After five movies chronicling the origins of Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor Odinson, and Captain America, we audiences couldn’t contain our enthusiasm for The Avengers in 2012. It was everything we had hoped for and we knew nothing could top it.
In 2015, we braced ourselves for the long-awaited sequel, hoping to be just as thrilled as we were three years prior. In a way, we totally were. Avengers: Age of Ultron was another huge hit that gave us more of what we wanted, and a little more we didn’t know we did. Sure, Ultron wasn’t as charismatic as Loki, and some of that original spark was a bit lost in the shuffle, but we had the Hulkbuster armor! Scarlet Witch! Quicksilver! Vision! That amazing farmhouse scene! And my personal favorite, that scene where they all try to lift Mjolnir. While it was awesome, it wasn’t quite the earth-shattering event as the first one was.
In 2016, we saw Captain America: Civil War (Or Avengers 2.5 some fans have cheekily called it), which upped the stakes dramatically. While the team had their issues from the word go, they united against common threats when the chips were down. But at last, the tension hit its limit and caused the team to split and fight each other. Sure, we didn’t have Thor or Hulk…but Spider-Man! And Black Panther! And tough theological questions! And arguably the greatest fight scene ever done at an airport! Its establishment that the team may be no more was just what we needed to rush back to theaters and see what would happen, and that was just what the doctor ordered.
Fast forward to 2018, and now, three phases and nineteen movies in, Thanos was finally coming. The grinning Mad Titan who first appeared at the mid-credit scene of The Avengers had arrived. No more cute alien incursions, no more paltry international squabbles, no more pathetic robots with genocidal tendencies…all of it seemed like child’s play.
I remember vividly thinking how The Avengers was the biggest thing ever, but each time, Marvel has topped itself over and over, and now it’s all coming to a close. Most of the original actors are finishing their contracts, and Marvel has other plans after Avengers: Endgame. But I thought just as the final movie of the third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the end of an era as we know it is upon us, let’s rewind a year prior and relive that precious time. Before our hearts were scarred so deeply. So yes, there will be spoilers.
The plot: Thanos, the Mad Titan (Josh Brolin), has been on the hunt for the Infinity Stones. All six of these gems represent different elements: Soul, mind, space, time, power, and reality. Getting one makes you a force to be reckoned with, but all six basically makes you a god. And Thanos has a gauntlet that will allow him to wear all six at once, and with a snap of his fingers, he seeks to eliminate half of all life in the universe to stop overpopulation, starvation, and other problems exacerbated by there simply being too many people.
But you might recall seeing the Infinity Stones already in Guardians of the Galaxy (the purple stone in the orb), Doctor Strange (Strange’s Eye of Agamotto), Thor: the Dark World (The Aether), Captain America: the First Avenger (The Tesseract), and The Avengers (Loki’s staff, and later the gem used to create Vision). Thanos sends his mercenaries to Earth to retrieve the last ones, but the Avengers and the rest of Earth’s mightiest heroes are determined to find a way to make sure Thanos does not complete his collection…or die trying.
How’s the writing?: Joe and Anthony Russo were given a monumental task. All the directors of previous Marvel movies were given some strict guidelines on where to begin and where to end their movies, plus a few additional scenes to better formulate the MCU and how well each of the movies fit together to form a cohesive whole. As aggravating as this can be, it has paid off on dividends and made these movies that much more fun for fans. But the Russos had much bigger issues than continuity hiccups. They had to make the biggest, baddest villain of the Marvel universe a central character, juggle a massive cast, tell numerous plots without overshadowing each other, and prepare us for Avengers: Endgame. It cannot be understated just how well this thing came together as well as it did.
First, by focusing on Thanos, we really able to follow what he wants and what our heroes are willing to do to stop him. The team brings Vision to Wakanda to save him from Thanos. Thor and Rocket travel to Nidavellir to get a weapon to stop Thanos. Banner struggling to Hulk out to stop Thanos. The Guardians travel to Knowhere to prevent Thanos from getting the reality stone. Stark, Strange, and Parker are flying to Titan to try and stop Thanos before he gets to Earth. The story has a tight focus on the big issue, and it doesn’t feel dull because each situation is wildly different from each other.
Another part of this that works is the crossover appeal. We delighted seeing the Avengers for the first time work off each other back in 2012. It continued in Age of Ultron and Civil War, but how do you top it? You split them up and team up with others, letting their rich personalities carry even the dull strategy conversations.
Does it give the feels?: Oh…
People cry over E. T. dying. Same with Mufasa, Old Yeller, Bing Bong, Bambi’s mom, John Wick’s puppy, or Littlefoot’s mom. People cry over Jack and Rose in Titanic. People cry when when in Toy Story 3, they all hold hands as they brace for the incinerator. There is no shortage of movies in Hollywood that cause heartbreak, but most are a matter of opinion. I’m sure it’s not hard to find someone who didn’t cry when Spock died in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, or when Ellie died in Up. All the movies are well done, but there’s a fair amount of people who can make jokes, snark, or otherwise are not as deeply affected as others in these scenes.
