Marvel superhero films are also always stuffed full of Easter eggs and hidden references for the most dedicated fans to sniff out, from deep-cut callbacks to the original comics to brilliantly appropriate pop-culture pastiches.
It’s no surprise to find that epic crossover Avengers: Infinity War has a pretty hefty catalogue of hidden references – and according to directors Joe and Anthony Russo, that was all part of giving the film its depth.
“You know, it’s part of the layering process,” Joe Russo told RadioTimes.com, revealing that some of the ideas had come from the production team who were completely steeped in the world of the MCU.
“Everybody on the crew was really away of Marvel mythology and they’re complicit in layering in Easter Eggs.”
Below we’ve included some of our favourite Easter eggs and other references from the new film, along with the odd interjection from the Russos themselves, but beware – from hereon out we’re in serious spoiler territory, so if you haven’t seen Infinity War yet you’d best call a Quinjet and scoot on out of here.
Infinity War ends up being very different from the comic on which it is based (1991’s Infinity Gauntlet) but there are a few similarities between the two stories.
For example, both tales begin with an outer-space visitor crashing into the New York home of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), warning of the threat posed by Thanos (Josh Brolin) after a disastrous failed battle against him and muttering “Thanos is coming” over and over.
In the comics this role is fulfilled by the Silver Surfer, but in the film Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk/Bruce Banner picks up the slack instead – and does similar damage to 177a Bleecker Street.
“We have a Hulk”
Speaking of the less-than-jolly green giant, his presence also allows Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to turn the tables in his dialogue, giving Thanos the same warning he himself was given by Tony Stark back in the first Avengers movie: “We have a Hulk.”
It wouldn’t be a Marvel film without a Stan Lee cameo and Infinity War is no exception, with the former comics boss and co-creator of many iconic superheroes appearing as the bus driver for Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) classmates.
“What’s the matter with you kids, you never seen a spaceship before?” he grumbles as his young charges rush over to the window to look at one of Thanos’s invading ships.
It’s a fairly low-key cameo for Lee considering the importance of the film in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe – but according to the Russos, that was sort of the point.
“Stan Lee cameos are pretty standard; they’re standard for what they are and I think that’s what the expectation is for the audience,” Joe Russo told us.
“Perhaps we should have put him on the poster,” his brother Anthony joked.
“A little bus driver, in the corner,” Joe agreed.
The Iron Spider
We already caught a glimpse of Spider-Man’s more enhanced new outfit at the end of Spider-Man: Homecoming, but Infinity War offers a better look at it and its capabilities, including the extra robotic spider-arms, which are a direct callback to the similar “Iron Spider” outfit Tony Stark gives Peter Parker during the comic-book version of Civil War.
Oddly, though, the original comic-book version of the suit only had three extra limbs instead of the spider-appropriate four, which ended up being a running joke in various stories.
After losing his trademark hammer Mjolnir in Thor: Ragnarok, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) manages to make himself a new weapon in this film called Stormbreaker, which resembles a war axe and has even greater power than the original.
However, in the comics Stormbreaker wasn’t a weapon of Thor – it was actually a Mjolnir copy given to an alien gladiator called Beta Ray Bill, who took the hammer from Thor and was able to wield it and gain the Thunder God’s powers. After a battle to decide who would be worthy of the hammer, Odin ended up making another one for Bill, meaning he kept his godlike abilities but Thor could hang on to Mjolnir.
It’s not the first time Bill has been included in Marvel Easter eggs: a massive bust of his head could be glimpsed in the skyline of Sakaar in Thor: Ragnarok, paying tribute to his gladiatorial past.
Adding to the layers of reference, this version of Strombreaker bears a strong resemblance to the hammer wielded by Thor in Marvel’s Ultimate Comics line, a “reboot” of sorts that invented a new Marvel universe set in the present day and upon which much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (particularly the studio’s take on the Avengers and Spider-Man) has been based.
Feeling nostalgic for the first Avengers film? Well, keep your eyes peeled during flashback sequences in Infinity War, because the Chitauri army used by Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to try and conquer the Earth makes a reappearance conquering other worlds for Thanos, complete with those massive flying armoured serpent creatures that Hulk so memorably punched to death in 2012.
Aliens vs Spider-Man
One moment in Infinity War manages the rare trick of being a reference to a piece of pop culture AND a previous Marvel film, when Spider-Man and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) blast baddie Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan Lawlor) into space by destroying the hull integrity of his spaceship, sucking him out with the explosive decompression.
The plan was based on what Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley does in Aliens (“The kid’s seen more movies,” Stark tells Maw when the latter boasts of his power), but also calls back to Spidey’s first appearance in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, when he used the plot of another “really old movie” to take down a foe.
Back then, his sparring partner was Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man (in his Giant-Man form), and the movie-based attack involved tying up his legs like the Rebels do to Imperial Walkers in 1981’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
The Alien references don’t stop there, with Spidey later expressing worries that Mantis would try to lay eggs inside him, John Hurt-style…
The Aliens reference is far from the only non-Marvel Easter Egg. Watch closely during the scene where Thanos visits the Collector (Benicio del Toro) on Knowhere; in one of the tanks you’ll see a mysterious bespectacled blue man.
