The following most certainly contains spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War. Stop reading now if you haven't seen it and managed to get this far into the internet without having it ruined for you. I’m sorry, there was no other way.
Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind.
So be the ending of Avengers: Infinity War, when pretty much all of the shiny new heroes that have populated the Marvel Cinematic Universe post-Phase 2 went and confirmed that a Kansas mix on Peter Quill’s Zune would not be out of place. What transpired in the last few moments of Infinity War was nothing short of gut-wrenching. If you were lucky enough to see it in a reverent theater stocked with fans like I did, you could hear a pin drop in the silence, made even more palpable in contrast to the loud cheers and applause that had erupted just moments earlier when Thor had arrived to seemingly take care of business.
But of course, as haunting as it was, you know who hated it? That one person on Facebook. You know who I’m talking about. You’ve probably dealt with them if you’ve posted literally anything about the movie in the last few days. The one who, regardless of whatever you said about the film, responded with some variation of, “But it wasn’t effective because we know that they’ll just undo it in the next movie.”
Months ago, The Last Jedi divided audiences for various reasons, but one of the things that even tripped me up when I first saw it was the disconnect between the movie it was and the movie that had screened already in our minds the moment we stepped out of The Force Awakens.
Prior to seeing it, I could have told you some of the big strokes of The Last Jedi. I could have told you that Rey would continue down her Jedi path. I could have predicted that the First Order would, for the most part, carry off a decisive defeat over the Resistance that would leave them scrambling. I could have told you that Luke Skywalker would probably die, and likely in a self-sacrifice. I think anyone who has ever followed Star Wars could have predicted those things if pressed.
An hour after seeing The Last Jedi, the way I described my experience was liking it, but not loving it. And yet for the next several days, it never strayed far from my brain. I pored over details; I talked about scenes with friends and in chat groups. By the time I managed to get back into the theater to see it again, I was amazed at how much more I truly loved it once I saw past my imaginary movie for the one it truly was.
But now with Infinity War, we’re not just letting our expectations for a movie cloud our enjoyment of it, we’re letting our expectations for a future movie do it to a movie we’ve just seen. The hypothetical concept of Avengers 4, and our assumptions for it, seem to actually be causing an immediate retcon to Infinity War that makes it into a worse movie than it actually is. Not only did we learn nothing from The Last Jedi, we’re seemingly going in the exact opposite direction.
Similar to The Last Jedi, I could also probably tell you what’s going to happen in Avengers 4. Yes, at least some if not all of those “dusted” by Thanos will be returned, despite some well-handled teasing by the film's screenwriters. Of course they will. I know that, you know that, and let’s be clear here, there’s no way Marvel doesn’t know that we know that. They even ended the movie with a reference to Captain Marvel as a clear indication that hope still exists.
In no way does it seem like Marvel expects us to go into Avengers 4 with the idea of “Will Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet movie be undone?” Rather, they’ve very skillfully baited us with a hook of how that undoing will transpire. And with a hinted running time of close to three hours, it seems odd to assume that the story is going to be so slight that it will consist of simply noping away those last few moments. There will be stakes, there will be costs.
Assuming a planned sequel is going to address the problems established by the climax of a movie in no way detracts from the emotional stakes. Regardless of if Spider-Man is revived (he will be), watching him turn to dust while begging Tony to save him hurts. Watching T’Challa reach out a hand in rescue only to himself be turned to dust hurts.
If I may reach back to Star Wars again to bring it all home, the fact of the matter is that The Empire Strikes Back remains the most regularly celebrated movie in the entire original trilogy. And you will never catch me scoffing at Han Solo being frozen in carbonite just because he gets out of it in Return of the Jedi.