(also, spoiler alert)
This was a big, long, crowded half of a movie. I give it about a B- but that’s because it is a) big, long, crowded, and b) half of a movie. That’s about the best I could expect. And for all that, at the end, even though I know the Infinity Gauntlet is a Deus ex Machina of Deus ex Machinas, even though I can make an educated guess from Marvel’s movie schedule and various actor contract information which characters will probably ultimately survive, I still felt like I’d been punched in the gut so much so that I wasn’t sure I wanted to see it a second time. Thanos wins (mostly because Star-Lord is an immature, emotional dumbass [although given Dr. Strange’s knowledge of 14 million possible futures, Star-Lord’s reaction probably had little effect on the ultimate outcome]), and half the population of the universe just disappears. Of the characters we care about:
Dead (?) – Loki, half of the rest of the Asgardians, Vision, Gamora
Disappeared – Winter Soldier, Black Panther, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Star-Lord, Drax, Mantis, Groot, Spider-man, Dr. Strange, Nick Fury, Maria Hill
Remaining – Captain America, War Machine, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hulk, Rocket, Okoye, Nebula, Captain Marvel
Unknown – Hawkeye, Ant-man, Wasp, Shuri, Valkyrie, Sif
Because this movie was so big, most characters only got a few lines except for Iron Man (naturally) and Thanos and Gamora. Yes, setting up Thanos’ character was necessary, but it also took time away from the other characters. There were also some subplots competing for time from the main plot and each other, as follows:
1) Main plot – Thanos’ quest to get the Infinity Gauntlet
2) Subplot – Thanos’ character development accompanied by Gamora
3) Subplot – Thor’s quest (+ Rocket and Groot) to get a weapon to kill Thanos
4) Subplot – Team Iron Man (Iron Man, Spider-man, Dr. Strange) + the remaining Guardians (+ Nebula) attempt to take on Thanos
5) Subplot – The battle of Wakanda
There were several battles as Thanos sent his lieutenants to Earth to get the Time and Mind Gems (he stole the Power Gem while killing off half of Xandar off-screen, got the Space Gem from Loki, and beat up the Collector to get the Reality Gem) while he forced Gamora to take him to the legendary Soul Gem. In some ways, the movie was less a coherent story and more a series of battles interspersed with some very good character moments (not scenes, not arcs, just moments). For viewers who know these characters and have followed them through the previous movies, each character moment worked. As an example, Black Panther says of Winter Soldier during the preparation for the fight, “This one is tired of war, but the White Wolf has rested long enough.” That perfectly encapsulates Winter Soldier’s struggles. Another one – when the characters charge the invading army in Wakanda, Black Panther and Captain America pull way ahead of everyone else (showcasing their superior stats). The problem was there just weren’t that many moments to go around, although I suspect removing half the cast for at least the start of Endgame (even with the addition of Captain Marvel) will remedy at least part of that problem.
I feel like this should have been two smaller movies; one with the Guardians/Thor/Thanos in space, and with Thanos’ lieutenants invading Earth. That would have given more room for Thanos’ origin story to breathe and more room for so many characters. A third movie would have followed after Thanos’ triumph for the remaining heroes to try to figure out the one single path to victory. Alas, I guess Team MCU didn’t think the intended audience would buy into a full LoTR treatment.