[Analysis] - What Is An Infinity Stone? [Updated]

All images courtesy of Marvel

Thor: the Dark World ends with a post-credits sequence that ties directly into the forthcoming and anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy. The scene was directed by James Gunn, much like Joss Whedon's directing of the original Thor post scene, that lead directly into Avengers. For the sake of spoilers, I won't go into more detail than that above the jump, but the contents of the scene have been the focus of many articles around the web since the weekend.

After the jump, I'll add my two cents to the analysis of how the scene is even possible, and what it means to the future of the MCU. And it's exciting stuff too. But very spoiler heavy for Thor, so if you haven't seen it yet, don't read any farther. [August 2014 update: now includes information and spoilers from Guardians of the Galaxy].

The scene depicts Sif and Volstagg (Jamie Alexander and Ray Stevenson) being introduced to the Collector (Benicio del Toro), an intergalactic gatherer of unique and rare objects. The Collector will feature in Guardians, and if I'm interpreting the depiction of him in this scene, he'll be working directly for Thanos' interests rather than just another random cog in the machine [update: as of Guardians he appears to be just a random cog, though his role was so small, his ultimate loyalties remain unknown]. The Asgardians present him with a red glowing box, and explain that since the Asgardians are already in possession of the Tesseract, that two "Infinity Stones" in one place is too dangerous. After they depart, the Collector ominously states, "one down, five to go." This scene contains a lot of information, potentially critical information about the direction the MCU is headed, and as is Marvel's tendency, not everything is explicit. In all honesty, it wasn't immediately obvious to me that the glowing red box the Collector is given contained a part of the Aether, the cloud-like super weapon that Malekith (Christopher Eccelston) attempted to use to wipe out existence. This was because, at no point in the film were the Asgardians in possession of any portion of the Aether, and it was destroyed entirely along with the Dark Elf.

As far as I can tell, the most reasonable sequence of events goes like this: the only time the Aether is in a state in which it could be collected, and in the presence of someone desiring it was when Thor and Loki attacked Malekith in Svartalfheim. A blast from Mjölnir temporarily crystallizes the Aetherial cloud, sending shards raining down on the battlefield. Loki had previously and enviously noted what he would do with the power of the Aether, so it is not unreasonable to assume that he might have used the moment to pocket a sliver of the weapon. So how does that get into Sif's hands? Well, Loki now sits on the throne of Asgard, posing as Odin. Sif and Volstagg, thinking they were under orders from the All Father, are given the Aether and sent to the Collector.

But why? If Loki wanted to use the power of the Aether for himself, why give it away? I foresee two explanations. First, with the majority of the Aether destroyed, the power of the shard has been reduced to an extent where it is no longer interesting to Loki. But perhaps a more likely explanation is that he was making an offering. Remember that Loki was operating under direct command from Thanos during the Avengers. The Chitauri were provided by the Titan, and Loki's failure in overpowering Earth and acquiring the Tesseract (which was Thanos' ultimate goal in that film) have left him with a bounty on his head. The Other specifically says that failure will result in misery for trickster. Loki also mentions in Avengers that he had travelled to and seen worlds the Asgardians had previously been unaware of, opening up the possibility that he had encountered the Collector during his exile (which would also explain how Sif and Volstagg were able to find the Collector). Knowing that the Collector works for Thanos, and that his rule of Asgard would be in constant jeopardy if Thanos ever came looking for him, Loki sends the Aether to Thanos' agent as a peace offering. A "there's more where this came from if you leave me be" sort of deal. A deal the Collector obviously took.

So, that might explain how it got there, but what exactly is it? The Tesseract and the Aether are called Infinity Stones, a clear reference to the Infinity Gems from the comics, and seen above implanted in the prop Infinity Gauntlet from the first Thor film (it was glimpsed in Odin's weapons vault). These six gems each controlled a different aspect of subjective reality, and when Thanos united them all in the Gauntlet, he created a weapon capable of unmaking the universe, and thus achieving his goal of meeting his beloved Death (literally, Thanos is in  love with the personification of Death. Dude has issues). The six gems are as follows:

