Why the Infinity Gauntlet Is the Key to Understanding 'Avengers: Endgame'

avengers infnity gauntlet
Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios
This post contains major spoilers for the entire plot of Avengers: Endgame. You can also read our spoiler-free review, find out whether there's a post-credits scene, and speculate with us about what Endgame means for the future of the MCU.

When Avengers: Endgame comes to a close, you'll likely be left with some tough, unanswerable questions. What does the movie's heartstring-pulling ending mean for the future of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe? Does the time travel scheme that drives the second act of the film actually make sense? How exactly did the Russo Brothers make the Hulk so hot? Some of these queries will only be answered over time, but most of your questions about the Infinity Gauntlet, the Infinity Stone-bedazzled glove that Thanos wielded at the end of Avengers: Infinity War and used to snap away half the creatures in the universe, are answerable right now, because the Infinity Gauntlet is not as complicated as it looks.

Given the amount of time fans have spent puzzling over the shiny hardware, scouring the comics for clues on how it would eventually appear on screen and teasing out theories about who would wear it, you'd think the Infinity Gauntlet would be confusing -- or at least difficult to assemble. But as we've learned over the last two Avengers movies, it's not that tricky once you get all the parts in one place. Thanos got his original Gauntlet built by the Dwarves on Nidavellir, popped those beautiful stones in, and then he was ready for business, like he was putting together a piece of camping equipment. Some assembly required.

The big difference in Avengers: Endgame is that now there's more than one Infinity Gauntlet. (Sequels always demand more, more, more.) After we learn that Thanos has destroyed all the Infinity Stones, which left his powers depleted, it becomes clear that the Avengers will have to find a way to retrieve the stones. That leads to all sorts of Back to the Future II-esque time travel shenanigans, including a sequence where our heroes revisit the Battle of New York from the first Joss Whedon-helmed team-up film. Once the team has assembled all the stones, they're faced with a new challenge: What Avenger can wield them and bring all their dead friends back without killing themselves in the process? And how will they get their own Gauntlet, which will allow them to use the Infinity Stones' power for their own ends?

avengers endgame
Marvel Studios

To undo Thanos' handy work, Bruce Banner, Thor, and Tony Stark put their brains together and construct a new, technologically-advanced device designed to carry out their own counter-snap, which will undo the actions of Thanos at the end of Infinity War. (I've seen some call it the "Stark-gauntlet" but let's call this version of the item the Hulk-gauntlet for our purposes.) Compared to the amount of time spent getting the stones back, the building of this glove, like the construction of the time-warp technology, isn't really dwelled on in great detail; the Russo Brothers just assume you'll go with it, and movie is long enough that you won't necessarily be begging for a lengthy mid-movie gadget explainer.

Following some bickering, the crew decides that Banner, who has learned to control his angry outbursts and purchased some stylish glasses, should be the one to wield the Hulk-gauntlet. In the lab, he explains to everyone that the new glove-like item, which resembles Stark's Iron Man costume in certain ways and adjusts to fit Banner's enormous fist, will give off potentially lethal amounts of gamma radiation, but since he's already got tons of that in him, it will hurt him the least.

So, Banner does the counter-snap with the Hulk-gauntlet. Instead of a sequence to rival the bleak finale of Infinity War, the Russo Brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely take a different approach to how they dramatize this second snap. We don't see clouds of dust suddenly reappearing on Earth, forming human shapes, and presumably causing chaos in the streets. The staging is a bit simpler and a little awkward. At first it seems like the snap didn't work, but then Hawkeye's phone begins to ring and we see it's his wife Laura calling him. The film opens with her disappearing during an outdoor family hangout session, along with their children, so the vibrating phone represents the return to the status quo.

Unsurprisingly, that status quo gets disrupted by yet another twist: Thanos' giant spaceship appears through a time wormhole in the sky and fires down a hailstorm of missiles on the Avengers compound. (Of all the action beats in the movie, this one might be my favorite because of how massive the explosions are and how easily the Avengers all survive the aerial assault by sliding through the cracks in the crumbling building.) This moment signals that the movie is shifting into its final third, a Lord of the Rings-style battle between the forces of good and evil complete with glowing Doctor Strange portals, soaring Spider-Man acrobatics, and Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie riding a Pegasus through the sky. It's pure splash page chaos. 

avengers endgame
Marvel Studios

There's enough visual stimulation onscreen to potentially lose track of the Infinity Gauntlet during this sequence. On a certain level, it's worth wondering why the Avengers didn't have a plan to destroy the Infinity Stones and the new Gauntlet right after using them, but we know destroying the stones is a complicated process and they weren't expecting Thanos to slip through time with his space ship. There's really no time and the plot needs to keep moving. In the midst of the raid on the Avengers' compound, Hawkeye attempts to protect Hulk-gauntlet, but he eventually gives it up to Nebula, who he doesn't realize is actually the evil Nebula. Thanos gets ahold of it, and after swatting away a wide range of Avengers, he's ready to once again unleash its terrible power. This time he plans to kill off all of humanity -- not just half. He realizes there's really no upside to leaving all those leftovers around.

When he's about to pull of his final deadly snap, Thanos declares in his deep baritone, "I'm inevitable." But then, in yet another twist, he tries to do the snap, which fails when he realized the stones are no longer in his glove. Instead, Tony Stark reveals that he's constructed his own backup, quasi-improvised Infinity Gauntlet glove-like device, which he uses to pull the Infinity Stones toward him. (When did he make this and was he always planning to unveil it? That one's difficult to answer.) Now, he's got the power. "And I'm Iron Man," he quips in a call-back to the surprise ending of the first Iron Man movie from 2008, the film that kicked off the MCU over a decade ago. Then, he snaps.

If you don't totally get the rules of the Infinity Gauntlet, that Iron Man snap might be confusing. It's not totally unreasonable to wonder, "Wait, did Tony Stark just kill off half the population again?" Here's what you need to remember: Once you have all the Infinity Stones in the Infinity Gauntlet, the glove functions a bit like genie's magic lamp, and the snap performed by Stark has a different aim than Thanos' evil snap or Hulk's reviving snap. He uses it to wipe out only Thanos and his armies. Of course, he pays a heavy price for performing this act of mystical destruction, and, lacking Hulk's gamma-resistant strength, the snap kills him. Following Stark's funeral, the ending of the film finds Captain America traveling back through time to return the Infinity Stones to their rightful time periods, creating a version of the present where there are no longer any Infinity Stones. (Remember: the decapitated Thanos destroyed the ones he used.)

This means that Avengers: Endgame, the likely swan song for Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man and Chris Evans's Captain America, is also probably the last time you'll be asked to care about Infinity Stones and the Infinity Gauntlet. Were they sometimes shoehorned into otherwise zippy action-comedies? Sure. Did every aspect of them always hold together over the last decade of plotting? Not exactly. But they served their purpose of creating a sense of scale and connectivity to this gargantuan narrative system. Whatever combination of new Marvel superhero movies, sequels for familiar characters, and heavily hyped Disney+ shows follow, they will probably focus on a different set of objects for fans to obsess and theorize over. There's always a plot demand for more items to pursue, more mysteries to crack, and more evil to be undone. Still, as far as cinematic MacGuffins go, the Infinity Gauntlet and the Infinity Stones had a historic run.

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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.