THERE ARE SPOILERS WITHIN! THIS IS YOUR WARNING.
When the credits rolled on Avengers: Infinity War, I wasn’t quite sure what I had just watched. I mean, I know I watched a two and a half hour, full speed ahead thrill ride with an ending that, well, it quite literally left the audience in my theater speechless. But, I have no damn idea where it goes from here. I haven’t read the Infinity War comics, so I am running blind. I just know I watched the heaviest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I’m clueless as to what it means… if it means anything at all.
Therein lies the glaring problem with Infinity War: as good as it is – I happen to think it’s a pretty damn good movie – it may not mean anything after the whole story is told.
This film was the culmination of a decade of storytelling, and it certainly did not disappoint in that regard. We are immediately thrust into the action with Thanos killing off Loki (poor one out for the terrific Tom Hiddleston) and Heimdall (goodbye Idris Elba, you magnificently underutilized bastard). For the next two and a half hours, the action doesn’t stop. Now, the body count doesn’t quite take off like you’d believe after the opening scene; but, nevertheless, shit is going down throughout the entire movie as we’re treated to Thanos’ quest for the Infinity Stones. We are also given a wonderful backstory on who exactly Thanos is and what his exact quest is: he believes the universe is overpopulated, so he wants to use the Infinity Gauntlet to kill off half of the population.
Naturally, with such a large ensemble cast, screen time has to be divvied up into quite a few slices. That means the focus is squarely on action and advancing the story, and less on character building (with the exception of Thanos) and the relationship between characters. What little we do get is the Scarlet Witch/Vision romance, the mentor/apprentice relationship between Tony Stark and Peter Parker, and the father/daughter history between Thanos and Gamora. Two of these three work really well, with the Witch/Vision stuff kind of falling flat for me. The best writing in this movie belongs to parts of the film dedicated to Thanos and Gamora love-hate dynamic. When Thanos sacrifices Gamora to gain the Soul Stone, you actually feel sympathetic for this narcissistic madman trying to wipe out half of the universes population. Credit is due to Josh Brolin and Zoe Saldana, as well.
Perhaps the most visible causality of the screen time split is T’Challa. Yes, this was filmed well before the insane success of Black Panther, but it certainly sucked to not get more Chadwick Boseman in the film. But, with the previous 10 years having been used to tell the story of the heroes, this movie belonged to Thanos. And, despite our heroes’ best effort, Thanos collected his stones (peace out, Vision).
Which brings us to the ended, and woo-boy what an ending. After a full-scale battle in the fields of Wakanda, Thanos finally gets all six Stones. After a brief skirmish with Thor, Thanos still manages to snap his fingers and from there we see a fuckload of our heroes vanish into nothingness. The two that hit the hardest are Spider-Man and Black Panther. Tom Holland’s excellent Peter Parker shines again when he cries out to Tony Stark as he fades into the nothingness. Even more heart-wrenching to me was Okoye’s (the wonderful Danai Gurira) frightened screams as T-Challa vanishes into thin air.
This is where, after a few days of retrospection, the film loses its punch. Do we really believe that Marvel is already cutting the cord on Black Panther and Spider-Man after such marvelous debuts? Not a chance in hell. There are almost assuredly shenanigans about in the next Avengers film that will bring Boseman and Holland back to make Marvel even more money. Not to mention we already know there’s a third Guardians of the Galaxy on the way, Rocket being the sole-surviving member certainly won’t stick. Neither should the death of Dr. Strange, who should play a significant role in the MCU going forward. The ending is superb, no doubt – I let out an audible “what the fuck?” after the screen went from Thanos’ tired, satisfied grin to credits. And the post-credits stinger was on point as well (particularly Samuel L. Jackson almost sneaking in his trademark mother fucker before he blows away), with both Nick Fury and Maria Hill succumbing to Thanos’ will, but not before Fury can send out an intergalaltic page to a mysterious symbol (Captain Marvel).
How this plays out in the next Avengers film will certainly impact how we view Infinity War in the years to come. Granted, the bait and switch is a long-standing tactic of the comic book industry, but how it translates to movie audiences remains to be seen.
Infinity War is a formidable entry in the MCU, and its importance in the grander scale of the MCU is unquestioned. However, its merits as a standalone film might not be so fortunate down the line.