This figure is based on Arrested Development character Tobias Fünke (David Cross), during scenes where he tries to join the Blue Man group, and is included because of the Russo Brothers’ many years working on the cult comedy series.
“I would say, also that Arrested Development fans should keep their eyes open,” Joe Russo told us.
Karen Gillan’s Nebula suffers from some pretty nasty torture in the new film, having her cybernetic implants slowly pulled away from her body by a forcefield as Thanos pumps her for information.
In the original Infinity Gauntlet comics, Thanos also has a terribly cruel punishment for Nebula which leaves her trapped inside her own skin, transforming her into a zombie halfway between life and death filled with nothing but pain and without even the prospect of oblivion to look forward to. Lovely stuff.
Scenes involving the Guardians of the Galaxy have a fair few callbacks to their earlier films, but one of the more subtle references is in a weapon Quill (Chris Pratt) uses against some of the Avengers when he first encounters them.
Watch closely, because we’re pretty sure it’s the same magnetic device he used to get hold of the Power stone – when it was hidden inside the mysterious Orb – in the first Guardians of the Galaxy film. Its appearance here, with Quill trying to stop the man now holding the stone, becomes oddly cyclical. The crucial presence of Knowhere, a planet/skull that was a central location in the first Guardians, also lends itself to this circularity.
Making the Bacon
One of the first Guardians of the Galaxy film’s best jokes – that actor Kevin Bacon is one of Earth’s most legendary heroes, thanks to Quill’s love of Footloose – also gets a new airing, with Mantis (Pom Klementieff) assuming he must be a member of the Avengers team.
Quill, meanwhile, clashes with Spidey over the latter’s disdain for the film…
Tony’s suggested name for his future child, Morgan, is taken from the uncle of fiancé Pepper Potts – but in the comics, Morgan Stark was actually a cousin of Tony who tried to steal Stark Industries away from him. Interesting choice for a name, then…
The White Wolf
Bucky’s (Sebastian Stan) new Wakanda-influenced nickname, the White Wolf, actually has a background in the comics as well, belonging to T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) adoptive brother Hunter whose caucasian heritage inspired his moniker. Clearly, Bucky has become part of the family during his time with T’Challa.
The Red Skull
One of the film’s most shocking moments comes with the surprise return of the Red Skull, the maniacal Nazi scientist-turned-deadly super-soldier who battled Captain America (Chris Evans) in his 2011 solo film.
After apparently burning up with the power of the Space stone (aka the Tesseract) at the end of that film, it’s revealed that the Skull is now cursed to lead travellers looking for the Soul stone on the planet Vormir (also a location in the comics), without ever being able to possess another Infinity stone himself.
His appearance also evokes the classic look of Death, paying tribute to the centrality of that character (portrayed as a beautiful woman Thanos tried to woo) in the 1991 Infinity Gauntlet storyline.
However, it’s not original actor Hugo Weaving back behind the mask. Walking Dead star (and talented impressionist) Ross Marquand took over the part instead, which makes sense considering Weaving has previously said he isn’t keen to return to the MCU.
The Crimson Bands of Cyttorrak!
One of Doctor Strange’s most famous spells, where he summons the strength of a powerful mystical entity in the form of streaming red bands of energy, makes an appearance in the film, successfully binding Thanos for a short while.
Interestingly, Cyttorrak is also behind the power of X-Men villain the Juggernaut in the comics, though that connection seems unlikely to be explored in future movies.
Thwip it out
Scenes of Thanos fighting Spider-Man in Infinity War also seem to be taken fairly directly from the comics, specifically 1991’s Infinity Gauntlet, with both Spidey’s successful web-to-the-eyes attack and Thanos’s response (slamming him to the ground by the neck) occurring in that classic story.
The Death of Vision
While comic-book Vision doesn’t have the Mind stone in him, he was still killed by Thanos in the Infinity Gauntlet storyline in a similar way to how he ends his life in Infinity War. In both cases, Thanos rips out his insides, including several lengths of wire.
Thanos farms it out
Following the shocking conclusion of Infinity War (reflecting the opening scenes of the Infinity Gauntlet comic) Thanos leaves Earth to rest, settling on a peaceful farm and reflecting on a job well done.
This retirement exactly matches where the Mad Titan ends up after the events of the Infinity Gauntlet comic, when he decides to scratch out a living from the ground as a farmer – though this was long after the Avengers and their allies had already defeated him.
Look closely in the scene, and you can spot a bulky scarecrow in the distance – almost certainly a reference to an iconic scene from the comic where Thanos hangs his old armour on a scarecrow to signify the end of his life of conquest.
The final moments of Avengers: Infinity War are particularly fraught, with Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury and Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill popping up for a quick cameo before Thanos’s final scheme catches up with them.
Still, Nick finds time to use his pager to call an unknown figure, but the logo that flashes up gives the game away: it’s the star over blue and red, the symbol of Captain Marvel, Brie Larson’s superhero whose debut film will be released in February 2019.