  • Space Gem (purple), allows movement of individuals or objects to any location in the universe.
  • Power Gem (red), can manipulate energy fields.
  • Soul Gem (green), gives control over souls.
  • Mind Gem (blue), gifts telepathy to the wearer.
  • Reality Gem (yellow), is able to manipulate reality.
  • Time Gem (orange), manipulates time, allowing for isolated time fields and general time travel.
The MCU interpretation of these gems is a little more general. The Cinematic Infinity Stones are the remains of six "singularities," fashioned by the ancient Celestials into objects of immense power, for those that are able to harness it. The Tesseract, with it's ability to open wormholes (Avengers) and transport individuals (Red Skull in Captain America), has been confirmed by Kevin Feige as the MCU Space Stone. James Gunn confirmed that the purple stone in Guardians is the Power Gem, made purple instead of red because The Dark World already used red for the Aether. My assumption at the time was that the Aether was the Power Stone, given its red colouring and that Malekith's intended use of the Aether was to harness the energies of all Nine Realms and cause them to feed back into one another, destroying everything. It is now clear that this was not the case. The MCU Stones do not sync-up directly with their comic counterparts, in terms of colour and exact ability, so there is considerable wiggle room. The Dark World stone could be the Reality Stone, since it was intended to collapse all of reality in on itself, but I think moving forward we need to think of the Stones much more generally than those in the comics. Presumably the remaining Stones will be the primary force behind Phase 3 of the MCU. This is all presumably leading up to Avengers 3, which would feature Thanos in possession of all of the Stones, assembling his Gauntlet and threatening reality. By the time Phase 3 is complete, the MCU will be much larger, featuring aliens (Thor and the Guardians), magicians (Scarlet Witch and Doctor Strange) and scientists (Ant-man and Hulk), and Thanos' threat will truly be universal.

So, where will the remaining Stones fit in? If I'm right about the Aether being the Reality Stone, that leaves Soul, Mind, and Time left to gather. It's almost certain that one of these will be central to Guardians 2, and I'd give the edge to the Time Stone, since time travel would be most natural in a science fiction film than in any of the other franchises Marvel currently has on deck. The other film that, I feel, is certain to feature a Stone will be the presumed Doctor Strange film that will occur in Phase 3. And it even already has a name: the Eye of Agamotto. And, as seen above, it already exists in the MCU, having appeared yet again in Odin's weapons vault in Thor. The Eye is one of a number of artifacts that Strange draws his powers from, and considering that the Stones can warp and alter matter in a way that appears to be magical, it's influence is the easiest way to explain the presence of magic in characters like Strange and the Scarlet Witch, without ever having to touch the concept of mutants.

I'll be interested to see if the Soul Stone ties into Age of Ultron in some way. The concept of Ultron being a sentient AI is only part of the character's story. He is passionate, able to love, and through love, able to hate and seek vengeance on those he believes has wronged him. Since the two known Stones have been born out of objects of great power, perhaps the Soul Stone will be some remnant of Ultron after he is ultimately destroyed? A technology that is able to ensoul the inanimate would be a very powerful weapon.

Where the rest fall will depend on which other films are announced for Phase 3, but if Thor is gifted with a third film, I believe the focus of that adventure will fall on the Tesseract. A third Thor movie would have to touch on Loki's posing as Odin and ruling over Asgard. And Thanos' collection would be incomplete without the Tesseract, which is locked in Odin's weapons vault. I've previously stated that Loki really should stop while he's ahead, and I've previous stated my belief that the Enchantress should be the villain of a third Thor film. Perhaps Loki, as Odin, will take Enchantress as his new wife, which would give her an emotional reason to turn villainous if agents of Thanos kill the sitting king early in the film while attempting to retrieve the Tesseract. Or perhaps, Enchantress herself would be Thanos' agent in Asgard? Either way, something will have to draw Thor back to his home Realm, and the previously thought secure Tesseract will have to find itself into the hands of Thanos, and both of those would both best be served as elements of a third Thor film. Considering the box office results of the first weekend of the sequel, I think that has become increasingly likely.

The question becomes, how much of this was planned from the start, and how much has been contributed by Joss Whedon. Thanos' inclusion at the end of Avengers was at the request of Whedon, though he claims it was not intended to suggest that he would be the villain of the next Avengers, rather just a hint at the size of the MCU. I doubt that the inclusion of the Tesseract as the focal point of so much of Phase 1 was anything but that, and once the brain trust realised they could start building on the Infinity Stones concept, simply folded the Tesseract into that plan. Now we wait to see, over the course of the next decade, where else elements of the Marvel Universe can be folded into the Infinity Saga, and how much larger and more interconnected the MCU just got.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


  1. This was actually awesome. I read through this about 3 times after the Guardians of The Galaxy totally messed with my head! haha :)

    1. Thanks. I only write this stuff to be helpful. You should give it a re-read; your comment prompted me to update it with what we now know from Guardians.

  2. Do you think the Collector already passed on the Aether to Thanos or do you think it was somehow affected when his museum blew up in Guardians?

    1. After seeing the film several times, I am now 100% certain I have no idea where the Collector's allegiances lie. I am not sold on the idea that he is working for Thanos, despite there being nothing to contradict that point (and the Thor post credit scene heavily suggesting it). Considering his weird little hand shaking fit, maybe he is genuinely collecting them for himself, just because they are incredibly rare and unique, making him a truly neutral character.

      James Gunn has said since the films release that the Collector's Knowhere base was only one such repository that he maintained in the Galaxy, and that the sequel would almost certainly visit one of the others. I feel that the Aether is safe and sound in perhaps one of the most secure and less conspicuous of his hideouts.