We Need to Talk About the Ending of Avengers: Infinity War

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Last weekend Avengers: Infinity War made more than $640 million at the global box office—and at least $258 million of that came from domestic theaters, a number that easily bests previous record holder Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This is relevant for two reasons: One, holy crap that’s a lot of money. Two, it means we can finally talk about this movie freely since pretty much anyone who wanted to see it has now done so, apparently.

That’s good; there’s a lot to discuss. It was pretty much inevitable, considering the 18 previous movies it had to tie together, that Infinity War was going to be the most jam-packed Marvel Cinematic Universe film ever. And it was. From the remains of Asgard to the borders of Wakanda to the Collector’s museum on Knowhere, it traversed the entire MCU and managed to not be a total mess. (Not an easy feat.) It also had some great guest appearances and more than a few surprisingly touching moments.

And OMG that ending. Most fans expected this movie to have some twists and shocks, but it’s unlikely all of them expected Infinity War to end the way it did. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Now that the movie’s big opening weekend is over, WIRED assembled its own Avengers—writers and editors Justice Namaste, Jason Parham, Adam Rogers, and Angela Watercutter—to hash out the ups and downs of the latest movie to come out of the MCU. Grab your Infinity Gauntlet and join us, won’t you?

Angela Watercutter: Alright gang. I kinda want to jump right into this one, so I’d love to hear from each of you whether or not you enjoyed Infinity War and what you thought of that ending.

I already subjected Jason to my ramblings on Slack, so I’ll keep my piece short. I thought Infinity War was a good time. I simultaneously had high hopes and the expectation that the movie would be a letdown. I was pleasantly surprised when I enjoyed all of it—it didn’t feel too busy and I genuinely got choked up at least twice. As for that ending, damn, I really wasn’t expecting all that carnage and bleakness. (By my count nearly a dozen heroes were turned to ash, right?) Then again, I remembered about five minutes after I left the theater that this is a movie based on comics, where no one ever really dies. I already have my theories about Avengers: Infinity War Part II (coming next May! probably!), but I’ll get to that later. What about you guys?

Adam Rogers: In general I’m pretty good at maintaining the cognitive dissonance of a viewer who stays in the emotional moment and a cynical sometimes-culture journalist who knows that the economic incentive of a Black Panther sequel will trump any death, especially one that comes at the end of a movie but in the middle of a story (what with Avengers: Even More Infinite War due next year). So I had a real good time. But would you like to know who is not that cynical? My 12-year-old and my 8-year-old, who were super bummed. Like, subdued, mournful, and in full-on, two-thirds-of-the-way-to-crying “Papa, is Groot … dead?” mode. So I hope it’s not too twisted of me to say: That’s a good movie. Because it made my family feel things. Processing the fact that the genocidal, insane Thanos (Josh Brolin) gets to look happily into the sunset at the end was a big deal.

And then I spent half an hour telling them who Captain Marvel is.

Jason Parham: I was speaking with a friend over the weekend and he raised an interesting point I hadn’t considered. Of all the Marvel movies, I told him how Infinity War struggled the most with what exactly it wanted to be. That for me the movie was just OK. Ten years, 18 films, and essentially two dozen leading actors is a lot to cram into a single epic. Still, it felt too much like a film consumed with its own legend—one that was trying too hard to prove something to itself. (It definitely wouldn’t rank among my personal top five MCU movies.) Does that mean it wasn’t enjoyable? Of course not. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) were standouts for me. It’s expected by now, but the fight sequences were also a true treat (especially when Thor and Rocket join the battle in Wakanda). There were even occasional flourishes when Thanos felt unexpectedly human.

But my friend’s argument was that Infinity War was essentially the most comic book-y movie Marvel has made to date. That watching it felt like actually reading a comic. From its pacing to its narrative construction, jumping from New York City to Titan to Knowhere, as if one was scanning from panel to panel on the page. Maybe he’s right. Maybe where I saw disconnect and carelessness he saw directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s truer aim: Giving the movie the texture of its source material. It became the very thing it was.

There are a ton of layers we can peel off this thing. Justice, what were the most shocking and rewarding parts of the film for you?

Justice Namaste: I’m not going to lie—I had pretty low expectations for Infinity War. Kind of similar to Angela, but without the high hopes. [Eds. Note: LOL.] Coherently weaving together so many narrative threads while not reducing characters down to caricatures is a tall order, but Marvel managed to deliver. And the interactions between characters from different storylines were, unsurprisingly, the most enjoyable part of the movie. It’s a known fact that audiences eat up crossovers, and the first hour and a half of Infinity War was just chock-full of overlapping storylines and witty, mid-battle introductions. My favorite plotline was probably the journey that Thor, Rocket (who the Asgardian re-named ‘Rabbit’), and Groot (logically called ‘Tree’) took to find a Thanos-killing weapon. It was Thor at his best, Rocket at his most endearing, and a lanky, teenaged Groot whose eyes were glued to his videogame. And of course, who can resist more banter between the ever-eager Peter Parker and the reluctantly protective Tony Stark.

