Yes, the ending of Thor: Ragnarok once again drops a post-credit stinger on to rabid Marvel fans, but for the most part, the movie — director Taika Waititi’s first entry into the “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” the third entry in the trilogy of Thor-led films, and the seventeenth film in the greater interconnected Avengers series — takes a totally different direction than its predecessors. Ragnarok recalls the days of standalone adventuring. As Thor ventures from Asgard to Earth to Sakaar and back to his kingdom, he’s rarely bogged down in setting up other films. Mostly.
Ragnarok lifts heavily from comics history — the 2006-2007 run Planet Hulk plays a key role in the central conflict and Valkyrie is a fan favorite character who dates back to the 1970s — but most of the drama is disconnected from the political brouhaha last seen in Captain America: Civil War. The movie doesn’t even name-check the coveted Infinity Stones, expected to play a large role in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War. So what connects Thor: Ragnarok to everything else in the Marvel universe? We have to look to the ending, and those post-credit scenes, for the biggest surprises.
The spaceship at the end of Ragnarok
The first of Thor 3‘s two end credits scenes finds Thor and Loki staring out over space, on their way to Earth with the last survivors of Asgard. The sweet moment is interrupted (or intercepted) by a large ship, multiple sizes bigger than their own, looking like it’s ready to swallow them up like a Star Destroyer swallows Tantive IV in the original Star Wars. Deductive reasoning suggests this is the ship of Thanos and The Black Order, the primary villains of Avengers: Infinity War (and presumably the untitled Avengers 4, slated for 2019).
This summer, Marvel showed the first Avengers: Infinity War footage at Disney’s D23 conference. The reel opened with the Guardians of the Galaxy coming across Thor, floating through space, on the edge of some sort of mass destruction (one of the Guardians asks: “What happened?” before Thor smashes into the window of Star-Lord’s spaceship, The Milano). At the time, some assumed that Thor: Ragnarok would leave the thunder god drifting the vacuum after Asgard was destroyed; others thought Asgard would survive only to have Thanos destroy it. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between.
Disney and Marvel never released the Infinity War footage, and it’s easy to see why: In the end of Ragnarok, Thor loses an eye and in the sneak preview, Thor still has both eyes. Anyone who’s overanalyzed the Thor: Ragnarok trailers versus the finished Thor: Ragnarok product knows that Marvel is all about marketing sleight of hand and that taking an eye off Chris Hemsworth’s face isn’t a huge post-production challenge. If Infinity War really starts with the Guardians meeting Thor on the way to Midgard (a.k.a. Earth), something got him off the ship of Asgardians… and that’s probably Thanos.
Thor, the Infinity Stones, and Thanos’ role in Avengers: Infinity War
The last time we saw Thanos, back in the Avengers: Age of Ultron post-credits scene, he was putting on his Infinity Gauntlet, which had empty space for all of the cosmic Infinity Stones. Fans quickly pointed out that we’d actually seen the Gauntlet loaded up before, back in Odin’s treasure room in the first Thor movie. Ragnarok corrects that apparent error when Hela immediately knocks over the Gauntlet on Asgard and declares it a fake (which also makes sense as the Aether from Thor: The Dark World had to go to The Collector so it wouldn’t be in the same vault as the Tesseract, the other name for the Space stone). Hela does show great interest in the Tesseract, but then settles on… The Eternal Flame.
The Eternal Flame?!? If you’ve been following the reveals of the Infinity Stones a.k.a. Marvel’s magic MacGuffins, you know the Tesseract showed up in Avengers (as did Loki’s Scepter, though that’s not outed as a Stone until Age of Ultron), The Aether (the Reality Stone) appeared in Thor: The Dark World, The Orb showed up in Guardians of the Galaxy — where the Collector finally told the backstory of the stones and gave us a glimpse at the unique colors for each one — Ultron outed Loki’s scepter as the Mind Stone (which the villain used to create Vision) and Doctor Strange (in Doctor Strange) slyly dropped that the Eye of Agamotto necklace was the Time Stone. That leaves one Stone left: The Soul Stone.
Many people assumed that the Soul Stone would be revealed in Thor: Ragnarok — yours truly among them. It seems to fit so perfectly: the goddess of death Hela wanting a Soul Stone, Thanos wanting to court death in the storyline from the comics, even the acrostic theory — where the objects hiding each of the stones spell out “THANOS” with the first letter of their noun (T for Tesseract, H, A for Aether, N for Necklace, O for Orb, S for Scepter) — worked out. The “H,” us smart-asses thought, was for Heimdall, Idris Elba’s all-seeing, bridge operator.