When David and I saw Avengers: Infinity War for the first time opening night, a lot of thoughts ran through my mind. I wrote about many of them that weekend. While I grant it was an ambitious event and it certainly stayed true to how a large comic book crossover works in comic books, I wasn’t impressed with how it worked as a film. I said then and still believe now it’s one of the weakest entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far. My initial/lasting disappointments aside, I was struck by something I saw in the theatre as the climax of the film was unfolding. I noticed an inherent power in the film, even if it was a power unable to affect me.
As should be obvious, THIS WILL BE FILLED WITH ALL SORTS OF SPOILERS SO DON’T READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR YET. OKAY?!?
For real, I’m going to spoil EVERYTHING about the ending of the film to have this conversations. Are we clear on this? Okay…so don’t read on if you haven’t seen the film. Okay? I’m going to put two big ol’ pictures below this so you don’t even accidentally glimpse a spoiler if you haven’t seen it already. Literally the ENTIRE CLIMAX of the film is going to be discussed in detail. Are we good? Sorry if this seems like a lot…I just hate inadvertently spoiling things.
As we were settling into our seats, David and I noticed the age range of a lot of the movie-goers around us. There were lots of lifelong comic fans like us but there were just as many families there as well as kids out to the movies on their own. The kids sitting in the row in front of us had to be around fourteen and the kids sitting to the right of David were probably ranging in age from thirteen to sixteen. Waiting for the film to begin, reflecting on how Avengers: Infinity War marked TEN YEARS of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (because how could you miss it with Marvel’s marketing machine?), I also realized all these kids had grown up with the MCU. They were four, five, or six when Robert Downey Jr. first suited up.
Now, I have no idea when any of the younger people in the theatre came into the MCU or who their favorite heroes are or what their first film was. But since the MCU’s been producing incredible content with great regularity it was easy to see the Marvel Cinematic Universe had the potential to be as foundational a part of their lives/childhood as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Ghostbusters were for me. I was three years out of college by the time Iron Man showed up to blow our collective minds in theatres in 2008. But many of these kids grew up with Cap, Iron Man, and Black Widow being their lifelong heroes – watching their movies, playing with their toys, reading their story books, wearing their t-shirts – all through their young lives.
No point in the film made this clearer than the climax. After the cosmos-spanning battle comes to a conclusion in Wakanda, Thanos has amassed all the Infinity Stones. Despite the Avengers best efforts, he snaps his fingers…and with the finger snap, half of all life is wiped out across the universe. We then see a series of shots where half the heroes in the MCU dissolve into dust, their lives being wiped from creation, as their friends watch helplessly.
I know this was supposed to be the BIG MOMENT in the film. This was supposed to be the heart-stopping, soul-breaking moment. Evil was triumphant. But as I wrote before, it didn’t land for me. Why? Well, I know absolutely none of it will last. As I watched the heroes dissolve across the screen do you know what I thought of? I thought of film contracts and sequels in preproduction and box office grosses and business deals. And I realized this was the moment death became a banal plot point in the MCU. Ironically, Thanos’s act stripped death of power in these movies.
Now, I’m not saying there won’t be real deaths before the struggle with Thanos is over. I’m just saying we’ll have to wait until Avengers 4 to see who leaves us. The Russo brothers have stuck to their guns, saying the characters who died in this film are really dead. When asked by Bill Bradley to respond to this particular criticism of the end of the film for a piece on The Huffington Post, Anthony Russo said, “Here’s the thing, I think it’s important to remember anything is possible in the MCU. Just because there’s a sequel on the books doesn’t mean … people become accustomed to time moving linearly in the MCU. That doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. There’s a lot of very inventive ways of where the story can go from here.” Joe Russo added, “There’s four years between ‘Guardians 2’ and ‘Infinity War.’ That’s a long time, and a lot of ‘Guardians’ stories to tell. Again, as Anthony said, don’t expect everything to move forward in a linear fashion in the Marvel universe.” Annnnnd…bullshit.
