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Infinity Stones, explained by the new Marvel movies and shows

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2018’s Avengers: Infinity War brought a massive part of Marvel mythology to the forefront: Thanos and the Infinity Stones. The stones were the one plot device standing in the shadows of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from the early days with Thor through the final act of Phase 3. But the question remains, even now: What the heck are the Infinity Stones? And where are the stones now?

The simple answer is the Infinity Stones are six items of great power, and Thanos wanted to collect them all for an obvious reason: rule the universe. The end of Infinity War and all of Endgame showed us the true extent of that power — but even after Captain America took them back in time and restore order to the universe, they keep popping up. If you thought we were past understanding how the gems worked, WandaVision is here to bring it all back with a reminder that there’s no Wanda Maximoff without the Mind Stone.

If the stretch between Endgame and now has left you a bit hazy, here’s a refresher course on the Infinity Stones, which continue to play a pivotal role in the MCU. Or make that the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse.

[Ed. note: This contains Marvel spoilers through all the movies and WandaVision.]

What are the Infinity Stones?

Within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Infinity Stones are six artifacts that endow bearers with a variety of powerful abilities. In Guardians of the Galaxy, it was explained that the six “stones” are actually six singularities whose existence preceded the Big Bang and were pressed into stones after the universe began (meaning no matter how many prequels Marvel comes up with, they’ll always be around and in play). When brought together into a glove known as the Infinity Gauntlet, the Stones give their user the power to reshape all of reality itself.

The Stones have played minor roles as MacGuffins in many Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and those assorted plot threads built up to the one-two punch of Avengers: Infinity War, a Marvel-y heist movie where the ownership and location of the Infinity Stones was everything, and Endgame, where Tony Stark got his own chance to snap back.

Are the Infinity Stones in the comics?

The cover of Infinity Gauntlet #1.
George Pérez/Marvel Comics

Yes! In Marvel Comics, the Stones are known as the Infinity Gems, and take the form of translucent oval gems in six of the traditional colors of the rainbow (indigo, the color Isaac Newton only added because he believed in the power of seven, isn’t present).

In the comics, the Infinity Gems were famously sought by Thanos, the Mad Titan. He desired them because he had fallen in love with the Marvel Universe’s concept of Death, often embodied as a cloaked skeleton or sometimes a humanoid woman. In 1991’s The Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos used the omnipotent power granted by the Gauntlet to instantly kill half the population of the universe as a tribute to his intended. We saw the move recreated in Infinity War.

Where were the Infinity Stones in the movies?

Like all great MacGuffins that need to be discovered by movie protagonists, the Stones were scattered throughout the universe. And unlike their comic book counterparts, the Infinity Stones are only sometimes physical gems, occasionally taking the form of strange gases or powerful cubes — at least at first glance. Some of them have featured largely in the MCU while disguised, with their true nature revealed after the fact.

Here’s a full list of the Infinity Stones, and their individual paths throughout the current MCU, including as the story inches into Phase 4.

The Space Stone (blue)

Red Skull holds the Tesseract/Space Stone in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Marvel Studios/Disney

The first Infinity Stone to appear in a Marvel movie, this one’s form — as a glowing blue cube about the size of a softball known as the Tesseract — was a neat red herring for another powerful Marvel Comics artifact, the Cosmic Cube.

The Hydra agent known as the Red Skull sought out the Cube, which contained the Space Stone, in Captain America: The First Avenger. Then the Space Stone was recovered by SHIELD in the 21st century, and members of Project PEGASUS used it to develop light-speed technology. But, of course, that was a ruse — the scientist behind the project was actually the Kree spy Mar-vell, hoping to further the species’ war against the Skrulls. The Tesseract eventually imbued Captain Marvel with her powers.

In more present times, the Tesseract was stolen by Loki and subsequently used to open the portal that brought the Chitauri army to New York in The Avengers. At the end of The Avengers, Thor returned it to Asgard.

The Tesseract was seen multiple times in Odin’s treasure room in Thor: Ragnarok, in which all of Asgard was destroyed utterly by the fire demon, Surtur. The final time it appeared was when Loki visited the vault to recover Surtur’s skull. Of course he snatched the stone, later offering it to Thanos, who did away with the god of mischief and added it to his gauntlet.

The Mind Stone (yellow)

Wanda sees the Mind Stone in WandaVision

WandaVision (2021)
Image: Marvel Studios

The Mind Stone first appeared, secretly, in The Avengers. Originally hidden in the tip of Loki’s mind-control scepter, it’s one of the most well-traveled and consequential Stones of the lot.

The scepter was a gift from Thanos, who’d also financed the Chitauri army and rescued Loki from the void after he fell from Asgard’s rainbow bridge in Thor, in exchange for Loki leading the army to Earth. During The Avengers, that scepter was confiscated for study by SHIELD, and in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it was pilfered by HYDRA and handed off to Baron Wolfgang von Strucker in Sokovia. The monocled evildoer used its power to experiment on Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, which is how this all connects to WandaVision. The Disney Plus show even offers a flashback to her creation moment, in which her seemingly magical powers are amplified by the stone’s powers.

Tony Stark and Bruce Banner used the scepter to create the evil artificial intelligence Ultron, who was the first to realize that the scepter’s power actually resided in the Mind Stone, which was inside the scepter. Ultron attempted to use the Mind Stone to craft a new body for himself.

That body was recovered by the Avengers before he could insert his consciousness into it, and brought to life as the android the Vision, endowed with sentience by the Mind Stone embedded in his forehead. Thanos ripped it out of his head in Infinity War, ending Vision’s life … until WandaVision.

