Go big or go home, I guess.
SPOILERS of course.
This is, at long last, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s desperately Empire Strikes Back moment, coming so far into the series and so close to the end as to render that a little moot, but it’s still welcome. In all of these movies, but the Avengers movies in particular, our heroes are presented with unsurmountable, world-threatening stakes and yet – and yet! – they manage to overcome these stakes with their powers, their plucky enthusiasm, their dry cool wits and, of course, teamwork, with nary the loss of a character we care about but plenty of death in terms of characters we don’t…the death toll in these films… My biggest quibble with these films, but the Avengers in particular is that I don’t believe the stakes because, no matter how big the threat, I know that they will prevail and no stars will die in the process. Well, that changes in this movie, as you may have heard. (Hence the spoiler alert.) And it’s about time. For once the universe-threatening stakes actually threaten (and harm) our heroes, rather than just temporarily injure a few of them. (This has happened before on occasion, just not very often.)
I still have a major quibble, aside from my usual quibble. (Usual quibbles: powers only seem to be available in certain ways and methods when appropriate for the plot so you’re wondering why X didn’t do Y earlier, there’s always time for a quip, there’s always time for a dramatic scene, even when Thanos is fucking right there, etc.) This quibble is that this genocide is far too easy: the series had too many characters so why not just wipe out half the life in the universe? (By the way, this doesn’t seem to affect the plant life! It’s just mammals is it?) Most of these characters, some of whom have earned better, just blow away in the wind (literally). It solves a big problem – too many characters! – in a pretty unsatisfactory way. But at least they did it.
I assumed this was going to be the climax and I must say I’m happy it was not. The series needed some more bad times to counteract the endless fun everyone appeared to be happening despite entire cities getting destroyed. The movies always struck me as so hollow because of how casually everyone but the heroes were treated, literally hundreds and thousands and millions of nameless Star Trek ensigns. This is a partial restoration of some balance. (Apparently I’m on Thanos’ side.)
And I will say that the Russos handle these longer films better than some of the other directs of the series. This is a long film – all the Avengers movies and even some of the other films in the series are too long – but this one zips along, not just because it has too much plot but because it is well made. So there’s that.
I still marvel (sorry) at this series’ popularity, its size and length, and its ability to seemingly overcome everyone but me with charm. I maintain that only a few of the MCU films are actually good, standalone movies and the vast majority of them follow a rough formula that got pretty tired a long time ago. I appreciate that this one deviates slightly from that formula before we get to the inevitable formulaic climax.