OF COURSE they’re coming back. And OF COURSE they’re “really dead” right now. In Jim Starlin and George Pérez original miniseries, The Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos’s opening gambit was the finger-snap-heard-‘round-the-cosmos. Do you know what happened? A bunch of superheroes died…until the others stopped Thanos and reversed what he did. Then the for-real dead came back to life again.
I mean, c’mon Russos. Seriously? Okay, sure, there’s “four years” between Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 and Avengers: Infinity War. But what about Black Panther? The end of that film sees T’Challa opening Wakanda to the rest of the world. And, as the Avengers arrive in Wakanda in Infinity War, Okoye jokes about how she was expecting a Starbucks or participation in the Olympics when he opened their country to the world. Clearly, not much time has passed. AND look at Black Panther’s box office haul! It is presently the third all-time highest grossing film domestically and the ninth highest worldwide. I don’t care if Okoye saw T’Challa crumble to dust in front of her or not, he’s coming back. Nor did Disney and Marvel Studios bust their butts to broker a deal with Sony to get Spider-Man in the MCU just to let him swing away again after Spider-Man: Homecoming and his ensemble parts in Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. Plus both Black Panther and Spidey have sequels already coming up sooooooo yeah, sorry Russos, I ain’t buying it.
But this little rant isn’t a random tangent. Because while I watched the ending of Avengers: Infinity War and felt nothing but disdain at the Russo brothers for trying to manipulate me with an ending I knew was shit, those thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen-year-olds watching around me? They had an entirely different reaction. They gasped. They screamed. They wept. They weren’t thinking of sequels and contracts and box office grosses and all the cynical things that were on my mind, undercutting what the Russos wanted me to feel. Rather, they were watching their heroes die at the hands of the Mad Titan. And that can be as powerful as it is painful.
In the weeks that followed Avengers: Infinity War I kept thinking back to those kids’ reactions. I kept trying to put myself in their place, to understand the power of that moment for them, even if it didn’t land for me. What if it was twelve or thirteen-year-old me watching a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie only to find Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, April, and Splinter suddenly ripped apart by the Shredder, leaving only Casey Jones and Donatello standing at the end? What if I was watching a Ghostbusters movie where crossing the streams didn’t work and they were all incinerated save Ray and Louis Tully? What if it was a He-Man movie where Skeletor and his army cut down He-Man, Teela, Orko, and the Sorceress leaving Man-At-Arms alone with a severely wounded Battle Cat?
I can tell you this: I wouldn’t have sequels or contracts or box office returns on my mind. I’d be heartbroken.
As David and I sort of rolled our eyes at the ending and lamented a three hour punch-fest of a movie with no real character growth or development, many of those kids were shook. They were numb and sad and completely unprepared for what they watched play out on screen in front of them. Regardless of what happens in Avengers 4, I’d wager this film will always leave an indelible mark on their emotional experience of the MCU. No matter what the remaining heroes do to right this situation, they lost heroes here…and they’ll have to deal with more death in Avengers 4.
So while I stand by my critiques of Avengers: Infinity War – there were glaring plot holes, no character growth or development for eighteen of the twenty-three characters, a ridiculous rejection of the chance to easily tie the Netflix shows into the MCU, and an ending devoid of emotional weight because I know it doesn’t matter – I can’t deny how it affected those kids who had grown up with the MCU. I think Avengers: Infinity War was weak because of my point of view and what I, as an adult, want out of a movie. If I was a kid, like those sitting around David and I – or even younger – none of that would have registered. And Avengers: Infinity War would have been the emotional gut punch Anthony and Joe Russo were hoping to deliver for all of their audiences.
If nothing else, nearly three months after Avengers: Infinity War was released, I don’t have a fonder or more appreciative memory of it. But the importance of perspective here – how an adult or a child would respond differently to this film – seems extra fascinating. And, while it wasn’t the movie I wanted, I can see (and appreciate) the very real power the film would have had for kids who have spent their entire lives growing up with these heroes only to see them finally lose in such a seemingly complete and brutal way. Only time will tell if I’m left weeping myself at the end of Avengers 4.