With the finale of Infinity War, moviegoers are faced with a very comic conclusion. No, not comedic; comic, as in, welcome to the wild, wild world of comic books, where entire universes can be destroyed, rebuilt, merged, and destroyed again.
Marvel has to be applauded for taking the risk. For fans of the series, this may seem like the exact thing they wanted: a world that had some impact, a villain that actually could, and did, accomplish his goal. But for general audiences who only casually enjoy these films, this ending, with half the Marvel Cinematic Universe destroyed, it might simply confuse and dissuade them from watching future films. Not all wounds can be healed with time; definitely not the wounds of movie-goers.
As a fan, I expected someone to die. They’ve been teasing it. But Marvel also kept insisting that no one could possibly guess what was going to occur, and that fans needed to keep any and all spoilers to themselves. (Hopefully, you’ve seen it. I mean, did you not read the warning??) So already, it seemed unlikely that Cap would die. Yes, Chris Evans’ contract was up, but it seems unlikely that he was to be the major death if they wanted spoilers kept to a minimum. Instead, what viewers received was a film that deconstructed all expectations. Tony Stark was stabbed through the chest but didn’t die. Thor nearly kills Thanos, only to have him remark “You should have gone for the head.” Still, Thor doesn’t die.
Instead what occurs is one of the most chilling moments in MCU history. Slowly, the universe begins to unravel with all characters from films in the second and third phase of Marvel (save for Hill and Fury) disappearing. And not just disappearing, disintegrating, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
What is left, is quite literally, the team from the first Avengers film. But with no shawarma to fill their weary hearts, instead they are left with emptiness and despair.
The world’s mightiest heroes failed in their quest. They could not stop the titan Thanos. He succeeded where few villains have in Marvel history. Not only is he memorable, but he succeeded.
And in an era of villains that rarely have a motivation that is discernible or concerning (what was the Dark Elf trying to accomplish again?), Thanos showed us that villains are sometimes motivated by something beyond themselves. If Killmonger had survived, he probably would have joined Thanos. Both are motivated by the greater good, but Thanos even more so. He wants the universe to survive. He is not courting death in this iteration, he is shunning it. And what viewers are left with is a truly emotional conclusion, with the villain, sitting in his own personal loss, looking out over a sunset. He succeeded where even Killmonger could not. Alone, but at peace with the choices he made.
As a viewer, I’ve rarely felt so conflicted. With Killmonger, I understood his motivations and empathized, though I found his methods abhorrent. Ultimately, I did not mourn for him. But for Thanos, I did. He was willing to sacrifice his own soul (here in the form of his adopted-daughter, Gamora) to save who he could. A sickening task. And one that he reached through violent means. But still somehow, you feel empathy, and even sympathy, for this titan. He believes to the core of his being that he is saving the universe, and even using the Infinity stones to accomplish this goal makes it a mercy. No suffering in death.
This film is obviously directly linked to the as-of-yet unnamed sequel. And what a swan song it will be. The original team, back together again, facing a world that must be set right, possibly traveling through time, like Bill and Ted, on another Bogus Adventure. Captain Marvel is teased in the one post credit scene, and since her film takes place in the 90s, perhaps some, if not all, of the Avengers will arrive in her time, drawing her into a future conflict they can’t handle without the strongest hero Marvel has created.
Or maybe something else occurs entirely. We do see Fury signaling for Captain Marvel, clearly knowing her and in her modern attire. And Emma Fuhrmann was cast as Cassie Lang, daughter to Ant-Man Scott Lang, implying that she is at least a future iteration of the young girl seen in the first Ant-Man film.
The knowledge we have of the 2019 sequel seems as amorphous and possibly confusing as the wrap up to the most recent Secret Wars comics series. But here’s hoping that the series will take from the comics in at least one regard as one of our heroes wields the Gauntlet, restarting the universe. Who will that be? Maybe pirate-angel Thor with his now Odin-like abilities. Or Cap, seeping what remains of his super-soldier abilities. Or Tony, proving once and for all that he has moved beyond his role as the war-monger. (And that adorable little kid from his third film is going to be in Avengers 4.) Or Black Widow, finally blotting out the red from her ledger. Swan song indeed, a swan song for some, or all, of our faithful heroes.
Oh, and does this officially mean that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not within the MCU?