– by David Kozlowski

There’s a hint buried within in the title of Avengers: Infinity War that points directly at the hidden title of Avengers 4, and it’s (probably) tied to the six Infinity Stones themselves. That’s my theory anyway, and it’s no worse than your theory. (Also, I’d love to know what your theories are, please share!)

The Infinity Stones each possess a special power: space, power, soul, mind, reality, and time. And we all know what happens when they’re assembled (forgive the pun) onto Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet: he snaps his fingers and wipes out half of everything. And frankly, I think that’s exactly what happens at the end of the movie. Here’s why…

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Currently, the soul and time stones are off-the-board, but that’s sure to be the early focus of Avengers: Infinity War. The Avengers can’t stop Thanos and when he finally collects all of the stones, he makes our heroes go away… all of them… except for a select few who go underground and mount a resistance to fight back — a context that totally mirrors Star Wars: The Empire Strike Back, which also ended on a seriously down but hopeful note.

Why do I think this? What tea leaves am I reading? It’s all right here in the Russo’s latest Twitter tease:

Marvel is deadly serious about keeping its secrets, particularly with regards to these next two Avengers films. The Russos have also been careful with their words up to now, so this terse remark lands like a manhole cover. I’m not expecting a few deaths, I’m expecting a lot of deaths.

This brings me back to the hidden element in Avengers: Infinity War‘s title and how it corresponds to at least one of the stones. Let’s assume that one or more of the most nimble and evasive heroes (Spider-Man or Rocket or Black Widow) survives Thanos’ onslaught. I suspect that whoever survives somehow gains possession of the time stone, allowing him or her to alter the timeline and gain an edge over Thanos and his minions… but it goes terribly wrong, and the timeline is altered in all the wrong ways, forcing the hero(es) to keep trying… into infinity.

Such a use of the stones would allow Marvel to easily manipulate the MCU to add or change existing characters, reinstate Asgard, or address other changes throughout the history of the MCU… and we’ve already seen hints of this in recent production stills, such as Cap’s neon-blue costume from the first Avengers movie. So Avengers 4 might be something along the lines of X-Men: Days of Future Past, but with more time-jumping. This use of the time stone also might explain how Captain Marvel enters the picture.

I’m sure my theory has plenty of holes in it, and I welcome everyone’s responses pointing them out. But the real point here is that Marvel’s going way, way, way out of their way to keep the title of Avengers 4 a secret, and every indication is because it’s going to end so badly for our heroes. Avengers 4 might represent not only the formal end of the MCU’s Phase 3, but it might also result in a rebirth of the whole damned enterprise.

What are your theories about the Infinity Stones and the ultimate title of Avengers 4? Let us know in the comments down below!

Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters on April 6, 2018.

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David Kozlowski is a writer, podcaster, and visual artist. A U.S. Army veteran, David worked 20 years in the videogame industry and is a graduate of Arizona State University's Film and Media Studies.