While it’s fair to say Avengers: Infinity War was fairly successful when it hit cinemas early this year, the smash-hit superhero crossover event also raised plenty of questions with fans.
Chief among those queries was this: why did Josh Brolin’s Thanos wait years to assemble the Infinity Stones in person, instead sending lackeys (like Lee Pace’s Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in the original Avengers) to do the job for him, while he chilled out on a massive ergonomic throne?
In fact, given how easily he managed to locate and assemble the Stones once he did start the search himself – it seemed to take him about a day and a half, right? – it begins to look almost criminally neglectful for him to delegate his all-important balancing act. ‘What was he thinking?’ cried the fans internally as they entered the cinemas for their seventh screening.
Of course, in the IRL world it’s easy to see why Thanos held back – the Marvel movies needed to build up to something, and it’s fair to say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe might have floundered if he turned up in the first Iron Man to stomp Robert Downey Jr to death – but it’s satisfying to try and think of some in-universe logic that make his decisions feel believable.
Which is why we’re glad that some fans have come up with a solution that handily works out why Thanos might have held his fire until the time of Infinity War.
The theory? He was taking advantage of a power vacuum.
As laid out in the Instagram post above (though it's been talked about online for a while all over the shop), the theory goes that the recent MCU deaths of Anthony Hopkins’ Asgardian All-Father Odin, Tilda Swinton’s Sorcerer Supreme The Ancient One and Kurt Russell’s Celestial Ego may have encouraged Thanos to emerge from the shadows, with the trio of higher beings among the only people in the galaxy with the power to stop him.
Just think about it. Throughout the Thor series, Odin was perceived to right wrongs and keep balance throughout the Nine Realms (including our universe), and would almost certainly have intervened if Thanos moved more openly to collect the Stones (one of which resided in the Asgardian King’s own vault).
And while Odin was absent for a few years prior to his eventual death – with Loki impersonating him to rule Asgard – Thor: Ragnarok also demonstrated that Odin’s power over the universe was deeper and more meaningful, with the evil Hela (Cate Blanchett) only released when he perished and his magical hold over the universe finally faded away.
“We learn that Odin was doing far more than it seemed on the surface to keep the universe safe,” MCU producer Brad Winterbaum explained before Ragnarok’s release. "There were all these threats that he had quelled or was keeping at bay, using his strength and power to do so.”
The same logic applies to Swinton’s Ancient One, whose incredible power to protect the world from mystical threats (and protection over the green Time Stone hidden in the Eye of Agamotto) was removed following her death in 2016’s Doctor Strange.
Meanwhile, her de facto successor – Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange – has been demonstrated to have significantly less experience and power than she did, thereby leaving the path open for Thanos to begin his quest in earnest.
And then there’s Ego. Now, Kurt Russell’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 villain is hardly a protector of the universe – in fact, his plans to overrun the galaxy with his own essence was inarguably worse than Thanos’s halving of the population, given that it would have killed everyone rather than just 50 per cent – but his significant power and self-focused goals might have caused him to step up and prevent Thanos from his own power play.
So there you have it – a reasonably believable version of events to explain why Thanos might have tried to remain in the shadows for a few years, operating through subordinates and not attracting too much attention to himself. With the powerful trio removed, nothing stood in his way.
Is it possible? Yes. Is it true? Well, no – again, there is no "real" in-universe reason for this discrepancy, it’s just a consequence of the storytelling – but it’s fun to try and fill in the logical gaps while we sit and wait for the first hints at what we can expect from Avengers 4.
Spoiler alert – there may be some more completely understandable plotting quirks that we’ll be able to dissect ad finitum once the film is in cinemas.
Avengers 4 is released in UK cinemas in April 2019