For a movie like Avengers: Infinity War--which is now available as a home release, complete with revealing special features--it's definitely best to go in expecting the unexpected. But no matter how well you've tried to prepare yourself, chances are you're still going to be thrown for a major loop at least once. Case in point: Infinity War's Red Skull cameo.
It turns out that the key to the Soul Stone has actually been with Gamora this whole time, a relic of a mission Thanos sent her on years before. She's kept its location hidden as best she could, but unfortunately for her, Thanos has some pretty persuasive ways of getting information out of people, including but not limited to torturing their adoptive sisters within an inch of their life. Reluctantly, Gamora agreed to take Thanos to the Soul Stone, located on a planet called Vormir in some undisclosed far reach of the galaxy.
When they arrive, the planet seems to be pretty much uninhabited--a relic of some ancient civilization that's moved on maybe, covered in mountains and strange rock formations peppered across still bodies of water. As they climb to the top of one of those rock formations, they're interrupted--a figure shrouded in flowing black robes materializes in their path, and, as they step out of the shadows, we see their face.
Or, well, we see their skull. Which just so happens to be red--because, that's right, the Red Skull, the villain of Captain America: The First Avenger, a guy who was last seen seven real time years ago, is back.
In case you're not quite as up on your vintage Cap history, here's the abbreviated version of events from Steve Rogers' origin story. Back in the 1940s, Hydra founder and Nazi science officer Johann Schmidt tried to recreate the super serum that created Captain America. He tested his formula on himself, only to become horribly disfigured with his trademark red, skull-like face. On top of his scientific pursuits, Schmidt became obsessed with occult objects and mythology, leading him on a quest to uncover an artifact known as the Tesseract, or "Cosmic Cube," which we later learned contained the Space Stone.
Schmidt used the Tesseract to create energy weapons of mass destruction for his own personal Hydra splinter cell, which he planned to use to take over the world. This, obviously, was thwarted by Steve Rogers in the accident that left him frozen where he'd later be revived in the present day. Schmidt was less lucky, and, prior to the plane crash took hold of the Tesseract in its raw form only to have its energy tear him apart.
Or, at least, that's what it looked like.
It turns out that the Tesseract did not actually kill Schmidt, but instead the Space Stone used its teleportation powers to move and transform him into some sort of Infinity Stone connected cosmic entity. He describes his role on Vormir as something along the lines of the Soul Stone's keeper--it's his "curse" he says--and he certainly seems to know quite a bit about the Stone. But he doesn't elaborate much beyond that, other than to say that he himself can never actually possess the the Stone because he was judged "unworthy."
What we're left with is the knowledge that the Red Skull has, essentially, been acting as an interstellar Ring Wraith for nearly 100 years without anyone having even the slightest idea. It's all bizarrely poetic: Schmidt and the Tesseract were the heralds of the MCU's very first Infinity Stone, even though we didn't quite know it at the time, so it only makes sense in a book-ending sort of way that he'd be the guardian of its last.
Strange as it may sound, this is not all that out of character, or all that unexpected, for someone like the Red Skull. Throughout his long comics history (he's existed since 1941), Schmidt has been killed off and cosmically reincarnated more times than anyone could really count. His nonstop obsession and association with the Cosmic Cube (not generally called the Tesseract and a separate entity from the Infinity Stones in the comics) has spun him into a sort of unkillable poltergeist to perennially haunt Steve Rogers at every turn. Typically his motivation for doing so involves becoming Captain America, cloning Captain America, or otherwise replacing Captain America with something he's engineered all in order to help topple the country and make way for a new Hydra empire.
It's probably unlikely that the Red Skull is going to be reincarnated back on Earth now that his duty to watch over the Soul Stone's, uh, ritual platform? Home planet? Resting place? Has been fulfilled, but it might be best not to rule anything out. More importantly, Schmidt's survival and return at the hands of the Infinity Stone's powers opens the door for all kinds of previously unthinkable revivals and surprise cameos as the MCU goes on--after all, if Schmidt's been around all this time, who else might still be out there hiding somewhere in the stars?
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