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It’s all connected.

That’s the guiding mantra / rallying cry / marketing pitch for Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Every film exists in the same continuity, pushing along a large meta-narrative one two-hour (or so) chapter at a time. The continuity, of course, is only skin deep. A tragic death of a fan favorite in the first Avengers is quickly reversed for the television show, with some weirdly hokey justification. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark comes to a beautifully acted emotional revelation at the end of every film, only to inexplicably backtrack before the next big stage show.

But there is one driving force that unifies all the robot-alien-hero fighting, and it’s the infinity stones — six rocks of inexplicable power that combine to create exponentially more inexplicable power. Often obscured by poetic names, these rocks have become pivotal plot points in Captain America, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and more — each time winking at some climactic event yet to come. The new Avengers: Age of Ultron took it a step further with an all-too-confusing scene involving a shirtless Thor standing in a pool of water seeing visions of the future.

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