Marvel Studios has a storied history of capping off the credits to their movies with scenes that tantalizingly tease what's coming up in their next movies, and the post-credits scene at the end of Thor: The Dark World just may be the strangest — and most important — one yet. (Warning: The rest of this post contains SPOILERS, not just for Thor: The Dark World, but for Guardians of the Galaxy, and possibly even Avengers 3!)
In the scene, Asgardian warriors Sif (Jaimie Alexander) and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) deliver what appears to be a small box that emits a red glow to a man with a white shock of hair who calls himself the Collector, and is played with eccentric flair by Benicio Del Toro. The box appears to contain what's left of the Aether, the universe-darkening MacGuffin that so vexed Thor throughout the preceding film. But Sif and Volstagg call it an "infinity stone" instead, and when they leave, the Collector says ominously, "One down, five to go." (There's a second scene that came at the very end of the Thor: The Dark World credits, but that mostly involved Thor and Jane Foster kissing. No mystery there!)
We already know that Del Toro will play the Collector in next summer's Guardians of the Galaxy — featuring the strangest comic book movie cast ever. But maybe we should start with the obvious question first:
So who is the Collector, anyway?
His name is Taneleer Tivan, and he is one of 13 Elders of the Universe. Each Elder is the last of their respective species, all originating from ancient races that populated the galaxy in its infancy after the Big Bang and each having achieved immortality via various means. Because the universe really loves to elevate bipedal humanoids to sentient status.
Why is he…collecting?
Millions of years ago, Tivan lost his wife to mysterious causes. In his grief, he realized his species would live forever only as long as they did not succumb to apathy. She literally died of boredom. Determined not to do the same, Tivan mediated, and had a vision that one day a great power would arise with the capability to destroy the universe. (Hint: He's big and purple and in love with Death and appeared in the post-credits scene of The Avengers and is named Thanos.)
Naming himself The Collector, Tivan set out in a giant spaceship he built — because, sure — to collect artifacts and living beings for safekeeping if the need to repopulate the universe ever arrived.
That's…that's insane right?
Yes. Over the millennia, The Collector lost sight of his original plan and began to collect for the sake of collecting. Each time his ship would fill to capacity, he would make a pit stop at one of 10 planets he terraformed into giant museums with the help of his personal robots to unload his cargo and start anew. Evidently, he's pillaged over 100,000 planets of archaeological wonders and kidnapped their creators. No one apparently bothered to tell Tivan that consent is sexy.
How would the Asgardians' know about him?
The Collector has been around the block a time or two and Thanos isn't the only threat to appear to him in a vision. There was a whole thing with an Asgardian demon of fire and destruction named Surtur who was cast into the center of the Earth — because, why not? In the Marvel movie universe, it's possible the Collector helped (or will eventually help) defeat him. Or perhaps the Collector just showed up one day and started abducting Asgardian citizens "for their own good" until he was persuaded otherwise.
At the very least, the guy has a reputation.
So what are "infinity stones," and why would the Asgardians give him one?
Short answer: Because they're idiots? Long answer: They're likely trying to keep Thanos from collecting all six Infinity Stones — known in the comics as Infinity Gems — and thus destroying the universe like the Collector foresaw. (Sif and Volstagg say they already have the Tesseract, and don't want two Infinity Stones so close together, which means the Tesseract is an Infinity Stone, too.) Each stone represents an aspect of the universe: Red for power, yellow for reality, purple for space, orange for time, blue for mind, and green for soul. Just think of them as really powerful Captain Planet rings. Only instead of their powers combining to fight pollution, once they're placed within the Infinity Gauntlet they bring about the destruction of everything you've ever loved.
Hold up. What the actual hell is an Infinity Gauntlet?
It's a swagtastic golden glove created by Thanos specifically to hold the Infinity Stones…Gems…Soul Stones…Reality Gems…whatever we're calling them today. As it happens, eagle-eyed viewers of 2011's Thor know the Infinity Gauntlet is sitting in Odin's vault. Whether that's a carefully planned hint at what was to come, or just an Easter Egg to give the hardcore fans a big happy is still not entirely clear.
So how could this tie into Guardians of the Galaxy?
Well, Guardians of the Galaxy's director, James Gunn, also directed the post-credits scene in question, and he recently told Crave Online that the scene "fits into our overall story."
But he also noted that while Thanos is a character in the film, the main villain is one of his underlings, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). So it's not likely that the Infinity Gauntlet will be the main focus of Guardians of the Galaxy's plot. Instead, we may be introduced to yet another Infinity Stone.
However, this all does have huge implications for The Avengers 3. Yes, that's right. By introducing the Collector so prominently — as well as his assistant (Ophelia Lovibond), who could also be the Collector's daughter — Marvel appears to be setting the stage already for its "Phase 3" slate of films. In the comics, both characters figure heavily in assisting the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers in keeping Thanos from victory.
Wait, wait, WAIT. You literally just said the Collector was the last of his kind. What daughter?
Pretty much everything in the Marvel universe should have an asterisk attached to it, OK? Yes, he has a daughter. Her name is Carina Walters and she also plays a role in Doctor Strange, a long rumored Marvel Comics character in line for a feature film adaptation, as the lover of one of his enemies. Just don't ask who Doctor Strange is — that movie doesn't even officially exist yet.
If that turns out to be the case though, we should thank our lucky stars Marvel chose to use their Machiavellian strategic powers to make quality entertainment instead of world domination.