The Reality Stone (red)

The aether coming out of Jane Foster in Thor The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Image: Marvel Studios

The Reality Stone only featured prominently in Thor: The Dark World, where its malleable form, known as the Aether, was used as a weapon by the Dark Elf villain Malekith. At the end of the film, the Reality Stone was captured by Asgardian forces and brought to the Collector, and ancient being who … collects stuff, for safekeeping. Apparently keeping two Stones in close proximity in Asgard’s armory was considered to be too dangerous, and they already had the Space Stone, or Tesseract.

Thanos raided the Collector’s hideout and killed the extraterrestrial hoarder in order to steal the Reality Stone.

The Power Stone (purple)

The Power Stone, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Marvel Studios/Disney

Speaking of Guardians of the Galaxy, its plot was centered around the Power Stone, recovered from an ancient ruin by Peter Quill and sought by the Collector and Ronan the Accuser. Ronan was supposed to be grabbing it for Thanos, but decided instead to use its abilities to try to take revenge on the people of the planet Xandar.

After Ronan was defeated by the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Power Stone was given to Xandar’s Nova Corps. Thanos busted them up off-screen in Infinity War, and eventually used the stone’s power to bring an entire planet down on Iron Man and company.

The Time Stone (green)

The Time Stone within the Eye of Agamotto in Doctor Strange (2016)

Doctor Strange (2016)
Marvel Studios/Disney

The Time Stone features prominently in Doctor Strange, in which the eponymous hero uses the Eye of Agamotto’s power to control time when he defeated the demon Dormammu. Earth’s first sorcerer, Agamotto, had bound the Time Stone into a pendant thousands of years before.

At the end of Doctor Strange, Doctor Strange returns the Eye to the stronghold of Kamar-Taj in Nepal, wanting to wait to use its power until he was “ready.” It didn’t take long — he’s back wearing it in Thor Ragnarok and Infinity War, and eventually hands over the stone to Thanos in order to kick off a series of events that would lead to the Mad Titan’s undoing in Endgame.

The Soul Stone (orange)

Thanos holding the Soul Stone in Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Image: Marvel Studios

The Soul Stone was the lone holdout of the MCU Infinity Stones, and the subject of some much-informed comics-related speculation. But we eventually learned its location in Avengers: Infinity War.

Hidden on the planet Vormir, and overseen by a ghastly form of the Red Skull, the stone was only available for use by an entity willing to sacrifice someone they love to the gem’s stony altar. In Infinity War, Thanos chose Gamora, his adoptive daughter.

The Infinity Stones during Endgame

Infinity Stones time heist graphic in Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Image: Marvel Studios

The entire history of the stones became even more convoluted (in a good way!) during the events of Avengers: Endgame. To undo Thanos’ decimating snap, the Avengers traveled through the quantum realm — and time itself — to steal the stones for their own home-made gauntlet. Here are the bullet points of how they messed with the timeline (which directors Joe and Anthony Russo describe as forging new realties rather than rewriting history, but that’s a whole can of worms):

  • Ant-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, and Hulk traveled back to 2012 during The Battle of New York to steal Loki’s scepter. Not everything went as planned, but Ant-Man headed back to the present with the Mind Stone.
  • After smashing a few Chitauri, Bookish Hulk/Bruce Banner heads to the New York Sanctum Sanctorum to beg the Ancient One for the Time Stone. She complies!
  • After allowing the Tesseract/Space Stone to slip back into the hands of Loki in the 2012 timeline (which seems to be the setup to the Loki TV series), Iron Man and Captain America travel back to the 1970s where they lift the stone from Camp Lehigh, its pre-Project PEGASUS location.
  • Meanwhile, Thor and Rocket head to 2013, when the Dark Elves attacked Asgard (as seen in Thor: The Dark World). There, they nab — or maybe the better word is extract — the Reality Stone from Jane Foster.
  • In space, War Machine and Nebula team up to undercut Star-Lord and steal the Power Stone around the time of the opening sequence of Guardians of the Galaxy.
  • Black Widow and Hawkeye time travel to before Thanos dropped Gamora off a cliff in order to steal the Soul Stone for themselves. The task forced the duo to make a tough call, resulting in the death of Natasha Romanoff. (Luckily, that Black Widow prequel was already in the works!)

Where are the Infinity Stones during WandaVision?

The bald Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) describes the flow of time and the Infinity Stones to Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner in Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Image: Marvel Studios

When Bruce Banner met with the Ancient One, she imparted some wisdom: You’re screwing with reality, man. Her explanation of what occurs when you remove the Infinity Stones from their organic place in time is a little more elegant (and vital):

The Infinity Stones create what you experience as the flow of time. Remove one stone and that flow splits. Now, this may benefit your reality but my new one, not so much. In this new branched reality, without our chief weapon against the forces of darkness, our world will be over run. Millions will suffer. So, tell me Doctor, can your science prevent all that?

Banner insisted in the moment that the Avengers defeating Thanos wasn’t the end of their mission. The plan was to then use quantum realm time travel to return the stones to their place once more, and restore balance. “So, chronologically, in that reality, they never left,” as he puts it.

When we see an old Steve Rogers sitting by the water at the end of Avengers: Endgame, the assumption is that he completed the mission and returned everything to normal. How it happened — if it happened — may be for Marvel Phase 4 to parse. The promise of a multiverse in the upcoming Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness suggests that maybe not everything is as linear and concrete as it seems (and perhaps it never was). The tease by Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige that WandaVision offers key setup to the Doctor Strange sequel suggests that Wanda’s connection to the stones, and her newly erratic behavior, may hold the key to understanding what’s happening.

But one thing is clear: Just because Thanos is done his whole Infinity Stone chasing escapade doesn’t mean the most powerful objects in the universe are fading out of existence. They remain the key to everything, and the connective tissue that holds the Marvel Cinematic Universe storytelling together.

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