Infinity War may have made its way to cinemas with its surprises well and truly intact, but now that it has released, it's time to examine what those surprises actually mean. By far one of the film's biggest involved Red Skull, with the wartime Nazi villain well and truly alive on the planet Vormir, and well, it raises a heck of a lot of questions.
Long-thought dead after the events of The First Avenger (permanently so, thanks to Hugo Weaving's well-documented reluctance to return to the franchise), it turns out that the former HYDRA Commander in Chief was transported to Vormir by the Tesseract, where upon he took the title of Stonekeeper. He has a pivotal influence in informing Thanos of the cost of achieving the soul stone, and while his fate was left unresolved in the wake of Gamora's death, it wouldn't be at all surprising if Marvel have set up the character for a full return in Avengers 4 - especially with the souls of half the universe tied directly to the stone he himself ceded to Thanos.
There are a whole host of questions that have accompanied this return, and with Weaving having departed the role for good (now replaced by The Walking Dead's Ross Marquand), the door is very much open for the character to play a key role in the franchise's future - a future that is said to lack a Steve Rogers, should Chris Evans make good on his promise to leave the shield behind.
Equally, Marvel could just close the door on the character. That wouldn't be a massive problem either, particularly given how most audiences had pretty much forgotten about the villain after seven years spent out of the spotlight, and that his one scene in Infinity War served a purpose in closing the door on him. It's a nice throwback to a Marvel film that - unfortunately - tends to get overlooked, but that doesn't stop the fact that fans will be contemplating the character's future, and whether or not he could, in fact, collide with Steve Rogers one last time.
This is all rather exciting to speculate on, especially since before last week literally no one would've thought Red Skull would grace the big screen again. It isn't without its problems though, and while seeing the Skull fight Captain America again presents a fantastic opportunity to close both characters' respective journeys, the lingering thought of what could have been will no doubt linger amongst True Believers everywhere.
And therein lies the rub; of course it's fantastic to see the Skull back (not literally obviously - the man's evil), but even if he reappears in Avengers 4, he does so in the context of Chris Evans' final appearance as Captain America, so one of the medium's greatest rivalries will last only three films.
Marvel themselves are no stranger to wasting potential either - Ben Urich was killed off in Daredevil Season 1 despite his integral role in the comics, and the Thor films, up until Ragnarok at least, were frequently accused of squandering the lore established by Jack Kirby during the character's seminal sixties years.
This in no way detracts from Infinity War's most fan-pleasing surprise, and to be honest, it makes more than enough sense to end both the Skull and Rogers' journey in the same place. They're both men out of time, both literally and figuratively, and while the brief reunion will be bittersweet for a whole host of reasons, it's better to have the character back than to not have him at all, even if it does bring its own problems to the table.
What do you think of Red Skull's return? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!