Thanos and the Infinity Gems: Where Does the Marvel Universe Stand After Guardians of the Galaxy?

Read on if you've seen the movie or if you want to know just how crazy things are getting in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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Given that it's set in space and doesn't even feature a cameo from any of the Avengers, it might be hard to see how Marvel Studios' latest effort Guardians of the Galaxy plays into the larger superhero universe. But even though Marvel is cagey on the details of its upcoming movies, it's pretty easy to see how our outlaw space adventurers are going to fit into things going forward. Read on if you've seen Guardians, or if you don't care about spoilers.

So in the film, the saga of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his space-team is mostly wrapped up in the antics of Kree fanatic Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a blue alien dude who wants to blow up a planet because… well, we don't really know why, except that he's crazy. Ronan's initial plan is to get giant purple space-villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) to blow up the planet for him, in exchange for a silver orb Quill has stolen. But when Ronan realizes the orb contains an all-powerful infinity stone, he endeavors to use it himself, eventually meeting his doom at the hands of the Guardians. The stone is bundled off into a vault, and Thanos, we assume, continues to bide his time and make his plans for cosmic domination.

The big connection here is Thanos, who we first glimpsed at the end of The Avengers as the shadowy big bad pulling the strings of Loki's attempted alien invasion of Earth. This puppet-master routine continues in Guardians of the Galaxy—Thanos is only onscreen once, and otherwise appears via hologram, still a distant threat, much like the Emperor in the first Star Wars trilogy. But he obviously has big plans revolving around the six Infinity Stones, uber-powerful gems littered around the universe that if united would grant godlike powers. Including the orb that Guardians is built around, we've now encountered three—there's also the Tessaract (glowy blue cube thing, featured in Captain America and The Avengers) and the Aether (red/black misty stuff, featured in Thor: The Dark World).

When we saw the grinning Thanos at the end of The Avengers, only Marvel comics nerds could even explain what he was. While there's no cameo from Nick Fury or anyone else to serve as a bridge between movies, what Guardians does is expand the Marvel Universe to encompass the cosmos, and it does it surprisingly seamlessly. Thanos might not be the villain of the second Avengers movie, but it's pretty easy to imagine him cruising over to Earth for the third installment, and maybe mixing some of the Guardians into that epic showdown—remember, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is his adopted daughter, and now she's running with Quill.

No doubt Guardians of the Galaxy is trying to do a lot and, like many a Marvel movie, it gets bogged down in exposition in its opening act. There's lots of talk of Kree and Xandar and Thanos, pretty much all of which is totally new information to anyone who hasn't been reading comic books for ten years. By the end, Marvel is hoping that the audience at least broadly gets it—Thanos is a looming evil, Infinity Stones are mighty powerful, so keep your eyes out for both. Time will tell if the whole long game pays off, but right now things continue to chug along nicely.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.