Entertainment

'Avengers: Infinity War' Starts Slow, Closes With the Most Shocking Marvel Ending Ever

avengers infinity war
Marvel Studios

This top of this article contains minor spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War, followed by a clearly marked spoiler-filled section that dissects the movie's ending. Proceed with caution.

The internet did well by ribbing Avengers: Infinity War's self-laudatory branding as "the most ambitious crossover event in history." But, by and large, the Marvel team, led by writer-directors Anthony and Joseph Russo and Uatu the Watcher-esque producer Kevin Feige, have managed to tame the monstrous multi-headed beast of its "cinematic universe" into one coherent story. Well, half of a story. Infinity War is very much "part one."

This is commendable, but those unfamiliar with how the term crossover is used in a comic-book context may need a little prep before going into battle. The film plays like an "event book" reads, drawing in little moments from everyone, ramming through barriers of plot, coming up for air with some slug-fests and zippy lines, then dropping a "holy hell, that can't be!??!" ending just in time for you to wait for the follow-up. You know there's more to the story, but that's a side issue you can't afford. Furthermore, you know this will all work out, but for now you have to wait. More than most of what Marvel's done, this feels ripped from the pages of the funny books.

This has its pros and cons. There's a recurring gag in which Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) just can't seem to will himself into the Hulk. It will mirror how casual fans might have trouble revving up for this new, extremely lengthy entry in the saga.

Avengers: Infinity War feels rushed, but also, somehow, dull. I'm not just speaking in riddles to appeal to Benedict Cumberbatch's Dr. Strange, who's one of Marvel's cooler heroes, even if I can't quite figure out what his powers are -- there are so many story threads to check in on, and a boatload of characters to introduce (you've seen the poster), that much of the film feels academic. When we see new faces, there's a funny exchange, a block of text about the next hurdle (everyone is chasing stones in this; Avengers: Stone Chasers could have been the title), and then, to fit the legal definition of a major motion picture, some shoehorned "emotional stuff."

Some of the mish-mashing works. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) works. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) works. Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) does not. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Rocket Raccoon (voice of Bradley Cooper) does not, even though it is funny that Thor keeps calling him "rabbit."

thanos avengers infinity war
Thanos | Marvel Studios

What really doesn't work is anything with the big villain, Thanos (Josh Brolin), because the character's motivation to destroy half of all life is completely baffling. It's never explained, other than he wants "balance" and, I guess, is worried about overpopulation? Furthermore, he looks ridiculous, like a grape midway to becoming a raisin. There's a dreary scene that goes on forever in which he and Gamora get into a heavy conversation on his enormous, dark ship. She looks fine because she is a human being with nifty makeup. He looks like a TIFF file that hasn't fully loaded yet. And they are babbling about stones. Always with the stones.

Captain America (Chris Pine. No, Chris Evans) doesn't show up until the 40-minute mark. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) doesn't show up until the 60-minute mark. Black Widow (Scarlett Johnasson) has absolutely nothing to do, but Scarlet Witch gets one of the more badass moments in the whole picture, even though, like Dr. Strange, I don't understand her powers either. (There are a lot of beams of light in this movie.)

Visually, there isn't too much happening except for some terrifying POV shots when enormous spaceships appear over New York City, and for some business in space with Thor. (Of note, Peter Dinklage shows up in Thor's storyline playing a giant, which is a nice touch.) We also catch a glimpse of a planet called Vormin that has some creative design elements.

I may sound like I'm shrugging this movie off and, for most of the running time, I was. Then, at 97 minutes in (yes, I had my watch during all this) the cross-cutting action between various set-pieces began. It started to come together. Finally: the ending.

The last moments of Avengers: Infinity War is one of the most striking finales I've seen in a wide-release popcorn film. I left the theater in a daze and spent the night staring at the ceiling, thunderstruck by what I had seen.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!

iron man avengers infinity war
Iron Man does not like spoilers! | Marvel Studios

This section contains major spoilers about the ending of the movie. Proceed at your own risk.

Unlike every villain in the popular arts, save Watchmen's Ozymandias, Thanos achieves his evil goal. He collects his goddamn stones and -- poof! -- kills half the universe. That means half of the Avengers die. They don't just disappear in a flash like they're Raptured, they get a weird, distant look on their face and collapse into dark gray ash.

It is extremely unsettling because, for all my flippancy, I really like spending time with all my superhero friends. This prolonged murder sequence is horrifying because you don't know who's going to come next. Oh, that guy? I love that guy! What, her too? They can't!

I'll let you experience the specifics of the terror yourself, but it is brutal. One of them just tears your heart in half because he's young and lovable and frightened and hasn't experienced too much of life yet. (OK, it's Spider-Man. These monsters kill friendly, neighborhood Peter Parker from Queens, and I know he's going to be OK in the long run, but still, it is heavy to see him experience his mortality like this.)

The press preview audience sat in stony (again: stone!) silence after the cut to black all through to the end credits. The stinger is really extraordinary, because it gets a joke in, punches you in the heart one more time and also introduces a glimmer of hope.

The Avengers are going to be OK! Well, most of them. But this ending, I tell you, is going to ruin weekends. Children will leave the multiplexes sobbing. Hopefully there will be pop-up counseling centers near the concession stands. More importantly, we'll all have to wait until next May to see how this all works out. Marvel wins again.

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Jordan Hoffman is a film critic and writer whose work appears in The GuardianVanity Fair, and The Times of Israel. He likes rock songs that are over 10 minutes. Follow him on Twitter @jhoffman.