Marvel Studios

If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people who spent their weekend watching Avengers: Infinity War, earning it the title of highest global opening of all time, you’ll be well aware of the fact that its ending left die-hard fans shook. After a decade of loyalty to the multi-billion dollar Marvel movies, fans were given the most brilliantly unforgiving resolution that a blockbuster film has conjured up in years.

It was supposed to be a moment of unity: all of Marvel’s sprawling storylines coming together at last. Instead, the brains behind the series, the Russo Brothers, put a glorious middle finger up to the idea of giving us simple gratification.

* * * Spoilers Ahead! * * *

Marvel Studios

So for anybody left confused, or for those who have no interest in seeing it but are here out of intrigue: what exactly happens at the end of Avengers: Infinity War? Well, after watching Thanos, the film’s violent supervillain, destroy cities and murder innocent people to claim five of the six infinity stones – powerful gems that yield the power to alter the fate of the entire universe – we’re shown his final face-off against the Avengers.

Using his newly acquired strength, he swats away every attack the Avengers throw at him, finally encountering Vision, who has the final piece in Thanos’ puzzle, the Mind Stone, embedded in his head. After surviving an attack from Thor by using the Time Stone to turn back the clock, he crushes Vision’s skull, claiming the final infinity stone and putting his plan to annihilate half of the world’s population into practice.

As a result, we’re forced to watch a slew of fan favorites wither away to dust. In the space of a few minutes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe kills off Black Panther, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, all of the Guardians of the Galaxy characters (bar Rocket and Nebula), Winter Soldier, Falcon, Maria Hill and Nick Fury.

Over the past decade, we’ve had no less than 19 behemoth movies from the Marvel canon, each one offering their own somewhat ridiculous and awe-inspiring storylines. But none have managed to deliver a plot twist, or a level of earth-shifting annihilation, like Infinity War did. As its final act unfolded, you could see millions – if not billions – of dollars worth of franchises being unassembled before your eyes; characters that people hold close to their hearts crumbling away to nothing.

Marvel Studios

While we’re no stranger to the idea of shock deaths in movies and TV series – our favorite characters being killed off gives fans something to talk about – the sheer scale of what happens at the end of Infinity War, and the Russo brothers decision to leave the ball in Thanos’ court, is unprecedented when it comes to a film franchise of this scale. When your films are famous for being fawned over by comic book fans and raking in lots of cash (regardless of what viewers think of them) there’s no need to throw in curveballs like these ones here. Boldly, the Russo Brothers refused to quench the thirst of the world’s thirstiest film fans. By now, we’re used to seeing superheroes come out on top. What’s so ballsy is that the greatest comic book heroes have been painted as losers for once – and it’s been a long time (if ever) since we’ve seen that happen.

Similarly, a key part of the success of these movies is their omnipresent marketing campaigns. Infinity War alone had a marketing budget of $150 million, which, to put in perspective, is bigger than the entire budget of the first Iron Man. How might they navigate a worldwide marketing campaign, complete with teaser posters, trailers, press junkets and conventions like Comic Con with almost half of the lineup dead? Are the fan’s favorite characters, like Spider-Man, Star Lord and Doctor Strange going to show face anyway?

It’s strange to think about what’s going to happen to all these characters that are currently in a state of limbo. But considering the way this film ended – with many speculating on who exactly would die – we wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel consciously held their cards close to their chests, offering up almost nothing until the next film actually hits cinemas.

Some of the best filmmakers know how to fuck with their audiences; doing so shows that, despite the success, the Russo Brothers aren’t willing to be complacent with their fanbase yet. To them, it’s all about suspense, and how Infinity War masterfully builds it up and refuses to bring us back down again. Not for another year at least.

Of course, there’s too much money at stake for Disney to kill off three or four potential franchises at once. We know for a fact that there are installments in the Spider-Man and Guardians series lined up for release later down the line, so it’s unlikely that any of those guys will be dead quite yet. The Marvel comic books do have a history of resurrecting some of its most prolific characters, though – Captain America included. The surviving Avengers will most likely find some sort of loophole in this fantasy universe (perhaps winning back the Time Stone?) to bring their friends back to fight Thanos once again. But that’s not a cop out, it’s just what makes these movies so awe-inspiring in the first place – here, anything is possible.

Before Infinity War’s followup hits cinemas next May, we have two chapters from the Marvel Universe to look forward to, including Ant-Man and the Wasp this summer, and the almighty arrival of Captain Marvel in March 2019. Both characters have been conspicuously left out of Infinity War’s first part, but the final moment of the film’s post-credit scene suggests Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel will be a key part in resurrecting this flurry of “dead” Avengers, and bringing down Thanos in the process.

Until then, Marvel fans are forced to wait with bated breath for the concluding second chapter, pondering exactly how the hell the world’s biggest, most lucrative film franchise managed to rile up hundreds of thousands of moviegoers, and deliver the ending none of us expected.

Words by Douglas Greenwood