The cliffhanger ending of Avengers: Infinity War could actually have seen the Mad Titan break time apart, with the Avengers striving to save all reality in Avengers 4. The Russo brothers have been quite up-front that Avengers 4 won't simply be "Infinity War Part II." While the two movies do have a strong narrative link, "there's an independence in terms of what the experience is or where the story goes." The films apparently relate to one another in same way Captain America: Civil War relates to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

That means there's more to Avengers 4 than the Avengers simply trying to undo what Thanos has done. We know Thanos will return in Avengers 4. The Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel will follow on "minutes afterAvengers 4, and sees Peter Parker introduce viewers to the post-Phase 3 MCU, so clearly the finger-snap will be either averted or undone. But that's part of the story, not its entirety.

This is why Marvel Studios is still keeping the title secret; it would act as a spoiler of some kind, offering a tantalizing hint as to the true nature of the plot. They're not ready to reveal that just yet. And that's why we need to look for some more creative possibilities. Such as the possibility that time itself could have been broken by Thanos's actions.

The Stakes Could Be Even Higher

The first synopsis for Avengers 4 has teased that the stakes could be even higher than we'd believed. "Our beloved heroes will truly understand how fragile this reality is," the synopsis cautions, "and the sacrifices that must be made to uphold it." Most attention has understandably been drawn to the second half of that sentence, to the idea of "sacrifices." But frankly, that was a foregone conclusion; several key Marvel contracts are coming to a close. The more interesting part is actually the first half of the sentence, the warning that reality itself is somehow "fragile." It suggests that something in Infinity War has broken the fabric of reality.

It's possible that this was the snap itself. Certainly Thanos's horrific act, his use of the combined power of the Infinity Stones to snuff out half the life in the universe, actually damaged the Infinity Gauntlet. As Joe Russo told Collider, "You’ll notice his arm is damaged post the snap, the gauntlet is damaged post the snap, it’s the incredible energy required from it and only because of his strength is he able to survive actually using the gauntlet in that capacity." It could be that this "incredible" surge of energy has somehow damaged the fabric of reality itself. That could also fit with the "dream state" Thanos briefly went into post-snap, where his consciousness actually entered into the Soul World.

But there's another possibility, too; a possibility that it wasn't the snap itself that damaged reality, but what Thanos did immediately before.

Thanos Broke Time

Doctor Strange introduced viewers to the Time Stone, revealing just what that particular Infinity Stone could do. Crucially, though, the film also saw Wong and Mordo issue stern warnings about the consequences of misusing the Time Stone. "Temporal manipulations can create branches in time," Mordo warned furiously, "Unstable dimensional openings. Spatial paradoxes, time loops!" All Strange was actually doing in that scene was using the Eye of Agamotto to experiment on an apple, and yet Wong could warn, "You weren't manipulating the space-time continuum, you were breaking it."

Now consider Thanos' use of the Time Stone at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. The Infinity Stones are six singularities that predate the universe itself; each is among the most powerful objects in creation. Thanos witnessed the destruction of one of the Infinity Stones, the Mind Stone, and then used the Time Stone to avert it. This was orders of magnitude beyond mere experiments upon an apple. If Wong and Mordo's warnings were valid in Doctor Strange, they were certainly valid here.

That introduces an instability into the heart of the Infinity Gauntlet. Thanos uses all six Infinity Stones to erase half the life in the universe; but one of those Infinity Stones should not exist any more. At the heart of the "snap" is a time paradox, a breach in the fabric of the space-time continuum. So, when Thanos snapped his fingers, he tore time apart.

Infinity War ends with the "snap." Even the post-credits scene is set during it, with the impact of Thanos's horrific decision rippling out across the cosmos. And no Marvel movie or TV show explores the aftermath of the "snap." Marvel is deliberately saving the post-"snap" status quo for Avengers 4, suggesting they have something unexpected in the works. Damage to the fabric of reality itself could well be part of it.

Page 2: What Would This Mean for the MCU?

