Thanos’ victory in Avengers: Infinity War wasn’t the result of any one decision (although Star-Lord certainly challenges that), but had Iron Man done one thing differently early on in the film, it’s possible that half the universe could have been saved. That decision? Tony Stark, Doctor Strange and Spider-Man should have returned to Earth instead of continuing on to Titan.
After the attack on New York City by the Black Order, Iron Man and Spider-Man stowed away on Ebony Maw’s ship as it escaped Earth. The Maw had kidnapped Doctor Strange and planned to torture him until he surrendered the Time Stone. After Iron Man and Spider-Man blew Ebony Maw out into space, Stark and Strange then argued about the best course of action: Strange wanted to return to Earth to keep the Time Stone away from Thanos, while the billionaire futurist, haunted by Thanos, decided to continue onwards to Titan and take Thanos by surprise. But what if Doctor Strange was right and Stark made the wrong decision? Avengers: Infinity War could have turned out very differently.
Now, directors Joe and Anthony Russo and screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus obviously made their story choices for specific reasons, writing Avengers: Infinity War to give Thanos ultimate victory, and the Titan move makes sense within that. But, taking inspiration from Marvel’s “What If?” comics, how would a different Tony Stark decision in Act I have altered the movie?
The most immediate change to Avengers: Infinity War had Tony Stark, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man returned to Earth would have been the Avengers being at full power. Stark would have had to swallow his pride and reunite with Steve Rogers, but that’s a minor hurdle; by the time he returned, Rogers, Black Widow, and the Falcon would have still saved Scarlet Witch and Vision from Corvus Glave and Proxima Midnight in Scotland and gone “home“. It’s likely Stark’s group and Rogers’ Secret Avengers would have reunited there, regardless of what Secretary Ross feels.
If upon seeing each other again, Tony and Steve could get on the same page (and with the fate of the universe at stake, they would have gotten past their issues, at least for now), the Avengers would most likely have reached the same plan: take Vision to Wakanda to have Shuri attempt to remove the Mind Stone from his head. But the big difference here is that the Avengers and the Wakandan forces would be defending twoInfinity Stones: the Mind Stone and the Time Stone. It’s also possible that Tony would have used his political influence over the Sokovia Accords to get Clint Barton out of house arrest and into the fight, which would have brought Hawkeye into the movie. The same could have happened with Ant-Man as well, but Barton would have been a more likely call-up in order to assemble all of the Avengers.
Along with cool moments like Tony Stark meeting Shuri (and Peter Parker meeting Shuri), the Avengers would have been in a much stronger position to fight the Black Order’s army with Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man (and also Hawkeye) on the field.
Meanwhile, Thanos’ adventures in outer space would have continued unabated: he would still have bested the Guardians on Knowhere to take the Reality Stone from the Collector and kidnapped Gamora. Father and daughter would have still traveled to Vormir, encountered the Red Skull, and Thanos would have still sacrificed Gamora’s life to capture the Soul Stone. But without another Stone on Titan, Thanos would have only had four before coming to Earth – and that makes a big difference.
In the film, Thanos nearly lost the Infinity Gauntlet thanks to a coordinated plan executed to near-perfection by Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Drax, Mantis, and Star-Lord. This group of heroes did manage to subdue Thanos and almost removed the Gauntlet until Peter Quill lost his cool because he found out Gamora is dead. Remove Star-Lord from the picture and things turn out very differently. If that ragtag team came so close to beating Thanos, who had four Infinity Stones in his Gauntlet, it’s reasonable to believe that the Avengers at full-strength could have done even better against the Mad Titan in Wakanda.