Spoiler Space offers thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot points we can’t reveal in our official reviews. Fair warning: Major plot points for Avengers: Infinity War— including the ending—will be revealed below.
There were always going to be casualties. From the moment Marvel announced the title, premise, and two-part release strategy for its latest Avengers sequel, speculation has raged about who would or wouldn’t make it out of the big battle royale alive. After 10 years of starring appearances and snarky supporting drop-ins, was Robert Downey Jr. ready to hang up the Iron Man suit? Would Chris Evans make good on his occasional threats to move on from the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Surely bitter cyborg Nebula (Karen Gillan), vengeful black-sheep daughter of the villain, was a safe bet for the chopping block. But even the most pessimistic of predictions, the biggest body counts anticipated by the most jaded oddsmakers, didn’t account for the bleak place Infinity War leaves its audience and its suddenly, severely streamlined cast of characters.
Yes, the bad guy wins. After two-and-a-half hours of sound, fury, and preliminary deaths (so long Loki! Goodbye, Gamora! Nice knowing you, Vision!), the universe’s meanest, purplest eco-terrorist, Thanos (Josh Brolin), finally gets his gloved hand on the last of those precious, powerful MacGuffins, the Infinity Stones. And true to his word, and to his genocidal master plan, he blips half of all life in the universe out of existence with the snap of his fingers: mass murder as the eerily quiet will of an uncaring god, reducing most of the supporting cast of the MCU to puffs of dispersing ash. He then watches the sunset from his front porch, exhausted but satisfied, his arc—the movie’s arc, in so much as half a movie can have an arc—complete.
It’s about as dark and downbeat an ending as any mega-budget, four-quadrant blockbuster in memory: a true vision of the apocalypse, smuggled into the closing minutes of a movie pitched at just about all ages and demographics. And I can only imagine how it must have played during this past weekend’s record-breaking number of sold-out screenings. Were there Pixar volumes of tears from traumatized tykes and their accompanying guardians? Twitter seems to suggest that there were. Certainly, the ending has haunted me a little over the week since I’ve seen it—especially that climactic exchange between Tony Stark and his teenage protégé, Peter Parker (Tom Holland), the latter deeply afraid and ashamed in his final moments, before disappearing into the intergalactic wind.
The point of comparison many have reached for is The Empire Strikes Back, another pop-culture event movie that dared to end on a downer of a cliffhanger. Judged just from what happens, Infinity War is, well, infinitely bleaker; it’s one thing to put one of your most popular characters on ice, and quite another to literally blow most of them away. But the comparison is an imperfect one, and not just because Star Wars fans had to wait three agonizing years, not just one, to see the good guys come back from impossible odds and save the day. Empire was a product of an era before studios thought in threes or fives or shared universes, before movie series were plotted out years in advance, before the internet took away most of the guessing about where a major franchise might go next.
The difference, in other words, is that Empire made viewers sit with the consequences and implications of its final moments, to suffer in the agony of the unknown. Even setting aside a post-credits scene that teases a big glimmer of Captain Marvel-shaped hope, Infinity War can’t hide the inevitable undue of next summer’s entry, at least from those with even the faintest knowledge of what the studio has lined up next. Back in November, I griped about how the realities of promotion spoiled Thor: Ragnarok’s best twist, its full-court-press marketing campaign making it impossible for the Hulk’s big entrance to play as an actual surprise. In the case of Infinity War, the studio has tried to play coy, recently announcing that there would be no further information until 2019 about what comes next for this mega-franchise. But the reality is that more Spider-Man and Guardians Of The Galaxy movies are already on the calendar. So unless Miles Morales, Quasar, and Adam Warlock are all getting big promotions, the heroes of those franchises probably won’t be dust forever. Or, as film critic Michael Murphy recently put it: “You can’t be dead if you have a sequel coming.”
Of course, that’s standard operating procedure for comic-book universes, where death is almost never permanent. Even the old saying, “No one stays dead except Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben” has been amended over the years, as all but the last of those characters has made a triumphant return. (When stories have to run for decades, sprawling indefinitely toward no set end point, the finality of death is conveniently circumvented.) The inherent reversibility of Infinity War’s shocking finale doesn’t completely neuter its power. It’s still the best thing about this overstuffed clown-car of a superhero blockbuster, and a pretty brilliant strategy for stoking anticipation for Avengers 4, which could very well top the opening-weekend record Avengers 3 just set. People are already dying, har har, to see how Earth’s mightiest heroes get out of this jam.
For this particular Marvel fan (yes, I like most of these movies, honest), the most exciting thing about next summer’s concluding chapter is the judicial reduction in characters it promises—the return, in fact, to a configuration that worked like gangbusters just six years ago, when the cinematic version of a big crossover event was, quite quaintly, just six superheroes thrust together for the first time. In other words, and correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t we looking down the barrel of an O.G. Avengers reunion, what with Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and presumably Hawkeye the last big heroes left standing? Oh, and Ant-Man, too, I guess. He has a movie coming this summer, doesn’t he?
Stray side note: Weird how the most striking and arguably definitive image from the Infinity War trailer—the one of the disappointingly underutilized Captain America leading a bunch of superheroes straight at the camera in slow-motion—isn’t actually in the movie. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how it ever was, given that Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) spends the whole movie trying to coax the Hulk out again; he never appears during the big battle at the end.