What Does the Civil War Plot Mean for Thanos in Future Avengers Films?

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When Thanos made his surprise appearance in the closing credits of the Avengers—much to the delight of comic fans—it was assumed by most that he would be the Big Bad for the second film. However, we now know that’s not the case, as a certain malevolent robot voiced by James Spader has taken the slot of the main baddie in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Since then, it’s been assumed that Thanos—now played by Josh Brolin, as seen in Guardians of the Galaxy—would be the antagonist for the team of super heroes in the third film. But not so fast! The recent announcement that Marvel’s massive “Civil War” storyline will be introduced into Phase 3 of the MCU, seems to put some doubt into Thanos’ appearance in Avengers 3.

The “Civil War” story, which became highly popular with comic readers when it came out several years ago, was a huge, cross-title tale that dealt with the passing of the Superhuman Registration Act, which forces all super-heroes to reveal their identities to the U.S. government and to serve under their jurisdiction. In the story arc, the costumed heroes break into two warring factions; the pro-government faction (led by Iron Man) who support the new law; and those who refuse to accept it (Led by Captain America) because it’s violation of their civil freedom.  Iron Man’s side seeks to arrest those on Cap’s side and a super civil war breaks out.

With the signing of Robert Downey Jr.  for Captain America 3, Marvel has announced that the Civil War plot would be adapted for the star spangled hero’s third film. Such a major storyline, encompassing all the heroes of the MCU, would hardly be likely to begin and end in CA3. The expectation is that the plot will carry over into other Marvel films (and even Agents of SHIELD) culminating in Avengers 3, where Thor, Hulk and the other heroes can get into the act. (Even though Thor and Hulk weren’t part of the printed version of the story.)  If that’s the case, what does that do to the expected Thanos/Avengers confrontation?

Joss Whedon has stated that Thanos was not added into the MCU “for no reason” and that they have definite plans for him. We know he’s been collecting cosmic objects (the cinematic equivalents of the Infinity Gems), and appears to be setting up Marvel’s “Infinity Gauntlet” for a later film. But which film?

Surely there has to be a payoff for this slow-brewing Thanos story. He has to meet the heroes of the MCU at some point. The Avengers is the best franchise to do that in, since it has the most popular and powerful heroes—the only ones who could logically battle Thanos and have a chance of winning. It’s hard to imagine the big MCU showdown with Thanos taking place in an Ant-Man or Guardians of the Galaxy sequel. Yet, if the Avengers are going to be mired in the Civil War in their third outing, that leaves little time for a showdown with Thanos. You can’t just slip one of comicdom’s most powerful and intelligent villains into a subplot—he has to be the main villain of the film! Fans have been waiting to see Thanos slug it out with the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for several years, and he can’t be just an afterthought. The Infinity Gauntlet is too grand a story to be a secondary consideration to the Civil War.

So when will Thanos and the Avengers actually meet? Well, the Daily Marvelite site has reported that Avengers 3 will be broken into two films, one coming out in 2018, and one in 2019. If true, that would allow the 2018 film to settle the Civil War story, and leave the 2019 film open for the Thanos punch-up. Possibly, the threat of Thanos would reunite the team after they get torn apart by the Registration Act. Still, it seems odd for a two-part film to have two totally different stories. Such films are usually one, long story. If you’re going to have two separate plots, then it might as well be two separate movies. If that were the case, Thanos would not appear until Avengers 4.

The problem with this is that Downey, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth are not signed for a fourth film, and early indications are that none of them will be back for a fourth Avengers project. Of course, the Avengers may go on without the big three (We still have Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, and rumors indicate that Anthony Mackie may replace Chris Evans as Cap, and Don Cheadle may take over for RDJ as Iron Man—so that have a formidable team left) but would the conflict with Thanos be as epic without them?

So when will we see Thanos going toe-to-toe with the MCU’s A-list super team? Only Joss Whedon and Kevin Feige know for sure, just now. As for the rest of us, we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, we’re inching closer to Avengers: Age of Ultron, which may give us some further clues.