At the moment, Avengers 4 is one big question mark.
We don’t know the story, which characters will be in it, how soon after Avengers: Infinity War it’s set or even what it’s called.
However, there’s one theory about the plot currently making the rounds that answers a few questions, has the tacit endorsement of the directors (Joe and Anthony Russo) and makes sense of some strange rumours coming from the set.
The only problem is, it’s probably not true – and the real story of the Infinity War sequel may have been staring us in the face all along.
The first hints of what to expect from Avengers 4 came many months ago, via some sneaky behind-the-scenes photos taken by press photographers on the set.
The pictures seemed to show the cast taking a trip down memory lane, with Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth wearing their 2012-era Avengers costumes from the original Marvel team-up movie (called Avengers Assemble in the UK).
The only clue that anything was different this time was the fact that the photos also showed Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man on the scene, which he definitely wasn’t at the time, alongside Robert Downey Jr as a slightly older Tony Stark, dressed in SHIELD uniform rather than traditional Iron Man get-up.
Immediately, people thought that time travel was on the cards.
But some particularly eagle-eyed fans noted a few crew members carrying an orange case marked “Binary Augmented Retro Framing”, which may ring a few bells for anyone who saw Captain America: Civil War. Specifically, it appears to reference the scene where Tony Stark relives his younger years through fancy hologram technology.
That bit of tech had the same name as this orange case – it spells out BARF, pleasantly – and its return in Avengers 4 was seemingly confirmed in an interview with Joe and Anthony Russo, who are directing Avengers 4 after working on Infinity War and the last two Captain America movies (Civil War and the Winter Soldier).
“Look, it’s interesting because yes there are photos that always leak, and then there’s lots of conjecture about what those photos mean,” Joe Russo told MTV’s Happy Sad Confused podcast.
“Certainly, there is a five-minute sequence in Civil War around a piece of technology that was laid in for a very specific reason. So if you go back and look at that film, you may get a hint as to a direction.”
In other words, the Russos seem to be telling us that BARF will be back to allow Tony (accompanied by Ant-Man) to revisit some old memories. A recent interview with another Marvel mainstay seemingly confirms their account.
“[Crossbones] makes an appearance in the next Avengers movie, but it’s a flashback,” Frank Grillo, who played the tough mercenary in the Russos’ two Captain America movies, said on the UFC Unfiltered podcast.
“And I’m allowed to say whatever I want because I’m never doing another Marvel movie… because I’m 117 years old.”
Frankly, this theory fits pretty well. Avengers 4 is set to be the culmination of over a decade of superhero storytelling, so a clever trip to the past through BARF technology is a great way to pay tribute to the movies that have come so far, while also emphasising the scale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date.
Meanwhile, from a story perspective the idea of Tony Stark revisiting his mistakes, or looking for clues in the Avengers’ past battles, reflects the guilt we saw him facing at the end of Infinity War.
So, really this all ties together very nicely.
Which is why I just don’t think it’s true at all. Like a hardboiled cop trying to close his last case, I can’t help but feel it’s a little too neat, a little too obvious.
Because you know what big-shot blockbuster movie directors famously LOVE to do? Give away the big secrets of their movies before they happen. The industry is rife with directors desperately trying to spoil key plot points and gleefully thanking journalists for mentioning surprise twists in their reviews.
Oh wait, no, the truth is literally the opposite of all those things. So why would the Russos offer up one of their main story points on a platter? For that matter, why would they have a big orange suitcase on set with “Binary Augmented Retro Framing” written on it in felt tip pen in the first place?
We never saw the tech that caused Tony’s memory holograms in Civil War, just the results. Would it really be that lo-fi and uncinematic? And if they were trying to keep the films’ secrets, why spell out the full name of the gadget and hold it up in clear view of cameras?
Or is it instead more likely that to nudge fans away from the truth, the Russos, the crew and the cast have been spreading a little misinformation?
It would be impossible to hide every aspect of Avengers 4 production from long lens cameras, but if you can’t stop people searching for spoilers, you can at least muddy the waters so they’re confused about what’s real and what’s not.
If this is true, throwing in the BARF case is a stroke of genius. What better way to peddle a fake theory than make fans do a little research first before they work it out? It feels like you’re clever, have cracked a mystery that other people might not – but in a world of clued-up fans watching every step of movie-making, it’s not going to take anyone long to join the dots and remember where the technology was mentioned before.
In my mind, fans’ first instincts about what they were seeing filmed for the next big Marvel movie were right, and actual time travel could be on the cards for Avengers 4. After all, it’s that idea that the Russos were being quizzed about on the MTV podcast when they deflected with the BARF idea, with Anthony Russo agreeing that he was a “big fan of the [time travel] technique” before his brother chimed in.
Really, the only reason I can think of as to why the Russos would gladly offer some Avengers 4 details (remember, we haven’t even had the name yet) over a year before its release is because they’re details that push the real truth further out of reach: the fact that Iron Man and Ant-Man might be going a bit Doctor Who in the new movie.
There are some caveats however. If it turns out these “flashback” scenes have little relevance to the plot, and the Russos happily mentioned them because they don’t actually enter into the main meat of the movie.
In other words, it could be a detail that’s of so little importance that it’s worth giving away knowing that the real story of Avengers 4 is safely under wraps – and by writing this rambling screed about a fictional gadget named after vomit, I’ve played entirely into their hands.
Yep, that might be true as well. But we’ve not had a trailer yet, I need to know what Thanos does next and I’m certain there’s no way to undo the events of the last movie without annoying everyone in the world, so if it’s alright with you I’ll just keep rambling away until next April. Conspiracies, assemble!
Avengers 4 will be released in UK cinemas in late April 2019