|The Infinity Gauntlet, as seen at SDCC '10|
Each of the individual gems controls a different aspect of the universe. Marvel Studios President has recently revealed that the Infinity Gems will be called Infinity Stones in the MCU and that, in fact, we've already seen two of them. The Space Gem, which is purple, allows the owner to move throughout the entirety of space and, more disturbingly, give the owner to ability to be anywhere and, potentially, everywhere at once, or omnipresence. In the MCU the Space Stone is the Tesseract, used by the Red Skull and Loki and sought by Thanos, it now resides in Odin's vault on Asgard. The Power Gem is a red gem that makes the user omnipotent by providing them with the ability to use all power and energy that has been, is or will ever be in the universe. Used by Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, the Aether is the Power Stone. The green gem, or Soul Gem, which has deep ties to Cosmic character Adam Warlock, gives the user the power to control all souls, living or dead, and, apparently, is alive and has an intense hunger for more souls. The orange gem grants the user control over the past, present and future, thus its title as the Time Gem, in addition to giving the user omniscience, or complete knowledge of all things. The blue gem gives the user the ability to telepathically invade the minds of others in order to gather their thoughts and dreams. This gem, the Mind Gem, when coupled with the Power Gem, can be used to simultaneously gain information from every being in the universe. The yellow Reality Gem is basically the genie in the bottle: it translates the wishes of the user into reality.
Certainly the individual gems are incredibly powerful and any one could cause monumental issues; collected in the Infinity Gauntlet, however, their combined power is capable of literally anything the being wielding them can imagine or will. For this reason the indestructible gems have long been scattered across the universe, making it nearly impossible to collect and possess them all. At different points in Marvel's history they have been protected by different beings throughout the universe(including Guardians of the Galaxy members Drax and Gamora), most recently being secured by the members of Earth's Illuminati/New Avengers: Reed Richards, Doctor Strange, Beast, Namor, Captain America and Iron Man. For the majority of their existence in the Marvel universe they have been pursued by and hidden from one being: Thanos.
Thanos and the GauntletMarvel has made written many large-scale crossover events involving Thanos' pursuit of the Gems, including their current event, Infinity. The initial limited series, Infinity Quest, detailed Thanos' search for the Gems, giving a rich history of their origin as he systematically takes them away, one at a time, from six Elders of the Universe. Interestingly, The Collector, who is rumored to appear in Thor: The Dark World and will appear in Guardians of the Galaxy, is one of the Elders of the Universe.
The other well-known limited series, Infinity Gauntlet, turned Thanos' power and destruction on Earth after murdering half the known universe. Eventually, Thanos lost control of the Gauntlet and was defeated by many of Earth's heroes, including the Avengers. This defeat stung Thanos deeply and resonated with him permanently, being just one of many reasons Thanos sent his army to destroy the Earth in Marvel's current limited series, Infinity.
Thanos's obessesion with the Gems and the Gauntlet spring from his almost incomprehensible inner-turmoil and his equally disturbing obsession with death. Thanos has long searched for meaning and reason beyond comprehension and, even upon becoming a god, was never satisfied. While he has possessed all the Gems and the Gauntlet and used them to various ends, Thanos has yet to find that for which he searches.
Pieces of Infinity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
The presence of Thanos in the mid-credits of The Avengers most certainly was a harbinger of worse things to come. The Avengers revealed that Thanos coveted the Tesseract, likely for its ability to reshape reality to the wishes of it's owner. However, follwing the failure of Loki and the Chitauri, Thanos found himself without the cube, which now resides, along with several other items of immense power, in the Weapon's Vault of Odin, in Asgard. Certainly a room with a collection of such powerful objects, including the coveted cube, will eventually attract the attention of Thanos. There is, however, something much more powerful and dangerous in the vault, as shown in the screen shot below. The shot is a still frame taken during the invasion of the vault by the Frost Giants early on in Thor:
In a very brief and far too easy to miss glimpse (The Destroyer is destroying Frost Giants during this time, after all), we can see the Infinity Gauntlet, complete with what appear to be the Infinity Gems, in Odin's vault.
What follows below combines interviews, rumors and speculation but could still be considered SPOILERS despite none of it being confirmed to be true. It could, however, turn out to be quite true so if you don't even want to take a chance on knowing what may pop up in Phases 2 and 3, then stop reading now and reflect upon the Marvel comics mini-history lesson above.
I'm relatively sure that if you read the stuff above that you can't really be spoiled going forward, but I figured I'd give you a chance to walk away.
Thanos will, eventually, find out about the Gauntlet and wish to possess it and the Gems which, at one point, were conveniently together in one place: Odin's Vault. We also know that in Thor: The Dark World, Malekith will come to Asgard looking for something known as The Aether. The Aether certainly possesses some powerful juju that Malekith wants to use to have his revenge on the Asgardians. It has also long been rumored, and now confirmed, that the after-credits scene in Thor: The Dark World will introduce the aforementioned Collector into the MCU, presumably to collect something. It's safe to say what he collects is The Aether. It is now clear tht the Aether IS one of the Infinity Gems, as is the Tesseract, called Stones in the MCU, and that, like in many other ways they are altering details to fit the MCU.
Marvel is certainly very good at providing questions that, for now, can't be answered.
Recently, in an interview with Screen Rant, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige was asked if Marvel is building to Thanos searching for and, eventually, possessing the Gems and the Gauntlet. Strangely, Feige did not come out and spill the beans on Marvel's future plans. Instead, he said this:
"Well, I don't know that I would spell it out that clearly, necessarily, but certainly fans of the comics could surmise that all of this is leading somewhere. That Joss' decision to have Thanos turn around and smile for the audience at the end of 'Avengers', our reveal, was always the plan."
So, while Feige is not saying yes, he is not saying no to a retconned version of the Infinity Gauntlet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As it turns out, we now know that four MCU artifacts, the Tesseract, Loki's scepter, Aether the Orb are Infinity Stones. It's safe to say that slowly, over time, the pieces of this will start to fall into place and Thanos' role will come into focus. It's also likely that, when it does, it will take a collection of heroes larger than the Avengers to take on The Mad Titan once he has become empowered by wielding the Infinity Gauntlet. Just what version, or combination of versions, of Infinity-related stories will make up the MCU version remain to be seen but certainly Jonathan Hickman's current Infinity arc should be up for consideration along with previous stories.
Will the third Avengers film, tentatively slotted for 2018, be a mega event, combining Earth's Mightiest Heroes with the most powerful Cosmic beings in a battle against the god-like Thanos? Such a film would almost certainly destroy box office records and provide a spectacle unlike anything that came before it. Feige and his brain trust know this to be a possibility and are slowly revealing pieces to the puzzle, at first in the background, and now, slowly bringing them to the forefront in advance of putting it all together at some point. 2018 and a third Avengers film certainly make the most since given the reality of things like aging actors and contracts. Enjoy the build up along the way and have fun fitting together all the pieces along the way and when it's done you'll be able to go back and watch the films again and enjoy them anew as steps towards something bigger. This is absolutely the golden age of superhero films and the eventual reveal of the grand plan of Thanos could easily be the high point of it. Be patient along the way, but feel free to fervently anticipate and speculate on just what it is Feige and Marvel have in mind!