It’s a testament to the strength of the characters that even once it became clear that all two and a half hours were building to Thanos “winning” (and therefore leaving all of us in an unpleasant limbo for another year), I didn’t find the movie any less compelling. But there’s been no shortage of criticism of Infinity War, in particular surrounding its narrative busyness.

Watercutter: Justice, totally! And to really quickly to go back to what Adam and Jason were saying, I definitely feel like Infinity War had a comics-esque narrative structure. That’s why, to Adam’s point, I felt a little better about watching so many heroes disintegrate in those final 30 minutes. Somehow these heroes will come back, because comics. My current theory is that because we didn’t see what became of Wong in the end—actually, we didn’t see what Wong (Benedict Wong) was doing for most of the second and third acts—he’ll show up in the sequel, pull a Cher, and turn back time. (I mean, Doctor Strange saw all 14,000,605 possible outcomes and knows which one works, surely he told his buddy, right?) Hopefully, he’ll have the help of Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson)—and, of course, Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), whom Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) paged (paged!) in the post-credits scene.

But! That’s beside the point. I have another question for y’all. What were your favorite surprises? Or maybe just favorite moments? Like, I legit yelped and got a little teary-eyed when Thor landed in Wakanda with his new fancy axe thing and just started slaying. I was similarly charmed by Peter Dinklage showing up as Eitri. I only vaguely remember hearing the rumors about who he was going to play and was genuinely delighted when he showed up. Also, seeing Okoye (Danai Gurira), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) all fight together was really fun. I could go on and on. What’d you guys like?

Rogers: “Pull a Cher!” Nice. Yeah, I’m feeling reasonably good about our heroes’ being not dead (they’re just resting!) given the fact that the MacGuffin is an object that can literally alter time, rewrite reality, and control the soul.

The little moments really did add up, didn’t they? I loved Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord trying to affect a deeper voice and an accent to compete with Hemsworth’s preternatural beauty as Thor (so … many … men … named … Chris), and worrying about his weight—an IRL Easter egg, because of Pratt’s pre-Guardians weight loss and buffing-out. Don Cheadle as Jim Rhodes/War Machine tricking Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner into bowing to T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) was fun. (How do you say “faux pas” in Xhosa?) Red Skull showing up as the guardian of the Soul Gem was delightfully weird, and as a comedy writer pal of mine said, who’dathunk that Rocket’s fetish for stealing body parts would become a classic bit? Totally agree about Thor, too. Seriously, I was no great fan of the first two Thor movies, but Ragnarok and this movie turned him into one of my favorite Marvel characters.

Parham: As “endings” go, this might be Marvel’s most ambitious. I understand these are comic book characters we’re talking about, so no one is ever really dead—as you guys mentioned—but still. I remember being upset when I first saw it. It’s not that I didn’t think Thanos would ultimately win, I just didn’t think more than half of the cast would be killed off. And it wasn’t even that I thought it was cruel, it just felt … dumb. A few days removed from it, I actually don’t mind. With half the cast “gone,” it allows for an interesting, even more ambitious part two. Wong, Hawkeye, and Ant-Man are sure to be back. Plus all new characters—Captain Marvel and, fingers crossed Angela, Valkyrie! And maybe even some characters who haven’t been introduced into MCU yet. With Disney’s pending merger with Fox, it could mean a handful of characters from the X-Men Universe could find their way into subsequent films.

All that said, I think the next film has to take a risk this one didn’t—and actually kill off major characters. If it were up to me, Captain America and Iron Man wouldn’t make it out alive (Chris Evans wants out of his contract anyways, so it’s possible). It’d give Marvel an opportunity, one that it doesn’t necessarily need but should take, to start those franchises with fresh eyes and new talent.

Watercutter: Yeah, Jason, I agree. Some of the heroes should probably be gone and stay gone. Also, some folks have been saying if the franchise loses Tony Stark then that would make room to introduce the Riri Williams/Ironheart storyline from the comics—a concept I find very exciting. And Adam, I fully chortled when Rocket said “I’m gonna get that arm…” after Bucky (Sebastian Stan) told him it wasn’t for sale. Classic Rocket.

I think we’ve just about said all that needs to be said (or at least all that we can say in the decidedly finite space of this website), but I have one parting thought, if I may. The timeline leading up to Infinity War is kinda crazy, right? Like, when Thanos was all “I’ve had a really long day” (or something to that effect) it reminded me that the entire movie Infinity War takes place in the span of, what, 24 hours? 48? Also, considering where the movie started, was Ragnarok (aka the end of Asgard) basically yesterday? Maybe a couple days before? It’s possible that Killmonger’s (Michael B. Jordan) attempt to dethrone T’Challa could’ve happened a few weeks or months before the events of Infinity War, but considering Black Panther picked up pretty quickly after the events of Captain America: Civil War and showed Bucky in pretty much the same condition that he’s in at the start of this film, it seems unlikely a ton of time has passed. Bottom line: It’s been 10 years and 18 films, but is it possible the present-day timeline of these films (you know, the parts that aren’t Captain America-esque flashbacks) have taken place in the span of a few months or maybe a year? If so, this war is far from infinite.

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