On Friday I finally got to the theater and saw Avengers: THE BIG ONE. Like everyone else who’s seen it, I immediately had the urge to talk about all the most spoiler-y bits. So let’s do that. We’ll start with the ending…
In general, I like to divide the movie audience into three broad groups:
- The Insiders: This would include a lot (maybe even the majority?) of the people reading this site. We follow the news. We see the interviews. We watch all / most of the movies. We have direct or passing knowledge of the comics. We often know who the directors are, what the studio is doing, and we know the titles and general release windows for future movies. The point is, when we show up in the theater we know a lot more than what you see on the big screen.
- The General Audience: These folks might not follow the Marvel Universe closely, but they’re still old enough to have absorbed a bunch of genre fiction. They know how stories are supposed to end, they have a pretty good sense about which characters in a story can die, and they can usually tell a fake-out death from the real thing.
- The “Kids”: (This group may include people who are not actually kids.) They don’t know much about genre fiction. They might not be aware of the decades-long practice of bringing comic book heroes back from the dead. If you show this person a scene where Spider-Man dies in Tony Stark’s arms while crying that he isn’t ready to go, then as far as the viewer knows Peter Parker is dead for good.
I am really glad I didn’t see this movie when I was 12. I don’t think I could have handled it.
The distinction between these three types of viewer isn’t usually a big deal. Sure, I knew Tom Holland was signed to a multi-picture deal and I knew enough about comic books to realize that there was no way that Spider-Man would die in a fight with The Vulture in Spider-Man Homecoming. But that fight on the outside of the jet was a nailbiter anyway. If a story pulls you in then you can still feel the emotional beats, even if you know what will happen next. It’s why we can enjoy watching a movie a second time.
But Infinity War is an odd case because it’s half a movie. When those credits roll, I stop being immersed in the world and go back to being aware of all the stuff I know about what actors are leaving this series and which ones are signed for multi-picture deals. By its very nature, this two-parter gives us a whole year to think about the meta-narrative. We talk about stories that break your immersion because they’re full of jarring, confusing, or inconsistent elements, but what about the story that breaks your immersion because the storyteller stops telling the story? The movie takes me to a big emotional moment and then hits the pause button for a year. What else can we think about in the meantime, besides the meta-narrative?
It’s pretty crazy just how far they took the idea. If just they killed off Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, and the other Phase One veterans, then I might have left the theater thinking they were dead for good. But they left alive people I know have to die (Stark) and they killed people I know are already scheduled to appear in future movies. By doing things this way they really drove a wedge between our three different kinds of viewer. I know all of this has to be undone with a magic time-rewind. I’m almost sure I remember an interview with Guardians director James Gunn where he said that he was planning to make GotG 3 about Gamora, so even the deaths that happened before the climax are open for un-doing.
None of this is really a criticism. It’s just an interesting situation to find ourselves in. I’m glad I didn’t take anyone under 12 years old to see this movie. The kid might look back fondly on this when they hit adulthood and realize this was their first big emotional moment in the theater, but they’re still going to have a rough time of it here in 2018.
Other Things About The Movie
I’m surprised how closely they followed the comics. In the comics they pulled the same trick: Thanos kills all the supers and wipes out half in galaxy. In 1992 he did this because he was in romantic love with the personification of death itself. Here in the MCU, he did it because he was worried about overpopulation. In the comics, the character Adam Warlock was the mastermind orchestrating the opposition to Thanos. The writers teased us with him at the end of Guardians 2, but he’s not really part of the story yet. So the position of “strategist” fell to Dr. Strange. Or it did, until he snuffed it.
I’m honestly curious who will drive the plot in Part 2. Is it Stark? He seems to be the only one with any idea what’s going on. But he’s not a cosmic hero and this really is a cosmic problem. Captain Marvel comes out in March of next year, just two months before Avengers 4. She’s certainly one of the heavy-hitters and seems better suited to problems of this scale than Stark. On the other hand, it would feel strange to have a brand-new character come in and save the day after all our familiar characters died. She should be part of the story, but making her the key player would be wrong. Sure, in terms of power you can make the case that she should be able to do fantastic things, but a character needs to earn their place in the hearts of the audience. They might be able to win some of those hearts in Captain Marvel’s solo movie, but I think it would be a mistake to make that movie “required viewing” for part 2 of this story to work.
Who is even left alive at this point? There were so many supers in this movie I lost track of a lot of them and I’m not completely sure I’m remembering all the deaths. Stark is alive. Thor is alive. I’m pretty sure Rocket Raccoon is still around. Hawkeye wasn’t in the movie, but we can assume he’s still around. I mean, in-universe there’s a 1:2 chance he’s dead, but in a storytelling sense it would be awkward to kill a character off-screen. Who else is there? Did Banner make it?
Yes, it was too long. It was all good, but you can have too much of a good thing. I’m a huge Spider-Fan and I’m not so interested in Thor, so I’d love if his lengthy hammer-forging plot was cut down (particularly since it didn’t ultimately matter) and we got more time with Peter Parker. On the other hand my brother has always been crazy about Thor and never much cared for Spider-Man, so I’m sure he’d want to re-balance the movie in the other direction. With a cast this huge you really only have two choices:
- Short change everyone.
- Make it too long.
I’m glad they eased up on the jokes. Bright colors and one-liners are my favorite things about this universe, but I’m glad Marvel knows when to lay off the cowbell. I don’t need Star Lord quipping his way through the deaths of Spider-Man (my childhood hero) and Steve Rogers (my adult one).
Nobody’s ever done anything like this before so I can’t really say Marvel is doing it “wrong”. I didn’t leave the theater happy or excitedParticular since Spidey and Cap are the main reason I show up for these things, and they’re both very dead right now. but I did leave it wanting to see part 2. So I guess their plan is working.
EDIT: Cap lived? I really thought he evaporated with Falcon and Winter Soldier. Huh. In my defense, that was a lot of people snuffing it at once and it’s easy to lose track.
As other have pointed out in the comments, this means all the veterans are alive and all the young heroes are dead, so certainly the next movie will have the old guard sacrifice themselves to save the new. (And half the universe.)
 Particular since Spidey and Cap are the main reason I show up for these things, and they’re both very dead right now.
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