. Thanos taxes the Infinity Gauntlet to its utmost, and before you know it, the gauntlet is a smoking wreck, and heroes start disappearing left and right, dissolving into ash.

What happened here, precisely? While we're not 100 percent sure (and we're probably not supposed to be, just yet), it seems like Thanos used the Infinity Gauntlet to enact his plan of wiping out half of all sentient life, randomly, on a universal scale. This would explain why there doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason to why certain heroes lived or died, as well as why Thanos retired shortly thereafter to watch his cherished sunrise.

Does this mean that (most of) the Avengers are gone for good?

Maybe? But the smart money is on "no." Marvel didn't spend a decade building up a huge cast of beloved characters just so that it could abruptly slam the door shut on half of them. (It especially wouldn't do this to Black Panther, whose popularity is still skyrocketing after his successful stand-alone film.)

MORE: Catch Up Before Infinity War: 8 Must-See Marvel Films

Here's my analysis: From a practical standpoint, Infinity War was the "huge Marvel crossover" movie fans have been waiting for. But you don't need two "huge crossover movies" in a row. Whatever ground the next Avengers film covers, it doesn't need to be a rehash of Infinity War. That means a smaller cast and a more focused story are probably in order. Giving Thanos a (temporary) victory helps raise the stakes, while making it all the more urgent for the remaining Avengers to rescue their teammates.

But again, that's just conjecture on my part. Maybe everyone will be rescued within the next film's first act in order to facilitate another huge superhero brawl. Feel free to sub in your own fan theory.

Who's still kicking around?

Because I've seen the movie only once, this is a "to the best of my knowledge" kind of answer, and you can probably find a better list on a Marvel wiki within the coming weeks. However, these are the heroes the Tom's Guide staff knows are still alive and ready to resume the fight:

  • Black Widow
  • Captain America
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Iron Man
  • Nebula
  • Okoye
  • Rocket Raccoon
  • Thor
  • War Machine

That's a pretty good Avengers team right there. (Five of the six original members are in it!) It's large enough to split into two teams, but small enough to follow during a protracted finale.

There are also a number of characters whose fates were ambiguous, or who didn't show up in Infinity War, or who will be introduced in the two films between now and the next Avengers outing:

  • Ant-Man
  • Captain Marvel
  • Everett Ross
  • Hawkeye
  • Shuri
  • Valkyrie
  • The Wasp
  • Wong

For those eight characters, your guess is as good as ours. The next Avengers film may feature as few as nine heroes, or as many as seventeen.

What happens next?

There are two films between Infinity War and the next Avengers flick: Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6, 2018) and Captain Marvel (March 6, 2019).

Since Ant-Man didn't factor into Infinity War's story, expect Ant-Man and the Wasp to be more of a palate cleanser, without too many direct ties to the Avengers' latest adventure. (The film's synopsis suggests that it happens soon after Captain America: Civil War, so it may well be earlier in the timeline than Infinity War, anyway.) If I were a betting man, I'd say the after-credits scene will give a tantalizing hint of something cosmic, but I would politely ask that you don't cite my article if you choose to put actual money down on it.

MORE: Where to Watch Every Marvel Movie and TV Show (in the "Right" Order)

Captain Marvel will probably have a much stronger connection to the events of Infinity War. This film will wind back the clock in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to tell an origin story for Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel: an Air Force pilot imbued with an awesome, alien power. While we don't know exactly what ground the story will cover, we do know that Nick Fury sent Captain Marvel a distress call after Infinity War's credits, so perhaps Carol can help set things right.

Will the next Avengers film be the end of the MCU?

Considering that two films have already been planned for after its release (a Spider-Man sequel and another Guardians of the Galaxy installment), it seems highly unlikely. From a story perspective, there's still plenty of ground to cover; from a financial perspective, the MCU has pretty much been a money-printing machine for Marvel and Disney.

However, the next Avengers film will probably wrap up a lot of loose threads from the first 10 years of MCU films. I also would not be shocked if this is where a lot of popular characters step down, particularly some of those who have been with the franchise since the beginning. (Robert Downey Jr. has said that he does not want to be Iron Man forever, and as much as we love his performances, we don't really want that, either.)

While we don't know how Marvel will accomplish all that (character deaths, universal reboot, simply shifting focus), we're sure that fans and film critics will have plenty of fodder for think pieces while we wait for the next round of films. Until then, as Stan the Man once said, "Excelsior!"

Credit: Marvel Studios

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.