Avengers: Infinity War has raised the bar on how to do a successful super-hero team up. That’s not to say it was flawlessly executed, but with plot points occurring in at least five different locations across the universe involving over 35 characters, Infinity War pulled off an incredible balancing act.
The script was tight. The Russo brothers, taking on the biggest collection of Marvel characters to date, opted to keep the story simple: Thanos is collecting the six Infinity Stones, and as each of the Avengers become aware of the threat he poses, they move to stop his progress. Because of this, the film is able to spend more time on the characters’ interactions and actions instead of using up the limited minutes explaining or constructing complicated plot details. But even so, every scene served that simple story. Whether the scene took place on Earth, Knowhere, Titan, Nidavellir, or wherever, it moved either the villains or heroes closer to an Infinity Stone, closer to each other, or both.
Fortunately for fans, the Russo brothers also know their characters well, and they trust their actors know them even better, otherwise a movie that’s strictly forward action might feel a little bland. Every spare piece of dialogue was used to highlight character, whether it was through what was said (Drax’s line, “I’ll do you one better: Why is Gamora?” certainly displayed both his intelligence and competitiveness) or how it was said (for example, Dr. Strange’s formal phrases, Thor & Eitri’s Shakespearean delivery, or Tony’s stubbornly sarcastic quips). While you might not leave with an awareness of every characters’ backstory, you can quickly grasp each of their basic personalities and motivations.
Marvel also got a handle on their villain problem in this movie. In the past, Marvel villains (Loki being the exception) have often been flat and lacking in motivation. Thanos’ backstory was fleshed out, and he even got a flashback scene! And while we didn’t really learn how he came to decide collecting the Infinity Stones was the path to get him to his goal, the movie pretty thoroughly explained why his goal was to eliminate half of all life in the universe (the quick answer: to preserve resources & thereby improve quality of life for the remaining half). His henchman were the more one-dimensional villains we’re accustomed to seeing, but it’s less bothersome to see henchman fall a little flat than the Big Bad. For what it’s worth, they did try to impart some personality to make Team Thanos a little more interesting, with Ebony Maw’s zealot-like dialogue and delivery giving him the air of one religiously devoted to Thanos’ view, and a couple of lines here and there indicating her anger over his injury & death seemed to suggest at least some level of camaraderie between Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive, while Cull Obsidian appeared to have a personality that might have been evil Hulk. Not a lot, but enough to differentiate them each a bit, and more than enough given the fact that they weren’t the lead villain & there were way more things audiences wanted those limited minutes spent on.
My one complaint would be that it would have been nice to have had more time to let the emotional moments really stick their landings (especially if some of those moments prove to truly be certain characters’ last ones), but considering the movie was pushing three hours long, something had to be sacrificed. It made sense that emotional reaction take that hit as much as anything, since events were unfolding so fast the characters really didn’t have much time to process either.
Now, as for that ending…
Stop reading if you’re still avoiding spoilers.
So, I know some people who are not at all happy about the ending. Yes, it is a downer, and it’s torture that we have to wait another year for closure, but you can’t judge this ending too harshly because it was not, in fact, the true ending.
Why do I say this? Well, first off, Black Panther & Spiderman get undone by Thanos’ finger-snap of doom, and no one can honestly believe those two are gone for good. If that were true, the post-credit scene wouldn’t have been Nick Fury & Maria Hill, but Disney & Marvel studio executives dissolving into nothingness. Spiderman already has a second movie in the works, and Black Panther is still making bank three months after its debut.
Whether it’s via the Time Stone or whole Infinity Gauntlet, anyone who disappeared in the finger-snap of doom is coming back.
Also, note this exchange between Dr. Strange, Tony Stark, & Peter Quill:
Dr. Stephen Strange: I went forward in time… to view alternate futures. To see all the possible outcomes of the coming conflict.
Peter Quill: How many did you see?
Dr. Strange: Fourteen million six hundred and five.
Tony Stark: How many did we win?
Dr. Strange: …One.
Presumably, this is the course of action they’re pursuing. Later on, after Dr. Strange gives Thanos the Time Stone, something he swore he would not do even if it meant sacrificing Tony and/or Spiderman, he & Tony have this exchange:
Tony Stark: Why did you do that?
Dr. Strange: We’re in the end game, now.
To me, this sounds like Dr. Strange still has a handle on what’s going on. Still not convinced? Consider his final words before he disappears from existence:
Dr. Strange: Tony, there was no other way.
No other way to what? To lose to Thanos and get everyone killed? No, he already said there were fourteen million six hundred and four ways to do that. You know what there was only one way to do, though? Win.
By that calculation, the conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War is far from the true ending to the Infinity War storyline. At most it’s the end of the second act, and Avengers 4 will be an extended third act detailing the remaining heroes refocused attempt at not just stopping Thanos, but completely undoing his handiwork. And if that’s the case, then you can only judge the conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War as a frustrating cliffhanger, not as an unsatisfying or hollow resolution.