The Comic Book Precedent

There is a certain precedent for this in the comics. 2013's Age of Ultron miniseries saw the Avengers rewrite history in order to prevent the triumph of Ultron. Wolverine initially traveled back to the distant past, and killed Hank Pym before he could ever create Ultron. That created a twisted alternate timeline, so he traveled back again and had Pym install safeguards to allow the Avengers to defeat Ultron instead. But the repeated time-travel placed far too much pressure upon the space-time continuum, and time fractured. Realities merged, portals opened between the dimensions, and incredibly that was a best-case scenario. As Tony Stark noted, "I think we're lucky we still exist in a cohesive linear reality."

Set photos and casting calls for Avengers 4 have certainly teased that something is going on with time. A lot of set photos appear to show the Avengers in their classic costumes from 2012's The Avengers; one set of images even showed Loki being taken away to Asgard in the aftermath of the battle. Chris Evans was snapped filming a scene set in the past, as he walked down a street filled with classic cars. Marvel casting calls included an appeal for actors to play a scene set in the '60s, and both Frank Grillo and Maximiliano Hernandez seem likely to return in the film - in spite of the fact both Crossbones and Jasper Sitwell are long dead. The standing theory has been that Avengers 4 is a time-travel film, but the truth could be even more remarkable. It's possible the fabric of space-time has actually been damaged by Thanos's actions.

Ironically, that may actually mean that the Avengers gain an unlikely ally - Thanos himself. The MCU's version of Thanos believes he serves the cause of life. In his own insane logic, population growth is placing a stress on the universe's limited resources, and will inevitably lead to the extinction of all life. That's why he gathered the Infinity Stones in the first place; to erase half the life in the universe, and thus save the other half. Now imagine if Thanos learns his action is causing the cascading collapse of reality itself, thus destroying all life. He, like the Avengers, would actually seek to avert that.

Are There Any Problems With This Theory?

There is one fundamental problem with this theory. It doesn't explain the significance of Ant-Man & the Wasp and Captain Marvel. While both films are set before the events of Infinity War Captain Marvel is actually set in the '90s - they're still important. In an interview with BuzzFeed, co-writer Stephen McFeely explained:

"Put yourself in our positions two years ago. We’re looking at a blank wall, and it says Avengers 3Ant-Man and [theWaspCaptain MarvelAvengers 4. So there are four big shoeboxes, and we’re responsible for the bookends. As we’re going through deciding what we want to do, we have these two shoeboxes in the middle that you can either look at as burdens or opportunities."

McFeely and his co-writer Christopher Markus stressed that both these films are still independent movies in their own right. Still, they fit in somehow, and there doesn't seem to be much room in this theory for them to do so. For all that's the case, though, the connections between these films are still mysterious, and it is possible there's a deliberate plot thread running through the movies that sets up the break in time. We simply don't know about that plot thread yet.

A New Marvel Universe

If this theory is right, then Avengers 4 will see Earth's Mightiest Heroes attempt to repair the damage done to reality by Thanos. Should they succeed, they'll essentially be recreating reality itself. There have already been subtle teases that Avengers 4 will indeed operate on this kind of scale; Kevin Feige has suggested the film launches what he called "the next incarnation of the MCU." That certainly suggests the impact is far greater than just a change of franchise leads.

It's important to stress that this wouldn't lead to a full reboot. The Guardians of the Galaxy would continue, the Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel would still be a sequel, and the ongoing narrative of the MCU would carry on regardless. But a lot of details may change. In the comics, the breaking apart of time opened up a Tenth Realm, Heven, and brought the character of Angela in. It introduced Galactus to the Ultimate Universe. And it saw new, cosmic threats slip into the main timeline from other realities. Should the Avengers repair the damage Thanos has done to reality somehow, there will still be dramatic consequences. Who knows; perhaps the Ragnarok Cycle could even begin again for Immortal Asgard, relaunching the Realm Eternal?

Ant-Man & the Wasp and Captain Marvel are both somehow important to the build-up to Infinity War. If this theory is correct, we'll see evidence of it when Ant-Man & the Wasp hits theaters in July. Until then, it's certainly a possible direction for Marvel to take. It will be interesting to see whether or not Marvel actually develop the idea of time being broken apart.

More: Why Spider-Man is The Right Property To Launch Marvel Phase 4

Key Release Dates