(Long, deep, calculated breath)
I don’t think there was anyone who was prepared for how the movie ended, and even those who were, had no idea how badly it was going to hurt. From the trailer, upon seeing Steve Rogers squaring off against Thanos – the guy who kicked Thor and the Hulk’s asses within the first five minutes of the movie – we assumed he or Tony were going to bite it. At the time, Marvel told us to expect, essentially, Avengers, Parts one and two. That meant we had at least an inkling that Infinity War was going to end on a big cliffhanger and stakes had to be raised. What could be more raised than one of the biggest characters in the lineup dying? Some of us had bets as to whether Tony or Steve were going to die.
But then we watched Thanos succeed. And one by one, we witnessed characters we had grown to love and respect dissolve into ashes. Not one or two, mind you, but about half the lineup of all the superheroes we had come to see. Even if you didn’t care for Falcon or Doctor Strange or Mantis, there were a few that must have gotten you. Maybe Star Lord? Or Black Panther? Or Groot? Or maybe…and most likely…the teenager who grabbed his father figure mentor and whimpered, “Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good…”.
So many elements came together to make this work. The decade-long establishment. Multiple films to flesh out the characters. Amazing writing. Incredible actors. Impressive secrecy from Marvel. The eerily quiet score. The dusty ash effect. The looks of panic and confusion on everyone’s faces. The buildup of the movie’s plot up to that point. The amount of times our heroes came close to succeeding but failing constantly. And probably biggest of all…making us believe this wasn’t just some “oh, they’ll be back, it’s comic books!” sort of death, but something truly final and permanent.
I am just as impressed as I am sickeningly devastated every time I watch the ending of this movie. Seriously, why do I do that to myself?
Who made it worth it?: Despite having the huge cast of characters of the ones we love, this is Thanos’ movie, 100%.
We had no idea who Thanos was for years. Just some pompous tyrant who sat around in his floating chair scoffing at all the little people around him. We knew he was an adoptive father of Gamora and Nebula, and we knew he made them fight to be efficient killers. But beyond that, we knew little else. In the comics, Thanos wanted the stones so he could gain incredible power…all so he could impress the love of his life, Death.
Wisely, the Russos knew this was not going to fly. Instead, Thanos became a character mired in tragedy, who sought the power not out of desire, but perceived obligation. He had seen his own planet succumb to destruction when resources dwindled and there were too many mouths to feed. So it becomes his sole mission to conduct a mass scale genocide as an act of mercy in order to save what he can. Due to the movie’s framing, we see it through his eyes, and we feel his pain, his anguish, his agony. We see just how broken up he is at some of the horrendous acts he commits just to complete his mission. In a way, you feel for him, and sort of understand where he’s coming from…until you realize he wants to eliminate half the universe on a whim.
Best quality provided: It’s all about personality here. Not just Thanos, of course, but in seeing how everyone works off each other is fascinating. Watching Star-Lord mouth off to Stark is fantastic. Banner trying to coax the Hulk out is hilarious. By far, though, the best is Thor and Rocket. Both have crippling tragedy and both have an unhealthy fetish for weaponry. Because Thor neatly condescends and praises Rocket simultaneously (Mostly without realizing either), Rocket accesses his not-asshole side and the two work together brilliantly, providing some of the best lines in the film.
Not only is this plot with so many characters and stories perfect in its execution, but the deadpan one-liners remain amazingly fresh and inspired. Joe and Anthony deserve so much praise because of this.
What could have been improved: I have issues with this movie, but not because it didn’t handle them well, but because I generally wasn’t thrilled with the choices. I mean, of course I don’t want a massive roster of superheroes dissolve and leave me hanging in suspense for a year, but that’s not exactly a criticism, is it? I don’t like the quiet ending with Thanos basking in peace, but that was the point, wasn’t it? I pined for all sorts of great gags they could have slung at each other (Like the oft-suggested “No sh*t, Sherlock” line fans wanted Downey and Cumberbatch to exchange), but that wasn’t what it was about, especially since the gags we did get were fabulous.
I think my only real gripe is the Children of Thanos. These five mercenaries had little to no development outside Ebony Maw (The one Stark called “Squidward”…wait, Tony Stark watches Spongebob??), and the others are either silent or just not very interesting. I guess since the movie was already busting at the gills with characters, these five seemed like overkill, but they were as interesting as Ronan or Malekith. Not good bad guys to be compared to, especially if they stand at the side of Thanos, you know?
Verdict: I can’t tell you how badly I want to see what happened to the heroes who fell at Thanos’ snap. After eleven years of getting to know all these guys, it just can’t end like this. It kind of reminds me of the cliffhanger Disney set up at the end of 2006’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, where fans went ballistic trying to figure out what happened to Jack Sparrow. But this is far bigger.
And that’s the beginning of the end for the MCU as we know it. While we know more movies are on the way from a sequel to Black Panther (Wakanda forever!) and the third installment of Guardians of the Galaxy (Welcome back, James Gunn!), there’s little telling what’s next in the big picture. Will the Avengers stick around, but the roster keeps evolving? Is there a finale planned? What will this mean for the recent acquisition of 21st Century Fox, and by extension, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four? Time will tell, but until Endgame premieres, it remains a critical juncture in the MCU. I give this ten infinity stones out of ten.